Top critical review
Still has value but dated and over-ambitious scope
on November 18, 2012
This book was first published in 1995. It has become somewhat dated, just like its companion from the same author (the Late Roman Cavalryman). Both books cover the same over-long period from AD 236 to AD 565 in a mere 64 pages. As a result, and regardless of the author's or of the illustrator's respective talents, there are only able to scratch the surface.
A second problem is that the book is based on conceptions that have become somewhat outdated. One is the idea of "barbarization" with the idea that the Roman Army, and the infantry in particular, lost its edge and its discipline and became increasingly made up of soldiers of Germanic origin. At one point, the author goes as far as to mention that by the mid fourth century, "many, and perhaps most, generals were of German or Sarmatian origin", which is both wrong and meaningless. Research published after this book has shown that the maximum seems to be about a quarter, although there is quite a bit of uncertainty with regards to some names and the sample of generals whom we happen to know about is only a subset of the total. Moreover, what mattered, especially in an multi-ethnic Empire like Rome was not so much whether a general was half-German or fully German but whether he had been thoroughly Romanised, for instance because his parents or grand-parents had been settled and given land within the Empire. In this respect, a half-Germanic Roman general such as Stilichon or a Sarmatian general such as Victor (and there are many other examples) who had spent their lives fightiong to defend the Empire were as least as "Roman" as any of the senatorial families which chose to despise them.
The rest of the contents of the book, however, still retains value most of their value. The contents - both the text and the plates - follow the same pattern as its companion book on the Late Roman Cavalryman. After a short section (perhaps too short) on the historical background, there are sections on recruitment, training, appearance and equipment, each with corresponding plates to illustrate them. Then you have the conditions of service, the soldier on campaign and the experience of battle, also with their relevant plates to illustrate these aspects.
Again, many of the points made are interesting and valuable but some, which correspond to what was mainstream belief among historians, have now been debunked. A typical example is the wedge formation (or boars-head) that the Romans supposedly borrowed from the Germans. A good point, however, is to show how the relative importance of the infantry declined, although they might still represent the largest parts of any Roman army during the reign of Justinian. Even there, however, the decline may have been a relative one.
So, while still of value, this booklet is probably not worth more than three stars anymore.