Legion versus Phalanx

Fantasy novelist Myke Cole made a name for himself with the Shadow Ops and the Gemini Cell trilogies. All six books were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads, each packing a healthy dose of ass-kicking. Both series were military fantasy with heart and soul, and I was quite sad to hear that no more installments were forthcoming in the near future.

Given the author's military background, I was looking forward to reading his first military history book. Especially given the fact that Cole's first foray into this new literary field was targeting the uninitiated. Three tours in Iraq undoubtedly gave him a different perspective regarding military history. And yet, as Cole explains in his preface, his objective was for newbies who know close to nothing about ancient history and warfare to enjoy and learn a thing or two while reading Legion versus Phalanx.

Well, I'm pleased to report that it's mission accomplished for Myke Cole!

Here's the blurb:

From the time of Ancient Sumeria, the heavy infantry phalanx dominated the battlefield. Armed with spears or pikes, standing shoulder to shoulder with shields interlocking, the men of the phalanx presented an impenetrable wall of wood and metal to the enemy. Until, that is, the Roman legion emerged to challenge them as masters of infantry battle.

Covering the period in which the legion and phalanx clashed (280-168 BC), Myke Cole delves into their tactics, arms and equipment, organization and deployment. Drawing on original primary sources to examine six battles in which the legion fought the phalanx - Heraclea (280 BC), Asculum (279 BC), Beneventum (275 BC), Cynoscephalae (197 BC), Magnesia (190 BC), and Pydna (168 BC) - he shows how and why the Roman legion, with its flexible organization, versatile tactics and iron discipline, came to eclipse the hitherto untouchable Hellenistic phalanx and dominate the ancient battlefield.

Legion versus Phalanx is a decidedly accessible introduction to ancient warfare. I have to admit that I didn't know what to expect from this book. But Cole's detailed knowledge and enthusiasm for the historical period, the cultures involved, and their military strategies and tactics allowed the author to come up with a work that is as engaging as it is educational.

I'm not sure how this book stacks up against other military history works, but for a neophyte like me Legion versus Phalanx was interesting as well as entertaining. Mind you, I was aware that I would learn a lot about the Hellenistic phalanx and the Roman legion. But I didn't know I'd learn so much. I particularly enjoyed how Cole went beyond just the warfare elements. Indeed, in this study of the evolution that led to the supremacy of the Roman legion, the author explores the politics of the times, the social minutiae of every day life in those societies, the terrain upon which those decisive battles were fought, the character of the military leaders facing one another, the weather that affected each battle, as well as how superstition and religious beliefs influenced the outcome of these conflicts.

Osprey is renowned for their quality illustrated works and Legion versus Phalanx is no exception. The book features maps, beautiful illustrations and photographs, as well as diagrams describing the evolution of each of the battle. The first part elaborates on the two opposing military systems and how they came to be and how the evolved over the years. The second part focuses on each of the six major battles mentioned in the blurb and their historical impact on ancient warfare. Cole's use of modern imagery to help shine some light on more difficult to grasp military concepts goes a long way and never is the reader lost as the author analyzes each of these important battles.

Myke Cole states that he's a soldier, but he absolutely abhors war. That the thirst for understanding, to truly know the warrior experience of the past, has more to do with love of humanity than of war itself. He is also driven by a desire to connect with his legacy. He says that every profession has its roots, and warriors are no different. That this is his story as much as anyone's, and that he'll tell it to the best of his ability. This perspective colors every aspect of this book and is probably why it turned out to be a more compelling read than I ever thought it could be. The world needs more people like Myke Cole.

Not sure if the author has more military history works in the pipeline. But given the quality of Legion versus Phalanx, I'll be happy to read anything else he writes in that field.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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