Book Review: Legion versus Phalanx: The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World


by Myke Cole

Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2018. Pp. 288+. Illus., maps, chron., gloss., biblio.,, index. $30.00. ISBN: 1472828429

The Roman and Hellenistic Military Systems Compared

Former intelligence analyst and Coast Guard officer Cole, an Afghan war veteran with an interest in war gaming and re-enacting, looks at the relative merits of the Roman and Hellenistic military systems in the period from about 280 through 168 BC. During this period, while also fighting other enemies on other fronts, the Romans several times encountered the phalanx armies of the Successor kingdoms of Epirus, Macedon, and Syria.

Cole weaves into his treatment of these campaigns critical analyses of the sources. He also offers comparative looks at the respective political and military systems within the framework of the times, and gives us profiles of many of the commanders.

Of course, Cole’s primary object is the actual battles, and he gives us very good analytical accounts of several of these, concentrating primarily on Heraclea, Asculum, Beneventum, Cynoscephalae, Magnesia, and Pydna. For each battle, he sets the political and strategic stage, explains how the encounter came to be, outlines the terrain and respective forces, and the gives a rather detailed account of the course of the action. As he does this, he offers analyses of any dubious or uncertain evidence, suggesting alternative interpretations. Given that the legion almost consistently defeated the phalanx, Cole suggests the principal advantages the Roman military system possessed that led to this result.

A well written work, although intended primarily for laymen seeking some information on these events, Legion versus Phalanx will likely also prove of some value to serious scholars of the period, albeit marred by the absence of footnotes.


Note: Legion Versus Phalanx is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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