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Knights and Caesar

Last week I was in Bath, popping in at the Roman Baths and then attending a book launch for Robert Jones' Bloodied Banners: Martial display on the Medieval Battlefield (Boydell Press). Have not yet had a chance to do more than dip into it, but am really looking forward to reading it properly. The idea is a very interesting one, looking at the visual displays and rituals of medieval armies from a range of perspectives - not simply the practical value, such as intimidating the enemy and building up your own confidence, but also the reasons why these things were done in that specific way. I suspect that there may be quite a few parallels with the ancient world, so it's well worth a look if you have an interest in how armies worked.

Also thought that I would mention that Caesar's two thousand and one hundredth birthday will fall this coming Tuesday. Am planning a good lunch in excellent company to toast the old boy!

Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is due out soon - the 15th July in the UK and the 28th September in the USA. Orion have put the Introduction up on their website for people to read at this link

As usual all sorts of things have delayed the addition of this blog entry, so that it is now several weeks since I went to the cinema to see the move Centurion. It is essentially a pretty violent western with a loose second century AD setting. I rather like westerns, and try to do my best to switch off my brain before going to see anything set in the ancient world so that it doesn't upset me. So ultimately it is an enjoyable action/chase story.

History wise, well it's probably best not to dwell too much on that. The background story did not make any sense - with the governor eager to finish a war so taht he could leave his province, and the general premise that the Caledonian tribes fought so hard and in such an unusual way that the Romans had to withdraw and build Hadrian's Wall. Still it is no doubt nice to think that if you are a Scottish nationalist. Was quite surprised to see Inchtuthil depicted as a tiny outpost rather than a base for an entire legion.

Equipment wise, the legionaries looked generally OK & rather reminiscent of Gladiator, although sadly they carried big, broad-headed spears rather than pila. It would be nice if one day someone could get this right in a movie. Just about everyone was in lorica segmentata and there did not seem to be any auxiliaries of any sort, although one chap oddly enough described himself as a peltast. The legion displayed all the enthusiasm of movie armies to bimble along into an ambush without really looking. Inevitably the attack involved setting fire to things. It's been the same since Spartacus! Also not sure about a Caledonian (or Pictish in the movie) horse archer, or indeed warrior women, who in spite of woad and drab clothes look rather as you would expect movie warrior women to look - their woad and limed hair surprisingly flattering. I cannot say that seeing one of these stabbed in the eyeball with the broken shaft of an arrow quite fits with my idea of entertainment, but no doubt I am just old fashioned.

I missed Agora in the cinemas so will have to wait to rent the dvd. Have no idea whether or not it was any good, but did wonder how you could stretch Hypatia's story to a whole movie. I believe that The Eagle of the Ninth is coming later in the year, so it will be back north of the Wall again. I have fond memories of watching a BBC children's television version of this when I was young, but have been told that tapes of this no longer exist. Pity, as in my memory it was rather good.

Patton on youtube
Just a quick follow up to the last blog entry, but I thought that I would pass on this link to a recording of Patton making a speech in 1945, which was sent to me in response. Many thanks for that. I am passing it on in case anyone else is interested.
Patton on film
Patton and Plutarch

Over the weekend I happened to watch the 1969 movie Patton, with George C. Scott in the title role. It's a great piece of cinema, even if it plays pretty fast and loose with the history at times - for instance Montgomery parading into Messina in Sicily to find Patton already there. It didn't happen, but it is a terrific scene. The movie does play on Patton's deep knowledge of military history, and several times has him talking about Caesar, or describing a Roman triumph near the end of the film. I was very interested to read in Carlo D'Este's A Genius For War: A life of General George S. Patton (1995), that Patton was badly dyslexic, but trained his memory and could remember large parts of Plutarch's Lives - an interesting choice given their emphasis on personal achievement and glory. Even more surprising, it seems that the real Patton had quite a high pitched voice. It creates rather a different picture of his blood and guts speeches, which I tend to imagine in George C. Scott's growl. However, it make me think, and as far as I can tell I have never heard a recording of Patton speaking - unlike Montgomery or Eisenhower. Asking people since then, I have not come across anyone who can remember hearing a recording of him. I wonder if this was deliberate, and he felt the voice did not go with his image - or perhaps his frequent profanity meant that no one wanted to risk making a recording in those days. On the other hand, Julius Caesar was noted as having rather a high pitched voice. I suspect Patton himself might have liked that coincidence.

Also on the subject of generals, I recently read Mark Urban's Generals: ten British commanders who shaped the world (2005). I worked with Mark back on the old BBC Time Commanders Series, and it is always especially interesting reading a book when you know the author. His thesis is interesting, looking at the changing styles of command and relationship between government and generals in Britain, as well as the difficulties of coalition warfare. You may not agree with all of his conclusions, while the biographical sketches are necessarily brief and you could disagree with some of the nuances. I suspect someone as unorthodox as Chinese Gordon is impossible to sum up so briefly. However, it's an enjoyable and thought provoking read. Many of the issues are these days probably more relevant to military command in the USA than here in the UK. Mark Urban's books on the Peninsula War and the American War of Independence are also well worth a look.


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