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Thursday, May 16, 2013

“The Complete Roman Army”, by Adrian Goldsworthy

224 pages, Thames & Hudson, ISBN-13: 978-050005124

The Complete Roman Army purports to be a resource to anyone seeking a better understanding of the Roman Army. The book examines everything from weapons, tactics, daily life of the soldier, and the surrounding political environment. It has a nice array of artist illustrations, photographs of murals and sculptures, and tactical battle maps. I was, however, disappointed that the book gave very little attention to the Roman Army of the later Empire, and instead focused mostly on the consular armies of the Republic and the professional army of the Principate. The author provides a very generic and cursory view of the 4th to 5th Centuries, dismisses the idea that barbarization led to the army's decline and basically says while there were some minor changes in weapons and tactics, the army pretty much operated the same way it did under the Principate.

This is very frustrating. The author does not address the effect of billeting troops in the city during the 4th to 5th Centuries. He does not take into account the massive influx of barbarian federates serving under their own leaders, in contrast to the allies of the republican era serving under Roman officers. The author does not discuss whether the change in armor/weapons in the late 3rd century affected tactics or the effectiveness of the army. This is notable because the renderings of a late 3rd Century soldier look awfully similar to the auxilla of the former periods. He does not address the increasing necessity to rely on conscripts and recently defeated barbarians en masse or the “upgrading” of border troops to serve along with the regular field army. He does not discuss why the army reverted to fighting with spears in what was basically an old Greek phalanx formation.
All-in-all this book has the feel of a compilation of several smaller works, but is really not a great primer on the Roman Army as a whole. Greater detail can be found in various older works.

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