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Pat Southern's new tome was dragged to my door by my long-suffering postman today and, although I don't do academic reviews as such (the very quintessence of onanistic futility, to my very open mind), I thought you lot might like to know what's in it.

The dust jacket (and Amazon) call it The Roman Army: A History 753 BC-AD 476 but the title page just says The Roman Army (so somebody has had a change of heart at the last minute; been there, done it, tick ;-) )

Vast softwood forests have been felled to ensure that there are more than 500 pages of words on the processed dead trees, but no references (either notes or in-text, Harvard style), just a bibliography divided across the chapters). As a publisher, Amberley don't seem to like references and don't twig that one of their biggest potential markets - re-enactors - want as much solid detail and authority as possible. But hey, they're publishers and they know best!

The text does what it says on the dust jacket and runs through history from the foundation of Rome to its end (the dates on aforementioned dust jacket will have told you that much, so I don't view that as too much of a spoiler) and it is divided into three sections: kings & Republic, Imperial, Late Empire. There is a glossary and an index (too often absent from books these days).

There are line drawings (which is where I make frequent appearances, in my guise as 'After M. C. Bishop' - not sure why people do that, as I'll let them use the originals if they only ask me) and a chunk of colour plates in the centre where all the usual suspects turn up (as one Amazon 'reviewer' dismissively remarked of one of my books 'looks like his holiday snaps'; no sh*t Sherlock!). If you get bored, you can always colour in the line drawings with big chunky wax crayons ... or is just me that does that?!

The ISBN is 9781445620893 if anybody wants to pursue it further.

Mike Bishop
500 pages seems a lot, but maybe not so when you're covering 1229 years.. How extensively does she cover the periods before Caesar and after Severus?
Quote:500 pages seems a lot, but maybe not so when you're covering 1229 years.. How extensively does she cover the periods before Caesar and after Severus?
The portion before Caesar is about 120 pages, 3rd to 5th centuries the last 100. Slightly complicated by the fact the (large) central portion includes the usual stuff about everyday life, fortifications etc so not a straightforward historical account.

Mike Bishop
So in all, a worthy purchase for Christmas?
Quote:So in all, a worthy purchase for Christmas?
Difficult to say. Some of the equipment drawings are a bit scrappy. I doubt there's anything there you haven't seen or read before. My advice would be check it out in a bookshop. I'm not a very good judge as I buy everything on the Roman army regardless ;-)

Mike Bishop
Thanks Mike!

I am also buying more or less everything on roman army, if only to gloat over how bad the book is. Wink
I posted a short review on Amazon in case of any interest:

4.0 out of 5 stars
Single Volume Summary from an Experienced Roman Campaigner, 10 Jan. 2015

This is a rather long book which covers the Roman army from the early days of Rome to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Taken as a whole, the book is successful in rising to the major challenge of describing an institution which existed for over a millennium.

The three sections are essentially pre-Augustan, Principate and Dominate, i.e. monarchy and republican period, 1st to mid-3rd C AD and mid-3rd to late 5th C AD. The author has published a number of works on the Roman Army before as well as a number of biographies and narrative histories covering the "3rd Century Crisis", Roman Britain and a general history of Roman covering the same period as this book, so she draws on years of accumulated knowledge. She is not afraid to say where evidence is lacking and where there is controversy or uncertainty. Her prose style is readable and the 500+ pages of main text flow well in the main.

Most of the text is devoted to the army of the Principate, where the evidence is best and comprises historical, epigraphical and archaeological. Less space is given to the army of the Dominate, where the historical evidence is less good, the "epigraphical habit" declined and the archaeological evidence for the mobile armies is inherently less substantial as they, by definition, lacked the long term bases of the legions and auxilia of the 1st and 2nd C AD. The approach in both these sections is thematic, taking an institutional approach ("Legions", "Auxiliary Cavalry", "Forts, Fortresses & Camps", "Frontiers" etc). Both of these sections begin with an historical summary.

Why 4 and not 5 stars?

The slightly less satisfactory part from my perspective was the first, "Kings & Republic". This starts with the normal historical summary, but much of this first part seemed to comprise detailed narrative. The "institutional" approach is more difficult for this period due to lack of information, and indeed because the army did not exist as a standing institution, so lacked the physical installations and long-lived units of the Imperial army. I felt that the chronological narrative could have been cut down, and it would have been worth devoting more space to the numbers an locations of legions in service in the style of Keppie's approach in "The Making of the Roman Army". It might also have been worth looking at the network of Roman colonies in terms of numbers and sites, which were in a sense the equivalent of the military bases of the imperial period.

Overall, though, a highly worthwhile and good value contribution from an author with a sound, broad and comprehensive knowledge of the subject.
I held out for the paperback, which has just appeared -- and I wish I hadn't bothered. The cover blurb says: "A massive amount of information, clearly organised and accessible". In other words, overly long, divided into chapters, with an index. Reviewers of her previous books have used words like "lively" and "witty". I have found this one vague, prolix, and repetitive, and rather a tedious read. I have only dipped into it so far, but it seems as if there is rather a lot of "Roman history", as opposed to "History of the Roman army". A good editor could probably have pared the text down by fifty per cent.

The intro claims that "older opinions are re-examined in the light of new evidence", but as others have pointed out, there are no references, so the reader cannot evaluate older opinions and weigh up new evidence. There is a bibliography divided up by chapter, but how do we know which of the works cited are in need of re-examination, and how do we know which are the "new evidence" (if any)?
I'm genuinely surprised that a publisher would allow a historical based book to be published without referencing that at leadtproves the book was properly researched. At least Pen & Sword insist on referencing.