Legion: life in the Roman army


This book is not yet published, but will be available from April 2024.

ISBN: 9780714122939 Category:

Richard Abdy


The Roman army has been immortalised in heroic art and screen epics, but what was life really like for an ordinary soldier?

‘Everything the best history books can be: erudite, entertaining and eloquent.’ – Terry Deary, author of Horrible Histories

‘Splendidly direct, clear and jargon free… You are unlikely to find a clearer or more comprehensive account’ – Classics for All

This book tells the story of everyday life in the army – including the experiences of women and enslaved people – through a range of rare objects and testimonies. These include letters from Apion and Terentianus, young Egyptian soldiers writing home to their families; the tombstone of 4-year-old Vacia, a touching reminder of the presence of children near forts; the remains of a soldier found at Herculaneum, killed in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79; and a board game played by soldiers in their spare time.

Human experiences are set within the context of the first three centuries of the common era, widely recognised as the Roman army’s heyday. During this period, forces were split into legions of citizen-only troops and auxiliary units of non-citizen troops, with the latter offered a chance at citizenship and social advancement after around 25 years of service. As well as describing the social forces behind the army, this book addresses its violent reality for civilians and troops – battle tactics, weaponry and the risk for convicted soldiers of becoming amphitheatre entertainment are all explored.

Travelling from the deserts of North Africa to the freezing climes of Scotland, and moving from the gruesome life of a medic to loving correspondence between friends, readers gain a vivid picture of life in the Roman army, with all the spectacular and ordinary experiences it involved.

Praise for the British Museum Legion: life in the Roman army exhibition

The Times *****
Telegraph *****
Guardian *****
Evening Standard ****
Time Out ****

Additional information

Weight 300 g
Dimensions 19 x 26 cm
Publisher name The British Museum Press
Publication date 30 April 2024
Number of pages 304
Format Hardback
Dimensions 19 x 26 cm
Weight 300 g


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Richard Abdy is Curator of Roman Coins in the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum and Curator of the exhibition Legion: life in the Roman army, opening in February 2024.