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Jason Bourne [DVD + Digital Download] [2016]
Jason Bourne [DVD + Digital Download] [2016]
Dvd ~ Matt Damon
Offered by RIKIAN
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The recipe still works, to some extent, 3 Jan. 2017
I, like many others I suspect, have long been a Jason Bourne fan, and a fan of Matt Damon playing the role in yet another action-filed, intense and breath-taking episode. As suggested in the title of this review, the recipe (and magic) still works, to some extent, as long as you do not look too closely and do not pause to think about the scenario and script for more than a split second.

You get the usual intense rushing around some of the large cities of the world (Athens, Berlin etc…) as our hero is tracked down by a particularly “nasty” asset (Vincent Cassel) with a personal grudge and trying to kill him on the orders of a no less evil Director of the CIA (Tommy Lee Jones) and a ruthlessly ambitious young CIA analyst. You also get the usual spectacular pursuits and shooting scenes and some tremendous special effects. The scenes that take place at night in riotous Athens are particularly impressive. You finally get a rather predictable story and outcome, despite all the suspenseful rhythm, action and music.

While this suspense may feel somewhat artificial or even overdone to some, it still makes for a powerful piece of entertainment despite numerous airs of “déjà vu” for all of those who (like me) have already gone through all of the previous episodes with (or without) Matt Damon. One thing that perhaps summarises my general impression is the acting of the three main performers (Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel).

While not bad, and true to form in the case of Matt Damon, all three look and felt tired and somewhat aged in the case of our hero, suggesting here again that the whole performance and film was itself somewhat forced and tired. Still just about worth four stars, because it was still entertaining despite my misgivings.

In the Name of Lykourgos: The Rise and Fall of the Spartan Revolutionary Movement (243-146BC)
In the Name of Lykourgos: The Rise and Fall of the Spartan Revolutionary Movement (243-146BC)
by Miltiadis Michalopoulos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Last struggles to restore past dominance and glory, 3 Jan. 2017
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“In the name of Lykourgos” tells the story of the last attempts by Sparta’s Kings to reform their city and restore its supremacy. The book covers a little known period of about a century from 243 BC to 146 BC, starting with the failed efforts of Agis IV to reform Sparta and address its social crisis, through those of King Kleomene III to those of Nabis who “exported” some of these revolutionary reforms but also ultimately failed. The book ends with the demise of Sparta as a power, even a second-rate one, its forced incorporation into the Achaean League and its transformation into a “tourist attraction” for rich Roman senators once the Achaean League was finally destroyed by Rome.

One of the main attractions of this book is to show how Sparta never accepted the loss of Messenia and of its domination over the Peloponnesus and its disastrous defeat at the hands of the Thebans at Leuktra and how it struggled against the Achaean League to reverse its consequences for a century, despite increasing losses of territory.

Another remarkable feature is to show how these efforts were linked and related and to what extent they merit to be seen as part of a “Spartan revolutionary movement.” While the phrase may seem to be anachronistic at first glance, some of the key reforms – widespread debt cancellation and redistribution of land in particular – were definitely “revolutionary” to the extent that their purpose was to transform Sparta. As the author shows rather well, the main purpose was to restore Sparta’s military power, destroy the existing oligarchy and reverse the growing land concentrations, inequality and trends that had been building up for more than a century and a half.

While Agis IV was assassinated before his reforms had time to take root, his legacy was ensured by Kleomenes, the son of his main opponent and the other Spartan King. Kleomenes is perhaps the better known of these “revolutionaries”, largely because his reforms lead to military successes against the Achaeans and reconquest of lost supremacy. The resurgence however ended with his hard fought battle and defeat against the Macedonian superpower of Antigonos Doson which the Achaean League, unable to cope against a resurgent Sparta on its own, had called in to help. The description of the battle of Sellasia is one of the strongest sections of this book, although they are no real weak ones.

The last attempt to make a comeback was that of King Nabis of Sparta. He was perhaps the most “revolutionary” of all Spartan reformers to the extent that debt cancelations and land redistributions spread to Argos where his allies violently enforced them. This attempt also failed because, this time, the Achaeans called in Consul Flaminius and the Romans against them and, once again and despite a valiant resistance, Sparta lost and Nabis was assassinated.

As part of the narrative, the author makes a number of points. Some may seem “obvious” with hindsight such as Sparta’s – or any other city-state for that matter - inability to compete against the more powerful states that were the Leagues of cities (Achaean or Aetolian), the Hellenistic kingdoms (Macedon in particular) or the Roman Republic. Others are just as valid but perhaps less well known, with in particular the point that each of these attempts, although made “in the name of Lycourgos” undermined a bit more traditional Spartan institutions to the extent that the reign of Nabis could be seen as little more than a tyranny, a type of regime that Sparta’s institutions had precisely been designed to prevent.

Another interesting point is the investigation of the reasons for the rather atrocious reputation that King Nabis has had even since Antiquity. While he was certainly cruel, his anti-establishment and anti-oligarchic social policies ensured that he was hated by all people of wealth who had a lot to lose should his radical agenda come into force. As the author shows well, Polybius’ hatred and venom was not only driven by his Achaean feelings and it was at least partly shared by much latter authors and by Plutarch in particular because Nabis’ program was essentially viewed as subversive and revolutionary. Four strong stars for a remarkable piece of work.

The Spartan Regime: Its Character, Origins, and Grand Strategy (Yale Library of Military History)
The Spartan Regime: Its Character, Origins, and Grand Strategy (Yale Library of Military History)
by Paul Anthony Rahe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Institutional tools for preserving supremacy, 2 Jan. 2017
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This is the author’s second volume on Sparta, although I would advise to start with reading this one rather than the one about Sparta and the Persian Wars. This is because the present volume focuses on the city’s institutions. It shows, among other things, how little is really known about them, to what extent their origins are shrouded in legend.

One of the main merits of this excellent and clearly written book is to analyse the sources and develop plausible interpretations explaining the emergence and the instauration of Sparta’s institutions.

One finding is that the so-called reforms of Lycourgos and their original purpose can only be understood when put in the historical, political, social and economic context (7th century BC). Another related feature shows how at least some of these institutions, in particular the Agoge and the transformation of Sparta into a militarised city, were linked to the conquest of Messenia and the enslavement of its population.

A third element is to show to what extent this conquest, which more than doubled the size of Sparta’s territory, allowed it to become (at the time) the largest and one of the richest (and largely self-sufficient) cities of Greece, but also highly vulnerable. Unlike Corinth, Athens or others, it had no longer any need to develop trade or found colonies abroad. However, and also unlike any of these, full citizens (Spartiates) only represented a small fraction of the total population, and a fraction whose supremacy was maintained through force and subjugating the helots.

A second set of features relate to the analysis of the key institutions – the two Kings, the Gerousia and the Ephors – and how these developed, were created to interact and curtail each other and could come into conflict. Here again, one of the books main merits is to show that beyond the semi-legendary origins of each institution, the author provides convincing political explanations related to the need to address particular types of conflict and shows how they were meant to ensure that the “ruling class” could maintain its supremacy and remain united. A key part of this evolution, and one which the author believes (quite convincingly) to be closely linked to the conquest and subsequent domination of Messenia, is the rise of hoplite warfare and of the institutions related to it.

The whole of Sparta’s power and dominance was predicated upon maintaining the helots in what amounted to slavery and it is this that constitutes what the author terms her “Grand Strategy”. Regardless of whether the use of this term is really apt or perhaps slightly misleading, the ultimate value of this book is to present a convincing explanation of what has long been seen as Sparta’s “exceptionalism” when compared to all other Greek cities.

Unlike them, Sparta managed to conquer, subdue and dominate for more than two and a half centuries one of its neighbours. All of its subsequent and strenuous efforts, including the foundation of the Peloponnesian League and its involvement in the Persian Wars or the Long War against Athens and her own League (and Empire in disguise) were heavily influenced (if not dictated) by its need to preserve and protect what was both the main source of its power and its main vulnerability.

A five star read.

Ragnar Blackmane (Space Marine Legends)
Ragnar Blackmane (Space Marine Legends)
by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.34

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impetuous and charismatic Wolf-Lord, 26 Dec. 2016
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This title from the Space Marine Legends series is about Ragnar Blackmane, the talented, charismatic and hot headed warrior who became the youngest Jarl of one of the Space Wolves Great Companies.

While the book does not tell the full story of his life, it contains essentially two episodes set about forty years apart. These show how the Wold Lord matures and grows into his role as one of the main warlords of the Space Wolves, but also one that earns respect and friendship from warlord-captains of two other Chapters with which the Space Wolves were at odds for centuries, the dour and secretive Knights of the Dark Angels and the no less secretive but accursed Flesh Tearers.

As usual, there is more to Aaron Demski-Bowden’s (ADB) story than what initially meets the eye. An ambush from a predatory Night Lords squadron, a sojourn on the murderous death world of Cretacia and Ragnar’s desperate last stand on Cadia, once again invaded and about to fall to the Forces of Chaos and to the Despoiler provide the context of the parallel stories. These backgrounds are carefully presented.

However, the main attraction of this book is, once again, the personalities of the main characters, beginning with that of young Ragnar. The author shows how the young and somewhat unsecure war leader struggles to control his temper and ambition and the price he pays for failing to do so. The contrast with the more mature and confident warlord some forty years later is an interesting one, especially since it is reflected in the way in which his fellow Space Wolves see and consider him.

Another attraction of this book for me was the respective and superb characterisations of Sorael, the Dark Angels’ Captain, and of Vorain, the Flesh Tearer Captain, both of which lives are bound by honour in absolute but in rather different ways. Another great read. Five stars.

The Gladius: The Roman Short Sword (Weapon)
The Gladius: The Roman Short Sword (Weapon)
by M.C. Bishop
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fit for purpose, 26 Dec. 2016
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This little booklet, part of Osprey’s series on Weapons, shows rather well to what extent the Gladius – the Roman short (or not so short) sword was fit for purpose as a murderous and brutally efficient cut and thrust infantry weapon.

The first section – “adopt and adapt” – depicts its origins while the second one – “Use” – describes its multiple evolutions, or rather the numerous types of swords that evolved over time and are collectively known as “gladius”. One of the merits of this book is precisely to bring to light these various types of swords, each of which being described in vivid and sometimes excruciating detail. Overtime, these varied in just about every component such as length, width and the form of the point.

While there may be a bit of exaggeration and melodrama in the subtitle of the third section (“the sword that conquered the Empire), its title (“Impact”) is perfectly apt. The book does a remarkable job in showing to what extent it became and remained for over four centuries one of the main elements of the legionary’s panoply. Its size and point made it into the perfect killing tool when fighting in a shield wall. Its use was also closely associated with that of the Scutum, both of which would be used offensively to bash and stab an opponent after getting “up close and personal”, easily piercing through mail or scale armour.

Another quality of this book is the fact that the author has made good use and well blended together literary, archaeological and epigraphic sources with modern reconstructions and re-enactment, all of it backed up by rather superb illustrations. One example, among many others, is a photograph showing how the Gladius’ hand guard, hand grip and pommel – as reconstructed - were designed in such a way that they provided a secure grip that allowed for this killing sword to be used as efficiently as possible.

I nevertheless had two little reservations. I was not entirely convinced with the author’s half-hearted attempt to show that the gladius – or at least its longer versions - could also be used as a cavalry sword. Moreover, while the author’s descriptions of the various sword types, their use and their terrifying impact on both enemy bodies and minds are remarkable, he never quite gets to explaining why the gladius fell out of use among both the legions and the auxiliaries to be replaced by the (generally) longer spatha. Four strong stars

Sons of Corax (Legends of the Dark Millennium)
Sons of Corax (Legends of the Dark Millennium)
by George Mann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat bland Sons of Corax, 30 Nov. 2016
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This is a collection of seven short stories by George Mann on the Raven Guard Chapter – the Sons of Corax – which is during “the Dark Millennium” towards the end of the 41th century. More precisely, it is about the struggles and wars of two of the Raven Guards’ companies (or what is left of them) under the command of Captain Koryn and the spiritual leadership of Chaplain Cordae.

There are some interesting features in this collection, such as the strained collaboration between the Raven Guards and the Brazen Minotaurs who seem to be their exact opposite in just about everything except for the fact that they are both Space Marine Chapters. Unfortunately, you are left somewhat guessing as to whom the “progenitor Chapter” of the Minotaurs happens to be. I personally hesitated between the Ultramarines and the Imperial Fists.

This tends to point to a more general issue I had. Whether the Raven Guards, the Minotaurs or the Plague Marines issued from Mortarion’s Death Guard, I found that there was a general lack of context and somewhat bland scenarios. Planets and systems are threatened, corrupted and attacked by Plague Marines and their corrupt human followers. Loyal Space Marines of the Raven Guards (and Brazen Minotaurs in the longest of the stories) oppose them and fight them, sustaining terrible losses in the process, and that is about it, with the usual displays of hors and monsters from the Chaos Plague Marines’ side, and the usual “fight to the last” and “ultimate sacrifice” displays on the other side.

You certainly get plenty of bolter fire and chain swords, power swords and other weaponry shooting and slashing left, right and centre but mostly there are one or two exceptions however) with very little context as to why the defence of planet or system x, y or z is so absolutely essential that everyone on the imperial side has to fight to the last and die in attempting to do so. You also, and finally, learn little about the Raven Guards themselves and their history, although you do get to understand that they are adepts and experts at swift hit-and-run raids, but then the chances are that you knew this already, especially if you are a 40K fan…

Three stars.

Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones)
Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones)
by Edoardo Albert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.46

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King of Kings or the fight for supremacy, 30 Nov. 2016
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King of Kings, the subtitle of this exciting and excellent book, is perhaps more apt than “Oswiu”, although both are relevant since it is essentially about Oswiu’s fight for survival and for supremacy. The struggle was against Penda King of Mercia, who had become the dominant power in what was yet to become England, after defeating and killing the charismatic Oswald, Oswiu’s elder brother.

This book is the third of the Northumbrian Throne trilogy, following Edwin, High King of Britain and Oswald: Return of the King. A short summary containing all of the main events will nevertheless allow you to read this volume without having to read the two previous ones, even if it is probably better to do so. As in the two previous volumes, the author has almost entirely kept to what is known from the sources (mostly Bede). Perhaps the main exception is the author’s take on Oswiu’s raid into Mercia and how he brought back the remains of his dead brother which were fast becoming holly relics. He does however acknowledges and explain the liberty he has taken in his historical note which is well worth reading.

Readers should also be aware that the book essentially covers the first half of Oswiu’s reign up to Penda’s death simply because it focuses on their struggle for supremacy. There is just about nothing on the fifteen or so years up to Oswiu’s death in AD 670 simply because the purpose of the book is not to be a biography of this little-known “King of the North”, but to focus on his struggle against Penda of Mercia.

Although this is a rich and fascinating book, I will only emphasise two more points.

The first relates to warfare during the first half of the seventh century AD in the British Isles, and to the number of warriors that could be fielded in the various battles of the time. When reviewing the two previous books of this trilogy, I have been a bit sceptical about the author’s tendency to opt for low numbers – a few hundred on each side at most, rather than a few thousands, even for the major battles. This is, of course, the author’s choice and liberty to do so. It may also in addition be plausible or even quite likely in many cases, for at least three reasons.

One was that most of the warfare (if not all of it) was in the form of raiding expeditions by mobile but relatively small forces of warriors and retainers of warlords. It is also possible that these forces were largely or perhaps even entirely mounted, although this may be a bit controversial.

A second reason was that none of the kingdoms had the means or the logistical organisation necessary to sustain and especially to feed large forces in the field for months. Essentially, warriors carried with them their own supplies with these able to feed them for a few weeks and likely lived off the land once they entered enemy territory.

A third reason for having limited numbers in battles was that these often occurred where one side managed somehow to corner, trap or otherwise catch the other side by surprise or in an unfavourable situation. Oswiu’s attack and final victory over Penda’s larger force is one example in this volume, just like Penda’s victory and killing of Oswald was another in the previous volume. So was the defeat and death of Edwin in the first book of the trilogy.

The second point I wanted to emphasise before ending this review is the interesting and remarkable characterisation that the author has developed for his main characters (Oswiu and Penda). Both were certainly remarkable war leaders and tough as nails. Both also had their weaknesses and while their feelings and sense of insecurity are of course the author’s invention, these fictional elements allow both characters to appear human and largely help in making them come alive. A similar comment can also be made for most of the secondary (but nevertheless vet important) characters, in particular their respective wives and children, Oswald’s son, Oswiu’s mother and the faithful and brave Aidan, first abbot of Lindisfarne - another historical character just like all the others just mentioned. However, and in addition to Aidan, my favourite character is perhaps that of Coifi, the once pagan priest. While fictional, someone like him could very well have existed.

Five stars for a superb book about a little-known period and King, one of the only ones who managed to die of a natural death and in his bed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 3, 2017 10:28 AM GMT

Invictus (Eagles of the Empire 15)
Invictus (Eagles of the Empire 15)
by Simon Scarrow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.13

5.0 out of 5 stars Regime change, 28 Nov. 2016
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This is episode fifteen of Cato and Macro’s adventures as Roman soldiers - respectively Prefect and centurion in this episode. The action takes place in Rome and mostly in Hispania in AD 54, the year of Claudius’ death.

Readers that have been following these adventures know to what extent the two friends have been dragged into the murderous rivalries between two factions, each lead by one of Claudius’ freemen. These are fighting a covert (or not so covert) and deadly war to impose their candidate as the next Emperor. So the unexpected drafting of the two officers as part of an expedition where most of the Praetorian Guard gets sent to put down a rebellion in Northern Hispania and secure a key silver mine and its precious bullion seems to be a godsend that will keep out of trouble.

Unsurprisingly, the expedition will, on the contrary, see them exposed to extreme danger.

This was to me an exciting read but also an excellent one for many reasons. One is, once again, the author’s ability to weave his story with the historical background. We know, of course, that Claudius’ death was swiftly followed by Nero’s accession to supreme power which he, his mother and their party more generally, has been preparing for some time. The author’s talent is to come up with a plot where the expedition to Hispania plays a significant role in the “regime change”.

A second example of this is the role played by Cato in making sure that Caratacus saved his life. Here again, the author has built on the historical facts - we know that Claudius did not have the British warlord and King executed, contrary to tradition – to ensure the involvement of one of his main characters. I was, however, perhaps a bit less impressed by Cato’s “legacy problems” following the death of his wife Julia. There is nothing implausible with what is deemed to have happened, except that it tends to jar with the author’s characterisation of Julia in previous episodes.

A third remarkable feature is to also show the “dark side” of the Pax Romana. One aspect were the extortionate taxes and loans that some Senators, and a certain Seneca in particular, could inflict on the local population, with slavery for those that could not pay. While I am not quite sure that such methods were applied by Seneca’s henchmen in Iberia, they certainly would be half a dozen years later in Britannia and they would trigger the Boadicea insurrection, so this is quite plausible. Another aspect is the simply awful and terrible description of the working conditions in the silver mine and the rather short life expectancy that was associated with them, to put it mildly.

A third feature to which readers of Simon Scarrow are now well accustomed is the characterisation. Apart from Cato and Macro, which are true to form, my two favourites are to be found among the book’s “villains”. One is Iskerbeles, the rather sympathetic chieftain and rebel leader who is left with no alternative than to revolt and fight to the death for his freedom and that of that of his people. The other is the book’s “arch-villain” Legate Aulus Vitellius. He is a historical character that would become Emperor shortly after Nero’s death some fourteen years’ later. Once again, for those who have read the previous episodes, he is shown as vindictive, cruel and unscrupulous, with some scores to settle with Cato and Macro who he happens to be commanding.

A very enjoyable five star read.

A Song of War
A Song of War
by Kate Quinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.93

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seven songs, 28 Nov. 2016
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This review is from: A Song of War (Paperback)
Song of War is in fact a collection of seven songs (or short stories) by seven authors on the Trojan War, with each author picking one of the main episodes and one (or several) characters. The stories are each written from the author’s perspective and that of the character or characters telling the story. All seven stories are superb, with the authors introducing particularly interesting twists. The authors have also fully coordinated their narratives so that they are all consistent with each other and often build on one another.

One of the originalities of the book is the place reserved to female characters in what is “a song of war” derived from the Illiad where these tend to be largely (although not only) trophies, prey or part of the spoils. Showing how they reacted to this in various ways is one of the main interests of the book. The character of manipulative, bitter and selfish Helen is particularly interesting and a complete contrast to that of Cassandra, despised or pitied by her own, afflicted with the curse to see the future and Troy’s doom and desperately trying to avert it by any means. Another interesting contrast is between Chryseis, the seductive and manipulative captive and lover of Agamemnon, and Briseis, the defiant captive of Achilles who can drive a war chariot as well as any warrior and finds a rather doomed love with her captor. Then, of course, there is Andromache, Hector’s loving and intelligent wife, and there is the superb Amazon warrior queen, of which I will say no more to avoid spoilers.

The male characters are also interesting. Christian Cameron’s Achilles is shown as the “uber-warrior” who gets sick and tired of killing, a bit like the Achilles played by Brad Pitt in Petersen’s Troy, but perhaps with more depth. Somewhat more original is the character of an elder Patrocles, one-time lover of Achilles when they were boys and who watches over his friend and tries to keep him out of trouble. Also interesting is the portrait of Agamemnon, the over-ambitious and ageing King who has used Helen’s abduction as a pretext to conquer Troy. He has stopped at nothing to ensure his goal, including the sacrifice of his beloved daughter Iphigeneia and the loss of his beloved mistress and he is haunted by his past actions as a result. The Fall of Troy itself is told by Aeneas who, despite being self-righteous, comes across as rather sympathetic.

The two most original male characters are perhaps those of Helennus, Cassandra’s twin brother born from a Nubian concubine for the purpose of the story, who is the honest man with a bit of an inferiority complex, and sad Philoctetes, the crippled archer and friend of Achilles. The least original is the character of Odysseus the trickster, but the story of his foray into Troy to snatch a sacred relic is superb and his saving of the old Trojan queen makes him into one of the most sympathetic characters of the lot.

Interestingly, the authors have strived to keep to the “historical context” (assuming, of course, that the Trojan War is not just a legend) as much as possible. The war takes place while Troy’s navy is away taking part in their Hittite overlords’ civil wars during one of the multiple crises that brought the end of the Bronze Age. The real reasons of the war were economical – to control the Hellespont trade route through which the vital tin supplies for Greece came – and political since King Priam controlled the route and could bleed the Greek kingdoms through hefty taxes. A nice touch introduced by the authors in the first story was to show that Priam wanted the war just as much as Agamemnon and even provoked it. Another nice touch was to show through glimpses here and there the ravages of war throughout the countryside for many miles around Troy and her allies whose territories and lesser cities were ravaged over the decade. A related feature was the Greeks’ restlessness - and Agamemnon’s in particular – and their eagerness to end the war and return home where trouble was brewing in their absence.

All in all, a rather superb collection and a great tribute to the blind poet which is well worth five stars which will want to make me read the other similar collective effort that was published before this one and hope that the authors come up with more.

For the Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare
For the Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare
by Ross Cowan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Roman Warriors and Warfare, 20 Nov. 2016
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This book largely concentrates on Roman warrior ethos and the crucial role played by single combat in battle. The book is largely chronological and ranges mostly from the Pyrrhic war to the End of the Republic, although it also includes elements from previous periods - on the wars against the Gauls and the Samnites in particular - and from the Empire.

Many of the events and campaigns described appear as a collection of somewhat hasty vignettes. Contrary to what the commercial “blurb” attached to the book might suggest, it does not really contain the “in-depth analysis of strategy and campaigns” simply because this is not the point that the author seeks to make.

Rather, the purpose is to identify the Roman warrior ethos, its components and how it was ingrained in Roman society, and not only in its warrior aristocracy. This it fully achieves. It is this that makes the reading of this book so interesting, together with the vignettes of a range of heroic relentless warriors including centurions in particular but also quite a few consuls, whose careers and exploits mirrored the semi-mythical deeds of early Roman warriors.

One major feature of the book is the author’s identification of the importance of single combat and more generally hand to hand combat where the individual warrior would seek to best and kill the enemy champion, before despoiling him of his arms (and often his head) and dedicating the lot to the God that had shown him favour and giving him victory. One related feature is the importance and consideration that Romans gave to those victorious in such duels and single combats. The central part of the book is in fact made up of a eighty page long chapter specifically devoted to “Single Combat”.

Another excellent and related feature is the religious dimensions associated with such heroics that could go up to and include self-sacrifice (devotion). These were essentially suicidal attacks whereby commanding officers would dedicate both themselves and the enemy they charged to the Gods. Interestingly, Ross Cowan shows how throughout the history of Rome and up to the Fourth Century AD included traces of such ethos can be found in the Empire’s military history.

A corollary, that the author illustrates rather well, is that such eagerness was not always positive or desirable. It could – and did on occasion – lead to major breakdowns in discipline and even ill-timed, unsanctioned and therefore near-disastrous attacks, something that happened twice to Caesar during his remarkable military career. Also of note are a collection of gorgeaous plates and illustrations.

A final comment is that while there are some repetitions at times, the author’s style is also very easy to read, incisive and to the point, making this point particularly well-suited for the so-called general reader. The price to pay for that is a few approximations at times, as Ross Cowan focuses on the points he wants to make at the risk of “cutting corners” at times. Four strong stars for a warmly recommended book and a good complement to Jeremy Armstrong’s Early Roman Warfare from the regal period to the First Punic War.

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