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Raffaele D'Amato's latest publication, Roman Army Units in the Western Provinces (1): 31 BC-AD 195, arrived today...

After volume 2, unless there's a change in plans, the eastern provinces will also receive similar treatment.

From page 3 Intro:
Quote:On the subject of the iconography, the present author believes that we should also revise another old conception: that the representations of military equipment are simply a matter of 'artistic conventions'. We can surely imagine that those who produced artworks in both the central empire and the frontier regions had examples of Roman milites before their eye on a regular basis, and were aware of differences in their appearance (particularly when a dead man's heirs were commissioning his funerary monument). Despite the limitations imposed by techniques - carving, fresco and mosaics - and by the artisans' individual skills, the relative accuracy with which craftsmen depicted Roman soldiers is often confirmed by archaeological finds from relevant provinces.

One particular aspect that arises from the iconography is the apparent use of protective elements made from organic materials such as leather, linen and felt. Close examination suggests that an assumption by scholars that metallic armour must always have been preferred, for its supposedly superior protective qualities, cannot go unchallenged.

A decent introduction listing the distribution of units in the Western provinces by legion, cohort and ala, followed by a provincial breakdown of equipment finds. Raffaele Ruggeri's plates aren't as lively* as ones produced to McBride, Ó’Brógáin, Rava and Sumner, and some of the faces look odd, but okay. The illustration style and choice of muted/washed out colors reminds me of Roman soldiers in books from the 1970s. Being a D'Amato work, the plates have figures with leather armor - G2 an auxiliary signifer in a bluish tinted leather corselet.
It's nice, barring some of D'Amato's questionable reconstructions of arms and armour. But his knowledge of clothing and whatnot is superb.
I found this a rather disappointing volume in several respects. For example, a considerable portion of the book is devoted to what amounts to a series of army lists, printed in very small type size. However, he fails to show that legio II Augusta served in Spain and then moved to Gaul (Strasburg - Argentorate).Similarly, legio XIV is not shown as a part of the AD 43 invasion force. Both these fall within the time period that the book covers.

I also felt that the paintings/colour artwork were inferior to others in the Osprey series. The artist failed to show clearly the distinction between Corbridge and Newstead armour types, for example. It seemed to me that the colours chosen were far too bright. And yes, we seem to have D'Amato's fetish about leather armour again, within any real concrete proof that this happened.

There was also the oft-repeated and erroneous contention that Caerleon was called "Isca Silurum" by the Romans. George Boon showed many years ago that the place was only ever known as "Isca" - probably a corruption of the Welsh name for the river Usk (Wysg). "Venta Silurum" (Caerwent) - yes, OK, but not the Isca version.

There were other contentious points, some of which might be regarded more as matters of argument and opinion. Dogmatic statements need to be backed up by facts and references and not left hanging in the air. Yes, OK, this is not an academic work and should not be regarded as such - but there is no excuse for sloppy work, I feel.

Mike Thomas
Raffaele's immense enthusiasm can certainly lead him to presenting possibilities as solid fact, which can be vexing. However, I do not believe he intends to mislead others and I've not experienced him becoming acrimonious when challenged.

I would agree with Mike that the inclusion of several pages of army lists is probably not what the average Osprey reader would be interested in. However I myself was impressed with the artwork which was very detailed but as Mike also points out both here and in his Amazon review, that means it highlights several errors or issues of contention.

For example the author urges us to treat Roman sculpture as an accurate record. The artwork nevertheless shows methods of sword and dagger suspension which seems to owe more to re-enactment than Roman sculpture. Also the scale of several swords, daggers and shields appear the wrong scale.

There are also a number of contradictions. One of the author's arguments is for distinctive provincial dress and unit equipment. However the legionary from Caerleon in Wales has a helmet from Eastern Europe when there is evidence for a helmet from Caerleon itself. Equally the Caerleon shield with its unique shape would have been an ideal choice to support the author's argument but is ignored in favor of the standard rectangular type but with a familiar boss from another legion. (A few years ago I produced a reconstruction of a Caerleon legionary and included most of the equipment from Caerleon)

There is also a sly dig perhaps at Bishop and Coulston's comments on the difference between legionary and auxiliary equipment. However their conclusions are in part largely based on the same Roman sculptural sources which the author urges us to look at.

I would have liked to have seen more evidence for some of the other points the author raises. For instance the evidence for legionaries on Trajan's column wearing long sleeved leather coats under their lorica. I am also baffled by the inclusion of a Spanish auxiliary standard bearer based on a tombstone from Germany as evidence for uniforms in Africa?

Furthermore I would have liked some examples of evidence for ordinary soldiers in Britain wearing native clothing as the artwork suggests. To me evidence from Roman sources suggests otherwise. For example soldiers from Vindolanda were being sent to Gaul to collect clothing and Roman sculptures (which we are urged to look at) depict the Native Briton warriors naked. Andrew Birley from Vindolanda recently mentioned that the surrounding native settlements showed almost no evidence of contact with the Romans at all, it is as if Vindolanda did not exist. The traders in the vicus were probably not locals either but from across the empire who followed the army and presumably supplied the soldiers with better quality goods than what the army issued.

Equally weavers in Egypt at the same time were supplying clothing for units as far away as modern day Israel and Turkey. So again I am not sure how that fits into the argument for distinct provincial army dress. The mentions of some officers wearing 'native' clothing at times seem to me to be negative propaganda. i.e not only was this general a rebel but he wore Gallic trousers too!

There is also no discussion on the items of clothing sent to soldiers from home. Presumably the author will argue that there was a lack of space but as others have mentioned the army list could have been dispensed with.

My own impression is that soldiers followed, or on occasion influenced, the prevailing Roman male fashion while retaining a distinct military identity.

As usual with any D'Amato book there is material that most readers will have never seen before, which is to be commended. It was nice to find references to the textile finds from Dydimoi in Egypt which I was quite pleased to see could be seen as support for my suggestions in 'Roman military Dress' for the off white and red tunics, which all had clavi of various colours including purple. Even more surprising was that the garrison here was an auxiliary one. So once again they were wearing standard 'Roman' rather than 'ethnic' dress.

I am looking forward to the next volume in the series which will explore a region less well studied and hopefully will be full of supporting evidence