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.
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.