on December 22, 2011
First things first, this is a wonderful book. I have read various aspects of Roman history for decades. I was always looking for the linchpin, the connecting factor, as Rome progressed from a monarchy into a republic and then on to empire. One can look at each stage of development separately and get a fair understanding of the conditions present at each discreet period of time. One can even look at pivotal moments in Rome's history like the iconic crossing of the Rubicon or the battle of Actium and read multiple meanings into those significant events. Yet there is always a tendency to view those events in isolation. One can also examine the dominant personalities of Caesar, Augustus and Hadrian as a top down method of viewing the Roman world and fail to grasp what the world looked like from the ground up. One can read accounts of Coriolanus, Scipio Africanus, Fabius Cunctator, Marius and Corbulo and, interesting as these studies are, miss the connections that made Rome what it was. It always seemed there was something left unsaid.
Simon James has provided us with a thread which strings together all the separate pearls of Roman history. He uses the gladius as a metaphor, and since the sword can never be separate from the hand that wields it, he reveals to us the simple milite, the soldier, as the linchpin connecting the ancient village of Rome to what became a vast empire stretching across continents. When the gladius is spoken of, most people tend to see the Pompeii style blade which has been popularized in movies. This style of sword was actually associated with one period of Roman history. One must look at the development of this sidearm as a process in which one sword morphed into another and then another over time. Rome's contact with the Celtic-Iberians led to the adoption of the hispaniensis, which first 'grew' shorter, then longer over the centuries. So the blade that was held by Spanish hands became the instrument of dominance wielded by Roman hands. That blade then grew longer once again to eventually be handed over to crusading knights in armor.
James leads us to think about how Rome's enemies shaped her, and in a curious way, actually led to her dominance of the Mediterranean area. The most pre-eminent enemy Rome ever faced was Carthage and the reaction to the invasion of their home territory had a permanent effect on the Roman psyche. 'Never give up' became 'Never let the enemy have a second chance'. Rome's resistive and violent reaction to Carthage became their standard operating procedure after the Third Punic War and no tribe or country could find a way to overcome this relentless behavior for centuries although some of the Germanic tribes and the Parthians had sufficient force to stalemate Roman authority at their borders.
James has written a well researched book that has multiple line drawings and a section with color photographs. There are also maps which assist the reader in grasping the big picture. He does not force his view upon us, but rather presents a way of looking at the panoply of Roman history through the prism of the sword and the legionnaire. This is a legitimate way of tracing the development of a nation that has all too often either been idealized or castigated, but rarely seen for what it was. Rome was first among equals in its day and both unique and much like its contemporaries. Perhaps that which made them most different was actually more intangible than we yet know.
on November 29, 2011
All and all, a pretty even handed look at the roman soldier and how he evolved over time. The author exposes what we would consider to be ruthless behavior of the soldier and puts it into context. The Romans don't seem to be as wicked when compared to other societies of the time. The Roman wolf was on the loose always looking for its next meal, sometimes devouring the other wolves in its own pack. The sword and open hand were used in effective combination to expand republic and then empire. The soldier eventually realized that he was the source of power to generals and emperors. Individuals were willing to risk life and limb in order to find a better life. Many times this was made possible by crushing the weak and vulnerable under their sandals. The author views their society as one willing to embrace innovation, no matter the source. Taking the best enemies and allies had to offer. A constant supply of resources, manpower, and legendary resilience(or stubborness) put the Romans at the top. I enjoyed this look at the Romans and will probably search out other titles by Simon James.
on February 15, 2012
Rome and the Sword proves to be a highly readable and well research book the Roman military history. The author uses the development of the Roman sword from long to short and back to long as he gives a sweeping account of nearly one thousand years of Roman military achievements and failures. As one of the previous reviewers wrote, the main premise of the book appears to be is how the Roman military evolved by their encounters with their foes. Rome's ability, willingness and understanding of their foes allowed them to adjust and adapt to their enemies, even taking something from them even as they conquered them. The book reflects on this unique characteristic of the Roman military.
The book itself is not a detail view of the Roman military. No close look on what are the functions of the centurions and such thing. But it does give you an very insightful sweeping view of how the Romans conducted their warfare throughout their long history. The book come well illustrated with various drawings of many type of swords held by the Roman legionaries during their times.
I did have one complaint about the book which I thought should be have been addressed. That is the author's failure to explain why the Romans could not recovered from Battle of Adrianople when in the past, they have survived worst defeats. The book wrote that there were constraints that prevented recovery but didn't specify.
But overall, this book come highly recommended to anyone interesting in Roman military history.
on August 9, 2012
Dr. Simon James offers the reader a different approach on Roman History. Instead of focusing in a series of events, he chooses to delve into the sword of Rome, the roman soldier...not the Roman army, which the author fiercely contests the notion of (specially the concept of "Roman War Machine").
Focusing on the gladius, both as a weapon and as a symbol of the roman soldier, we are presented with an original military history in which we see an evolution of military equipment through contact with new foes and allies, the mentality of the Roman vis militaris and the real "secret" to Rome power - integration of "conquered" people, morale and diplomacy.
Excellent line drawings, data tables and clear photographs complement the text and provide visual appeal to this very worthy work that explores all periods of roman history, from the humble beginnings until the decline and fall. All mentioned sources are analyzed and commented being assertively interpreted; the author never takes anything for granted, the mark of a true and competent scholar.
The only flaw that in my humble opinion is worth mentioning is the constant reminder of the brutality, the savagery, the horror that the "wolf" aspect of the roman soldier delivered to enemies and even fellow Romans, and that society has a sanitized view of the "Pax Romana". Of course society has a sanitized view of the Romans! And of the Germanic tribes! And of the Huns! And of the Mongol! And of the Classical Greek! And of the Byzantines! And of the Israelites! And of the Assyrians! And of all other ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary nations that fought wars! The author is shocked by the findings of a poor man that was impaled by a Roman Pilum and then he had his legs hacked off? Yes, it's terrible, but any historian can mention atrocities of the same magnitude for almost every era, and none done by the Romans compared to the monstrosities contemporary history done in the XXth century...we, supposedly more civilized and humanized, can achieve the highest peaks of human (or inhuman) behavior. I don't defend that the violent information should be edited, but it must be clarified that extremely violent treatment of enemies or rebels were usual (and unfortunately still is) and not a specific characteristic of the Roman soldier.
on March 9, 2012
This is one of the best books about ancient Roman history that I have read, and I've read hundreds. James explores the development of Rome by focusing on soldiers and their weaponry, especially the gladius (the legionary sword). He expertly details how the transition from a seasonal army made up of citizens to a standing professional army both reflected social conditions and influenced them. Roman soldiers (Romans did not have a word for "military") were the "stick" that stood ready to enforce the will of autocrats and aristocrats. The "carrot" was Rome's willingness to welcome conquered peoples into the Republic and the Empire as participants in the rewards of being part of a strong, profitable state. James also examines the complex relationship between legionaries and their commanders. In addition, he shows how Rome's enemies helped shape Roman development and actually made it possible for her to dominate the Mediterranean. This is a totally fascinating work that is written in an easy-to-understand manner, and that fully engages the reader. I highly recommend it.
on January 15, 2015
I cannot say enough good things about this book. If you think you understand the Roman army, way of fighting and the way the other armies that fought them processed the battles, read this book and find out. This is a must read for any historian or any Roman Reenactor because you will have insights you do not get from anywhere else. BUY IT!
on November 9, 2013
I have an antique French version of the short sword which would appear to issued to the artillery. I t is over 200 years old and steel for there is only a smattering of dark colour. The book has given me a history line to follow so that I can understand the emergence of this sword. Over all I find a good book. A bit wordy here and there, but we all learned tghat doing term papers. I like it.
on April 10, 2013
For my purposes this is an excellent book written from an interesting perspective. Does and excellent job of tracing the changes in Roman military technology. The style of writing made this book and easy to read reference as well. Sine I spend some of my spare time building armor and hand weapons of the classical era the book gave some fresh insight into weapons manufacture as a response changing military need. This is an excellent companion to Roman Military Equipment. Joe Turner
on January 26, 2013
This book by Simon James is amazing. It is the next logical step if you like Matyszak's work and are looking for something more substantial. Roman history is laid bare in a way that is easy to follow yet deeply informative.
on December 14, 2012
An excerpt from the review on StrategyPage.COM:
'Dr. James, author of The World of the Celts and a lecturer at Leicester, opens by reminding us that the "Roman sword" was never quite what we think it was, changing form several times over the dozen or so centuries of Rome's existence as a military power. Although perhaps overstressing Roman brutality (were they really worse than their contemporaries?), he argues, quite persuasively, that it was the adaptability of Roman military institutions, their willingness to learn from mistakes and enemies, that led to frequent bouts of reorganization, retraining, and reequipping of the troops as circumstances, enemies, environments changed. Thus, even in the dying decades of the Empire, during the fifth century, Roman troops were still formidable foes. There's much more of course, such as a discussion of the absence of a word for "the army" in Latin (as opposed to a field army, exercitus), Romans using "the soldiers" when referring to their military forces, the origins of the marching camp, training, organization, and so forth. James also reminds us of the often overlooked Roman practice of allowing anyone to become a citizen, which made conquest by Rome somewhat less undesirable than conquest by other contenders for global domination and was an important factor in maintaining military manpower.
'An important book not only for those interested in Rome, but for anyone concerned about how to keep military institutions able to adapt to changing challenges.'
For the balance of the review, see StrategyPage