Adrian Goldworthy’s In the Name of Rome is something of a mixed bag. It purports itself as being an examination of the Roman style of command by looking at several of its most prominent generals. The selection is constrained to those where there’s enough known to be able to say something intelligent, which warps the coverage somewhat. Goldsworthy covers fifteen generals, with Caesar coming in for extra attention (of course!) and two (Fabius and Marcellus) combined into one chapter, and thus feeling a bit more summarized.

Despite the fact that this is centered around individual people, Goldsworthy actually spends a fair amount of time providing extra background and bridging, and the volume can serve as a decent history of Rome from the Second Punic War through the early Empire. After his chapter on Titus and the siege of Jerusalem, the gaps become too big (mostly because of a lack of sources on individual commanders) and the overall narrative of events breaks down for the final two chapters on Julian and Belisarius, making them feel more like the separate essays you would expect from the general format of the book.

The part that surprised me, is that while the book is supposed to be about Roman command, it seemed like it had more to say about the Roman military itself. He points out early on that the Roman Republic army was set up to be a very non-professional force, with it’s constant cycle of recruiting a legion, training it, and then disbanding it once the immediate goal/campaign is done. This leads to Roman armies having trouble at the start of the Second Punic War when there’s been little training, and doing better as experience is gained. In the years afterward, there’s a good number of veterans that cycle into the new legions, and help power Rome’s growth in the 2nd Century BC. Then the Marian reforms put the legions on a more permanent basis, with long-term training, making it a professional service, and creating the armies that both conquer large portions of the future Empire, and tear the Republic apart as they fight each other.

On the other hand, the last two chapters show just how completely this had all come apart. While the Empire was still a major state, even after the fall of the Western half by the time of Belisarius, and the total number of men under arms could still be fairly large, the actual armies in use were very small in comparison to previous centuries. Goldworthy’s main analysis of Julian is that his successful campaigns against various Germanic tribes would have been handled locally by a provincial governor instead of needing attention from near the very top. His failure against Persia is given as being at least partly due to having to manage a larger army and distances than he had yet had to deal with. Finally, Belisarius’ armies are generally puny, and he has to put up with a lack of discipline and mutiny that would never have been allowed in an early legion.

The stated idea of how Roman generals functioned is discussed throughout the book as well, but it felt less prominent than the arc I just summarized. But the book is large enough to support both threads, while talking about the actual people involved, and threading much of the history together. At the large scale, all the history in here can be found in any number of other places, but this particular presentation is a good one, and does develop its own themes well.