by Simon James

Thames & Hudson, $29.95, 328 pages

At the beginning of the Roman era in the Mediterranean, there’s very little to separate Rome from her rivals. There’s seemingly no particular reason why Rome became the seat of the most powerful and dynamic republic, and empire in Western Europe. Why then, did Rome succeed, first as a Republic for 350 years, and then as an Empire for another 450 years? As author Simon James states in the introduction to his book Rome and the Sword, the sword is both a significant implement of war, and an enduring symbol of power. James suggests that it’s impossible to think about Rome AND her armies, that there’s simply no division there. Rome was her army, that martial violence, and there’s a lengthy deconstruction about what exactly is meant by martial violence, was integral to the concept of Rome.

As implements of war, Roman swords, known collectively as Gladius, evolved significantly over time, but James doesn’t spend an inordinate, or overly-technical portion of the book on sword design, metallurgy or craftsmanship. Simon James’ scholarly and fascinating book examines the meaning of the sword, and its place as a defining tool and symbol of martial power. This book is ideal for any armchair classical historian.

Reviewed by Bradley Wright