Book Review: A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich.



Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 May 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445647427

The hardback is a slim handsome production, brown with gold writing and a thistle as a frontispiece. To the rear a few snippets from inside and a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral. It consists of just about 300 reading pages, not counting index, select bibliography etc. At the centre is a well chosen selection of images, including photographs of important buildings, some taken by the author.

One day in 1603 a young auburn haired man with fragile, aquiline features and a generally downcast expression rode across the border of Scotland into England. The man had been King James VI of Scotland, but on the passing of Queen Elizabeth James Stuart of Scots also became King James I of England, and so a new age dawned for the British Isles. The idea of doing a day in the life of some such person is a tried and true way of getting under their skin, so why not apply the same method for a year, and have a look at what 17th century people did or could do in 365 days.

Now as a note, because I am aware of some nit picky fiends out there who have issues with the title. Although the political entity of Great Britain would not be, railroaded onto the island kingdom by his descendant Queen Anne, James I & VI had a vision of a unified Kingdom centred on the throne he now occupied, which being in London, more specifically meant the person of the monarch. It is from James’ vision that the Union Jack emanated from, and the concept of a unified state, which with the passing of a century would be called Britain.

It is from this first “British” Stuart, then, to the last that Andrea Zuvich chooses to bookend her examination into the fabric of 17th century and early 18th century Britain. Many Sottish nationalists who condemn the exclusion of the previous centuries of Stuart rule in Scotland, miss entirely the concept of the Stuart age in Britain, a term which specifically singles out the period between 1603 and 1714. People looking for a history of entire Stuart line should therefore look elsewhere. But for those interested in James I, the Great Civil Wars, the Restoration, the Revolution’s both Glorious and Monmouthian and the War of the Spanish Succession, you are in for a treat.

I must say I found this an extremely enjoyable read. The book on the whole presents a wonderful tableau of Stuart era life, anyone reading it, I am sure will come away with a real sense and flavour of the times and it would doubtless be an excellent sensory introduction to the period at hand. If I was to sum it up, I would say that it is a fabulous pictorial mural of 17th century life and it is a work in the spirit of some of Ian Mortimer’s imaginative approaches to presenting history. Each item is entertaining in itself, and when viewed from the distance of the closing page one gets a picture made up of thousands of smaller ones that act together as pixels which give the reader an undeniably rich and sweeping look at this era in British History.

It is entirely possible to read this book as a conventional volume, or if the mood strikes you can read a section day by day as if it was a calendar. As a receptacle of first hand accounts, some well known, some more obscure, it is a great addition to a 17th century library or collection on British history.


Book Review: King’s African Rifles Soldier vs Schutztruppe Soldier: East Africa 1917-18 by Greg Adams


Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (22 Sept. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472813278

After 100 years of writing and discussion, there’s really no such thing as a neglected field of research when it comes to WW1. Look around and you will find books about what you want, especially general ones. Rather there is a curve which is categorised by volume; Which aspect has the most written about it against those that have comparatively little in print, yet when compared to other subjects are actually quite well off. The East African campaign of WW1 fits into this latter category. First you have the war in France, then most probably the Turkish fronts of Gallipoli and Palestine, then without doubt the eastern front and right down at the bottom you find a clump made up of Asia, Africa and most probably Italy. Continue reading “Book Review: King’s African Rifles Soldier vs Schutztruppe Soldier: East Africa 1917-18 by Greg Adams”

1066: England’s Magnus Annus part 2.

The men who would be King.

In different places and at different times the great players in the 1066 drama heard of or saw the great long haired star that streaked across the heavens in April, each would have assigned different interpretations to it. Before the year was out three men would have changed the fate of England. The new King Harold, the defender of the realm and people’s champion, torn between his duty and his conscience that tracks to an oath sworn over holy relics to make another man King, and the repercussions his coronation would have. Duke William, the man behind the Norman succession, a paranoid, but talented warrior with wily political mind and a heart of iron and ice. Then comes the Viking, Harald Sigurdsen or Hardraada, usually seen just as a boor, the stereotypical Scandinavian giant inured to bloodshed and killing, but in reality a far more complex, cultured almost Renaissance, man who probably had more experience in statesmanship than Harold and just as much military experience as William.

Harold Godwinson. A man of destiny, perhaps torn between duty and conscience.
Harold Godwinson. A man of destiny, perhaps torn between duty and conscience and haunted by the repercussions of both.

Harold Godwinson was born into a family deeply invested in the deadly back room power struggles of Edward the Confessor’s court. His father Earl Godwine, had for a long time been the power behind the throne, a fact Edward resented and it is supposedly due to his unwanted interference that the sainted confessor remained celibate and never had a child with Godwine’s daughter. Sometimes in charge, sometimes living in exile, Harold eventually succeeded his father to the earldom of Wessex, with a thorough education in Saxon court politics. After campaigning in Wales had proven himself the most popular and most powerful Lord in England. It was in this role he was sent by Edward to promise the throne to the King’s cousin, Duke William of Normandy. Edward being strongly pro Norman as a sort of reaction towards the power of the Godwins. The legalities of this little jaunt amount roughly to this. By the accepted law of the land Edward could appoint his successor, but the Lords of the land were under no obligation to accept the choice after his death. Anglo Saxon succession required the backing of the nobility, and so when Harold swore (wether he intended to or not) to uphold William’s claim in England, he was promising to plead his case to the Earls, but he made no promise that they would listen to him. And they didn’t, this giving Harold the benefit of the doubt that he brought up Edward’s Norman succession idea. The nobles chose Harold, this was a traditionally acceptable means of candidacy and being the son of his father, Harold, was popular enough and strong enough to take it, and smart enough to call up his army in preparation for the Norman reaction.

Duke William. Paranoid, humourless and ruthless. Yet a great commander, personally courageous and progressive.
Duke William. Paranoid, humourless and ruthless. Yet a great commander, personally courageous and progressive.

William was an intelligent, ruthless, personally brave and utterly humourless. Brought up in a much more uncertain world. In that although the Normans didn’t tend to assassinate people as much as the Saxons did, they were quite happy to try and kidnap the young heir to the powerful Duchy and murder those who tried to protect him. Due to some debate on the matter of his parentage (his non de plum before the conquest was the bastard), when his father died, factions strove to gain control of the boy duke. However he survived, strong and paranoid into adulthood. He proved adept in politics, forging alliances with Saxon England, while crushing rebels and enemies in Brittany and France. As he read the playbook the English throne was his because he was a cousin of Edward the Confessor. A claim Edward had happy to foster due to his fear and hatred of Earl Godwin and his powerful sons. Having rescued and detained Harold during his mission to confirm the appointment, he further wrested a promise from Godwinson that had dramatic consequences when the old king died. Harold’s coronation could only be taken by William as a declaration of war. Every step of the way William had been careful to construct failsafes that would allow him to legally claim the throne. Harold’s bold move gave him all the ammunition he needed to brand Godwinson as an oath breaker to Europe and declare war.

Harald Sigurdsson, later called Hardrada. Oft seen as a typical Viking. The Norwegian King was an experienced war leader and statesman. Had Enlgish succession been a matter of qualifications, he had more than most.
Harald Sigurdsson, later called Hardrada. Oft seen as a typical Viking. The Norwegian King was an experienced war leader and statesman. Had Enlgish succession been a matter of qualifications, he had more than most.

To the Normans, Harold had committed a sin by breaking his oath and assuming the throne. William knew well enough about the customs in England, but he had thought Harold was in his camp, yet despite their Scandinavian roots, the Normans had forgotten their lineage and now did not wish to understand Harold’s motives.
Someone who understood perfectly however was at that moment already enthroned across the North Sea in Norway, Harald Sigurdsson, or Hardrada. Like Godwinson, Harald owed his position to the support of his nobles and landed warriors and by that token understood that if such loyalties could be redirected, a throne could be forfeit to a man willing to draw a sword to gain it. Nevertheless King Harald was not just the archetypal Viking, brooding in a smokey long house wearing a chunky fur trimmed cloak, thinking up plans for conquest. He was something of a professional soldier, and one whose talent had seen him travel widely. One does not just become commander of the Byzantine emperor’s Varangian Guard just because you are tall and strong. More than that Harald was most likely able to speak Greek, he composed verse in his native tongue, he ruled over a diverse country of both pagan and Christian religions and was fairly even handed about which he himself adopted at any given time.
For some time now he had been warring with his neighbours and was now looking towards England. However as a foreigner he did not enjoy the favour of the English people, nor did he have William’s blood link to Edward the confessor. He had a technical claim that ran back to Cnut the Great. He was certainly no friend of Godwinson and had supported his Welsh enemies, but by that token he needed someone to open a door. Then Godwinson’s brother Tostig arrived.

Tostig had been ousted by a popular revolt from the earldom Northumbria, pretty much for bad management. Harold wanted a stable country, and therefore essentially sold his brother down the river for peace. Tostig was a hothead and swore revenge. He sailed North, first to Scotland and then to Norway, where he promised to give his support to Harald if he would invade Northumbria.
The star that had flashed ominously through the night sky during the April of 1066 could then have been seen in different lights by the different players. Harold Godwinson perhaps felt a pang of worry, knowing such sights portended change, but who was to say the change was not his own ascension? William, made sure to dress up the importance of the event later, yet in those times we cannot exclude the idea that he too read in the trail of the comet the overthrow of kingdoms, but whose? To whom was the message intended? After Earl Tostig had set things in motion, Hardrada might have wondered if it was his destiny to become the next Scandinavian King of England?

Thanks for Reading and see you again for another adventure in Historyland.


Abstract Strings.


Acknowledgements are for the people they mention, they are a private moment between the writer of a book and someone they feel helped them get there. Perhaps that is why we might sometimes take scan over them to see if we recognise a name or catch an anecdote, but as readers often don’t give this section allot of attention. Therefore you’d think that after playing an infinitesimal part in helping Andrea Zuvich’s A Year in Stuart Britain get to bookshelves (I actually saw it on a shelf a few days back) I might have checked the acknowledgements to see if I got thanked. Well happily for everyone who thought “Hey anyone who does that is a real narcissist”, I didn’t do that. When the book arrived, I did what I normally do; I smiled at the kind and elegant dedication and did not look for my name anywhere else in it.
Many is the time I’ve briefly scanned these little chapters of generosity and gratefulness, noting names I recognise, finding interest in the strings that can connect us, generally perusing the lists of abstract names, meaningless to me yet each representing a moment in time for the author, and sometimes wondering who I would include in an acknowledgement section, then the daydream becomes more elaborate, subplots appear, the communists are chasing a defector… and I lose half a day. Moving on.
I had picked up Andrea’s “A Year” (yeah we history bloggers use first names), to pick out an entry for September. I read with interest a letter by the Earl of Argyle to the Duke of Lauderdale entitled Cessations from 1665. Bearing in mind my assistance to the author occurred early this year, and the book arrived a few months back I suddenly realised that I should have checked the acknowledgments, why? I don’t know.
My now you should have guessed that my name is in this book, to say that I’m touched, doesn’t really cover it. Because I never thought my last minute helping hand would have merited inclusion and after reading the personalised autograph I never thought to look. But if she is anything, the 17th Century Lady is a generous lady. Therefore I have written this, not specifically to yell in delight about becoming one of those abstract strings I mentioned earlier, but to congratulate Andrea on her book, and to say in reply to her generous vote of thanks; Not at all, it was a great pleasure to help.


A review of A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain will appear here very soon. But until then take it from me, it’s a good read.


Book Review: Cowpens by Ed and Catherine Gilbert.


Series: Campaign (Book 283)
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (September 20, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472807464

I had high hopes for this book, but right off the bat I was a tad confused by the subtitle of this book. The phrase “Turning point of the American Revolution” has been used to describe so many battles that it has become so worn out as to become see through. Quite how Cowpens, a battle fought by two forces independent of the main armies, can be more of a turning point than Guilford Courthouse, or Saratoga is not adequately explained. Though we could suppose that given the outcome every American victory from 1776 onwards can claim to be the turning point. The claim at the end is that “History was made and the fate of a nation decided”, is not something I’ve associated with this fairly small battle which had more of an impact on the reputation of the British commander than the overall campaign.

The initial statements suggest the story of a battle undeservedly ignored, a story in which it is necessary to understand many preceding and parallel factors not all of which are germane to the battle itself.

A brief introduction to the aftermath of the siege of a Charleston highlights a worrying tendency to demonise Tarleton and the British legion and indeed paint the British side in a prejudicial light. It is not so much that Tarleton deserves lauding, but a more even handed approach would be a better harbinger. It is patently reckless to state that the legion “slaughtered most of those who surrendered, mutilating the wounded” and leave it at that. The curious terminology is reinforced with the mention of Gates’ being “brutally defeated” at Camden. Further on it is categorically stated that Waxhaws was out and out atrocity, utterly failing to explain the niceties of the action adequately, and that to do so would only be the work of apologists. The denigration continues when the British legion dragoons which were loyalist troops are described as not distinguishing themselves against enemies who fought back.

Unfortunatley the opening statement of the Opposing commanders section highlights a gross misunderstanding of the British army in America. Falling back on the tried and true cliche of blue blooded officers who were promoted through connections and cash (the latter part is fair enough) or their willingness to sacrifice their brutalised rankers, who fought only through fear of corporal punishment, (deeply unfair). These said dandies were also apparently out of their depth with non linear tactics. While the Americans are down home self taught Paladins. In recent years there has been a dramatic rethinking of the traditional image of stolid Redcoat vs wily patriot and its disappointing not to see it reflected here, not least to see such an uneven partiality displayed in the dissemination of a military event. The problem with all of these assertions is Tarleton himself who doesn’t come off extremely well (which is par for the course and fair enough), but whose career more or less throws all those assumptions about officers out the window.

Opposing forces are dealt with in the same curious and disappointing fashion. The Americans get a fairly decent writeup, based principally on the author’s research on the southern militia, but when turning to the British there is a distinct weakness in appraisal and conclusions. True open order tactics and light companies are mentioned but the odd mention of Grenadier companies as “Heavy Shock Infantry” wearing “helmets” is highly suspect. There is another use of the old cliche of the British being overconfident when facing militia, firing a few times and going in with the bayonet. Completely ignoring the fact that it was firm tactical doctrine to advance, take enemy volleys at distance, close to point blank range, blaze away and then charge. The battle was a small one, with just over 1,000 men on each side, allowing for the authors to examine individual battalions and junior officers, a chunk of which is taken up with informing the reader how brutal the British were to prisoners and how they forced some men to join their side (once more unfair). The Americans again get specifics and the British get tired generalisations. Not only that but I am baffled by the assertion that the 71st Highlanders as a regiment (rather than a battalion) were all but destroyed thereafter and curiously did not use facings as a result of the battle. A confusion in the writing may account for the fact that the 2nd battalion continued to serve under Cornwallis until the end of the war, and that the loss of facing colour should more probably be attributed to the natural wastage of war in the south which saw great strain put on uniformity.

The element of caricature is heightened during the retelling of the campaign where stock phrases are used to liven things up. “Hard riding Tarleton,” and “Greene the master of planning”. Not a single British officer goes without taint of atrocity to civilians, no British unit escapes being labelled as the blunt instrument used in such matters. Every American reprisal against the British and Tories is always nobly described as against troops. The authors seem to have borrowed their caracterisation from the Disney TV show swamp fox.

The battle itself is well handled with some excellent use of contemporary accounts. Although no opportunity is lost to illustrate the supposed invincibility and cruelty of the British. The authors are wise to pay only superficial attention to Tarleton’s memoir. The battle was in another author’s words a “Devil of a whipping”, the British receiving a total thrashing, principally because of poor leadership and cool headed american officers like W. Washington, Morgan and Howard.

Graham Turner handles the artwork with his usual skill and earthiness. It’s obviously been hard not to be inspired by Troiani’s painting of the action. The artist’s brief must have made interesting reading for the gripping scene of the Yankee counterattack. The artist has used Frasers Highlander’s but has opted for an identical viewpoint and general composition as Troiani. Yet has added a distant glimpse of the Continental Dragoons charging on the flank of Morgan’s 3rd line of Maryland and Delaware regulars, now making their decisive advance that would wreck Tarleton’s strike force. The artist has also inserted militiamen with the regulars.

All in all I cannot report anything but disappointment in this book, except in the description of the battle itself and the artwork. Not so much in the sense that the British should be lauded greater than the Americans, nor that Tarleton should be necessarily vaunted greater than Morgan or anyone else, but that as a military history and not a local guidebook, the authors had a responsibility to present an even accoint. As an example there is patent absurdity of twice pointing out Tarleton’s links to the slave trade and not once mentioning that this was common on all sides. This should have rendered the fact moot and irrelevant signalling its elimination from a purely military based book.



Book Review: Samurai by Stephen Turnbull.


Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (25 Aug. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472813723

As the author lays out in the introduction, this is a romp through Samurai History. From their origins to the Meiji restoration. Put better it’s a richly illustrated romp. It’s a showy number with a ferocious but colourful samurai on the cover and a book I would happily lay out on a coffee table. It’s small, so maybe a side table would be more appropriate but this seems to form a part of a new general hardback series by osprey, focusing on other famous warriors in history.
Turnbull can probably write a book like this in his sleep. It’s full of swashbuckling tales of samurai, Daymios, castles and battles.
It captures the flavour of the authentic samurai, while at the same time losing nothing of the colour and entertainment one associates with feudal Japan. Interspersed into the main text are interesting focus points that discuss, sword making, legends, and different points of interest. Best of all this book is superbly illustrated with contemporary Japanese woodcut and paintings. Wonderful photographs of Japanese castles and a selection of Angus McBride artwork drawn from already published titles in Osprey’s samurai catalogue. The samurai were always eager to be first into the fight, and the book speeds on into the fray, hitting all the high points such as the Gempei Wars and the invasion of Korea, of course general samurai book is complete without a chunk on the Sengoku jidai. All the attendant figures are present and correct, Taira’s, Minamoto’s, Hidéyoshi’s and Tokogowa’s not least Takamori and the drama of the Satsuma rebellion.
This is a book for fans and enthusiasts alike. I’d be so bold as to hazard that anyone who enjoys samurai history would like it in their library. It’s light reading, and doesn’t lag at all. It would serve just as well as an introduction to the subject as it would an addition to a history lover’s shelf.
All the main points of a samurai life are covered, and in pleasing symmetry all tend to interlace into one picture. A familiar one but no less detailed. As such it is an excellent quick reference, for those times when you want to find out the difference between different types of armour. Or whether one would use a yari or a naginata in a given situation, perhaps you might just want to get a quick background to the 47 Ronin or find the answer to the nagging question, whether it is appropriate to commit suicide if your boss dies?


Sketches of Ancient Egypt: Mules to Yam.

Relief of Harkhuf. Wikipedia.
Relief of Harkhuf. Wikipedia.

The sound and aroma of three hundred mules was a shocking assault of noise, dust and smell. The braying line of animals were still arriving behind the arrayed ranks of Egyptians and the Yamites, when the Chiefs of Irthet, Sethu and Wawat submitted. Privy Councillor of Southern affairs, Sole companion to Pharaoh, Harkhuf had many Impressive titles with which to awe the southern Chiefs. Quite apart from the lavish goods his mules were carrying, and the glinting spears of his army, this emissary carried the writ of the King of Egypt. Yet for all that he was probably most proud of his title as Caravan Conductor (Though Wilkinson calls him Chief of Scouts). It was a difficult job, requiring initiative, sound judgment, military capability and diplomatic tact. The Egyptian state joyed in endowing multiple functions to one body, the Old Kingdom especially loved to bestow cart loads of titles on efficient bureaucrats. A conductor’s prime objective was to take caravans of trade goods to foreign nations and return with tribute, to show the flag and assert dominance, and make exchange for tokens of good will, showing Egypt’s vested interest in a country. If the recipient was not inclined to go through this formalised sucking up ritual, the conductor was always given a hefty bodyguard with which to convince him.
Harkhuf’s father had been a conductor, and though it was challenging work, it was a position of great trust, as it was also essentially a security job, and so if a man was good at it he could expect rewards commensurate with the responsibility. Harkhuf could say that in addition to his academic exploits, (he was a Nekhen Judge), he had seen much more of the world, and embarked on more adventures than many Egyptians. At first he had learned on the job, watching his father, then Harkhuf had led his own convoys to explore the desert roads, watched over by the paternal eye until, Pharaoh Merenra deemed him competent enough to make the expedition to the land of Yam without supervision. As a large part of his job was to sniff out trouble and spy out the land, he had got wind of trouble brewing in lower Nubia. This was his third expedition, but in order to avoid the hostile tribes Harkhouf had taken the desert route reaching Yam only to find the chief was off on campaign in Libya. After tracking him down and collecting extra troops he made his way back via the regular route, to overawe the troublemaking, Chiefs, who now, seeing his assembled forces and rich baggage, submitted to him.
The chief of Irthet had his people gather the herds, and from them they cut out some Bulls and young cattle for Harkhuf to take with him, perhaps as exchange for the gifts of ebony, panther skins and Ivory offered by the conductor. After they had rested the chief guided them into the highlands.
Harkhouf was a pious, fair and serious man, who never spoke nonsense but was temperate in nature, subordinates would be unlikely to fear a tongue lashing from the boss. Harkhouf was probably one of those leaders who’s gentle reprove was worse than a dozen beatings, because he treated everyone fairly.
The journey to Yam became something of an annual event to ensure good relations. And a profitable exchange of goods took place between Harkhouf and the Chief. During his fourth expedition he sent a letter back to the 8 year old Pepi II, telling him of the dancing dwarf he had obtained. The young boy was filled with excitement which spilled over the royal reserve of a king god in his return letter, which promised rich rewards if Harkhouf returned with the the diminutive hoofer alive and well.
At his death Harkhouf was interred in his own tomb, upon whose walls he wrote of his life, and promised that passers by who respect its owner would be looked on favourably from the reaches of the other world.

Sources: Lives of the Ancient Egyptians: Toby Wilkinson. The Splendour that was Egypt: Margaret Murray. Funerary inscriptions respective to subject found at . The Nile and Egyptian civilisation: A. Moret. Ancient Records of Egypt: James Breasted. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: Toby Wilkinson. Soldier of the Pharaoh: Nic Field

Thanks for reading. See you again for another adventure in Historyland. Josh.

Book Review: Zama by Mir Bahmanyar.


Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (22 Sept. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472814215

The Battle of Zama is nowhere near as famous as the battle of Cannae. Nevertheless it is one of the most important battles in African and Mediterranean military history. It was fought on a large scale, and saw the end of the second Punic war. Which had seen Hannibal gain military ascendancy over Rome, and yet overall achieve nothing but a sting of spectacular victories without political reward. Very soon the Roman refusal to offer battle to Hannibal meant that their own skilled general’s such as Scipio were able to trounce the Carthaginians in Spain and turn the tide.

First off the author give the origins of the campaign. Unusually this includes an overview of the first Punic War and the Mercenary Revolt that saw Carthage lose its possessions in Sardinia which is interesting reading, and indeed the mercenary revolt was a key motivator in the struggle. Moving on, the beginnings and course of the 2nd Punic War are discussed up to the Invasion of Africa by Scipio and then the opposing commanders are described. This briefly touches on Hannibal’s mysterious ethnicity and wisely, given the lack of evidence, resolves on keeping an open mind and not simply ruling out a Phoenician/African mix in the great commander.

Concepts about the operational capability of the Roman army have matured over the last ten years. Nevertheless we shouldn’t let the horse bolt either. Bahmanyar puts forward a fresh and convincing example of Punic era manipular tactics, supported by two or three modern scholars. The crux is the distance required by a Roman soldier to fight in. Polybius put this as a circumference of three feet in either direction. Bahmanyar however thinks that this is only a benchmark and that once committed to a fight, Roman units deployed with 3ft intervals, would extend into an open order with up to 9 feet between soldiers and engage the enemy.
I’m going to keep an open mind about this, as the scheme has some attractions to it, but yet I feel we should remain cautious as Polybius is quite clear that he thought 3ft gaps sufficient for a “loose” formation. Given the superiority the Romans usually enjoyed over Celtic peoples who required great space with which to swing their swords, anything wider would have played to “barbarian” strengths.
The author argues that this method would allow for a freedom of movement not available in closer order. Creating the space necessary for the rotation of fighting lines that the manipular army employed. In reading I was somewhat persuaded, but given the lack of actual contemporary sources referencing this wider formation, at lest to my knowledge, I’d prefer to see this as being part of the tactical tool kit open to a Roman commander when faced with broken or hilly terrain.
Another fresh perspective on the manipular system is the observation on the famous non continuous battle lines employed by the legions. It is I think once more a theoretical (because no ancient source is cited) supposition that the “posterior” century of the maniple (there are two centuries, prior and posterior, traditionally described as forming one behind the other) would cover the intervals in the line which would normally allow the maniple to manoeuvre. Again, it’s an interesting theory, backed up by some scholars, however, because it has been traditionally established that the reserve or succeeding legionary lines formed up to cover these spaces, the idea of decreasing unit depth would at first glance seem unnecessary, once more I’d hazard to suggest that we take this as an option rather than a “factory setting”. Polybius is on record as writing that the Roman army was so successful because of its flexibility, from a single man right up to the largest unit.
Essentially we can find some fresh insights on Roman flexibility here, even if it is not perhaps as definitive as the author hopes it might be.

Bahmanyar then investigates the polyglot nature of the Carthaginian forces. Which runs as one would expect. It’s always interesting to read through opposing forces in the Punic wars, this time I was struck at how much better armed a Celtic noble would be than his average Roman counterpart, at the very least these great warriors would be accountred to a level on par with the wealthiest member of the triarii. On the whole this account credits a greater level of effectiveness than other authors attribute to Hannibal’s mercenaries.

All of this is used to visualise the battle of Zama. Before that happens there is a fairly in depth discussion of numbers, frontages and deployments; a theme that keeps cropping up during the narrative of the battle, as is common in reconstructions of ancient battles much of the author’s theories regarding the course of the action are based on deductions on a mathematical basis. The action therefore is described with logic and detail, according to assertions in tactics and deployment already made. Hannibal’s strategy is hinted at, and the possibility of a grand plan based on a favourable moment is flirted with. It would seem that Hannibal’s rather less than dazzling performance at Zama can be put down to his deciding that his army was not up to scratch. In the end the infantry fought each other to a standstill in a simplistic slogging match. Which says much for what Hannibal might have achieved for Scipio opted for a less measured straight up face to face fight. However despite both sides jealously guarding their reserves, the Carthaginian’s trademark cunning is nowhere to be seen, and though he did come close Scipio handled his army better in the end. The day was saved for Rome, and a Pyrrhic victory for Hannibal ruined, by the intervention of Scipio’s Numidian allies and the superhuman stolidity of his first line infantry.

The artwork, here provided by Peter Dennis, is full on and action packed. Putting the viewer in the middle of the action and in one scene over their heads. There are some excellent tactical and organisational diagrams covering the Roman army. And the 3D maps as usual offer a simplistic alternative to the main text, as well as giving a mental image as to the course of the battle.

Given the new theories arising, that argue that the battle was made up, new scholarship defending its factual basis is very necessary.