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Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World (Hardback)

Ancient History Maritime > Naval Military

By Owen Rees
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 218
ISBN: 9781473827301
Published: 10th January 2019



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Naval warfare is the unsung hero of ancient Greek military history, often overshadowed by the more glorified land battles. Owen Rees looks to redress the balance, giving naval battles their due attention. This book presents a selection of thirteen naval battles that span a defining century in ancient Greek history, from the Ionian Revolt and Persian Invasion to the rise of external naval powers in the Mediterranean Sea, such as the Carthaginians.

Each battle is set in context. The background, wider military campaigns, and the opposing forces are discussed, followed by a narrative and analysis of the fighting. Finally, the aftermath of the battles are dealt with, looking at the strategic implications of the outcome for both the victor and the defeated. The battle narratives are supported by maps and tactical diagrams, showing the deployment of the fleets and the wider geographical factors involved in battle. Written in an accessible tone, this book successfully shows that Greek naval warfare did not start and end at the battle of Salamis.

"Rees succeeds in reaching an essential audience. His writing is lucid, informative, and engaging for the knowledgeable general reader and for students at all levels."

Nautical Research Journal

This is Owen Rees’ companion book to ‘Great Battles of the Ancient Greek World’ and is a superb read that emphasises just how much naval warfare adapted over the 5th century BC with the Athenians modifying trireme (3 banks of oars) designs early on to gain speed and agility followed by the Corinthians maximising the power and strength of their ships by reinforcing them to withstand head-on ramming at the cost of overall speed. Tactics swung between the ‘old fashioned’ model of turning sea battles into land battles on the decks through the use of marines to adaptations such as deeper battle lines and tactics focussed on mobility such as the diekplous (sail through), periolous (sail around) and kuklos (circle), the latter being used both offensively and defensively. The Corinthians and Syracusans made use of smaller ships, penteconters (50 oars) and triaconters (30 oars) as manoeuvrable missile platforms to speed around and through formations attacking the rowers directly. We also see the development of the ‘dolphin’ - a large weight dropped from one ship through the deck and hull of another ship!
Reading a history of these battles reinforces how closely related land and sea battles were in the Mediterranean and how strategic use of combined operations could reverse fortunes on either land or sea as various strategies and subterfuges were enacted.
Lastly, there’s a real emphasis on how closely tied together were naval capacity and logistics along with supply of rowing power. A fleet of 100 triremes would require 27,000 rowers plus crew and marines. And all would have to be fed, watered, paid and billeted (well, found some dry land to sleep on!) every 24 hours!

A great read!

Ashley Holt, The Hoplite Association

The author has done a good job of demonstrating the importance of naval power in all of these wars. The Greek victory at Salamis left the Persian army dangerous exposed and convinced the Emperor to return home. The Spartan victory at Aegospotami destroyed Athenian naval power and led to the siege of Athens. We also see a wide range of tactics in use, from the Athenian use of the ram to boarding actions, to the skilful use of misdirection that led to the Athenian fleet at Aegopotami being destroyed almost without a struggle.

Read the full review here

History of War

Review by David Manley

If you want an easy access to the complex and intriguing world of ancient Greek naval warfare this book is ideal.

Naval Wargames Society

... high information content.

ModellWerft, February 2021

Rees’s work is highly recommended. His lively and clear prose entices the reader without giving up historical precision, making it accessible to a wide range of readers.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

All in all, this is a great book to add to your collection... Mr. Rees, soon to be Dr. Rees, does an excellent job of sweeping away the cobwebs of 2500 years.

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A Wargamers Needful Things

Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World is a fine introductory text to the study of the late Archaic and Classical periods. Rees’ style of writing is excellent, with a good flow and scholarly air without any signs of coming across as wooden or clinical in its dissertation of facts. Given the relative scarcity of ancient naval warfare analyses among recent publications, this text is a worthwhile addition to the historiography of pre-Hellenistic Greek naval engagements and tactics.

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, Vol. XXIX, Summer 2019 – reviewed by Charles Ross Patterson II Yorktown, Virginia.

All in all, this is a very worthwhile addition to any bookshelf, and its price should not put anyone off. Having only recently returned from a short battlefield tour of the Normandy beaches, reading Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World made this reviewer want to pop across to the Aegean to see the terrain for himself.

The Naval Review, November 2019 (print) – reviewed by KEVIN ROWLANDS, CAPTAIN, RN

This is a very worthwhile addition to any bookshelf.

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The Naval Review

Easy to read and easy to follow, it provides avid military history buffs a good grasp of the key battles of the period. The maps were very helpful in understanding the course of the battles and the various formations employed.

Tristan Hughes, History Hit

As featured by

VaeVictis - n° 144 - mars/avril 2019

The wine-dark ocean likes to hold on to its secrets, but Rees’ work helpfully draws together disparate scholarship into readable format and provides good insight into this somewhat neglected field.

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Wargames Illustrated

I believe that Owen Rees has given us readers a well-written book that places ancient Greek naval battles in context and that explains maritime battle tactics and strategies in great detail.

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Kunwon Saw, Freelance

Rees has an easy to read style and his book is a delight to read. I do recommend grabbing a copy of this (which is actually on sale currently at Pen and Sword), grab a good java, put your feet up, and then smell the salt in the air as you read of these classical battles of the past. For a wargamer, this will likely drag you into another period. For the general reader of military history, it will remind you of the importance of naval warfare in Classical Greece, as well as suggesting where the quadriremes and quinqueremes of the Punic Wars may have come from.

Well worth purchasing.

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While I am not going to start fighting on board ship, it is an amazing read. I can see this been a great book for scholars and wargammers.

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Medieval Sword School, Jason Hulott

The author displays his passion for his subject and his easy to read text covers each battle in context, to provide the reader with an understanding of how and when the battle was to be fought, in addition to the conduct of the conflict. There are good clear maps to illustrate the important points.

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Having never ventured into naval gaming I knew very little, and opened the book hoping to be lured in. In a word, I was. The author sets out to describe Greek Naval Battles in a very readable way. He starts with a general chapter on Greek naval warfare, which is a well-argued model of clarity. He then devotes a chapter to each of the battles: their context, their course and the consequences; each with its own map.

Well written, without jargon, and is thus an extremely good introduction for the novice. As such, I recommend it unreservedly.

Society of Ancients

To put is bluntly, this book is solid, well-organized, and very thorough... Highly recommended if you’d like to brush up on the naval battles of ancient Greece or even learn about them for the first time. Oh, and did I mention that each discussion contains maps! And even some diagrams to illustrate tactics and the formations for the battles where we have such information.

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The Maritime History Podcast

‘Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World’ is a quick and informative read. It is the type of book that makes one think of how one would have coped in similar situations. It is not an overly scholarly tome although it does rely upon the ancient sources. This book is recommended as a good way to take one’s mind off the day-to-day minutia of modern life, and to think about how naval battles were fought two and a half thousand years ago. Go for it!

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Australian Naval Institute

Each battle starts by setting the background, explains the forces arranged on either side, then gets into the fighting. The aftermath is then discussed because these battles all need to be set in context. The author does a good job of all this, though, it might be worth reading his other Greek book first.

The Armourer, May 2019

This book covers thirteen battles and spends a good chunk of time putting them in their historical and political context. Even if you are coming to the period completely cold, you will rarely feel lost. The writing is straightforward and smooth, and there is a good number of simple, but clear, maps and diagrams to help understand each battle.

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The Renaissance Troll Blog

The descriptions of the battles themselves really succeed in getting the reader into the picture. There were some rules of war but these were different from what we would expect today. Desperate hand to hand fighting, the slaughter of prisoners, some as sacrifices, and the execution of failed commanders all point to a bloodier age. Numerous battle plans add to the readers understanding as do the extensive endnotes and bibliography.
I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in early naval warfare or classical Greece.

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Clash of Steel

As featured 'ON THE BOOK SHELF'

Wargames Illustrated, February 2018

About Owen Rees

Owen Rees is a freelance historian, writer and researcher, as well as an assistant editor to Sparta: Journal of Ancient Spartan and Greek History. He studied Ancient History at the University of Reading and History (Research) at the University of Nottingham. He is a regular contributor to Ancient Warfare magazine.

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