Roman Soldier Operations Manual by Simon Forty (book review).

When I was originally offered books from Haynes new range based on historical warriors, I did wonder if it fell in our remit. However, with so many books in our genre resetting history or even telling tales with a historic background, then they do make for useful research. Simon Forty’s book, ‘Roman Soldier Operations Manual’, puts us in Italy and the Roman Empire, a favoured choice of alternate history authors.

The opening chapter covers the Roman Empire as a whole but I was dismayed with the Timeline section as the background photo makes it reading this section difficult and I don’t have an eye disorder. If there is ever a reprint, this needs to be toned down several notches or removed completely to make it readable.

Since my school days, the most I really remember from the Roman Empire names and such has tended to come from Robert Graves’ novels ‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Claudius The God’ and the BBC TV series. With my kind of memory, I was making cross-connections as various emperors and military generals cropped up. Forty does briefly make a cross-reference to the TV series at one point as to whether Claudius actually hid from the Praetorian Guard prior to becoming emperor as being unlikely. I think in any takeover, coups have a nasty habit of turning on the successor if it pleases the military, especially as you don’t know where allegiances lie.

Something that quickly becomes apparent from reading this book is the Romans were pretty clever in how they gathered people for their armies, often sending people to different provinces to prevent any uprisings by their own military. It is also why it was rare for slaves to be employed in them as well. The training with weapons that were a lot heavier than they would use in combat ensured their own physical strength and stamina.

For any of you who are marathon-runners out there, it isn’t enough that you complete so many miles a day but you should practice with an ever increasingly weighty backpack to build up your stamina. The regimes the Roman armies practiced were heavily disciplined and many would re-enlist because they got so indoctrinated by it. When you think of how current military have problems adjusting back to normal life today, things haven’t really changed.

Something that films based on the Roman Empire clearly get wrong is their armies all wearing the same battle dress. They might share similar colours and shapes but as each has to fashion their own garb, it is much more individualistic. The centurions have the best equipment because they come from rich families. If you thought hobnail boots were a modern day creation, then you’ll be interested to know that the Roman soldier used them for traction. A surprising word that did come up was ‘baldric’. If you thought the name only came up from the BBC TV series ‘Black Adder’, then it dates even further back. Essentially, it’s a belt over the right should to the waist to secure a sword.

The weaponry also changes. The Romans learnt from their enemies weapons and employed themselves. If you draw a modern day comparison to, say, the nuclear arms race, then it becomes obvious that the opposition can’t fall behind by having inferior weapons. Where the Romans really scored was in tactics and bringing up food and equipment in their advancement. What did surprise me was their rations diet which took into account all the main food groups so they were less likely to be affected by the likes of scurvy and water hygiene so they didn’t run foul of the plagues that hit later generations.

Simon Forty doesn’t go into the history of this as to whether this was by accident, experience or taken from people they beat. Considering how they also executed their foes, one would have to presume some of the intellectuals must have survived.

As you should be able to tell from my comments above, I’ve learnt a great deal about the Roman military that I didn’t know before and went a few steps further and compared to some of the things we do today which did surprise me. The Roman Empire might be long gone, but its legacy has lived on in one form or another.

This also makes for a useful reference book that should hopefully change some thinking for you if you are planning to write stories set in this time period rather than rely on what has been done before. Stay on the winning side.

GF Willmetts

October 2019

(pub: Haynes. 156 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK), $29.95 (US), $35.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78521-565-0)

check out website: www.haynes.co.uk


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

3 thoughts on “Roman Soldier Operations Manual by Simon Forty (book review).

  • I was fascinated by your review – and had a look online. The Amazon preview/Look Inside for once actually had pages I wanted to see and while I can see your point about the text printed over a picture the photos – not, I imagine, of necessarily the highest quality – seem to have produced readable text. Perhaps your review copy is a poor print?

    • Hello Julian
      The UK Amazon only shows 7 images and nothing from the Timeline pages. Haynes are very nice and provide the finished editions. I report what I see and those particular pages were tougher to read.

      • I was using the ‘Look Inside’ feature which often shows more than the listed ‘See all x images’ listing. In this case there are 45 pages shown – it’s just irritating that not all books have that feature! (Though I can understand why… )

        Thanks for the reply!



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