Battles of the Greek & Roman Worlds: A Chronological Compendium of 667 Battles to 31 bc, by John Drogo Montagu, Greenhill Press (Stackpole Books), Mechanicsburg, Pa., 2000, $49.95.
In the preface to Battles of the Greek & Roman Worlds, author John Drogo Montagu states that its purpose is to bring “together in one volume the ancient literature about the battles of the Greek and Roman worlds from the start of recorded history to the end of the Roman Republic.” In an exciting and vivid style Montagu presents all land and sea battles based on accounts by historians of the time, from the 8th century bc to 31 bc, when Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus defeated Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII at the battle of Actium. Fifteen maps and 18 battle plans accompany Montagu’s clear and concise text, creating an excellent single-volume reference for classical battles and an essential book for the library shelf.
Montagu has expertly compartmentalized his book into neatly arranged sections including a preliminary introduction to each of the Greek and Roman fighting organizations, such as a detailed description of the Greek hoplites and their phalanx-arrayed tactics. Descriptions of the Roman servian army and the manipular legion, and subsections on both the Greek and Roman naval tactics and vessels, set the stage well for the listed battles.
While this encyclopedia of sorts is quite inclusive, Montagu is quick to point out the difficulties of substantiating evidence to support each battle. For instance, in early Greek history Sparta did overrun Messenia, but there is little evidence to support Pausanias’ account of the First Messenian War and virtually none for the second. Montagu writes, “They are included in this work because there is no conclusive reason to believe they did not happen.”
Each listing includes the name of the battle and the year in which it was fought, as well as the size and composition of both armies involved whenever such data can be ascertained. It also includes some background to the particular battle, and the outcome. At the end of each entry Montagu has included additional references for those wanting more detail.
As Montagu writes, “accounts of ancient military conflicts range in reality from fable to fact….” Nonetheless, it must be said that Battles of the Greek & Roman Worlds is an invaluable addition to a Greco-Roman period reference collection and should be used at least as a starting point for any study of that era.
Dominic J. Caraccilo