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Much more than suggested by the title,
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This review is from: Philippi 42 BC: The death of the Roman Republic (Campaign) (Paperback)
This campaign book, coming after Pharsala which dealt with Caesar's Civil War and not only the battle he decisively won over Pompey, presents good overview of the years between the assassination of the Dictator to around 38 BC.
Just like the previous volume, this one provides the reader with a lot of background and quite a bit of information on the aftermath, with the battle taking centre stage. This is necessary to understand the political and military events that form the context of the battle itself. Even if it might seem superfluous to some and although it does take up a good third of the book, the months that followed Caesar's murder but also the first clash between Marc Antony and Octavius do need to be presented so as to explain Philippi.
I found that the "cast of characters", the two mentioned above plus Brutus and Cassius, was rather excellent. Marc Antony is depicted as "constantly at his best in a crisis" but prone to disaster when given executive office, not exactly a diplomat and not gifted for playing politics. He has also been described as a "soldier's soldier" and a charismatic, tough but sometimes rash leader whose ultimate station was that of "a loyal subordinate to a dominant personality." Octavius was much the opposite. He was no soldier. His health was poor, but he was intelligent, ambitious, cunning and ruthless and perhaps even better at politics than Marc Antony was at soldiering. On the other side, the respective characters of Cassius Longinus and Junius Brutus have often been opposed and almost caricatured. As the book shows very well, Brutus was no wimp, not necessarily the "romantic idealist" he has been made out to be and proved that he could be quite ruthless, despite his - largely posthumus - reputation of being virtuous and noble. His main flaw as a general was that he did not command the respect of his men. Cassius, however, was respected, feared and obeyed and he certainly had much more military experience than Brutus, with the author presenting him as "a resourceful commander in a succession of losing causes".
Another - related - strongpoint of this volume is, as another reviewer mentioned, to show that behind both sides' propaganda, what was really at stake was the domination of the Roman world by one pair of warlords or the other. In other terms, the claims to "avenge" the murder of Caesar and stay faithful to his "heritage" on one hand, and the claims to defend the "Republic and the Senate" (or rather the oligarchic regime of the leading families to which both Brutus and Cassius belonged) were also rather self-interested, to say the least.
A third interesting and less well known point was for the author to show that the time spent by Octavius to successfully assert himself against Marc Antony - meaning win politically and be recognized as "Caesar's heir" and then defeat Marc Antony militarily, allowed Cassius and Brutus to build up their forces. It should also be remembered how richer the East was at the time, compared to the West. In addition, the East had been Pompey's power base and both Brutus and Cassius used this to extract money and recruit troops while their adversaries were busy fighting each other.
Finally, there is the battle itself, or rather the two battles - a story that is generally not well known but which the author tells rather well. The first double battle was followed 20 days later by a second battle. In both cases, Antony rather excelled. In the first battle, his bold tactics allowed him to defeat Cassius who committed suicide whereas Octavius, incapacited by illness, was defeated by Brutus although many of his troops took refuge in their camp. In the second battle that Brutus was forced to seek, it is again Antony who played the decisive role and defeated his opponent. The diagrams illustrating the battles are rather helpful in understanding what happened.
I also very much liked the plates, and in particular the one illustrating the disaster at sea when the Triumvirs' reinforcement were annihilated, including the Martian legion which was never reformed afterwards. I do have one mild reservation, however, and this is about the rather huge armies - allegedly over 100 000 on each side, according to the sources. These numbers seem extravagantly high and hardly plausible but the author has chosen to accept them. In addition to the logistical nightmares that such huge forces would have created, they would have been hardly possible to command. Also, it should be remembered that each of these armies is more than double the size of the forces that Pompey lined up at Pharsala. He also had ample time to prepare and the whole of the East to draw upon.
A solid four stars.