Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: Great Battles of the Hellenistic World by Joseph Pietrykowski

This book very much does what it says on the tin, and writes up a number of Hellenistic battles, divided into chapters based upon eras (for example, Philip/Alexander and Pyrrhus). Some are very well known (Alexander’s), others less so.

Interestingly, the writer took the decision to entirely omit Hannibal’s exploits from the book. I think that this is legitimate, given he wasn’t Greek or Macedonian, and although his troops fought in roughly a phalangial order they weren’t Hellenic but a mongrel force.

The writer does a good job of putting each battle into context, setting out not only what occurred during the battle but the wider situation in which it took place and the aftermath and impact of the battle’s result.

Each battle has a number of maps which help to clearly illustrate the initial deployment, progress and conclusion of the various actions.

Looking at the various battles (which are in chronological order and cover 170 years or so) it’s possible to chart the rise and fall of the Hellenic approach to warfare (ie the use of the phalanx) as it waxes under Philip and Alexander, plateaus under the Diadochi and Pyrrhus and then declines as the example of Philip and his son is forgotten. It begins with the unification of the Hellenic world under Philip, and ends with defeats to the Romans.

However, this is not a continuous narrative and a buyer should be aware that each battle, although the context and aftermath are outlined, is detailed on its own. So, if you’re after a general history of Alexander or the Diadochi this is not the best book to get. If, on the other hand, you’re particularly looking for a book specifically about battles (and this one covers well-known and more obscure contests) or you already have general histories and want a perhaps more detailed analysis of battles, this is a good book to get.

A sort-of sequel about battles of the classical Greek world is being written by Joseph Pietrykowski, but has yet to be released.



  1. Get thee behind me, Mr. Thaddeus!

    P.S. Sounds rather good. I've put it on the books to buy list for when Herself lets me buy books again.

  2. Mwahahaha!

    I enjoyed it. There's a clear decline after Alexander and the Diadochi which (as one reviewer on Amazon put it) was like the city-state internecine warfare but on a massive scale.

    I checked Amazon, and there's a paperback version coming out soonish. Not sure if it's any smaller though.