London. Ontario, Canada
John Drogo Montagu's book is a very difficult one to review. My first reaction was to drop it immediately into the vast abyss of works which add little or nothing to scholarship. On the other hand the author is also a skillful writer (he has another title on the same period, a compendium on Battles of the Greek and Roman World), is quite enthusiastic about his project, and has a relatively clear yet unconvincing thesis about it. Problems, however, emerge from the very beginning of his analysis.
Drogo Montagu discounts what he strangely defines as the "hardware" of scholarship ("arms and armour, formations, and their detailed organization and intrinsic maneuvers, and . . . the functioning of armies under all circumstances away from the field of battle" [p. 15]). He favors instead the "software" of warfare which he defines as "everything else from generalship and human behavior to strategy, planning, secrecy, surprise , and deception . . . the whole gamut of tactic, trickery and guile" (p. 15). Others, he argues oddly, have often ignored and/or discarded these elements.
In reality, in spite of his claims, Drogo Montagu's book takes an old-fashioned approach which looks at the battles of the period through the well-known and mostly discarded—or used with greater sophistication by others—principles of warfare: planning, human elements, surprise, surprise with deception, deception, secrecy, chance, and other themes such as pursuit, baggage trains, etc. So goes Part One of the book, about 120 pages. In Part Two the author switches to [End Page 209] what he insistently calls the "software" of twenty-one battles, eight Greek and Macedonian (Mantinea, the Nemea, Leuctra, Chaeronea, the Hydaspes, Paractacene, Gabiene, Ipsus), and thirteen Roman (Mylae, Ecnomus, the Trebia, Cannae, Baecula, the Metaurus, Ilipa, Zama, Cynoscephalae, Magnesia, Pydna, Carrhae, Pharsalus). He also adds graphics of seventeen encounters, claiming (wrongly, however) that some of them had never been provided in the past.
Drogo Montagu bases his views on the translated writings of the ancient authors, along with an occasional mention of a very few of today's main scholarly works. Nor is there a bibliography, only a very short glossary of tactical definitions. It is a decision that makes his book even more simplistic than it appears at first perusal. In the end, the reader is left with many doubts. The work is readable, follows the mainstream interpretations, but adds very little to our knowledge or to the debate on Greek and Roman warfare. Drogo Montagu had his doubts about the project when he was first invited to consider such a book. It would have been better if in the end he had declined the invitation.