Book Review: The Logistics of the Roman Army at War (264 BC-AD 235)

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by Jonathan P. Roth

Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2012. Pp. xxii, 400. Illus., tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $49.50 paper. ISBN: 9004225471

Originally published in 1999, in a very pricey hardback format, The Logistics of the Roman Army at War established Roth as one of the ablest of recent scholars of the Roman armed forces, this somewhat revised soft cover edition makes Roth’s excellent work available to a wider readership. 

Prof. Roth (San Jose State) covers the roughly 500 years from the Punic Wars through the onset of the Crisis of the Third Century, and overturns many long-held “facts” about Roman rations.  The most notable of these myths about the Roman legionaries is that conquered the world on a diet consisting mostly of bread, with a handful of vegetables, shunning meat.  Roth demonstrates that meat did indeed form a major part of the soldiers’ diet (based on evidence from the midden heaps of marching camps and legionary fortresses)), and even explains how the myth came to pass.  In writing this book, Roth examined a wide range of matters, not merely the food supply; the physical condition of a “typical” Roman soldier, ration requirements for various types of units, including staffs and camp followers, the types, variations, sources, and preparation of food stuffs, water, wine, and oil requirements, animal fodder, and more.  This “more” includes a look at the administrative side of the logistical system, an enormously complex and largely obscure system that managed the procurement and transportation of rations and other materials to a continent-sprawling army with changing needs depending upon whether it was in camp or on campaign.  Unlike some authors who have written on the Roman Army, Roth is careful to remind us how the army evolved over the centuries, and notes the differences and how they affected logistical supply and organization.  

A volume in the “Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition,”The Logistics of the Roman Army at War is one of the most valuable recent works on the Roman army.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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