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Blood of the provinces - an excellent new book on the Roman auxilia

For those with a serious interest in the Roman army and more widely in the impact of the Roman empire on provincial populations, I have no hesitation in recommending a book that came out late last year - Ian Haynes, The Blood of the Provinces. The Roman Auxilia and the Making of Provincial Society from Augustus to the Severans published by the OUP. As the title says, its focus is on the non citizen soldiers of the early imperial army, primarily the auxiliaries of the cavalry alae and infantry cohorts. It is not simply a study of the history and organisation of these units, but more about what the maintenance of perhaps two hundred thousand non citizen soldiers actually meant. Along the way, it examines the experience of military service, looking at everything from language to the environment, routine, ritual and religion of army bases and the wider military community.

Ian and I are very old friends, and started out doctoral research on the same day a couple of decades ago. At the time, we were the only two graduate students at Oxford working on the Roman army of the principate, and it was a great asset to have someone else with whom to bounce around ideas. Ian's book began as his D.Phil. thesis, but over the subsequent twenty-odd years has developed and grown into something far broader. It has been a great pleasure to discuss many of the ideas many times. Graduate students readily feel certain about things, but as your knowledge increases everyone tends to get less confident. Ian's ideas have been shaped by extensive reading and in particular a wide experience of archaeological excavation and investigation in a number of countries. This is an academic book, and so the more knowledge a reader has then the more he or she will be able to engage with the ideas and profit from the book. I won't try to summarise the arguments, because they cover so many different themes. Not all the questions can be answered, but simply asking them and pushing the evidence as far as it will go is highly stimulating. All in all not the first book to read on the Roman army, but for those with a fair existing knowledge I think it will prove to be one of the most rewarding.

If you live in the UK you will no doubt have seen a lot of programmes and media stories marking the centenary of the First World War. I enjoyed the BBC documentaries last week presented by Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson - although I cannot say I was at all convinced by the latter's thesis, but then the impression was that none of his audience bought the idea either. One of the expert panel was Sean McKeekin and if you go to the NYMAS website you can hear a very lecture about the build-up to war in 1914 which challenges many of the simpler views. He is especially good in emphasising the chronology, the role of individuals, and also in placing each event in context - for instance dismissing the idea of a benignly peaceful Europe in the early years of the Twentieth Century.
After a long silence

Once again my apologies for the failure to post any entries on this blog for so many months. I would also like to apologise to anyone who has e-mailed me and not yet got a reply. I am trying to work through the backlog, but still have a way to go. Life has been extremely busy, including a work schedule that will see two books released in August of this year. It's the first time for a good while since I have had two books in the same year. The big one is Augustus. From Revolutionary to Emperor which will be released in the UK in August and in the USA - possibly with a different sub-title - in September. I have been working on this for three years and only just finished checking the copy-edited text. I must say that I am pleased with it, and think it will appeal to everyone who enjoyed Caesar. The life of a Colossus and Antony and Cleopatra. In many ways I see these three as a trilogy spanning the final collapse of the Roman republic and the creation of the principate

The other book is a novel, Run them ashore, the fifth in the series begun in True Soldier Gentlemen and sees the 106th Foot sent to the south of Spain. The operations in that area relied especially heavily on the Navy, so there is something of a nautical feel to story, which culminates in the Battle of Barrosa in March 1811. This book will be released in August, and around then there will also be a paperback edition of All in Scarlet Uniform

Send me safely back again in paperback
The paperback edition of my third novel, Send me safely back again was released last week & should be in the shops by now - I saw three copies in Waterstones in Cardiff a few days ago. It is also available from all the usual on-line retailers. The story culminates in the Talavera campaign. Number four in the series - All in scarlet uniform is out in hardback. The next one, Run them ashore is currently keeping me very busy and is due for release in August 2014.
Waterloo Battlefield Guide

I recently picked up David Buttery's Waterloo Battlefield Guide published by Pen&Sword earlier this year. Waterloo and the surrounding area is well worth a visit for anyone interested in history and especially the military buff, and with the 200th anniversary of the battle due in 2015, I suspect that many more people will be heading over to that part of Belgium. Up until now, there has not been a good and readily portable guide to the history and the monuments and sites today. In the past I have tended to go with photocopies of maps taken from various books - one of my favourites is Mark Adkin's Waterloo Companion, but anyone familiar with this tome will understand that it is not the sort of thing you want to lug around, especially on a rainy day. The Waterloo Battlefield guide is a neat little hardback, readily portable in a backpack and should probably fit in a decent sized coat pocket, although I would be inclined to take off the dust-jacket to keep that in good condition. It reminds me of the trusty Handbook to the Roman Wall, which I have blogged about in the past as the ideal aid to a visit.

Obviously this is intended as a guidebook and so is not really the sort of thing you sit down and read from cover to cover in one sitting, although I have found myself following big chunks, curious about how particular topics are presented. There is a narrative, which briefly gives the background, and then in more detail the events of the campaign. This is done well, and I think would be easy to follow even if you begin with no real knowledge of the military aspect of things. The details of Waterloo remain highly controversial, as evidence is re-assessed and new material discovered. This is not a book about such controversies - otherwise it would be five or six times longer and still might not reach firm conclusions - so although you could say that a fair few incidents were more complicated, the description here is always sensible. More importantly it is structured to tie in with descriptions of personalities, themes, and most importantly the landscape, buildings, museums, and memorials there today. Sometimes the history of the latter is almost as interesting as the people or event commemorated - perhaps especially in the case of the many French monuments. This is an on-going story in itself, as nations and groups decide to present the past in different ways. The whole text along with the many illustrations, photographs and maps are well integrated, the historical narrative tying in nicely with the visible remains. The battle itself is also kept within the context of the wider events of the campaign, and it is good to see plenty of attention going to Ligny/Fleurus, Quatre Bras, and especially Wavre - the latter traditionally tended to receive less attention in British accounts. This is a nice addition to the enthusiast's library and the perfect companion to a visit. I shall certainly take it with me next time I go, as there are quite a few viewpoints and details I have not seen before - and enough reminders of things I have seen to make me wistful and eager to return.


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