Rome and the Sword

Rome & the Sword

How Warriors & Weapons Shaped Roman History

  1. Simon James
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  • ISBN 9780500251829
  • 23.40 x 15.60 cm
  • Hardback
  • 328pp
  • 116 Illustrations, 13 in colour
  • First published 2011
‘… this is not a dry history of swords and spears, for James has managed to create a social history of Rome’s soldiery ’ – Good Book Guide
‘Written with elegance and economical precision … highly readable … excellent and plentiful illustrations … All in all, this book is an excellent new history of the military rise and fall of Rome, combining both width and depth with accuracy while being pleasant to read and never boring … highly recommended’ – Ancient Warfare

Today Rome’s military is admired either as guardian of a brilliant civilization, or reviled as a brutal instrument of imperialism. The story of Rome and the sword seems a familiar one; yet it is in fact a modern myth obscuring a very different reality. Rome’s military was no ‘war machine’ made up of mindless cogs. There was not even an ancient term for ‘the Roman Army’; rather, Romans spoke of ‘the soldiers’ – of men, not institutions.

Simon James provides a striking new ‘bottom-up’ perspective on Roman history, focusing on soldiers and their actions. This groundbreaking narrative sweeps from the birth of Rome to the dawn of the Middle Ages.

Through the story of the sword – both as supreme, bloodstained exemplar of technology and metaphor of imperial power – we learn the violent reality of Rome’s rule. Her soldiers were less sentinels of civilization than enforcers for aristocrats and autocrats against foreign foes and internal dissent alike. They were brutal and unruly, prone to mutiny and rebellion. How, then, to account for their sustained success and ultimate failure?

Rome’s dominion was achieved through soldiers’ ferocity and excellent weaponry, but to maintain it the conquered had to be integrated; diplomacy accompanied the threat of the sword. Allies and subjects became Romans themselves – millions through military service, bringing with them new arms and tactics. Yet the soldiers’ aggression inadvertently precipitated the rise of enemies in the east and the north who would ultimately bring the empire to its knees.

    • Preface
    • Introduction: Swords and Soldiers
    • Prelude: Shock and Aw – The Unexpected Rise of Rome
    • 1 Forging the Roman Sword: The Republic to 270 BC
    • 2 Obsessed with Victory: The Imperial Republic 270-30 BC
    • 3 'Our Weapons and Armour': The Earlier Empire 30 BC-AD 167
    • 4 Deadly Embraces The Middle Empire: 167-269
    • 5 Empire of the Soldiers: Forging the Dominate 269-376
    • 6 Swords of God: Extinctions and Transformations 376-565
    Conclusion: Rome and the Sword
    Timeline, Notes, Bibliography, Sources of Illustrations, Index

Dr Simon James is an archaeologist, author and illustrator who has studied the world of ancient Rome, especially its weapons, warriors and warfare, for thirty years. He is currently Reader in Archaeology in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. His previous publications include Exploring the World of the Celts, The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention?, and Excavations at Dura-Europos, Final Report VII, the Arms and Armour, and other Military Equipment.