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The Roman Conquests: Italy Hardcover – 16 Jul 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (16 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184415937X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844159376
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 508,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr Ross Cowan is a British author and historian. He is a specialist in Roman warfare and makes occasional forays into Scottish military history. For more information, and examples of his work, please visit

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Graham L. Vine on 24 April 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent precise of Livy, opening the complex nature of the primary source to non-techincal readers, providing a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kjeld Frimuth Hansen on 14 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why Rome as Superpower and not Etruria or Samnium ?
Why could Hannibal and Pyrrhus not tackle Rome ?
That are all in this very informatory book.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By P. Beelen on 25 May 2010
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Cowan has written a book that will appeal to many kinds of readers. And I think that every reader will find something in this book that is of interest to him.
After all, here are laid the foundations for the unstoppable growth of a small village, later: town, into an enormous Empire spanning the whole Mediterranean world, and then some other stretches of land as well...
Anyone who from time to time wonders: 'how was that possible?' should read this book.

It has only one or two minor flaws, none of which are Mr. Cowan's fault. First, the data on this period of Roman history (roughly from 510-275 BC) are for some decades rather sketchy. Most of the sources are of a later date, and are also often inclined to minimalize Roman losses and defeats or gloss them over, or seem to be taking a guess to what happened because the writer couldn't make head or tail from what he read in his sources. Secondly, chronology isn't always too clear. Thirdly, Roman commanders are more than once nameless and therefor faceless.
This shows in the first part of Mr. Cowan's book, when he has to make the best of what his sources offer him. As the sources become more numerous and varied, the story takes on pace and turns in an engrossing read.

It literally comes down to: one campaign each year. A Roman farmer just about has time to till his fields, then is called to arms, wanders about Italy for some months, only to return just in time before the Apennines are snowed over, preventing him from reaching his home in a more or less comfortable way. If he survives, that is...

Mr. Cowan tells in a lucid way how Rome gradually made herself master (mistress?) of the peninsula, by conquering, bullying, cheating, rewarding and buying her opponents.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Terrifically detailed overview of key period in Roman history 3 Dec. 2009
By Jason Golomb - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In "Roman Conquests: Italy" ancient Roman military historian Ross Cowan provides a detailed accounting of pre-Republican Roman expansion across the Italian peninsula. Emphasizing the importance of this era, Cowan points out that "the famous Caesar would have accomplished nothing if the groundwork in Italy and the creation of a solid base for overseas expansion had not been achieved by the likes of the lesser-known Torquatus, Corvus, Cursor, Rullianus and Dentatus in the fourth and third centuries BC."

The book covers about two hundred years of early Roman history. While Cowan acknowledges his principal source is Livy's books I-X, he references numerous other ancient sources as well as revised historical insights based on modern archaeological research. He utilizes his mix of ancient and modern sources to counterbalance Livy's often overly Roman-centric perspective.

In 396 BC, Rome conquered the rocky citadel of Veii, just ten miles north of the city, and incorporated it into her territories. Rome was the main hub of trade and communications in west-central Italy. "The city dominated the main crossing point of the Tiber...Rome was nearest to the coast, and the famous seven hills on which the city was built provided excellent points from which to guard the crossing and filter traffic." Furthermore, "she was also agriculturally rich...some of the most fertile land in the peninsula and (able to) support a large population."

One of the key military themes throughout this period is based on honor and revenge, which were extremely important to Romans and their enemies and allies. "Nothing motivated the Romans more than the need to avenge a defeat," writes Cowan. In addition to the wholesale slaughter or slavery of defeated enemies, Cowan references prisoners (both Roman and Samnite) who were put under the yoke - "a humiliation worse than death...indicating that a warrior was utterly defeated, little more than a beast, to be used and abused by his conqueror."

One of the more fun aspects of "Roman Conquests" is Cowan's cognomen translations. Cognomens started off as nicknames, but after a time became hereditary. Aulus Cornelius Cossus, the "Worm", was only the second Roman, after the legendary Romulus, to kill an enemy king in single combat. Appius Claudius Crassus was "Fat" or "Uncouth". Calvinus was "Bald". Curvus was "Stooped". More noble Corvus was the "Raven", Venox the "Hunter", and Cursor the "Swift Runner" who should not be confused with Lentulus the "Slow".

Some of the more colorful characters gained their equally colorful names from their brave actions. One military tribune accepted a challenge of single combat from an enemy Gaul. He defeated the challenger and promptly cut off his head, "tore off his torque and put it, covered as it was with blood, around his own neck." Not surprisingly, he and his ancestors adopted the cognomen of Torquatus. Quintus Servilius Ahala "achieved" his cognomen, "Armpit", when, in 439 BC, an ancestor concealed a dagger under his arm and used it to assassinate an aspiring plebian tyrant.

Cowan acknowledges that the relative dearth of detailed sources from this period lends to rather one-dimensional characterizations of key players. Fortunately, Pyrrhus of Epirus, king of the Molossians, descendant of Achilles, wrote his memoirs which help flesh out this charismatic figure. Cowan maximizes his opportunity to build out this enemy of Rome and dedicates almost 50 pages to his story.

The book includes seven detailed maps and eight pages of photos and drawings, including 4 beautifully rendered paintings from well-known ancient military artist Graham Sumner. One frustration, though, is the lack of a timeline and, perhaps, dramatis personae - both of which would have helped limit confusion when Cowan bounces back and forth between dates and the large cast of historical characters.

Excluding the notes, bibliography and index, "Roman Conquests: Italy" is a tight 147 pages. The book is a solid mix of high quality academic research with enough narrative to please those with a more passing interest in this key period of Roman history.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Roman Conquests of Italy 17 Jan. 2012
By Lawrence Katkin - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a lover of ancient Greek History the "Roman Conquests: Italy" was really a wonderful enjoyable experience. Written from a vantage point on the western side of the Adriatic, for me a very different perception and perspective of the period following the death of Alexander the Great. Cowan provides an amazing amount detail and clarity of the period.

For me there was a great deal of new material and I wish the text was in a Kindle format. I'm willing to purchase the Kindle addition even after reading and purchasing this text in a hardbound edition. At my age absorbing vast quantities of new material is difficult. I have grown a custom to electronic: highlighting, personal notation and then cutting and pasting of reference notes from the web.

Chapter 6 "The Pyrrhic Wars" when read in conjunction with Plutarch's "Life of Pyrrhus" and Robin Waterfield's "Dividing the Spoils, The War for Alexander's the Great Empire" gives the reader a well rounded view of the character of Pyrrhus.

I would of given the text 6 stars if it were available in a Kindle format

Roman Conquests: Italy
The beginning of an epic quest 23 April 2015
By Anibal Madeira - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Not only the first steps to create a world empire by Rome, but also the beginning of this series of books which portrays the Roman conquests in various theatres of operations. I don’t know if the merit is of a Pen & sword editor, of Ross Cowan (for proposing this title) or a joint effort, but what can’t be argued is that they birthed an all new concept to transmit Roman military history to a wide audience. Congratulations are well deserved.

This work is very well researched and analyzed. And both characteristics are extremely important due to the sources being quite one sided and extremely old…even the Romans in the early principate considered the old sources ancient when they compiled them!

The engagements and campaigns are run through in a quick but quite comprehensive way, the author giving more space to the Samnite wars and the Pyrrhic war, which is well reasoned.

Several things get painfully obvious after reading this remarkable work. Iron age Italy was one of the most dangerous places to live in the ancient world, almost every year Rome and its allies went to war, sometimes defensively and other times offensively. Another interesting characteristic that clearly arises is that the Romans weren’t the only ones to be able to shrug off a series of catastrophic defeats – their Latin enemies and allies, the Samnites and even the Etruscan managed to do just that several times. It is clearly a local Italian characteristic. Most of the contenders fought almost to the last, even after serious defeats and depleted of men and coin, Samnite armies kept being raised under “Lex Sacrata” – sacred law – were those who didn’t joined the levy would be doomed.

The author also goes a long way fleshing out ancient personalities the best way possible and even explaining and superbly using the cognomen, which was extremely important for Roman families commemorating feats of arms or physical traits; in that aspect, Roman notables almost behaved as modern gang members!

Although I don’t agree with all lines of thought provided by the author they are well presented and he always uses good analytic skills. The book could also have better notes and more information regarding the main battles of the period (including tactical maps with the available info). There are 4 fine color plates by Graham Sumner depicting a Roman Legionary against an Etruscan Noble; a Samnite from the Linen Legion facing a Roman Centurion; a Senonian Gaul Chieftain fighting a Roman Triarius; a Latin ally charging a Tarentine Levy hoplite. It also includes photos, images of artifacts, good maps and representations of coins.
Excellent read 31 Oct. 2013
By Aurelio - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was a great pleasure to read. I wished it had more pages... It is a good and detailed chronicle of one of the most critical and less known periods of the ancient western civilization
Good overview of the conquest of italy 8 Mar. 2014
By Jared L. Gibbs - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is not a comprehensive overview, it is lacking a large area of the very early Rome, and only has maybe a paragraph on each of the more important early Roman wars, hence the 4 stars, but as the book goes on, it is an adequate telling of the conquest of Italia.
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