Raffaele D’Amato, Roman Centurions 753–31 BC: The Kingdom and the Age of Consuls (Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011), 48 pages. Osprey Publishing has become justly well-known for its publishing works in the realm of military history, which sadly many professional historians regard with disdain. War is and has been an ever-present reality of human experience and needs to be taken seriously in any investigation of the past. This present monograph appeared in the series “Men-at-Arms” and is a compact, though excellent, study of a subject I have long regarded as a vital and overlooked matter.
As D’Amato—who has two earned PhDs in the study of antiquity—explains, centurions were “the true architects” of Roman imperialism and that through their bravery and sometimes brutal disciplining of the ranks of the Roman legions (p.3). Centurions go back into the earliest periods of Roman history and were still a part of the armies of Byzantium in its final days—a span of some two thousand years. Polybius well described them: centurions were “natural leaders, of a steady and reliable spirit…men who will hold their ground when beaten and hard-pressed, and will be ready to die at their posts” (cited p.16). They were the first to charge into battle and had to be the last to quit the field (p.23). Centurions were also often employed to execute commando raids, which again speaks of their courage and resourcefulness, and as spokespersons for their commanders, which indicates their leadership abilities (p.19–20).
Now, an historian needs to read widely and a monograph like this helps enormously in illuminating the characters of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament. It is noteworthy that the first Gentile to be converted was the centurion in charge of the execution of Jesus (see Mark 15:39). Reason enough to be acquainted with a fine monograph like this and its companion work, also by D’Amato: Roman Centurions 31 BC–AD 500: The Classical and Late Empire (Osprey, 2012).
Michael A.G. Haykin Professor of Church History The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary