The Medieval World at War

 Julian Humphrys enjoys an overview of a thousand years of warfare  

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Reviewed by: Julian Humphry
Author: Matthew Bennett
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Price (RRP): £24.95

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 Trying to pack an account of a thousand years of warfare, from the Atlantic seaboard to Japan, into a book of just 270 pages was never going to be an easy task, but Martin Bennett (a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst) and his distinguished team of contributors have made a highly creditable job of it here. 

The layout of this extremely well illustrated book (it has 264 illustrations, 204 in colour) is broadly chronological but the approach taken by individual contributors does vary. In his chapter on the crusades, for example, John France begins with a brief comparison of western and eastern ways of warfare before launching into a lengthy narrative of events.

Michael Prestwich, on the other hand, adopts a more thematic, and 

I think more interesting, approach in his chapters on late medieval British warfare and the gunpowder revolution. Contenting himself, for example, with a two-paragraph account of the Hundred Years’ War, he instead looks at how armies were raised and equipped and how battle tactics evolved, as well as logistics, siege warfare, war at sea and the impact of technology. The global coverage of this book will make it particularly useful to anyone looking for a general synopsis of military events in areas of the world less familiar than north-west Europe and the Middle East.

Timothy May offers a particularly readable account of the impact of the Mongols while the final chapter, though warranting a book in itself, offers a brief introduction to warfare in “the wider world” – India, China, Korea and Japan – throughout the period.  

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Julian Humphrys is author of Enemies at the Gate: English Castles Under Siege from the 12th Century to the Civil War (English Heritage, 2007)