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Roman infantry equipment. The later empire
#1
Title: <i> Roman infantry equipment. The later empire</i><br>
Author: I.P. Stephenson<br>
ISBN: 0-7524-1410-0<br>
Publisher: Tempus Publishing<br>
Place and year of publication: Stroud 1999<br>
Number of pages: 128<br>
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This book deals with a much neglected period in Roman history, that from the death of Commodus till the accession of Diocletianus. As noted by fellow list member Jeff Wyss it is a period skipped by many works who generally move directly from the army of the high empire to that of the dominate without reference to this fascinating century.<br>
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The text is ordered in chapters that each cover a particular type of defensive and offensive equipment providing an overview of the available evidence and interpretations of its use. Much to the credit of the author a number of little known items of military equipment are dealt with, including the gorget or neck armour and the Libyan hide overcoat. Given the scarcity of extant literary sources it is not surprising that much use is made from literature of later date, yet given the slow pace of developments in arms and tactics in this period this does not seem to introduce any anachronisms.<br>
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The colour illustrations comprise 13 reconstruction paintings of Roman soldiers and three further pages with photographs of reconstructed equipment. Though the artwork may not be of the high quality as that of artists as Peter Connolly and Angus McBride, the primary aim of providing clear illustration of equipment types should outweigh considerations of style in a publication like this. By showing reconstructions of equipment types that go beyond the often copied stereotypes these colour illustrations have in my view a much higher value than some other recent publications. The black and white drawings are to a large extent copied from other publications, though there is also some original artwork.<br>
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The author describes the introduction of phalanx tactics within the Roman army, yet strangely enough lacks reference to some literary and epigraphic source material that can support the thesis (eg Herodianus 4.9.4; Cassius Dio 77-78; SHA Vita Alexandri 50.5). While excellently making his point, there are nevertheless some caveats required. The use of such new tactics may have been more limited than allowed for by the text, for the historical sources indicate that six legions were involved in the introduction of such new fighting techniques. The old manner of fighting seems also to have persisted, given the continued use of the <i> pilum</i> and its derivatives in the period following the third century as indicated by both historical sources and finds of <i> pilum</i> heads. Also the epigraphic text mentioning a <i> discens phalangarii</i> from Apamea seems to indicate that such phalanx tactics required an extra advanced training for such troops after basic training as a <i> tiro</i>. The new tactics therefore appear to have supplemented the old rather than replaced it entirely. As pointed out by the author the adaptation of fighting methods by the later army should not be regarded as a sign of decline, but of its adaptability and versatility.<br>
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In his description of the equipment the author distinguishes a gradual changeover from specialised infantry types to a general adoption of the socalled auxiliary style of fighting. This is a popular theory that has been advocated by several authors which holds that auxilary infantry functioned as dual purpose troops, adapt at both close order heavy infantry tactics as well as loose order skirmishing. Yet while there are descriptions of auxiliary troops fighting as skirmishers and as close order troops, definite examples of sources that indicate that both these functions were performed by one and the same troops rather than specialised soldiers are lacking. In spite of the powerful images of Trajan's column legionary - and auxiliary heavy infantry and skirmishers may have resembled each other to a greater extent in the principate as well and there may well have been a greater continuity in this respect. The republican era <i> socii</i> had consisted of a mix of specialised heavy and light troops and the imperial auxilary forces seem to have retained a same division. While equipment of skirmishers and close combat troops may have been very similar in this period, it remains yet to be proven that both functions were performed by the same fighting men. The fact that troops were to undergo specialised training courses to become a javelineer or pikemen as a <i> discens</i> after basic training as a <i> tiro</i> should serve as a caution to consider Roman troops allround - rather than specialised troops.<br>
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Some minor faults can be found in the final chapter. One of these concerns the use of mounted infantry detachments. It is unclear on what sources the assumption of mounted legionary infantrymen is based. Several considerations can argue against the notion of maintaning an infantry force whose mounts have the sole duty of transporting foot soldiers into battle. The first one is the vastly increased logistical burden posed by horses which would limit an army's freedom in operations. Unlike the hardy steppe ponies whose minimal subsistence needs allowed nomad armies from central Asia great operational speed the horse breeds used by European armies have always required better care and additional fodder besides grazing. This would have set serious limits in time and space for operations. A second consideration is that while horses provide tactical mobility, their use may actually limit strategic mobility for infantry can outmarch cavalry over long distances. Also volley and charge did not completely disappear from the Roman army tactics, though these fighting methods were now supplemented rather than replaced by phalanx tactics using stabbing spears. Later sources still describe Roman infantry exchanging missiles before engaging the enemy with swords and charging their enemies as well as awaiting them.<br>
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My overall opinion on this book is that it is an informative and well illustrated work that well worth it's money. While there are some minor points of critique its merits of providing good information on an otherwise sadly neglected subject exceed its sparse faults by a wide margin. Filling in a gap between the better known armies of the early principate and the fourth century CE it provides a valuable addition to any Roman army enthusiast's book shelf.<br>
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Sander van Dorst<br>
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Related reading material (updated)<br>
<br>
Bishop, M.C., and J.C. Couston, <i> Roman military equipment</i> ShA 59 (Princes Risborough 1989) 76p.<br>
Bishop, M.C., and J.C. Coulston, <i> Roman military equipment</i> (London 1993) 256p.<br>
Dennis, G.T., <i> Maurice's Strategikon. handbook of Byzantine military strategy</i> ( Philadelphia 1984)178p.<br>
Feugère, M., <i> Les armes des Romains</i> (Paris 1993) 287p.<br>
Milner, N.P., <i> Vegetius: epitome of military science</i> (Liverpool 1993) 152p.<br>
Nicasie, M.J., <i> The twilight of empire. The Roman army from the reign of Diocletian until the battle of Adrianople</i> (Amsterdam 1998)321p.<br>
Rengen, W. van and J.C. Balty, <i> Apamea in Syrië: winterkwartieren van Legio II Parthica</i> (Brussel 1992) 55p.<br>
Thompson, E.A., <i> A Roman reformer and inventor</i> (Chicago 1996) 132p.<br>
Wheeler, E.L., 'The legion as a phalanx' in: <i> Chiron</i> 9 (1979), 303- 318.<br>
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<p></p><i>Edited by: <A HREF=http://pub45.ezboard.com/bromanarmytalk.showLocalUserPublicProfile?login=sandervandorst>Sander van Dorst</A> at: 7/9/01 9:53:09 am<br></i>
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#2
Yes, great book. I got it in the mail a few weeks ago. <p>"The Greeks invented logic but were not fooled by it."
- Eric Hoffer





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