Book Review- Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

July 3, 2016


Teutoburg Forest, A. D. 9. Michael McNally. (Osprey, Oxford, 2011). Softcover. 96 pages. Illus., Maps, Bibliography. $19.95. ISBN: 978-1-84603-581-4.

The battle between the XVII, XVIII and XIX Roman Legions and the German tribes of the Cherusaii, Angrivarii and Bructeri fought in the Teutoburg in A. D. 9 was the Roman equivalent of The Little Big Horn or Isandhlwana; professional soldiers were defeated by primitive native tribes. Of the five legions that officially disappeared from the Roman Army List over the ages, three vanished in this battle in northwestern Germany. And, who can forget Augustus crying ” Quinctillius Varus! Give me back my eagles!” in the BBC production of I, Claudius?

Rome was engaged in active operations east of the Rhine River in an area bounded on further to the the east by the Elbe River known as Germania Magna, Greater Germany. Their aim may have been to add this territory to the Empire. In this their commander, Publius Quinctillius Varus was thwarted by the Roman trained German leader, Hermann (or in Latin, Ariminius). Recent archeology had led to a re-interpretation of this battle. Rather than a forest massacre, Major Terry Chunn (British Army, Retired) has reconstructed a running battle lasting from 8 to 11 September during which Ariminius was able to divide and exhaust the Roman force before closing in for the kill. Varus committed suicide and Rome set its European boundaries on the Rhine and Danube.

The author, Michael McNally is passionate student of military history and lives in Germany with his family.

Clothing, equipment and terrain are excellently illustrated in Osprey style and there are many photos of the monument commemorating the battle, Weg Der Romer, near Karlkriese, Germany. This work is highly reccomended for the general reader of ancient history or to supplement reading of classical works.

James B. Ronan II


Book Review: The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, From Pen and Sword Publishers.

July 3, 2016



The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, David J. Breeeze (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, 2011). 242 pages, illus. maps, notes, biblio. ISBN: 978-1-84884-427-8. $45.00.

The most familiar Hadrian’s Wall was atypical of the barriers erected by the Roman Empire to mark the limits of their territory. Wherever the Romans built border limits, they used the most available materials and took advantage of terrain features to achieve their purpose. These barriers were designed to defend the empire, but not in the sense that they formed an impenetrable curtain wall. They controlled access to the Empire and movement within it, protected farmers and traders against raiders, were springboards for offense and were symbolic; “Look upon my works and despair”. Hadrian’s Wall was erected under the supervision of the Emperor and displayed a more splendid aspect than the ditches, palisades and outposts of other frontiers.

Conveniently divided by the author into categories of frontiers, rivers, desert, mountains, and forests the reader can see what impelled the Romans to build the border limits the way they did. All around the Empire from Britain to Germany to the Danube to the Black Sea to the deserts of the Levant, Egypt and North Africa the reader is introduced not only to Roman ingenuity but to their strategic and tactical planning and the vastness of the Empire. Natural obstacles were supplemented by physical barriers and often, the limits were defined by an indistinct line between the sewn and the barren.

In your reviewer’s opinion their frontier limits were extraordinarily successful. They functioned and evolved over a period of 500 years in the Western Empire and much more in the Eastern.

The author is an Honorary Professor at the Universities of Durham, Edinburgh and Newcastle. He is also Chairman of the International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies and Chief Inspector for Ancient Monuments for Scotland.

This book is highly recommended for the general reader interested in the Roman Empire and its frontiers. As my first Pen and Sword selection, I am favorably impressed by subject matter and this book’s adherence to the art of book making.

James B. Ronan II

Medals Awarded to US Citizens in the French Train Incident, 21 August 2015

September 22, 2015


Left to right: US Army Soldier’s Medal, US Air Force Airman’s Medal, US Purple Heart Medal, US Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor, French Legion Of Merit.

Specialist Alek Skarlatus, Oregon Army National Guard, Airman First Class Spencer Stone, US Air Force and private citizen Anthony Sadler were awarded the French Legion of Merit, for actions on 21 August 2015, subduing an armed terrorist on a French train.

Skarlatus will receive the Soldier’s Medal, the US Army’s highest non combat valor award. Stone will receive the Purple Heart Medal, awarded for wounds or death in combat as he was wounded in the action and the Air Force,’s Airman’s Medal. Sadler will receive the Secretary of Defense’s Medal of Valor.

Then and Now; The Golden Gate at Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

September 21, 2015


The Golden Gate as it is and as it was

Originally a Roman triumphal arch built beyond the 4th century Constantinian walls of the city, the arch was incorporated into the 5th century Theodosian walls and became the triumphal entry way into the city.

In its hey-day, sheathed with golden plates and decorated with figures of victory and huge statues of elephants, the Golden Gate became the ceremonial entrance to the city.

Located at the southern end of the massive land walls, the Golden Gate is a shadow of its former self. Some writers maintain it was bricked up by the Byzantines for defensive reasons; others by Mehmet the Conqueror against the prophetic return of Constantine XI Palailogos, the last emperor, who died defending the city. In legend he is buried near the gate and will someday rise to reclaim the city.

The Inadvertant Cremation of Galla Placidia

September 21, 2015

Galla Placidia (d. 450 AD) was a noble Roman matron, daughter of Emperor Theodosius the Great, wife of Emperor Constantius III and Mother of Emperor Valentinian III. She was also the sister of Emperor Honorius.

She was interred in a mausoleum that still stands in Ravenna, Italy. Inside are the sarcophagi of her son (or her brother), and her husband, flanking hers in the center. Her body was seated on a throne in court dress and a peep hole was installed to view her corpse.


Interior of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

In 1577, two boys inserted alighted  taper (a candle) into the peep hole in Placidia’s tomb. “There was a sudden flash, and within seconds everything-throne, robes and Empress-was a heap ashes.”

John Julius Norwich, Byzantium the Early Centuries, p. 141


 Showing Size of Placidia’s sarcophagus.

Captain America Calling for the Fourteenth Year

September 10, 2015


11 September 2015

And let us not forget 11 September 2011, Benghazi.

The Trophies of Pompey, Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and the Tragic Drusus…

May 9, 2015

…or, anybody can take a guided tour.

Travelling in western Europe, I was able to see many vestiges of the Roman Empire; Rome itself, Trier in Germany (ancient Augusta Treverorum. Underneath modern Paris is ancient Lutetia. The Raetian Limes (and the fort at Saalburg) and Castra Regina, now Regensburg, are all well known.

But with the liberation of eastern Europe, there are many sites to be explored. Some countries in eastern Europe are re-emphasizing their Latin (and in some cases their Celtic) heritage. And many other sites are located in small towns away from the large cities. Generally accessible via railroads, you can enjoy them at your own pace without tour guides. You also have the opportunity to meet the locals in a friendly environment.

Trajan's Trophy

Trajan’s Trophy

Trajan’s Trophy is located in Adamclissi, Romania and was erected in 107/108 AD to celebrate the emperor’s conquest of what was then Dacia. The monument was reconstructed but the remains of the original and the ruins of Civitas Tropaeum are located nearby. Artifacts from this Roman site and from the original monument are housed in a nearby museum.

Vineyards in Adamclissi overlooked by the monument.

Vineyards in Adamclissi overlooked by the monument.

Trajan’s Bridge was situated East of the Iron Gates, near the present-day cities of Drobeta-Turnu Severin in Romania and Kladovo in Serbia. Its construction was ordered by the Emperor Trajan as a supply route for the Roman legions fighting in Dacia.

The structure was 1,135 m (3,724 ft) long (the Danube is now 800 m (2,600 ft) wide in that area), 15 m (49 ft) wide, and 19 m (62 ft) high, measured from the surface of the river. At each end was a Roman castrum, each built around an entrance, so that crossing the bridge was possible only by walking through the camps.

The bridge’s engineer, Apollodorus of Damascus, used wooden arches, each spanning 38 m (125 ft), set on twenty masonry pillars made of bricks, mortar, and pozzolana cement. It was built unusually quickly (between 103 and 105), employing the construction of a wooden caisson for each pier.

Reconstruction of Trajan's Bridge

Reconstruction of Trajan’s Bridge

Ihtiman, Bulgaria is the site of Succi Pass, an east-west gate way through the Rhodope Mountains (Bulgarian-Despoto Planina). Located there is Trajan’s Gate, a fortress built to guard the pass and the ancient Via  Militaris, the road that ran from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) to Sigidunum (modern Belgrade). There is another fort at nearby Plovdiv (ancient Philippopolis).

Aerial view of Trajan's Gate

Aerial view of Trajan’s Gate

The ancient Via Flaminia runs from Rome to Rimini (ancient  Ariminium) and passes through a tunnel excavated  near modern Furlo on the orders of the Emperor Vespasian to expedite crossing the gorge of the river Candigliano. It is located in what is now the Riserva Naturale Statale della Gola del Furlo in Central Italy.

Vespasian's Tunnel

Vespasian’s Tunnel

Le Perthus in south east France is located at the junction of the ancient Via Domitia and the Via Augusta and linked  Italy (Italia) with Spain (Hispania). In celebrating his victory over Spanish tribes in the 70s BC, Pompey Magnus (Pompey the Great) built a trophy at this point. Le Perthus is immediatelty joined by the Spanish town  of Els Limits in Catalonia.

Pompey's Trophy

Pompey’s Trophy

Further north, in La Turibe, a French town in the Maritime Alps, the Emperor Augustus built a trophy to celebrate his conquest of the various tribes of the Alps. It was built along the Via Julia Augusta around 6 BC and is inscribed with the names of the 45 tribes brought into the Roman Empire.

Trophy of the Alps

Trophy of the Alps

The tragic figure of Drusus, destined to be Augustus successor and who fought so long in Germany is commemorated by his cenotaph  in Mainz Germany (ancient Mogantiacum). Destined to lead the campaign to include Germania Magna (Germany beyond the Rhine) in the Empire, Drusus died in 9 BC and his troops built the memorial cenotaph.

The Cenotaph of Drusus

The Cenotaph of Drusus

2014 in review

December 29, 2014

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,700 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Gettysburg Veteran Frederick Fuger and Three Generations of Medal of Honor Recipients, 1910 Photo

September 15, 2014


Frederick Fuger who was the First Sergeant of Cushing’s Battery A, Fourth US Artillery appears fourth from the right in this 1910 photo taken at the White House. Fuger received the Medal of Honor for his action at Gettysburg on 3 July 1863.Click on the link below for a .pdf document that give more information about Fuger, his compatriots and their uniforms.


Civil War Infantry Regiment in Line of Battle

March 11, 2014

In February discussed the size of an artillery Battery The diagram above, taken from Casey’s Infantry Tactics illustrates how large an infantry regiment was. It is based on the regiment as prescribed on in the Act of 3 March 1855, the regiment that existed when the CW began. Although no regular regiment exceeded 5/8 of its authorized strength and the states did not necessarily follow this organizational model, the diagram gives a good idea of what a full strength infantry regiment looked like arrayed in line of battle.

The full strength of the regiment was 880 men (36 officers and 844 soldiers). In this line of battle the regiment would stretch about 300 yards in width. It is formed with 8 of its 10 companies in two ranks. 30 paces to the rear are two more companies prepared to either go forward as pickets or skirmishers. Either of these companies could also form in column on either flank of the regiment and provide security for an open flank.


Infantry Line of battle, Front View


Infantry Line of Battle, Rear View.

The diagram also shows at bottom the array of a company as it formed for line of battle, Note the position of the captain, first sergeant and junior officers and non-commissioned officers. The lieutenants and sergeants are “file closers” who have three duties: keep the men in line, keep them firing and dress them to the right as casualties occur to maintain a solid firing line. Not noted are the corporals. They took station in the front rank on either flank of the two platoons formed by each company.

The field music (2 principal musicians and 20 musicians) are formed to the rear. The 20 drummers or buglers would report to the companies. These musicians were the signal platoon of the regiment. The band was not an authorized part of the regiment but could be organized if desired. The colonel, lieutenant colonel, the majors and staff are arrayed as prescribed for formation. The quartermaster and quartermaster sergeant may not be with the regiment in the field as their duties could call them elsewhere.

Major James B. Ronan II is aFellow of the company of Military Historians