Book Review: Roman Legionary vs Carthaginian Warrior by David Campbell.

  • Author: David Campbell
  • Illustrator: Adam Hook
  • Short code: CBT 35
  • Publication Date: 23 Aug 2018
  • Number of Pages: 80

https://ospreypublishing.com/roman-legionary-vs-carthaginian-warrior

This book isn’t really about the dynamics and techniques of combat in the second Punic war. Although the brief for all Combat books should be a searching examination and analysis of what all those scholarly military phrases like ‘driven back’, ‘charged’, ‘withdrew in good order’ meant for the often faceless and voiceless ordinary soldier in any particular conflict, it actually makes the mistake that a few Combat authors are making in using it as a vehicle to retell the story of the given war, and examine the larger scale tactics of both sides.

This is done with energy and reason by author, David Campbell, however the possibility to really attempt to get under the skin of the battles and soldiering of the Punic Wars is missed. Instead the book focuses on the successes of the generals, Hannibal and Scipio, at Trasimene, Cannae and Ilipa. 

Images supplied by Adam Hook give one reconstruction of a Roman Hastatus, and an Iberian Warrior, post Trasimene, which will speak to something I noted below, an exciting battle piece between a phalanx and a legionary Hastati Line and a slightly detached melee between opposing light infantry forces. Maps and commentary accompany each battle section, very helpful in the case of the less studied battle of Ilipa.

Although a breakdown of the opposing forces allows a view of the organisation behind each army, most of the Carthaginian observations are based on Hannibal’s personal preferences or educated guesses, which were not a standard model of operating and is essentially uninspired in terms of the Roman side. Whereas the recent campaign book on the Battle of Zama did attempt to introduce new theories to th subject of the Republican fighting system.

That being said the book cuts excellently to the heart of what Hannibal was able to do well, that being to arrange everything before the battle began and essentially give as few orders as possible, while further noting the strength of the Carthaginian army lay in its diversity and allowing each ethnic group to fight the way it fought best.

This title was always going to be difficult, because it is very difficult to identify what a ‘Carthaginian Warrior’ is. Si Sheppard in his book of that title sensibly decided to focus of the Liby-Phoenician infantry, and treat the mercenaries as separate. But here it is never precisely identified what is meant on the cover  by, Carthaginian Warrior. Nor is there much of a discussion about the much debated Carthaginian phalanx. It is even stated that Carthage was oligarchic in its society, which seems to speak to the habit of families managing to hold onto important state offices by inheritance. Nevertheless it is a fairly narrow distinction to attribute to the western Mediterranean’s second greatest republic.

Because there is no particular focus on any specific class or type of soldier in either the battles or the opposing forces, we have a fairly straightforward account of one of the best known battles in military history, Cannae, a pleasing account of its little brother, Trasimene which really should have ended the war, and a very enjoyable account of the almost invisible battle of Ilipa, which despite by rather disappointed tone here rescues the title from the clutches of well travelled road. This is in the end a good book, but it doesn’t quite do what it says on the tin.

Josh

Book Review: Templar Knight vs Mamluk Warrior by David Campbell.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Templar-Knight-Mamluk-Warrior-121850/dp/1472813332

Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Publication date: 20 Nov 2015
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472813332

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In Osprey’s latest Combat title; Templar Knight versus Mamluk Warrior David Campbell attempts to show how the warrior elites of two cultures went about their business. During the 5th, 6th and 7th Crusades, all of which tested the respective sides’ ability to respond to fast changing situations and high stress battlefield scenarios.

The author has done a creditable job in examining how the Templars and Mamluk’s fared in combat, each being a match for the other and their success or failure all really coming down to the command decisions of leaders rather than the calibre of the troops. It differs from other versus titles a little in that some of the first hand accounts are from chroniclers instead of just soldiers, and the majority are from the Crusader side, but this is a 13th century subject and ordinary brother Knights and Mamluk soldiers didn’t tend to write down their experiences. So too there is no escaping the fact that the basic dynamic of Crusading warfare is fairly well known, and therefore little can be added to the discussion that the western Knights were at a great disadvantage if the Saracens did not choose to play their game. Despite these foibles of the Crusades, an excellent point is made by Campbell in the Analysis section at the end, about how the common comparison between the Templars and Mamluk’s is faulted, and should be kept very much in mind. Only the Templars were properly Holy Warriors. Their business was to fight for God and defend the Holy land. The Mamluk’s were closer to the idea of a secular retinue, however unlike their western counterparts, they too had one primary job, which was to fight for the ruler of Egypt.

So what we have is a great investigation into two of the most professional bodies of troops in the Middle Ages. Bringing the spotlight onto a little discussed phase in the Crusading story. The book starts out with filling the reader in with all the basics needed to contextualise the action. Building a picture of two fairly well matched military elites, it then examines in as much detail as possible the two sides in combat. The battles of Damietta, La Forbie and al-Mansūrah are well done, mirroring as they do a shift in crusader strategy looking away from Jerusalem to Egypt, and continuing the pattern of inexplicable luck, stupidity and misfortune that typify much of the Crusades. There is admittedly a feeling that it was the Crusader’s game to lose, and nitty gritty tactical examinations are surrendered more to the big picture than in other titles of the series, but again that is more to do with the levels of literacy and the style in which chronicles were written. The book is illustrated throughout with full colour images and helpful maps. The main illustrations by Johnny Shumate, a CG artist whose work I have long appreciated, and suit the nature of the series very well, the excellent split screen artwork of the charge at La Forbie, being the highlight.

This is the Crusades from the front lines, and is a good book that tackles the classic “who would win” scenario, and acts as a balancing companion to already published titles, highlighting as it does the key elements that made the Tempars such a formidable fighting force regardless of victory or defeat and how the Mamluk’s were able to tackle them.

Josh.