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on 6 July 2008
Ross Cowan acknowledges on the first page of this book that our knowledge of Roman battle tactics is fragmentary at best, and that much scorn has been poured over the ideas of those who have tried to reconstruct the battle mechanics of the legion.

That said, he presents a fascinating and informative look at the way the Roman legion operated in the field. Presenting information on everything from the size and organisation of the legion, to its offensive and defensive formations, its battle lines and manouveres, and the control and cohesion of the legion in battle.

Making use of careful study of the ancient texts, and the most up-to-date research among scholars, and not to mention the newest findings in modern experimental archaeology; Cowan presents the latest ideas on the function of the legion.

Here he tackles some topics that have caused big debates between scholars. How did the Romans defend the intervals within a cohort? How did the intervals between a Roman battle line work, and what were their size? He also covers other areas such as types of battle lines, including the simplex acies, the duplex acies and the triplex and quadruplex acies.

Other topics include a look at detached forces and surprise attacks, up and downhill charges, the cohort's command structure and the famous testudo formation. Cowan makes refernces to the use of these tactics and formations in historical battles such as Tigranocerta in 69 BC and Aqua Sextiae in 102 BC, as examples of their effectivness.

Interestingly the book covers much more than the army of the high imperial period, with a look at legions in Republican and late period Rome, before Constantine's military reforms. I was pleased to see that the much ignored Severan army of Rome's 'Age of Anarchy' was given a good look.

Adam Hook presents 8 pages of colour plates. These show both ground and birds-eye views of Roman formations and battle tactics. Close up illustrations demonstrate the Testudo formation and the Roman infantry charge. A number of black and white photographs and basic maps help add some more information into the book.

Overall this is an excellent introduction on the topic of Roman battle tactics. Usually you can only find this type of information from expensive scholarly books, so it was a pleasure to find a well written, well edited and colorfully illustrated title on the subject. Highly Recommended!
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This is an interesting introduction to the subject, but doesn't appear to have anything new to say to anyone who has read the subject in any depth.

The chapters are:
Introduction - p3:
Size and organisation of the legion.
From maniple to cohort.
Basic battle formations.
Intervals in the battleline.
Legionary Battle Lines and Manoeuvres - p13:
Simplex acies: Forum Gallorum 43BC; Ruspina 46BC; Carrhae 53BC.
Duplex acies: Ilerda 49BC; Maximinus in AD238; Arrian in AD135.
Triplex and quadruplex acies: Ilerda 49BC; Muthul 109BC; Chaeronea 86BC; Pistoria 62BC; Gaul 58BC; Pharsalus 48BC; Uzzita 46BC; Rhyndacus 85BC; Thapsus 46BC; Second Philippi 42BC.
Detached forces and surprise: Tigranocerta 69BC; Aquae Sextiae 102BC; Lauron 76BC; Segovia 75BC.
Downhill and uphill charges: Mts Armanus & Gindarus 39 & 38BC; Ilerda and Dyrrachium 49 & 48BC; First Philippi 42BC; Mons Graupius 84AD.
Offensive and Defensive Formations - p46:
Cuneus & 'pig's head': Bonn AD69; Britain AD61; Cremona AD69.
Orbis: Cirta 105BC; Sabinus and Cotta 54BC; Britain 55BC; Germany 16AD; Nicopolis 47BC; Adretum AD9; Danube AD173/174
Testudo: Issus AD194; Daphne AD272; Cremona AD69.
Agmen quadratum & testudo: Media 36BC; Ardashir AD233.
Epilogue - p57:
Adrianople AD313; Ctesiphon AD363.
References, commentaries, index etc.pp59-64.

The colour plates are
A. Legionary centuries inclose & open order; with 3 vignettes of figures in the formations.
B. The Testudo; front view and two side views of the three ranks.
C. The cuneus and 'pig's head'; main plate shows two converging intantry columns, three vignettes show alternative interpretations.
D. Battle array - two page illustration of a legion flanked by auxiliary infantry, flanked in turn by auxiliary cavalry, as at the defeat of Tacfarinas in 117AD; with 7 vignettes of figures from the illustration.
E. Legionary century charging.
F. Lanciarii attacking Parthian cataphracts (light infantry attacking from between two close-order centuries), with 3 vignettes.
G. Cavalry wedge & testudo.

As you can see, an introductory section to the tactics and formations, followed by more in-depth descriptions and examples. As I said, nothing new as such, but an interesting introduction for the newcomer, with good, informative colour plates.

Another Military Revolution debate begins???
--------------------------------------------
Gareth Sampson, in his The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius, on page 188 says:
"Thus Marius gave his legionaries more mobility, with less reliance on a baggage train, armed them with a modified type of pilum, and made the legionary eagle the sole Roman standard. Yet given the paucity of our evidence, why has so much been made of the so-called Marian military reforms? In short, this is a recent construct, created by modern historians." He then quotes from M. Bell's article on tactical reform:

"At some point between the time of Polybius and that of Julius Caesar, a major tactical reform of the Roman army took place, which is not explicitly described by any ancient authority. The major component of this reform was the replacement of the legion of thirty maniples by the legion of ten cohorts. In addition, the velites or Roman light troops distributed among the maniples were abolished."

Back to the author: "Put simply, many historians, unable to accept that there was a major military reform which is no longer documented, chose Marius as being the most logical source of this reform...".

"...It is clear that Polybius's account is far from consistent in his use of the terms maniple and cohort (when translated from the Greek), and that whilst his main account of the Roman army is based on the maniple, cohorts crop up in a number of places in his narrative, from as early as 206 BC onwards. Further uncertainty is added by Livy and Sallust... Thus we have total confusion in our few sources about what the major Roman tactical unit was."

"We have to raise the possibility that this 'confusion' was a reflection of the true situation... there is nothing to say that the Romans rigidly used the same formation on each occasion and that at some fixed point they altered one for the other. This is the conclusion that Bell comes to, detailing the various occasions when a Roman commander would use one rather than the other."

"Thus we have to conclude that there is no evidence whatsoever that Marius was responsible for reorganizing the Roman legion based on the cohort as opposed to the maniple. In fact, the existing evidence suggests that this change had already taken place and that it was not a straight replacement of one with the other, once again being more a case of evolution rather than revolution".

Further Reading:
Andrea Palladio and the Architecture of Battle with the Unpublished Edition of Polybius' Histories
Scores of battle plans and diagrams based on descriptions from Polybius and Caesar - incredible detail and accuracy.
New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare (History of Warfare (Brill))
See the following essays in particular:

PHALANGES IN ROME? – Nathan Rosenstein – “…Questions the almost uncontested view that the early Roman army fought in a phalanx. He does so, on the basis of a war-and-society analysis that raises questions about the census and the suitability of early Roman institutions to sustaining a hoplite force”. He discusses the dating of the adoption off the phalanx, why it was adopted, and the development of the manipular army.
P303: “…the likelihood that the manipular army ever evolved from a classical phalanx is very remote.”

CAESAR AND THE HELVETIANS – David Potter: Caesar’s military education and the tactical transformation of the Roman army in his day.
P329: “Caesar began his career as a Marian general, modelling his conduct in war upon that of his uncle. He very rapidly dropped Marius’ old style tactics, and adopted [sic] himself to the practice of the post-Sullan age, possibly with the aid of the writings of Sulla and his generals, as well as with men like Labienus and Sabinus at his side during the early years in Gaul, and with the aid of their subordinates”.
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on 6 April 2011
A great little book as always with Osprey, even though at times expensive but certainly cheaper through Amazon. This book shows the main battle tactics employed by the most powerful war like empire. It includes offensive testudo's thought by some to be just a defensive formation! Great series but be warned the books are short!
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on 15 January 2015
Received in Perfect Order.

Great book with clear drawings and background !!!!!!
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on 9 April 2015
Gave it as a gift and it was most appreciated
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on 19 January 2014
I bought the book for a relative, who is 'into' fictional novels on Roman battles. He said it helped to illustrate Roman battle tactics. He likes it, so a successful Xmas present.
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on 7 June 2015
pleased with everything
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on 24 January 2016
Teenage Son loved this
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on 31 January 2015
concise detail
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on 3 November 2010
i like the concept of the book could have done with more explanation and diagrams on the maniples worth a read
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