This book focuses on the most significant defeats in Roman military history, starting with the early defeat by the Celts in 390 BC and covering a period of over 800 years between that early Celtic sack of the city and the Gothic and Vandal sacks of Rome in the fifth century AD. The aim is to look at what caused these defeats, and how the Romans learnt from them.
Some sections of the book drift away from the original aim. Cleopatra may have been a controversial figure in Rome, and an important figure in a civil war, but she didn't inflict any military defeats on the Romans. In some sections we get more of a general military history, and the focus on defeats and disasters is slightly lost. The possible destruction of the Theban Legion, probably a religious invention, doesn't really fit either, falling more into the history of religious persecution and myth making than military disasters. One of the states aims is to trace how Rome reacted to these defeats, and what military lessons they learned. This happens in some sections (in particular for the earlier periods), but is less common later on.
I'm not sure I agree with the author's comment that Rome had a quieter time militarily in the Imperial period compared to the Republican period. What does change is the nature of most wars, with successful wars of conquest rare, and replaced by a prolonged series of defensive wars on most frontiers, uprisings, civil wars and conflicts with Parthia or Persia in the east. These wars tend to be less well documented and less dramatic than the neatly labelled wars of the Republican period, but no less hard fought.
At its best this book is very good, coming up with convincing reasons for the major defeats and examining the changes in tactics, strategy and military equipment that often followed, as the Romans showed an unusual level of willingness to learn from their enemies. Even the weaker sections are still useful, cataloguing the surprising number of heavy defeats suffered by Roman armies all around the Empire. What this book makes clear is that Rome's success was largely due to her impressive resilience, which lasted almost to the end in the West.
Part One: The Republic
1 - Rome's Peninsular Wars
2 - The Roman War Machine
3 - The Sources
4 - The Fourth Century: The Gallic Invasion and the Samnite Wars
5 - The Third Century: the Wars with Pyrrhys, the Punic Wars and the Gallic Invasion
6 - The Second Century: the Spanish Wars, Viriathus and the Invasion of the Northmen
7 - The First Century: the Social War, Spartacus, Mithridates, Crassus, the Parthians and the Gauls
8 - 'Doom Monster' - Cleopatra VII
Part Two: The Empire
9 - The Early Empire: Clades Lolliana 16 BC, the Teutoburg Forest AD 9
10 - Boudica's Revolt AD 60
11 - Beth-Heron AD 66 and the Jewish War AD 68
12 - Carnuntum AD 170; the Crisis of the Third Century - Abritus AD 251, Edessa AD 260
13 - The Theban Legion Massacre AD 286
14 - Adrianople Ad 378
15 - Alaric's Sack of Rome AD 410
Author: Paul Chrystal
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military