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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 January 2013
With « Warships of the Ancient World 3000-500 BC », Adrian Wood and Guiseppe Rava have managed to come up with a short but valuable overview of warships and naval warfare over a period of some 25 centuries - no mean feat in itself.

I sometimes tend to be quite critical of Osprey's little booklets, especially when the authors are faced with the rather impossible task of cramming several centuries of military history within a few dozen pages (48, 64 or 96, depending upon the collection). Here, however, the effort is very largely successful even if, of course, the book is no more than an introduction and an overview. I liked this book and found it "good" (a subjective assessment, of course, and no more than a personal opinion) for quite a few reasons.

The first has perhaps to do with the author's methods. Unlike a number of fellow-authors writing in the same collection, he mentions upfront that the contents of this book reflect "only one possible interpretation of the information" and refers readers to his bibliography for those wanting to learn about alternative explanations. While this may fall short of presenting these alternatives, it does clearly present the author's choices for what they are: one series of interpretations among a range of possibilities. A related element is that the bibliography that he refers to, while short, does contain the most important titles on the subject or, to be both more modest and more accurate, the ones I was aware of before reading this book, as well as a couple of others which I did not know about!

The second reason for both liking and enjoying this book has to do with its scope - no less than six navies (or even seven if you add in the Etruscans) covered: Egypt, Crete, the Syrian cities during the Bronze Age, the rather mysterious Sea People, the Phoenicians that inherited from them and the Greeks (from the Mycenaeans right down to 500 BC). Despite this, the author manages to show quite clearly how ship types evolved over time, the similarities and differences between the various navies and ship types, the issues they had to address and the various compromises that were struck during the period between speed, robustness and manoeuvrability.

A third reason to praise this book is that the author has clearly done his research and has a good grasp of the technical issues related to shipbuilding, seaworthiness and navigation. He also makes a number of excellent points related to geography and the availability of mineral resources and shipbuilding timber around the Mediterranean which are often passed over, despite their importance. For instance, it is the lack of both in Egypt that made the control of the areas of modern Syria/Lebanon and of Cyprus so critical for Egypt. This was true in the time of Ramses and it stayed true throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

A fourth set of reasons has to do with the pictures and illustrations in general, and those of Guiseppe Rava in particular: great, spectacular and rather gorgeous! They also made me somewhat smile (I am not being sarcastic). The "Homeric Landing" one reminded me of a similar scene at the beginning of Wolfang Petersen's "Troy" (the one with Brad Pitt in the role of Achilles, Eric Bana in the role of Hector and Orlando Bloom in the role of Paris, of course!). I also like the plates that put two types of ships in perspective, allowing for visual comparisons.

I did however have a couple of little glitches to mention. One of the problems in trying to cover half a dozen navies over a period of about 25 centuries is that it is somewhat delicate to include all or at least most of them on the same map. While having the Minoans, the Mycenians, the Egyptians, the Hittites and the Syrian cities (Ugarit in particular) on the same map is fine, adding the Sea People may be a bit problematic in terms of chronology - they may have some responsibility in the fall of the Minoans and certainly were responsible for destroying Ugarit. Having mentioned this, it is easy to see why this choice was made and the chronology of the whole period is just about shaky and controversial enough to allow the author to get away with it.

Another little glitch has to do with a paragraph quoted from Josephus (page 30 in the book), which the author has not bothered to discuss in-depth, probably because he preferred to keep the limited and valuable space that he had for something that he felt to be more important. There are a couple of issues in this paragraph retracing a naval battle between a dozen larger ships from Tyre and sixty ships from other Phoenician cities which were vassals of the Assyrian king of the time. The numbers of rowers provided for the sixty ships (800) is unlikely to have represented all the crew, or perhaps even the total of rowers. The reasons for the victory of the Tyrians are not mentioned, unlike, for instance, the reasons for the victory of the Egyptians of Ramses III over the Sea People or those for the "Cadmean" victory of the Phoceans against the Etrusco-Carthagenian alliance at the Alalia.
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on 13 August 2013
This book is a very concise survey of ancient warships over 2500 years ! It follows that it cannot cover the material available in anything other than sketchy detail. Do not expect too much.

The reconstructions are what sell Osprey books and despite a couple of atmospheric battle scenes this book does not deliver. The ships depicted are clunky and wierd in many aspects. The sleek, well-constructed ships of antiquity are rendered as dead representations often wrong in scale and structural detail and error in perspective. That is not to deny the immense challenge of the subject - more difficult than simple battle scenes from land. There ARE, for example, adequate reconstructions of the Sea People's ships in Conways' 'The Age of the Galley' which, amazingly, is not included in a list of secondary scources. On page 46 laws of arithmetic breaks down and a 'samaina' is awarded 2.5m of freeboard ! This is impressive, not to be achieved again until development of the cog in the 12th century !?

A redrawing of an ancient graffito does not add information, it would have been better to have more photos of original material maybe. Very sweeping summaries of academic history likewise fail to either give atmosphere or inform fully.

A very broad introduction. Cannot posibly treat the subject matter adequately. I fail to see why the previous reviewers have been so enthusiastic. Even if the function of the title is recognised as only to draw together material previously published then the book is flawed. The first reviewer is keen to praise the book but then points out the problems of the concept and format which apparently dont affect the awarding of 5 stars.?

Osprey trot out so many titles these days. Why not rein-in the commissioning and go for 'Assyrian Naval Power' or 'Naval Power of Pharoanic Egypt' instead of these catch-all books which any graduate can knock out in cahoots with a half-decent illustrator. If the aim is to reconstruct ships of these times just do that instead of trying to be a history book too, which these cannot be.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 March 2013
The author managed to squeeze two and a half millenia of warship building and design into a very compact 48 pages, covering everything up to (but not including) the triremes of the classical period. So the naval experiences, shipbuilding and tactics of Egyptians, Sea People, Minoans, Phoenicians, early Greeks, etc. are all covered, with some pretty well done illustrations complementing the text.

For most of the cultures the author discusses the materials used (and sourcing - an important consideration), the construction techniques, the main types used, main tactics and any significant, recorded battles.

Lots of the material from the period remains at least somewhat open to interpretation - which the author gladly acknowledges - but sources range from written materials of the period, depictions in pottery, archaeological finds, and other secondary sources.

The one potential criticism of the book is that the format forces the author into shortcuts - and the reader getting most of the book is one that is already fairly conversant with both the period, naval technology of the times and naval architecture more broadly. So while the book is supposed to be an easy start, the brevity on the one hand and the breadth of areas to be covered on the other, mean that more prior knowledge of the topic is required than is the case in many of the other books in the series.

Still, a great quick overview of pre-classical naval matters and definitely to be recommended in my opinion.
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on 22 February 2014
I tend to agree with the 1 or 2 star reviews but probably tend to be a less harsh.

A classic case of a book where the format is not compatible with the subject.
How can you write a 48 page book on ancient warships? Well you just cant from my point of view.

It would have been much better to create a series of books on Ancient Phoenician Navy, or Pharaonic Fleets, Athenian Trireme, etc rather than trying to make a book out of 2500 years of naval warfare.

The author's style did not really impress me much and since the book is so superficial, I did not learn much out of it.

Similarly to other reviewers, it seems that some photos were just put there to fill space. The photograph of Cyprus does not really help you much.

Another thing that surprised me is the map not showing Aegan islands. its very simplified perhaps for clarity but does not really help much.

More positively, I actually quite liked the colour plates and found the illustrator relatively gifted.

I have read quite a lot of Osprey Books now and can tell that this one is of relatively poor quality except the plates. One gets the feeling that it was dashed and not edited properly.
Personallly, I am more and more reluctant to pay high prices for some of the Osprey books who seem to be put on the market simply to make money.
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on 5 September 2013
I've just read this, and I can't say I'm impressed.

The text is poor, and the author doesn't seem to have a particularly good knowledge of the field. For instance, their discussion of egyptian ships omits to mention that we have a number of intact, full size egyptian river craft surviving (eg the Solar Barque of Khufu). While not strictly warships, one would have thought that this would have at least been worth mentioning in the section looking at construction techniques.

The Photos are actually even less useful - I'd guess the author ran out of budget before getting copyright to all the photos he wanted, because a number of well-known and important ancient depictions of ships are omitted.

Instead, the author bulks the photos out to the required number with things og marginal relevance (eg a greek helmet similar to a type that might have been worn by greek marines) and (my personal favourite) a number of photos of the sea, just in case we had forgotten what it was that these ships actually sailed on!
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on 11 July 2013
I greatly enjoyed this book but was a little puzzled by the egyptian versus sea peoples section, I recognise that the primary sources on this are Egptian in origin and not necessarily all that accurate and so would have valued some analysis of the account of the naval clash. Other than that very informative.
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on 20 June 2016
excellent book for those interested in this era
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on 24 August 2014
kids loved it
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A book based on sources gives new informations and is a good basis for further research. Gives coulorfull and good illustrations.
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