Thursday, March 17, 2005

Caesar' s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome

Caesar' s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome
by Stephen Dando-Collins
New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2002

Few individual military units achieve immortality. The 442nd Regiment from WWII, the Rough Riders from the Spanish American War, the Coldstream Guards, the Old Guard, and of course, the Legio X Fretensis, the storied Tenth Legion, Caesar's Own. Mr. Dando-Collins offers in this book a review of the battle history of the Tenth, from Gaul to Spain and beyond. It also serves as an introduction to the history of Rome's expansion from Republic to Empire.

The Tenth first served Gaius Julius Caesar in Gaul, and achieved its greatest glory there, becoming the most dependable legion in Caesar's army. Indeed, based on his experiences in Gaul, Caesar as a habit would position the 10th on his right, the position of honor. From Gaul, Caesar led his legions south into Italy, against the Senate and Pompey. The civil war would take him to Dyrrachium and Pharsalus, and his defeat of Pompey. The Tenth would follow him to Egypt and Africa, and eventually Spain, and the ultimate victory over Pompey's forces.

The relationship between the Tenth and Caesar could sometimes be stormy. When the civil war was over, the veterans of the Tenth converged on the Campus Martius, demanding the of gold Caesar promised them at the outset of the war. To win them over, Caesar addressed them as "citizens", and the incipient mutiny was quashed. These soldiers, used to hearing Caesar curse them, call them sons of whores, and worse, could not abide being called "citizens". They begged to be returned to Caesar's good graces.

After the death of Caesar, the Tenth saw a variety of duties, eventually ending up in garrison duty in Palestine.

Mr. Dando-Collins has done an effective job in outlining the deeds that have made the Tenth immortal, especially its role in the Gallic and Civil Wars with Julius Caesar. Occasionally he expands the scope of his book to take in other units that saw more action during particular battles where the Tenth actually did little.

His battle accounts are gripping and detailed, introducing individuals who distinguished themselves in the fight, telling their stories and placing them in the larger context of the battle as well as the story of the Tenth itself. Reading this book brings a greater sense of what it was to be a legionary, a chosen man (from legere, "to choose), and what went into a unit that played such a key role in one of the more crucial turning points in history.

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