Raffaele D’Amato & Andrea Salimbeti, Post Roman Kingdoms (Osprey, 2023)
The Dark Ages is a term long out of favour for the period between the end of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of the organised mediaeval world. But in some ways, it is still apt because of the lack of sources and artefacts. In this useful survey, Raffaele D’Amato and Andrea Salimbeti extract what they can from the evidence to reveal Britain and Gaul undergoing often violent reconstruction and the military means by which they did so.
In their introduction, the authors stress the importance of a transitioning sub-Roman period rather than a neat break with the Roman empire, though they subsequently talk mostly in terms of Post-Roman. We can see that transition in the helpful chronology the authors provide before getting into their more detailed survey. That begins with Post-Roman Gaul. The authors outline the history of the region with Roman authority collapsing amid armed migrations. We should, however, expect the retention of some Roman military methods in the new era, and so it proved, particularly with regard to titles and unit designations even as the main armies collapsed.
The action switches to Post-Roman Britain and the rise of the warlords in the wake of the Roman military evacuation. The authors visit the stories of Ambrosius and Arthur before touring the new kingdoms and moving on to their military organisations. That includes an interesting review of army sizes, illustrating how difficult the sources are to work with for this period. Archaeology is placed front and centre for the authors’ descriptions of equipment, arms, and clothing, though here too difficulties emerge with the paucity of finds and their interpretation. And there the book ends abruptly except for an excellent bibliography for a book of this type.
Post-Roman Kingdoms achieves its purpose in surveying the military aspects of the ‘dark ages’ in Gaul and Britain. The evidence is well laid-out, and though the authors sometimes edge into very technical territory with their sources, they just about keep the reader on track, informing without overwhelming. This being an Osprey book, you would expect quality illustrative support by way of artefact photographs and imaginative colour plates, but these are better than most Ospreys I have read, particularly the artwork. Overall, anyone interested in the post-Roman period of military history will find this book an excellent starting point for further exploration.