on 17 May 2005
This is a compilation of three Men-at-Arms books (Early Roman Armies; Republican Armies 200-104BC; Roman Army from Caesar to Trajan). There are different authors with different writing styles, different artists and the books were written between 1982 and 1997. They are bound together with a single index, but otherwise are still three separate entities; even the different printing styles are maintained!
So, you perhaps would expect the volume would be mismatched and awkward. Fortunately the work fits together quite well; the topics do not overlap and cross referencing is not a significant issue (the altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus aside). Nick Sekunda co-authored book 1 and wrote book 2, and I have a great deal of respect for his work; very readable with a decent level of analysis and interpretation (see my review for Osprey Warrior Series Greek Hoplite). The colour plates complement the text well, with the usual good photographs. Book 1 does struggle a little because the actual evidence for the period is limited, and a fair amount of conjecture is used. Personally book 2 is the best here, as the Republican Army is well documented and there is a lot of evidence to go on; and the plates are by Angus McBride.
Moving to book 3, here I struggle to avoid being negative; my expectations from Osprey are very high. Written in 1982, Michael Simkins' writing style seems aimed more at older children than at any serious amateurs, never mind serious academics. I realise knowledge of the Imperial Roman army has moved on greatly in recent years - the work on the Varian disaster at Kalkriese since 1987 has helped significantly here. However, I don't feel that the work is any more than a brief summary of the period and compares badly to books 1 and 2. I am not certain the armour and weapon reconstructions done by the author are used to best advantage. If they had been set alongside archaeological finds as a comparison that might have been better. The colour plates do not show the variations in equipment very well, and the style of artwork is not to my taste (Ronald Embleton was a great illustrator and I admire much of his work in other publications, but some Osprey artists like Ronald and Wayne England are better suited to certain other genres I feel). As an introduction, while there are some sweeping generalisations in the text, most of the work is still correct today.
Usually I gripe about the lack of decent maps from Osprey, and I will still say that Osprey could do better here.
For the money, this is great value, and is a good addition to the Roman Army library.