Review: Plataea 479 BC, William Shepherd

Rating: 4 out of 5

It’s generally not difficult to rate an Osprey: they purpose is clear and the message within either meets this purpose or it does not. I picked ‘Plataea 479 BC’ up to see a description of the battle different to the one by Mr Rahe which I recently read. Naturally, Mr Shepherd’s look at the battle provides a good overview, including how the Greek and Persian armies got to the fields at Plataea, as well as how the engagement proceeded afterwards. The focus on events after is quite light, especially the punishment meted out to Thebes, but it’s as good as one can hope from something focussed on the campaign and engagement itself.

Some things surprised me, however: the very long backstory for one. I guess it’s almost required, but given several other campaign titles exist to detail prior engagements in the Greco-Persian Wars, it sounded unnecessary to start with the growth of the Achaemenid state in the early 6th century BC to slowly draw this up to the campaign of 480 BC, and how Plataea was the conclusion to this. The same effect could have been done more succinctly but with greater effect, and this would have left more space to consider Mycale which gets a very brief treatment.

The author is also quite hesitant in describing the Oath of Plataea, or possibly the more recent release by Mr Rahe found further evidence to offer more comprehensive theories surrounding this. In most other sections, Mr Shepherd does note what alternative ways for things to happen there were, but regarding this relatively important event, he remains quiet.

Lastly, one of the most important parts of an Osprey are the plates. These ones here were nicely done, but more importantly—while I would not have been able to predict these in advance—while reading, and recalling Mr Rahe’s description of the battle, I instinctively came to know when Mr Shepherd would come to introduce a plate. The plates were all nicely done; the maps are of course more imaginative given the paucity of evidence we have for the site. One of the biggest drawbacks with the illustrations was the relatively poor quality of photographs that were included: this possibly comes down to the angle of some of the photos taken, but I did not see that these added much to the overall narrative. I would have also liked to see a map of the cities that participated on both sides with a more detailed overview of their contingency sizes, etc…

Good Osprey; meets its expectations but doesn’t go far beyond.

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