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Edited by Jeremy Black

Great Battles of All Time

This book was first published in 2005 under the title Seventy Battles in History and is now being republished as a compact paperback under its new title. The number of battles remain the same, beginning with Marathon (490 BC) and concluding with the Iraq War 2003). One wonders, and perhaps hopes, that the next edition will have increased the number of battles to seventy-one by including the latest great battle, the Battle for Ukraine. Of course, we do not know how that battle will end nor indeed how long it might last, so the next edition of this book may be a few years away.

We can however be clear on at least one important fact: while many pundits predicted a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and others were convinced that the threats were all posturing tactics on the part of President Putin, hardly any could have foretold how these past eight months would unfold. Ukraine is still fighting, albeit with huge material support from western nations, and the Russians are clearly on the back-foot. Finland and Sweden are applying to join NATO, and only recently, on 30th September 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an application for an ‘accelerated accession to NATO’. There are high stakes at play here, and they go well beyond the conventional battlefield.

Great Battles of All Time is divided into seven sections (from the Ancient World to the Twentieth Century), each beginning with a short introduction which seeks to encapsulate some of the special features of each era. The individual entries are brief, varying from around 4-6 pages, with a short overview, details of the combatants, the numbers involved, casualties, and some outcomes.

While there are some enduring characteristics to all these battles, with all the elemental human factors, along with time and space, playing their part, it is also clear from this study ‘that battle has been far from constant in character’. Decisive victory on the battlefield, or more accurately in modern parlance, the ‘battlespace’, has become increasingly illusive; who are the real victors?

Also, some battles or periods of conflict have had a profound impact on global history; take for example, the advances of the Islamic Arab armies in the early seventh century (the conquering of Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, North Africa, and most of Spain) compared to the rather more parochial battles between adjacent countries in Western Europe, such as Hastings (1066), Crécy (1346), and Agincourt (1415). While these battles certainly had some enduring impact, the Muslim advances, together with the later and even more extensive Mongol conquests in Eastern and Central Europe,  and China, have had consequences that ‘still mould the modern world’.  

Great Battles of All Time is a very neat 350-page study of individual battles over some 2500 years. There is less comparative analysis here than in other, and broader, histories of warfare, but this should not detract from this book. There are also some clear and simple maps supporting each of the seventy battles described here. However way the Battle for Ukraine ends, it must surely, in time, find its place in this study.

The Editor

Thames & Hudson





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