Adrian Goldsworthy presents a detailed account of the lives of Roman generals, including some of the best known – Caesar, Pompey, Scipio Africanus – as well as others who were less renowned. In many of these cases Goldsworthy’s knowledge is limited by the lack of direct historical sources, and each case presents him with a different challenge in attempting to identify the real historical events. He shares these challenges with the reader in a way that is quite illuminating.
In the Name of Rome not only traces the lives of individual generals who contributed to the military achievement of the Roman Empire, it also reflects the changing role of the army and of the generals in public and military life. The nature of the early republic and its downfall through civil war is fairly well known, and I had read Tom Holland’s Rubicon which gives a thorough account of that period. I had also read Ross Leckie’s Scipio Africanus, and indeed the whole of his Carthage Trilogy, which I really recommend, so the exploits of the early generals was, shall I say, revision. Nevertheless there was lots of interest in these sections, particularly about the organisation of the Roman army, the way it travelled, its feats of engineering and its battle tactics.
Later chapters were equally interesting, and well worth reading, though what struck me most here was the way in which Goldsworthy explored the changing role of the army after the end of the republic, and how he found the seeds of Rome’s destruction in the new political system that could never allow any general to develop an army strong enough to challenge the emperor in Rome. He describes the battles at the end of empire as a series of skirmishes, claiming that Rome reached its zenith within 100 years of the end of the republic, and could never again maintain an army of conquest in quite the same way.
If you are interested in military history and in the history of Rome you should read this book though I have to warn you that it is quite academic and if novels are your thing you would prefer Ross Leckie.