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Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome.

This book breaks from the typological approach that has traditionally dominated the field of Roman military equipment studies. Its aims are ambitious: to examine the weaponry, armour, dress, tentage, tools and utensils of the Roman army from the early 2nd century BC to the early 5th century AD. Its approach pays off: broader issues arise from the study of the material and the authors tackle them well.

Three chapters describe the representational, archaeological and documentary evidence respectively. Representational evidence, once virtually the only source for Roman military equipment studies and now often disregarded, receives comprehensive attention in the first chapter. Useful observations about discard strategies follow in the chapter on archaeological evidence. Larger pieces of equipment are less likely to have been lost, the authors argue, than deliberately deposited (see also Bishop 1989). Thus much military paraphernalia discovered on or near fort sites may have been scrap deliberately abandoned during site demolition. Pursuing this logic Bishop & Coulston also argue that much weaponry and armour discovered in wetlands and rivers is better understood as ritual offering than accidental loss. Weapon sacrifices are well attested in prehistory, but Roman archaeologists have been loath to suggest that Roman soldiers may have followed such practices. The discovery of military equipment and a dedication plaque recording a veteran of Legio X Gemina among offerings at Empel in Holland make it clear that they did (Roymans & Derks 1990).

Ritual deposition of arms and armour during the Roman period was not restricted to watery places: it is also observable in burial contexts. Bishop & Coulston do not examine this complicated phenomenon in the chapter on archaeological evidence, but they do cite many examples of it in later chapters. The archaeological interpretation of mortuary ritual is notoriously difficult but it seems reasonable to suggest, as Bishop & Coulston do, that burials such as that containing a masked 'sports' helmet discovered at Catalka involve native commanders of Roman auxiliary units. Military equipment signalled status, a point that Bishop & Coulston develop throughout this book, and the possession of Roman equipment emphasized the importance of these men within the new, Roman, order. Other Roman or imitation-Roman equipment discovered in ritual contexts may also reflect Roman exploitation and transformation of martial societies. Bishop & Coulston mention 1st-century AD 'native' type swords discovered in Britain. They do not, however, say much about the contemporary German evidence. They note only that the 'thoroughly heterodox' dagger found in the Mehrum burial is 'assumed to have belonged to a Germanic auxiliary' (pp. 76--9). Some discussion of the identity of those buried with weapons would be useful, both in the interpretation of weapons and placing them in a social context. I would have appreciated the authors' views on the large number of short swords of allegedly Roman manufacture, discovered, in two cases with dolabrae and often with Samian, in graves, rivers and Roman forts (Schumacher 1989: 265--74).

Five well-organized chronological chapters detail the characteristics of Roman military equipment over six centuries. Each provides a comprehensive survey of relevant material, making full and balanced use of all sources of evidence. Careful attention is paid throughout to the accurate usage of Roman terms, and 'pseudo-technical' language is avoided. The format allows the reader to compare different types of equipment at different periods, although the discussion of symbols of rank under the heading 'metal vessels' at one point could cause confusion (p. 105).

I was uncertain about the authors' treatment of the material from Nawa, Syria (p. 109). Although the excavator did not attribute a post-Hadrianic date to the tomb (Abdul-Hak 1954--5: 167), Bishop & Coulston discuss it in their 'Antonine Revolution' chapter without justifying their dating. Furthermore, reference to the burial as 'Thracian-style' is misleading. Tomb construction and treatment of grave goods follow local, not Thracian, practices. Moreover, although the presence of masked 'sports' helmets in burials is particularly well attested in Thrace (Kohlert 1980: 223--32), it is also known in France, Luxembourg, and at two Syrian sites.

A useful discussion of production and technology follows the chronological survey. The authors' model for the role of forts and fabricae takes account of temporal and regional variation, and constitutes an important contribution to the complex topic of military supply. Also valuable is the survey of recent scientific studies of relevant technology. The concluding chapter tackles issues such as innovation and change, and ownership and storage of equipment. Identifying units from the archaeological record is now showing some potential and the authors develop this interesting theme. Finally, in an appendix, they ask 'was there "legionary" equipment?' Their conclusions suggest that it is the traditional view of unit deployment and movement, rather than of who wore what, that requires re-examination.

IAN HAYNES Merton College, Oxford


ABDUL-HAK, S. 1954--5. Rapport preliminaire sur des objects provenant de la necropole romaine situee a proximite de Nawa (Hauran), Les Annales Archeologiques de Syrie 4--5: 163--88.

BISHOP, M.C. 1989. O Fortuna: a sideways look at the archaeological record and Roman military equipment, in C. van Driel-Murray (ed.), Roman military equipment: the sources of evidence. Proceedings of the fifth Roman military equipment conference: 1--11. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. International series S476.

KOHLERT, M. 1980. Romische Gesichtsmasken aus Thrakien und Niedermosien, in R. Vulpe (ed.), Actes [II.sup.eme] congres international de Thracologie; 223--32. Bucarest; Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste Romania.

ROYMANS, N. & T. DERKS. 1990. Ein keltisch-romischer Kultbezirk bei Empel (Niederlande), Archaologisches Korrespondenzblatt 20: 443--51.

SCHUMACHER, F.-J. 1989. Ein Treverkrieger in romischen Diensten, in A. Haffner (ed.), Graber -- Spiegel des Lebens: 265--74. Mainz: Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier.
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Author:Haynes, Ian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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