Legions of Rome: The definitive history of every Roman legion Hardcover – 9 Dec 2010
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From the Inside Flap
No book on Roman history has attempted to do what Stephen Dando-Collins does in Legions of Rome: to provide a complete history of every Imperial Roman legion and what it achieved as a fighting force. The author has spent the last thirty years collecting every scrap of available evidence from all the literary and archaeological sources - stone and bronze inscriptions, coins, papyrus and narrative accounts - in a remarkable feat of historical detective work.
The book is divided into three parts: Part One provides a detailed account of what the legionaries wore and ate, what camp life was like, what they were paid and how they were motivated and punished. This section also contains numerous personal histories of individual soldiers. Part Two offers unit histories of all the legions that served Rome for 300 years from 30 BC. Part Three is a sweeping chronological survey of the campaigns in which the armies were involved, told from the point of view of the legions.
Featuring over 150 maps, photographs, diagrams and battle plans, Legions of Rome is a landmark publication in every sense. Both unique and definitive, it is an essential purchase for ancient history enthusiasts, military history experts and general readers alike.
About the Author
Stephen Dando-Collins is a novelist and historian. He is the author of several highly acclaimed works on ancient history including Cleopatra's Kidnappers, Nero's Killing Machine, Mark Antony's Heroes, Caesar's Legion and, most recently, Blood of the Caesars. He lives in Australia.
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It is difficult to be exhaustive in a short review of a long book, but I cite a few of the more obvious ones below by way of example.
In the first few dozen pages, the author asserts (several times) that Commodus (sole reign 180-192) was responsible for the grant of universal citizenship in 212 (it was Caracalla).
When discussing the strength of the legion, he states that the final form of the Republican legion was 60 centuries of 100 men (no primary source cited, because there isn't one) prior to the introduction of the early imperial form (80 per century).
There is no examination of the framework of the legion, for example, Speidel's Caerleon lecture on the subject is not cited.
The author seems to confuse the equestrian career structure with the senatorial one when discussing the tribunes of the legion.
The author repeats his assertion from the earlier books that a legion was recruited at a single point in time, then not brought up to strength to replace casualties until all original recruits were discharged (i.e. 20 or 25 years later). I am not aware of any ancient source which suggests that this was the case.
When discussing armour, the author seems to describe ring mail as consisting of metal rings sewn onto leather, rather than being made by linking each ring to the other rings.
Unsurprisingly, the bibliography is not especialy exhaustive, with sigificant omissions and in several cases older works are listed by authors who published later editions or new works entirely (e.g. Webster on Roman Britain & Boudica, Birley's imperial biographies). Russell Robinson's work on Roman armour is cited, but not Bishop & Coulston's standard volume, nor indeed the copious output published in JRMES.
The book looks nice, and the author's prose style is certainly very readable, but if this is the only book you read on the army of the principate, you will get a flawed understanding of the current state of knowledge of the Roman army.
There is also some basic errors, such as dates and actual legions that have not been confirmed as actually ever existing.
I've shown this to several PhD colleagues and other professors of note, who agree this is riddled with inaccurate information that it is almost laughable.
Personally I would suggest researching from known scholars such as Adrian Goldsworthy for one.
* Part I - The Men
* Part II - The Legions
* Part III - The Battles
At the end of the book we find a bibliography and an index. References to ancient sources and/or modern works are given in square brackets in the text.
What about illustrations?
Throughout the book there are more than one hundred photos, drawings, maps and battle plans. Unfortunately, they are all in black-and-white, and the quality of the photos is not very high. In the middle of the book there are sixteen pages with colour illustrations.
Dando-Collins is an experienced author. But even for an experienced author something can go wrong. There are many mistakes and misunderstandings in this book. For reasons of space I can only mention some of them here:
(1) On page 119 we hear about Legio III Augusta:
"In AD 75, the legion was transferred by Vespasian to Tebessa, known today as Timgad, where the men of the legion then built a handsome town astride the road to their old base at Lambaesis."
Dando-Collins confuses ancient and modern names here. Let me explain: Originally, the legion was based in Ammaedara, modern Haidra, in present-day Tunisia (as he says on page 272). In AD 75 it was moved by Vespasian to Theveste, modern Tébessa, in present-day Algeria. In AD 81 it was moved by Titus to Lambaesis, modern Tazoult-Lambèze, also in present-day Algeria. In AD 100 Trajan decided to establish a new town about 35 km east of Lambaesis: Thamugadi, modern Timgad, was built by soldiers from the third legion, and veterans from the legion were some of the first to settle there.
[The same mistake - claiming Tebessa is today's Timgad - appears in the caption to the illustration on page 495.]
(2) The headline of chapter XV (on page 271) dates the Tacfarinas revolt to AD 17-23. It should be AD 17-24.
(3) On page 274 the author claims the ancient town Utica is "located just a few miles along the coast from Carthage." But the distance from Utica to Carthage is 30 miles (50 km). Has the author ever been there?
(4) On the map of the Holy Land on page 316 Jotapata is placed in Judaea, although this town is in Galilee; and Tarichaeae is placed at the southern end of Lake Gennesaret, although this town is on the western shore, 5-6 km north of Tiberias.
[The false location of Tarichaeae is mentioned in the text on page 318.]
(5) The caption to the illustration on page 482 reads as follows: "A family portrait of Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and one of his children."
But the painting shows both his children, Caracalla and Geta. The face of Geta has been erased, but we can still see where it was. This is a case of "damnatio memoriae." When Caracalla murdered Geta in AD 212, he also tried to erase him from history.
(6) On page 485 the author claims Septimius Severus died in Eburacum (modern York) on 4 February 210. But this emperor died on 4 February 211.
(7) The caption to the illustration on page 494 claims the "Ludovisi Sarcophagus" shows Emperor Maximinus. Perhaps. But Paul Stephenson says it shows Emperor Gallienus. See his book Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor (2009) page 75. The sarcophagus is on display in Palazzo Altemps in Rome. What does the museum say? The label says it shows Hostilianus (a son of Emperor Decius) who died in AD 252. So who is it? The answer is: we do not know for sure.
(8) The caption to the illustration on page 498 begins with these words:
"A Persian relief shows Roman emperor Valerian on bended knee as he surrenders to Persian emperor Shapur I."
This is not true. There are two persons in front of Shapur, one kneeling and one standing. The kneeling figure is Marcus Julius Philippus (also known as Philip the Arab) who was emperor 244-249, and (maybe) was captured by Shapur. He paid a high ransom for his freedom. The standing figure is Valerian who was captured in 260. He holds out both arms towards Shapur as a sign of surrender. The two Roman emperors were not prisoners at the same time, but the relief combines two separate situations into one scene.
(9) On page 500 there is a black-and-white photo from Palmyra. The same photo appears on page 14 of the colour section. Both captions begin with the following words:
"The Temple of Bel in the heart of the city-state of Palmyra."
The photo shows the monumental tetrapylon, which stands in the heart of the Syrian desert-town. The Temple of Bel is behind the photographer! Has the author ever been there?
(10) Masada, the famous fortress south of Jerusalem and west of the Dead Sea, is mentioned several times (pp. 160, 316, & 354-356). When did Masada fall? The traditional date is AD 73. But new evidence about the Roman commander Flavius Silva has been discovered, and some scholars now prefer the following year, i.e. AD 74. For references to the modern debate about this question see Maurice Sartre, The Middle East Under Rome (2005) page 428 (note 204).
What does Dando-Collins say? He simply gives the traditional date. He does not refer to - and does not even mention - the modern debate about this question. I am afraid he does not know about it, but he should.
[There is a black-and-white photo of Masada on page 355. The same photo appears on page 9 in the colour section. Both captions give the traditional date.]
With so many flaws, this book can only get three out of five stars.
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