Great Battles of the Hellenistic World, by Joseph Pietrykowski
One of the more consistent aspects of the Hellenistic World was the continual fighting that took place between the various successor states to Alexander the Great. Some empires bring periods of peace, but it never seems as if the various regimes of the Hellenistic world were able to be at peace for any length of time at all. Whether the states were fighting against each other over territory in Greece, Anatolia, or the Middle East, whether they were fighting with peripheral states like Rome and Parthia and the Galatians, or whether there was some sort of civil conflict going on between rival children of a previous emperor, the various states that proliferated in the breakup of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian empire found themselves constantly fighting, or at least it seems that way to the contemporary reader, and this book serves a valuable purpose in providing a discussion of what the author considers to be the great battles of the time period between 340 and 150 BC. To be sure, this book could have included a lot more, but it makes for a compelling piece of military history in that it discusses both familiar battles (often under unfamiliar names) as well as unfamiliar battles, like the struggle between Antigonus and Eumenes in Persia, that deserve to be better known.
This book is a moderately sized one at between 200 and 250 pages. It begins with acknowledgements, a preface, a key to the maps, and an introduction that discusses the importance of understanding war to understand the Hellenistic era. After that the book is divided into five parts. The first part of the book looks at some of the battles of Phillip and Alexander that set up the Hellenistic age to begin with, namely Chaironeia and the domination of the Greeks, Grakios, Issos, and Guagamela that led to the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander, and the Hydapses River that allowed Alexander to win before leaving India. The second part of the book discusses the battles of the first generation of successors, which included the battles of Paraitakene and Gabiene between Antigonus and Eumenes, the defeat of Demetrius at Gaza, and the decisive battle of Ipsos that led to Antigonus’ death. The third part of the book then looks at the three battles of Pyrrhos of Epeiros against the Romans, his victories at Heraklea and Asculum and this his crushing defeat at Beneventum. The fourth part of the book looks at later battles like Sellasia and Raphia. Finally, the fifth section of the book discusses the battles of the Roman conquest of Greece and Anatolia, with a look at Kynoskephalai, Magnesia, and Pydna, as well as a conclusion, notes, bibliography, and index that round out the work.
One of the aspects of the Great Battles of the Hellenistic world that the author succeeds at wonderfully is explaining the context of the battles and their aftermath. It can be hard to keep all the names apart, and the author does a good job in creating the narrative that allows the battles to make sense, and also does a good job at discussing the various tactical innovations that followed the depopulation of Macedonian fighting males for various armies, showing how it is that Macedonians were made out of local troops where they could not be obtained, and how it was that war elephants played a pivotal role in some battles because of their abilities to counter cavalry and block up sections of a battlefield. One of the notable aspects seen here is that most of the battles discussed in this book were either battles between Greeks and Romans or between Greeks and other Greeks, demonstrating that making a battle great required there to be noteworthy peoples on both sides of the field, rather than on one. Sadly, none of the battles of the Jewish War of Independence against the Seleucids made the cut. Admittedly, though, that would have made the book longer and required the author to deal with questions of religion that might still be contentious.