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The rise of the legion
on 28 April 2011
This is a very interesting book on a subject I have been trying to understand for many years.
The chapters are:
Chronology of Major Conflicts.
Italy Before Rome:
Etruscans - Latins - Oscans - Greeks - Celtic incursions - A village called Rome.
The Age of Kings:
Clan warfare - City-state warfare - The 'Servian' army.
The Age of Conquests:
Italy - The western Mediterranean - The Greek world - The 'Livian' legion - The 'Polybian' legion - The socii.
The Roman Way of War:
The war band - The phalanx;
Phalanx versus war band: The Allia, 390 BC; The Caudine Forks, 321 BC;
The manipular legion; The triplex acies; The pilum; The gladius and scutum;
Militia versus mercenary: Cannae, 216 BC; Zama, 202 BC;
Legion versus phalanx: Kynoskephalai, 197 BC; Magnesia, 190 BC; Pydna, 168 BC;
Select Bibliography & Index.
The colour plates are
A: From War Band to phalanx - showing an Italic war band approaching a Roman phalanx, with 4 vignettes of 7 of the figures in the plate. (The figures look like 25mm plastic figurines - tall and thin!). The fourth vignette shows four figures representing the differing arms and armour of the ranks in the Roman phalanx.
B: Manipulus in Battle Array - showing the Hastati and Princeps deployed in 6x24-man blocks and the Triarii in a 3x20-man block (plus 'officers', etc). There are 3 vignettes, one for each block, but the figures are larger than in the preceding plate.
C: Battle Array with Velites - a diagrammatic deployment of the legion in 'checkerboard' formation, with an effective 1/3 page view of a skirmish engagement to the front of the legion.
D: Cavalry Turma in Battle Array - illustrating the turma in line and column deployment
E: Legio in Battle Array - top 1/3 of the page with a diagrammatic deployment of the legion (without velites); 1/3 page showing centuries deploying; 1/3 page showing figures in the 5 stages of the legionary engaging, from lobbing a pila to engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
F: Consular Army Entrenching - top half is a diagram of the legion deployed to cover the entrenching, the bottom half is an illustration of the men working.
G: Consular Army drawn up for battle - two page illustration with 5 vignettes illustrating sections of the deployment.
There are colour illustrations and the usual maps and B&W illustrations.
The author takes us through the early history of Rome and its neighbours, describing the contemporary military systems as we go along, and the evolution of the Roman system, absorbing and adapting to give it an edge over its neighbours and rivals. The major difference being the Roman principle of establishing defeated tribes and cities as allies, and therefore increasing Roman military strength. There's not much you can really say, the chapters and plates listed above really tell you all you need to know. It is well-written and illustrated, and the book is well designed.
Some notes and queries on the actual mechanics of legionary combat:
The author doesn't make clear just how, if the legionary fought as an individual swordsman, he was relieved by men from the supporting ranks, or what the purpose of the supporting ranks were, if they didn't relieve him. Did the front rank fight until they died and then the next man stepped forward? From memory, the HBO TV-series 'Rome', in the first episode (I think), showed legionaries in combat, and they performed some manoeuvre that allowed ranks to exchange places. Also, in Fuller's book on Scipio, and Dodge's book on Caesar, they both describe the opening stages of some battles as consisting of a very long missile barrage, with the Romans (Scipio and Caesar's troops in particular) launching wave after wave of pilae until the opposition begins to waver, and only then moving to hand-to-hand combat.
See also the Osprey volume War Elephants (New Vanguard). The section on elephants in Roman warfare was interesting, as the writers I have read recently on Roman Warfare have ignored them completely - apparently they were extensively used, and made an important contribution to the battles of Cynoscephalae and Pydna; "The honour of achieving victory is usually ascribed to the superiority of mobile Roman legions over an inert Macedonian phalanx. Yet it is forgotten that none other than elephants gained the Romans victory on the flanks in both battles - without them final victory could not have been achieved". Caesar also had at least one elephant with him in Britain. Highly recommended.
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".
Early Roman Armies (Men-at-arms)
Early Roman Warrior 753321 BC
Roman Centurions 75331 BC (Men-at-arms)
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".