Emperor Augustus Passes Away

On this day 2,000 years ago the reign of the first Roman Emperor IMPERATOR CAESAR DIVI F AVGVSTVS born Gaius Octavius ended when he passed away at the age of 75 at Nola after a short illness.  Supposedly his last words were – “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”  His reign had lasted for 41 years and he had brought true stability and peace to Rome for the first time in almost 100 years. After his death his body was transported to Rome where he was cremated and his ashes were installed in the Mausoleum he had had built on the Campus Martius for the remains of himself … Read more…

Book Review: The Medieval Fortress by J.E. & H.W. Kaufmann

The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, And Walled Cities Of The Middle Ages is a good study of the art and methods of fortifications and castles built in Eastern and Western Europe during the Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the early modern period. The book is right around 300 pages long and includes many illustrations.  It also includes a glossary, which is very helpful to those that are not familiar with the technical terms for elements of castles and fortifications. It is separated into 5 chapters, the first deals with the elements of fortification, the next three are chronological about the development of castles and the final chapter covers … Read more…

Book Review: Men, Women & War by Martin van Creveld

I picked up Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? by Martin van Creveld at the library recently because it looked like a good book about a topic I have found interesting ever since I was a private back in the early 90’s when I first joined the military.  For this debate van Creveld’s book is about as topical as it gets.  He examines the historical examples of women in combat and makes a valiant attempt to separate the fact from the fiction.  The book is separated into three sections and includes extensive source notes and an index.  It was written in 2001 so does not … Read more…

Book Review: The Roman World by Nigel Rogers

The Roman World by Nigel Rogers is one of the best surveys of the Ancient Romans I have run across in years. This is not a military history of Rome, or even a history at all. It is rather a description and explanation of Roman life and culture as we understand it was lived. The book itself is 249 pages long and divided into 12 chapters that are thematically organized. There is a small six page index but no bibliography. The lack of a bibliography does not really detract from the book because this is not meant to be a scholarly work so much as a detailed introduction to Ancient … Read more…

Book Review: Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage

Castles and Fortified Cities of Medieval Europe: An Illustrated History is a very interesting book.  I picked it up because we had a three hour bus ride to get to my son’s football game and my wife was using my Kindle.  I am certainly glad I did. This is a well written 330 page book.  It includes an index and bibliography, both unfortunately short.  The book is organized chronologically in five chapters covering fortification and castles from the 5th to the 16th century A.D.  Each chapter is further subdivided geographically and covers both eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East. There are many illustrations, both ground plans and sketches that help to illuminate the … Read more…

Book Review: Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson

Anatomy of the Castle by John Gibson is perhaps the best book describing Castles aimed at the general reader that I have ever read.  The author manages to make the somewhat technical and dry language of describing castles and their construction lovely and entertaining. It is a coffee table sized book that is jam packed with beautiful color photos of castles from all over Europe and the Middle East.  There are 200 pages with a glossary, index, and bibliography.  It is divided into 6 chronological chapters with a lengthy introduction that describes the development of the art of fortification up to the development of the first castles.  He also includes a chapter describing what living in a castle must have truly been like.  The glossary is … Read more…

Book Review: Holy Wars: 3000 Years of Battles in the Holy Land by Gary Rashba

HOLY WARS: 3000 Years of Battles in the Holy Land is one of the better primers about conflict in the Holy Land to appear within the last few years.  It consists of 17 chapters covering the initial Israelite conquest of Canaan in 1400 B.C. to the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 1982.  The more recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict is covered in the epilogue.  The work is 288 pages and includes extensive notes at the end of each chapter as well as a well sourced bibliography and index.  The Kindle edition, which is what I have, was mostly free of editing errors and the only complaint I have is … Read more…

Book Review: The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle by Michael Stephenson

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher for purposes of reviewing it. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] Michael Stephenson’s work The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle follows somewhat in the tradition of classics such a Keegan’s The Face of Battle and Victor David Hanson’s The Western Way of War. Where it differs from these two works as that while Keegan and Hanson focus on specific battles or time periods this book aims to be a more general description of the experience of combat throughout recorded history.  In that, the book is amazingly … Read more…

The Marian Legion

I haven’t touched on anything about antiquity for a while so I thought I would put this up as I have been thinking about this for the last week or two. This is the Marian Legion or the Reforms of Marius, whichever you choose to call it. These reforms are important because they set the stage for the Legion of the period of the Civil War and early Imperium, especially the time of the Pax Romana.  These reforms are probably not a direct result of the genius of Gaius Marius, he just gets credit for implementing them.  That being said, he is the one who implemented them and turned the … Read more…

Book Review: Julius Caesar: Lessons in Leadership from the Great Conqueror by Bill Yenne

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] I am someone who loves the ancients and loves reading the their stories. That being said, I am much more likely to read Caesar’s Commentaries or Plutarch’s Life of Caesar than a modern day biography derived from those sources. In fact, I have read all those ancient works, most in both English and the original Latin. This book was a pleasure to read anyway.  Bill Yenne has put together a comprehensive account of Caesar’s life that someone unfamiliar with Caesar’s exploits can … Read more…

The Battle of Zama – 202 B.C.

The Battle of Zama, fought in 202 B.C., was the culminating battle of the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. The short story of the battle is that a Roman army under Scipio met and destroyed the Carthaginian Army under Hannibal. The defeat forced the Carthaginian Senate to sue for peace and ended the war. What makes the battle interesting from my perspective is that the Roman army was outnumbered and on the offensive and still won. This is not typically what happens in warfare, especially in warfare in antiquity when numbers made a rather large difference in melee combat. One thing that makes Zama stand out is the … Read more…

Book Review: The Roman Army at War: 100 BC – AD 200 by Adrian Keith Goldsworthy

  I thought this book would be more than it turned out to be, unfortunately, I was mistaken. The author states in the forward that it is an expansion of his doctoral dissertation and it is obvious throughout that this is indeed the case. Neither that or my disappointment make this a book not worth reading though, it is in fact worth reading. The first chapter alone makes it well worth the purchase price. Dr. Goldsworthy has produced perhaps the best, and most concise description of the organization and structure of the roman army outside of Vegetius or Polybius that I have found. The book is divided into six sections … Read more…

Book Review: On Roman Military Matters by Vegetius

This little tome by the Roman scholar Flavius Vegetius Renatus was written sometime in the 5th Century A.D. and is known by several titles, the original Latin title is De re Militari but is variously known as the Epitome of Military Science and On Roman Military Matters, the copy I have uses the latter title. This is one of the few works that survived from antiquity in continuous publication, if you will. It was used as a text on military operations throughout the Middle Ages and has survived to this day. Just about every king, noble, and military leader of the Middle Ages had a copy of this book and … Read more…

Roman Infantry Attacks

I recently re-watched the movie Gladiator and was struck again by the lack of historical accuracy in films. This is the scene of which I am writing about. What strikes me about this scene is the way the Romans stood and received the charge of the Germans after marching forward of their fixed defenses. To the best of my knowledge and everything I have ever read, the Romans did not stand and receive a charge in open field battles and especially not when fighting from fixed or field fortifications. Instead, whether attacking or defending; when the enemy was within 20-30m the Legionnaires would throw their Pilums and charge or counter-charge … Read more…

Book Review: The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, translated by S.A. Hanford

The Conquest of Gaul tells the story of the Roman Conquest of what is now France, Switzerland, most of the Low Countries, and parts of present day Germany.  It was written by Julius Caesar, the Governor of the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul from 59 B.C. until he was declared Dictator of Rome in 44 B.C.  He presents a linear account of the conquest of Gaul set forth as a series of books, each book covering one year of his governorship.  The first seven books were written by Caesar himself as yearly reports to Rome.  The seventh book covering 51 B.C. was written after Caesar’s death by Aulus Hirtius who … Read more…