Roman Warfare


By Adrian Goldsworthy

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From an award-winning historian of ancient Rome, a concise and comprehensive history of the fighting forces that created the Roman Empire

Roman warfare was relentless in its pursuit of victory. A ruthless approach to combat played a major part in Rome’s history, creating an empire that eventually included much of Europe, the Near East and North Africa. What distinguished the Roman army from its opponents was the uncompromising and total destruction of its enemies. Yet this ferocity was combined with a genius for absorbing conquered peoples, creating one of the most enduring empires ever known.

In Roman Warfare, celebrated historian Adrian Goldsworthy traces the history of Roman warfare from 753 BC, the traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus, to the eventual decline and fall of Roman Empire and attempts to recover Rome and Italy from the “barbarians” in the sixth century AD. It is the indispensable history of the most professional fighting force in ancient history, an army that created an Empire and changed the world.


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1. The Punic Wars, 264–146 BC

2. The Roman Empire, AD 14

3. The Roman Empire, AD 214

4. The Roman Empire, AD 418


This chart lists the major military events in Rome’s history that can be securely dated. Entries in bold are only for the reigns of emperors who controlled the greater part of the Empire.


753: Traditional date for foundation of Rome by Romulus.

509: Traditional date for expulsion of Rome’s last king, Tarquinius Superbus.

496: Romans defeat the Latin League at the battle of Lake Regillus.

396: Veii falls after ten-year siege/blockade.

390: Gauls rout a Roman army at the River Allia and sack Rome.

343–341: First Samnite War.

340–338: Latin revolt defeated and Latin League dissolved.

326–304: Second Samnite War. Roman army defeated and sent under yoke at Caudine Forks (321).

298–290: Third Samnite War. Romans win major victory at Sentinum (295).

283: A Gallic tribe, the Boii, defeated at Lake Vadimo.

280–275: War with Pyrrhus, who defeats Romans at Heraclea (280) and Asculum (279), but is finally beaten at Malventum.

264–241: First Punic War.

260: Romans win naval victory off Mylae.

256: Major Roman naval victory off Ecnomus.

256–255: Regulus invades Africa, but after initial successes is defeated.

255–253: Roman fleets wrecked in storms off Pachynus and Palinurus.

249: Romans defeated in naval battle at Drepana.

241: Romans win final naval battle off the Aegates Islands.

225: Invading Gallic army defeated at Telamon.

223: Romans campaign successfully against tribes of Cisalpine Gaul.

218–201: Second Punic War.

218: Hannibal defeats cavalry force at Ticinus and then smashes two consular armies at Trebia.

217: Consul Flaminius is ambushed at Lake Trasimene.

216: Romans suffer massive defeat at Cannae.

214–205: First Macedonian War. Romans are forced to come to terms with Philip of Macedon after losing their allies in Greece.

213–211: Romans take Syracuse after long siege.

209: Scipio Africanus captures New Carthage.

208: Scipio wins a victory at Baecula.

207: Hasdrubal brings army into Italy but is defeated at Metaurus.

206: Scipio wins decisive victory in Spanish campaign at Ilipa.

204–203: Scipio invades Africa, winning battle of the Great Plains. Hannibal recalled.

202: Scipio defeats Hannibal at Zama.

200–196: Second Macedonian War.

197: Philip decisively beaten at Cynoscephalae.

197–179: Series of wars in Spain eventually ended by the campaigns and peace settlement of Gracchus.

192–189: Syrian War against the Seleucid Antiochus III.

191: Antiochus’ invasion of Greece defeated at Thermopylae.

190: Antiochus defeated at Magnesia.

189–188: Manlius Vulso defeats Galatians.

172–167: Third Macedonian War.

168: Macedonians under Perseus defeated at Pydna.

154–138: Lusitanian War.

149–146: Third Punic War.

149–148: Fourth Macedonian War.

146: Destruction of Carthage and Corinth.

143–133: Numantine War.

125–121: Romans defeat tribes of Transalpine Gaul.

113–105: Migrating tribes, the Cimbri and Teutones, defeat a succession of Roman armies, culminating in the disaster at Arausio (105).

112–106: Jugurthine War begins with humiliating Roman surrender, but finally won by Marius.

102: Marius defeats Teutones at Aquae Sextiae.

101: Marius and Catulus defeat Cimbri at Vercellae.

91–88: The Social War, the last great rebellion by Rome’s Italian allies is defeated after a hard struggle.

88: Sulla marches on Rome.

88–85: First Mithridatic War.

86: Sulla storms Athens and then defeats Mithridates’ much larger armies at Chaeronea and Orchomenus.

83–82: Sulla returns to Italy and wins civil war at the battle of the Colline Gate outside Rome.

83–82: Second Mithridatic War.

82–72: Sertorius continues the civil war in Spain.

74–66: Third Mithridatic War.

73–70: A major slave rebellion led by Spartacus disrupts Italy. Several Roman armies are smashed before he is finally defeated by Crassus.

69: Lucullus defeats Tigranes of Armenia and captures his capital Tigranocerta.

68: Lucullus defeats combined forces of Tigranes and Mithridates at Tigranocerta.

67: Pompey clears the Mediterranean of pirates in a brief but highly organized campaign.

66: Pompey given extraordinary command to complete the war with Mithridates.

63: Pompey captures Jerusalem.

58–50: Caesar’s conquest of Gallia Comata.

54–53: Crassus invades Parthia, but is defeated and killed at Carrhae.

52: Major Gallic rebellion led by Vercingetorix.

49–45: Civil War between Caesar and Pompey. Caesar wins victories at Pharsalus (48), Zela (47), Thapsus (46) and Munda (45).

44–42: Caesar’s assassination provokes a further cycle of civil war between the conspirators and Caesar’s supporters led by Mark Antony, later joined by Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son.

42: Brutus and Cassius defeated in twin battles of Philippi.

40–38: Parthians invade Syria, but are defeated by Ventidius at Mt Amanus and Gindarus.

36: Antony launches major offensive against the Parthians, but this flounders when he fails to take Phraapsa, and he loses many men to disease and starvation in the subsequent retreat.

31: Antony defeated by Octavian in naval battle at Actium. Octavian becomes effectively the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

31–30: Parthians overrun Armenia.

28–24: Final pacification of Spain completed by Octavian and his commanders.

27 BC–AD 14: Principate of Augustus (Octavian).

25: Successful expedition is sent against Ethiopia in response to raids on Roman Egypt.

20: Settlement with Parthia leads to the return of Roman prisoners and captured standards.

16–15: Campaigns to conquer the Alpine tribes.

15: German tribes raid the Roman provinces and defeat Lollius Urbicus.

12–7: Tiberius conquers Pannonia. He and his brother Drusus campaign in Germany.


4–5: Tiberius completes the conquest of Germany as far as the Elbe.

6–9: Massive revolt in Pannonia and Dalmatia suppressed after hard struggle by Tiberius and Germanicus.

9: German revolt led by Arminius of the Cherusci massacres three legions under Varus in the Teutonberg Wald.

10–11: Tiberius and Germanicus secure the Rhine frontier.

14: Legions on Rhine and Danube mutiny after death of Augustus.

14–37: Principate of Tiberius.

15–16: Germanicus leads Rhine armies against the Germans and buries the remains of Varus’ army. He defeats Arminius at Indistaviso, but fails to achieve final victory.

17–24: Revolt of Tacfarinas, a former auxiliary, in North Africa, which ends only when he is killed.

19: Arminius murdered by rival chieftains.

21: Revolt of Florus and Sacrovir in Gaul swiftly suppressed by Rhine armies.

28: The Frisii, a Germanic tribe east of the Rhine, rebel against oppressive taxation.

37–41: Principate of Gaius (Caligula).

40–44: Mauretania rebels and is fully conquered by Seutonius Paulinus and later Hosidius Geta.

41–54: Principate of Claudius.

42: Scribonius, the governor of Dalmatia, attempts a rebellion against Claudius, but commits suicide when his legions fail to support him.

43: Claudius launches invasion of Britain.

47: Corbulo suppresses the Frisii and defeats and kills the Chaucian Gannascus, a former auxiliary, who had been raiding the Roman provinces in a fleet of small ships.

51: Caratacus defeated, but the Silures of southern Wales continue to resist.

54–68: Principate of Nero.

58–64: War with Parthia over Armenia. Corbulo captures Artaxata and Tigranocerta.

60–61: Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, leads rebellion in Britain, creating widespread devastation before she is defeated by Suetonius Paulinus.

62: Caesennius Paetus surrounded and surrenders to the Parthians, and his army is sent under the yoke.

66–74: The Jewish rebellion.

66: The Syrian governor, Cestius Gallus, leads an expedition to Jerusalem, but is forced to retreat and suffers heavily in the pursuit.

67: Vespasian subdues Galilee. Josephus surrenders to him.

68–9: Year of Four Emperors. Nero’s death prompts a civil war as the provincial armies nominate their commanders as successor.

68: Emperor Galba murdered by his guardsmen after failing to meet their demands for pay. His successor, Otho, is defeated by Vitellius at the first battle of Cremona (or Bedriacum).

69: Supporters of Vespasian defeat Vitellius’ army at the second battle of Cremona. Sarmatians and Dacians raid across the Danube.

69–70: In northern Germany a Batavian nobleman and former auxiliary prefect, Julius Civilis, leads a rebellion to create a ‘Gallic empire’. He is defeated by Petilius Cerealis.

70–79: Principate of Vespasian.

70: Titus captures Jerusalem after a long siege.

73–4: Masada, the last stronghold of the Jewish rebels, is taken.

71–4: Petilius Cerealis defeats the Brigantes of northern Britain.

74–8: Julius Frontinus defeats the Silures of South Wales.

78–84: Julius Agricola advances into Scotland, defeating a large tribal army at Mons Graupius. His conquests are largely abandoned when troops are withdrawn to serve in the wars on the Danube.

79–81: Principate of Titus.

81–96: Principate of Domitian.

83: Domitian campaigns against the Chatti.

85: Decebalus, king of Dacia, invades Moesia and inflicts a heavy defeat on its governor.

86: Domitian’s Praetorian Prefect, Cornelius Fuscus, is given command in Dacia, but is defeated and killed.

88: Another Roman army invades Dacia and defeats Decebalus at Tapae.

89: Saturninus, governor of Lower Germany, rebels against Domitian, but is defeated. Domitian makes peace with Decebalus, paying him a subsidy and providing technical experts to strengthen Dacia’s fortresses. Sarmatian Iazyges raid Pannonia.

92: Further raids on Pannonia prompt Domitian to campaign against the Iazyges and their allies, the Marcomanni and Quadi.

96–8: Principate of Nerva.

98–117: Principate of Trajan.

101–2: Trajan’s First Dacian War defeats Decebalus and removes the favourable Domitianic treaty.

105–6: Decebalus renews war but is defeated and commits suicide. Dacia is annexed as a province.

113–17: Trajan’s Parthian War flounders when he fails to take Hatra. Revolts in recently conquered territory break out before his death.

115–17: Widespread rebellion by Jewish communities in Egypt, Cyrene and Cyprus.

117–38: Principate of Hadrian, during which Trajan’s acquisitions in the East are abandoned.

122: Construction of Hadrian’s Wall begins.

131–5: The Jews revolt under the Messianic leader, Bar Kochba, and are defeated at a heavy cost in Roman casualties.

138–61: Principate of Antoninus Pius.

138–9: Rebellion in northern Britain.

140–43: Antonine conquests in Scotland. Construction of Antonine Wall begins.

145: Rebellion in Mauretania.

c. 150–54: Serious rebellion in northern Britain. Antonine Wall abandoned. Hadrian’s Wall reoccupied.

c. 160–63: Antonine Wall reoccupied and then evacuated again.

161–80: Reign of Marcus Aurelius.

162–6: Parthians invade Armenia. Lucius Verus, Marcus’ Augustus or co-ruler, sent east to oppose them. They are defeated and Ctesiphon and Seleucia sacked.

167: Marcomanni and Quadi, two Suebic tribes, cross the Danube in a series of raids. One group reaches Aquileia in northern Italy. The Iazyges raid the province of Dacia.

168–75: A series of campaigns against the Marcomanni, Quadi and their Sarmatian allies.

175: Avidius Cassius, the governor of Syria, rebels on receiving a false report of Marcus’ death, but is defeated by loyal troops.

178–80: Further disturbances on the Danube.

180–92: Reign of Commodus.

c. 182–5: Heavy fighting in northern Britain eventually ended by victories of Ulpius Marcellus.

184: Final abandonment of Antonine Wall.

193–7: Period of civil war results from murder of Commodus. It is eventually won by Septimius Severus supported by the Danubian armies.

197–208: Reign of Severus.

198: Severus invades Parthia and sacks Ctesiphon.

205: Hadrian’s Wall restored after heavy raids by Caledonian tribes had overrun much of northern Britain.

208–11: Severus leads large expedition against the Caledonians, but dies in Eboracum (York).

211–17: Caracalla’s reign.

213: Caracalla campaigns on the Rhine frontier.

217: Caracalla prepares eastern expedition, but is murdered by a member of his Horse Guards near Carrhae.

217–18: Macrinus’ reign. He is defeated by Persians at Nisibis, and then by the usurper Elagabalus outside Antioch.

218–22: Reign of Elagabalus.

227: Ardashir defeats Parthian king and creates Sassanid monarchy.

222–35: Reign of Severus Alexander.

230: Persians invade Mesopotamia and besiege Nisibis.

232: Severus Alexander’s offensive against the Persians fails.

234–5: Pannonian legions rebel under Maximinus. Severus is murdered.

235–8: Reign of Maximinus, who campaigns successfully against the Alamanni but is murdered by the Praetorian Guard.

238–44: Reign of Gordian III.

242: Successful expedition to drive Persians from Mesopotamia.

244: Gordian III murdered by a conspiracy and replaced by Philip, the Praetorian Prefect.

244–9: Reign of Philip the Arab.

245–7: Gothic tribes raid Danubian provinces.

249: Decius is proclaimed emperor by the Danubian armies and defeats Philip near Verona. Goths under Cniva raid Danubian provinces.

249–51: Reign of Decius.

251: Decius defeated and killed by Goths at Forum Trebonii.

251–3: Reign of Gallus.

252: Persians invade Mesopotamia. Heavy barbarian raiding across Rhine and Danube. Goths paid a subsidy to withdraw.

253: Aemilianus rebels at head of Pannonian and Moesian armies. Gallus’ army deserts and murders him. Aemilianus is then murdered by his own troops.

253–60: Reign of Valerian. His son Gallienus made Augustus.

254: Marcomanni launch heavy raids into Illyricum. Goths raid Thrace. Shapur I of Persia captures Nisibis.

256: Franks launch heavy raids across Lower Rhine. Gothic fleet raids coast of Asia Minor causing widespread devastation and panic.

258/9: Gallienus defeats Franks.

260: Valerian’s Persian expedition ends in disaster when he surrenders to Sharpur. Postumus proclaimed emperor in Gaul, creating the imperium Gallicum with a capital at Trier which lasts a decade.

260–68: Reign of Gallienus.

261: Odenathus of Palmyra made dux orientis and leads successful war against the Persians.

267–8: Odenathus murdered. His power assumed by his widow, Zenobia, in the name of their son Vallabathus.

268: Goths raid Thrace and Greece. The Heruli sack Athens. Gallienus defeats the Heruli near the River Nessus, but is murdered by his own officers.

268–70: Reign of Claudius II ‘Gothicus’.

269: Claudius defeats Goths in great victory at Naissus. Zenobia captures Antioch.

270: Claudius dies of disease and is succeeded by Aurelian. Dacia abandoned.

270–75: Reign of Aurelian.

270–71: Aurelian defeats Juthungi and Vandals. Zenobia takes Egypt and invades Asia Minor.

272–3: Aurelian defeats Zenobia at Antioch and Emesa. Palmyra destroyed and Egyptian revolt suppressed.

274: Tetricus rebels in Gaul, and is defeated by Aurelian.

275: Aurelian is murdered by his own officers. Tacitus made emperor by the Senate.

276: Tacitus defeats Alans, but dies on campaign.

276–82: Reign of Probus.

: Probus campaigns successfully on the Rhine and Danube, but is murdered by mutinous soldiers and replaced by Carus, the Praetorian Prefect.

283–5: Carus defeats Sarmatians in Illyricum, but dies during a successful offensive against Persia. Civil war eventually won by Diocletian who appoints Maximian as his Caesar and later as Augustus.

284–305: Reign of Diocletian, which saw the creation of the Tetrarchy.

286: Maximian suppresses the Bagaudaen disturbances in Gaul, which had escalated from banditry to full-scale revolt.

286–93: Maximian fights a successful campaign against the Alamanni. Carausius leads a successful rebellion in Britain, but is eventually murdered.

296–7: Diocletian suppresses usurpation in Egypt. Constantius regains Britain. Galerius defeats the Persians.

305–23: Period of civil wars following the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian.

305: Constantius campaigns against Caledonians.

306: Constantius dies in York and his son Constantine is proclaimed emperor by the provincial army.

312: Constantine defeats Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge outside Rome.

314–15: Constantine wins victories at Cibalis and Mardia in civil war with Licinius.

322–3: Constantine campaigns against Sarmatians and Goths on the Danube.

323–4: Constantine decisively defeats Licinius at Adrianople and Chrysopolis.

324–37: Reign of Constantine as undisputed emperor.

331–4: Constantine successfully campaigns against the Goths and Sarmatians.

337: Imperial power divided between Constantine’s sons.

337–60: War with Persia.

338: Persians mount unsuccessful siege of Nisibis.

340–69: Severe problems in Britain. Heavy raiding by barbarians.

346: Persians mount unsuccessful siege of Nisibis.

348: Persians defeat Constantius at Singara.

350–53: Persians again fail to take Nisibis. Civil war between Constantius and Magnentius.

356–7: Julian campaigns against the Alamanni, winning a pitched battle at Strasbourg.

357–9: Constantius defeats the Quadi and Sarmatians who had made heavy raids into the Danubian provinces.

358: Julian campaigns against the Franks.

359: Persians invade Mesopotamia and take Amida by storm.

360: The Persians take Singara. Germanic tribes make deep raids into Gaul. Picts and Scots launch heavy raids into Britain.

360–61: Julian campaigns across the Rhine. Death of Constantius.

363: Julian Persian offensive ends in disaster and he is killed in a skirmish. Jovian agrees to humiliating peace with Persia, ceding them considerable territory including Nisibis.

366–9: Valentinian campaigns against Alamanni and beyond the Rhine against the Goths.

367–9: Roman army under the comes, Theodosius restores order in Britain. Valentinian campaigns against the Alamanni while Valens defeats the Goths.

371–5: Valentian formally receives a group of Alamanni into the Empire. Rebellion in Mauretania suppressed by Theodosius.

375: Valentinian dies of apoplexy while haranguing some Quadic chieftains.

376–7: A party of Goths fleeing Hunnic attacks cross the Danube and defeat Romans near Salices.

378: Alamanni attack Raetia. Valens is defeated and killed along with most of his army by the Goths at Adrianople.

380–82: Successful operations against the Goths.

383: Magnus Maximus defeats Picts, but then rebels.

388: Theodosius defeats Magnus Maximus. Valentinian II is undisputed western emperor until his death (392).

394: Theodosius defeats rivals in costly two-day battle at the River Frigidus.

395–400: Theodosius’ death prompts renewed civil war.

398–400: Victories in northern Britain over Picts, Scots and Saxons.

407: Army in Britain raises Constantine III to the throne and invades Gaul, fighting against Vandals.

408: Goths under Alaric invade Italy and besiege Rome.

409: Britain rebels against Constantine III.

410: Alaric sacks Rome.

415: Visigoths are sent by Constantius to Spain to fight against Vandals.

418: Visigoths are settled by Constantius in Aquitaine.

429: Vandals invade and overrun Africa.

451–3: Aetius turns back the offensive of Attila’s Huns at Chalons (Campus Mauriacus). Attila bribed to withdraw from Italy, and dies soon afterwards.

454: Ostrogoths settle in Pannonia.

469–78: Visigoths overrun Spain.

476: Last emperor of the West, Romulus Augustus, deposed by Odovacer who creates the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy.

502–6: Anastasian war with Persia. Persians capture Amida, but this is returned to Romans as part of the peace treaty.

526–32: Renewal of war with Persia.

528: Belisarius defeated at Minduos.

530: Belisarius wins great victory at Dara.

531: Belisarius defeated at Callinicum.

533–4: Belisarius defeats Vandals in Africa.

535–54: Attempt made to reconquer Italy with armies led by Belisarius and later Narses. Rome captured and recaptured several times. Narses defeats the Goths at Taginae (552) and Vesuvius (553), and the Franks at Casilinus (554).


To Overcome the Proud in War

WARFARE PLAYED A major part throughout Rome’s history, creating and maintaining an empire which eventually included much of Europe, the Near East and North Africa. War and politics were inseparably linked at Rome, and the right to exercise power in peacetime was purchased by the obligation to provide successful leadership in war. The Latin word imperator, from which we derive ‘emperor’, means general, and even the least military of emperors paraded the martial successes achieved by their armies. The willingness of Roman soldiers to fight each other made possible the cycles of civil wars that caused the collapse of the Republican system of government in the first century BC and prompted the fragmentation of imperial power in the third century AD. In spite of the importance of warfare, Roman society gradually became largely demilitarized. The citizen militia, recruited from the property owners serving out of duty to the state and not for pay or booty, was replaced by a professional army drawn mainly from the poorest elements in society. By the second century AD only a tiny minority of soldiers, even in the citizen legions, had been born in Italy. For a while the senatorial and equestrian officers, who filled the senior ranks as part of a career including both civil and military posts, provided a link between the army and the rest of society, but this was largely severed in the third century. After this both officers and men were career soldiers with aspirations clearly distinct from the lives of civilians in the provinces.


On Sale
May 7, 2019
Page Count
288 pages
Basic Books

Adrian Goldsworthy

About the Author

Adrian Goldsworthy is an award-winning historian of the classical world. He is the author of numerous books about ancient Rome, including Hadrian’s Wall, Caesar, How Rome Fell, Pax Romana, and Augustus. Goldsworthy lives in South Wales.

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