Book Review: The Roman Navy: Ships, Men & Warfare 350 BC - AD 475

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by Michael Paul Pitassi

Barnsley, Eng.: Seaforth / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012. Pp. viii, 230. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $40.00. ISBN: 1848320906

Rome’s Forgotten Navy

Although nearly as important as the legions to the Roman’s centuries of domination of the Mediterranean world, the Roman fleet has tended to be overlooked by historians, with not a dozen books on the subject in English and only a few more in other languages. In The Roman Navy, independent scholar Pitassi, earlier the author of Roman Warships, gives us a survey of that neglected service, one so effective that for long periods it literally had no serious opposition. 

Pitassi’s account opens with an overview of the history of the Roman Navy, which actually had its origins well before the famous events of the First Punic War, during which the Romans supposedly “first “ took to the sea in an improvised fleet, demonstrating that there had long been a small naval service on which the Romans could build. He then look at the service in thematic, rather than chronological, terms.  He examines the evolution of Roman warships across about seven centuries, organizational and command structure, tactics, personnel and their conditions of service, and the nature of seamanship in the period. As appropriate, Pitassi looks at some operations and the tactics used, to illustrate various points, and in addition provides brief treatments of allied and enemy naval services. 

So while this is not a history of the Roman Navy, which may not be possible given our slender sources, Pitassi’s The Roman Navy certainly fills an important need, and is a useful read for anyone interested in Roman history or naval affairs.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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