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Showing 1-10 of 33 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 39 reviews
on March 11, 2010
The Good. The 13 battles which are selected as truly decisive battles, not just for the people who fought them, but for Western Civilization. The battles of Marathon, Gaugamela, and Thermopylae, to name a few, molded our world and made us what we are today. The use of Rome: Total War to help explain and explore the battles is really brilliant. Instead of six or seven reactors, wearing the wrong equipment, fighting in the fog you get to see the huge formations fighting over a landscape designed to look like the real environment at the time the battle was fought. Some of the camera angles are pretty well thought out - sometimes you get a bird's point of view and sometimes the camera seems to be peeking over the shoulder of a soldier, giving you the view from the front lines. Mathew Settle is even placed in some of the battles, his scaled down body standing next to the marching computer troops as he describes their equipment, abilities and skills. And as for the milling around action that many complain about? Well, that did happen in combat. Troops who are trapped, without leadership or direction, can become confused and scared. And they panic.

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.
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on November 21, 2009
Might makes right, but might and brains don't always go together and "fortune rules all things; she raises to eminence or buries in oblivion from caprice rather than principle." (Sallust)

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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on August 7, 2015
I really enjoyed the commentaries of these famous ancient battles. The computerized figures of the warriors and horses could be more sophisticated, but the host Matthew Settle, and the expert commentators more than make up for that. I especially enjoyed the segments on the battle of Gaugamela, the battle of Pharsalus, the battle of Carrhae, the battle of Marathon, and the battle in Britain against Boudicca. There are episodes about thirteen momentous ancient battles, some of which I knew nothing about before watching this this set of 3 DVDs. I would definitely recommend "Decisive Battles of the Ancient World" to any student of military history or anyone with an interest in Greek and Roman history.
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on May 14, 2007
Decisive Battles is a great collection for the average historian, its episodes last 20 minutes each and involve a retelling of the introduction, fighting and aftermath of major battles from The Persian Wars up to the fall of the Roman Empire.

It uses the game engine from Rome: Total War, this is a fresh tool for battle documentaries as they often use short glimpses of a small group of actors (often not resembling the characters they're supposed to be) involved in repetitous, choreographed melee. This gives some design to the armies and the scale allows for a greater clash and experience.

Included in the documentaries are historians familiar with the topics proving extra information and emphasis to the battles. They do seem restricted sometimes and edited for time, but they do add excitement as the story develops.

This will not satisfy some historians, but overall its an educational show with a short timeslot, its excellent for introductions to the battles for people who dont want to read the accounts from ancient sources. Great for kids as its not to violent, short and action packed.

Also Im Australian and was worried about the regional coding on the dvd, its absolutely no problem, dont let it deter you from buying what should be an addition to the dvd collection.
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on August 28, 2010
Listen to me..., this is good stuff. If you are fascinated by the powerful towering leaders of ancient civilizations and thier motives and tactics for holding power and fighting wars, and if you are equally fascinated by the armies and warriors of ancient Rome, Greece, Germany, Egypt, and further..., you must get this video set. Through live modern images of the lands and ruins where these battles took place, and interviews with highly knowledgable scholars on the subject, and great computer simulations that show you the incredible scope... tactics and carnage of these key battles... you are put right in the middle of the scene. I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD set. Trust me, if you have any interest in this subject.., this is a definite must-have collection. The DVD's worked excellently, the video and audio were perfect.

- Mike Silverman
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on August 26, 2012
This series from the History Channel turned out to be better than I expected. The narrative is straight forward and is combined with brief excerpts from interviews with subject-matter experts, usually university professors. The "game system technology" is from Total War, and while it is a little simplified regarding details, it provides an excellent visual representation of the battle formations and tactics used. Overall, this series can be a good way for anyone to learn and understand why these battles happened, and how these battles played out on the battlefield. I recommend it for military history buffs and high-school history classes that teach about ancient battles.
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on March 5, 2009
When I first saw this series 5 years ago, I was somewhat impressed by the game engine created battles. Once I took a closer look at it in DVD, it appears a bit funny. You see individual warriors running and turning to nowhere. Like they're looking for a fight, but don't know where to go.

Besides that, I think the series is well made from a historical point of view. It would have been better if each episode was an hour instead of a half, as there is really too much to cover.

Best episodes: Birth of the Roman Empire, Battle of Carrhae, Battle of Cannae.

To pad out the third DVD, Richard Karn (Al from Home Improvement) hosts a half hour of life as a Greek hoplite. Not too serious, take it for what its worth.

For what I paid, its certainly a good value.
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on June 11, 2012
This is a very good educational documentary. You learn about what decisive battles in the ancient world that was consented most important. The film goes into detail about the events leading up to the battle the makeup of the two sides involved what happened during the battle and the final outcome. A lot of detail rounded into 20 minutes. Also, using the Rome Total War graphic engine is better than using re-enactors.
I think the special features section merit mentioning as you learn more information about Egyptian and Greek life. I would recommend this one for teens and young children no bloody scenes.
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on January 9, 2010
If you enjoy ancient history, particularly ancient military history, this is a decent series. The battles are "fought" using the game engine of Rome:Total War, which was probably pretty impressive when this was first released. However, the graphics now look dated, with the different armies looking pretty darn similar, just with differently colored uniforms (you have the Roman template, the barbarian template, and the middle eastern/asian template). The animations do a good job of showing the tactics involved, and the narrator and historians do a good job of explaining motivations and the events of the battles, leading to an overall solid series. Just don't expect to be impressed with the animation graphics.
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on February 2, 2009
Up until the successor, Medieval II Total War, Rome Total War was my favorite video game ever. Almost totally modifiable, and the most accurate depiction of ancient warfare, along with the capabilities of fielding thousands of individual units on the field at once for top-notch accuracy and combat.

And as is done in many "battle replays" and historical battles, the best way to put this to use educationally is put to use in this series, "Decisive Battles", which uses this video game technology to display what previously could only be done with huge film budgets and thousands of extras.

One of the best parts is that every bit of video game footage is actual game footage. The graphics aren't perfect, and all the troops within a unit look identical, but it's arguably the best portrayal of the sheer size and scope of ancient battles in a documentary, with the game footage churning out TENS of thousands of units on the field, far beyond that which the game could even allow on one side.

The documentaries also feature the use of the in-game music, composed by Jeff van Dyck, and the traditional use of historians and the like speaking about the historical subjects, my favorite of which being Steven Pressfield for the episodes on Marathon and Thermopylae.

The scope of the battles cover some of the more commonly known, such as the battle of Marathon, Thermopylae, Cannae, Teutoberg Forest, and Gaugamela, but I'm also delighted at the inclusion of such battles as the battle of Cynocephalae (the first decisive battle of the Macedonian Wars between Rome and Macedon), the battle of Kadesh (the oldest known recorded battle in history, between the Egyptians and the Hittites), the battle of Adrianople, the battle of Watling Street, and so on and so on.

Perhaps the game content would make it impossible, but if they either hired the modteam for "Europa Barbarorum II" or designed units themselves, I could easily see this series becoming far more impressive and astounding if it were re-made (or simply done with the base game's Medieval units) using "Medieval II Total War" for a new set of "Decisive Battles" documentaries. It would be phenomenal, with the inclusion of non-cloned armies, grit, and blood.

Another set of documentaries were produced by BBC, using Rome Total War, called "Time Commanders", which features simultaneously two groups of people re-creating historical battles and fighting them out themselves, alongside and following with descriptions of the actual battles. I find it even more impressive for including some not very well known battles, such as the battle of Leuctra (in which the Theban Sacred Band destroyed the Spartans using innovative new weapons and tactics).
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