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Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Book review: Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds
Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Chronological Compendium of 667 Battles to 31 BC From the Historians of the Ancient World, by John Drogo Montagu
This is wargames “pick-a-box”, or perhaps more appropriately “pick-a-game”.
If you are interested in warfare of Greek and/or Roman times—and, let’s face it, if postings on blogs, articles in magazines, history documentaries and the survey in Ancient Warfare (vol 1 issue 1, 2007) are anything to go by then that includes most wargamers/military history buffs and everyone who has an interest in ancients—then this book should be your first port of call to decide on your next ancients project.
Covering nearly 800 years of history from the semi-mythological Messenian Wars (8th century BCE) to the end of the Second Roman Civil War and rise of Augustus (31 BCE), Montagu’s compendium gives you plenty to choose from. The book has an entry for every significant battle, on land or sea, in the multitude of wars in those volatile and always intriguing eras of human history. Each entry provides a brief overview including background, details of the battle, the result and its impact. At the end of each entry Montagu lists the specific ancient sources from which he drew the information. You won’t be able to design a wargames scenario from the information in this book, but you’ll find loads of inspiration!
The book contains fifteen maps to assist the reader to place the geographic location, or most likely location, of the battles. Separate maps are provided for Spain, Gaul, North Italy,South Italy, Latium and Campania, Sicily, North Africa, Illyria/Macedonia/Thrace, North Greece, South Greece, The Aegean, Asia Minor, Persia, Palestine and Syracuse.
In addition, some of the entries (I did not count them, but would estimate fewer than 10%) are accompanied by a map of the specific battle. These maps are clear, indicate any key features of the terrain and the dispositions and main movements of the troops. Naturally, as a wargamer, I can never have too many maps and would have liked at least one map for every battle in the compendium—but we cannot have it all!
Part One provides a general introduction about Greek and Roman armies and navies and the reliability of the ancient sources, plus a brief glossary of some of the main military terms. Part two, the compendium proper, is further divided into the Greek World (724–145 BCE) and Roman World (502–31 BCE). The listing of the battles for each of these ‘worlds’ is preceded by a chronology which lists the year, place of the battle, the name of the war or campaign used by Montagu and the victor and vanquished (a draw or indecisive action is indicated by an equals sign after each protagonist).
Of course, there was cross-over between these two worlds. The battles of the Second and Third Macedonian Wars (20–197 and 171–168 BCE respectively) are listed in detail in the Greek World, but are cross-referenced in the Roman World.
I have found this book extremely useful in the manner which I have outlined, i.e. selecting battles of the Second Roman Civil War to look into further and so design a wargames' scenario for us to play out on the tabletop. It is, of course, also of great interest to ‘dip’ into the book at any stage to read about the battles that occurred or even to sit with one’s favourite tipple and read it from cover to cover!
Originally published in 2000, Battles of the Greek & Roman Worlds: A Chronological Compendium of 667 Battles to 31 BC was re-printed in 2015 by Pen & Sword books (via their Frontline imprint), making this valuable tome available to more readers.
It will be left to another author to produce a similar compendium for the earlier classical warfare or the Imperial Roman periods. There is a dearth of information about John Drogo Montagu, at least in electronic fora, but it seems that he passed away in 2013. Montagu came to historical research in the latter years of his life having served in the Second World War and, according to a brief entry on Abe Books website his “… love of classical history was fostered in childhood by an inspiring teacher. After a career in medicine, Montagu returned to the classical world and wrote this book.” His other book, “Greek and Roman Warfare : Battle, Tactics and Trickery”, receives generally good reviews on-line, although not from Project Muse!