Summary: No Ordinary Defeat
Comment: It is rare that a great nation at the height of its power commits all its military and financial resources to accomplish a single task - and fails - but this is what happened to Athens in 413 BC. Author Nic Fields recounts the story of the disastrous Athenian expedition to conquer the city of Syracuse in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War in Osprey's Campaign series No. 195, entitled Syracuse 415-413 BC. Readers who have already tackled Thucydides' classic account of the war can still appreciate this summarized narrative, thanks to its maps, battle scenes and color photographs of the extant sites today.
The author begins with the standard sections, outlining the origins of the campaign and providing capsule biographies on the main leaders of each side. The section on opposing armies (which includes naval forces) is much longer than usual - 18 pages - and covers hoplite militia, infantry tactics, cavalry, light troops and navies. The main point made here, is that while the Athenians had a strong infantry force, they were deficient in cavalry and the author cites this as a major contributor to their defeat. A section on opposing plans further defines each sides' campaign objectives.
It is not until page 49 that the author actually begins the campaign narrative, but his description of the siege itself does not start until page 57. It seemed as if he was running out of space before he even got to the main event. Athenian siegecraft was extremely crude - they had no catapults, no archers - and relied upon building simple walls around the city and then let starvation due the rest. With luck, the whole process took about two years. However, the Athenians were unable to complete the siege walls around the city due to aggressive sorties by the defenders, so Syracuse was never really under full siege. Eventually, the defenders began to turn the tide against the would-be besieging force and faulty Athenian leadership contributed to a rapid decline in their position. Even as the campaign was going sour, the Athenians decided to reinforce failure and sent their remaining reserves from home to augment the first expedition. Instead, the Syracusan/Spartan forces managed to eliminate first the Athenian fleet, then routed their army and then forced it to surrender. The author estimates that Athens lost about 25% of its ground troops and 65% of its naval forces, as well as expending over 90% of its treasury. Obviously, the expedition to Syracuse was no ordinary disaster, it was a catastrophe of the sort that radically changes existing power balances.
In the final section, the author notes that the Spartans fumbled in their efforts to take advantage of the Athenian weakness at sea immediately after Syracuse, but Athenian financial weakness undermined their effort to rebuild their fleet. Persian financial intervention on the Spartan side, providing funds to build new fleets, gradually sealed the fate of Imperial Athens. In terms of balance, this volume appears to represent both sides fairly well, although their might be a trace of anti-imperialist bias against Athens (it's also easier to root for the victors in historiography, too).
The volume has six 2-D maps (the allies of Athens and Syracuse, 413 BC; Sicily and the toe of Italy; the route of the Athenian armada; Syracuse, Epipolai and the key battles, 414-413 BC; the Athenian retreat from Syracuse; the aftermath in the Aegean, 413-411 BC), but only two 3-D BEV maps (the Battle of the Anapos, 415 BC; the battle for control of Epipolai). I was a bit disappointed in the level of detail shown in the maps, since the battle area was so small (about 4 x 5 kms); I remember a 3-D type map of the siege that appeared in National Geographic decades ago that was far superior to these. The excellent battle scenes by Peter Dennis (arrival of Spartan warrior Gylippos in Syracuse; night attack on the Epipolai; the final sea battle) partly make up for the pedestrian maps. In addition, the author provides a decent bibliography and a chronology, but omits the usual section on the battlefield today.
Summary: Detailed at it's best
Comment: When I first learned of the Osprey book, I was amazed a the detials and information they provided. For those interested in ancient history it provides well informed nuances of life during that time. As a painter of ancient HO figues, it helps with details on just how they dressed and how there armout was decorated. I would recomment this to any one who wants to get a good brief history for life during that time.
Summary: Summary account of downfall of Athenian Empire
Comment: To be honest here, I thought the book rated around 3.5 stars but I gave it a 3 because of certain limitations. Nic Fields' book traces the Athenian campaign against the city of Syracuse in Sicily that ended in total disaster. He make it clear that the campaign was an act of sheer folly since the Athenian leadership clearly wasn't up to the task. A turning event in the Peloponnesian War, this disastrous defeat of the Athenian military directly led to downfall of the their empire and imperial ambitions.
The book follows the typical Osprey Campaign series format. The book comes well illustrated with maps, photos and good artworks that clearly show the author's intents. The author writes about the origins of this campaign, then the commanders, the make up of the opposing armies and their relative plans. All this were well written, well explained and its appears that the author spent considerable amount of time inside the British Museum researching all this. The unfortunate thing lies in the fact that perhaps he went into too much details in this part of the book. Out of 96 pages of the book, the story about the campaign don't start until page 49. And the narrative of the campaign ends at page 86. Rest of the book informed the reader of the consequences of the Athenian defeat that of course, led to the downfall of Athens and her empire.
So that is only 38 pages of campaign narrative of which, many of these pages got illustrations, maps and photographs. So in basic essence, there isn't much written about the actual campaign at all which sound bit ironic since that's suppose to be the key element of this book. The author also don't stray too far from the principle source of this campaign. Author's campaign narrative basically summarized Thucydides' account. In fact, when discussing the campaign from start to finish, he rarely ever stray from Thucydides' accounts. I know that Thucydides is the primary source to all this but couldn't the author add some few original thoughts of his own? He makes no effort to put in his insights into the campaign at all.
I supposed the book could be useful to readers whose knowledge of the Peloponnesian War is totally raw and uninitiated since its clearly written and events clarified. But to anyone's else, you might be better off just reading Thucydides' book.