Fields, Nic. The Roman Army of the Principate, 27 BC-AD 117. (Battle Orders series, 37).

Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2009.

I did a lot of work in classical studies many years ago, and I have a longtime interest in early military history, so a book like this is bound to catch my attention. And Osprey’s many historical series are (generally) above average.

When Augustus took control of the Roman state, he adopted the title of “princeps,” or “first citizen,” in order not to flaunt his power in the Senate’s face. And among the needed reforms he quickly undertook was the complete restructuring of Rome’s armies, which had swelled greatly during the preceding generation of civil wars. Where the legions had once been recruited from among the citizenry as needed in a crisis, and then demobbed again when the emergency was passed, Augustus put the whole thing on a full-time professional basis. Soldiering would now be a career, like any other, for those suited to it. Volunteers signed on for twenty-five years, the last five in the veteran reserves, and then could look forward to a pension equal to roughly fourteen years’ pay — not a bad deal, actually. Soldiers ate better than most people, had a chance to practice a craft if they had one, and were required to participate in relatively few battles during their lives — if they were lucky. The author addresses all aspects of the Roman military, from weapons and equipment and command and control to battle doctrine and military engineering.

And Fields is both an ex-Royal Marine and a Ph.D. in Ancient History, so he ought to know what he’s talking about, . . . but he has a certain amount of difficulty actually communicating what he knows. For one thing, he insists on always using the Latin terms for everything — cohortes, legio, and centurio instead of the anglicized “cohort,” “legion,” and “centurion.” Every single time. The gladius and spatha are never referred to as “swords.” Considering the target audience — non-academic readers but with a special interest in the subject — it comes across as a bit exclusivist, even pompous. So the information is here, and the illustrations are well up to Osprey’s standards, but you’ll have to work at it. I recently read Philip Matyszak’s Legionary (also reviewed at this site), which covers almost exactly the same ground, but Matyszak does it in a charming, occasionally humorous, style and is equally accurate in what he has to say. For the comparative novice, I really think I’d recommend that work over this one.

Published in: on 25 October 2013 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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