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.
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The books I picked & why

Greece and Rome at War

By Peter Connolly,

Book cover of Greece and Rome at War

Why did I love 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.

By Peter Connolly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greece and Rome at War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this sumptuous guide to twelve centuries of military development, Peter Connolly combines a detailed account of the arms and armies of Greece and Rome with his superb full-colour artwork. Making use of fresh archaeological evidence and new material on the manufacture and use of the weapons of the period, the author presents an attractive and impressive volume that is both scholarly and beautifully presented with illustrations that are, quite rightly, recognised as being the best and most accurate representation of how the soldiers from these formidable military empires appeared. Greece and Rome at War lucidly demonstrates the face of…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Adrian Goldsworthy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Roman Army at War 100 BC - AD 200 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This detailed examination of the way in which the Roman army operated during a war and how it fought a battle breaks away from existing studies, which mostly concentrate on the army in peacetime, and attempts to understand the army as an institution whose ultimate purpose was to wage war. Adrian Goldsworthy explores the influence to the Roman army's organization on its behaviour during a campaign, emphasizing its great flexibility in comparison to most of its
opponents. He considers the factors determining the result of a conflict and proposes, contrary to orthodox opinion, that the Roman army was able to…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Guy de la Bédoyère,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Praetorian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A riveting account of ancient Rome's imperial bodyguard, the select band of soldiers who wielded the power to make-or destroy-the emperors they served

Founded by Augustus around 27 B.C., the elite Praetorian Guard was tasked with the protection of the emperor and his family. As the centuries unfolded, however, Praetorian soldiers served not only as protectors and enforcers but also as powerful political players. Fiercely loyal to some emperors, they vied with others and ruthlessly toppled those who displeased them, including Caligula, Nero, Pertinax, and many more. Guy de la Bedoyere provides a compelling first full narrative history of the…

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

Why did I love 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.

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

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Landmark Julius Caesar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Landmark Julius Caesar is the definitive edition of the five works that chronicle the mil­itary campaigns of Julius Caesar. Together, these five narratives present a comprehensive picture of military and political developments leading to the collapse of the Roman republic and the advent of the Roman Empire.
The Gallic War is Caesar’s own account of his two invasions of Britain and of conquering most of what is today France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The Civil War describes the conflict in the following year which, after the death of his chief rival, Pompey, and the defeat of Pompey’s heirs and supporters,…

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

Why did I love 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.

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome, as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rome's rise to empire is often said to have owed much to the efficiency and military skill of her armies and their technological superiority over barbarian enemies. But just how 'advanced' was Roman military equipment? What were its origins and how did it evolve? The authors of this book have gathered a wealth of evidence from all over the Roman Empire - excavated examples as well as pictorial and documentary sources - to present a picture of what range of equipment would be available at any given time, what it would look like and how it would function. They examine…

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