I'm writing this as I'm making final preparations to fly to Greece to do some field research for my upcoming Osprey book Legion vs. Phalanx. I'll be live-blogging the trip here, so be sure to bookmark this blog or follow what's happening via social media (links below!).
I'm super excited to be writing for Osprey. Like many of you, I grew up on Osprey books, and so much of my love of military history, and my decision to join the military myself, is shaped by the hundreds of Osprey volumes that have crowded my shelves since I was a kid.
I'm particularly excited to be bringing you Legion vs Phalanx, a look at the interplay between these two historic formations, and how their clashes helped shape the evolution of warfare, in ways that still affect us today. Part of this is plain and simple geekery. It takes exactly 1 ounce of hard liquor, one beer or one glass of wine to get me to launch into a "who would win in a fight?" conversation. So, yeah. I don't get invited to a lot of parties. Or, at least I don't get invited back to a lot of them.
Military history is underserved, and Osprey is doing the Lord's work in filling that gap. But the Hellenistic era, in particular, suffers from a real lack of attention. Sure, there's a good deal of focus on the big-ticket items, the household names--Hannibal and Alexander, Augustus and Ramses--and their eras. But anyone who has read Romm's Ghost on the Throne, or Livy's description of the court intrigues that lead up to the ascent of Perseus of Macedon, knows that the Hellenistic era was hugely significant, as dramatic and riveting as the twists and turns of HBO's "Game of Thrones". I'm not saying that people don't write about Hellenistic warfare, or what happened when the legion went up against the phalanx in particular, but I am saying that not enough people write enough about it. And also this: that not enough people write about the drama of it.
That's why I'm so grateful to be writing this book for Osprey, because they're the premiere imprint in this regard: they bring military history to the largest possible audience. Not just academics and "serious" students (though they do have huge readership there), but gamers and armchair generals, amateur battlefield sleuths and flat-out enthusiasts, tipsy nerds like me, backing friends into a corner to hold forth at length on why the pilos helmet is actually a better call than the corinthian.
I freely admit to my status as a passionate amateur. I don't have a Ph.D., and I'm no professor. So, one of the first things I did in developing this project was reach out to friends in academia for guidance. I'm incredibly lucky to know Michael Livingston, a professor at The Citadel-- and also, as it happens, a fellow
novelist. Mike is one of the world's foremost authorities on warfare. His book on Crecy is the definitive work on the topic, unseating generations of scholarship and completely redefining how the world sees this pivotal battle; it won the Society for Military History's Distringuished Book Prize this year. And his meticulously researched Shards of Heaven
historical fantasy series is set in the ancient world, which, coupled with his exhaustive knowledge of broad military history and tactics, made him the perfect person to consult on the project.
Mike's approach to military history is as simple as it is groundbreaking. He burns everything down and starts from scratch--he reconstructs engagements starting with the primary sources, both literary and material, and above all, the ground. "A battle is its ground," is one of Mike's favorite sayings. It's one of the those cool bumpersticker slogans that is made more powerful by being true. Mike drove me hard to make sure that I did this study right, starting with the baseline of the battlefields and the source material. He drove me to undertake this trip in the first place, and then he was kind enough to join me on it. He also has an ability to read satelite imagery that would make an NGA analyst jealous, and it turns out he has some fascinating new theories on how some of the battles examined in Legion vs. Phalanx unfolded. As a consequence, we'll be co-authoring a series of articles together that I hope to announce more about soon.
Mike just happens to be close friends and colleagues with an even bigger giant in military history, my fellow Osprey author Kelly DeVries; they worked together on the Crecy book and were co-recipients of that Distinguished Book Prize from the SMH. Kelly is also noted historical consultant for television, appearing frequently on the History Channel and PBS. Mike told Kelly about the project and introduced us, and I'm incredibly lucky that Kelly agreed to join us on this trip.
As this live-blog goes forward, you'll likely be hearing from us all at one point or another.
Legion vs. Phalanx examines six battles, and Mike, Kelly and I are heading off to Greece to look at two of them (well, two and a half, if you count a supporting battle we'll be examining). We'll be walking the battlefields of Cynoscephalae and Pydna, visiting the tomb of Agio Athanasios, heading to Delphi to see the Aemilius Paullus monument, and standing in Anticohus III's footprints at Thermopylae (metaphorically, since the battlefield has changed dramatically).
I'm super-psyched about this, and being that rarest of things-- a hyper-extroverted writer--I am especially thrilled to be blogging about it here. Because I'm no Emily Dickenson. I write to communicate. Hell, I do pretty much everything to communicate. Ninety percent of my life is spent alone, hunched over a laptop, and I thank God for social media. Because, for me, sharing experiences is sublime. This trip will be a hell of a lot more fun for me if I know you're along for the ride, and I hope you'll sing out in the comments section here, or feel free to hit us up on social media (@MykeCole
on Twitter, or feel free to friend us on Facebook) if there's something you want us to check out while we're boots-on-the-ground.
We're looking forward to getting on the ground where these battles were fought, and sharing it with you. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
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Entry #2: Myke Cole's Reading List: The Battles of Cynoscephalae, Thermopylae, and Pydna