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Chariot: The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World's First War Machine Hardcover – May 19, 2005

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1585676675 ISBN-10: 1585676675

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This dense but readable scholarly study summarizes the chariot's history from its disputed origins in Europe and Asia more than 4000 years ago to its continued life on the wide screen. British scholar Cotterell (The Minoan World) reveals the workings of a vehicle that was, throughout its history, primarily a platform for archers (although halberds and spears were not unknown). In its mature form, it required three developments—the spoked wheel (lighter than the solid one), the powerful compound bow and the domesticated horse (faster than oxen, more powerful than the ass). As it developed, it also represented some of the most sophisticated Bronze Age technology—some Egyptian chariots are known to have weighed less than 60 pounds—and the charioteer was one of the earliest examples of a warrior elite selected for skill rather than birth. The author is cheerfully discursive about chariots in the Homeric and Hindu epics, and has provided a lavish array of illustrations so that practically nothing mentioned is left undepicted; it's not light reading at any point but informative throughout. The eventual demise of the chariot (more or less paralleling the decline of Rome), he shows, arose from improved infantry weapons, tactics that could cripple, or at least deter, horses, and cavalry that could move on rougher ground. (June)
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From Booklist

Narrating the development and disappearance of the world's first war machine, this book reminds readers that much of the power of ancient empires was two-wheeled and horse-driven. Harnessed to other historians' broad-spectrum research on the causes of the end of the Bronze Age, Cotterell argues that, much like the later introduction of the stirrup, chariot technology dramatically recast battlefield strategy across the ancient world. Egyptians employed chariots as all-purpose fighting machines, while Roman chariots were more ceremonial, and Indian troops used theirs as archery platforms; Chinese engineers developed more efficient harnesses, permitting heavier cars. The author's comparative approach broadens the appeal of what would otherwise seem a narrow topic, but this account nevertheless behaves as a detailed military history. Particularly interesting for such scholarship, the author also discusses the chariot as a vehicle for modern popular culture; it aims to dispel the notion that chariots were simply horse-pulled tanks. Scholarly yet accessible, and not just for Ben Hur fans. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press (May 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585676675
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585676675
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,296,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Giffords on June 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book piqued my interest last week, as my interests in Military History reading the last few years have shifted increasingly toward the more ancient periods. Obviously, from the five stars I give it, I consider the purchase money well spent.

The book discusses the importance of chariotry both in warfare and in culture across a range of cultures. The author breaks his material into discussions of West Asia + Egypt, India and China.

I suspect much of the general material concerning West Asia and Egypt (with discussions of Kadesh and Megiddo, The Iliad and Greek Heroic traditions, burial discoveries from Egyptian and Greek sites, etc.) won't be new to most readers, but a lot of the details behind this general approach may be.

What I particularly appreciated were the discussions of the chariot in India and China, as (at least for me) these are areas I know little about, and have had a hard time finding much to overcome my ignorance. These discussions don't just focus on evidence of use in military battles, but also discuss the role of chariots in cultural foundations such as the Indian epic Mahabharata.

As an added bonus, while the focus clearly lies on the role of the chariot in ancient warfare, the reader can also learn a bit about comparative religion/mythology (similarities between Greek or Roman gods and those of India, for example), migrations of ancient people, influence of trade between civilizations, and more.

The end notes do a very nice job of expounding on the more interesting topics of each chapter (think of the notes as being "sidebars" to the main work), and generally at the end of each note the author reccomends a further source or two he considers good for the reader interested in learning more about that topic.

While I found a few (emphasis on few) sections to be a bit heavy reading, the book as a whole reads very easily, especially considering the amount of information included.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Red Harvest on November 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mr Cotterell has tackled an interesting and largely neglected subject with "Chariot." This work is expansive, covering development of the chariot, supporting equipment, chariot battles, and culture stretching from Briton to China. The decline of the chariot and the many reasons for that are also reviewed and explained: development of cavalry, horse archers, heavy infantry, expense and time of training/maintaining chariotry, sociological changes, etc.

Unfortunately, the book is too expansive in its coverage of general history and mythology/epics. It loses focus and this can result in tiresome reading, waiting for the author to get back to the topic, chariots. For example, many pages are spent detailing the Indian epics and chariot use by the deities, but surprisingly little is presented about archaeological/history based Indian chariot use. Similarly, far too much time is spent on Homer's Iliad, while some other known historical uses of chariots in battle are entirely neglected.

A glaring example of how the historical aspect is neglected in favor of epics is the omission of the last major uses of scythed chariots, by Pontic rulers. Mithridates IV had some notable fiascos with scythed chariots-leading to open laughter and derision by the legions at Chaeronea. However, Mithridates' son, Pharnaces II, won a major victory in 61 BC at Ennium by disrupting the Roman infantry with scythed chariots to open gaps in a Roman army.

As other reviewers have noted, the author's arrangement of the book is haphazard. On the surface the book appears to have a logical outline, but within the text skips from period-to-period and place-to-place.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Levesque on November 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
An excellent book focused on the chariot -- its development and use. The strength of the book is that it puts the chariot in its military, social, literary, and religious context. It is not a straight forward military history. In fact it is more of a social and cultural analysis of the chariot with a great deal of analysis and emphasis on the chariot in society. Of particular note is the early analysis of the key elements of chariot development from the combined need of weapons development (the bow and spear), the technological requirement for a light yet sturdy vehicle, and the difficulty in breeding and training horses. The author then reviews how the chariot and its related requirements developed in west Asia, India, and China -- how the weapon system and/or its components spread from one region to another. If you're looking for a good contextual history of the chariot this is the book for you -- however, if you're looking for a standard military history of the chariot in battle, you'd best look elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Cotterell takes on a fascinating topic -- the use of chariots in ancient warfare -- but the style of presentation degrades the impact of his book. Other reviewers are certainly right in pointing to the chaotic character of much of the narrative that darts about, seemingly unable to keep its focus. Although theoretically the chapters are organized according to geographical/cultural anchors (that would normally tend to impose a chronological framework), very often the narrative casually leaps thousands of miles (and even thousands of years) without warning. In part, this might be excused as a technique to provide context for what the author is describing, but often it seems driven either by the author's desire to display his particular expertise (ancient China) or just to tell a good story (amusing as the tale about Bonaparte and the tame rabbits may be, its relevance to war chariots is nonexistent).

But for the good news: Cotterell does explore in considerable detail the whole long story of chariots in warfare. He is firmly of the school that identifies military chariots as, primarily, archery platforms, but I do wish he could have explored in greater detail the implications of the introduction of spear-carrying warriors as chariot passengers or, for that matter, the presumed vulnerability of chariots to foot soldiers.

"Chariot" is far from a perfect history volume, but it is nontheless worth reading/
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