Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shadows In the Desert by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh

Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War (General Military)The ruins of Persepolis evoke the best-known events of ancient Persia's history: Alexander the Great's defeat of Darius III, his conquest of the Achaemenid empire, and the burning of the great palace complex at Persepolis. However, most of the history of ancient Persia remains as mysterious today as it was to contemporary Western scholars. Compared to the world-famous Alexander, the many wars won by the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanian empires, and their revolutionary military technology, have been almost forgotten in the sands of the East.

In its day, Persia was a superpower to rival Greece and Rome, and conflict between them spanned over a millennium. Through these wars, and trade, these foes learnt from each other, not only adopting elements of military technology, but influences in the arts, architecture, religion, technology and learning. In this beautifully illustrated book, Dr Kaveh Farrokh narrates the history of Persia from before the first empires, through their wars with East and West to the fall of the Sassanians. He also delves into the forgotten cultural heritage of the Persians, spread across the world through war and conquest, which, even after the fall of the Sassanians, continued to impact upon the Western world.

The author was awarded the 2008 Persia Golden Lioness Award for outstanding literature for this work.

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The Wars of Alexander's Successors 323-281 BC: Commanders and Campaigns by Bob Bennett and Mike Roberts

The Wars of Alexander's Successors 323 - 281 BC: Commanders and Campaigns v. 1D. Evans of the UK writes: "I've been interested in Alexander the Great for many years, but I've always been disappointed with the lack of books on what occured after his death. Usually in Alexander biographies the aftermath is only mentioned in passing, and if anyone wants to know what became of Alexander's successors they usually have to get hold of expensive works like Waldemar Heckel's 'The Marshals of Alexander's Empire'.

I was therefore looking forward to reading this book on Alexander's successors as it was the only cheap book on the subject I could find. I was definately not disappointed with the purchase as this book is well researched and very readable.

The book begins straight after Alexander's death as the Diadochi argue and fight over his corpse, with Perdiccas rising to the top. It is from here that we are taken on a chronological tour of the Hellenistic World, from 323 to 281 BC. Along the way, the authors give us biographies of the leading men of the age, from Ptolemy, who rose to become the Pharaoh of Egypt, Seleucus who ruled over the largest part of Alexander's Empire, as well as Antigonous and Lysimachus. You also get to know about the other figures of the period, such as Demetrius the Besieger and Pyrrhus of Epirus who are amongst the most fascinating figures in Classical History. These sections provide the reader with both a broad view of their lives, as well as an intimate look at their personalities, i.e. Seleucus's hatred of paperwork, the family feuds of Ptolemy, and the stingyness of Lysimachus.

Other chapters give us detailed looks on events such as the struggle for Macedonia, the Battle of Ipsus, and the constant fighting for control over Coele-Syria. The book finishes with a look at the battle of Corupedium in 281 BC, when the last of the Diadochi, Seleucus and Lysimachus, now in their seventies, fought near Sardis in Lydia.

The book is very well written and readable, and in some sections it even reads like a novel. In that respect if you have an interest in Alexander the Great or the Hellenistic World, then this book is a must have. I'm already looking forward to Volume II!

Note: Also contains a few black and white photographs and one basic map. If the book has one criticism it is that it should have contained more detailed and numerous maps."Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Defeat of Rome in the East: Crassus, the Parthians and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC by Gareth Sampson

DEFEAT OF ROME IN THE EAST, THE: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BCDuring the last stages of the Republic, Rome suffered its greatest military disaster since Hannibal's invasion of Italy over 150 years earlier, though this defeat had more far-reaching consequences. While Rome was able to recover from its disaster at Cannae, it never did retrieve the results of Carrhae, a defeat that sealed the East as an impenetrable barrier to Roman ambition, and also signaled the demise of the Republic.In 53 BC, Marcus Crassus, the richest member of Rome's ruling Triumverate, which also included Caesar and Pompey, decided to enhance his military stature with an invasion of the Parthian Empire centered on Mesopotamia (today's Iraq). His 36,000 legionaries crossed the Euphrates and were met by a much smaller Parthian army, albeit one mounted on horseback in the dispersed, missile-firing steppe-war tradition.In the desolate territory around Carrhae the Roman legions were surrounded and beset by elusive horse warriors, who alternated deadly arrow-fire from recurved bows with devastating attacks by armored horsemen, wielding lances in the fashion of future European knights. At one point Crassus dispatched his son with the Roman cavalry and light infantry to break a hole through the deadly ring. The Parthians concentrated on the party and destroyed it. Crassus was just about to move with the main body to its aid when Parthian horsemen rode up wielding his son's head on the tip of a spear.Severely unnerved, Crassus ordered a retreat, the Parthians moving in to massacre the 4,000 wounded he left behind. The next day, called to a parlay he was forced to attend by his nearly mutinous soldiers, Crassus and his officers were murdered by the Parthians. The now-leaderless Roman army disintegrated, only some 6,000 able to escape. At least 20,000 Roman legionaries were dead on the field, with 10,000 more captured.In this book Dr. Gareth Sampson, currently a tutor in ancient history at the University of Manchester, lays out not only the gruesome outcome of the battle but its immense consequences. First, unlike Alexander's Greeks, who had marched all the way to the Indus, Rome was never again to challenge the civilizations beyond the Euphrates. Second, with Crassus dead, Caesar and Pompey engaged in a bloody civil war that would end the Republic and result in political dictatorship. The author also provides an analysis of the mysterious Parthians, a people who vied with Rome as the most powerful empire on earth. Though their polity and records have long since disappeared, the Parthians' mark on history is clear enough through their decisive victory over Rome at Carrhae.Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Philip II of Macedonia by Ian Worthington

Philip II of MacedoniaAlexander the Great is probably the most famous ruler of antiquity, and his spectacular conquests are recounted often in books and films. But what of his father, Philip II, who united Macedonia, created the best army in the world at the time, and conquered and annexed Greece? This landmark biography is the first to bring Philip to life, exploring the details of his life and legacy and demonstrating that his achievements were so remarkable that it can be argued they outshone those of his more famous son. Without Philip, Greek history would have been entirely different.


Taking into account recent archaeological discoveries and reinterpreting ancient literary records, Ian Worthington brings to light Philip’s political, economic, military, social, and cultural accomplishments. He reveals the full repertoire of the king’s tactics, including several polygamous diplomatic marriages, deceit, bribery, military force, and a knack for playing off enemies against one another. The author also inquires into the king’s influences, motives, and aims, and in particular his turbulent, unraveling relationship with Alexander, which may have ended in murder. Philip became in many ways the first modern regent of the ancient world, and this book places him where he properly belongs: firmly at the center stage of Greek history.

Scheduled for Release:  November 3, 2008

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Alexander the Great Rocks the World by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Review by Mary Harrsch

This children's book did a very good job of touching on the significant events of the life of Alexander the Great. Author Vicky Alvear Shecter's modern banter may not be every adult's cup of tea but I think kids overall prefer to take life a little less seriously so I'm sure Shecter's touch of levity made the stodgy subject of history much more palatable to its intended audience. I also think she wisely avoided any potential controversy over explanations of the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion by simply describing them as the best of friends so conservative parents would not raise a ruckus about the book's inclusion in any school library.

I particularly enjoyed Shecter's inclusion of quotes from some of Alexander's famous contemporaries like Aristotle as well as other notable Greeks..

"A true friend is like a soul in two bodies." and "All virtue is summed up in dealing justly". and "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

She even dug up a quote attributed to Alexander himself: "Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all."

In addition to images of paintings and ancient art, each chapter was illustrated with whimsical sketches by Terry Naughton, a former Disney animator who worked on such Disney classics as the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King.

I can see why the book was selected by the Junior Library Guild for excellence in children's literature.

Vicky contacted me about using some of my images of artwork featuring Cleopatra to use in a new book she hopes to write on the famous Egyptian Queen. At the time, she was looking for a publisher for the project. I hope she found one as I'm sure it would be as equally well done.

Recommended for Grades 5 - 8.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the third Roman Emperor, is better known by another name: Caligula, a name synonymous with decadence, cruelty and madness. His reign was marked by excess, huge building projects, the largest gladiatorial battles Rome was ever to see - men and animals killed in their hundreds - conspiracies, assassination attempts and sexual scandal. Rufus as a young slave grows up far from the corruption of the imperial court. His master is a trainer of animals for the gladiatorial arena. Rufus discovers that he has a natural ability with animals, a talent for controlling and schooling them. It is at the arenas that Rufus meets his great friend Cupido, one of Rome's greatest gladiators. It is his growing reputation as an animal trainer and his friendship with Cupido that attracts the cruel gaze of the Emperor.Caligula wants a keeper for the imperial elephant and Rufus is bought from his master and taken to the imperial palace. Life here is dictated by Caligula's ever shifting moods. Caligula is as generous as he is cruel, he is a megalomaniac who declares himself a living god and simultaneously lives in constant fear of the plots against his life.Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, October 03, 2008

Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra was, Joyce Tyldesley, archaeologist, author ("Daughters of Isis"), and popular consultant for TV shows on ancient history, concludes, "an intelligent and effective monarch who set realistic goals and who very nearly succeeded in creating a dynasty that would have re-established Egypt as a world super power." Roman historians, though, saw only "an unnatural, immodest woman who preyed on other women's husbands. From this developed the myth of the sexually promiscuous Cleopatra ... a harsh legacy indeed for a woman who probably had no more than two, consecutive sexual relationships."

Readers who enjoy not only history but how it evolves into myth will find a feast in Tyldesley's book. You may be disappointed to find out that the Queen of Egypt did not first appear to Caesar unwrapped from an Oriental carpet, and it's unlikely that Cleopatra succumbed to the bite of an asp, but Tyldesley's theories as to what most likely did happen are at least as interesting as the folklore.- Allen Barra, The Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, Star Tribune.

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