Saturday, January 22, 2011


A review of Adrian Goldsworthy's In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (2003)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Adrian Goldsworthy, one of the world's foremost experts on the ancient Roman Empire, wrote this book about the great generals of that civilization. Although the author himself points out that this book is primarily about generals and statesmen and not a complete picture of what Rome was like, he still successfully fills in the gaps as he jumps from one generation of Romans to the next. In effect the reader goes on a journey though the ancient Roman civilization from the Punic Wars to the era of the 'Byzantine Empire'. Goldsworthy has smooth narrative that flows well from the time of Hannibal to the reign of Emperor Justinian.

The book features those who Goldsworthy considers to be the greatest generals in Roman history. Some of the men he studies are very famous already,—such as, Fabius Maximus, Scipio Africnaus, Pompey Magnus, and Julius Caesar—others are barely known,—Aemilius Paullus and the very tragic Sertorius —and some were emperors—Trajan and Julian. Goldsworthy challenges the traditional view that Roman generals—in light of being politicians—were, by default, amateurs who real command fell to subordinates. He argues instead that they were both politicians and military men equally.

“Yet a closer examination of the evidence suggests that most of these assumptions are at best greatly exaggerated and often simply wrong. Far from taking power away from the general, the Roman tactical system concentrated it in his hands. Junior officers such as centurions played a vitally important role, but they fitted into a hierarchy with the army commander at the top and allowed him to have more control over events than less.”p.16

(An army led by politician-soldiers)

Also explored in this book is the culture of the Roman state and how that culture impacted the senators of the Republic in their careers serving it. One of these cultural traditions was that the Romans, even if things were not going their way, would never turn on Rome in favor of a foreign power. Their bond to their homeland was incredibly strong and this is part of what makes the tragic Sertorius's story of exile so particularly sad.

(Tragic case: Quintus Sertorius)

“However important it was for an individual to win fame an add to his own and his family's reputation, this should always be subordinated to the good of the Republic. The same belief in the superiority of Rome that made senators by the second century BC hold themselves the equals of any king ensured that no disappointed Roman politician sought the aid of a foreign power. Senators wanted success, but that success only counted if it was achieved at Rome. No senator defected to Pyrrhus or Hannibal even when their final victory seemed imminent, nor did Scipio Africanus' bitterness at the ingratitude of the State cause him to take service with a foreign king.”p.155-6

When the rule of the aristocratic Senate gives way to the emperors the role of the general changed from one of personal achievement and glory to all honor won by one man: the Emperor himself. Imperial Legets won glory only in the Emperor's name giving emperors, such as Augustus, a good deal of bragging rights.

“Augustus brought internal peace to Rome, an achievement which was conspicuously celebrated throughout his principate. His regime relied heavily on the glory derived from continuous and spectacular warfare against foreign opponents. Under its first emperor Rome continued to expand as intensively as it had done in the last decades of the Republic and by AD 14 had brought under its control almost all the territory which would compose the Empire for over four centuries. The Res Gestae, a long inscription set up outside Augustus' mausoleum recounting his achievements, lists a vast array of peoples and kings defeated by the emperor. In style the test is identical to the monuments set up by triumphing generals for many generations, but in sheer numbers of vanquished enemies it dwarfs the victories even of Pomepy and Caesar.”p.270

Imperial selfishness on the part of the Emperor seemed like a smart move, especially after it was proven that generals who did earn personnel glory were able to depose an unpopular emperor. However with incidents of emperors being dethoned by popular generals, Goldsworthy points out that this transfer of power to the barracks led to break down in military discipline that sapped the army's strength and with the army went the empire.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. It is an incredible achievement on the part of Goldsworthy and an overly entertaining read. It will greatly increase ones knowledge into the Roman military, its politics, and its leaders though out history.

{Video is from the all ready HBO classic Rome}

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