Decisive Battles of the Ancient World (History Channel)
DVD | Box Set
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They are the moments when history was writ in blood; when armies determined the fate of empires and men became myths. They are the DECISIVE BATTLES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD. In a groundbreaking four-disc release, THE HISTORY CHANNEL® presents the 13 defining points of ancient warfare-moments that altered the course of history and shaped the modern world. DECISIVE BATTLES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD narrates a comprehensive account of the famed leaders that commanded victory and the brilliant military tactics that swayed destiny as it travels the globe to examine every aspect of these legendary encounters. Witness recreations of the crucial battles of Rome and beyond--from Cannae to Marathon to Thermopylae--and follow some of the greatest warriors of all time, including Hannibal, Spartacus, and Attila the Hun. DECISIVE BATTLES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD offers the ultimate survey of the colossal conflicts that determined the fate of the Western world. DVD Features: TBD Episodes: Atilla the Hun Birth of the Roman Empire Boudicca: Warrior Queen Cannae Crassus: Rich Man, Poor Man Gaugamela Gothic Invasion of Rome, The Hail Caesar! Herman the German Marathon Ramses II Spartacus Thermopylae
- Bonus documentaries "Ancient Mysteries: The Secret Life of King Ramses II" and "Foot Soldier: The Greeks"
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The Bad. In some of the battles, instead of the video game scenes aiding us in understanding the action it sometimes makes things worse. Example, in the episode called Ramses II, the Egyptians trap some of the Hittite's chariots within their camp. The Egyptian bowmen start to open fire on the milling enemy. Suddenly we have a scene where the Hittite chariots are all in neat, well ordered lines and as the arrows come down they die in neat, nice, well ordered lines. Not only the crew and the horses, but the chariots too! When a unit dies the wheels fall off, making for a very silly death scene. Yet seconds before they were a confused mob of chariots trapped by tents and Egyptian ground troops. It just took away from the moment.
In another battle, in the episode Hail Caesar!, we have Caesar and Pompey fighting each other. One of the points made during the episode was that both sides had to have passwords, because they couldn't tell each other apart - one of the problems in fighting a Civil War in which everybody used the same equipment. But in the battle shown, both armies had different COLORS! No doubt the game would not allow both sides to each wear red, but it still is seemed a tad strange.
The Very Good. I really did enjoy the extras. One is Foot Soldier: The Greeks, hosted by Richard Karn. While some scenes seem a tad silly, the overall information given about Greek soldiers was very interesting and, in some cases when dealing with camp followers and battle medicine, very mature. I would even suggest watching this special before you watch any of the episodes on Greek warfare. I plan, in fact, to try to find this series, to see what they say about the Romans, Egyptians and other soldiers of history.
The other special, Ancient Mysteries: The Secret Life of King Ramses II, was also very useful in that it helped us understand the true importance of the battle in which he stopped the Hittites from expanding south. It does a very good job in explaining his life, goals, and skills as a leader. Hosted by Leonard Nimoy.
If you want more details on ancient warfare, I would suggest the following books.
First start off with The Greco-Persian Wars, then I would read The Generalship Of Alexander The Great (Da Capo Paperback) and finish off with Roman Warfare (Smithsonian History of Warfare). Two other, more general books on war would be A History of Warfare and Ancient Warfare.
If you don't believe that, you should check out Decisive Battles of the Ancient World from the History Channel. This fantastic documentary covers thirteen major battles ranging from Ramses II fighting the Hittites for control of Syria to the Spartans standing off the Persians at Thermopylae to the Gothic invasion of Rome and Boudicca's revolt in Britain. "Chance rules all," according to Virgil, but after watching Decisive Battles, I'd change that to "chance, hubris, ambition, greed and stupidity."
Most of these battles were epochal to one degree or another, shaping the future development of the entire Western world, and the West as we know it might not even exist if they'd turned out differently. So it's unnerving (and comical) to realize how contingent history really is--how much of it is determined by random combinations of personality and circumstance, the fate of nations hanging on the quirks of strutting egos and a roll of the dice.
The video covers each battle in a twenty-minute episode, featuring lots of maps, background material, onsite footage and interviews with classical scholars like Victor Davis Hanson--expert on Hoplite warfare and author of the great book "A War Like No Other," a history of the Peloponnesian War. The battles themselves are presented using a beta version of the video game Rome: Total War, using computer graphics to animate the formations and maneuvers. This is a lot more effective than using re-enactors since it provides an aerial view of the battles and a sense of their scale.
Some of these fights are stories of epic courage like the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, while others are chaotic and insane--bloody massacres doomed from the start. Some of the commanders were geniuses like Caesar, Paulinus and Alexander the Great. Others were less brilliant, to say the least, marching their armies into death traps like Varus and Crassus. In any case, this is "Big Man" history--a story of High Glory and Major Screwups--and it's mind-boggling how small some of these Big Men really were.
Great stuff. Highly recommended.
Ancient World Review
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