Published Humanitas, Volume XXXIII, Nos. 1 & 2, 2020

Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War, by Steele Brand. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019. 392 pp. $34.95.

Stacking America against Rome is a cottage industry as old as our republic. Indeed, older: the first volume of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published a few months before the Declaration of Independence. One assumes a few volumes were in colonial hands by then, where they would likely have only fueled republican zeal.

The subject remains an evergreen one in magazines across the American political spectrum. Vanity Fair’s Cullen Murphy produced an erudite little primer, simply titled Are We Rome?, in 2007 as the Iraq fiasco was looking like America’s Varian Disaster. A few years prior, triumphant neoconservatives had dismissed the know-it-all Brits as pretenders to being “Greece to our Rome.” Last year saw a cross-genre hit, Edward J. Watts’s Mortal Republic, that combined the well-worn “are we Rome?” with the white hot new theme of populism Cassandraism. Of late, Justinian’s Plague has been the (Eastern) Roman event most frequently invoked by American commentators.

Steele Brand, the magnificently monikered author of Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War, is also far more interested in republics than empires. Unlike many of his predecessors in the genre, he writes from more than…

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