Book Review: War and Society in Early Rome: From Warlords to Generals


by Jeremy Armstrong

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 320. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $99.99. ISBN: 1107093570

Early Rome Behind the Legend

University of Auckland lecturer Armstrong gives us a look at the early history of Rome at variance with the traditional foundation tales. While most of the tales of early Rome have long been thought to be dubious, even by some of the Roman historians, he offers a more nuanced interpretation.

Armstrong opens with a critique of the legendary history of early Rome, taking a look at the various types of other evidence that we have, a matter complicated by the Gallic sack of c. 390 BC. Sifting through all these sources, he uses them to help draw hints found in those traditional tales to discuss Sixth Century BC Rome. He covers the fall of the monarchy, the army of the late royal period, the foundation of the Republic, its early history, and its expansion into a regional power, the early class conflicts and their reconciliation. Armstrong examines how the interrelationship among wealth, agriculture, army, government, and urbanization strengthen the Republic, noting particularly its liberality with citizenship. These factors permitted the Republic to survive the Gallic sack, and rather quickly recover its dominant position in central Italy.

When discussing the evolution of Roman Army, Armstrong marshals considerable evidence to demonstrate that during the monarchy and early Republic it consisted primarily of clan and condottiere war bands – think of the ultimately disastrous effort of the Fabians to ward the frontier with Veii in 477 BC – rather than the proto-legion supposedly established by Servius Tullius a century earlier, as described by Livy and others. These gradually evolved into a “community” based force, which in turn gave rise to the legion, probably in the period after the Gallic sack.

War and Society in Early Rome is an important read for anyone seriously studying the origins of Rome, this is also likely to be useful for the interested layman.


Note: War and Society in Early Rome is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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