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The Army of Herod the Great (Men-at-Arms) Paperback – November 24, 2009
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“The Army of Herod the Great...draws upon ancient texts and the latest in Israeli archaeological reports and findings to piece together the strength, arms and armor, organization, and tactics of this ancient field army... The Herodian army was a complex amalgam of Hellenistic and Roman influences, and is relatively obscure even among academics, making this study a particularly challenging one to undertake. Thankfully, author Samuel Rocca is more than up to the task. A teacher and curator at the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, Rocca studied and completed his MA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before researching his PhD on Herodian Judea at Bar-Ilan University. In other words, he has the credentials to pull of this project. One of the most impressive touches is the manner in which Rocca routinely explains the manner in which he arrived at his conclusions, such as the size of any given military unit or campaigning army. Finally, it should be noted that the book is richly illustrated with photos of relevant artifacts and original full-color artwork reconstruction by Christia Hook.” ―Andrew Hind, Strategy and Tactics (December 2009)
“Osprey's 'Men-at-Arms' series offers a narrowed focus on equipment and uniforms throughout history and military collections will appreciate some new additions. Samuel Rocca's The Army of Herod the Great surveys the military skills of one of Rome's most important client kings.” ―The Bookwatch (January 2010)
About the Author
Samuel Rocca was born in Milan, Italy but now lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three sons. He served with the Israeli Defense Forces, and has worked as a teacher and a curator at the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Having studied biblical and classical archaeology at undergraduate level at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he went on to complete his MA there, before researching his PhD on Herodian Judaea at Bar-Ilan University. Samuel has given papers at numerous international conventions, and written articles for several academic journals. This is his first book for Osprey Publishing. The author lives in Jerusalem, Israel.
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This month, after some five months of being open for visitors, the Herod the Great exhibition in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem, has been closed.
It displayed vividly this very contoversial king of the Jews,appointed by the Romans.
Some see him as a ruthless killer - of family members and others as well - and others see him as one of the greates builders in Judea - Jerusalem, Jericho, Herodion (his tomb and mausoleum) Caesarea (port and city) etc.
This book enlarged the view - at least mine - on a very non-conventional king.
By choosing to concentrate on the little known army of Herod the Great, Samuel Rocca fills a gap. To my knowledge at least, this is the only volume in this collection that presents the army of one of Rome's client states in the East in the time of Mark Antony and Augustus. This means that this book is to some extent a companion to both Philippi and Actium in the campaign series, since some of the soldiers shown in the plates might have been somewhat similar. It is also valuable because it shows what was essentially a "blended" army: one were Hellenistic and Roman influences were mixed, with the former dominating in the cavalry and light infantry and the latter being more prevalent for the heavy infantry.
Then there is the topic itself. Like many other readers, I suspect, I did not know very much about the army of Herod, its organization or its achievements before reading this book. What makes it into one of the very best in the series is that it manages, despite the usual size limit (48 pages for Men-at-Arms) to present the various troop types and their equipment, the army's organization, a historical background AND the main campaigns in which this army was involved. Given its size, this does imply that you get only an introduction, a glimpse, and you may be left craving for me by the end of the book. However, it is one of the only volumes in the collection to achieve something that even more recent titles - such as the one on the Macedonian armies after Alexander - seem unable to deliver: to present you with a full introduction and not mainly with a discussion on bits and pieces of equipment.
Arguably, a lot of the author's descriptions and the various numbers that he attributes to the various army corps may be conjectural. However, there is at least a plausible attempt that is made to give the reader an order of magnitude for this army. There are also some very interesting glimpses regarding what happened to a number of these units after the death of Herod with the author arguing that many units became auxiliary cohorts in the imperial army. Although the evidence backing this statement is probably no more than circumstantial, because the existence of Idumean cohorts of archers in the Roman army under Augustus and his successors does not necessarily imply that these were the descendants of some of Herod's units that the Romans had taken over, it is at least both possible and plausible.
The plates are also good and present a nice mix of types of soldiers, showing the various influences. The Jewish Theurophoros or heavy cavalry are clearly Hellenistic, whereas some heavy infantrymen are Roman legionaries. Other are equipped in a similar way whereas still others with long thrusting spears seem to be a cross between hypaspistae and legionaries. As if this was not enough, the book also has a nice map of the Herodian kingdom and its various regions and neighbours. There are also some nice illustrations of some of Herod's fortresses and strongholds.
This is one of the very best. Highly recommended.
For those wanting to read more about the period, the best starting point may be "The Wars of the Maccabees" by John Grainger which presents an overview of the Jews from the Seleucids down to the Flavians. For those more focused on the Maccabees, there is B. Bar-Kochva's excellent "Judah Maccabaeus - The Jewish Struggle against the Seleucids", although it is rather scholarly, complex and perhaps a bit expensive.