Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book "Like"

Since I don't really do the social media thing, I thought I would "like" this book here. The book is Rome and the Sword by Simon James. The description from the dust jacket states:

The story of Rome and its military seems a familiar one, told often through movies, books and games, yet it is a modern myth obscuring a different reality. As this groundbreaking study demonstrates, Rome’s military was no war machine made up of mindless cogs. There was not even an ancient term for the Roman army; rather, Romans spoke of “the soldiers”—of men, not institutions.

Simon James provides a striking new perspective on Roman history by focusing on the soldiers and their actions. Throughout the story of the sword - both as supreme, bloodstained exemplar of technology and metaphor of imperial power - we learn the violent reality of Rome's rule. Soldiers were less sentinels of civilization than enforcers for aristocrats and autocrats against foreign foes and internal dissent alike. They were brutal and unruly, prone to mutiny and rebellion. How, then, to account for their sustained success and eventual failure?

Rome’s dominion was achieved through soldiers’ ferocity and excellent weaponry, but to maintain it the conquered were integrated, as diplomacy accompanied the threat of the sword. Allies and subjects became Romans themselves - millions through military service, bringing with them new arms and tactics. Yet the aggression of Rome’s soldiers precipitated the rise of enemies in the east and north who would ultimately bring the empire to an end.

I am a sucker for anything having to do with Romans and descriptions of the ways and the whys of combat. As my reading of Roman history has focused more on the Republic than on the Empire, I learned a lot from this book. I was particularly struck by the analysis of the combination of "the sword and the open hand" with which the Romans created and sustained the empire.

I am sharing an old favorite, as well, in the light of all the attention that Studio Tomahawk's SAGA rules have attracted. I re-read The Last Apocalypse by James Reston, Jr. every few years and it always gets me excited about the "Dark Ages" again. 

 From the dust jacket:

Enter the world of 1000 A.D., when Vikings, Moors, and barbarians battled kings and popes for the fate of Europe.

As the millennium approached, Europeans feared the world would end.  The old order was crumbling, and terrifying and confusing new ideas were gaining hold in the populace.  Random and horrific violence seemed to sprout everywhere without warning, and without apparent remedy.  And, in fact, when the millennium arrived the apocalypse did take place; a world did end, and a new world arose from the ruins.

In 950, Ireland, England, and France were helpless against the ravages of the seagoing Vikings; the fierce and strange Hungarian Magyars laid waste to Germany and Italy; the legions of the Moors ruled Spain and threatened the remnants of Charlemagne's vast domain.  The papacy was corrupt and decadent, overshadowed by glorious Byzantium.  Yet a mere fifty years later, the gods of the Vikings were dethroned, the shamans of the Magyars were massacred, the magnificent Moorish caliphate disintegrated: The sign of the cross held sway from Spain in the West to Russia in the East.

James Reston, Jr.'s enthralling saga of how the Christian kingdoms converted, conquered, and slaughtered their way to dominance brings to life unforgettable historical characters who embodied the struggle for the soul of Europe.  From the righteous fury of the Viking queen Sigrid the Strong-Minded, who burned unwanted suitors alive; to the brilliant but too-cunning Moor Al-Mansor the Illustrious Victor; to the aptly named English king Ethelred the Unready; to the abiding genius of the age, Pope Sylvester II--warrior-kings and concubine empresses, maniacal warriors and religious zealots, bring this stirring period to life.

The Last Apocalypse is a book rich in personal historical detail, flavored with the nearly magical sensibility of an apocalyptic age. 

The book is full of "larger-than-life" characters and stories culled from the Sagas of the time, as described by the author in the book:

The Last Apocalypse has all the background needed to construct a Dark Age campaign for Saga, DBA or even HOTT. Oh yeah, I've thought about it. . .

See ya!


  1. Yes Lat Apocalypse good. LIke the description of the "Blood Eagle" for those Scandanavians who didn't convert.

  2. That "Blood Eagle" description kept me up for two nights the first time I read it. . .

  3. I have to add those to my amazon wishlist.

  4. "Last Apocalypse" is a must-read.