This book is not the definitive history of Rome's wars, but a well-constructed survey of how it prepared, equipped, manned and made war, using selected illustrative examples from each stage of development over the thousand-year period.
Goldsworthy sets his task as tracing the development of warfare within the context of the evolution of the army and state: the nature of the army, why and with what objectives if fought a war, and the way in which it operated, taking into consideration the military institutions of the main enemies in each era. Matters such as arms,armor and equipment are handled succinctly by use of drawings and diagrams, which are especially good at depicting battle tactics for the major encounters. The positions of troops are shown as if from an aerial view rather than the bare schematic bars and squares usually shown.
Despite being touted as a general, introductory text, there is plenty to keep the knowledgeable reader interested as well. I found new insights in every chapter, which follow a chronological rather than topical arrangement.
Being pitched at the general reader, as is required by Cassell's _History of Warfare_ series, the book is heavily illustrated. This has its good and bad features. Mostly, the illustration are taken from columns, gravemarkers, monuments and ruins of forts. They are usually provided with detailed captions to explain the significance of the features shown therein. My only complaint is that some of the pictures occupy a full-page or two-page spread where a smaller image would have sufficed. I expect this is due to the publisher's required text-to-illustration ratio.
Here is an example of Goldsworthy's exposition, taken from his section on Caesar in Gaul. After a brief excerpt from Julius Caesar's _Bellum Gallicum_, describing the battle at Sambre in 57 BC, Goldsworthy remarks:
"It is worth noting that Caesar, although he had moved into the front line, does not bother to tell us whether or not he actuallt fought hand-to-hand. What he does stress is that he exposed himself to danger in order more effectively to do his job of encouraging the battle line. The general's job was to lead and control his army, not inspire them with his personal prowess, like the warrior aristocrats of early Rome or Alexander the Great who consciously emulated the behavior of Homeric heroes."
The book is filled with such helpful commentary.
Every epoch (including that of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, of _Gladiator_ fame) is depicted, showing how the financial and political policies of the emperors and senate affected the abilities of the armies to do what was expected.
A detailed chronology, a glossary that actually explains rather than merely annotates terms, a brief review of the ancient sources for each chapter, mini biographies of each of the luminaries, and a well thought out reading list for each chapter all add to the books usefulness.
Highly recommended both as a "first book" for novices and a handy references for old hands.