The Roman Army:
The Legendary Soldiers Who Created an Empire

Author: Dyan Blacklock; Illustrator: David Kennett
Pages: 48
Publisher/Date: Walker & Company/2004
ISBN: 0802788963
Age Levels: 6 and up

Book Review

This is one of the finest non-fiction children's books we have had the privilege to review. It is brilliantly conceived and executed, from the endpapers with their depictions of Roman soldiers through the ages, to the flowing, clear text, to the finely detailed artwork.

The introduction briefly conveys a sense of the enormity of the Roman Empire at its height as well as the power of the Romans themselves. ". . . it extended form Syria in the east and northern Africa in the south, to Britain and Germany in the north." Upon turning the page the reader is treated to a double-page spread containing a floor map of the empire, its vast expanse colored in red. Symbolically standing around the border are four Romans, looking down at the map.

How did one come to gain such an empire, and, perhaps more importantly, how did one control that empire? "This complex and dangerous work," states the author, "was the job of one of the most fearsome forces the world has ever seen—the Roman army."

We learn—through word and picture—that the Roman army was an extremely well-organized body: well-trained, well-equipped, and well taken care of. Legions (5,500 men) comprised the army. The book describes in detail the equipment of the legionaries, how they marched, what they ate, how they camped, how and when they fought, and, if they survived the twenty-year stints, how they were discharged.

Descriptions of the army's camp are particularly fascinating. Survey teams selected a site for the camp, laying out the perimeter and setting out flags to indicate where the streets would go. An outer, protective ditch was dug and a wooden fence built behind that. We learn that each army camp, no matter where it might be physically, was laid out in exactly the same way.

When engaging an enemy, the army began by firing its "throwing weapons"—catapults and ballistae (catapults resembling large crossbows). Each weapon is given its own page, complete with detailed drawings.

Liberally sprinkled throughout the text are interesting tidbits of knowledge. Roman soldiers, for example, were sometimes paid with salt in the early days. "The word salary," writes the author, "comes form sal, the Latin word for salt. The word soldier, in turn, comes from an old French word for 'salary.'"

Included is a bibliography and an index.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2004 Education Oasis

About the Author

Dyan Blacklock is a writer and a publisher. She has written a number of books for children including Pankration: The Ultimate Game, an adventure novel set in Ancient Greece, and Nudes & Nikes: Champions and Legends of the First Olympics, a history of the Olympic Games. She lives in Adelaide, Australia.

About the Illustrator

David Kennett has worked as a freelance artist, a designer, and an art director. He is now a full-time book illustrator whose previous books include The King's Gift and Lucky I Have My Umbrella. He lives in Glenside, Australia, a suburb of Adelaide.