This week I have revisited Adrian Goldsworthy's book "In The Name of Rome - The Men Who Won The Roman Empire" which also tells how the Roman Army changed over the centuries from The Republic to the end of Empire. At the same time the exploring the newly available digitised and indexed newspapers of the past has led to findings probably impossible in the past.
One it that far from being the law abiding and respectable lot claimed by parents and grandparents there are a few ancestors who were up before the local magistrates. Thumping neighbours (Clydeside), game laws (Antrim), unlicensed beer selling (Worcester) perhaps reflect to some extent the local cultures.
What was unexpected was that one, at first thought to be just a local businessman doing moderately well, was a militia officer in Lancashire, who turned out to deal with local workers striking for higher wages and the right to vote. But all in one way or another saw some kind of service.
In the last half century the British Army has gone from being widely based, sometimes more professional sometimes less, to what is now claimed to be almost wholly professional, even the Reserve has to meet the relevant standards and the Reserve is not large.
In the last couple of decades it has been cut and trimmed and cut again. This is not the only feature. Whether it has been because of the complex science and technology behind the gear or the radical change in support systems and provision what happens behind the front line is very different.
Looking at the Roman example the Army was the cutting edge of the free male population all of whom were liable for service. It was a society in which war was normal and service part of being Roman and an honourable and respected duty. It was an integral part of living and life.
Even when it later became a largely professional force, these ideas held some force although by the end of Empire had declined. Now it seems almost that the UK government is attempting the reverse, reducing the professional army to one dependent on other support and men who make themselves available for duty.
But this is an entirely different world. There are two key problems now, one is are the men there, the other is of the men around just how many of them are capable of serving? It is likely, looking at the UK as it is and the generation in question that they are not to be had and one reason is that now so few are capable.
Moreover, now that any semblance has gone of a military ethos or awareness of history and the need to be ready and aware of the threats of the world there is little incentive for either service or the support of service. We are gulled into thinking that somehow we can be sheltered from and avoid predators and potential attackers.
Our governments have not helped by using what is left of our forces to what amount to occasional forays into foreign crises where they are the led and not the leaders and there to make up the numbers. Indeed there are brave men serving their calling but they are now a marginal contributor in the greater scheme of things.
Returning to Ancient Rome and the campaigns and wars what is striking is the numbers of men involved and over long periods. Often it seems as though Ancient Rome could easily and readily put many more men in the field and more effectively than our rich nation with a population of over 60 million.
When that Empire eventually collapsed spending too much of its gold buying off enemies and inflating the currency, losing its core military recruitment and dissolving into political factions and territories it became a patchwork of separated fiefs ruled over by grasping and violent rulers.
If History is any guide and we are unable to defend ourselves in any conventional war and the Atlantic Isles becomes an area of small states in constant dispute, who will pick up the pieces?