Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period, by Terry L. Gore, Praeger Publishers, Westport, Conn., 1995, $55.
The popular impression of the period following the fall of Rome at the end of the fifth century is that of the “Dark Ages”–a time of political, cultural and military anarchy. In military terms, strategic objectives were limited to plunder, and tactics involved a mass of individualistic warriors following a charismatic leader into battle.
The truth, as any Military History reader probably knows, was more complicated. The old Roman military system itself had to undergo changes, but the next 600 years were to see their share of intelligent commanders who won battles and achieved lasting objectives as much through their brains as through their strong sword arms.
Terry L. Gore, a frequent contributor to Military History, has endeavored to get that point across in his book Neglected Heroes. Roughly covering the period between the Western Roman Empire’s victory over the Huns on Mauriac Plain in 451 and the Crusaders’ success at Arsuf in 1191, Neglected Heroes does a convincing job of illustrating the nature of military leadership throughout the Dark Ages, with such representative warlords as Flavius Aetius, Attila, Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Brian Boru, Harald Hardrada, Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror, Alexius Comnena, Robert Guiscard, Bohemond, Saladin and Richard the Lion-Hearted. Some readers may see a measure of irony in the book’s title–surely a comprehensive treatment of outstanding strategists and tacticians of the period should have included, among others, Otto I of Saxony, victor over the Magyars at Lechfeld in 955 and first Holy Roman Emperor–but the author makes the most of what he covers and adds a useful appendix with thumbnail analyses of numerous other battles of this often overlooked period.