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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 February 2008
I really liked this Osprey Campaign book. This battle is so famous that we always tend to believe that we know all the facts about it - and of course we are wrong.

I learned a lot from this book and maybe for the first time I really clearly understood what were the sources of superiority of Greek hoplits when facing huge Persian armies. Nic Fields explained very well his point, describing the fight between a close combat army (Greeks) against a distance combat army (Persians). It is clear that when the latter was forced to fight on enemies terms, it would suffer greatly, even if at the end the numbers would make the decision.

Important points are well described, like the poor performance of Greek troops covering the mountainous track, which failed to stop or even delay advancing "Immortals". Nic Fields claims also and proves, that Leonidas decision that the rearguard must stay and fight rather than escape, was tactically very sound and allowed most of the Greek army to retire and fight another day - namely in victorious and decisive battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

This book is very clearly written and is a very easy and pleasant read. Illustrations are excellent, however, the colour plates are slightly less good that I expected. Steve Noon is possibly the most talented Osprey illustrator when modern wars are concerned - but here, in the ancient warfare he seems to be less comfortable. I do not know why, but all the books about Greek-Persian wars seem to be victims of a curse affecting the illustrations - just remember the HORRIBLE Osprey Elite issue about armies of Ancient Persia! Here the three colour plates are not bad, but could definitely be better.

Still, this doesn't affect my rating. Five stars, well deserved, and I will be looking forward for the next Nic Fields book - why not "Salamis 480 BC"?
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 1 October 2012
When compared to some other Osprey publications, this is a rather good summary. The author knows his period well. Most (although a couple are missing) of the main secondary sources are listed in his bibliography. Nic Field also offers the modern and more balanced account of the "Persian Wars" and the Persian Empire.

In military terms, he shows that the Persians were neither cowards, not effeminate and that, man-to-man, they had nothing to envy the Greeks. However, their equipment was not suited for close combat warfare, contrary to that of the hoplites, and the battle of Thermopylae took place precisely in conditions that largely nullified the huge numerical superiority of the Persians and maximized the Greeks' strengths. Persian armed forces had huge advantages, and not only in numbers, over Greek armies that they had consistently defeated in Asia Minor, both because of their missile troops and because of their cavalry.
He also shows that what the Greeks chose to present as an ideological "war for freedom" for somewhat more complicated than this. Many (and perhaps even a majority) of the Greek states and cities choosing to submit to the Persian super-power rather than defy it and side with Athens and Sparta, the two cities which, from the Persian point of view, were beyond the pale for having executed the King of Kings envoys and ambassadors and supported the insurrection of the Ionians.

Another advantage of this book is to show to what extent the Empire was superbly organized, capable of waging wars on a huge scale, contrary to the Greeks who had neither done so before, and with an associated mastery of diplomacy, intelligence and logistics that the Greeks could not match. In additional, the Empire human and financial resources were so huge as to appear limitless, especially when compared to poor small Greece.
The story of the battle itself is well known and well told, with the author insisting quite correctly that the 300 - which, by the time of the third day, had probably lost up to a third of their numbers - were also accompanied by periokoi and helots (some perhaps 1000 initially) and by the survivors of the initially 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians. He also stresses that, in proportion to their total population, the sacrifice of the Thespians was perhaps even greater than that of the Spartans themselves. Although perfectly correct, this sacrifice would not have taken place at all if Leonidas and his Spartans had not chosen to remain.

Another good point of this book is to explain why Leonidas choose to stay. This was no dead whish or glory-seeking on the part of the old battle-king. There are in fact two possible reasons for his decision to stand to the last. The first reason, mentioned by Nic Field, is that only Leonidas and his Spartans could fight such a doomed rear guard action, an action that would buy enough time for the rest of the force to retreat to safety. An additional reason, which is plausible, but not certain, is that there might have been doubts in Sparta itself about whether to commit, and to what extent, against the Persian and beyond the Isthmus, especially since Argos, Sparta's arch-enemy, was in contact with the Great King's envoys and had scores to settle with Sparta.

This leads to a relatively high number of omissions and simplifications that are scattered across the book. These include:
- The mention that the Thebans surrendered on the last day to the Persians. While Nic Field does mention that this probably comes from an Athenian and anti-Theban source of Herodotos and that Plutarch mentions that this Thebans were in fact the anti-Persian faction, he is still not ready to dismiss Herodotos' version as the slander that it probably was
- Another disputable point is the statement that Leonidas could have had a hand in the death of his half-brother Kleomenos. While possible, the point is not very plausible. By the time he died in what were suspicious circumstances, Kleomenos had been deposed and Leonidas nominated to replace him so he did not have a clear motive to kill his half-brother, although the other royal line certainly had, since Kleomenos had engineered the exile and the disgrace of Demaratos, who fled to the Persians
- Another weakness is the discussion of the Greek plan for the campaign, because the author seems to minimize the huge dissensions among the allies, including - but not only - between Athens and Sparta and evacuate this by stating that the plan had to be a compromise. What Nic Field fails to mention is that mutual suspicion among the allies was such that the Alliance was stretched to breaking point more than once.
- A similar point is his view that the Persian King and his Court underestimated the Allies' will to fight. This is a statement that is largely tainted with hindsight. In fact, as Peter Green's old but superb book on the Persian Wars shows so very well, the Persians were past masters at sowing dissension. This was one of the main tools of their diplomacy. It very nearly worked, given that all of Northern Greece and all of the Thebans sided with them after Thermopylae. They could very well believe it would work again at Salamis, and this is where they seemed to have been tricked
- Another point is the military inferiority of the Persian infantry. This was real, but it should not be over-emphasized too much, neither should the absence of body armour among Persian troops be exaggerated. It is likely that the Immortals, for instance, did have both helmets and metal armour, probably scale. We also know that the Egyptians, and possibly other contingents (such as Carians and Phoenicians, but also Babylonians) would have had linen, metal or leather armour as well. On the Greek side, many hoplites could certainly not afford bronze armour and hade to make do with leather...
- There are also a number of other "glitches", such as according too much credit to Lazenby's perfectly gratuitous and superfluous claim that the 300 were selected by lot while the sources state explicitly that they were chosen among those who already had at least one male heir. Another glitch is a failure to reconcile the original huge number of Persian ships - over 1200 - with the numbers lost and the remaining total. As Peter Green shows, the discrepancy can be largely explaining if, in addition to the storms of the coast of Magnesia and Euboea, one accounts for the pontoon bridges of boats across the Hellespont.
- Finally, I was not very impressed by the plates, which are no better than ok, although the photos, maps and illustrations are better.

So, in my view, this Osprey volume, while certainly better than average, is just about worth four stars, but certainly not five. A better and more complete account of the campaign and of the whole war can, I believe, be found in Peter Green's superb Persian Wars which is still my preferred reference, despite its age. However, this book is nevertheless a rather good summary.
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on 25 July 2008
In this short book, Nic Fields presents us with a look at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, the battle that delayed the Persian army and saved Greece.
Yet, there is more to this book than simply a description of this famous event. Fields covers the 'before, during, and after' stages of the battle, explaining to the reader the origins of the campaign as well as its conclusion with the defeat of Mardonios's army at Plataea in 479 BC.

He presents us with short biographies of the commanders of both sides, covering Leonidas of Sparta and the Great Persian king, Xerxes. He also explains to the reader the equipment and fighting techniques of the Greek and Persian armies, explaining how they differed and how this would ultimately be the deciding factor of the campaign.

With the background explained, as well as the Greek and Persian plans layed out, Fields then details the events of the battle. He is assisted by three wonderful 3D bird's eye-view maps that cover the differnt stages of the battle. These aren't as detailed as some of the maps contained in other Osprey Campaign titles, but that's more to do with the lack of notable sites on the battle terrain. Steve Noon provides three terrific colour plates, showing the Persian scout spying on the Spartans at rest while the other two plates show the Greeks and Persians in battle. These are generally very good, and the detail is crisp rather than the typically muddy illustrations that are usually thrown together for Osprey Campaign titles.

With plenty of maps, photographs of the modern battlefield and archaeological finds, as well as diagrams and a bibliography, this book should be the standard introduction to this legendary battle. That said, it shouldn't be the only book you read on the subject as there are other more in-depth and scholarly works available. If it had one fault, it is that only a few pages of the book actually cover the battle, but I suppose this is because of the lack of written sources beyond Herodotus's account.

I have to say that I found this book an eye opener. It dismisses some of the more bombastic statements made about the battle, explaining that it was far more than 300 Spartans who made tha last stand, as their helot servants, the Thespian Hoplites and the Thebans were all there with Leonidas on the last day as Xerxes troops surrounded them, even if the Thebans did surrender.

A good introductory title.
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on 10 January 2008
Nic Fields ought to be congratulated for this book. I started reading it and simply could not put it down, it reads almost as well as a novel. The key fact that he challenges some of the acquired notions about this battle makes this a fascinating read: the Persians were far from being Barbarians, they were not a poorly equipped and poorly trained fighting force and most importantly the Spartans were not the only Greek contingent fighting this battle.
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on 26 March 2015
This is a terrific concise look at the famous Battle of Thermopylae. It contains background information on the combatants and the situation which led to the battle, as well as the battle itself. As with many Osprey titles this is filled with photographs of archaeological pieces, illustrations and maps which perfectly accompany and reinforce the text. This is an excellent book on this most famous of battles and would be a perfect introduction for any reader to the Battle of Thermopylae.
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on 4 December 2015
Item as described and in perfect condition
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on 10 April 2016
I gave it as a gift, but no problems
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on 30 April 2011
This book explores not only the battle itself, but also gives some background to the protagonists on each side; the Spartan-led alliance of Greek states and the Persian Imperial forces. As well as giving some detailed maps of the region and giving a clear description of the topography that was to play such a crucial role in the conflict, there are also some well-thought out speculations as to why this particular piece of ground was chosen and how it affected the actions of those involved. Each stage of the battle is described in detail, using both contemporary and later documentation as well as some sound guesswork given the circumstances and the troops involved. Some of the legends surrounding this iconic event are also given and the reader is given free reign to make up their own mind as to their validity.

However, there are a couple of issues to take with this book that means I could not give it full marks. Firstly, the author states that in all probability the Spartan hoplites would have worn a mixture of bronze and linen armour as did other Greek states. The only (albeit scant) evidence we have for the Spartan cuirass of the time gives no evidence for linen armour at all. The only benefit linen armour had over bronze at the time was its cost and comfort to the wearer, not features one would necessarily identify with the elite, utterly unflinching Spartans. I would have preferred a little more choice given to the reader to make up their own mind, with arguments for and against, rather than an iffy assumption. Indeed the Osprey 'Spartan Army' title does state that only a bronze cuirass was likely at the time!

The second point may seem trivial to some, but for me was a major one. The artist has used a single model (presumably himself) for painting every single figure in the colour plates. If you had only a small group in each illustration this would not be an issue, but in battle scenes involving several dozen protagonists it is downright odd to see an identical face under every helmet! Not only that, but I'm afraid the physiques of the Spartan hoplites in particular fall well short of athletic. If you are going to bother having battle scenes in an illustration, there should be more effort made to make them look authentic.

Overall I would still recommend the book, because its merits outweigh its failings, but suffice to say it left me a trifle flat compared to the majority of Osprey's excellent titles.
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on 9 September 2014
very good
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