Welcome to my blog!

News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave

Thursday, 30 June 2022

The Debatable Land

 This book by Graham Robb is about a stretch of land on the England/Scotland border called the Debatable Land. For several centuries this desolate tract of land, of around 50 square miles, was treated as a sort of no man's land where by parliamentary decree, "all Englishmen and Scottishmen are and shall be free to rob, spoil, slay, murder and destroy, all such person and persons, their bodies, property, goods and livestock.... without any redress to be made for same."


Like most borderlands, during this period, the border between England and Scotland was a pretty violent place, subject to what was known as reiving, essentially cross-border raids. Flags of War have a Kickstarter that I have signed up for with rules and figures covering the Border Reivers. I have struggled with the main histories of the period, including Steel Bonnets, so I thought I would have another go with this book.

The author moved to the area, so this is a bit of a travelogue and a history. I did find the structure of the book a little hard going, but there are plenty of gems to make the journey worthwhile. For example, the word 'blackmail' comes from the protection money paid to a powerful neighbour who assumed the responsibility for getting back your stolen goods by organising a 'hot trod'. Also, 'bereaved' which initially simply meant robbed. The phrase 'debatable lands' comes from 'batable', which meant pasture lands used by both nations. It was not disputed but recognised as neutral by both governments. 

There were no permanent buildings or fortifications, but the border clans, most notably the Armstrongs and Grahams, had property on either side and frequently contested each other. These were no castles as such but tower houses called Pele Towers. There were few sieges, but the word 'scumfishing' meant surrounding the tower with damp straw and smoking the occupants out. Just outside the Debatable Land is Hermitage Castle, as stark and functional as a castle that I have ever visited. It was most famous when Mary Queen of Scots made a famous marathon journey there on horseback from Jedburgh to see the wounded Earl of Bothwell, only a few weeks after the birth of her son.

The first proper map was drawn by Henry Bullock, and it looks like the sort of fantasy map I might draw using Inkarnate. It was used to divide the land in 1552, marked by parallel ditches, which can be seen today. This marked the end of the independent territory, and each nation took responsibility for its own portion. It effectively ended with the joining of the crowns under King James VI (1st of England). He also decided to end lawlessness more generally within the borders. He hung many using what was known as 'Jeddart justice', the practice of having a trial after the execution! Some of the most troublesome clans found themselves shipped off to Ireland, including many Armstrongs and Grahams.

This isn't a history of the borders like Steel Bonnets, but you can pick up a feel of what it was like to live there during this period. Ideal for small skirmish games, although at times, up to a thousand horsemen would take part in raids. They were also a feature of the Scottish and English armies of the period. I am looking forward to getting the new figures on the table when the Kickstarter arrives.

I used some 28mm borderers in my Game of Thrones project as the TV series used similar costumes.


Sunday, 26 June 2022

Kashmir at the Crossroads

I needed a book for a couple of flights and a layover this week. I have been reading many military history books about the Pakistan-India conflicts, and the key theme is Kashmir. So, a deeper dive is required, and who better for an objective study (if anyone on the sub-continent can be!) than Sumantra Bose. I was drawn to this book after listening to a podcast interview of his Kashmir at the Crossroads a while back.

The Kashmir conflict is the most stubborn territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since partition. The territory has been divided into a larger and much more populous part under Indian authority and a smaller part in Pakistan. The dividing line was known as the Ceasefire Line (CFL) from 1949 until 1972 and relabelled as the Line of Control (LoC) by an intergovernmental agreement in July 1972. The Kashmir conflict has been the bane of the subcontinent and the cause of at least three wars between the two countries and many smaller-scale conflicts. Since 1990, at least 60,000 people have been killed in civil unrest.

Sadly, the root cause of the conflict was created by the British decision at partition to allow the princely states to decide which country they went into. Kashmir had a Hindu ruler but a Muslim majority population. There was supposed to be a plebiscite under UN supervision, but that never happened despite Indian commitments. This is why the region remains a contested zone.

In this context, the wars and insurgencies that followed all seem pretty obvious. However, there are nuances that I hadn't appreciated. For most of this period, most of the Muslim population did not support joining Pakistan. Their favoured option was an independent state or at least significant autonomy. It is doubtful how practical the first option was, even though it was a theoretical option at partition. The Indian Government deposed the region's premier in 1953 when he pressed for maximum autonomy, and it's been downhill ever since. Rigged elections and government-appointed stooges removed any local accountability, and insurgency has been the consequence. As Jaya Prakash Narayan, a prominent Indian opposition leader put it: ‘We profess democracy, but rule by force in Kashmir. We profess secularism, but let Hindu nationalism stampede us into establishing it by repression. Kashmir has distorted India’s image in the world as nothing else has done. The problem exists not because Pakistan wants to grab Kashmir, but because there is deep and widespread discontent among the people.’

The current situation has brought China into the equation. China has two border disputes with India. The Aksai Chin/Ladakh area bordering western Tibet in the western Himalayas, and the North-East Frontier Agency or NEFA region in the eastern Himalayas. The irony of China supporting dispossesed Muslims when they persecute the Uighurs, should not be lost on anyone. Pakistan’s leaders, civilian and military, have long referred to China as Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’.

In 2019, legislation promoted by the nationalist BJP government opted for an ultra-centralist approach by revoking the status of the region as a constituent state of the Indian Union and dismembered it into two ‘union territories’. The hammer-and-axe offensive unleashed on 5 August 2019 took repression to a surreal level and turned the Kashmir Valley, in particular, into a real-life approximation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was somewhat akin to what Serbia’s Milosevic regime did in 1989 by unilaterally revoking Kosovo’s autonomy. That didn't end well and the current repression has been a disaster for the people of the region and risks a three-way conflict in the future.

This book is a detailed narrative of the conflict in Kashmir at its various stages. The internal politics are complicated, but the wider implications are serious. There is a significant amount of repetition, and referencing back, which is useful if you dip into the book, but irritating for a straight read. Otherwise, it provides all you need to know. I should emphasise this is a political history, the military aspects are better covered in the Helion Asia@War series. Kashmir is a grim lesson in the ruinous potential of nationalism, or in this case nationalisms competing for supremacy.

Some of my 1/285th forces for the conflict.

Friday, 24 June 2022

Russian Fleet in the Mediterranean 1797-1810

 I have been looking at a little-covered episode in the Napoleonic Wars, the presence of a significant Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, specifically the Adriatic. I have been helped by two books, one old and one new on the subject. 

I picked up a pristine copy of Norman Saul's 1970 book 'Russia and the Mediterranean 1797-1807'. This covers the early period when the fleet was commanded by Vice-Admiral Ushakov. It included six ships of the line, seven frigates and three brigs. The focus of Russian attention was the Ionian Islands, headquartered in the great fortress at Corfu. This book is a concise description of the campaigns against the French in the context of the major conflicts in central Europe and Italy. The Russians had major challenges, not least when relations with the Ottomans were poor, as they often were. During these periods, the Straits would be closed, and the Russians either relied on allies or had to move ships and supplies all the way from St Petersburg.

The second book was written by a Russian naval officer, Vladimir Bogdanovich Bronevskiy, who mainly served on the Frigate Venus as part of Vice-Admiral Senyavin's fleet during the period 1806-1810. Darrin Boland has done an excellent job translating and lightly editing his memoirs in 'Northern Tars in Southern Waters', published by Helion.


Naval warfare in the Adriatic mainly was a small ship war, and the Russians had frigates like the Venus that engaged French supply convoys and intercepted neutrals. In May 1806, The French General Molitor was travelling from Venice to Trieste when his merchant ship was intercepted. He managed to persuade the Russian captain that he was an Austrian merchant. The fact that he carried papers to support this claim indicates that this was not a one-off precaution. Russian commanders, like their Royal Navy counterparts, had to use their own initiative being weeks away from command centres in St Petersburg.

The Russians had far more ships of the line in the Adriatic than other navies, and these were mainly used to support operations on land. Typically the fleet would attack a French garrison and knock out the defender's artillery before Russian and Montenegrin troops would land and capture the island. The Montenegrins and the Bokez (citizens of the Bay of Cattaro) were sympathetic to Russia and provided excellent, if ill disciplined, light infantry. The only significant fleet action was against the Ottomans at the Battle of Athos.

The Russian fleet was generally very effective, but as was often the case events elsewhere intervened. The Treaty of Tilsit resulted in Russia abandoning much of its Adriatic possessions. Tilsit meant Senyavin was stranded in the Mediterranean without a base. He couldn’t go back through the Straits so he sent the troops home via Trieste and Austria, scuttled or sold some ships, and sailed the rest back towards the Baltic. He was blockaded by the British in Lisbon, and only two ships made it home in 1813. A sorry end for one of Russia’s finest fleets that had operated successfully in the Adriatic. 

For the wargamer, the Adriatic offers plenty of opportunities for naval and land operations at a manageable scale. Right on time, Warlord have brought out a supplement for their Black Seas naval rules, Hold Fast. They include chapters on the Russian and Ottoman navies, as well as most of the other minor naval powers. There are lots of new scenarios for smaller games, including the use of galleys and xebecs in the Meditteranean.

This looks excellent and I hope to try a few games this weekend. I have some Russian ships on the painting bench to do battle with my Ottomans and French.

Xebecs from the Hagen range.

Ottoman ship of the line at the Istanbul Naval Museum



Ottoman galleys




Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Flygvapenmuseum - Swedish Air Force Museum


The second major museum trip on my visit to Sweden this week was to Flygvapenmuseum, the Swedish Air Force Museum near Linkoping, over two hours drive from Stockholm. The city is home to a Saab plant, and the museum is next to a major air base. Sadly, half the museum, WW2 and earlier, was closed for a refurbishment, but it was still worth the effort. Apologies for the darkness of the pictures. After watching many Swedish crime dramas, I am convinced that there is a national lightbulb shortage in the country!

Sweden has a significant aircraft industry; while it has imported planes, the main post-war designs are designed and built in Sweden. The second jet, introduced in 1951, was the Saab 29, named the Tunnan (Barrel), for obvious reasons. Not the most stylish aircraft to grace the skies.

Next was the Saab 32 Lansen, which came in fighter, attack and recon versions.


Then a personal favourite, the Saab 35 Draken, because I had a kit of this hanging from my bedroom ceiling as a kid. Although I thought it meant dragon, it means kite, emphasising the double delta wing.


Another unusual design was the Saab 37 Viggen. 


And finally, right up to date is the Saab 39 Gripen.


The Swedish Air Force also used aircraft from the UK and elsewhere. 

Hawker Hunter

Spitfire PR

Pembroke C1

Catalina

Douglas DC3

One of their Douglas DC3 aircraft was shot down by a Soviet MiG-15 in 1952 while on reconnaissance. The basement display has the remains of the plane lifted from the seabed and the whole story. Yes, it's even darker down there!


They have a Mig-15 on display in the main hall.



The earlier display hall is being refurbished, but you can see part of the hall from the activity area.




If you have children with you, this is a great museum for them. Lots of interactive stuff, flight simulators etc. I couldn't get on! Excellent museum, well worth the effort to get there.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Arsenalen - Swedish Tank Museum

I am in Sweden for a few days on a work trip, so I flew in early for the weekend. I did all the Stockholm museums on my last visit just before the pandemic hit. So, this time I thought I would see a bit of rural Sweden. Two words sum up the countryside here - trees and water. There are a couple of museums that I wanted to see, and the first is the Swedish Tank Museum. It is near a pretty town called Strangnas, about an hour's drive from Stockholm. If you have a car, visit Mariefred at the same time, which is stunning, including a fine castle and a preserved railway.


I was chatting to the curator, who told me they have around 400 AFVs in the collection, with about 100 on display at any one time. They have plenty of German, British, US and Soviet AFVs, but I'll focus on the rarely seen Swedish ones.

This is a Pannsarbil FM/29 armoured car, built-in 1932 for the cavalry regiment. It had a driver at both ends for a quick getaway. Not a success as it was too large and expensive.


This is the Striv FM/31. It had road wheels and tracks, the idea being to save the tracks. However, a better track design meant it never got past the prototype.


Next is the Striv M/37, a Swedish-built version of the Czechoslovak ČKD AH-IV tankette.


The Pansarbil M/31 armoured car was a 4x4 vehicle mainly used for training during WW2.


The Striv M/38 light tank. 216 vehicles of different variants were produced from 1939 through 1944. The vehicle remained in the service of the Swedish army until the 1960s.


The Striv M/42 was a medium tank with a 75mm gun introduced in 1943, although already out of date by wartime standards.


The Pvkv M/43 was a tank destroyer version of the M/42 with a larger calibre 75mm gun. It remained in service until 1970.


The M/42 SKP 'KP-bil' was an armoured truck developed as an APC in 1942. It was called the coffin because of its shape but remained in service until 2004. They saw service with the Swedish element of the UN forces in Cyprus.


The Lvkv FM/43 was an armoured, tracked AA vehicle for use with armoured brigades. It had twin 40mm guns.


The SAV m/43 was a 105mm SPG. Came into service in 1943 and remained until 1973.


The IKV 91 was the replacement tank destroyer for infantry brigades in the 1960s, and it typically carried an infantry section on the rear.


The Pbv 301 was a 1960s APC with a 20mm auto-cannon.


The Strv 74 was a light tank that served from the 1960s until 1984.


The Pbv 302 is an APC. Developed after the Swedish army rejected the M113.


 And finally, the iconic and unique S-tank. 


Upstairs there is also a small regimental museum for the Sodermanlands Regiment. Guns, uniforms, a full-size wargame unit and some very nice flats of a battle against the Russians at Stäket on 13 August 1719.





Overall, an excellent museum, with accommodating and engaging staff. Well worth the effort getting there.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Envoy Extraordinary

 This is the latest in my re-read of Nigel Tranter's novels. This one is again based on Alexander III's period, although, unlike Crusader, this takes the story on to his adult rule. I can't say Alexander III rates as one of the great King of Scots, or that his period of rule is that interesting, so I am not sure why Tranter wrote three novels of the period.


This part of the story is told through another actual historical figure, Patrick, 7th Earl of Dunbar and March, known as The Cospatrick. Like a lot of Tranter's characters, he is portrayed as someone who wanted to steer clear of the nation's affairs and just quietly get on with running his estates. Unlike most great lords, Patrick was very interested in trade, and this features heavily in the story. It gives an excuse to have Patrick travel to Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries and France.

The title comes from his travels as an envoy for King Alexander. He was something of a diplomat in the modern sense. There is one major campaign in the period, King Hakon of Norway's assault on the west coast of Scotland, which was halted at the Battle of Largs in 1263. Hakon died shortly afterwards and the Treaty of Perth brought the Western Isles and the Isle of Man under the Scots crown. This was probably the major achievement of his rule. The English were somewhat distracted during this period with the Barons War and Alexander was married to Henry's daughter.

Alexander's family life was tragic. Not only did his lose his wife but also all his children and even his grandchild who was the last hope for the succession. He died himself riding over a cliff in Fife, leaving no heir. This led to Edward dabbling in Scotland and the start of the wars of independence with Wallace, Bruce et al.

It's a decent read, but not exactly a page turner. 






Thursday, 16 June 2022

90 Years of the Indian Air Force

 This is a new book by Sanjay Badri-Maharaj on the Indian Air Force, published by Helion. The title implies that this is a historical look back over the years since the Indian Air Force was created in 1932. However, while it does provide some historical background, it is primarily a study of the Indian Air Force today.

The Indian Air Force was created on 8 October 1932, and the first squadron was formed in April 1933 of Westland Waptis biplanes. The historical chapter covers the expansion of the force during WW2 and the post-war jet age. Most of the post-war aircraft came from Britain, France and later the USSR, but establishing a domestic aviation industry was always a high priority. This started with a basic trainer and developed into combat aircraft, initially building under license and then developing their own designs. This didn't always go well, but that is not unique to India. 

The force took part in three wars against Pakistan in 1948, 1965 and 1971, and several proxy campaigns usually involving disputes over Kashmir, like the Kargil War of 1999. In more recent years, China has been seen as a significant threat, and India's doctrine assumes it will be able to fight an aggressive war against Pakistan and a defensive war against China. Performance in these conflicts varied, and the air force's aircraft were often outdated. Notably the use of MiG-21s long after they were in front-line service elsewhere. As late as the Kargil War, strike operations still relied on unguided munitions. 

Most of the book focuses on the current state of the Indian Air Force. It is the world's fourth-largest air force with 12,000 officers and 140,000 other ranks, flying over 1500 aircraft. It has 31 combat squadrons, marginally down on the peak of 39.5 squadrons, but many of those were flying outdated aircraft. 13 squadrons of interceptors are reliant on Su-30s, plus three squadrons each of MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s. In addition, four squadrons of MiG-21s will serve until 2024. Two squadrons of Dassault Rafale are probably the most potent fighter in the inventory. For strike aircraft, the MiG-27s are being phased out, leaving upgraded Jaguars as the primary aircraft for some time. They also have a wide range of transport aircraft (250) and helicopters (400), including the Indian-built Dhruv.

The remaining chapters discuss how the air force is likely to be modernised, including developing an indigenous fighter, the Tejas. It also describes the extensive ground-based air defence system and India's nuclear weapons. India also has a space program that can launch and intercept satellites. 

This region's actual and potential conflicts are not seen often on the wargame table. I plan to extend my Indo-Pakistan wars forces to the present day, and air combat should be part of that. This book gives all the information you need and is profusely illustrated, including colour plates of the leading aircraft types.


Monday, 13 June 2022

The Army of the Kingdom of Italy 1805-1814

 One of my current projects is a close dive into the Napoleonic wars in the Adriatic. The Kingdom of Italy, created by its King, Napoleon, in 1805, covered not only northwest Italy but also most of the Dalmatian coast. However, it surrendered the Dalmatian territories to the newly created Illyrian Provinces, under Marshall Marmont, in 1809. 

Stephen Ede-Borrett has written a new book for Helion, which covers the uniforms, organisation and campaigns of the Kingdom. 

While there is an introduction and a potted history of the Kingdom lifted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, this book is primarily about the units and their uniforms. The Italians tend to get a bad rap in Napoleonic wargame rules, certainly in morale rules, which I am not entirely convinced is deserved. Some of my research into the smaller campaigns and sieges on the Adriatic coast appear to show that they were no less robust than French troops. I used to play the Napoleonic fantasy game Flintloque, and the Italians were depicted as toads, which says it all about stereotypes!

The Army of the Kingdom of Italy, not to be confused with the Army of Italy, included some colourful uniforms. In fact, I painted a 28mm unit for my French army only because I was bored painting French line regiments. The Royal Guard was a mini Imperial Guard with all the elements of a French army corps, and they saw extensive service with the viceroy, Napoleon's stepson Eugene. For each unit, you get a history of its organisation and then the uniform and how it developed over the period.

 The line regiments had dragoons and light horse (Cacciatori a Cavallo), who saw service in almost all the main campaigns. The infantry of the line (six regiments) was organised like the French line infantry and again saw service almost everywhere. There were four light infantry regiments and an array of other units, including the Dalmatian Legion, that I recently added to my 28mm French force. Others, like the Bersaglieri di Brescia, were mainly deployed locally. The army also had artillery, engineers and other support units. The book doesn't include the Kingdom's navy but does include several naval units that served on land.

As you would expect from a Helion book, it is lavishly illustrated. The colour plates are by Henri Boisselier (1881-1959) and provide all you need for painting purposes. I am very tempted to do the 4th Cacciatoria a Cavallo Colonel, in pink trousers and shako! If you want to collect an army of the Kingdom of Italy, this is the book for you. Otherwise, probably a bit specialised for the general reader. 

My Italian infantry and artillery in 28mm.

Dalmatian Legion in 28mm




Thursday, 9 June 2022

Guerra Fantástica

 I'm on a family holiday in the Lake District this week. While playing a post-dinner trivia game, at which I am hopeless, a question came up on the Seven Years War. Essentially, you had to pick the countries that took part. I was okay with most of them but wasn't sure about Portugal. As England's oldest continental ally (not Britain's as often claimed because, for Scotland, it was France), I thought it was likely, but I couldn't think of a campaign they participated in. The next day, while browsing a second-hand book shop, I came across this Helion book, which covers the Portuguese Army and the Seven Years War. Spooky!

Portugal had attempted to remain neutral, despite attempts by the French to bring them in with Spain. The British fleet engaged the French along the coast of Spain and Portugal and certainly breached neutrality in chasing French ships near Lagos. The British apologised, and the Portuguese chose to protect their maritime empire from the British over the threat of a land invasion from Spain.

The Portuguese army was small, ill-equipped and lacking senior officers. On paper, it had over 40,000 men in 26 regiments. However, in practice, it had less than 15,000 men, most of which were in fortress garrisons. The artillery and cavalry were not much better. There was also a militia of around 25,000 men. The British recommended the Count of Lippe to command the Portuguese army and its British auxiliary corps of 7-8,000 men, which was organised into six infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment (dragoons), and eight artillery companies. 

In 1760, before the intervention in Portugal, the Spanish army had, in total, 43 infantry regiments, 12 of which were made up of foreigners – Walloons, Italians, Irish and Swiss – 20 cavalry regiments and 10 of dragoons, and various artillery and engineering units. In total, around 30,000 men were allocated to the attack on Portugal. In addition, 12 French battalions, under the command of Lieutenant General de Beauvau, united with the Spanish Army, with a total of approximately 10,000 men.

The war was pretty unusual in that there were no significant battles. On 24 February 1762, Carlos III ordered the Marquis of Sarriá to enter Portugal, but it didn't get going until the end of April. They captured the fort of Miranda, but as they advanced inland towards Porto, a guerilla war started, threatening lines of communication through rough terrain; after slow progress, the army withdrew. The next effort, with French support, was on Almeida, which also surrendered far too quickly on 25 August. However, advancing into Portugal was a different prospect than capturing border forts, and the army got stuck trying to cross the Tagus. Eventually, they also withdrew. Hostilities were suspended in December.

Those familiar with the later Peninsular War will recognise that this campaign provided Wellington with the inspiration for his defence of Portugal in 1810-1811. As Charles Esdaile comments in his forward, the scorched-earth tactics, construction of impregnable field fortification, and integration of ‘little war’ with conventional military operations were just as much on show in 1761-1762 as they were some 50 years later. 

I doubt many wargamers will be rushing to build the Portuguese Army of the period based on this campaign. However, if you are tempted, there are colour plates and plenty of illustrations. 

Monday, 6 June 2022

Persians: The Age of the Great Kings

 There have been surprisingly few studies of the ancient Persian Empire. Most of what we think we know has been garnered through the prism of Greek and later writers. In this book, Lloyd Lewellyn-Jones uses genuine, indigenous, ancient Persian sources to tell a very different story from the one moulded around ancient Greek accounts. This is the Persian Version of Persia’s history.

The Persians ruled the largest of all ancient-world empires. Remarkably it ascended out of a minuscule tribal territory in Fārs in southwest Iran. In the Old Persian language, the area was known as ‘Pārs’ or ‘Pārsa’. This was later heard by the ancient Greeks as ‘Persis’, and it is that name which has come down to us as ‘Persia’. The ruling family of the Persian empire, the focus of this book, was the Achaemenids.

The description of how the Empire was organised reminded me a bit of the Ottomans. They didn't impose their religion, respecting local gods, or impose their architecture in the way that the Romans and the British 'branded' their realms. This remarkably modern and enlightened mindset can be summed up by a single Old Persian word that Darius the Great used to describe his empire: vispazanānām (multicultural).

Another reason we know so little about the Persians is that their language was only deciphered in 1837. We, therefore, only had the Bible, Greek and Roman sources to rely on. The classical authors depict Persia in an almost wholly negative light. The Great Kings are shown as lustful, capricious, mad tyrants, and the empire is regarded as an oppressive challenge to the Greek ideals of ‘freedom’ (whatever that meant). The Greeks represent the Persians as cowardly, scheming, effeminate, vindictive, dishonourable - as classic barbarians. Even then, Persian sources say absolutely nothing of Xerxes’ Greek war. Therefore, we are entirely dependent on Greek accounts for the events of 480 BCE and the years that followed.

I confess to having never heard of the Battle of Pasargadae, one of the most significant events in Iran’s history. Here the Persians defeated an invasion by the Medes, helped by their women who turned back retreating soldiers by opening their robes, flashed their genitals, and shouted out to them, ‘Where are you off to, you quitters?! Do you want to crawl back in where you came from?’ Women continued to play a key role in the Empire, some of who you would certainly not want to get the wrong side of. Particularly Darius' mother, Parysatis, who was one of the greatest politicians the Achaemenid dynasty ever encountered. She surreptitiously policed the family’s fortunes with great care and control, attacking and destroying its enemies, and defending and supporting its loyal followers.

The author takes the reader through the different periods and their rulers and gives a detailed breakdown of how the Empire was organised. The Persians had some pretty gruesome punishments and some bizarre ones. For example, a Mede named Arbaces was charged with cowardice and weakness and was given the extraordinary sentence of having to carry a naked prostitute around for an entire day.

A better understanding of ancient Persia won't be found under the current Iranian leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. He set in motion a systematic butchering of Persia’s ancient past. By shutting down archaeological digs throughout Iran, closing university history programmes, and cordoning off all historical monuments, the theocratic regime began a bloodless crusade against Iran’s past, making the Muslim conquest of Persia by the Arabs the genesis of a new national chronology. The names Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes were anathema and were expunged from school textbooks.

Thankfully, we now have a proper history of ancient Persia to set the record straight.