Armies of the Late Roman Empire AD 284 to 476 by Gabriele Esposito – Review

The other recent addition to the bookcase at home (memo to self, when moving next year, build bigger book shelves), is Gabriele Esposito’s Armies of the Late Roman Empire AD 284 to 476. As with the Armies of the Hellenistic States 323 BC to AD, this covers the history, organization and equipment of the Late Roman Empire. This work was also published by Pen & Sword Military (ISBN: 9781526730374
and published on 12 December 2018) is a little longer than his Hellenistic book, running to 178 pages.

Esposito looks at the Late Roman Army over the period of its decline and fall with 476 being the watershed year that officially notes the end of the Western Roman Empire at least. This period is from the time of the accession of Diocletian in 284 C.E. to emperor through to the final defeat and then deposing Romulus Augustulus on 4 September 476 by Odoacer and his proclamation of being the ruler of Italy.

Throughout that period Rome faced many barbarian invasions, the various Goth tribes being particularly persistent. Throughout this period we invasions from the Sassanians in the east, Goths in the north followed by Visigoths, Vandals, Alans, Huns, Ostrogoths not to mention the all too frequents bouts between various Imperial contenders, seeing Romans plus allies squaring off against Romans plus allies.

Esposito discusses the Roman military machine and contends that it was an effective force until the last few years of the Western Empire. Throughout the book, the equipment and weapons of the troops are described, using various Re-eactors for the photographic illustrations as well as the reconstructed equipment. The groups used are Cohors V Baetica VexillatioCohors Prima GallicaContubernium PrimumFectienses Seniores Felices Seniores and; Septimani Seniores.

The organization and structure is also covered with charts of the high command as well a covering the different kinds of troops, such as the:

  • comitatenses (field armies)
  • limitanei (frontier units)
  • foederati (allied soldiers)
  • bucellarii (mercenaries)
  • scholae palatinae (mounted bodyguards)
  • protectores (personal guards) and so on

Apart from the photographs of various reenactors in uniform and bearing arms of the period, the book also includes the shield devices from the Notitia Dignitatum.

Apart from the Acknowledgements, Introduction and a fine Chronology, the book contains the following chapters:

  1. The Roman Army of the Principate
  2. The Transformation of the Third Century
  3. The Great Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine
  4. Clothing, Equipment and Weaponry

This is then rounded out with some Appendixes covering the Roman Army of the Notitia Dignitatum; Equipment and Weapons of the Late Roman Army; Bibliography and Index.

As with Gabriele Esposito’s other books, I really enjoy the way he has illustrated the arms, armour, dress and organization of the subject, so much so that I am looking forward to his next book, Armies of Celtic Europe 700 BC to AD 106. I highly recommend Armies of the Late Roman Empire AD 284 to 476 to any with an interest in this period.

A Wargamer’s Guide to the Early Roman Empire – Review

I recently had a look at and reviewed Daniel Mersey’s Wargamer’s Guide to the Desert War. I am fortunate to have received a copy of Mersey’s Wargamer’s Guide to the Early Roman Empire to have a look at.

The book is paperback of 126 pages so slightly longer than the Desert War, was published by Pen & Sword Military on 4 July 2017, ISBN: 9781473849556. It is one of the range of wargame books being published by Pen & Sword. Best of all, it is on sale currently.

The book follows a now familiar format, although in this case, it contains seven chapters:

  1. The Roman Empire 27BC t0 AD284 – an overview of the history of Rome and its wars over the period of the Early Roman Empire
  2. Armies, Organization, and Equipment – covering, well, the armies, their organisation and equipment. A generalised discussion of the organisation covering the Romans; Britons; Caledonians; Dacians; Germans; Palmyrans; Parthians; and Sassanids
  3. The Key Battles – covering (briefly) the battles of Teutoburg Forest; Idistavisus; Medway River; Cremona (Bedriacum); Mons Graupius; Tapae; Issus; Lugdunum; Nisibis; and Emesa. These sections within this chapter briefly describe the battles then provide suggestions for wargaming the battle
  4. Wargaming the Battles of Rome – covering Facing the Might of Rome; Command Structures; Missile Fire; Legion versus Warbands (and Cavalry); the Role of Auxiliary Infantry; and Getting the Right Look
  5. Choosing Your Rules – a summary of a number of rules, including: Armati II; Aurelian; Commands & Colours: Ancients; De Bellis Antiquitatis; Hail Caesar; Kings of War Historical; Legio VI; To The Strongest; War & Conquest; War Games Rules 3000BC to 1485AD; Brink of Battle; Broken Legions; De Bellis Velitum; FUBAR Medieval; Lord of the Rings Battle Game; Of Gods and Mortals; Open Combat; and Song of Blades and Heroes
  6. Choosing Your Models – a look at some of the main manufacturers in various scales including manufacturers of 28mm, 20mm, 15mm, 10/12mm and 6mm. This chapter also discusses scale for each of those figure sizes. There is also a handy table of manufacturers and the ranges they cover (refer point 2 above for the ranges)
  7. Scenarios – presents the setting up of some scenario based battles to provide some variety in the games we play

There is also an index and a list of titles for further reading.

This book has found a welcome place on my bookshelf (actually, coffee table as it has become the favourite for flicking through with a cup of coffee this week). Mersey has set a standard for his Wargamer’s Guides and continues to deliver to that standard. Whilst much of the historical content is familiar to me it is good to be able to read that from another gamer’s perspective. There are 8-pages of eye candy in the middle of the book with painted figures from Simon Miller, Daniel Mersey, Barry Lee and Wargames Illustrated to encourage the reader to whip out the paintbrushes and finish off those Early Imperial Romans.

Mersey discusses the troop types against the very familiar descriptions of troops found in the old Wargames Research Group Series of rules, particularly the 6th edition. He discusses their use in battle, their formation, speed and armament.

I am now torn between completing my Desert War Armies or dragging out the Early Imperial Romans, getting them sorted then building some Britons, Germans, Dacians or Palmyrans for opponents. Hmm, now that I think about it I have some Sassanians tucked away here somewhere as well.

Well recommended for its general nature but also for the inspiration it provides.