This book looks at a obscure but important phase of Roman history - the conquest of the Italian Peninsula. This is a period in which the story of Rome emerges from the legendary into the historical (just about), and saw a city state that was only one of several Latin powers slowly defeat every rival within the Italian peninsula before winning her first war against a foreign enemy - the famous Pyrrhic War.
Many of Rome's enemies during this period are unfamiliar to us now. At the start of the period Rome was hemmed in between the Etruscans to the north, the Italic hill tribes to the east and her Latin neighbours to the south. Later the Samnite tribes of the Apennines enter the picture, as do the independent Greek cities of southern Italy and their foreign allies. Perhaps most famously the Gauls make their first dramatic entrance into Roman history, sacking the city at the start of the fourth century B.C.
I would have liked Cowan to have included a brief section on our principle sources for this period and the problems they can cause. Our main source, Livy's history of the Roman Republic, was written five hundred years after the earliest events covered here, and Livy himself admitted that there were many problems with his own sources. I would also have liked to see a series of maps showing the situation at different key moments (there are maps showing the main areas involved in the fighting), although the uncertain history of the period does make that difficult.
Cowen has done a good job of producing a coherent narrative from the difficult sources, a difficult task that involves sifting through the often confused ancient historical tradition to distinguish between real events and entirely or mostly fictional campaigns (often involving Roman victories that come unrealistically quickly after major defeats). This is a fine start to a series of books looking at Roman Conquests.
The Triumph of Roman Arms
Warriors of the Sacred Spring
The Great Samnite War
The Pyrrhic War
Author: Ross Cowan
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
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