Total War: Attila – Announcement Trailer

So, this happened…

We won’t get to see this latest instalment in the Creative Assembly’s Total War series until next year, but I’m excited anyway. Hopefully, a lot of lessons have been learned from the production of Total War: Rome II; and with this game moving into an era that I’m particularly interested in (namely, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the subsequent survival of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire), it’s safe to say that I’ll be eagerly awaiting more news as we move inexorably towards the (as yet unannounced) release date.

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Total War: Rome II – Review

12483312094_8159cc6e8a_zI meant to do this a long time ago. And I’m not sure why I didn’t.

I suppose it’s because, like many others, my experience with Total War: Rome II, the 2013 turn-based strategy/real-time tactics video game from Creative Assembly (published by SEGA), has been mixed.

I don’t tell a lot of people this, but my interest in history began around the same time that I discovered Rome: Total War, the predecessor to this title, back in 2004.

I loved it. It fuelled my initial forays into the worlds of Plutarch, Thucydides and Xenophon; all the Classical world opened up to me, and I discovered a deeper understanding of everything that was around me because I suddenly could see how everything had been.

Q4uWBykSo, when the sequel was announced a couple of years ago, I was excited. As were a lot of other gamers with fond memories.

Unfortunately, when the game released in September last year, the results were…well, underwhelming for a lot of the people.

I didn’t play the game when it first came out, so I can’t speak to just how “broken” it was at the outset. I only came to the party after it had been significantly patched, and with a few DLCs under its belt (‘Hannibal at the Gates’ and ‘Caesar in Gaul’). It wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm that I stayed away for so long; rather, I needed time to upgrade my PC (and pay for said upgrade!), since the system requirements were rather hefty (which turned out to be one of the more common complaints about the game).

Even so, my first impressions were not great. There were four other Total War titles between Rome and Rome II (Medieval II, Empire, Napoleon, Shogun II), so it’s only natural that things would have evolved, changed, and hopefully, improved.

But the game I discovered was not the same as the game I had loved. And it has taken some time for this new experience to win me over.

It has done so now. But that’s not to say Total War: Rome II is perfect. There are lot of features that have grown on me though, and part of my new-found appreciation has to do with the newly released ‘Emperor Edition’, the supposed definitive version of the game that includes the new campaign scenario ‘Imperator Augustus’.

There are still weird bugs and glitches – but even Rome: Total War had those. And Total War: Rome II is many times more complicated than its predecessor. But the complexity begins to look more and more like depth, once you master the basics.

At the end of the day, it’s the sense of immersion the game produces that wins the day for me – feeling like you’re in charge of an army on some ancient battlefield, facing impossible odds, with only you and the men (and women, now that the ‘Daughters of Mars’ DLC is out) under your command standing between the enemy and the destruction of your civilisation…

That’s what I paid for.

And despite everything, that’s what I got.

Verdict: Roma Victor!

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Northlanders: Volume 1 – Sven the Returned

In 2007 comic book writer Brian Wood embarked on a new project for DC’s Vertigo Imprint – something of a passion project, from what I can tell.

Northlanders ran for 50 issues before it was cancelled in 2012.

northlanders-comics-volume-1-tpb-hardcover-cartonnee-28775Set during the Viking Age (for the most part) between 793AD and 1066AD, the series was broken into several major arcs, with each following an independent set of characters in a variety of different settings.

The first arc is called ‘Sven the Returned’, and as the name suggests, it focusses on Sven, a Northman (Viking) from the Islands of Orkney (just north of mainland Scotland) that has been away from home for much of his adult life, and at the beginning of the first issue, is serving in the Varangian Guard in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

After learning that his father, the Lord of Grimness (the settlement where Sven was born and raised) has been killed during a raid on a neighbouring kingdom, and that his uncle Gorm has claimed the title, lands and wealth that should be his, Sven determines to return home and claim what he’s lost. He has less interest in the lordship though, than he does in what he refers to as “his money”…

untitledDisdainful of the culture and beliefs of his own people, Sven believes himself superior thanks to his time spent away from the Northlands. But when he finally arrives in Grimness, he discovers that it’ll take more than his fearsome demeanour to oust Gorm. Moreover, as he prosecutes a one-man war against his uncle’s enforcers, he begins to discover something to love in the bleak, frozen lands of his birth.

To tell you more would be to ruin this well-written, and beautifully illustrated (by Davide Gianfelice) omnibus edition. I’ve yet to read the other editions (numbering 2 to 7), but I’m looking forward to it.

What Brian Wood has done here is one the best examples of Viking-themed fiction I have ever come across. Despite the occasional (and inevitable) historical inaccuracy, the feeling of authenticity doesn’t waver. And the ending, while not what many would be expecting, is both poignant and appropriately grim.

Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5).

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Quote of the Day

“Veni, Vidi, Vici.” (Latin)

“I came, I saw, I conquered.” (English)

Gaius Julius Caesar.

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Forever In His Shadow: The “Other” Alexander

In 331BC, beside a rain-swollen river in Southern Italy, the ruler of the Hellenic kingdom of Epirus lay dying.

His name was Alexander.

Shot through with a javelin by a Lucanian exile, he is said to have remarked (according to Livy, writing centuries later in his seminal work, The History of Rome) at his ill-fortune in comparison to that of his better-known nephew (and brother-in-law by marriage), Alexander “the Great” of Macedon. Specifically, he is to have said that while he had fought men, his nephew had “waged war against women.”

Three years earlier Alexander, at the behest of the Greek colony of Taras, had set sail from Epirus with an army trained in the traditions set down by the recently-assassinated Philip II. It had been the occasion of Alexander’s marriage to Philip’s daughter Cleopatra, the second such marriage alliance between the neighbouring kingdoms (the first having been Philip’s marriage to Olympias, Alexander’s sister), when the assassin Pausanias had struck. An inauspicious inauguration for a new era…

Coin of Alexander I of Epirus. Image used with permission of Classical Numismatic Group; sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Coin of Alexander I of Epirus. Image used with permission of copyright holder; source Wikimedia Commons.

After arriving in Italy, Alexander made his war against the Brutti, Lucanians and their Samnite allies.

A series of victories followed, at Paestum, Heraclea, Terina, and Sipontum. Inspired by his successes, Alexander sought to make alliances with whomever he could, including the Romans.

But the successes proved short-lived.

At Pandosia, events conspired against the budding conqueror. Making his camp on a trio of hills and accompanied by a force of local exiles, the king of Epirus was ideally positioned to attack either the Lucanians or the Bruttians. But heavy rains isolated the hills from one another, and when his enemies attacked they were able to destroy Alexander’s army piecemeal.

Fearing imminent defeat and capture, the Lucanian exiles with Alexander decided to switch sides and sent word to their countrymen, offering the king (dead or alive) in exchange for their freedom.

Catching wind of the plot, Alexander made a breakout with his loyal troops, and managed to kill the general of the Lucanians in the process.

Coming to a river ford, it was here (according to the later-Roman historian Justin) that he came face to face with his own mortality.

Years earlier, the Oracle of Zeus at Dodona had warned him to beware the River Acheron and the city of Pandosia. Naturally, Alexander assumed that the so-named river and city in Epirus were the subjects of the warning. Little did he know though that there were similarly named places in Italy – and he had arrived at them.

Informed as much, he hesitated. But with the Lucanians in pursuit, he had little choice. Spurring his horse into the river, he tried to make good his escape, and almost did. But then the javelin flew, and found its mark.

Thus ended the first attempt by the Epirots to conquer the lands of Italy. Some fifty-one years later, another nephew, Pyrrhus, would try his own luck.

But that is another story…

For the moment, let us consider what might have been. It is an interesting notion to consider what could have happened had this Alexander succeeded in his plans. From Italy it is a short jump to Sicily. And from there to Africa, Spain, and beyond…

Sources:

Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, Penguin 1982.

Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, Books 12, Oxford University Press 1997.

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Quote of the Day

“Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.”

Sun Tzu.

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“I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne…”

Good news…if you’re a fan of Paradox Interactive’s bestselling grand strategy masterpiece Crusader Kings II, that is! There’s a new DLC on the cards, and it’s all about Charlemagne:

For those who don’t know who Charlemagne was, here’s a link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlemagne

Long story short, he was the first man to be called “Emperor” in Western Europe since the Fall of the (Western) Roman Empire in 476AD.

So why did I use a quote from ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ for the title of the post?

No reason, I just like it.

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Quote of the Day

“Never mistake motion for action.”

Ernest Hemingway.

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What’s Next?

I just uploaded the final part of the blog series I’ve been writing for the last seven months, Tides of War: Byzantium’s Vacillating Imperial Fortunes. It took a lot longer to complete than I anticipated, mostly because as I progressed further and further with the story of the Byzantine Empire, the more I realised I needed to cover in order to do the history of the period justice. That being said, I’m sure many of those who’ve been reading it will have noticed that it is in many ways a history for the layperson – that is to say, there were details or asides that I chose to omit for the sake of brevity. I hope you’ll forgive me this indulgence, as this blog remains but a side project.

Speaking of, I’ve been wondering lately what I can do now that Tides of War has been concluded. I still haven’t decided what I’ll be working on from here on, but I have been looking at investing some more time in writing projects away from this blog. That means that the relatively sedate pace of my posts may be slowed even further. And again, I hope you’ll forgive me this. Hopefully, in the end, it will all be worth it.

As always, I’ll endeavour to keep you all updated.

Thanks for reading.

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Tides of War: Byzantium’s Vacillating Imperial Fortunes – Final Part

Mopping Up

“Over the span of about a century, as the remnants of their empire crumbled around them, the partnership between these Byzantine teachers and their Italian students literally saved ancient Greek literature from destruction at the hands of the conquering Turks. The Byzantine contribution of the Greek classics allowed the promise of Renaissance humanism to be fulfilled, by letting the West reclaim the body of literature that makes up the foundation of Western civilisation. How frightening it is to contemplate a world without these works, and how unsettling to make out the slenderness of the thread by which they dangled over the void.”

 – Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World, Colin Wells (2006)

Byzantine_Empire_animated

It didn’t take long after the capture of Constantinople by Mehmed II (thereafter called “the Conqueror”) in 1453AD for things to turn against the few remaining remnants of the once-mighty Byzantine Empire.

The now-wholly independent regions of Morea (in the Peloponnese) and Trebizond were conquered themselves in 1460 and 1461AD respectively.

And with that, the Byzantine Empire was no more.

Thomas Palaiologos and his son Andreas claimed the title of Emperor(s)-in-exile until one died in 1465, and the other in 1503AD; both were guests of the Pope in Rome. But the line of rulers stretching back to Constantine the Great, and through him all the way to Augustus and the founding of the Roman Empire in 27BC is generally accepted to have ended with Constantine XI Palaiologos’ death during the defence of Constantinople.

But like other empires before and since, it could be argued that despite the loss of its territories and political independence, the Byzantine Empire lived on in its institutions, its traditions, and its legend.

Several of those nations who had taken religious and political cues from Byzantium, including Bulgaria, Serbia, and most successfully, Russia, claimed for themselves the title of the “Third Rome”, trying through rhetoric and suggestion to position themselves as the successors to the Byzantines.

The Ottomans too felt they should lay claim to the traditions of the Romani, allowing the Byzantine-Greek religion and culture to continue under their rule.

Meanwhile, in the West, those academics, scholars and theologians who had escaped the Fall of Constantinople brought with them copies and understanding of classical Greco-Roman literature not seen for centuries, helping initiate a resurgent interest that would eventually fuel the Renaissance in Italy and beyond.

The contribution Byzantium made to the world should not be underestimated. In the fields of art, science, medicine, civil and military administration, theology and culture, they had a far wider-reaching effect than most realise (or some care to).

For a thousand years they kept alive the traditions of the Roman Empire that had preceded them, and made a direct contribution to our understanding of a past that could otherwise have been forgotten.

Their fortunes fluctuated like the tide; sometimes, they rose high; and sometimes, they fell low. But always, even unto the end, they fought for their ideals, their history and the promise of the future.

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