Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual by Philip Matyszak

Anyone writing historical fiction or non-fiction about ancient Rome would do well to read Legionary, the Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. This book tells all of the ins and outs of the Roman army-recruitment, training, gear, working conditions, benefits and drawbacks, possible assignments and promotion opportunities, various places you may be sent to, characteristics of possible enemies, survival tactics, sieges and battles. Basically everything you may want to know before committing yourself to a 25 year stint in the Roman Army.
All of this information is imparted in a light and breezy manner with frequent snarky comments, but the result is that the reader will acquire an intimate knowledge of the entire Roman military system and why it was so successful for so many centuries.
The manual is based upon the Roman Army of ca 100 A.D., under the Emperor Trajan. This is at a time when Trajan is intent upon subduing the Dacians. The Dacians inhabited what is now Romania, and Trajan was so successful in subduing them that to this day the Romanians speak a language very similar to Latin. Aside from the Dacians, other barbarians that the Roman legionary might expect to meet on the battlefield are Gauls, Picts, Germans, Berbers and Numidians, Panonians, Parthians, and Judeans.
As for Judeans, the author says: “Perhaps through possessing a long history and tradition of their own, the Jewish people seem unable to appreciate the benefits brought by their conquerors. Their religious dogmatism inspires resistance bordering and occasionally crossing into terrorism, and their propensity for wholesale and fanatical revolt makes Romans wonder if it was worth bringing these ungrateful people the benefits of their culture. It does not help that many Jews also devoutly wish the Romans had not bothered.”
The author offers a lot of practical advice to the legionary. For example: “And whatever you do, keep a tight grip on your sword and shield. Not only can losing either lead to fatal embarrassment during the melee, but also to awkward questions from the centurion afterwards. No one wants the suspicion of having deliberately dropped his kit as to get out of the battle line.”
The author does not recommend excessive heroics, saying “Sunt milites veteres. Sunt milites audaces. Non sunt milites veteres atque audaces.” –there are old soldiers and there are bold soldiers but there are no old bold soldiers.
Of course, the Roman military of 100 A.D. had changed considerably from the military of Camillus or Scipio Africanus. Author Matysak does go into its history somewhat. For details of the Roman military of the second and third century B.C. I recommend reading Polybius. For details of the Roman military of the first century B.C. I recommend reading Caesar’s commentaries, or the series “Marching With Caesar by R.W. Peake.

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