About Makers of Ancient Strategy
Makers of Ancient Strategy, edited by Victor Davis Hanson, is a collection of 10 essays on topics related to Greco-Roman strategy, covering a millennium beginning in about 500 B.C. Leading experts in specific sub-fields of ancient military history not only discuss the ancient people involved in strategy decisions, but also compare the ancient and modern world, when relevant. In addition to the specific strategy-makers, Cyrus, Epaminondas, Alexander, and Julius Caesar, there are chapters on fortifications, urban warfare, counter-insurgency, frontiers, and the slave wars.
The intended audience is makers of modern strategy and people interested in ancient history. Readers should have at least an elementary knowledge of the Greco-Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, Alexander's conquests, Caesar's Gallic Wars, Spartacus, and the Fall of Rome.
Makers of Ancient Strategy is called a prequel to other books in a series on strategy-makers. It is labeled "makers of ancient strategy," but is more than that since it shows parallels between then and now. Unlike many who draw comparisons between the ancient and modern world, the writers of this volume really know their stuff. Comparisons are not forced. The volume starts with Classicist and novelist Tom Holland's vivid description of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which quickly and almost poetically morphs into Cyrus' invasion in 539 B.C. In the chapter on Epamonidas, Victor David Hanson, volume editor, explains the thinking behind often ill-advised pre-emptive wars. In the final chapter, on the Roman defense of its frontiers, medieval historian Peter Heather invents Newton's third law of empires: "The exercise of imperial political dominance and economic exploitation will in the long run stimulate a series of reactions that turns initially weaker neighbors into societies much more capable of resisting or even overturning the aggressive imperialism that set those reactions in train."
Some chapters, like those on Spartacus, by Barry Strauss, and Caesar, by Adrian Goldsworthy, seemed very familiar, because I'm familiar with the authors' writing on the topics. Despite my feeling that I could skim through the data, there were substantial helpings of much appreciated new historical detail and insights that made me take note: Strauss tells where the slaves came from (wars, pirates, and entrepreneurs) and says by the first century B.C., 20% of the Italian peninsula's population was slave. Goldsworthy mentions that Pompey broke all the rules in advancing his career, but then died "as a defender of the republic against the rebel Caesar." Donald Kagan, who has written so much on the Peloponnesian War, details the development of and rationale for the Athenian empire.
- Clear, concise explanations; most chapters by not only scholars, but engaging writers.
- A surprising, but apt selection of topics that covers the issues involved in waging ancient battles and managing an empire.
- Although the general topics may not be new, the great writers throw in enough new material to make it worth your money.
- As stated, Makers of Ancient Strategy, edited by Victor Davis Hanson, goes further than its title indicates. The authors discuss not just ancient strategy, but modern wars. This appeals to me, as I said because the writers are so knowledgeable, but, based on a Facebook discussion, it may bother you.
- Most of the chapters were so smoothly written and easy to follow that the few that were textbook-dense stood out -- for me, at least.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.