Dinner at Pliny’s.

Ever wonder what a well off Roman might dine on during the 1st Century AD?
In one of his many letters Pliny the Younger details a rather high end dinner, while at the same time ticking off a friend for not appearing to eat it. Bad show! Since Pliny had gone to some expense to provide food and entertainment for the dinner party, no small feat, for Pliny was not a man who enjoyed excesses, the least Septitius Clarus could have done was put in an appearance. Continue reading

Battlefields on Google Maps.

Battlefields on Google Maps.

 One of the most fun aspects of the technology afforded us by Google maps is its street view ability. It’s very useful for planning trips, and many other things besides, because of Street view I was able to give accurate directions through a major city because I have a more than passing acquaintance with the layout of the roads from the Belgian border from Charleoi to Brussels I was able to drive (within the parameters of Street View’s roaming) around the battlefield of Waterloo.

 Now I’m not saying that this cyber walk replaces actual feet on the ground investigation but for those who want a basic look at terrain and contour, even colour and weather to a point, this is could be the best gadget to come into a History enthusiast’s hands since you put down your last book, all you need is a map from a history book and an interent connection, so here’s a post that will tell you how I used it recently.

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Continue reading

A road to iSandlwana

Research is something I do. Sometimes for no reason. And that is the best way I can explain the following post. If you are interested in the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 then I’m sure you will be interested. If you’ve never heard of it, you will likley have more questions to ask than are answered. Continue reading

An excerpt about the Boers from Conan Doyle’s History.

Great Quote by the writer of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about the Boers, the bit at the bottom is priceless.

“Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a strain of those inflexible French Huguenots who gave up home and fortune and left their country for ever at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile, unconquerable races ever seen upon earth. Take this formidable people and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances under which no weakling could survive, place them so that they acquire exceptional skill with weapons and in horsemanship, give them a country which is eminently suited to the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman, and the rider. Then, finally, put a finer temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual, and you have the modern Boer—the most formidable antagonist who ever crossed the path of Imperial Britain. Our military history has largely consisted in our conflicts with France, but Napoleon and all his veterans have never treated us so roughly as these hard-bitten farmers with their ancient theology and their inconveniently modern rifles.”

Excerpt From: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “The Great Boer War

Britain’s Greatest Battle

On the 20th of April the National Army Museum London will hold a speakers event to determine Britain’s Greatest battle. A selection of battles covering a span of time from the English Civil War to Afghanistan has been chosen, and a online poll has been opened for the public to vote for five finalists that guest speakers (as yet unnamed) will argue for on the 20th.  Previously the Museum has chosen Britain’s Greatest General, and Britain’s Greatest Enemy General by this means, and has found that The Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Slim (A name not generally known) where tied for greatest general. And by a large margin George Washington beat out Napoleon for British enemy number 1.

At this moment the leader board looks like this:
Battle Votes
1 D-Day/Normandy 256
2 Waterloo 248
3 Musa Qala 131
4 Imphal/Kohima 130
5 El Alamein 115
But there is a choice of 20 well and not so well known choices.
You can vote here for the battle you think is your greatest. http://www.nam.ac.uk/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/britains-greatest-battles

Here’s my thoughts.
For a long time I have had WM stamped after my name. These initials, found on muster books at the end of a soldier’s name who fought under the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo . Essentially this makes me biased, but everyone who gets involved in this debate will have their favourite. However I feel perfectly certain in my belief that Waterloo deserves its place in the popular imagination as Britain’s Greatest Battle.
Why?
Because The victory over Napoleon in 1815 has numerous threads that lead down to today. It was the full stop of an age and the first word of another, the 18th century died on the slopes of Mont St Jean that sunday morning, and modern Europe was born by the gunsmoke tarnished sunset, and an Empire was being born out of the ashes of another. The reason why the British Army is the force it is today is Becasue of the steadiness and dedication of the troops at Waterloo. The image of the steel rimmed squares of British redcoats, being swamped by angry sea’s of French Cuirassiers, inspired the nation and was the epitome of the stiff upper lip, the Victorian Empire we are descended from, came about not Becasue of steam and mills, but Becasue the Waterloo men won the peace that allowed progress to happen.
As a military victory, it shows Wellington’s mastery of position, deployment and improvisation, on the 15th of June he should have been knocked out of the game, but he was able to concentrate his force and fall back to ground he knew, where he could be supported and utterly crush Napoleon. The Duke said his Infantry never behaved so well, and indeed never had the ties of Regimental loyalty and dicipline been tested so hard, in all arms, from the redcoats to the cavalry’s magnificent charges to the solidness of the Artillery, all played their part in the eventual victory.

The reason I have decided to write this is because I myself cannot see how Washington could have defeated Napoleon, or how Field Marshal Montgomery was a poorer general than Slim, just Because Slim has unjustly been forgotten, in my opinion that is like saying General Hill was better than Wellington just because he didn’t have as much notoriety.

If we consider what a Great Battle is, it clearly is a conflict that shaped the history that followed it or possibly overshadows the battles that preceded it. That by virtue of its outcome has influenced the world today, and has left an indelible impression on the tactical thinking, motivation and performance of the military units that can trace their ancestry to it. This is not to say that the older the battle the more deserving, for not every battle has been fought with the same stakes riding on it and thus has a lessened impact on today.

Waterloo represents the peak of proficiency of the army that Wellington fought in. This why for the rest of his life he fought to keep it that way with only minor changes creeping in. The British would not fight another war against an “Industrial power” until the Crimea in 1854 so the tactical benefits of the battle where obsolete almost as soon as the last shot was fired, yet the use of squares, lines, volleying and cavalry was widely used across the Empire, but in different ways. Indeed it could be argued that WW2 was the final proving of the post Waterloo army and, the post world war army has yet to evolve into its penultimate form as it faces the challenges of counter insurgency and guerrilla warfare, perhaps Iraq and Afghanistan will prove to be this benchmark and another change awaits. In this sense Waterloo’s influence on the following generations of soldiers was tradition and spirit, which obviously carried through to the first and second world war, and by extension to the troops fighting today.

Please follow the link and vote how you think is best
Thanks for reading.
Josh.