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The Roman Army - 20 credits (HS4367)

Staff: Kate Gilliver

As one of the first professional standing armies in history, the Roman army has been the object of much admiration and study. This module will cover the changing organisation and role of the army and its fighting techniques from the Republic to the late Empire, the lives of the soldiers who served in the various branches of the army, and its effectiveness as a fighting force. Particular attention will be paid to sites such as Numantia and Masada, and sculptural evidence.

Optional for: all Archaeology and Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn and spring semesters in alternate years
Teaching: 20 lectures and 4 seminars; optional field trips
Assessment: one essay (35%); source criticism exercises (15%); one 2-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • the nature of the evidence
  • military organization and equipment
  • developments during the Republic and Empire (to c.3rd century AD)
  • the professionalization of the army and its role in politics and society
  • relations between army and society; ‘garrison life’
  • ancient military theory
  • logistics and campaign techniques
  • pitched battles and siege warfare
  • conduct in war


  • To provide an in-depth study of the Roman army during the Republic and Empire.
  • To enable an understanding of the changing roles of the army, the reasons for those changes, and the effectiveness of the army in those roles from the early second century BC to the later Roman Empire.
  • To acquire a familiarity with the wealth of evidence relating to the Roman army, both material and literary, a critical understanding of the nature of that evidence, and an ability to employ a range of evidence in studying the nature and role of the army.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge and critical understanding of the archaeological and documentary evidence relating to the Roman army, and of modern views and interpretations of that evidence.
  • a knowledge and understanding of the roles of the Roman army and its ability to fulfil its roles.
  • an ability to apply critically the literary and archaeological evidence in studying the Roman army.
  • an ability to analyse the effects of social and political change on the army and the role of the army in society and politics.
  • an abilty to analyse the effectiveness of the army in war.
  • critical deployment of appropriate archaeological and literary evidence.
  • the ability to use archaeological evidence for ancient history in an informed way / the ability to use literary evidence for archaeology in an informed way.
  • the ability to identify Roman military evidence in the archaeological record.
  • an ability to discuss a range of issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.
  • an ability to contribute to group discussions, ask pertinent questions, and co-operate with and learn from peers.

Primary sources (to be bought)

B. Campbell, The Roman Army 31 BC–AD 337 (1994)

Preliminary reading

M. C. Bishop and J. C. N. Coulston, Roman Military Equipment (second edition, 2006)
A. Goldsworthy, The Roman Army at War (1996)
L. Keppie, The Making of the Roman Army (1984)
G. Watson, The Roman Soldier (1969)
If you want to buy any one of the above, buy Keppie.

Some literary sources:
Polybius, Rise of the Roman Empire, Penguin
Sallust, The War against Jugurtha, Penguin
Caesar, Gallic War
Josephus, The Jewish War

Important note: You must have a reasonable knowledge and understanding of Roman history in order to succeed on this module. The chronological parameters of the module are the mid-second century BC to the late third century AD. If you need to read up on this period, try the following:
M. Cary and H. H. Scullard, A History of Rome (3rd edition, 1975) [very basic narrative]
P. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (1971; reprinted 1978, 1986) [useful on the end of the Republic]
R. Alston, Aspects of Roman History, AD 14–117 (1998)
C. M. Wells, The Roman Empire (1984)

Related modules

Prerequisite modules: HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World or HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3316 Conquest and Crisis: the Roman Republic

HS3317 Roman Imperial History 31 BC–AD 138

HS3333 Rome and Carthage

HS4351 Army and Society: Homer to Alexander