The Medieval World at War
Matthew Bennett (ed.)
Spanning some 1,000 years from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Renaissance and the Reformation, this book is an ambitious attempt to chart the evolution of warfare in the medieval period. Though it covers Central Asian, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese warfare, the main focus is on Europe and the Middle East, and the main underlying theme the rise and fall of feudal heavy cavalry.
Cavalry became increasingly important from the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period onwards, and from the 10th to the 13th centuries were dominant on European and Middle Eastern battlefields. Then, during the 14th and 15th centuries, they were eclipsed as the advantage shifted back to infantry. Usually recruited from the medieval rural ‘middle class’ of free and relatively prosperous peasants, the new infantry of the late medieval period were able either to shoot down cavalry, as with English longbowmen, or form a solid phalanx able to block a charge, as with Scottish or Swiss pikemen. The increasing role of gunpowder weapons further reduced the battlefield capabilities of heavy horse.
This main story, along with many secondary themes, is explored in a sumptuously illustrated and superbly designed book of the kind we have come to expect from publisher Thames & Hudson. A fine mix of contemporary images, photos of museum pieces, and splendid maps and battle-plans make this book a pleasure to handle.
The main drawback of the book is that it is a multi-authored volume written by academic specialists. The approach, broadly similar in each chapter, is a rather formal narrative of events. The information is solid, but can be a little dry, and the analysis is often limited and buried rather deep in the text. The pictures are usually more exciting than the words. It is rare, of course, for a multi-authored volume to be a racy read; that is normally contingent on there being a single author, with a gift for exposition, and a clear theme he or she wants to expound. Nonetheless, The Medieval World at War can be recommended as a useful reference book, especially for medieval buffs.
Thames & Hudson, £24.95