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Subject: Must-Have Book for Greek CC:A! rss

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Sight Reader
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I just picked up an excellent new book for creating CC:A scenarios. It may have its flaws, but they pale in comparison to its potential!

Here's my review:


Despite its depth and richness of detail, this book provides a fully accessible analysis of warfare in 5th century Greece. Although enjoyable for anyone with interest in the drama of battle, the book is an absolute treasure trove for anyone studying military history, most especially wargamers and others who are interested in recreating battles of the period.

The book covers the absolute core of Classical Greek history. The period prior to the 5th century is more legendary than documented, and the century after finds exhausted city states ripe pickings for Macedon and Hellenism. Thus it is in the 5th century where the independent city-states truly stand out as world powers, and the bare bones of archeology and legend are finally fleshed out by the histories of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and others.

As indicated, only land battles are covered, although naval engagements are described in sufficient detail to understand their consequences. Obviously, all the great battles you'd expect to see are here - Marathon, Mantinea, Syracuse and so forth - and are described in detail not possible in books with a non-military focus. However, this book also shines a clear, welcome light on many lesser known and poorly documented conflicts and wars - some of which may never even have occurred! Here we find intriguing new worlds: the great offensives of Carthage in Sicily, desperate fights for survival against massive indigenous armies, a glimpse into the petty world of city-state border clashes and a quality description of the generally ignored campaigns of the Ionian Revolt where the Persian sparabara emerged victorious against the Greek hoplite.

Except for the well documented battles of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, Ray is forced to recreate many poorly described conflicts in their entirety. Using what social and demographic data is available, he postulates the likely mix of the opposing armies, thus providing the reader with a great deal of invaluable research:

"Figures for Gela and Syracuse after their union in 485 B.C. offer clues to the manpower inolved here. The combined poleis could field 5-6000 hoplites within 600-man lochoi (per a picked Syracusan unit of later years). Assuming that mercenaries were not a factor and that Syracuse was the weaker partner suggests a Gelan mobilization of about 3000 spearmen (five lochoi) plus an unusuallly strong cadre of 600 horsemen."

For the actual course of obscure battles, Ray postulates a likely location for engagement, and generally assumes that both armies arrive at a logical location (no surprises, ambushes, betrayals, screw-ups, etc), have time to line up in the most traditional possible order, and basically walk into each other head-on. The results of such head-on collisions generally depend on how deeply "filed" opposing armies are for an "othismos" shoving match, after which losses are determined based on which side had enough light forces to either protect or cut down fleeing men.

Unfortunately, a story of battle that assumes only the most obvious and probable tends to read like a weather prediction, and Ray's attempt to embellish the analysis with utterly hypothetical drama gets even more uncomfortable:

"The Greeks must have marched out to take position on ground of their own choosing... As the leading barbarians came into view, the hoplites would have moved into a phalanx near the shoreline, forming at a depth of eight shields, with Tarantines holding the center and right wing and their Regian allies taking the left... Both sides would have loosed a hail of slingers' shot and javelins as the barbarians made a screaming charge into the solid row of spears and polished shields fronting the phalanx... "

Such awkward narrative is the price to pay for being the first to attempt a completely new form of military literature. However, when an actual sources are available, the writing is as vibrant and fresh as any:

"Many already caught in the deathtrap at the crossing were so thirsty that they dropped in the very midst of battle to lap up churned and muddy water turned crimson with blood."

Ray does have some noticeable research habits. He follows the modern trend towards moral "inversion", that is, criticizing the traditional "good guys" while taking pains to sympathize with traditional "bad guys". Ray also tends discount a lot of contemporary sources as exaggeration - often drastic - depending on the reputation of the source. Sometimes, if the facts don't line up well with the hypothetical model he's constructing, he'll even infer error or confusion on the part of the source rather than propose different models. However, these techniques greatly add to readability, as his "single interpretation" approach doesn't grind to a halt to constantly check alternative interpretations, and he does note where such disagreements occur so readers have a chance to draw their own conclusions.

Ray's data on the organization and equipment of the armies seems superior to what is generally available:

"Persia used linear battle formations with files of ten men (one dathaba). Rank width was similar to that for hoplites at one meter per man, but file depth at a likely 1.5-2m per man would have been greater than among the Greeks to ease use of the bow (save at the head of each file where a unit's best men stood on shield duty)."

Not only does Ray provide such detail on the armies of Greece, Persia and Carthage, but he also reconstructs, to the best of his ability, similar information concerning the organization and character of the obscure and loosely organized indigenous tribes faced by Greek colonists.

The book only provides a few basic maps with a handful of labeled locations, so if you're not already intimately familiar with places like Sicily, Eastern Turkey, the Chalcydice, and so forth, you will need your own strategic map (perhaps one printed off the internet). On the actual field of battle, several major engagements are accompanied with basic but clear tactical maps showing the probable deployment of troops, thus making it much easier to follow movements in the ensuing discussion.

What emerges from this book is a world far more diverse than the traditionally narrow focus on Athens, Sparta and Persia. Unlike most imperial powers, aggressive Greek city-states tended to cut their colonial acquisitions adrift, resulting in a bewildering array of independent tyrannies, democracies and republics who tangle with both indigenous and foreign forces to create a rich history of alliance, ambition, betrayal and warfare in a variety of Mediterranean settings.
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Dan Cavaliere
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Thanks for the great review Sight Reader. I may just have to get that book now
 
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Stefan Koller
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Thanks, that's a great review of a book many of us (me included) would likely have missed without your drawing our attention to it.

For a perhaps more scholarly treatment (albeit one without coloured maps of the battle sites!) my go-to reference for the entire CC:Ancients series is this:



It's an extremely pricey set, but most university libraries got it on their shelves, and some are open to the public.

Edit. I should add that the first volume in the set deals with "Greece, the Hellenistic World, and the Rise of Rome" as per its title. The set's second volume is displayed above. Altogether the set clocks in at a page count of 1364 pages!
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