Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
The main quality of this book is in its historical accuracy fictionalised into a well-told story. James Mace combines his military expertise with historical facts to present an evidently thoroughly researched subject in an appealing way.Soldier of Rome:
The Legionary is a book about Roman defeat and retaliation in Teutoburger forest, but most of all it is a presentation of what the author calls the Roman war machine – a Roman legion as a whole and a legionary as an individual – the key element for the supremacy of the ancient Rome in the then known world.
The life of the legionaries, from training to everyday life during peace, war, and festivities is presented in details, as we follow the story of Artorius from his boyhood to becoming an accomplished member of a legion.
I have mixed feelings about Artorius as a character. He is a complex character in the true sense of the word, making the reader hate him, love him, admire him, despise him, and sympathise with him. The loss of his older brother in Teutoburger Wald and consequential death of their mother when he was a young boy affects Artorius with grave sadness which develops into a burning vindictiveness. He grows up with one goal only – to join the legion and avenge his brother.
However, his growing-up starts anew when he begins the training of a legionary. Soon he learns that any accomplishment depends not only on his abilities but primarily on working together with his colleagues. I see a Roman legion, as presented in this book, as a perfect example of a society bringing together the importance of an individual and of a community. Great accomplishments and progress of the civilization are possible only when people can thrive as individuals while they contribute their effort to the joint goals of the community.
Artorius soon learns to put the common goals first in order to achieve his own goal. His blind vindictiveness is contrasted by a necessity to follow orders and by empathy for the innocent people. A conflict between ethics and executing orders is raised in this book, too, but as in life it has no conclusive solution. Nevertheless, James Mace puts it very well: “The army is only as noble and honourable as the men who serve in it.”
Another great discrepancy in this book is between the attitude of the legionaries towards their wives, mothers, and daughters and the women of their enemies, and prostitutes. I find Artorius’s behaviour towards his ex-lover Camilla, although she is not a likable character, especially disturbing and intolerable.
James Mace does not spare the reader with violence and atrocities of warfare. The cruelties from both sides are equally represented, as well as the viewpoints upon the same things from the Romans and the Germanic tribes, the common soldiers and their leaders.
There is a lot of specific terminology, which makes the book somewhat slow to read. The glossary the author includes at the beginning of the book is very helpful to clear some confusion while reading. Apart from this and a very few grammatical errors and typos, Soldier of Rome: The Legionary is a good book with quite a straightforward, but capturing plotline.
RECOMMENDATION: This book provides one of the best presentations of Roman military I have ever read. I recommend it to anyone interested in history of ancient Rome, especially in the structure and functioning of its legions, if you can bear graphic descriptions of violence.