Roman Army

Christopher J. Fuhrmann

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Roman Army

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Compared with those who study modern military history, historians of Roman civilization (roughly 500 bce to 500 ce) have very few sources to work with. There is no detailed census data, few ancient archives, and few soldiers’ letters home. The vast majority of everything written in antiquity has perished. Archaeological remains are difficult to interpret, and even the precise location of many important battles is unknown. What literary sources do exist are almost always one sided and written long after the events they describe, sometimes by littérateurs with no personal experience of war. To make matters worse, serious study of the Roman army requires mastery of not one but of at least two difficult ancient languages, for a great many sources are written in Greek. Meanwhile, on any given historical problem in Roman military studies, one will need to consult untranslated scholarship that continues to be published in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Roman army specialists also find themselves dipping into other subfields, such as archaeology, art history, computer applications, epigraphy, law, literary analysis, numismatics, papyrology, and textual criticism (correcting errors of the medieval copyists), not to mention the need to learn additional languages (e.g., Hebrew) as one’s research develops. So doing ancient Roman military history is difficult, and it is only getting more difficult as the field becomes more interdisciplinary. Students and nonspecialists can learn a great deal about the Roman army by reading the right kinds of books and articles, namely those written by responsible experts who have devoted decades to mastering the difficult source material. Other forms of media may be entertaining, but they are not trustworthy if one wants to be confident of learning good information. Enthusiasts who learn solely by consuming popular media (some books by commercial presses, magazines, television documentaries, movies, DVD commentaries, websites, chat boards, and video games—even when these involve the participation of credible academics) are likely to absorb a great deal of misinformation, despite feeling knowledgeable and well informed. Although a wide variety of works is included here, this bibliography focuses on recent books by professional historians of the ancient world. It was drafted independently of M. C. Bishop’s “Roman Military” article in Oxford Bibliographies in Classics. Overlap between the two lists is minimal, and Bishop’s thorough, excellent coverage of all things archaeological is not duplicated here. Bishop is also more generous in citing articles and older seminal works. Readers will benefit from comparing both bibliographies, and thereby learn more about a multifaceted aspect of Roman civilization, which has proven to be an inexhaustible source of interest. Unless otherwise noted, the publications listed in this article should be useful to specialists and nonspecialists alike.

Article.  14728 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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