Tag Archives: Ancient Rome

Book Review: The Medieval Fortress by J.E. & H.W. Kaufmann

The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, And Walled Cities Of The Middle Ages is a good study of the art and methods of fortifications and castles built in Eastern and Western Europe during the Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the early modern period.

The book is right around 300 pages long and includes many illustrations.  It also includes a glossary, which is very helpful to those that are not familiar with the technical terms for elements of castles and fortifications. It is separated into 5 chapters, the first deals with the elements of fortification, the next three are chronological about the development of castles and the final chapter covers the significant castles of Europe by country of location.

The layout and organization of this book is very good, but one of the things I like the best about it is the way in which the information is presented.  This book is written for the layman but the authors manage to maintain the scholarly feel of the writing without putting the reader off the subject.  that is a very difficult balancing act with any subject but particularly so with something as inherently technical as the design of castles and fortifications.  The authors manage to both inform and entertain in this book.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the author’s use of castles that are not famous as well as those that are to illustrate their points.  What I discovered while reading this book was that many of the less famous castles are more interesting than the ones we have all heard of.  It is interesting to read about the history of the White Tower in London but most people have heard of it.  What most people have not heard of who do not study fortification or the medieval world are Vincennes Castle in France or Doonagors Castle in Ireland, both interesting takes on tower construction.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the descriptions of significant forts and castles of the countries in Europe.  I got several travel ideas from reading this section of castles I would like to visit when I get the chance. The only drawback, if you can call it that, is that there are no color illustrations in the book, everything is black & white.  That is only a minor complaint though and the lack of color photos does not really detract from the value of the book.  This is an excellent book on medieval fortification that should be of interest to both the medievalist and those who just think castles are cool.  I highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Men, Women & War by Martin van Creveld

I picked up Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? by Martin van Creveld at the library recently because it looked like a good book about a topic I have found interesting ever since I was a private back in the early 90’s when I first joined the military.  For this debate van Creveld’s book is about as topical as it gets.  He examines the historical examples of women in combat and makes a valiant attempt to separate the fact from the fiction.  The book is separated into three sections and includes extensive source notes and an index.  It was written in 2001 so does not include any information about women’s participation in what I still call the War on Terror.

Dr. van Creveld does not take a position on the matter himself in the book he instead lets the facts and examples speak for themselves.  He does a masterful job of covering a subject that inevitably gets feminists and liberals up in arms whenever it is broached.  This is an excellent book and one that I highly recommend.

Book Review: The Roman World by Nigel Rogers

The Roman World by Nigel Rogers is one of the best surveys of the Ancient Romans I have run across in years. This is not a military history of Rome, or even a history at all. It is rather a description and explanation of Roman life and culture as we understand it was lived.

The book itself is 249 pages long and divided into 12 chapters that are thematically organized. There is a small six page index but no bibliography. The lack of a bibliography does not really detract from the book because this is not meant to be a scholarly work so much as a detailed introduction to Ancient Rome for the laymen. In that purpose it succeeds very well. The chapter headings range from Building techniques, housing, Literature, science & technology, to the Arts. Each chapter is quite well developed and each specific sub heading is the focus of a two page essay. The format leads to some subjects being glossed over because of space limitations but the sheer volume of information packed into this volume is astounding by itself.

Nigel Rogers has managed to pack The Roman World with an astounding variety of information about Rome and do so in an entertaining and informative manner. The book is never boring and the writing style is engaging. What I found most refreshing about the book was its lack of obvious bias. The author describes such practices as gladiatorial combat and other blood sports practiced by the Romans without judgment.(pp. 186-188) He also dispels some myths about the persecution of Christians in the late Imperial period by pointing out that persecution was much rare than many people would think.(p.180) The descriptions of public buildings in chapter III is fascinating in and of itself, especially his description of the purpose behind Triumphal Columns and Arches. (pp.68-71) There is little judgement and much description in this excellent survey of the Roman world from the beginning to the end of their empire. There are many nuggets of information that are little known but fascinating that crop up throughout the book. It is obvious that Mr Rogers has a command of the history of Rome throughout this book.

This survey of Roman life and culture is entertaining and easy to read and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in trying to understand or just learn about the way the Romans lived and died.

Book Review: Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage

Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History is a very interesting book.  I picked it up because we had a three hour bus ride to get to my son’s football game and my wife was using my Kindle.  I am certainly glad I did.

This is a well written 330 page book.  It includes an index and bibliography, both unfortunately short.  The book is organized chronologically in five chapters covering fortification and castles from the 5th to the 16th century A.D.  Each chapter is further subdivided geographically and covers both eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East. There are many illustrations, both ground plans and sketches that help to illuminate the text. This is a very good introductory volume to medieval fortification.

I found the book to be both entertaining and informative.  The author has a very readable writing style and except for using the unavoidable specialist vocabulary of fortification is easy to understand.  For someone like me who finds the military aspects of castles fascinating it was quite illuminating to read.  I already knew quite a bit about castles but I learned a few things myself.  Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the development of the Trace Italienne fortifications of the 15th and 16th centuries.  I was not aware that many of the elements of that style were not really developed in Italy, but instead were only perfected there. One of the most interesting things about this book is that the author deliberately chose to focus most of this work on less famous castles and forts.  Everyone has heard of Carcassonne, Beaumaris, and Krak des Chavaliers.  Most people have not heard or seen descriptions of such equally important castles as Helmond Castle in the Netherlands or Bellver in Spain.  Many of these lesser known castles are fascinating in their own right and the descriptions cause me to add some of them to my bucket list of places to visit.

The only complaint I have about this book is that it does not include a glossary of terms which I feel would be extremely useful, especially for people unfamiliar with the technical terms for the parts of fortification   It can become pretty confusing to keep the different elements in mind when the author continually throws around such terms as enciente, ravelin, keep, donjon, burgfried, bastille, bastion, etc. Overall this well-written and illustrated work about medieval European and Middle Eastern castles and frost is well worth reading.  I highly recommend this work to anybody interested in European castles and how they developed over time.

Book Review: Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson

Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson is perhaps the best book describing Castles aimed at the general reader that I have ever read.  The author manages to make the somewhat technical and dry language of describing castles and their construction lovely and entertaining.

It is a coffee table sized book that is jam packed with beautiful color photos of castles from all over Europe and the Middle East.  There are 200 pages with a glossary, index, and bibliography.  It is divided into 6 chronological chapters with a lengthy introduction that describes the development of the art of fortification up to the development of the first castles.  He also includes a chapter describing what living in a castle must have truly been like.  The glossary is short but helpful as it includes all the technical terms that are easily misused.

John Gibson has produced work about castles and their construction that is both informative and entertaining.  He deftly covers the castles invention and development over a period of about 1,000 years and ties the castle into both hat came before and what came after in the art of fortification.   Along the way he dispels some myths about castles, such as that they were dark dank places or the opposite that they were full of light and warmth.  He gives the lie to both notions and establishes that the truth lay somewhere in between.  He also points out that dungeons as described in popular literature did not really exist although there were some places in castles that were used as prisons including entire castle at times.  What was good for keeping people out was also pretty good at keeping them in when used for that purpose.

Aside from the quality of the photos the thing about this book that I enjoyed the most was the quality of the writing.  I never got bored while reading this book and the illustrations are well placed to illuminate the text.  There are several fold-outs of significant castles that illustrate stages in castle development.  This is a highly enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.