Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Review: The Military Institutions of the Romans, by Vegetius

The edition I got was for the Kindle (unusually for history, for me), and translated by John Clarke. It cost the princely sum of 49p.

The book is a sort of cross between Sunzi’s Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince. It was written by Vegetius to the emperor. In it, Vegetius pleads for a return to the virtues (in a military/moral sense) of the ancient Roman army, to help return the ailing Empire to its former rude health.

It’s a fairly short book, and is quite concise. Vegetius looks at the Roman army (as it was back in the ‘good old days’) in some detail, and compares it with the usually inferior modern day equivalent (the exception being cavalry, which was woeful in antiquity but later became good).

The arms, armour, recruitment, training and tactics of the army are all considered. It’s very easy to read and no previous knowledge of the Roman army or empire is needed to appreciate what Vegetius is writing about.

It is, perhaps, slightly niche in the same was as the books I mentioned above are. If someone is seeking to compare military organisations of different times and peoples, or consider how the Roman army evolved and declined over time it is a worthy read. It’s also worth remembering that this book was often read and revered by medieval leaders, who applied (as best they could) the advice of virtuous antiquity in their own wars.

Because of this it’s a book of three times. It harks back to the ancient valour of the Roman, when they were pathologically patriotic. It exhorts a contemporary of Vegetius to emulate the practices of the past in order to restore the empire to its ancient strength. And, it was highly influential on the states that followed the empire’s collapse and arose from the Dark Ages.




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