L'Esercito Romano: Armamento ed Organizzazione, Volume 1-3 by Giuseppe Cascarino

Book Review by J.W. Medhurst

While many have already written about the Roman army, and I'm sure many will do so again, this highly researched piece provides an enormous wealth of knowledge. Although currently only available in the original Italian version, and more of a gathering of information than a provider of much new insight, it does what it sets out to do very well. Giuseppe Cascarinos experience in experimental archaeology and work with reenacters has given him a rare insight into the world of the Roman soldier.

His work is divided into 3 volumes, the first being the archaic and republican period, the second the high empire (to the Severan dynasty), and the third the decline (the military anarchy to the fall of the west).

He starts each section by providing a historical overview, such as explaining the reforms of Marius at the end of the republican period, and the reforms of Diocletian and later Constantine to deal with the greater barbarian threats. This helps to give it a very good contextualisation and helps clearing up some of the reasoning behind the changes.

His research/ideas are well thought out and developed. For example the way he calculates and extrapolates information; if we know the pay of the individual types of soldier we can multiply by the number to reach the cost to maintain a legion and go further to work out the cost for the entire military body. Similarly when calculating logistics and provisions, he calculates the food requirement per soldier and then expands to work out the requirements for a legion. He then adds the equipment, fodder for beasts of burden, and goes on to calculate the weight each soldier and type of animal can carry.

Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach and Cascarini shows this in incredible detail. Explaining what food stuffs were eaten, how they were carried, prepared and the quantities necessary to provide for an army (and its animals). He then goes on to discuss the other supplies carried, such as construction and foraging tools, cooking utensils, clothing, medical equipment, and of course weaponry. I would have expected him to talk about the weapons and armour a little bit more though. It was well researched and prepared, but in the context of the whole work, rather too short and limited. There was no real development or explanation, more just a quick description of what they carried, and not claiming to be an expert, I had already heard of the gladius, pilum and lorica segmentata and was hoping for a little explanation of why it was used as well as how and why the weapons changed over time.

I found the sections on combat techniques’ and tactics and strategy particularly, interested. He explains the fighting style of the legions, with illustrations and pictures of modern reenactors. He also explains the formations and battle deployments, which units were up front, who was on the wings, etc. Also things like marching order and even an interesting comparison between the ranges of different artillery and ballistic and siege weapons. This was my favourite part of the book. It was excellently put together, well explained and well illustrated. As well as the more famous ballistae and scorpions, he goes into great detail about rams, mining equipment, siege works, towers and even ladders. I really felt I learned a lot from this chapter.

The first and second volumes go into incredible detail in the construction and organisation of marching camps and how they developed over time, while the third talks more about the permanent camps and their defences and enlargements set out under the reforms of Diocletian (this is actually a focus of another of Cascarini's books). He does more than just describe a military machine though and tries to show us something of the daily life of the soldiers. Training, working, foraging, guard duty, etc. As well as talking about the nitty gritty pay, punishments, recruitment, rewards, rights, dismissal and retirement. He also discusses how long they served, how many died, how and why. For this he quotes a range of ancient texts to show the legal and practical side.

There are also vast appendices, with lists of troop numbers and deployments; historical events; lists of emperors; key terminology; calendars; weights and measures; and even notes on classical metallurgy and a copy of the notitia dignitatum (diplomatic missions). It also provides an extensive list of classical authors for follow up research. The second volume, the high empire, has the most clarity and the greatest amount of information, unsurprisingly as it is the period with the most available information. Parts of the book are rather dull, like the pages and pages of pictures and descriptions of helmets, which almost drove me to tears, but the amateur historian can skip through these and find some really interesting nuggets of information. Further on, I found the book a little lacking when it came to the auxiliaries, but then as the writer says, they are more varied, and less documented.

While a little dry for the amateur this book does offer a lot of information at least some of which will provide interest, and it is an extremely useful source for research.

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