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The Roman War Machine
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!