The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, David J. Breeze

The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, David J. Breeze

The massive Roman Empire had an equally massive frontier, with land borders in northern England, Germany, the Balkans, the Middle East and all around North Africa, and equally length sea frontiers. During the Empire the Romans built increasingly complex border defenses. Some parts of the frontier are familiar – Hadrian’s Wall or the German ‘Limes’, and I have read accounts of individual forts elsewhere around the Empire, but this is the first time I’ve read a study that examines all of the frontiers. This book is an attempt to produce an overview of our current knowledge of that massive frontier, looking at the individual elements – the forts, fortlets, towers, mile castles and walls, as well as how they linked up, and

It soon becomes clear that although Hadrian’s Wall wasn’t a typical Roman frontier, most of the Roman border was marked by a similar if less dense line of forts, fortlets, towers and shorter stretches of wall. Each section appears to have been laid out slightly differently, but at the same time each section does appear to have been built according to a master plan, with regular gaps between forts, regular patterns of forts and smaller fortifications and so forth.

The examination of the frontiers soon helps explain why the nature of the Roman army changed in the Late Empire, after the original ‘classical’ legions ended up dispersed between hundreds of forts, fortlets, towers all along the vast Roman frontier. While these dispersed forces were well suited to act as border guards, they were no longer so useful against any sizable invasion, which would be past them and into the interior before they could come together. As a result the later Emperors created separate field armies, which were meant to deal with any force that penetrated into the Empire.

This is a fascinating book, providing an excellent overview of the huge array of border fortifications built by the Romans around their Empire, along with a discussion of what these buildings were actually meant to achieve – customs post, military frontier or an early version of the Berlin wall!

Part I: Sources
1 – The Frontiers
2 – An Overview of theSources
3 – The Romans on Frontiers
4 – The Romans on Frontier Installations
5 – Regulations and Treaties
6 – The Building Blocks of Frontiers

Part II: The Frontiers
7 – Linear Barriers
8 – River Frontiers
9 – Desert Frontiers
10 – Mountain Frontiers
11 – Sea Frontiers
12 – Forest, Marshes and Swamps
13 – The Deep Frontier: Defence-in-Depth?

Part III: Interpretation
14 – The Development of Frontiers
15 – Military Deployment
16 – A Comparison of Frontiers
17 – Decision Making
18 – How Did Frontiers Work?
19 – The Purpose and Operations of Roman Frontiers
20 – Were Roman Frontiers Successful?

Author: David J. Breeze
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2019

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