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Ancient Battle Formations (Hardback)

Ancient History Military

By Justin Swanton
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781526740069
Published: 17th August 2020


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Justin Swanton examines the principal battle-winning formations of the Ancient world, determining their composition, function and efficacy. An introductory chapter looks at the fundamental components of the principal battle formations of heavy and light infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots, showing how they bolstered the individual's soldier's willingness to fight.

The rest of the book focuses on massed infantry that reigned supreme in this era: the heavily armoured Greek hoplite phalanx that was immune to the weaponry of its non-Greek opponents; the Macedonian pike phalanx that was unbeatable against frontal attacks so long as it kept order; the Roman triplex acies which, contrary to popular opinion, consisted of continuous lines in open order, with file spaces wide enough to allow embattled infantry to fall back after which those files closed up instantly against the enemy.

A careful study of the Greek and Latin of the sources sheds fresh light on how these formations were organized and worked, re-evaluating many conventional notions and leading to some surprising conclusions.

"This book really delves deeply into the nuts and bolts of formations, looking at armour, weapons, numbers, ranks and files and if you are looking for detail and understanding of this area look no further, it is all here. This is a very well-presented and detailed book."

Battlefield magazine, Spring 2024

As featured in


"The book is an excellent one volume treatment of these three distinctly different formations and their uses.”

Read the review here

A Wargamer’s Needful Things

A curious book, very useful and interesting.

Read the full Spanish review here

Miniaturas JM

This book is both important for its thoroughly researched, original and well-argued historical conclusions and an enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Review by Prof. F Noel Zaal (BA, LLB University of Natal, LLM Durban-Westville, LLM Columbia, PhD Wits)

Readers in ancient military history of the Classical period will certainly find Swanton’s approach and conclusions stimulating.

Read the full review here

Beating Tsundoku

Review by Jason Hubbard

This is a great study of the subject matter, as a wargamer I found this a fascinating read, it gave a depth of knowledge that I’m hoping to implement on to the tabletop at some point.

I would definitely say if you’re a wargamer, this one history book you need to get your hands on and read, especially if you play Ancient wargaming or Pike and shot.

I also think this will appeal to military historians as well, as it provides a great insight into the organization of effectiveness of these formations on the battlefield. This is one of those books that many a wargamer would be happy to find in their stocking on Christmas morning.

Irregular magazine, issue 14 Volume 2/Winter 2020

This would be a great read for both military history enthusiasts as well as Wargammers (The author is the editor of Slingshot, the magazine of the Society of Ancients). There is also some interesting research that would be useful for re-enactors of the period.

This is an excellent book focussed on one specific aspect of warfare, and while it sounds pretty mundane, this is an excellent look at formations.

There are also lots of copies of statues and drawings form the period to help reinforce the author’s views.

Read the full review here

Medieval Sword School

This book is an unique history book focusing on ancient battles and battle formations and recommended to anyone interested in historical warfare.

NetGalley, Sumit RK

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"A careful study of the Greek and Latin of the sources sheds fresh light on how these formations were organized and worked, re-evaluating many conventional notions and leading to some surprising conclusions."
This got me in the first place.

The author has done a fantastic job of describing the battle formations.
The book is neither to cliche or boring.
This provides a different insight on the fighting skills of Greek and Roman people.

NetGalley, Sophrosyne T

About Justin Swanton

A long-standing member of the Society of Ancients, Justin Swanton has been studying ancient warfare many years, making a close reading of ancient battle accounts in the original Greek and Latin. He is editor of Slingshot, the journal of the Society of Ancients, and is a graphic designer by profession, hence the striking diagrams that accompany his writing. He is a keen wargamer in his spare time and has published one novel set in late Antiquity. Justin lives in Durban, South Africa.

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