A Roman Review Essay

Submitted By coachlexx
Words: 2069
Pages: 9

Pat Southern, who has co-authored works on the Roman cavalry and the late Roman army, here provides a more generic work for the "interested general reader." The scope is wide--as the contents, listed below, will indicate, but she makes no claims to have written a definitive work. As she herself acknowledges in a concluding paragraph, "We can simply make interim statements, with updates from time to time." This book is her update.

A few observations before proceeding: because this history reflects both the availability of material and literary sources and the interests of the author, readers will note a temporal preference for the Empire and a geographic focus upon Britain, Germany, and the Danube. Second, there are considerable sections of the work that seem to this reader more encyclopedic than historical in the narrative sense. One can make good use of the structure and the detailed table of contents to look up particular items (e.g. units, officers, or weapons) rather than read a continuous narrative. In brief, this is in some ways as much a handbook as it is a history.

The work opens with a detailed narrative and evaluation of the sources, which serve as the Introduction (1-36). Archaeological, papyrological, epigraphic, artistic, numismatic materials and military diplomas are both defined and exemplified before Southern moves onto literary texts. These she divides into sub-categories of authors with military experience (e.g. Polybius or Josephus), narrative historians such as Tacitus or Appian, manuals, legal codes, and maps and itineraries. In its entirety the chapter serves as an excellent example of the lengths to which ancient historians are driven in their attempts to supplement their meager sources. The chapter concludes with a brief catalogue of modern, secondary sources; this is followed, as is the case with every chapter, by a bibliography of references and suggestions for further reading.

Chapter two, entitled "The Historical Background," explores subjects of geography, demography, Roman politics, officials (especially republican), economics and finance, relations between civil society and the army, and enduring value systems. Among the political themes, Southern points to the republican reliance on rural recruits and allies--and the consequences of such dependence in the Gracchan reforms and the Social War; imperial themes include the use of legates and the emperor's recurring need to appease the soldiers. In the section on finance, Southern notes that the expenses of the army no doubt consumed about half of the annual revenue of the empire, whether collected by publicani (republic) or levied on municipia (imperial practice). The section on civil and military relations alludes to the multiple roles that the troops fulfilled when not engaged in defense or campaigning; especially in demilitarized provinces, units fulfilled police, customs, engineering, and maintenance needs. And so, while virtus continues to be a fundamental Roman value, it was proclaimed on monuments and coinage rather than witnessed by most civilians of the Empire.

Chapter three, "The Roman Army," opens with eleven pages (87-97) on the armies of the republic--Servian, fourth century, Polybian, Marian, and late republican. When Southern reaches the empire, the chapter heads in rather a different direction as she explores (98-139) the organizational structure of the legions, elite and auxiliary units, and officers. It is here that the work takes on the aspect of a handbook; for instance, the section on the legion itself includes entries on length of service, organization (including the vexed and unresolved question of size), the first cohort, cavalry detachment, specialists, headquarters staff, and longer discussions of pay and supplies. Army officers are discussed and categorized under rubrics of senatorial and equestrian commanders, the camp prefect, primus pilus and centurions. The chapter concludes with a brief but interesting…