Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Caesar's Legion by Stephen Dando-Collins

For many years, Julius Caesar was a cartoon character for me – I admit that I learnt to read by paging through dog-eared copies of Asterix and Obelix comics. But of late, in my increased delving into history, my fascination with the Roman empire has grown, perhaps because some of the juicier bits involve Egypt. Also, as an author of fantasy fiction, I'm a huge believer in gaining an understanding of things of a more military persuasion. Caesar's Legion by Stephen Dando-Collins, which is well narrated by Stuart Langton, certainly gave me a much deeper understanding of the Roman legions, and also the machinations of the empire itself. 

Although the work focuses most on the doings of the renowned Spanish Tenth Legion, we get a broader picture of the Roman military in general, as well as the conflicts from within and without the empire. Love him or hate him, Julius Caesar really was a force to be reckoned with – and there's a reason why he's been immortalised in our cultural objects. While Dando-Collins does enact some dramatic license in this work, he nevertheless leans heavily on existing primary sources – so if you're looking for a meaty engagement with the topic, this is pretty darned good, giving everything from how the legions ordered their camps all the way to the many campaigns the legions were engaged in.

Empire building is a tricky business, as we discover. There are the struggles at the beginning, the glory days, and then the inevitable slow winding down. While it can be argued that imperial powers do a lot of damage to the smaller cultures they assimilate, empires also build something that is bigger than the sum of all their parts – and we still see echoes of Rome in contemporary Western culture to this day. Caesar's Legion is an incredibly useful resource to anyone fascinated by this culture, and if I ever do lay hands on a printed copy, it will be part of my permanent collection. If you're a history buff like me, or simply someone curious to learn more, this is an excellent resource.

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