Book Review: Armies of the Late Roman Empire AD 284 to 476: History, Organization & Equipment


by Gabriele Esposito

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xvii, 180+. Illus., maps, chron., diagr., appends., biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1526730375

The Army in a Declining Empire

In this new work, Esposito, who has written on a broad range of topics in military history, such as The War of the Triple Alliance and Armies of Early Colonial America, applies his tested ability to combine evidence from history, archaeology, and re-enactment to the evolution of the Roman Army from the late third century through the demise of the Western Empire in late fifth.

In comparison with the earlier phases of Roman military history, which have been studied repeatedly, and often redundantly, the Third, Fourth, and Fifth centuries have been rather neglected. They are seen mostly as an era of Roman decline, albeit with a bit of revival following the Diocletianic/Constantinian reform. In contrast, Esposito makes a good case that, almost to the end of the empire, the army proved surprisingly effective. Even in the middle of the Fifth Century, Roman troops were often quite capable, although by final decades of the empire, it was usually too poor to pay for troops.

Espositio covers the subject in four chapters. He opens with an account of the origins of the imperial army and its evolution through the early Third Century, rather well trod ground. There follows a look at the complex changes in the army during the tumultuous “Crisis of the Third Century”, when for a time it seemed the empire would fall. He then gives us a chapter on the reforms of the army by Diocletian and especially Constantine, which would endure until the end of the empire. He ends with a chapter on changes to clothing, equipment, and arms. While his treatment is primarily about the organization and internal life of the army, Esposito does from time to time consider operations and tactics, and the army’s adjustment to changing challenges .

An impressively illustrated work, although it lacks references, Armies of the Late Roman Empire, a volume in the series “Armies of the Past”, is an excellent introduction to the subject for the novice, and seasoned students of the subject may find it of use as well.


Note: Armies of the Late Roman Empire is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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