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Rome & the Sword

How Warriors & Weapons Shaped Roman History

Simon James

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A striking new ‘bottom-up’ perspective on Roman history from the birth of Rome to the dawn of the Middle Ages, focusing on soldiers and their actions


Today ancient Rome’s army 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.

The rise of Rome depended on fearsome military prowess, backed up by an unprecedented willingness to accept conquered enemies into society as Romans. This combination of ‘the sword and the open hand’ built one of the world’s greatest empires. Yet under the emperors ‘the Roman army’ was far from the monolithic military machine that is generally assumed. The armies (plural) were multi-ethnic, often based far from Italy, and they established a military identity that quickly diverged from that of the civil centre. The soldiers could form well-disciplined fighting units, bearing murderously efficient weapons, but they were also habitually unruly, and could be as dangerous to their own citizens, to their emperors, or to each other, as to their enemies. Simon James brings thirty years’ study of Roman history and ancient military technology, and a vivid storytelling style, to this groundbreaking new account of how warriors and weapons both forged the Roman empire and sowed the seeds of its destruction.

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'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

'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

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.6 cm

Extent: 328 pp

Illustrations: 116

Publication date: 19 September 2011

ISBN: 9780500251829

Contents List

Preface; Introduction: Swords and Soldiers; Prelude: Shock and Awe: 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 Armour and Weapons: 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

About the Author

Simon James read archaeology at the London Institute of Archaeology, where he also took his PhD. He has been a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester since 2000.

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