Books on the Roman Empire

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Roman Empire
General Works
The Roman Army
Roman Wars
Contemporary Accounts

Books - Roman Empire

General Works

Byzantium Triumphant - The Military History of the Byzantines 959-1025, Julian Romane. Looks at the military (and to a lesser extent political) history of Byzantium during the lifetime of Basil II Porphrogenitus (the Bulgar Slayer). Tells an interesting story that really brings Byzantine society alive, although perhaps at the cost of skating over some of the complexities of some of the sources Byzantine history. This was a period that saw Medieval Byzantium at its most powerful, despite the rather convoluted series of civil wars that dominate the first part of the book! [read full review]
Brutus - Caesar's Assassin, Kirsty Corrigan. A well balanced biography of Brutus, one of the more consistent defenders of the Roman Republic, and famously one of Caesar's assassins on the Ides of March. Paints a picture of a man of generally high moral standards (with some flaws in financial matters), but also an over-optimistic plotter, who failed to make any realistic plans for the aftermath of the assassination. Does a good job of tracing Brutus's fairly obscure early years, as well as distinguishing between later legends and historically likely events [read full review]
Alesia - The Final Struggle for Gaul, Nic Fields. A useful history of the siege and associated battles that secured Caesar's conquest of Gaul and ended Vercingetorix's revolt, the first (and only) time that the Gallic tribes united against Caesar. Starts with a history of Vercingetorix's revolt and the earlier failed siege of Gergova, before moving onto the climatic siege of Alesia, the massive Gallic relief effort and its defeat by Caesar. A good account of this siege, supported by excellent maps showing the besieged town and its surroundings. [read full review]
Rome Seizes the Trident - The Defeat of Carthaginian Seapower & the Forging of the Roman Empire, Marc G. Desantis. Looks at the way in which Rome seized control of the western Mediterranean from the long established naval power of Carthage, and then maintained that power for the rest of the Punic Wars, as well as tracing the impact of Roman naval power on the wider course of the conflict. Also asks why Carthage was unable to respond to the Roman naval challenge, rarely winning a naval battle during the First Punic War and not mounting a serious challenge at all during the Second [read full review]
Rome Spreads Her Wings - Territorial Expansion between the Punic Wars, Gareth C. Sampson. Focuses on Rome's other wars in the period of the first two Punic Wars, including the first expansion east across the Adriatic into Greece and the Balkans and the conquest of Gallic northern Italy. This is a difficult period, with limited sources as ancient authors either concentrated on the more glamorous wars against Carthage, or have been lost to us. Sampson does a good job of guiding us through the difficult sources for this period, often providing alternative versions of key events, complete with their supporting sources. A useful book that helps fill a gap in the military history of Rome [read full review]
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Roman Military Disasters - Dark Days and Lost Legions, Paul Chrystal. Looks at Rome's military defeats, from the earliest wars within the Italian peninsula, through the great wars of expansion and the defence of the Empire, to the disasters of the fifth century and the first two sacks of Rome since the Celts almost at the start of Roman history. A useful book, although it does sometimes lose its focus a little, and in sections is more of a general military history of Rome [read full review]
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The Nisibis War - The Defence of the Roman East AD 337-363, John S. Harrel . Looks at the lengthy conflict between the Romans and the Persian Emperor Shapur II, for possession of provinces lost to the Romans in 298. Covers the successful defensive strategy of Constantius II and the disastrous invasion of Persia led by the Emperor Julian, as well as the frequent civil wars that plagued the Roman Empire. A valuable look at one of the last major external wars fought before the fall of the Western Empire. [read full review]
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Military History of Late Rome 284-361, Ilkka Syvänne. Focuses on the successful Imperial recovery under Diocletian, Constantine the Great, Constantius II and their various co-rulers and rivals. Starts with a series of lengthy chapters looking at the Empire, its army and its neighbours, before moving onto the narrative account of a period in which the Roman Empire held its own against enemies that threatened from all sides, despite an apparently constant stream of civil wars [read full review]
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Mark Antony - A Plain Blunt Man, Paolo de Ruggiero . Nice to have a biography devoted to Mark Antony in his own right rather than as part of someone else's story, but be aware that the author is very biased in favour of Mark Antony and rather stretches the evidence to make his case. Readable and the author knows his sources, but would be better without the bias. [read full review]
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Sulla - A Dictator Reconsidered, Lynda Telford. An interesting but very biased biography of the Roman leader Sulla, the first to lead his own army against the city of Rome. Not idea for someone new to the topic, who would come away with a very one sided view of the period, but will be of interest to someone with more background knowledge. [read full review]
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The Rise of Imperial Rome AD 14-193, Duncan B. Campbell. Looks at the long series of border wars that saw the Roman Empire continue to expand during the two centuries after the death of Augustus. Traditionally seen as the period of the 'Pax Romana', this book demonstrates that this was actually a period of near continuous warfare. [read full review]
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Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume VII Issue 6. The Reluctant Warlord: The Wars of Marcus Aurelius. Looks at the career and writings of the famous philosopher emperor, who wrote books of consoling stoic philosophy while fighting a brutal war on the German borders (one of the few later Emperors to make an impact on the modern imagination, as seen in Gladiator). [see more]

Roman Conquests: Egypt and Judaea, John D. Grainger. Looks at the last major Roman successes in the East, the conquests of Syria and Egypt, famous for the involvement of Caesar, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony and for the Jewish Revolt that led to the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. Demonstrates that these conquests were far more complex than their popular image, and helps explain why the Empire didn’t expand any further. [read full review]

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Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume VII Issue 4 . Movement and supply: Logistics and the army train. Looks at how the realities of supplying an army impacted on warfare in the Ancient World, covering a wide range of topics from Assyria and Babylon to the mobile late Roman army. Also looks at the warrior in Greek lyric poetry and the nature of Mithraism.. [see more]
If Rome Hadn't Fallen, Timothy Venning. Counter-factual history that looks at how the fall of the Western Roman Empire might have been avoided and what the long term consequences of that might have been. Combines some interesting credible thoughts with wilder speculation including Roman colonies in the Americans. A fun read for those who enjoy counter-factual history [read full review]
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Eager for Glory: The untold story of Drusus the Elder, Conqueror of Germany, Lindsay Powell. A useful biography of an important figure during the birth of Imperial Rome, a stepson of Augustus, successful general who conquered the area just to the north of the Alps and campaigned in Germany, where he reached the Elbe, and a skilled administrator and even an explorer. [read full review]
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Ancient Warfare Vol VII, Issue 3: Conquerors of Italy: The Early Roman Republic.. Focuses on the centuries of warfare that saw Rome grow from a small city-state dominated by its Etruscan neighbours into the only power left in mainland Italy and one on the verge of bursting out into the rest of the Ancient world.  An interesting selection of articles on this pivotal but fairly obscure period of Roman history. [read full review]
Ancient Warfare Vol VII, Issue 2: Struggle for control: Wars in ancient Sicily. Focuses on the series of wars between Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and native Sicilians that turned Sicily into a battleground in the centuries before the eventual Roman conquest, with good coverage of the wars between the Greek and Punic settlers and the tyrants that ruled for so long. Also looks at Roman ownership marks, attempts to avoid service in the Legions and Alexander's victory at the Granicus. [read full review]
Edge of Empire: Rome's Frontier on the Lower Rhine, Jona Lendering and Arjen Bosman. An interesting look at the history of the Low Countries and nearby areas during the Roman Empire, when they formed part of the border of the Roman world. The authors paint a picture of a largely prosperous area that survived the fall of Rome better than most, but that was vulnerable to attack from across the Rhine. [read full review]
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Greece and Rome at War, Peter Connolly. An excellent military history of Ancient Greece and Rome, including an outline of military events and a detailed examination of the organisation and equipment of the armies of the period, based on a mix of documentary evidence, art and archaeology, hands-on reconstructions and visits to the battlefields. [read full review]
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Roman Warships, Michael Pitassi. Takes an interesting approach to the problem of reconstructing Roman warships, beginning with artistic and literary sources, moving onto a detailed plan based on the known limits of rowers and ending by constructing accurate models to see if the plan actually works in practise. The results are fascinating and his arguments very convincing. [read full review]
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Ancient Warfare Vol VI, Issue 1: From heroes to hoplites: Warfare in Archaic Greece. Looks at the nature of warfare as described by Homer and the differences between the heroic conflict portrayed in the Iliad and the hoplite warfare of classical Greece. Also looks at the origins of the hoplite and the phalanx, an apparently endless debate. [read full review]
Ancient Warfare Volume V Issue 5: Securing seas and shores: Fleets of the Roman Empire. Focuses on the Roman navy, the less famous branch of the Roman military but still an important part of the military machine that protected the Empire and the Emperor. Also looks at the death of Alexander the Great, a Scythian helmet and the space needed by Roman and Macedonian troops. [read full review]
Roman Conquests: Asia Minor, Syria and Armenia, Richard Evans. A study of the series of wars that saw the Romans defeat the Seleucid Empire, gain control of much of Asia Minor and then fight a series of costly wars against Mithridates VI of Pontus, a conflict that took them further east than ever before, into Armenia. [read full review]
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Ancient History Vol V Issue 2: Swords around the throne: Bodyguards of kings and emperors. Focuses on royal bodyguards, from the biblical guards of King David, to possible guards for the kings of Sparta, the guards of Alexander the Great and his successors in Egypt and on to the Praetorian Guard. . [read full review]
Ancient Warfare Vol V Issue 3: The last great enemy: Rome and the Sassanid Empire. This issue of Ancient Warfare Magazine focuses on Sassanid Persia, the last great civilised opponent of Rome (and a major opponent for the early Byzantines). Includes an overview of the Sassanid era, a look at the role of their army, an examination of their many victories over the Romans, and a reconstruction of one type of Sassanid soldier. [read full review]

Ancient Warfare Magazine: Volume IV, Issue 5, Fighting for the Gods: Warfare and ReligionAncient Warfare Vol V Issue 1: The 'new man' who saved Rome: Gaius Marius at War. An examination of the career of one of the great military and political leaders of the late Republic, looking at his military achievements, the innovations attributed to him and the political background to his rise and career. Also looks at professionalism under Alexander the Great and the role of the chariot on the battlefield. [see more]

Ancient Warfare Magazine: Volume IV, Issue 5, Fighting for the Gods: Warfare and ReligionAncient Warfare Magazine: Volume IV, Issue 5, Fighting for the Gods: Warfare and Religion. All but one of the articles are focused on the central theme, while still covering a very wide range of time and of topics, from the first introduction of religion into warfare in Ancient Persia to the conversion of the Frankish king Clovis almost at the end of antiquity. [see more]

Ancient Warfare Special Issue 2010: Core of the Legion - The Roman Imperial centuria. Ancient Warfare Special 2010 - Core of the Legion, The Roman Imperial centuria. Special issue looking at the early Imperial century, the best known sub-unit of the Roman Legion. Articles look at the organisation, equipment and battlefield role of the century and the careers of their centurions, as well as a fascinating look at the fragmentary administrative documents that have survived. [see more]

Ancient Warfare Vol IV, Issue 3, Justinian's fireman: Belisarius and the Byzantine EmpireAncient Warfare Vol IV, Issue 3, Justinian's fireman: Belisarius and the Byzantine Empire. A look at the life and times of Belisarius, one of the most talented generals to serve the Byzantine Empire and a man who came close to restoring the Western Empire, conquering North Africa, Italy and parts of Spain, and recovering Rome for the Empire. [see more]

Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume IV Issue 1 . A multitude of peoples: Before Rome ruled Italy. Focusing on the many different peoples who inhabited Italy before the Roman conquest, from their near neighbours in Etruria to the Greek cities of southern Italy, this edition of Ancient Warfare magazine gives us a glimpse of an unfamiliar version of Ancient Italy . [see more]
Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume III Issue 6 . Carnyx, cornu and signa: Battlefield communications. With its main focus on military signals and standards this issue of Ancient Warfare magazine looks at the evolution of the battle standard from Persian to Roman times, and the various methods used to issue commands across the ancient battlefield, including musical instruments. Also includes a look at late Roman battle tactics, and the battle of Cunaxa. [see more]
Gladiator: Rome's Bloody Spectacle, Konstantin Nossov. An English translation and update of a Russian original, looking at the development and equipment of the gladiator, the different types of gladiator and how their fought, the rise of the dedicated amphitheatre, and finishing with a look at the difficulties of hosting a gladiatorial games, and the routine on the day of the games itself. [read full review]
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Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume III Issue 1. This is the first magazine that we have reviewed, and contains a wide-ranging selection of articles looking at the role of the mercenary in ancient warfare, from the Nubian archers of the Pharaohs to the Germanic auxiliaries of the later Roman Empire. These are well written articles aimed at the educated general reader with an interest in the topic, with a focus on the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. [see more]
Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume III Issue 3 . This edition focuses on the individual heroic warrior, both in reality and in Homer. There is a good mix of articles, looking at Homer's work, its influence on Philip II and Alexander the Great, the shield of Achilles, Achaean armour, awards for bravery in the Roman army, the berserker and two interesting but little known sources. This is a good mix of interesting well written articles. [see more]

The Roman Army

Roman Soldier vs Germanic Warrior - 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell. Focuses on one of the most famous defeats suffered by the Romans, in the Teutoburg Pass, and the Roman attempts to get revenge on the German leader Arminius and his allies. Interesting to see how well the German foot were able to cope with the Roman Legions, even capable of facing them in formal lines of battle for short periods [read full review]
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Handbook of Roman Legionary Fortresses, M.C. Bishop. An impressive gazetteer of the permanent Legionary Fortress of the Roman Empire, with details of location, layout, plans and a list of documentary sources for each of the locations. Also includes a useful introduction that examines the nature of the fortresses and the evidence for their use and design. [read full review]
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Byzantine Imperial Guardsman 925-1025: The Tághmata and Imperial Guard, Raffaele d'Amato. Looks at the colourful and very varied units that formed the Byzantine Imperial Guard and the main field army during one of that Empire's most successful periods. Ranges from long established units inherited from the Roman Empire to newer units such as the Varangian Guard and even a powerful fleet based at Constantinople. [read full review]
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Lost Legion Rediscovered: The Mystery of the Theban Legion, Donald O'Reilly. An attempt to find an historical basis for the story of a martyred legion that was first mentioned in an account written by the Bishop of Lyon in 383 after the discovery of a mass grave. Cleverly argued, with the evidence examined in some detail. [read full review]
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Imperial General – The Remarkable Career of Petellius Cerialis, Philip Matyszak. A rare example of a biography of a general of Imperial Rome who wasn't either the Emperor or his heir. Cerialis fought against Boudicca, took part in the civil wars that brought his relative Vespasian to the throne, helped restore the Roman position on the Rhine and was then a successful general and governor in Britain. [read full review]
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The Complete Roman Army, Adrian Goldsworthy. A very good history of the Roman army from the early Republic to the end of the Empire.
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The Roman Army of the Principate, 27 BC-AD 117, Nic Fields. This entry in the Battle Orders series looks at the Roman army during the Principate – the period that started with the rise of Augustus and that saw the establishment of the Pax Romana. Fields looks at the organization, equipment, battlefield tactics and command and control of the army, and concludes the book with a look at the campaigns fought by the army, and four key battles – Saltus Teutoburgiensis, the defeat of Boudicca, the second battle of Cremona and Mons Graupius. [see more]
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Arms and Armour of the Imperial Roman Soldier, From Marius to Commodus, 112 BC-AD 192, Raffaele d'Amato and Graham Sumner. A very impressive, hugely detailed, well organised and comprehensively illustrated look at the equipment of the Roman Soldier of the late Republic and early Empire, covering the arms, armour, cloths and symbols of the Roman infantry, cavalry, naval and auxiliary forces. [read full review]
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Roman Wars

Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare VIII Issue 5: Rebellion against the Empire: The Jewish-Roman Wars. Focuses on the three major Jewish revolts of 66-135 AD, in which the Romans struggled successful to overcome determined Jewish resistance, and each of which resulted in worse hardships for the Jews within the Roman Empire. Most articles look at the first revolt, but there is one each on the second and third, as well as a look at the possible use of dogs in Greek warfare and on Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian coastal satrapies [see more]
Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare VIII Issue 6: The Savage Captor: Taken Captive, the Roman conquest of Greece. . Looks at the series of wars that saw the Romans go from minor players in the far west to the dominant power in Greece, after a series of wars considered to be unusually savage by Greek historians. Includes articles on the reasons the Romans were seen as so brutal, their equipment, and the key battle of Cynoscephalae. [see more]
AD69 Emperors, Armies and Anarchy, Nic Fields . A good account of the brutal Roman Civil War of AD 69, the Year of Four Emperors, somewhat marred by a series of unrelated digressions on modern politics. The main text follows each emperor in turn, an effective layout once you realise what's going on.  [read full review]
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Roman Conquests: Gaul, Michael M. Sage. Briefly covers the conquest of the Gaul's of northern Italy and the province in southern France, but most of the book focuses on Caesar's conquest of Gaul, as famously documented by Caesar himself. Other sources are used when possible, so this is more than just a reworking of the Gallic Wars, and is a useful entry in this series. [read full review]
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Stilicho, the Vandal who Saved Rome, Ian Hughes. A study of the life and times of Flavius Stilicho, a half-Roman half-Vandal soldier and politician who struggled to preserve the Western Roman Empire in the last decades before the sack of Rome in 410 AD. Hughes includes some very useful material on the wider Roman world and army, making this a very useful book. [read full review]
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The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius, Gareth C. Sampson. A study of a forgotten crisis of the Roman Republic, threatened by wars in Gaul, Macedonia and North Africa, and by a series of massive defeats at the hands of the Cimbri. Rome was saved by Marius, the first of a series of soldier-statesmen who eventually overthrew the Republic. [read full review]
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Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece, Philip Matyszak. A lucid account of the eighty years that saw the Romans go from virtually unknown outsiders in Greece to become the dominate power in the peninsula having beaten the Macedonians in a series of devastating victories that helped established the superiority of the Legions over the Phalanx [read full review]
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Try Ancient Warfare magazine for 6 months. Click to subscribeAncient Warfare Volume III Issue 5 . The Imperial Nemesis: Rome vs. Parthia. An interesting set of articles that look at the clash between Rome and her eastern neighbours in the Parthian Empire, including articles on Trajan's Parthian War, the armed diplomacy begun by Augustus and the famous Parthian bow. Variety comes with an article on the Athenian general Myronides, and a look at the Breviarum of Festus. [see more]
Roman Conquests: Italy, Ross Cowan. A look at the Roman conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the series of wars that saw Rome transformed from a small city state in central Italy into a power that was on the verge of conquering the ancient Mediterranean world. A lack of contemporary sources makes this a difficult period to write about, but Cowan has produced a convincing narrative without ignoring some of the complexity.

[read full review]
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Actium 31 BC, Downfall of Antony and Cleopatra, Si Sheppard. Despite its title this book actually looks at the entire course of the rivalry between Octavian and Mark Antony, tracing their rivalry from the temporary peace patched up at Brundisium in 40 BC to the eventual outbreak of open war and the decisive battle at Actium. Sheppard also includes a chapter on the evolution of the ancient warship, while still finding the space to cover Actium itself in some detail. This is one of the stronger entries in the campaign series and a well structured and informative look at a key period in Roman history. [see more]
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Ancient Warfare Special Issue 2009: The Varian Disaster – the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. A good selection of articles to mark the 2000th anniversary of one of the most significant battles in European history. The articles cover the earlier Roman conquests in Germany, the Roman and German armies, the battle itself, a look at the battlefield and at the aftermath of the battle. [see more]

Contemporary Accounts

The Gallic War , Julius Caesar. One of the great works of western civilisation. Caesar was an almost unique example of a great general who was also a great writer. The Gallic War is a first hand account of Caesar's conquest of Gaul, written at the time to explain and justify his actions.
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Garrison Life at Vindolanda: A Band of Brothers, Anthony Birley. One of the most significant survivals from the Roman world are the Vindolanda tablets, wooden letters that survived at the site of a fort on Hadrians Wall. These tablets provide a truly unique insight into the everyday life of the Roman army in the early empire.
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