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  Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton  The author has chosen to take on three large topics in this book. Usually, authors will tackl...

Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton

Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton

Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton

 Ancient Battle Formations


Justin Swanton

 The author has chosen to take on three large topics in this book. Usually, authors will tackle just one of the ancient battle formations, these being:

The Hoplite Phalanx

The Macedonian Phalanx

The Roman Legion

 Instead, Mr. Swanton has decided to give a dissertation about all three in the same book. This might lead prospective readers to assume that the author just gives an overview of the different formations. This thought is far off the mark. The book has enough information to please the history lover, wargamer, and the military modeler all in one concise volume. 

 The book starts with a chapter called 'The Fundamentals of a Formation'. True to its name, the chapter starts the reader off slowly into this deep subject. The book goes into different formations and exactly how they could move and fight in them. It also gives the size of varying formations and the space between each fighting man. Then it goes into the formations that cavalry would use, and then goes into Elephants and even chariots. 

 Next up is the author's take on the history, usage, and finer points about the Hoplite Phalanx. The early beginnings of the Hoplite Phalanx are covered by the mists of time. We can only guess at the actual year and place that the Hoplite Phalanx took shape. We can, with certainty, say that by the time of the first Persian attempts to conquer Greece that most of the city states had their own Hoplite Phalanxes. The book goes into the various arguments for how the spear was held (overhand or under), then branches out in minute detail into the panoply of the Hoplite, along with trying to use the fragments of history that we have to explain the Hoplite Phalanx's actual use in battle. The authors of the time were writing for their audience, and not for us. This means that they took many things for granted in their writings. They could all go down to the city training area and watch the Hoplites train. So, many simple things about warfare from the time we have no hard evidence on. The later copiers of their work did not add in the missing bits either. 

 Then the author takes us to the Macedonian Phalanx and shows its probable beginnings under Alexander's ancestors. Unfortunately, the history of the Macedonian Phalanx is also not easy to pin down. We do know that its form was definitely in place by the time Alexander became king. The Successors of Alexander, or Diadochi, definitely changed some things about the Phalanx, but its form would have been easily recognizable by earlier warriors. 

 The next chapter of the book is called 'The Triplex Acies', and not  'Roman Legion' as you would think. It begins with a history of the Roman Hoplite Phalanx, and then segues into the history of the Legion itself. The main point of contention with authors about the Legion is how exactly the Romans could use troops from behind the first line as relief for it. Disengaging from an enemy front line, especially in hand-to-hand combat, is not an easy thing to do. How the Romans could do it without throwing their own lines into chaos is once again a question that history does not give us the definitive answer to. The author goes though the different ideas on the subject and shows us the varied thoughts on the matter.

 At the end of each chapter is a large bibliography for the reader to delve into himself. The book also has copious amounts of citations for the different theories presented. The book is an excellent one volume treatment of these three distinctly different formations and their uses. Thank you very much Mr. Swanton for this book. I also thank Casemate Publishers for allowing me to review it. 

 Another point that the author touches on is why, if the Legion became the pinnacle of battle formations, was only the Macedonian Phalanx brought back to life to conquer Medieval battlefields for 300 or so years? This has always been a question in my mind. 


Book: Ancient Battle Formations

Author: Justin Swanton

Publisher: Pen & Sword

Distributor: Casemate Publishers