Book Review: Leading the Roman Army: Soldiers and Emperors, 31 BC – 235 AD


by Jonathan Eaton

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. Pp. xiv, 206+. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $17.12. ISBN: 1473855632

How was the Roman Army Commanded?

Several works look at the personal relationship between the Roman Emperor and his Army. But we know little about the mechanics of how that vast host was managed. In this work Dr. Eaton (Teesside University) addresses that neglected aspect of the history of the Imperial Army.

Eaton opens with a look at the Praetorians and other guard formations at Rome, who could influence the choice of Emperor, but could – and usually would – be “overruled” by the armies on the frontiers, which developed regional identities. So despite choices by the Praetorians, it was the Danubian legions that raised Vespasian to the purple in AD 69 and Septimius Severus in AD 193.

Eaton follows by examining the Emperor’s role in maintaining discipline and morale, and then gives us a chapter on the role of the centurionate in the army and the management of centurions’ careers, one on the more senior officers – tribunes, legates, and provincial commanders – men who could be politically dangerous, yet were essential to the success of the army in the field. Eaton then discusses “Political Awareness in the Army”, asking how attuned were the troops, and the centurions and senior officers, to the major issues of the day and what influenced their loyalties and actions. He follows with a chapter on how emperors – most of them – understood the essential importance of the army to their survival, and worked to identify themselves with the troops, developing an imperial ideology that helped instilled strong loyalties to the several dynasties.

Eaton makes effective use of ancient sources and modern prosopographic analyses to develop his arguments. This valuable work help make a dent in our still unclear understanding of how the army was run; for example, how, by whom, and where, were the service records of centurions and officers kept – vital to the effective management of careers, and to keep commanders from serving too long in the same units and provinces, preventing them from building potentially dangerous ties to the local forces and populace.

Nevertheless, Leading the Roman Army is an important read for those with an interest in Roman military institutions during the early empire.




Note: Leading the Roman Army 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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