Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and rewarding read, 12 Feb 2009
This review is from: The Roman Army at War 100 BC - Ad 200 (Oxford Classical Monographs) (Paperback)
I needed to read this book as research for my writing interests. Ordinarily I'm not sure that I would have picked up something quite so specific. I was worried that it would be dry and overly academic but I knew I needed the information inside so I pressed on. How wrong I was. After an initially boring introduction which seemed to confirm my fears, I was treated to something truly engrossing.

One word of warning here. I have given this book five stars but I think it can only be properly appreciated with some prior knowledge of Roman history. Goldsworthy's period stretches three hundred years but he also includes the odd example from outside this period such as the Punic Wars. It is essential therefore to know who the big figures in Roman history were and the order in which they came. Also important is knowledge of what was happening in the Empire at any particular time. If you already know this stuff you will find this book an excellent exploration of an essential aspect of Rome.

The book covers many different facets of the Roman army from its organisation to how it behaved while on campaign; there is even a section detailing Rome's main enemies. Goldsworthy organises his material with skill. Throughout the book he focuses on the army in greater and greater detail until we are pretty much in the shoes of a typical legionary, witnessing the sights and sounds just as he must have done. Goldsworthy goes into some precise detail but this never bogs down his prose. On the contrary, his numerous examples serve to create an extremely vivid picture of what life must have been like in this one of these armies. Of particular note for its drama is how he describes the fighting between opposing infantry; what it must have been like to have been at the frontline cut and thrust and even perhaps stepping into the enemy line itself.

Partly what makes the book so readable are the fantastic stories that Goldsworthy decides to highlight. Here we have Pullo and Vorenus fighting Gauls, completely unassisted in an attempt to bolster the confidence of their troops. There's Labienus riding to enemy lines, taunting them and then having his horse killed from under him. There are challenges of single combat during Titus's campaign in Judea. All of these examples and many more bring us in close contact with the time.

Goldsworthy really knows his stuff, quoting frequently from other historians as well as the ancient writes themselves. His purpose is to think about the Roman army in its own terms and not too infer too much from the behaviour of other forces in different eras. Having said this there are times when he is prepared to use sources from far outside of his period. He does this for specific purpose and to great effect in particular with Victorian data on recognition distances.

There are some good pictures detailing Roman equipment but perhaps some photos would also have been good. The book has an appendix on logistics. Often I am tempted to skip this kind of section but amazingly this is also a good read.

An excellent book. I will definitely check out some more of Goldsworthy's work.
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