The Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy

Book Review by Germanicus

Having read an earlier Goldsworthy book I was expecting a small, thick, paperback style book chock full of information, but not much else…. I opened the box and then………

Ahhhhhhhhhh…..The color plates, the detailed battle layout diagrams, the translations of actual duty Rosters from Egypt, aerial photographs of siegeworks remaining at Masada, photographs of numerous soldiers and officers tombstones, engravings, some sensational illustrations and much much more.

If all this weren’t enough to peak my interest upon receiving this book, it only took reading the first page and I was hooked.

The book is divided up into five chapters as follows:- The Republican Army, The Professional Army, The Life of a Roman Soldier, The Army at War, and The Army of Late Antiquity. There are a number of detailed two plate single openings showing dispositions of forces and movements for various battles, that appear as required, and are easily understood. The book in itself is very easy to follow, both due to the way the chapters are set out, and because of the no-nonsense style Goldsworthy writes in. Probably this book could be enjoyed equally by anyone with an interest in Ancient Rome be they 10 years old, or 100.

I learnt a lot from this book, which wasn’t all that surprising seeing as it was the first dedicated Roman Army related book I had read, but it seems to me that Goldsworthy has gone out of his way to have it as up to date as possible, who’d have thought the legions in the Teutoburg Wald were wearing Lorica Segmentata?

But that’s just what they’ve found at Kalkriese. I learnt about how a scutum was constructed, how a legionary would wear his kit while marching, I learnt about what he ate…and what he liked to eat. (contrary to some popular opinion, he loved meat as well as grain). I learnt about what he did when not on active duty, and more importantly, at least to me, what he did when he was actually at war.

I also learnt something rather embarrassing. Here was I picturing the soldiers of Constantine the Great marching into Rome in their Lorica Segmentata, carrying Gladius and Pilum. Thankfully Goldsworthy included the chapter “The Army of Late Antiquity” and I was able to discover the truth, in minute detail, about what their arms and armour really consisted of.

Descriptions based on classical texts and archaeological evidence, complemented by photographs of reconstructions really brought both Roman siegecraft, and Roman fortification techniques to life. It made me frustrated (again) not to live in Europe, so I could go and see all this stuff first hand, but in my opinion Goldsworthy has showed himself to be the next best thing with this effort. Weapons, armour, rank structures, cooking utensils and equipment, footwear, cavalry and the associated kit, all is covered.

However what primarily kept me turning the page was an overwhelming sense that the men in the Legions, while soldiers, were also people. They laughed, cried, had relationships, friends and often, wives and children….thank god someone went and dug up the evidence, and presented it to me in such an informative, beautiful book.

The Complete Roman Army is a double barreled delight, a great visual resource in it’s own right, along with clear text based on first class research using ancient sources (He has a whole section on the “Polybian” Legions) and modern Archaeology.

I was kind of hoping it would not be so good, as I’d love to write a scathing hatchet job one of these days, but with Goldsworthy I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, the guy knows his stuff!

Tell us your opinion - Submit your Review - Buy the book!

Get it now!

Union Jack Complete Army for the UK