BMCR 2005.08.13

Greek and Roman Military Writers. Selected Readings. Routledge Classical Translations

, Greek and Roman military writers : selected readings. Routledge classical translations. London/New York: Routledge, 2004. 1 online resource (1 volume).. ISBN 0203642082 $27.95 (pb).

Brian Campell has done a great service to students and teachers of ancient warfare, and multiple copies of this book are recommended for university teaching collections. He presents 286 excerpts from ancient military writers, arranged topically, in chapters on: ‘organisation, training, and discipline’, ‘the general’s role’, ‘battle: formations and stratagems’, ‘attacking and defending cities’, and ‘military engineering’, an arrangement that could hardly be bettered. There is also a twenty page introduction, in which C. gives overviews in turn of Greek and Roman warfare and then deals with the phenomenon of the ancient military writer.

C. has selected his passages thoughtfully. The majority are from works less often read by undergraduates, the likes of Frontinus, Aeneas Tacticus, and the opera minora of Xenophon, as well as a few for which there is no English translation available, e.g. Julius Africanus and Pseudo-Hyginus. Only forty (i.e., less than one seventh) of the excerpts come from Polybius, Caesar, Thucydides or Xenophon. Given finite space, I applaud C.’s decision to include only indispensable passages from these readily available texts, which anyone learning about ancient warfare should be reading alongside C.’s selection. If anything, I would have been inclined to have even fewer of these, whilst referring to them in the commentary so that the student could look them up.

Short commentaries are supplied where necessary and immediately follow the relevant passage, giving context, and interpretation only where the author’s meaning is obscure. The cross referencing is also very useful, for example linking Frontinus’, Polyaenus’ and Xenophon’s views on Clearchus, which happen to appear in different chapters. The text is supplemented by eleven very clear diagrams, an index of the cited passages, and an index of names and subjects. There is also a select bibliography of some 170 recent works on military topics and on the authors.

Now for a few very minor quibbles with Campbell’s introduction. On Greek warfare, the statement (p.2) that ‘manpower was limited’ (i.e. in absolute terms) perhaps risks giving the impression that military participation was low, whereas in fact it was much lower in the Roman empire. There is also some confusing use of the terms ‘rank’, ‘file’, and ‘line’. Strictly speaking a rank is a number of men all standing to the left or right of each other; in other words ranks are the rows of men that run left to right across a squad. A file, on the other hand is a number of men one behind another; in other words the files run from front to rear in a squad. Ranks are therefore only one man deep, and files only one man wide. A line however, is a formation which can be drawn up any number of ranks deep (the Macedonian phalanx supposedly preferred 16 ranks), and an army could use a number of lines. It is slightly confusing, therefore, when C. refers to the hastati, principes, and triarii of the Roman manipular army as ‘ranks’ (p.8 and p.31). This gives the impression that they were only one man deep; ‘lines’ would have been preferable.

In summary, C. is likely to earn the gratitude of many for providing this well put together volume which will remain on reading lists for many years to come.