Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Joseph Pietrykowski, Great Battles of the Hellenistic World. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2012. Pp. 256. ISBN 9781848846883. $24.95.

Reviewed by Janice J. Gabbert, Wright State University (jan.gabbert@wright.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

This is an interesting and readable book, but it has its limitations. It provides a fairly detailed analysis of seventeen battles, in five parts as follows:

Part I, Chaironeia 338 BCE, Philip II of Macedonia vs. Athens and Thebes; Granikos 334, Issos 333, Gaugamela 331, Hydaspes River 326, all Alexander the Great vs. Darius of Persia.
Part II, Paraitakene 316, Antigonus I vs Eumenes; Gabiene 316, same; Gaza 312, Demetrius I Poliorcetes vs. Ptolemy I; Ipsos 301, coalition vs. Antigonus I.
Part III, Heraklea 280, Asculum 279, Beneventum 275, all Pyrrhus of Epirus vs. Romans.
Part IV, Sellasia 221, Antigonus III Doson vs. Kleomenes of Sparta; Raphia 217, Ptolemy IV vs. Antiochus III of Syria.
Part V, Kynoskephalai 197, Rome vs. Philip V of Macedonia; Magnesia 189, Rome vs. Antiochus III of Syria; Pydna 168, Rome vs. Perseus of Macedonia.

The pattern for the discussion of each battle is the same: the campaign, the battlefield, armies and leaders, the battle, the aftermath.

There are many small battlefield maps showing the disposition of troops on both sides, but not a single larger map. There is no map to indicate the general region where the battle took place with reference to other places; the reader simply must know the regional maps well. There is an adequate index, and three pages of bibliography, but the author rarely refers to any of the listed modern works either in the text or the footnotes. I counted eight references, three to the same book published in 1976. More common is a statement such as "many scholars say…" or "most historians believe…" without naming or citing any of them.

The ancient sources are cited well enough, although the discussion of the battle of Asculum in 279 contains not a single note. The tendency is to paraphrase the major source, such as Diodoros or Polybios, for the whole battle. The author adds or inserts his own interpretation, to include the emotions of the actors, which is occasionally found in the ancient sources, but often is not there. Alexander at Issos had "a sense of urgency and excitement," and later "breathed a sigh of relief." Maybe he did. How can one know? At Gabiene, "Antigonos spurred his galloping mount onward harder than ever and, signalling wildly with drawn sword…" He is following Diodoros here, and that is not in Diodoros. Riders are frequently "spurring" their horses, even though spurs had not been invented yet. But it is a lively phrase.

The writing is quite lively and interesting; the scholarship is at best minimally adequate. This book will be of value to war-gamers because he sets the stage well and there is a lot of tactical detail. The war-gamer does not particularly care where Kynoskephalai is, but does care about the terrain, and the description of the local landscape is generally good. The author would do very well as a screenwriter for movies and television; such persons must use fairly good scholarship to start, but are allowed and even required to take some liberties with the dry facts.

This is an enjoyable book to read, but it cannot lay claim to scholarship.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.