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2012-02-19
True story behind True Soldier Gentlemen

I have just finished reading David Buttery's Wellington against Junot. The first invasion of Portugal 1807-1808 published by Pen&Sword last year. Studies of specific campaigns from the Peninsula War are surprisingly rare, and the early phases tend to be skimmed over quite quickly in the general accounts. Rolica and Vimeiro are less studied than Wellesley/Wellington's later, more famous victories. It is therefore very nice to come across a detailed look at these early campaigns.


For those wanting to know more about the real history behind the story in True Soldier Gentlemen I cannot think of a better place to start. The author sets the scene well, from the wider European context of Napoleon wanting to complete the success of his successive defeats of Austria, Prussia and Russia, to the politics of Spain and - the often neglected - Portugal. I tried to give some hint of this in the story, but in the end the focus has to stay with the main characters. In Wellington against Junot you get far more detail and explanation, with good accounts of the decisions for invasion, the ordeal of the ill-prepared French army on its march to Lisbon, and the breakdown of attempts to control the country, over stretching French resources already faced with outbreaks of resistance in Spain. Junot scarcely appears in the novel, and like so many of the real historical figures from this period had a life more dramatic than almost anything a novelist could invent. I confess that I did not know of his encounter with Nelson - but then until I read up for Beat the Drums Slowly I confess that it had not sunk in that Nelson and Moore had taken part in the same operations in the Mediterranean. The cross-over of many of the big names in this period is in itself fascinating.


As well as the politics, the military side is covered clearly and in detail. It is nice to know the source for the 29th fighting in a four-deep line at Vimeiro. I found that in Weller, and so had my fictional 106th do the same, but he gave no source and am grateful now to have found it - Buttery quotes Leslie formerly of the 29th: 'We were instantly ordered to form four deep, which formation afforded the advantage of showing a front to meet the enemy in line, and at the same time sufficient strength to resist cavalry.'


I can think of no better recommendation that simply to say that I wish this book had been around when I was researching TSG!

 
2012-02-19
E-mail problems resolved
The link to e-mail me is now working again. Apologies to anyone who tried to e-mail and found that the message bounced
 
2011-12-04
Rome and the Sword

I am hoping to post several book recommendations during the next week, and want to begin with an excellent book on a subject close to my heart. Simon James' Rome and the Sword. How Warriors and Weapons Shaped Roman History (Thames & Hudson, 2011) is the most interesting thing on the topic for quite a while. Simon has worked on the military material from Dura Europos, among many other things, and is one of the leading experts on ancient military equipment. That knowledge shines through here, but the book is not focused on weapons and armour for their own sake and is a much wider study of the soldiers who used them, on the place of Roman soldiers in wider society and how this developed over the centuries, and deservedly places them at the heart of the creation and spread of the Roman state, as well as its eventual disappearance. Expressly this is not a book about the Roman army, because the Romans did not really use the term, and instead spoke of armies and soldiers. They did have a concept of the 'military' as a distinct sphere of life and activity covered by different rules and laws. This is just another reason why studying Roman politics or warfare in isolation misunderstands the intimate links between them, especially under the Republic and early empire


Rome and the Sword is a good read and ought to be enjoyable if you have little or no prior knowledge, but I think that the more you have read then the more interesting and challenging you will find it. It is a really good example of how to use archaeological evidence far more imaginatively than as simply a comparison of individual finds, and of integrating it with other types of evidence. This is a challenging book, and you may not agree with all the arguments - I have a slightly different view of the later army and empire - but they certainly make you think in a fresh way about long familiar subjects. It deserves to be widely read, not only by people interested in the Roman military, but also by those concerned with Roman political and social history/archaeology in general. Sadly many of the latter remain inclined to ignore or grossly over-simplify the role played by Roman soldiers.

 
2011-11-10
Paperback True Soldier Gentlemen
A shameless plug this time! The paperback of True Soldier Gentlemen is now on sale in the UK.
 
2011-10-26
Calix Imperium

A few days ago I was sent a pewter beaker from a new company called Calix Imperium. They tell me that this is the first of a range of historically themed drinking vessels and in this case the theme is the legions of the first century AD. One scene has a centurion charging forward, a harness covered in phalerae over his mail cuirass. Another shows a legionary in lorica segmentata, his gladius held low, and behind him a formation of other legionaries still with their pila. The remaining scene has an aquilifer, again backed by a formation of soldiers. Over each scene is a profile of Vespasian, much like a coin - the centurion and his chums have shields with the capricorn on them based on the Arch at Arausio, and plausibly interpreted as belonging to Legio II Augusta, which of course Vespasian commanded in AD 43. The designers have done their research well and got things right. The aquilifer wears his sword on the left like a centurion, but at least one tombstone does show this, even if there is also evidence for them wearing the sword on the right, like an ordinary legionaries.


All in all it is a very handsome, well made piece. Not sure whether I'll ever use it for drinking - in fact I suspect it may be obligatory to quaff from such a cup - but it has pride of place on the mantelpiece in my new office, next to a Graham Sumner print and soon to be joined by a couple of framed Peter Connolly posters. It does look very nice.

 

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