Book Review: Legions in Crisis: Transformation of the Roman Soldier AD 192-284


by Paul Elliott

Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. 160. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1781553343

The Roman Army in Transition

English military historian and reenactor Elliott, author of The Last Legionary: Life as a Roman Soldier in Britain, AD 400, Everyday Life of a Soldier on Hadrian's Wall, and other works, takes on tackles the evolution of the Roman Army from the end of the Antonine era through the “Crisis of the Third Century” and the accession of Diocletian, a period of enormous internal unrest and external threat that very nearly destroyed the Empire, but which saw an almost total transformation in military organization, equipment, and tactics.

Some earlier historians – even some writing in Late Antiquity – so this transformation of Rome’s military institutions as symptomatic of a their character, skill, and effectiveness. Elliott refutes this notion of decline rather cogently. He notes, for example, that many of the changes were actually adaptations to changing strategic and tactical environments, innovative threats such heavy infantry and mounted archers, the multiplication of “barbarian” enemies, and such. Elliot addresses the many ways in which the army changed in this period, discussing the reasons for the changes, and explaining how and by whom the changes were instituted. 

Elliot’s most important contribution, however, may be that he points out that the Roman Army had always been a force in flux. Throughout their history, the Romans evolved new types of equipment, new tactics, new organization, often adopting enemy practice which they deemed superior to their own, the army of the Punic Wars was different from that of Pompey and Caesar and the army of the Antonines was different yet again, and that this process continued. 

Legions in Crisis is a good read for anyone interested in the Roman Army or in how military institutions learn and grow.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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