Book Review: Legions of Rome: The Definitive History of Every Imperial Roman Legion


by Stephen Dando-Collins

New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012. Pp. 608. Illus., maps, diagr., tables, biblio., index. $40.00. ISBN: 1250004713

The prolific Australian novelist and scholar Dando-Collins gives us a concise handbook to the legions of the Imperial Roman Army.

Since 2002, Dando-Collins has produced about a book a year on some aspect of Roman history, most often a “biography” of one of the legions.  In this work, he attempts, with fair success, to give us a look at the Roman Army as a whole, and the legions in particular from the time of Augustus in the mid-first century B.C. through the early fifth century of the Christian calendar, occasionally going beyond these limits whe re necessity or evidence permits .  He divides the book into three sections.   

“The Men” opens with a short introduction to the nature of the Roman Army at the time of Caesar.  Then, in about 40 pages, Dando-Collins gives us a concise overview of military service, including not just the legionaries but also the various types of guards, auxiliaries, and naval personnel, from recruit ment to retirement .  This includes a look at the different branches of the army, the rank structure and how it evolved over the centuries, and some idea of pay, rations, and conditions of service. 

Part II, “The Legions,” takes up about a quarter of the volume.  In it, Dando-Collins cover s the legions in some detail, including organization, equipment, and more .  He devotes most of this section to a series of profiles of the histories of each legion or major guard unit, such as the Praetorians. The length of the entries varies, as some units are poorly known, while others are surprisingly well documented.

In the final section, “The Battles,” Dando-Collins gives us short accounts of about 70 campaigns from the ascent of Augustus to the Vandal sack of Rome in AD 410.  The list is surprisingly comprehensive, including wars of conquest, civil wars, punitive expeditions, and so forth.  The section ends with the short, thoughtful “Why Did the Legions Decline and Fall?”

It’s possible to take issue with some of Dando-Collins’ statements.  While certainly it would be difficult to include all Roman campaigns in this period, surely the Arabian campaign of 26 BC merits more than a dismissive remark, and the suppression of the widespread revolt of the Bagaudae in the mid-third century is missing.  He also sides with the traditional view of the fate of legio IX Hispana, agreeing that it disappeared into the Scottish highlands, a  interpretation challenged in recent years.  And in referring to Candace of Ethiopia as “he,” Dando-Collins slights one of history’s more interesting women commanders.  Nevertheless, these are relatively minor issues given the overall scope of the work.

Legions of Rome is an essential handbook for anyone interested in the Roman Army or the history of military organization.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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