Guy de la Bedoyère
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This is a well researched book which studies the Roman Soldier, how he was recruited, paid, led and how he retired. While battles do form, part of life their service was not just one battle after another, so this looks at the life of the soldier. Much of what remains is written by officers but information on gravestones and monuments gives the author much information about how soldiers lived.

The book is titled ‘Gladius’ purely as this was the weapon carried by most Roman soldiers during the course of their domination. It is not the main thrust of the book but is about the man who thrust it forward.

The importance of the army is explained and how Emperors and generals kept their troops happy, often through bribes. The different types of Legionary are discussed. Infantry, the main body, cavalry, Auxiliaries and the Praetorian Guard. There is also an explanation of the Cohortes Vigilum, the city based men who were a mix of soldier, watchman and fire fighter.

When not engaged in warfare the soldiers have to be found work to do to keep them busy. This is explained through describing some quiet areas that saw little fighting for extended periods leading to either a very unfit, unwilling to fight Legion or one that finds mischief for idle hands leading to lawlessness and mutiny. Punishment for this latter action was very straightforward – death.

We are also shown that the Roman soldier of ancient times was in many ways just like his contemporary today. The subjects that concerned him were Pay, Promotion and Pensions – anyone recognise this. Another area was leave of absence. Not normally given to the ordinary soldier but efforts were made to bring entertainment to the troops.

Leaving the Legion could be done in several ways. Death, incapacity through wounding or illness, retirement at the end of their engagement either honourably or otherwise. Troops who did their 20-25 years service, to be completed by the age of 45 could look forward to a pension and often some land. They could choose to go home or stay near their Legion settlement. Often the best soldiers were persuaded to re-engage as veterans and take on duties commensurate with their rank and experience. There are examples of men in continuous service, whether as a Legionnaire or as a Veteran up to their 65th birthday – or often when they died in post.

Soldiers were considered to be doing their duty towards Rome so had a status in society, although they were very often never to see Rome.

For the enthusiastic follower of the Roman Army, whether in fiction or fact, this book will give a fantastic and fascinating look at how soldiers were at that time, and how they were so similar to today’s modern professional soldier.

This is a brilliant book which will sit well on any bookshelf of the ancient army enthusiast for both to read and understand the Roman soldier and to dip in over the years as a point of reference. The book ends with extensive Notes, and Appendixes which give yet more detail about the Roman Army and its men. There is so much in this book that I could not possibly cover in a short review and I have missed huge areas of Roman Army life, so a good reason to get hold of the book yourself.

I have no hesitation in giving 5/5 Mr MRHs for this book.

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