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"The Roman Soldier",
A review by Carroll Quigley in The Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Sciences, Vol. --, No. -- (December 1969),
of a book.
The Roman Soldier,
by G. R. Watson.
Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1969.

December 10, 1969


"The Roman Soldier"


The Roman Soldier.
Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969.256 pp. $7.50



   This is the eighth volume in the series Aspects of Greek and Roman Life, edited by H.H. Scullard. Like others of that series, it has the full apparatus of scholarship: the notes and appendices alone cover about one third of the book (pages 155 to 246). There are eleven distinct indices (people, subdivided into nomina, cognomina, emperors, ancient authors, and modern authors; deities; places; inscriptions; papyri; texts; and a general index). The 546 notes give references in French, German, Italian, Latin, and Greek, including the Latin originals for all quotations given in English translation in the text.

   The text itself is written in a clear and readable style, although liberally peppered with Latin words, since many terms are left in this language, including names of weapons, military ranks, and units, ceremonies, insignias, money values and other quantitative references. Obviously, anyone interested in the Roman soldier should now begin with this volume. It totally replaces Mellersh's The Roman Soldier (1965), which never was very useful.

   Some minor reservations might be expressed on organization. The volume is concerned quite narrowly with the Roman enlisted man below centurionate level, and especially with his life in the service. No effort is made to cover related subjects where adequate descriptions are already available for the reader of English. The author is not concerned with military organization or operations, nor with the soldier's relations with the civilian world. Thus his presentation is tailored around such standard works as Cheesman's The Auxilia of Roman Imperial Army (1914); Parker's The Roman Legions (1928); or Ramsey MacMullen's Soldier and Civilian in the Later Roman Empire (1963). On the other hand, he describes in some detail such matters as enlistment, training, prospects of promotion, pay, military discipline, personal life, and retirement. This volume went to press before publication of Graham Webster's The Roman Imperial Army (1969).

   Some chronological ambiguity arises from the fact that Watson deals with each of five aspects of his subject in a single chapter, attempting, without complete success, to cover the chronological changes within the chapter. Obviously, our knowledge varies greatly over the period covered, but it seems to me that Watson’s use of an analytical rather than a chronological approach tends to underemphasize, or even confuse, the very great changes which occurred. The history of the Roman soldier covered over 900 years even in the West (from about 500 B.C. to after A.D. 400), but this presentation is fairly well centered in only a third of that duration (about 100 B.C. to about A.D. 200). Thus, for example, he mentions the decision of Septimius Severus in A.D. 197 to allow soldiers to live with their "wives" in the army, but he does not deal with the ways this complicated military life, especially military transportation, in the next few centuries.

   Carroll Quigley



Scans of original review

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