Handbook to Roman Legionary Fortresses

B1807

The author and the publishers are to be highly commended for producing such a fine review of a seriously neglected key element in the history of Rome.

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NAME: Handbook to Roman Legionary Fortresses
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
FILE: R1807
DATE: 200213
AUTHOR: M C Bishop
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 209
PRICE: £19.95
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Legions, defences, forts, fortresses, Roman Legioary, website links
ISBN: 1-84884-138-8
IMAGE: B1807.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/akwjgyp
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The author states that he wrote this book because he needed the information it contained but was unable to find another book that provided the data. That is as good a reason as any for putting pen to paper and better than most reasons. It is also surprising that, of all the thousands of books written about the Roman Empire by authors from many nationalities over hundreds of years, that no one has previously documented the vital legionary fortresses that made the expansion of the Roman Empire possible.

This book is therefore a very important historical review of a very important subject and it also provides an example of the way that printed books are learning to live with eBooks, the Internet, and take advantages of the opportunities the digital age offers. At http://www.legionaryfortresses.info/ there are copies of fortress plans, a list of sites and other information that appears within this new book, and there is information on the book for those Internet surfers who want to learn more. Although the FIRE Project began experimenting with multi-media and multi-mode layered information as early as 2000, it is only now that an increasing number of authors and publishers are beginning to make use of the digital environment to enhance the printing of paper books, and using printed paper books to provide portable versions of data available on-line.

It may also surprise some readers to learn about Roman legends that are not accurate, and to discover how little we really know about a period of history that has produced surviving written accounts.

One myth is that the Romans stopped in their occupation of the British Isles at Hadrian’s Wall. North into Scotland there are the remains of walls, forts, a legionary fortress, and roads. The Roman Legion was a potent military formation that was armoured and still able to march at speed. However, it was also vulnerable. Legion commanders were expected to halt before nightfall and construct a temporary defensive position of ditches, and fences, patrolled by legionaries. That might not have always been observed when the need to rapidly advance took priority, but a commander who was serious attacked and suffered losses, because of a failure to build a temporary defensive position, could expect little mercy from his peers and superiors.

As Roman soldiers occupied an area, more permanent structures were built to provide defended positions as bases from which to send out patrols. Across most of the known world, Roman forts came to symbolize the power of Roman and enable relatively small troop concentrations to maintain control of occupied lands. During the period of the Roman Empire, the design of fortresses evolved and also took into consideration local conditions and materials. However, the basic design of the vast majority of Roman fortifications comprised a large rectangular area, surrounded by high stone walls and containing in a grid layout substantial buildings as barracks, store houses, and other essential facilities.

The author has produced a very comprehensive review of all known legionary fortresses across the Roman Empire. The full list may never be known but in looking at the positions on the excellent maps included in the book, there are some obvious gaps where similar defences must have been constructed and occupied by large Roman forces. Given that the Romans made extensive use of durable materials, such as stone and concrete, more fortresses may yet be discovered. To a degree, the author is also subjective in selecting surviving defensive sites. In Britain, the Romans constructed a number of large Fore Shore Forts. These sites employed a very similar layout to the legionary fortresses described in the book and were also large structures that originally had at least one wall touching the sea and providing quays for the unloading of cargoes from Roman warships and merchant craft. Inside the walls there were also grid roads linking substantial buildings and the defences continued in use for hundreds of years after the Romans left, in some cases seeing substantial castle keeps being built within the rectangular walled area.

The coastal forts were an answer to waves of raiders from across the North Sea and were not intended to accommodate a full legion for an extended period, but were large enough to accommodate a legion in passage. All of these fortresses were very costly construction projects requiring a large number of builders and a great quantity of material. That cost demonstrates how vital the Romans considered the defences.

The author has made great use of illustrations. The drawings are clear and well done, as are the maps. There is also a full colour photo plate section. An extensive bibliography, glossary and gazetteers section containing an impression amount of information. The text is concise although in parts it takes a narrative form. As a key reference book, this is first class and will be highly regarded by scholars of the period. It may be forbidding for more casual readers and some may be deterred by the price, but the content fully justifies cost and may be regarded as very affordable as a reference volume. Even those who have a less detailed interest in the Roman period will find this a rewarding information resource.

The author and the publishers are to be highly commended for producing such a fine review of a seriously neglected key element in the history of Rome.

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