Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Legions of Rome - Stephen Dando-Collins

 Title: Legions of Rome
Author: Stephen Dando-Collins
ISBN: 978-1-84916-230-2
Pages: 608
Illustrations: 24 colour/numerous B/W, 13 maps
Publisher: Quercus Publishing

The Roman Empire lasted for one thousand years as a Republic and a Dictatorship. During that time the Army of Rome enforced both the will and law of Rome to the four corners of the Empire. The Legions were the hammer of the Senate and Emperor and they had a huge influence not only on external enemies but also on the government and leadership of the Empire. Over the course of the Empire’s existence, the Legions changed in terms of structure, equipment, training and numbers. Author Dando-Collins has put together a comprehensive guide and overview to the Legions: the men, their structure and the battles that shaped their development and the Empire.

Commencing with a look at the men who made up the Legions, he undertakes a substantive explanation of all aspects of the individual soldiers training, command structure, discipline, diet, musicians, weapons, equipment and recognition system. The degree of administrative sophistication that the army achieved was notable and was as much a source of its success as was its operational and tactical development. A Legionary could move between multiple Legions throughout his career and, regardless of where the Legion was raised or employed, would be able to instantly be familiar with the routine. The author has broken down the organization by subject and provides very manageable explanations relating to each of the subsets. This makes for a very clear understanding of the Roman administration system. Thus, for example, we are provided a with a detailed account of the recognition program of the Legions including what (in order of precedence) would be awarded, the criteria that needed to be met, the oversight and methodology by which awards were vetted and the benefits that were granted along with the award.

Following this, a section devoted to the structure and operational doctrine of the Legions themselves was presented. The method of numerical designation, organization, command and control, battle doctrine, origin of Legionary Emblems, march and camp discipline. What I particularly enjoyed about this section was the detailed history of each individual Legion outlining its creation, regions of employment, significant positive and negative events in the history of the Legion and notable commanders. The reader begins to truly appreciate the complexity and longevity of the Roman army and its subcomponents. Additionally, Dando-Collins outlines the method by which the Roman machine was controlled from the center through “The Palatium”. One does not often hear about this administrative structure which was the interface between the Senate and Emperor and the employment of the Legions themselves. Another area that the author expands upon is the way in which the Romans maintained a strategic reserve of trained soldiers through the Evocati system which represented a pool of retired legionaries which could be recalled to duty in times of emergency.

The author rounds out his study of the Legions with a comprehensive summary of significant engagements involving the army commencing in 29 BC and running through to the fall of Rome in 410 AD. Closing out this study is an evaluation/discussion of the cause of the decline in the lethality of the Legions as fighting units and, with this decline, the gradual diminishment of the Empire itself. What is extremely interesting throughout this period is the degree to which the Roman Legions were willing to fight each other as readily as external enemies of the Empire. Not only does this speak to the command relationships within the Army and Empire, but it also draws attention to the self-imposed drain on manpower due to injury and death from these engagements. Conversely, it also sheds light on the depth and resiliency of the Legion system; very few Empires could afford the bleeding that Roman soldiers and generals imposed upon themselves.

This book is of outstanding quality and is excellent as an introduction for those trying to understand the Legions and their role within the Empire. Dando-Collins provides a comprehensive bibliography for additional investigation that the reader may wish to undertake. I recommend this book for both its relevance as an overview and its readability.      



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