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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 November 2012
As other reviewers have mentioned, this is a good and up to date summary of the Roman legionary up to AD 69 and the accession of Vespasian.The book's structure is the standard one. First you have a short but interesting background piece on the establishment of the imperial legions by Augustus, with a nice table borrowed from Keppie (the Making of the Roman Army, 1984) that traces the supposed origins of each of the legions. This is followed by the now usual pieces on organization, size and command, enlistment, training, length of service, pay, leadership and morale, belief and belonging, sacramentum, decorations and punishments, dress and equipment, daily life on campaign and battle.

The contents are much more focused on the legionary's morale and sense of belonging than what you could find in Osprey publications some 15 years ago with three sections (leadership and morale, belief and belonging, sacramentum, decorations and punishments) making up some 10 pages altogether. This reflects Keegan's influence and a shift of emphasis on the rank and file's point of view and psychology rather than the traditional focus on the general or the army's organisation. It is, of course, perfectly apt for a little volume of the Warrior Series dealing with the "Roman Legionary", not the Roman Legion.

The section on equipment is also good with a nice description of the evolutions of swords (the several types of so-called "gladius"), helmets and armour in particular. The emphasis put on the huge burden that the legionary had to carry around. It is not for nothing that the legionaries were called "Marius' Mules" after he reformed the army and cut down on baggage. As this book shows very well, this was still the case under the Julio-Claudians and continued well after them.

The section on battle also emphasizes the "human side" of combat, including the war cry to give yourself courage and demoralize the enemy and the importance that experience in battle could have when one side was mainly made up of veterans but not the other. Nice touch was to mention lulls during battle, because there are probably few activities as taxing as hand-to-hand fighting and such fighting probably could not last more than 15-20 minutes before both sides got exhausted. Another realistic element, which you also find in other Osprey publications on the Romans, is the mention of plundering and booty, which Roman legionaries indulged in just like any other warrior during Antiquity, the Middle Ages or well after.

Finally, there are the superb plates from Angus McBride. Several are quite gorgeous, such as the legionary press gangs and the "warm welcome" which they receive from the population, or the conturbernium (a mess tent of 8) on the march, suitably overburdened with all their equipment and followed by a couple of servants with pack mules. My favourite of all, however, is that of centurion Marcus Caelius' last stand during the battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The grim determination that you can see on his face as he assaults the Cherusci warriors that are stabbing one of his men tells it all...

There are however two glitches that prevent this volume from being excellent. This is a pity because both glitches could have been easily avoided.

One relates to the period covered by this volume. While there are in the text quite a few mentions and quotes from Caesar, there is almost nothing about his campaigns, presumably because they are covered in other Osprey volumes. However, none of the plates show legionaries in the time of Caesar. The book itself starts after the victory of Octavius over Marc-Antony and Cleopatra, as the victor reorganizes the army and demobilizes more than half of the Civil War legions. Somehow, there is a bit of a disconnection between these contents, which mainly focus on the period after 31 BC, and this volume's title which is supposed to start in 58 BC.

The second glitch has already been mentioned by a couple of other reviewers on I was, just like them, very much surprised to find the author picking up Isaac's somewhat contentious view, first mentioned in 1994, that the century, not the cohort, was the main tactical unit of the Roman legion. This is explicitly contradicted by both Caesar and Tacitus, to mention just these two. While the second was perhaps a bit of an armchair general (although even this is unfair because he did see some active service), Julius Caesar was certainly not. He could be somewhat expected to know what he was talking about and does not seem to have had any point to make when emphasizing the legion's cohorts rather than their centuries as the main tactical unit. At a minimum, this somewhat controversial statement would have warranted a much more thorough discussion that simply mentioning that "the cohort could not function as a tactical unit because it had no commander or obvious standard of its own." In other terms, this was too much or too little, especially since this rather controversial view flies in the face of the mainstream view and the written sources.

Because of this, it is worth four stars, but not five...
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on 2 July 2003
This book is quite a surprise. It's a bit more 'academic' than your usual Osprey offering but it's very approachable and squeezes in a mass of information about the legions from Julius Caesar to the emperor Vespasian. The text takes the reader from the establishment of the Imperial legions and organisation, through recruitment (mostly conscripts according to Cowan) and training, equipment (here I learn that the gladius was not a short sword!), and ultimatley on to the best section concerning the legionaries in battle. Quotes from ancient sources give a 'soldier's eye view' of battle from the exchange of missiles, to the charge and collision with the enemy, the rout and taking of booty and and adorning victory monuments with the heads of the enemy.
Excepting a few typos this is a fantastic read. The colour plates illuminate the text superbly (especially the plate concerning the Varian disaster; Cowan informs us that all the legionary eagles taken in AD 9 were later recaptured). Essential for anyone wanting to learn more about the legionary.
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This is a very good introductory volume, covering the period form Julius Caesar to the end of the ‘Augustan’ dynasty. It looks in more detail than usual for an Osprey at all aspects of the subject, as you can see from the contents –
P04: Introduction
P05: Chronology
P07: The establishment of the Imperial Legions; Organization, Size and Command of the Legion
.The legion; Centuries and centurions; Senior officers; The century as the primary tactical unit.
P09: Enlistment
P11: Training
P12: Length of Service
P13: Pay; Leadership and Morale
P16: Belief and Belonging
.Unit identity; Group identity
P19: Sacramentum, Decorations and Punishments
.The military oath; Rewards and decorations; Punishments; Bravado and initiative.
P23: Dress and Appearance
P25: Equipment
.Pilum; Shield; Sword; Dagger; Armour; Helmet; The burden of equipment.
[P33-40: Colour Plates]
P44: Daily Life on Campaign
.Building camp; Meals and entertainment; Camp followers; Striking camp
P46: Battle
.Formations and depth of lines; Non-continuous battle lines; Centurions, standard-bearers and optiones in battle; Centurions and standard-bearers; Optiones; The importance of experience in battle; The war cry; The charge and collision; Lulls during battle; After the battle.
P58: Websites; Glossary
P59: Bibliography
P60: Colour Plate Commentary
P64: Index

The section on ‘The century as the primary tactical unit’ and ‘Formations and depth of lines’ are particularly interesting, and are more informative on the subject than the two Osprey volumes on Roman Battle Tactics. He quotes French and German authors in his bibliography, which may be why he has more to say in a small space then most writers on the subject in entire books: “The cohort is traditionally viewed as the primary tactical unit of the legion. This is certainly the impression given by Caesar and Tacitus, who tell of formations and tactics based around the cohort. However, it has been suggested that the cohort could not function as a tactical unit because it had no commander or obvious standard of its own, leaving the century as the primary tactical unit (Isaac 1994). The centurion, therefore, was the crucial professional officer in the legion; there was no permanent commander of a sub-unit of the legion greater in size than the century between him and the legate, whose tenure of command might be limited to only three years or so. The centuries were the primary tactical units of the legion, which was itself a mass administrative unit. When Caesar and Tacitus speak of cohorts moving in battle we should view them as groupings of centuries fighting in support of each other.”

The author is also very clear in ‘Formations and depth of lines’ and ‘Non-continuous battle lines’ as to how the troops deployed and fought, and what the light infantry were up to after they had withdrawn from skirmishing, again unlike many other writers on the subject with entire volumes to play with.

The colour plates are not as exciting as the other volumes on the Roman Army that I have read recently, though this is an older book, and Osprey may have taken note of readers’ feedback. However, they do the job of illustrating the legionary at work and, err, work.
A: Veteran of legio XII Antiqua, 32-31 BC. This shows a legionary standing there displaying his equipment; shield and pila leaning against the wall, helmet upended to show the inside, accompanied by sketches of various bits.
B: Legionary press-gang in Ostia, port of Rome, AD 6-9. This shows an unarmoured but armed group of soldiers at work in the back alleys.
C: Contubernium on the march, post-AD 14. This shows the eight-strong mess-group of legionaries marching with their equipment and servants.
D: legionary fighting techniques. Four figures in various combat poses – though in is noted that these are disputed.
E: Marching camp, 1st century AD. Camp under construction.
F: Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Germany, autumn AD 9. Three main legionary figures in the foreground, two behind, fighting Germans, with more shadowy detail in the background
G: Prior century in battle, 1st century AD. This shows the right side of the century as deployed for battle against Germanic-looking opponents, showing the poses and positioning of various members of the unit.
H: Legionary of II Augusta, Britain AD 43. This shows a legionary standing and displaying his equipment, holding his shield and pilum, accompanied by sketches of various bits.

Further reading:
The Roman Army of the Principate 27 BC-AD 117 (Battle Orders)
The Roman Army: The Civil Wars 88-31 BC (Battle Orders)
Roman Battle Tactics 390110 BC (Elite)
Roman Centurions 75331 BC (Men-at-arms)
Early Roman Armies (Men-at-arms)
 Roman Republican Legionary 298-105 BC (Warrior)

Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome (Hellenistic Culture and Society)
Andrea Palladio and the Architecture of Battle with the Unpublished Edition of Polybius' Histories
The Crisis of Rome
New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare (History of Warfare (Brill))
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on 20 March 2013
Books for boys. Well, that's what my little brother thinks. If you or a younger member of your family have a Roman project for school, then this is the Italian ticket for you. Simple, informative text and lashings of macho pics. Gert yer!!
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on 14 April 2011
Another great little title from Osprey packed full of details and wonderful images. This book starts at the beginning before the legions became professional to when Octavian (Augustus) formed them into full time soldiers and formed permanent armies. The Osprey books are great but short and quite expensive for what you get length wise, especially compared to a novel for example but your paying for the content, research, art, historical accuracy etc etc. Shop around and you will find good deals.

Highly recommended if you are merely interested in the topic or want specific details about the subject for research or something more, fantastic little books!
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on 12 July 2013
This is an adequate work but was not really what I was looking for. My own fault for not considering the era covered more carefully. I want more information on the legionaries of the late republic.
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on 12 March 2015
Good stuff from Osprey I want to collect these books. My only grumble is the faces of the Legionaries in the colour drawings are all the same and they look like thugs.
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