Book Review: The Last Legionary: Life as a Roman Soldier in Britain, AD 400


by Paul Elliott

Stroud, Eng.: Spellmount History Press / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011. Pp. xvi, 208. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 0752459279

Soldiering in Late Fourth Century Roman Britain

Drawing upon an academic background in ancient history and archaeology, and his own experience as a reenactor, Elliott examines the world of the Roman soldier in the late fourth century.  Elliott builds his account around a fictional Romano-Briton named “Gaius”, to provide the soldier’s eye view.  Gaius enlists in AD 383 and serves until at least 403, shortly before the Empire pulled the last of its troops out of Britain.  

So The Last Legionary naturally mixes fact with fiction, though Elliott is very careful to distinguish the two,  as Gaius serves during the reign of the usurper Magnus Maximus, fights barbarian incursions from Caledonia (northern Scotland), Hibernia (Ireland), and Germania, and witnesses the decline of Roman power in Britain. This approach allows Elliott to look at the daily life of the troops, from their recruitment and training to their arms and equipment, camp life and family life, in peace, war, and civil war, religious life, battlefield experience, and more.  In the process, Elliott touches upon the broader political, economic, military, and social developments. 

The Last Legionary isan excellent introduction to the late Roman Army, and is also of value for the seasoned student of the subject.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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