Armies of the Late Roman Empire AD 284–476 History, Organization and Equipment
Gabriele Esposito
Pen & Sword
178pp, 91 coloured plates, 280 coloured drawings, two black-and-white drawings
Hardback, £19.99

As the title states, this amply illustrated book covers the years AD 284–476, a period that started with the accession of Diocletian and ended with the collapse of the western part of the Roman Empire. This was a time when the tactics and, to a lesser extent, the equipment of the Roman army changed radically.

Gabriele Esposito has written or co-authored 20 books on different periods and aspects of military history. In his latest book he sets out the origins and causes of the final military fall of the western part of the Roman Empire in detail, as well as the influence of the 'barbarian' peoples on the Roman Army.

Starting with a clear chronology, which will be helpful to those not familiar with the period, the book is then divided into four chapters, two appendices, a bibliography and a small section dealing with re-enactors.

In the first chapter, Esposito gives an overall view of the army of the principate and how it was set up. At this time the Roman army was a complicated organisation but this is covered at only a superficial level. He then goes on to look at the threat to the empire from both east and west, which meant that a change in necessary strategy brought about the wider use of mounted troops. There were also changes in the social structure of society and the distinction between citizens and this, too, had an impact on the army. Roman citizenship was granted to peoples living within the Roman Empire, which removed the distinction between legionaries and auxiliaries, who were traditionally recruited from non-Roman tribes.

The third chapter discusses how the cavalry became more prominent, how new military tactics were required, how people with different skills, such as horse archery, were recruited, and also the influence that new weapons and fighting styles had. The final chapter outlines the types of arms and armour that were used during this period.

In the first appendix, which deals with the Notitia Dignitatum, the official listing of all Roman civil and military posts, the author states that its inclusion is important in order to understand the structure of the army at the start of the 4th century, though he fails to elaborate. The second appendix shows the modern reconstruction of the weapons and equipment of the Late Roman army.

The book is full of high-quality illustrations showing re-enactors wearing modern reproductions of arms and armour, but there is not a single drawing or photograph, from the wealth of material available, of original weapons from the period. In addition, there is scant reference to the considerable body of published knowledge about original weapons, armoury and excavated artefacts. This, combined with a bibliography listing only 16 primary references and 33 secondary references, calls into question the level of scholarship of this book. However, it is easy to read and would be helpful to those new to the study of the Roman army.

David Sim

 

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