Ancient World Commanders: From The Trojan War To The Fall Of Rome, by Angus Konstam
This book has all the telltale signs of a book that was rushed to the market with minimal copy-editing, and the knowledge that there was demand for a book on ancient military history and that it was more important in the publisher’s mind to get a book for sale than it was to make sure that the book was polished. Presumably, if the work sells enough, it can be edited in a second edition. As a fond reader of ancient history and military history , I feel ambivalent about this work. On the one hand, I am glad that someone took the effort to examine ancient leaders, defend the timescale they were looking at ,and made sure that they did not ignore the rich military history of East and South Asia. On the other hand, though, this is a sloppy work, with inconsistent dates, short entries that are filled in by reproductions of artwork with dubious historical accuracy about the scenes portrayed, and very sloppy printing, including at least one entry, that for Mark Anthony (Marcus Antonius), a duplication of the first paragraph of the entry (103-104) that somehow was not caught in the light-to-nonexistent editing process this book went through.
Concerning the contents and structure of the book, it is straight forward and in many ways laudable. The author introduces his subject, defends the end of ancient history at the fall of Rome in 476AD, and expresses his desire to recognize the scope of world history and not only Western history, at least insofar as historical records exist. And the author achieves those aims, organizing leaders, some of whom merit only a short paragraph, like the noted leaders of the Three Kingdoms period in China in the twilight days of the later Han and beyond, and others of whom are given entries that last several pages. The author shows a broad familiarity with military history across cultural boundaries, although the author does not mention warfare in areas outside of the realm of historical familiarity for the author, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, Southeast Asia, and the Americas. Even so, this is far better than most historical accounts of ancient history. The entries for military leaders, including those known from biblical history as well as from Greek myth and legend, are organized in alphabetical order, by the name that the person is known to its reading audience. For example, this means that Gnaeus Pompey (who we know as Pompey) is included under P and not G.
Aside from its immensely sloppy production, which would not have required a great deal of time to tighten up, but which was apparently beyond the ken of the folks at Compendium who produced this effort, this book has a lot worthy of praise. Fans of art history will be especially pleased by this work, which shows marble busts, terracotta images, and reproductions of paintings about its subjects in a way that is truly impressive. In fact, this book has at least as much art on it as it does text, which means that this book will be most pleasing to those readers who appreciate artwork about the ancient world, even when it is highly anachronistic in its presentation. At the very least, the use of art demonstrates the legitimacy of studying such leaders because of their importance to broader culture, and if this is a deliberate aim, to legitimize the study of ancient military history in light of broader cultural interests, it is a successful aim. Let us hope that the publishers and authors are not too embarrassed by the rough state of the text of this book, which does not meet the polished promise of its gorgeous images, because it is likely that most people who want to read about ancient history are going to care a lot more about the text. At least they should.
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