Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome, a short review


Caesar's Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of RomeCaesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caesar’s Legion is a short history, primarily focusing on the entire life of the Tenth Legion (aka Legio X Equestris) which was created by Julius Caesar in 61 BC when he was the Governor of Hispania Ulterior. Already immersed in a rivalry with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (aka Pompey the Great), it wasn’t enough for him to inherit Legions 7,8, and 9 from Pompey– he wanted a unit that would bear his own mark and be loyal to him. Dando-Collins traces the story of the Legions exploits, from the early campaigns in modern-day Portugal, to the Gallic Wars, to the Civil Wars, the assassination of Julius Caesar and its aftermath, and inclusion into the new Imperial Army of Augustus and later Emperors of Rome. Dando-Collins’s work is largely unknown to me; I suspect he got most of the facts right (based on the leading historians of the day that have come down to us). His writing style is adventuresome and dramatic, which fits well with his body of work, which appear to be mostly light historical books written for a young adult audience.

I enjoyed Mr. Dando-Collins’ specific focus on individual military units. Obviously the focus is on the Legio X Equestris, but there are many other fellow travelling Legions in the book that reappear in the narrative constantly. The Legions raised in Hispania (Pompey’s 7-9, Caesar’s 10 and later units) appear to have been highly prized by Roman military commanders and deserving of their reputations of ferocity, boldness and toughness. Mr. Dando-Collins has written books on other Roman military units (Nero’s 14th Legion, Caesar’s Sixth Legion, and the Third Gallica), which, if they follow the pattern of this book, I’d certainly be interested in reading.

I certainly enjoy the author’s style– it’s chatty, focuses on the human moments that we can all relate to, and he does not shy away from the unpleasant topics. Directly after the epic Battle of Pharsala, where Caesar defeated Pompey, the much valued Spanish Legions all lapsed into mutiny over pay, retirement and the non-payment of bonuses, causing the entire Caesarian army to grow mutinous by their example. This is a fact that Caesar himself never mentions in his history books. There’s a lot of interesting detail in Caesar’s Legion; not just about the wide scope of history but also about the day to day life of a common Roman soldier. If you are an uncompromising history enthusiast who insists on original sources for any book on an ancient subject, you might not like it.  I enjoyed it– it’s certainly not on the level of, say, Adrian Goldsworthy, but I’d read this author again.

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