Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Patrick Waterson. May he rest in peace.

I'm not usually a person who's lost for words but I am finding it very hard at the moment to describe my feelings having recently heard of the death of Patrick Waterson.

I first encountered Patrick in the Strategos/Lost Battles yahoo groups, where it was immediately clear that he was a person of formidible intellect and seemingly inexhaustable knowledge of ancient authors and ancient warfare.

His ideas always came fully formed. He wasn't a person who reached conclusions tentatively, after a few false starts; he worked backwards from his conclusion, using almost Socratic techniques, to draw fellow conversationalists in to see the problem from his perspective.

He believed that the best and most reliable way to approach ancient history was to read the ancient authors and use common sense. He had little time for most modern commentators, who he felt lacked that common sense and were wedded to an academic narrowness. One modern commentator he did respect however was Phil Sabin, author of Lost Battles, and once Patrick had adopted a set of rules - as he did Lost Battles - there was no one that could turn him against them.

Patrick combined love of dialogue, broad knowledge and a talent for research with a genuine interest in widening people's horizons. He felt that wargames were an excellent avenue for approaching military history, and he would devote time and immense energy to discussing them, testing them, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, and explaining what he felt they taught best.

He delighted in argument, and enjoyed playing devil's advocate. One of his favourite topics was the issue of numbers in the ancient texts. When someone brought up (say) the incredible size given for the Persian forces in Xerxes' expedition against Greece as evidence that the ancients were unreliable on this score, and must therefore be unreliable on other matters too, he would ask the question, what if Herodotus was right? And he would lead the unsuspecting person into the argument of his life.

But Patrick was also charming and gentlemanly. He took ideas seriously, but he was fond of a joke, and did not seem to hold grudges. If he agreed with something, he would say so; if he disagreed, he would also say so, but only if he felt the person was sufficiently robust to deal with disagreement. He was not oppositional in the common way that if so and so said it, it must be wrong; he was oppositional in the sense that if so and so was not taking such and such into account, or was not paying aspect A due respect, then it would be wrong.

To me personally he was always thoughtful and considerate, even if I was obviously exasperated with him, which I occasionally was. I've not met anyone who was quite so eager to help others to develop their ideas. In this he would provide all kinds of assistance. If there was something that I wanted to know, some quotation or passage I wanted to find, an idea I wanted to test, Patrick was the person I would turn to. And he acted in this way for many others as well (as Treasurer and more lately Secretary of the Society of Ancients, there were *a lot* of people wanting to bounce ideas off him).

Although I knew Patrick for about thirteen years, and was in weekly contact with him for a large proportion of that time, I did not know much about his private life. His private life he did keep private. I gathered from our conversations that for some time his mother was not well, and got the sense that he must have been hit very hard by her death, but he would sidestep such topics, and I never wanted to press him.

Perhaps though I should have pressed harder.

Over the last two years we fell out of touch, as I was too caught up in my own family circumstances to have much time for anything else. I regret this now.

Man is often a poor thing. A petty thing. We are often by default small-minded, mundane, concerned about immediate day-to-day things, and that which affects us directly. Patrick was not like that. He lived amongst ideas.

It was a thing of rare privilege to know him. He was utterly unique, and I will miss him terribly.


  1. Very saddening news! I always eagerly read his posts on the LB groups and would always like you say inject a lot of common sense into the ancient sources very helpful and knowledgeable. Particularly helped me with Velites and Whiteshield questions. Well said Aaron a huge loss indeed.

  2. I did not know him but nevertheless share a sense of loss at the news.

  3. I did not know of him, but I do know you and fellows like you describe, my thoughts and prayers with all of you.


  4. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and sentiments regarding Patrick. As you point out, he was always up for a (well reasoned) argument but he did so with enthusiasm and joie de vivre. I always had time for Patrick and as it turned out he always had time for me. We corresponded by email over the years but never met in person. I am also quite a private person and yet Patrick was able to support me with much needed advice and encouragement when I was going through alot of personal and family issues. Even though I had to step down from the SOA committee, Patrick was very understanding and supportive. I am very thankful for that memory of him.

    The Society forums will be a quieter place without him and I will miss him

  5. Patrick struck me as a fine man in my dealings with him. I found him to be intelligent and considerate. This is very sorrowful news Aaron and I'm sure he will be much missed by many.

  6. I remember the discussions Patrick and I had via email. While there were a few times we disagreed on minor items we usually concurred about what was important. It has been a few days since I last logged into the Society Forums and just did so a few minutes ago. Notice of his passing was posted yesterday. The discussions he and I had and his encouraging me will be missed.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, all. Flags are at half mast here.

  8. An excellent tribute, Aaron. I did not have the pleasure or privilege of "knowing" Patrick as well as you did. However, my brief exchanges with him about elephants in ancient warfare and other topics reinforce your assessment of his formidable intellect and mentor-like approach to aspiring students of ancient history.

    If one could compare The Society to the Roman Senate, then our body has indeed lost one of its most eloquent and entertaining speakers, one of its most accomplished individuals.

    It might be too early, but I think that consideration of an editorial prize (from Slingshot) should be discussed. A small recognition of his Patrick's membership and legacy.


  9. He was a good friend to me and I miss him.

  10. Hello Aaron,

    I have only just come across your blog and more specifically, your fine tribute to your friend Patrick. I would very much be interested in speaking to you regarding this gentleman. Is there any way that I might be able to contact you privately? Having read your tribute, I feel sure that an exchange of knowledge would be mutually beneficial.



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