Book Review: Republican Roman Warships 509 – 27 BC by Raffaele D’Amato.

Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (UK) (20 Sept. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472808274
ISBN-13: 978-1472808271

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Fans of John Stack’s Ship of Rome series and students and readers of ancient history will certainly want to add Osprey’s newest nautical “New Vanguard” title to their shelves.
Famed as a mostly land based power, the might of Rome has never been represented by her navy, yet it was control of the sea that set the foundations of her dominance on land.
When people think of the Roman military they see a legionary in segmented armour carrying a rectangular shield and wearing an imperial Gallic helmet on his head, this represents a soldier of the empire. The Republic is usually sidelined, Let alone the vital contribution the fleets of pre Imperial Italy.
Without the decisive victory won in the first Punic War, a victory in which the decisive factor was the defeat of Carthaginian sea power, the defeat of the Pirates and Gauls by Pompey and Caesar (respectively) and the history changing struggle at Actium, Rome would have been unable to dominate the Mediterranean Coast from Gibraltar to Constantinople and Alexandria to Tangier.
This slim volume is highly illustrated with excellent archeological photographs and diagrams accompanying the slew of full colour plates by Giuseppe Rava. The main artwork is very colourful and action packed, though the ship diagrams are interesting and bright they could have used some cutaway artwork or a point by point diagram for clarity. Nevertheless they are of a high, if somewhat heavy standard, the best being the dramatic illustrations of the Siege of Syracuse and the Battle of the Aegates Islands.
Content wise there’s allot of useful information here. Starting with an interesting background to Roman Seapower the author then outlines types and classes of ships, various equipment and tactics at sea. There is a certain predictability in the kit and strategy sections, dominated as such by the usual stock tactics that ancient commanders tended to use on the waves and the mighty Corvus that brought Rome victory in the 1st Punic War. I’d have loved it if the illustration of the battle of Armorica showed us the halyard cutting device Brutus used to overcome the Gallic Veneti, a description of this type of improvisational apparatus might have spiced up the equipment section a little more, however this is mere quibbling for a chap starved of ancient Roman navy books.
After the discussion of the why’s and how’s the author turns to key campaigns fought by the Republican fleets, this part is dominated by overviews of the First Punic War and the Naval Campaigns that followed the death of Caesar. As is the case with Osprey overviews they tantalise as much as they inform, but for those who want more they have an excellent Campaign book out about the Battle of Actium.
All in all this is a very worthwhile addition to the series and one I will certainly be utilising in the future.

Josh.

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