Some people argue that the Roman Army was one of the finest armies in history. But, which one are they speaking of? The one from the days of the Republic or the one from the days of the Empire? The Roman Army: The Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World (General Military) edited by Chris McNab sorts through the days of Rome (from its early Republic days to the end of the Empire) to answer these questions.
The book is a wonderful reference guide for any Roman Republic or Empire enthusiast. It is divided into four parts: Early Republic, Late Republic, Early Empire, and Late Empire. McNab highlights the tactics and equipment used during each of these periods. In addition, he describes the major campaigns of each period. For example, he describes the tactics used by the Romans against Hannibal in his invasion of Italy, including the disastrous battle at Cannae.
The writing is fairly engaging – especially when the campaigns and tactics are discussed. You can only make a discussion on arms and armor so exciting. My only issue with the writing is the use of the metric system when describing lengths and weight. Not being used to the metric system (especially regarding weight), it was a little hard to understand the specifics of a weapon or armor. For example, I have no frame of reference for what 1.6 kilograms means (the weight of a gladius), but I do know what 3.5 pounds is.
There are hundreds of illustrations and maps sprinkled throughout the 265 pages. The illustrations show various Roman armaments, equipment, and tactics. They also depict significant historical scenes, such as Caesar’s sieges of Avaricum and Alesia. These illustrations bring life to text that would be dry without them.
I would highly recommend this book.