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Legions of Rome : the definitive history of…

Legions of Rome : the definitive history of every Roman legion

by Stephen Dando-Collins

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Very well written and illustrated book on the Imperial Roman legions. Some of the writing sadly seemed more about the Generals/Augustus of the time more so than the legions themselves but all in all a very good work. Contrary to what other reviewers have stated in terms of lack of credit to sources, this is not the case, there is barely a page that goes by without the author crediting someone or something. ( )
  Luftwaffe_Flak | Feb 6, 2014 |
Best military historian and classacist after Victor Davis Hanson. Superb. ( )
  JayLivernois | Feb 13, 2013 |
Over a dinner many years ago, I had discussion with an ex-army officer friend who was a would-be military reformer. There were a number of such people in the Washington of that day, as the Cold War Soviet enemy no longer existed, and the grinding Middle Eastern adventures of America had yet to occur. He had a number of what I found to be interesting ideas, one of which involved recruitment. In Britain today, combat regiments recruit from a specific area, not necessarily from the whole of a country. This leads to greater cohesion and unit pride. I found this an intriguing suggestion that the US might benefit from looking into. I knew that the Roman Army had done something similar, but I couldn’t point him to one place that would have that information. Stephen Dando-Collins has now provided us that resource.

Building on earlier works by Lawrence Keppie and Graham Webster, Mr. Dando-Collins has put in one place an account of each of the “classic” Roman legions, from Augustus to the Severans. Later anarchy period, Diocletianic and Constantinian legions are not covered, except as to how they were intertwined with the earlier legions.

The book is divided into three sections. The first covers the organization, equipment and operation of the Roman Army, primarily of the First, Second and early Third Centuries. The structure, pay grades, daily life and some of the tactics and equipment are described. Other “branches” of the Roman military, such as the navy and auxiliaries are covered here as well. It’s a good basic introduction.

The second-what I found most interesting-was the histories of each legion. The account of each begins with a table explaining the titles the legion may or may not have, the emblem, foundation, recruiting area, postings, battle honors and famous commanders. There is a short biography of each legion, sometimes longer if the author has a theory he lays out about the identity of the legion. Some of these are controversial, as in his identification of X Fretensis as Caesar’s famed X Legion.

But the area of greatest controversy in my mind was the first thing I noticed with I opened the book-the shield emblems. Traditionally, following the examples seen on Trajan’s Column in Rome, it was assumed that the shield emblems of the legions were more or less standardized into the lightning bolts and eagle’s wings seen in so many artists renditions and re-enactors’ equipment. Dando-Collins, following Keppie, disagrees with this, using as evidence some tantalizing tidbits of archeological findings and some numismatic evidence. I don’t think the case is closed, and barring more archeological data, I think this will remain an open question.

The third portion of the book is a history of the various campaigns that we can definitively place the legions in. Thus, it precludes some famous campaigns where we don’t have evidence that there are pre-235 legions involved, such as Julian’s disastrous Persian invasion. The accounts are written in a stand-alone fashion, so one doesn’t have to read them consecutively. Mr. Dando-Collins’ other life as a novelist serves him well here, as the accounts are extremely well written and colorful.

Despite the fact that the end of the Empire is perhaps the most talked about topic in “the history of history”, sometimes taking a different tack with it drives the point home in a way just blandly reading about it does not. Reading Dando-Collins’ brief account of Stilicho calling the VI Victrix from York where it had been for three hundred years to Italy to save it from the Goths, only to be destroyed shortly after is a depressing reminder that nothing is forever. A legion raised by Pompey to defend the Republic, it served first in the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey, then on Octavian’s side against Antony, then in the Cantabrian War finally subjugating North-West Spain, then in brief civil war of 69 and the Civilis Uprising of 70, then in the Dacian Wars, then rushed to Britain to reinforce after the disappearance of the XI Legion, finally to return home in a different world and different time, there meeting it's demise. Tempus fugit, memento mori… ( )
  Wolcott37 | Sep 28, 2012 |
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Every country produces both brave men and cowards, but it is equally certain that some nations are naturally more warlike than others.
- Vegetius, De Re Militari
For Louise, who soldiers at my side, and Richard, who always fights the good fight.
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Down through the centuries, millions of men served with the army of imperial Rome; half a million during the reign of Augustus alone.
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This is a landmark event in ancient history publishing a complete account of every legion of the Imperial Roman army. The author has spent the last thirty years collecting every scrap of available evidence from numerous sources: stone and bronze inscriptions, coins, papyrus and literary accounts in a remarkable feat of historical detective work.… (more)

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