LEGIONARY: THE ROMAN SOLDIER’S UNOFFICIAL MANUAL, Philip Matyszak, 2009, Thames and Hudson, hardcover, 208, glossary, index, drawings, color and black and white photos.
For 600 years, the Roman legions dominated Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, held together by the Roman legions.
The Roman legions were the ancient version of the Terminator. Nothing stood up to the legions.
How did Rome come up with these soldiers? Author Philip Matyszak tackles that subject in “Legionary,” written as if it were a guide for the green recruit joining Rome’s finest.
Rome developed a style that differed from Philip of Macedon’ pike-armed phalanxes which need flat, open spaces in which to operate. The Romans instead developed tight groups of men armed with shields that presented a wall against advancing enemies and short swords, able to operate in broken territory unlike Philip’s troops.
In combat, legionaries advanced, smashing with their shield, then following through with a thrust of the gladius, the Spanish short sword that gave it’s name to the gladiators of the arena.
No overhand swings. As the Gauls learned, that left you wide open for a thrust at a vulnerable spot. The Gauls of present-day France were vulnerable in another way. They fought individual battles for glory. Romans were much more direct…they fought to kill the enemy and win. Long before Grant, the Romans recognized the value of total war.
Matyszak describes the different arms of the service available to the aspiring recruit beyond the legion itself, describes their weapons and their benefits, talks about tactics, provides tips on the best jobs and the best way to advance (develop a specialty like clerking or accounting; it’ll keep you in the tent instead of out in the biting winter wind), covers terms of service, the grueling training that continued throughout the legionary’s career, the punishments, the pay, medical treatment, food, and offers the recruit a fast examination of the Rome’s enemies while tossing in some light history lessons.
Being a legionnaire was tough and often cruel. The author might have pointed out that legionnaires lived in very tough, cruel times. For every perfumed toga-clad Roman aristocrat lounging in the baths or the temple, there were hundreds of Romans who worked hard and bore life’s greatest cruelties, many starving to death.
Legionaries had regular meals, a place to sleep, and medical care unavailable to the regular citizen. It was all in the interests of the empire, but the legionnaires did benefit. There was even a pension system although many soldiers actually put in their time then reenlisted, rather than take the pension. Those that did retire might find themselves still of service to the empire by being settled en masse in a newly conquered area that needs romanization.
There are insights into the way the army was organized and operated, with little tidbits such as the fact that a legionary might be punished for a minor infraction by being made to stand guard in a tunic without a belt, so that it resembled a dress.
Rome occupied conquered lands with their legions of 6,000 soldiers each. (A century, despite what common sense might tell you, numbered only 80.) You can deduce the source of pressure on the empire by how many legions were stationed in each region. One legion each was assigned to North Africa’s coastal area, Egypt, and to the Spanish peninsula. On the other hand, little Britain had three legions. Six legions occupied the borderlands through present-day Germany with even more to the south and east opposite the lands of the Dacians of present-day Romania.
Concise, anecdotal, very interesting reading.