Henchmen of Ares Book Review

Henchmen of Ares: Warriors and Warfare in Early Greece
by Josho Brouwers
Karwansary BV
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
2013

 

The shadow of Homer looms large over the history of ancient Greece, and in no area does it overhang more than in the realm of warfare. Homer composed in poetry what he had inherited from the distant past, and in doing so provided undying inspiration to generations of later Greeks. Homer’s influence also runs throughout Henchmen of Ares, a deeply researched and lavishly illustrated new study of Greek warriors and their world from Mycenaean times to the Persian Wars by Mediterranean archaeologist and Ancient Warfare magazine editor Josho Brouwers.
Homer was in many ways like a medieval poet looking back on the past across of a gulf of years to ancient Rome. Homer, like that poet knew some details well, but others were forgotten, or misunderstood, and he inserted elements from his own era into his work to plug the gaps. Homer’s world, as painted in the Iliad and the Odyssey, is a composite one, not bereft of all value in understanding the past, but not completely accurate either. The contribution of archaeology, Brouwers’ specialty, is necessary to fill in the gaps as they exist and distinguish between authentic survivals from the Mycenaean period, roughly 1600-1200 B.C, and Homer’s interpolations from the so-called Greek “Dark Age,” 1200-800 B.C.
Homer (I will refer to him in the singular for the sake of simplicity, though there is some question as to whether he was in truth a single person) lived around the eighth, or perhaps the seventh, century B.C. His masterpieces, made all the more astonishing because they are the oldest works of Western literature, were derived originally from orally-composed poems that had been handed down from bard to bard over several centuries. From an analysis of the material that comprises the Iliad, it is more than likely that the work dates to soon after the event that it describes, a war with the city of Troy in the 13th century. Though it is probably the case that the Trojan War as it is known was more of an outsize Greek plundering expedition rather than a siege that spent ten full years before the hill of Ilion, the world described in the poem bears a strong relation to that of the Mycenaean Age.
In the centuries of that civilization’s greatness, when powerful kings ruled from citadel-palaces in Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, and Orchomenos, Greece produced large armies supplied by the palace-kings with arms. The organization and equipping of such soldiers was overseen by a scribal bureaucracy that wrote on clay tablets in a script known as Linear B. The Mycenaean elites were chariot warriors, just like their social peers in the Near Eastern societies of the Late Bronze Age. They were, following Homer, obsessed (not too strong a word) with their personal honour. The Iliad itself was apparently originally known as the Wrath (as in of Achilles) on account of the bottomless anger that the half-divine son of Peleus felt when Agamemnon, supreme commander of the Greek expeditionary force at Troy, stole away his captive woman, Briseis. Achilles’ bruised feelings caused him to withdraw from the fighting entirely, such was the offense that he took.
Homer gets many things right about the Mycenaean era, despite the elapse of time. The use of boar’s tusk helmets, which Homer describes, has been confirmed via modern-day archaeological finds. Brouwers surmises that Homer may have seen one such example that had been maintained as someone’s family heirloom throughout the Dark Age. History may be done with either words, i.e., written sources, or with a shovel, archaeology. In this instance, as well as in a number of others, Homer has been backed up by the discoveries at dig sites around Greece. There were also common soldiers in Mycenaean armies, and artists did not disdain to portray them on wall frescoes, several of which have been uncovered. Many of these men seem to have worn boar’s tusk helms, and the prevalence of such headgear supports Brouwers belief that they standard-issue equipment provided by the palace-kings to warriors in their service.
The civilization of Mycenae fell at the end of the thirteenth century B.C., for reasons that are still subject to debate. It is likely that invasions and/or the migrations of peoples overturned the hard but brittle power structures that had controlled the Greek world. The palaces were abandoned, and Greece in this post-palatial phase was much like Arthurian Britain, where remnants of an earlier, more sophisticated world, vied with and then lost out to a newer, rawer, and more primitive one. Even before the collapse, a new type of Greek warrior was in evidence. He wore body armour and carried a shield, spear, and a longer sword, the Naue Type II. What relation this type of soldier had in the end of Mycenae is difficult to say. But in the period that next ensued, Greece’s Dark Age, such men enthusiastically conducted raids for cattle, women, and other riches. There was no dishonour incurred in this kind of behaviour, and pirates were so common that strange men met abroad in foreign countries, such as Odysseus, were readily assumed to be pirates.
This was Homer’s world, one in which the written Greek language of Mycenae was lost entirely. Though there had been some material advances, such as the introduction and adoption of iron as the basic substance of metalworking, overall the period was one of retrenchment and regression. The population of Greece declined precipitously. The royal palaces were gone, replaced by the lesser residences of local lords. One item that would characterize Greek warriors for centuries hence made its appearance. This was the bronze, bell-shaped cuirass, though at this time it lacked the essential flare at the waist of later armours. One such example was recovered from a tomb at Argos.  On the basis of Homer’s testimony and surviving pictorial evidence, the armies of the Greek Dark Age were warbands organized to take part in small-scale skirmishes or undertake seaborne raids against coastal towns. The similarity of the era to that of the Viking Age, and the concomitant devastation wreaked upon England and France, is unmistakable.
The Greek world was reborn in the period that came after the Dark Age. Writing returned, in form of the Phoenician-derived alphabet that we would today recognize, perhaps because of the desire to record the words of Homer for posterity. There was also an expansion of the Greek world in this “Archaic” age. Beginning in the eighth century, Greek communities sent abroad portions of their own populace to replicate in Asia Minor, Sicily, and Italy their mother cities. The marvelous two-page map found on pages 84-85 of Henchmen of Ares showing the multitude of Greek colonies established in the period highlights the extraordinary scale of this migration. These colonies not only enlarged “Greece” in the ethnocultural sense, they also acted in later centuries to bring Greek culture to the wider Mediterranean world, perhaps nowhere with more impact and historical significance than Italy, where Rome would be one day be transformed by its contact these Italian Greek cities with the philosophy, art, and science of classical Greece. From Rome the rest of Europe would receive its own Greek education.
Yet that mighty contribution still lay far in the future. More immediately, the Greeks widely adopted the bell-shaped cuirass, metal helmet, and the round, Argive shield that would come to typify the classical hoplite infantryman. Brouwers argues strongly that the phalanx tactical formation was not yet in use. The depiction of battling proto-hoplites on the famed Chigi Vase, taken by some to be indicative of a combat between phalanxes, is instead just two waves of infantrymen attacking each other just as had been done in the Iliad.
Greeks soldiers were highly sought after, with Hellenic mercenaries present in Egypt and Babylonia. Their aforementioned panoply, which made them top quality heavy infantry, was not an exclusively Greek invention. Herodotus claimed that it was the Carians of Asia Minor who attached handles to their shields, an innovation that the Greeks adopted. The stoic mental outlook of hoplite fighters gestated in this era, and this may be seen in the lyric poetry of Callinus of Ephesus, and perhaps most notably, Tyrtaeus of Sparta, who celebrated the bravery and sacrifice of such men. The warrior virtues and ideals praised by the poets were nothing less than those found throughout the Iliad.
The rise of a tactically proficient heavy infantryman was not to be of just historical curiosity. The states of Greece now adopted a battle formation in which citizens, organized by their home cities, fought on foot in close-order. The hoplite civic militia, with its warriors standing shield to shield, proved to be an unbeatable combination when the Greeks had to contend with much bigger but more lightly-equipped Persian armies at the start of the fifth century B.C. The battles at Marathon and Plataea amply demonstrated that hoplites were superior in a stand-up fight with the Persians. This military superiority, to my mind, allowed Greece to retain its liberty free from Persian overlordship. Classical Hellenic culture thereafter flowered, most conspicuously at Athens, with enduring consequences for the Western world.
Henchmen of Ares will be invaluable to anyone with an interest in the origin and historical development of the ancient Greek warrior. Apart from the topics covered in this review, Brouwers has filled this book with numerous and useful sidebars dealing with related matters, such as explanations for the periodization of the era under study, the masonry-style employed in the building of Greek fortifications, and the typology of Greek helmets. Nearly every page contains either an illustration of the warriors being described, or a map, or a colour photograph of objects of archaeological or pictorial importance. Brouwers has done a splendid job marshaling the disparate strands of written, pictorial, and archaeological evidence to produce a coherent portrait of the Greek warrior and his world. Sifting through such voluminous material requires a Hercule Poirot-like attention to detail, which is amply demonstrated by Brouwers in this book.

 

Marc DeSantis

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Mark of Calth Review Part 2

The final three stories that I have left for this review of Mark of Calth are Calth That Was, by Graham McNeill, The Underworld War by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, and Unmarked, by Dan Abnett. I have certainly saved the best stories for last.

Calth That Was is the longest story in the anthology. It is in fact a novella, far longer than a short story, and is about three hours in audio length. It follows the defense of Calth after the Ultramarines were compelled to leave the planet in the wake of the star’s the massive radiation output triggered by the Word Bearers. Left behind were thousands of Ultramarines trapped on the planet, along with numerous Word Bearer enemies who were similarly stranded by the sickening of Calth’s star.

This brought on the phase known as the Underworld war, so-named because the combatants were forced to retreat into below-ground arcologies for protection from the lethal radiation. Leading the Ultramarines and other surviving soldiers is the stalwart Captain Remus Ventanus, notable already for his heroism in defending Calth during the initial surprise attack launched by the traitorous Word Bearers.

Calth That Was has an elegiac quality to it, being a mournful hymn to what the once-fertile planet was, and what it will never be again. The Chaos-worshiping Word Bearers are unsurprisingly awful, and engage in vile atrocities without remorse. Ventanus’ defense of the population centers of Calth forms the narrative core of the story, which is thoughtful and action-packed in equal measure.

The Underworld War by Aaron Dembski-Bowden takes a look at the war from the other side of the hill. The story focuses upon a Word Bearer officer of the elite Gal Vorbak who, among other things, plays the host for a demon in his own flesh. If you have not already figured this out, the Word Bearers are nasty! He has, in fact, lost faith in the war on Calth that he is fighting, feeling that he has been left behind and forgotten by the rest of his brethren when they fled the Calth system to escape the star’s radiation. Years have past with no rescue or relief, and he wants out. Of course, one doesn’t just ditch an unholy war fought on behalf of the dark gods of Chaos, and the resolution to this story was worth every moment leading to it, and it surprised me very much.

The final story of the anthology, Unmarked, and my favorite, tracks the movements of Oll Persson, a strange but goodhearted man of an otherwise previously undescribed group known as “perpetuals.” The perpetuals, who have only been seen in a handful of places during the course of the two dozen or so Horus Heresy novels so far, are humans of immense age, being, it would seem, younger only than the Emperor himself, who is a virtually immortal being who has lived among men since about 8,000 B.C. To put Oll Persson in perspective, he is at least forty thousand years old, a span of time that is incomprehensible to ordinary mortal minds.

Persson finds himself leading a small group of survivors of the Calth attack via the application of an extraordinary weapon, an athame, which allows him to cut the fabric of reality in twain and step through the breach. That is remarkable enough, but even more remarkable is that this also allows him to step back in time as well as move across vast distance instantaneously, and he finds himself back on Earth in the deep distant past, with his unhappy band in tow. Dan Abnett’s Persson is a fantastic character. He is at once beyond any measure that a reader could apply to him. How can one fathom the mindset of a man who has lived for more than four hundred centuries? But he is also sympathetic as a man who can’t, it seems, die, but is fated to live forever, as the interminable years role by.

I have been greatly impressed by Black Library’s efforts in bringing the story of the Horus Heresy to print, and they have done a wonderful job with their audio anthology Mark of Calth. The universe of Warhammer 40,000 has slowly evolved over a quarter-century of development, with many, many hands involved in shaping this extraordinary milieu. The galaxy envisioned is not at all pleasant, and you would not want to visit it if you could avoid doing so. It is science fantasy of the grimmest, darkest kind, and that is how Black Library’s authors intend it. But the story is so deep, and so filled with elemental strife, that the novels, and now Mark of Calth, provide some of the best SF reading available today.

Marc DeSantis

Mark of Calth Review Part One

Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) is a science fantasy universe with a heavy emphasis on the fantasy. Heroic Space Marines (think knights in power armor) battle against every threat, alien, human, and demonic, that the galaxy can throw at them. It is a dystopian setting in every sense of the word. The Imperium claims to rule all humanity in the name of an immortal but very much physically-dead emperor. Progress of any kind has halted, and people live lives of drudgery, superstition, and fear.

There is also an epic backstory. Some ten thousand years before the “present” of the WH40K era, or about 30,000 AD, there was massive insurrection by nine legions of Space Marines that cast their lot with the foul gods of Chaos. This has become known as the Horus Heresy, after the previously honorable and beloved Warmaster who first raised the banner of rebellion in the name of Chaos. The bright and glorious future promised by the then-living Emperor of Mankind came to a halt in a civil war of fire, iron, and blood.

One of these Traitor legions, the fanatical Word Bearers, attacked the noble and loyal Ultramarines as they mustered unsuspectingly at the world of Calth. Though the Ultramarines blunted the Word Bearer attack, Calth was left in ruins. The survivors of the battle sought shelter from triggered solar storms, along with their enemies, deep underground. The story of the invasion of Calth is told in the excellent novel by Dan Abnett, Know No Fear.

This began the so-called Underworld War, and the unabridged audiobook anthology Mark of Calth refers to the clock that the Ultramarines left running ever since the surprise attack against them. The Ultramarines know how to hold a grudge. The clock still ticks, some ten thousand years later. It also refers to the way that the radiation burns of their poisoned sun has marked the loyalist warriors still fighting for their survival on wrecked Calth.

Mark of Calth features short stories by Black Library’s best writers, and in a brilliant move, each has also been released as an audiobook of about one hour or  more in length. The readers employ their rich tones and voice changes well, and the effect is fantastic. This is such a winning combination that I can’t help but implore other SF and fantasy publishing houses to do the same with their own shorter works. It would certainly help breathe some life into the often-overlooked but vibrant world of SF/F short fiction, which deserves to be better known outside of a handful of yearly anthologies.

Publisher Black Library has an advantage, in that the success of the WH40K miniatures game, as well as several videogames, has created an eager market for such stories. This is military fiction with a strong dose of fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, and the stories in Mark of Calth deliver action and chills in equal measure.

The Traveller, by David Annandale and read by Jonathan Keeble, is a morbid, Cthulhuesque tale of a loyal subject of the Emperor of Mankind who kills heretics wherever he finds them. But has he gone too far in his pogrom against those he deems traitors? And what is the actual source of the voices that he hears?

The Shards of Erebus, by Guy Haley and read by Jonathan Keeble, follows one of the most sinister of all figures in the WH40K universe, the Dark Apostle Erebus of the Word Bearers, and the ultimate instigator of the treason that would swallow the previously loyal Horus and nine entire legions of marines. He is ever-plotting, and The Shards of Erebus follows him as he grasps for ever more power and knowledge of Chaos.

Dark Heart, by Anthony Reynolds and read by David Timson, stars Reynolds’ infamous Word Bearer Dark Apostle Marduk, who is a menace to humanity in the current timeline of WH40K. In the Horus Heresy, he is a scheming would-be apprentice of the Dark Gods. He slays his own teacher of the dark art, but can he somehow survive the retribution of both his own high command and the vengeful Ultramarines too?

Athame, by John French and read by David Timson, tells the story of a blade of Chaos, an athame, created to take life, as it winds its way through human history. In a smart turn, the story of the blade is being told to the blade itself.

So far, Mark of Calth has been extremely good, and I look forward to the remaining stories.  I would recommend it on the basis of just the stories mentioned above.  Several remain on my to-do list, however.  My consideration of Mark of Calth will continue in Part Two of this review.

Marc DeSantis

Attack of the Celts!

The latest issue of Ancient Warfare has hit the shelves in my neck of the woods. That probably means Barnes & Noble if you live anywhere in the United States. The theme of this issue is the role of the Celtic peoples in confrontation with the Greeks and Romans. As usual, the magazine is fantastic, and I don’t use that word lightly. The artwork within is of course spectacular. Make certain to take a look at the articles on the Siege of Alesia and Celtic mercenaries in Carthaginian service.  A substantial portion of Hannibal’s army was comprised of Celts, did you know that? Now you do.

I also recommend reading Josho Brouwer’s (Ancient Warfare’s editor) blog post on why we study ancient military history. This is as succinct an explanation as you are going to find anywhere. Give it a look. Also, take note of my own review of Nic Fields’ excellent book Pompey on, well, Pompey.  Yes, Pompey has come off as an also-ran when compared to Julius Caesar, but he does not deserve to be understood as a second-rate actor on a stage dominated by Caesar. For many years, Pompey was the first man in Rome. Read the book and find out why.

Marc DeSantis

Medieval Warfare Magazine

I wanted to keep everyone posted when I came across a cool new book or magazine. Medieval Warfare is the real deal. A sister publication of Ancient Warfare, which I have also reviewed, this beautiful bimonthly covers war from the fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance. That is a good millennium of battles and other stuff, which Medieval Warfare handles very well. It is a Dutch-produced – Karwansaray Publishers – but its language is English. The current issue – Vol. II, Issue 6 – is themed to the Byzantine Empire of the tenth and eleventh centuries, a golden age for Byzantium and an era of military resurgence on all fronts.

My personal favorite is Raffaele d’Amato’s look at the equipment of the kataphraktoi, the heavy armored cavalry of the Byzantine Empire. I like d’Amato’s work very much, he is a real scholar, and knows how to make good use of his sources. Medieval Warfare also contains stunning color artwork and great photographs. It is the kind of magazine that insists that you take it off the rack and look it over. Give it a look yourself. It is available at Barnes & Noble.

I also highly recommend Byzantine Imperial Guardsman 925-1025 by Raffaele d’Amato.  My review of it is in the back of this particular Medieval Warfare issue.  Check it out!

Marc DeSantis

Freedom’s Forge Book Review

Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II

Arthur Herman

Random House

2012

413 pages

ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4

Allied victory in the Second World War owed as much to America’s productive muscle as it did to the fighting skills of its soldiers and sailors. Arthur Herman, a visiting scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, attributes America’s astonishing feats of war production to the underlying know-how and drive of American businessmen. The heroes of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II are industrial titans such as William Knudsen, an automobile production genius, and Henry Kaiser, who built countless Liberty cargo ships quickly and cheaply in simple yards on both coasts. The villains of the book are communist union bosses, who caused needless delays by striking, and incomprehending New Dealers in the Roosevelt Administration, who were convinced that big business was fleecing the taxpaying public.

The achievement of American business was undeniable. The productive surge was underway even before Pearl Harbor, spurred on by Britain’s dire situation, and this head start helped to speed America’s military response after it officially entered the war. America produced more airplanes than Germany and Japan combined. It equipped the air forces of its allies with thousands of warplanes and their armies with thousands of tanks.

The key was the allowance for the profit motive. In order for business to function effectively, it had to be operating of its own accord, and not commanded. Typically, war contractors received their costs back for making an item, along with a small profit. The entire system of war production organized itself. There was no way that a government agency, no matter how large, could have understood, let alone arranged, the vast web of assemblers and suppliers who built America’s war machines, such as the awesomely complex B-29. The industrial renaissance engendered by the war laid the foundation for the generation of prosperity that followed.

Marc G. De Santis

Roosevelt’s Navy Book Review

ROOSEVELT’S NAVY: The Education of a Warrior President, 1882-1920

James Tertius de Kay

Pegasus Books

292 pages

2012

ISBN 978-1-60598-285-4

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, a position tasked with overseeing the $143 million budget of the world’s third largest navy, representing 20% of annual federal spending.
Roosevelt faced a daunting task. The core of the fleet was still comprised mainly of obsolete battleships of limited use. Germany was busily increasing the size of its navy with modern ships, and Japan, the victor in the recent Russo-Japanese War, was casting covetous glances across the Pacific. Thirteen of the Navy’s battleships, Roosevelt would claim, were unfit for operations because Congress had not authorized sufficient manpower to crew them.
The outbreak of the First World War in Europe cast naval policy in an important light, and Roosevelt, a staunch supporter of Britain, was realistic about how the war would impact America. Roosevelt was a proponent of preparedness, and helped to shepherd through Congress the 1916 Navy Bill, a $600 million outlay representing the biggest single expenditure on naval armament in history.
FDR proved to be a savvy operator. When American shipowners requested guns to protect their vessels from German U-boats, they were prevented from purchasing the weapons from the Navy because of the determined opposition of anti-war senators. Roosevelt hit upon a clever solution – the Navy would simply “loan” the guns needed, thereby not requiring congressional approval since they were not actually being sold. This set the precedent for the famed Lend-Lease Act of the next war.
In Roosevelt’s Navy, author James Tertius de Kay provides a useful insight into the formation of FDR’s thinking about naval and political power, and how his tenure as Assistant Secretary of the Navy prepared him for the great conflict of his presidency.

 

Marc G. De Santis