Book Review: Roman Republican Legionary 298-105BC
Paul Robinson picks up the gladius and marches to the frontier with Osprey's latest "Warrior" book.
Author: Nic Fields
Publisher: Osprey Publishing, 2012.
Romanophiles are now very well served by Osprey Publishing. This latest in their Warrior series completes a near definitive set of books on the Roman army. From Early Roman Warrior to Late Roman Infantryman, you can see the development of the Roman soldier from 753 BC to 565 AD! Add in other titles from other Osprey Series (eg. their Men at Arms and Elite titles) and you have a comprehensive coverage of infantry, cavalry and the Praetorian Guard from the days of Romulus and Remus through to the fall of the Western Roman Empire and beyond!
The strap line of the Warrior series is: “insights into the daily lives of history’s fighting men and women past and present, detailing their motivation, training, tactics, weaponry and experiences”. This particular volume is authored by Dr. Nic Fields (ex-British Royal Marine and biochemist with a PhD in Ancient History) who has a number of Osprey Books to his credit; the artist of the colour plates that are a feature of these books is Sean O’Brogain.
The book covers the Roman legionary from the Camillan reforms, following Rome’s defeat in the Third Samnite War, to the reforms of Marius, following the Jugurthan War. Or put another way, the legionary who fought some of the most well-known battles in history—Trebbia, Cannae and Zama—which expanded the influence of Rome into Greece, Spain and the Middle East. Those looking for a history of the conflicts themselves will have to look elsewhere; this book concentrates on the men on the frontlines.
Warrior books have a fairly standard layout. There is a chronology of the period with chapters on “Recruitment and Training”, “Organization”, “Equipment and Appearance”, “On Campaign”, “Experience of Battle” and of course a “Glossary” and “Bibliography”. This title also has a short chapter on the “Origins of the Manipular Legion”.
I like Dr. Fields writing style and his practical scholarship. It’s crisp and clear and whilst well-grounded in the latest academic research, he is prepared to speculate when there is a lack of evidence. But, importantly, he makes clear how much of a stretch he is making. The organization of the Roman legion during this period is one that has been covered and debated extensively given that we only really have two decent accounts from the period—that of Polybius and that of Livy. Here, we do not see any controversial interpretations or revisionism but a fairly standard (in terms of what most historians agree on) version of how the Republican legion was organised and how it fought. I think this is the strength of the work. Those familiar with Osprey books will know that they try to cram a lot into their works, and their books are best used as introductions to any particular subject. Therefore, they appeal to those new to that subject.
As well as a nicely written text the book is supported by eight pieces of original colour artwork. These are spread through the book and are strategically placed to illustrate details in the text. Now a point I always try to remind people of in any review of such artwork is that the quality of art really is a matter of personal taste. Mr. O’Brogain has illustrated a number of Osprey books and I was impressed by his work in Galloglas. In this book I was totally knocked-out by his close-up of legionaries and pikemen sharing blows at the Battle of Magnesia. This is the picture used on the cover and he has captured their mood perfectly. Also, I like the way he has made the appearance of both the legionaries and the pikemen non-standardised whilst retaining evidence that he is illustrating drilled regulars in both cases. Equally well executed is the one of a Roman boarding party using a corvus (a “bridge” with a spike on the bottom that could be swung out between ships to enable the Romans to turn a sea battle into a land battle). Again, this captures the excitement and savagery of the encounter. The other six pictures cover: the siege lines at the assault on Syracuse (where Archimedes supposedly used mirrors to set the Roman fleet alight), the cavalrymen who were attached to the legion during this period, a very basically equipped legionary, a rather better equipped triarius, the enlistment process in Rome, and legionaries training. All these are nice pictures in their own right and will provide excellent references for modellers and wargamers.
I thought the book was slightly less well served by the numerous photographs accompanying the text. A great many of them seemed to be there simply because a certain number are required in each book—for example the 17th/18th C. sculpture of Hannibal and the random set of photos of modern-day locations of places at which the legions once fought. These latter are fine in a book about a particular battle but seemed a bit pointless here. However, a number of the photographs are very relevant, including details of the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus (which is shown in most books on this subject but is worth showing again as it is one of the key pieces of visual evidence we have) and various archaeological finds of swords, armour and helmets etc…
All in all this was a really informative read (despite this being a subject I have a great deal of familiarity with) with some excellent artwork. I would mainly recommend it to those less familiar with the topic as I didn’t notice any new information on the subject matter—at least not for me As previously mentioned, it would be a great guide to anyone wanting to put together a wargame of the Republican Roman period.
Review written by: Paul Robinson, Staff Writer
About Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson is a wargamer with over 30 years of experience in figure wargaming. He has interests in all things military from the Ancient Sumerians to the British Army in Afghanistan. He is an obsessive collector of books from Osprey Publishing and has contributed widely to the Field of Glory wargames rules franchise. A confirmed “Trekkie”, he also regards Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as great TV! He lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children, one cat and a large collection of wargaming figures.