Flashback Friday: victory and defeat

Two weeks ago, I posted the first in a new series of blog posts that looks back at Ancient Warfare to celebrate the publication of nearly fifty issues so far. In that first post, I wrote about issue III.1, on mercenaries in the ancient world. Today, I want to devote a few hundred words on issue II.2, which was devoted to the theme ‘victory and defeat’.

One of the news items on p. 5 is on an ‘Ancient Warfare Museum’, which was supposed to open in Ireland some time back when the issue was published in 2008. A quick search on the internet revealed that it was part of the Cork City Museum, though I have no idea what its current status is. If someone knows what happened to this initiative, feel free to leave a comment below.

Founding editor Jasper Oorthuys wrote the introduction to this theme. One thing that the introduction makes clear is how subjective victory and defeat can be: the outcome of the Battle of Kadesh is one example. Both the Egyptians and the Hittites claimed to have been victorious there (in truth, the Hittites probably won).

John Walsh wrote an article on the commemoration of victories on Roman coinage. This piece is lavishly illustrated with almost a dozen pictures of Roman coins. If you’re into numismatics, you’re bound to have a field day with this contribution.

One of the interesting things about the Roman army is that while it was a powerful machine of war, it certainly wasn’t infallible, and the Romans lost their fair share of battles. In ‘Grinding Pyrrhus down’, Ross Cowan explains how the Romans recovered from defeat. The article features an illustration of a Campanian warrior by Graham Sumner.

Joseph Pietrykowski contributed an article on famous last stands. The Battle of Thermyplae, fought in 480 BC, is a good example of a battle that ended in defeat for the Greek forces there under the command of the Spartan King Leonidas, yet the battle itself is widely – and wrongly! – seen as a triumph. Pietrykowski explores these ‘heroic defeats’ and ‘glorious failures’. Johnny Shumate illustrated the article with a reconstruction of what one of the defenders at Masada might have looked like.

The Battle of Sellasia (222 BC), dubbed ‘Sparta’s last hurrah’, is written by Paul McDonnell-Staff and features, among other things, a detailed battle map drawn by Carlos de la Rocha, and a large illustration with a reconstruction of the battle by Igor Dzis. The battle is described as not just a final chance for Sparta, but for all of Greece to get rid of the Macedonian yoke.

The article by Stefanos Skarmintzos doesn’t really fit with the theme, as it compares the Macedonian phalanx with the Roman legion. It has a great picture by Johnny Shumate of a Roman Republican legionary fighting a Macedonian phalangite in single combat, something that is of course unlikely to have happened in real life. Naturally, the Roman legionary, with his relatively short sword, is shown victorious over the sarissa-armed Macedonian.

Next up is a Special article on Roman catapults by Duncan B. Campbell, which tries to answer the question, ‘Did Rome’s auxiliaries have artillery?’ I won’t spoil the article for you by providing the answer. However, it makes for an interesting read and the photos of various stone catapult balls, iron bolts, and a reconstruction of an arrow-shooting catapult really make the subject come alive.

Murray Dahm rounds out the issue with a new entry in the series ‘Be a general’, this time focusing on Onasander’s Strategikos. These articles are great and I often wish we could do something similar again in current issues of Ancient Warfare. The illustration by Andrew Brozyna on p. 40 gives a good idea of the main characteristics of a Roman general’s dress in the first century AD.

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