For over five hundred years the Romans Empire flourished,conquered and then controlled much of (what was to them) the known world.There are two main reasons they were able to do this.One reason was the policy of “Romanization" that encouraged those that were conquered to become part of the empire, even providing various ways for them to become Roman citizens.The second reason was military force that did the actual conquering that provided the territories to be “Romanized," and then held those areas. These guys really knew what they were doing (at least most of the time), and they did it much better at it than anyone else at the time.The Roman Army is, at the root of it all, the single force that created the largest empire known in western civilization, and maintained that empire for half a millennium. Being somewhat of a fan of the Roman Empire, and especially the military,I chose this book in anticipation of acquiring a bit more knowledge aboutthe subject.The Roman Imperial Army completely exceeded my expectations.
In his foreword (to the first edition) the author presents the thesis: “The booklet on the Roman Army produced in 1956 for the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, has been well received and this has encouraged me to attempt a more extensive version.”While I found this to be a rather weak thesis statement,there can be no doubt that Mr. Webster achieved his goal.
The booklet referred to in the paragraph above was fifty-two pages, a mere pamphlet in comparison to this work’s two hundred and eighty-five pages of excellently researched text.Every page of text has very detailed footnotes, often taking as much space as the text being referenced.Referring to this work as “little more than a compilation”, the author credits roughly thirty works by actual Romans (Caesar, Plutarch, Tacitus, and many others). Additionally, he credits several hundred works by more contemporary authors (whose text is in English, French, Spanish, or German).Additionally there are more than one hundred drawings and photographs, each of which illustrates a point or clarifies a concept.In the fifty-eight pages of bibliographies and indices, the author provides a bibliography for five of the six chapters, with separate bibliographies for each of the Roman frontiers (Britain, Africa, Rhine, Danube, near East and Egypt, and Spain) being applicable to the second chapter.The author also provides an index of Latin terms used (somewhat resembling a small Latin dictionary), an index of Army Units, and a General (book-wide) index.All indices are page referenced and footnoted.This is perhaps the most well documented book I have ever read.
Any attempt to summarize this book as a whole would be roughly equivalent to saying that the Venus De Milo is a piece of carved marble, or that the Mona Lisa is an old painting. While these are technically true statements, they certainly do not do justice to the work. The extraordinary depth of detail in this book demands that it be read to be fully appreciated. Each chapter is specific enough on a given aspect of the Roman Army that it easily could have become a separate volume, and probably should have. Brief overviews for each chapter follow.
The“Introductory Chapter” lays the groundwork for the rest of the book by giving the reader a brief history of the Romans beginning in the eighth century BCE through the time of Augustus.It describes the Etruscan influences on early Rome and gives good details about early armor and battle tactics. This chapter also describes early recruitment into the army, the breakdown of ranks by socioeconomic class, the draft versus enlistment, how the troops in each legion were arranged, pay scales, and the chain of command. There is discussion of the division of loot from victories, leadership styles and political activities of various commanders,and accounts of several major battles. This first chapter concludes with several sections on the changes that occurred in the organization of the Roman army under various Emperors.
The second chapter, “Frontier Systems", discusses the six frontiers mentioned above. Also in exceptionaldetail, it chronologically documents the frontier policies under Roman emperors beginning with Augustus in 27 BCEand ending in 211 CE with Severus. There are discussions of various campaigns and invasions, the political motivations behind some of the emperors assignment of legions. There are the several sections describing how policies varied on different frontiers under different emperors, detailing the movement of legions from one frontier to another for a variety of reasons. Specific legions are discussed at length, as well as discussions of how the military environment changed on each frontier over time.
The third chapter deals with “The Composition.