The best books about the Roman Army from a military historian

Lindsay Powell Author Of Augustus at War: The Struggle for the Pax Augusta
By Lindsay Powell

Who am I?

I've been fascinated by the commanders, campaigns, and capabilities of the Roman Army since I studied Latin at school and watched the Hollywood epic Spartacus. At that time, my parents bought me a copy of Peter Connolly’s Roman Army for Christmas, but I discovered where they had hidden it and I secretly read it before Christmas Day. I have retained that passion with a library of books collected over a lifetime to prove it. Now, as a historian and the author of eight books of my own, and as the news editor of Ancient History and Ancient Warfare magazines, I eagerly share the latest discoveries and insights with my readers. 

I wrote...

Augustus at War: The Struggle for the Pax Augusta

By Lindsay Powell,

Book cover of Augustus at War: The Struggle for the Pax Augusta

What is my book about?

While researching my series of biographies of Roman commanders, I became aware that the pivotal role of Augustus in the development of the Roman Army has been seriously underestimated and is generally not well known. In Augustus at War, I sought to change that. 

Caesar Augustus created the standing army funded by state financing, oversaw innovations in its arms and equipment (like the lorica segmentata), and formalised its organisation and payscales. He established the professional army, which built and defended the Roman Empire. I am very proud of this compendium, which took a lifetime to research and a decade to write.

The books I picked & why

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Greece and Rome at War

By Peter Connolly,

Book cover of Greece and Rome at War

Why this book?

It was this book that sparked my interest in the Roman Army—and I know from talking with others that it has created a host of other Roman military history buffs since its original publication.

The second and third parts of the book detail the evolution of the Roman army from its origins as a city-state militia, transforming from a legion based on maniples into one based on cohorts, and finally becoming the professional army and navy of the Caesars. 

Peter Connolly both wrote and illustrated the text. Using archaeological and epigraphic evidence he produced exquisite, painstakingly detailed paintings of arms and armour of infantry and cavalry, siege weapons, and warships. As an introduction to the subject, it has never been bettered.

Connolly was the honourary patron of The Ermine Street Guard reenactment society in which I served honourably for ten years.

The Roman Army at War 100 BC - AD 200

By Adrian Goldsworthy,

Book cover of The Roman Army at War 100 BC - AD 200

Why this book?

Adrian Keith Goldsworthy could be said to be the gold standard in histories of the Roman Empire in English. He has written several books about ancient commanders and campaigns. This thought-provoking book about the Roman Army was his PhD thesis at Oxford University. 

As a writer on Roman military matters myself, I have frequently referred to Goldsworthy’s study. Inspired by John Keegan's revisionist landmark book Face of Battle, Goldsworthy draws upon Classical sources covering 300 years—Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Polybius, Plutarch, Flavius Josephusto present his interpretation of how the Roman army actually “waged war”. The extensive footnotes point to other writers and evidence for further personal study.

Praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome's Imperial Bodyguard

By Guy de la Bédoyère,

Book cover of Praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome's Imperial Bodyguard

Why this book?

I was recently asked to record a podcast for Dan Snow’s History Hit on the Praetorian Cohorts (AKA Praetorian Guard). Being away from my home library, I downloaded a Kindle edition of Guy de la Bédoyère’s book to refresh my memory. 

This is a first-rate study of the Praetorian Cohorts, from their inception to their demise. De la Bédoyère is best known as a Roman historian on Channel 4 TV’s Time Team. He knows his sources and draws extensively on them to enliven his text; he tells stories about Guard prefects and the emperors’ growing reliance on them to attain, and then hold on to, power. 

The history, organisation, and role of the Praetorian Cohorts are essential to understanding the Roman Army. This is a fine book to start that study.

The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works: Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War

By Kurt A. Raaflaub (editor), Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Book cover of The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works: Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War

Why this book?

If you want to witness the Roman Army in action, read Julius Caesar, the masterly commander who led it to victory on so many battlefields. This volume in the excellent Landmark series contains all the ‘after action reports’ of Julius Caesar’s campaigns (in his own words supplemented with accounts by his adjutants).

The new translations of the Commentaries on the wars in Gaul, Africa, Spain, Greece, and Egypt in this collection are highly accessible. I recently edited a new volume on Julius Caesar and included in it extracts from older translations of his Commentaries: with its maps and notes, The Landmark Julius Caesar helped me clarify some ambiguities in the text I was working with. 

Hefty but handsomely produced, this volume is an instant heirloom.

Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome,

By M.C. Bishop, J. C. N. Coulston,

Book cover of Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome,

Why this book?

To understand the Roman Army as it changed through time, studying the arms and armour used by its soldiers is essential. 

Archaeologists Mike Bishop and Jon Coulston explain the evidence upon which interpretations of Roman arms and armour are made, and then examine equipment from five historical periods from 200 BC to AD 400. The book is illustrated throughout with 154 exquisite line drawings—of helmets, daggers, spearblades, swords, and scabbards—allowing direct comparisons of the material. There are also 8 plates of particular artefects, which augment the text. 

As a veteran of The Ermine Street Guard, I know that Roman period re-enactors will find this book especially valuable as a source when researching particular military items.

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