Harry Sidebottom – Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction
This is part of the OUP series of "very short introductions", written by Harry Sidebottom, who is a part time lecturer here at Warwick. This book, like the others I've read from the series, is very well written and comprehensive in coverage, but it's difficult to see just who it's meant to appeal to.
Ancient Warfare covers the basic mechanics of warfare in the Greek and Roman world, but its focus is really on modern conceptualisations and the current theoretical state of play in classical academia. The book covers such things as Luttwak's two models of empire, Hopkins's model of the agrarian crisis in Roman Italy, and the ins and outs of the hoplite revolution. Sidebottom utilises well various sources, both archaeological and historical, to illustrate the various competing academic interpretations. It's all nicely tied together, with an ongoing emphasis on the issues of interpretation.
The problem is that I can't think of a single person I'd recommend the book to. I read it because I had the good fortune to take a course by the author a couple of years ago, and still maintain a general interest in the ancient world. Without a general academic introduction to ancient history, I fear I'd have found the book tough going. It's difficult to say how the book would read to someone with no prior knowledge at all, but I think without the factual "hooks" on which to hang the theories, quite a look of the references would be wasted. The trouble is that most of the people who would fully benefit from this book will be students of classics who will study the issues raised by the book in more depth through the original material referenced by Sidebottom. Laymen approaching the book with a general interest in ancient warfare, are, I believe, more likely to be interested in the more gritty details of warfare – the tactics, weapons, battles and so on – and will be drawn instead to the wealth of other books already existing that cater to this market. It's this doubt as to a target audience that drops the book down to 4 stars.