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Philip Sabin

Lost Battles

Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World

Lost Battles - Book cover 'A highly innovative study, presenting a new way of understanding what happened in the great battles of the ancient world.'

Dr Adrian Goldsworthy, author of The Punic Wars and Caesar

‘Sabin offers a brilliant reconstruction of Greek and Roman battle. He models and “refights” those battles through a game-like process that brings them to life. The result is utterly fascinating. There are new insights both into specific battles and into the relative importance of moral and material factors. Lost Battles is required reading for anyone interested in ancient warfare.’

Professor Barry Strauss, Cornell University, author of The Battle of Salamis and The Trojan War. 

Professor Sabin recently co-edited the definitive 2 volume Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, (which received the 2009 Distinguished Reference Book Award from the Society for Military History in the US) and he has been working for over 15 years on the analytical modelling of ancient battle. Existing scholarly reconstructions of the contending armies and of the location and course of individual battles differ markedly, because of the paucity and unreliability of the surviving source material in each case. This major 130,000 word book adopts a new approach which seeks to cast fresh light on these enduring controversies by developing a much better sense of the dynamics of ancient land battle as a generic phenomenon.

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When one brings together the evidence from the ancient world as a whole, certain general patterns emerge such as the often slow pace of infantry combat, the tendency of larger or poorer quality armies to form up in greater depth, and the ability of qualitatively superior forces to prevail with remarkably few casualties despite facing heavy numerical odds. This allows battle to be modelled as a dynamic interaction of force, space, time and command, and so facilitates the development of a more robust comparative framework against which existing individual reconstructions may be judged. 


Instead of getting bogged down in complex mathematics as in some academic modelling of more recent conflicts, Lost Battles employs simple and accessible simulation techniques which Professor Sabin has developed over years of teaching and research to make familiar battle diagrams ‘come to life’. Readers are actually able to refight engagements for themselves, thereby gaining greater insights into whether proposed tactics and deployments make military sense. The book develops detailed scenarios for 35 battles from Marathon to Pharsalus, each accompanied by a full colour diagram, and supported by extensive scholarly discussions including several thousand ancient and modern references. The sub-chapter on Alexander's victory at the river Hydaspes in 326 BC is available to download (at the bottom of this webpage), as an illustration of the detail and approach involved.

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Where Lost Battles really comes into its own compared to the more usual expression of individualistic personal ‘hunches’ about these engagements is that it allows readers to experiment for themselves with alternative possibilities such as the presence of absence of the Persian cavalry at Marathon. Even the simulation system itself is entirely transparent and open to user modification, rather than being locked within an arcane computer programme. The book is thus a toolkit for further study, offering endless thought-provoking insights into the enigmas of ancient warfare.

The battles may be refought simply with pencil and paper if desired, but a further major innovation is that files are now available for free download here to supplement the book and facilitate its use by readers. Lost Battles Aid Sheets is a simple Word document which includes charts for easy reference and a map which may be laminated so that changing unit positions may be marked in china pencil. Lost Battles Errata is also a Word file containing minor tweaks and clarifications as of August 08.

Lost Battles Cyberboard (updated August 08) is a zip file whose contents allow the battles to be refought in full colour on your PC screen, when used in conjunction with Dale Larson’s excellent freeware Cyberboard programme (unfortunately incompatible with Macs) which you may download from Dale's site at Finally, Lost Battles Graphics

is a zip file containing colour bitmaps of the terrain and units, which you may print out and use to create a physical version with map and counters.

Each file contains instructions on how to use the material in conjunction with the book itself. Note that the files remain the copyright of Professor Sabin and King’s College – you may not post them elsewhere or use them for any commercial purposes, though you are encouraged to provide links to this website (NOT to the individual files).

There is also aYahoo! discussion site for questions and interaction with the author and other readers of the work.  This flourishing site now contains thousands of posts and hundreds of thousands of words of user-generated content, including a very detailed example of play focused on the battle of the Granicus, and an alternative electronic module using the Vassal system (which does work on Macs). Membership of the group is a 'must' for all readers of the book. Lost Battles is published in hardback and now in paperback by Hambledon Continuum, and may be ordered from Amazon here or here.  

Professor Sabin has also recently published a strategic simulation of Hannibal's initial campaigns in Italy, and a very simple grand strategic simulation of the entire period of the Macedonian and Punic wars. These may both be ordered here and there are rules on the yahoo site for combining the latter simulation with Lost Battles to create an integrated strategic and tactical model of ancient military history from 350 to 150 BC.

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A deluxe combined edition of Lost Battles and the grand strategic simulation Empire was published by Fifth Column Games in 2011.  This allowed users to refight all the battles and campaigns using professional quality components including large full colour die-cut counters, terrain tiles and maps all mounted on thick card (as shown below).  You can find lots of videos, discussion and battle reports here. All 1200 copies of this deluxe edition sold out quickly, and there are no plans for a reprint in the foreseeable future.  You may also be interested in Professor Sabin's major new book on Simulating War


You can download an extract from chapter 9 of 'Lost Battles: Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World' as well as the Lost Battles Aid Sheets at the bottom of this page.

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