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Early Roman Warfare, by Jeremy Armstrong, a Review

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The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.

Read on for a review of Jeremy Armstrongs book, Early Roman Warfare

Read on for a review of Jeremy Armstrongs book, Early Roman Warfare

Early Roman Warfare

History is always evolving. While the events of the past may be set in stone, our understanding and knowledge of the events that precede us should be consistently reviewed against findings and new information acquired through advanced archeological and historiographical studies. Early Roman Warfare by Jeremy Armstrong is one such effort to review the changing material understanding of the Roman state between the Regal Period and the outbreak of the First Punic War.

Jeremy Armstrong states that "this book will attempt to lay out and explain this revised model for the development of Rome's earliest armies." Throughout this short book Armstrong lays out his argument that the traditional model for the development of the Roman army, from Tribal to Hoplite to Manipular to Imperial is not and could not have been a linear journey, and may in fact not follow the primary sources for Roman history in the way that has been traditionally described.

Armstrong carefully reviews new archeological finds, alongside a logical breakdown of the Roman authors, particularly Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnus. Throughout his book Armstrong argues for a new understanding of how the Roman elites, the Gens, and urban society interacted. New understandings in archeology have eroded to the traditional model of state sponsored warfare in the Early Republic and Armstrong argues that this development needs historians to reevaluate the role of rural clans in warfare in Latium.


A Review

Throughout the last century historians have trended away from taking Livy at his word. Evidence and common sense have cast doubt on specific events within Livy's history. Livy wrote for a society that wanted to believe that is was the continuation of a of a proud and glorious past, and that they were working toward being more like their ancestors. Livy therefore structured his history to reinforce that societal goal.

Historians (Armstrong, Hall et al) have increasingly called out parts of this history as partial or complete fabrications. From the size of Rome throughout it's development, to the funerary of prominent warrior-nobles, Livy's history of Rome as a strong centralized state dominating its neighbors for the good of the citizens fails to hold together. Armstrong argues that early Rome was driven by material gains and led by clan leaders whose stake in the city was initially minimal.

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Understanding Rome as a raider state, whose early wars were meant not to gain land, but to steal whatever was not nailed down and gain honor and prestige in battle allows us to better understand the development from Homeric warrior to Legionary. Rome's earliest armies could not have been hoplite phalanxes like Livy would lead us to believe, but rather they were more similar to other Latin people. Light to medium infantry armed with scutum and javelin. These changes call into question the idea that the maniple developed in the Samnite Wars, and the general trend of the Roman army to have succeeded because it was better organized than its neighbors.

Armstrong argues that the gens were a mobile tribal society. What Rome does best is not to field the most disciplined army, or the most organized army. Rome was best at assimilating the gens into their society, and then making the rest of the Latins Roman. Rome's tremendous growth and success in warfare was therefore not a technological success, but a societal one. They simply managed to create a larger citizen body than their neighbors from the Regnal Period to the Punic Wars.



Armstrong approaches the subject of classical warfare with a nuanced touch that is acceptable for readers of the ancient Roman period. This book assumes that it's reader knows some information about the period being reviewed, and shouldn't be used as a starting point. In the same vein, it is a short book, that attempts to address a specific topic in a short space and skips over events which are not necessary for the topic at hand.

Early Roman Warfare is filled with approachable writing that incorporates modern archeology with an toward the historiological developments of the last century. Armstrong's thesis is still a hotly debated topic and should be read with other modern historians to get a full picture of the possibilities of warfare in the classical period.

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Additional Readings

  • Armstrong, J. (2016). Early Roman warfare: From the regal period to the First Punic War. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military.
  • DeVries, Kelly. Battles That Changed Warfare, 1457 B.C - 1991 A.D.: from Chariot Warfare to Stealth Bombers. New York: Metro Books, 2011.
  • Hall, Joshua R., and Roel Konijnendijk. “Why Abandon the Phalanx? - Problems from Rome.” Ancient World Magazine. Accessed April 25, 2022.
  • Lendon, J. E. Soldiers & Ghosts: a History of Battle in Classical Antiquity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
  • Livy, and Betty Radice. Rome and Italy: Books I-V. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1982.
  • Mackay, Christopher S. Ancient Rome: a Military and Political History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Penrose, Jane. Rome and Her Enemies: an Empire Created and Destroyed by War. Oxford: Osprey, 2005.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 A Anders

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