Limits of Empire – Rome’s Borders, Simon Forty and Jonathan Forty

Limits of Empire – Rome’s Borders, Simon Forty and Jonathan Forty

At its peak the frontiers of the Roman Empire stretched for over 5,000 miles, from Hadrian’s Wall in Brittania, then from the North Sea across central Europe to the Black Sea, then south through the Middle East to the Red Gulf, then running deep into Africa along the Nile before turning west to run along the length of North Africa.

We start with a look at the expansion of the Roman Empire towards what became its long term borders, a process that first saw the idea of a fixed frontier develop. Next comes a look at the border troops, which became an increasingly important part of the Roman army over time. Next is a look at the engineering behind the border fortifications, covering topics such as the nature of the Roman fort and how it changed over time.

Chapter Four, looking at the borders themselves, fills well over half of the book. The chapter is subdivided into geographical sections, starting in Britannia and going clockwise around the Empire, ending in north-west Africa. Each subsection gets a brief introduction, but most of this chapter is visual, with photographs of the surviving defences and of modern recreations, and illustrations showing how they may have looked when intact, each with a sizable and information caption.

This chapter leaves several strong impressions. First is an appreciation of just how much effort went into these fortifications, which protected thousands of miles of frontier. There must have been thousands of forts and other defensive structures scattered around the borders of the empire. Second is how impressive the remains of these buildings are, with significant fragments to be found all around the frontier of the Empire. Third is the impressive variety of structures, ranging from tiny watchtowers to massive Legionary Fortresses, road networks and more rarely stretches of wall or other linear fortification. Fourth is how much effort has gone into excavating and preserving these remains, with impressive sites to be found along almost the entire frontier.  

We finish with a look at life on the border, both for the military and in the associated civilian settlements. Surprisingly little is known about life in the vicus, but we get a decent idea of what it might have been like here.

1 – Border Expansion
2 – Border Troops
3 – Border Engineering
4 – The Borders
5 – Border Life

Author: Simon Forty and Jonathan Forty
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 200
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2021

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