The Roman Soldier by G. R. Watson

Book Review by Ursus

This book was first written in 1969, and for that reason I'm sure there are more up-to-date treatises of the Roman military. The reason I was attached to this particular treatment of the subject was its focus.

It does not delve into minute descriptions of martial tactics or epic battles; plenty of other volumes accomplish that. Rather, Watson explores the subject of the typical Roman soldier himself and his experiences through recruitment to discharge. The point here is to acquaint ourselves with the man behind the armor and see military service through his eyes.

The first chapter of the book is an introduction detailing the author's purpose and methods. We also find a brief rundown of the various units that comprised the imperial military. Next we see the soldier as he first enters imperial service, a green but enthusiastic recruit. He is given some preliminary pay and receives his first tastes to the world that will own him for many years.

The recruit soon becomes a soldier, with extensive training and then various duties and campaigns. From here Watson takes a chapter to explore the conditions of imperial military service, with both their dark and triumphant sides. A short and interesting chapter follows discussing the role of religion and marriage to a Roman soldier. Finally, the author assesses the Roman soldier's impact on greater society.

The last third of the book is devoted to extensive footnotes. Here the reader can check the author's sources and find inspiration for further study. There are plenty of black and white photographs to enliven the reading with some visual aids. The author writes in a style that is clear and erudite without being totally dry. His attempt to humanize the individual behind the faceless legions largely succeeds. The reader will garner a better sense of the individual soldier's contribution to Western Civilization.

Those Romanophiles extensively schooled in Roman military affairs may find little here of worth. Those who want an introduction to the Roman military may otherwise find this a valuable read, especially if they want a more humanistic perspective as opposed to a military science perspective.

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