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5.0 out of 5 stars Roman "bullies" and Alamanni "victims", 18 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Alamanni and Rome 213-496: Caracalla to Clovis (Hardcover)
This is a very interesting, original and, at times, fascinating book on the relations between the Alamanni, a confederation of Germanic tribes on the right bank of the Upper and Middle Rhine, and the Roman Empire between the third century and the fifth century, from the reign of Caracalla to their defeat and conquest by Clovis and his Franks.

The book's originality lays in the author's thesis, with John Drinkwater developing the case that the Germanic tribes along the Rhine, in general, and the Alamanni, in particular, did not represent a deadly threat to the Romans, or even to Gaul. Rather, Rome, ever since Julius Caesar and Arioviste, tended to use them and make them into terrifying "bugbears", playing on Romans' ingrained terrors going back to the Cimbri and the Teutons of the late second century BC. In a way, they were a kind of convenient "punching ball" each and every time that an Emperor needed to burnish his military credentials and win some quick victories for "internal consumption".

The author does not, however, go as far as to state that they were harmless, but the damage they could do was limited to frontier raids by war bands, mostly relatively small (the maximum for each war band seems to be about a thousand warriors). These raids, many of which came for further inland, as opposed to coming from the populations settled along the frontier, lead to harsh Roman reprisals. The real danger that they represented was in times of Roman civil war when they could (and did) take advantage of the undermanned frontier garrisons but, here too, they were reacting to their much more powerful neighbour.

The points are well-made, well-argued, thoroughly discussed, and mostly convincing. The rather revisionist conclusion drawn by the author - that the Roman Emperors deliberately magnified the threat that these tribes represented in order to justify the huge costs of maintaining larges forces on the Rhine and in Gaul - seems, at first look, difficult to dispute, although it is quite controversial.

The author's sections on Ammianus Marcellinus are particularly good and convincing as they show how the Roman author's biases lead him to magnify the threat on the Rhine frontiers. Julian and his entourage are presented as rather devious. According to Drinkwater, they largely engineered the troubles that lead to the Caesar's victory at Strasbourg, giving him the military glory he needed to challenge Constantius II, and destroying the latter's policy and alliances with the Alamanni. In addition, the author also questions the numerous "victories" that Valentinian the First won over them a decade later, reducing them to punitive expeditions and mostly small engagements.

After reading these fascinating and somewhat revisionist interpretations, I could not help wondering. Although I was not entirely convinced, it seemed clear that the "Germanic" threat had been often exaggerated by the Roman Emperors. I was not quite certain; however, to what extent this might have been the case. This is because the author tends to rather systematically minimize almost all Germanic incursions and to downgrade them to mere raids.

Regardless of whether you are entirely "sold" on the author's thesis or whether you remain somewhat sceptical, there is much more to this book that that. Three main additional items stand out - there are others as well, but to keep this review reasonably short, I will only mention these.

One is the author's skill in showing that most of these Germanic tribes, and the Alamanni in particular, mainly intended to integrate, and that this was mostly achieved through service in the Roman army. The examples of Alamanni officers found in the written sources and serving in the army show to what extent some of them achieved this. This is completed by the second element, which is the rather skilful use of archaeological findings that give glimpses on the arrival, settlement, living conditions and society of the Alamanni how it evolved over time, and how they seem to have mostly wanted to preserve close links with Rome and become part of the Empire.

The third element is that this book, beyond the thesis presented, is perhaps the most valuable of all. This is because it brings to (relative and partial) light the history of and life on a large part of the Rhine frontier and it largely succeeds in demystifying the "Barbarians". These were clearly not so "Barbarian" as the Roman propaganda tended to portray them. Moreover, they did not want to remain "Barbarian" at all: they seem to have wanted to become Romans...

After hesitating a bit, because some of the author's interpretations are somewhat speculative and at times far-fetched, I will settle on five stars because this is a superb book. It is a must read for anyone interested on the Roman Empire, even if you are not entirely convinced by the time you have finished it...
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Dec 2013 10:16:49 GMT
K. Brandner says:
This is one of the few English-language studies about this fascinating subject, and while it is well-written and researched, it is not especially innovative, at least if one knows the German studies, which offer similar conclusions since the 1980s and 90s.
One topic, which was somehow neglected by Drinkwater, is the fact that there were no "Alamanni" during that period, at least not in the sense of a coherent tribe, much less a functional political entity. The Iuthungi, Lentienses, Bucinobantes, Raetobarii and Brisgavi were most likely not only pagi (cantons) but independent tribes, each with its own political agenda, especially in its relations with the Roman Empire. Tribes like the Brisgavi, settled in an exposed position along the Upper Rhine, tended to cooperate with the Romans, while groups like the Iuthungi or Lentienses often choose a much more militant stance.

And while the Germanic threat was surely exaggerated by the Roman emperors (political leadership always tends to exaggerate external threats, especially when it suits their interests), this does not mean there was no threat at all. Small-scale warfare can be as destructive as open war, especially over a long period, and the numerous (and well-documented) raids were surely a threat to the stability of the affected provinces, provinces which were economically very important for the declining empire. So, upon reversion, I don't think that the emperors exaggerated the Alamannic threat, but they overstated the quality of their provincial defenses. In my opinion this is the weakest point of argumentation and I can only agree with JPS' scepticism.

In summary, this is a good book about a typical frontier society, and its conclusion that a frontier is not only a zone of conflict, but also of cooperation and cultural exchange, can be called revisionistic, but whatever its name, its basic sentiment is neither original nor new.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Dec 2013 12:49:38 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Dec 2013 13:35:28 GMT
JPS says:
Thank you for your comment.

With regards to originality and German studies, you are perfectly correct, at least up to a point, and I should have made my point more clearly. This is the first widly published study in English - as opposed to studies published in specialised reviews (and/or in German) - that I have come across on this subject but then I will not pretend to have read all of the existing ones in either language (or even in French). So, to that extent at least, it is original.

Second, it is also the first study that I have come across where the author systematically "downgrades" the Germanic threat. This, as you have realised, is where I started to have a bit of a problem. As you pointed out, exaggerating the scope of the threat for internal political reasons "does not mean there was no threat at all". Drinkwater is in fact very careful NOT to go that far. What he does state, however, is that, with perhaps a couple of exceptions (during the third and fourth century in particular), the "Germanic threat" was in reality localised. People living a few hundred of kilometers from the Rhine, say in Lutetia or Lugdunum, would not really be exposed to it.

As for "small-scale warfare" (meaning raiding expeditions) being as disruptive as open warfare "over the long period", you are, of course, correct except that you are not exactly comparing "like with like". The first seems to have been endemic, regardless as to whether the raiding warrior-bands came from just the other side of the frontier or from much further away, as Drinkwater (and others) tend to argue nowadays. The second - the "open warfare" was less frequent and did not last for at least a couple of reasons. It was rare for a war leader to be able to assemble and keep together a force of several thousands of warriors, and when this happened, the Romans would have an extra incentive to "crack down" fast and hard, assuming they needed such an incentive, of course.

Then there are the tribes' names and the "Alamanni". As you certainly know, ALL of these names come from the Romans and we simply do NOT know to what extent their information was accurate and reflected "reality on the ground." By the way, I do not remember Drinkwater EVER stating that there was such a thing as a "coherent tribe" called "Alamanni". What he does mention, however, is that the Romans used this broadbrush term. Even the use of the term "tribes" and the names that you mention may need to be qualified, to the extent that these "tribes" are defined by a geographical area, more than by ethnicity.

Another point well-made by the author (and by many others, including Heather) is that many (perhaps even most) of the Germanic populations close to the frontier wanted to integrate and be part of the Empire. They were not hostile and were eager to either trade or serve in the Roman forces.

Your final point is an interesting one, although I am not sure we do agree: "I don't think that the emperors exaggerated the Alamannic threat, but they overstated the quality of their provincial defenses. In my opinion this is the weakest point of argumentation and I can only agree with JPS' scepticism."

My sceptism was NOT about whether the emperors exagerated the threat or not: they clearly did, at least sometimes, but perhaps not as systematically as the author seems to imply. I could not help feeling that Drinkwater may have exaggerated a bit to make his point. At times, they did not, and maybe even got caught because they underestimated the threat or, to put differently, did not see the threat building up to catch it in time or were not in a position to "nip it in the budd" because some/most of the mobile forces had been diverted to other fronts (or even were run down). My point here is that the answer is not necessary a binary one in black or white - the emperors exaggerated or they did not. They clearly did in some cases, because it was in their interest to do so, but in others they probably did not, and, in some instances, the threat may have been either underestimated or it became uncontrolled (because the troops were busy elsewhere) and it became really serious, even when the Germanic numbers were not considerable (as the author also shows).

So, yes, maybe the "basic sentiment is neither original nor new", but it is the first time I, at least, have seen it expressed so clearly and so systematically in English in a book that is available to the so-called "general reader" (even if it not specifically drafted for such a reader), and this in itself makes it rather valuable.

Regards
JPS

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Dec 2013 16:55:00 GMT
K. Brandner says:
Thank you for your very informative reply.
I agree with most of your points, with a few, rather marginal exceptions.

While it is correct that the exact social and political system of the Alamanni is (and most likely will remain) unknown, the names of the known and documented Alamannic sub-groups tell their own tales. Most of these names were of Germanic origins and therefore most likely not the names bestowed by their Roman enemies (and sometimes partners). Some of these names were used over several centuries (and are still used today, the Brisgavi are the modern Breisgauer, the Lentienses the Linzgauer), and while this fact doesn't reveal the ethnic background of these groups, it shows that they were coherent entities for a very long time. "Alamanni" was simply a collective term, and while Drinkwater mentions repeatedly the fragmentary nature of Germanic society, I just think he misunderstood its importance for his study, while using it at the same time (and sometimes rather indiscriminately) to support his theory of a non-existing Germanic threat.
He uses the same arguments while dealing with population figures. According to his estimates (very informed ones, but nevertheless still rough estimates) the Alamanni were outnumbered by their immediate Roman neighbours in the ratio 80:1. Therefore, according to his logic, they couldn't have been a threat. I think this is a very simplified view. Most Germanic "tribes" were comparatively small groups and not the hordes of historical fiction, but nevertheless often occupied and permanently controlled former Roman territory.
Third, I don't believe these groups were driven by the wish to become Roman subjects, more likely they wanted to be well-paid allies with a secure hold on a sufficient stretch of territory, as long as a cooperation with the Roman Empire was the most promising political and economical alternative.
Nevertheless Drinkwater's study is a good one, but slightly biased and too focussed on one theory, which affects the otherwise high quality of this book, especially in comparison with several German studies, which IMHO offer a more balanced view.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Dec 2013 18:54:51 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Dec 2013 19:42:29 GMT
JPS says:
"Some of these names were used over several centuries (and are still used today, the Brisgavi are the modern Breisgauer, the Lentienses the Linzgauer), and while this fact doesn't reveal the ethnic background of these groups, it shows that they were coherent entities for a very long time."

I am afraid you might be somewhat jumping to conclusions here. Strictly speaking, the only thing that this shows is that the population of a certain area has born the same name for long time. You can, of course, chose to see this as the expression of a "coherent entity", whatever this is supposed to mean given pour previous comment on ethnic background, but this is already a personal interpretation.

With regards to numbers, Drinkwater does agree, as just about everyone else nowadays, that there were no "Germanic hordes". He does make the point that the Alamanni were outnumbered by their Roman neighbours and this is convincing, regardless of whether the proportions are just an educated guess or not (and, of course, they are!). I do agree with you, however: smaller numbers do not imply that the menace is necessarily non-signifiant, especially in a warrior society where every male above the age of fourteen was a warrior.

"Third, I don't believe these groups were driven by the wish to become Roman subjects, more likely they wanted to be well-paid allies with a secure hold on a sufficient stretch of territory, as long as a cooperation with the Roman Empire was the most promising political and economical alternative."

You have a point here, and I am the one this time who should have been a bit more cautious (or a bit more accurate perhaps) with my wording. Whether these groups wanted or not to become Roman subjects is anyone's guess, although I would tend to agree with you. They probably did not. In economic terms, however, and perhaps even in military terms, they clearly were dominated. What they certainly did want were the benefits that the Empire could bring to them.

With regards to the last term of your sentence, I would probably argue that, for a long time and for the populations that were the closest to the frontier and to the extent that the Roman forces were garrisoning the other side, they may have been no real alternative at all: they cooperated or they got "bashed" by a much more powerful ennemy. It is only when the frontier forces were depleted that the alternative that you mention really arose.

Since that you seem to want to criticise this book, I would also argue that one of its many merits is to show that the raids across the Rhine went very much both ways. While I agree that the Germanic war-bands could do quite a lot of damage, and perhaps far more than Drinkwater seems willing to admit, the Romans could (and certainly did) do at least as much (and very probably much more). So I definitely agree that the author tends to overstress some of his points, but since he does mention quite clearly that he has set out to demonstrate a given theory, you can hardly blame him for that. You may, of course, find his theory somewhat unconvincing, and, on this point at least, we would entirely agree.

By the way, since this is the second time that you have mentioned "German studies", to which ones are you alluding to exactly?

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 14:32:02 GMT
K. Brandner says:
Well, I just try to avoid writing a whole thesis, so my comments are mostly quite short, perhaps too short...

Refering to the names of several Alamannic pagi or regna, I can only agree that just a regional name doesn't proof anything, but it's at least a strong indication. In the case of the Brisgavi, for example, the archaeological evidence supports this theory, there was a settlement continuity from the early 4th century to the Middle Ages. The Zähringer Burg, a hilltop site near modern Freiburg, is one of the most comprehensively researched Alamannic settlements, and most likely was the seat of Alamannic nobility, one of the numerous reges, regales or optimates mentioned by Roman writers. Whether the Brisgavi were a pagus or even a regnum remains a point of historical dispute, but the Zähringer Burg surely was a regional power center with close ties to the Roman Empire, sometimes as foederati, sometimes as enemies.
Hilltop sites are very typical for the Alamannic region, at least 60 are known, mostly from the first phase of the migration period between abt. AD 250 and 500, these high numbers further strengthen the theory of the fragmentary nature of Alamannic society. So believing that these hilltop sites as seats of power were not randomly placed into the nowhere, and taking into account the correspondence between historical names and modern toponyms, the conclusion that there was a certain continuity is still an assumption, but in several cases most likely dead right (another assumption LOL).
It would take too long to treat this topic adequately, but of the five known names of Alamannic sub-tribes, four include references to a certain region, in two cases a curious mix of Germanic words and proto-migration/Celtic toponyms. Most names are still in use today.

And no, I don't want to criticize this book in toto, I'm just slightly uneasy about my impression that the author sticks to his theory a bit too obstinately. Most of his arguments are excellent and well-written, some of his best points are
- that the ethnogenesis of the Alamanni was a long one and mostly in situ, not only before the conquest of the Agri Decumates, but also later, involving several Germanic groups
(One important question still unanswered is the extent of the contribution of the remaining Gallo-Roman and Celtic inhabitants and the small clusters of proto-invasion Germanics to the ethnogenesis of the Alamanni)
- that the Alamanni were no unsophisticated barbarians, but a well-developed and viable culture
- that the relations between the Roman Empire and the Germanic groups were much more complex than previously anticipated, with constantly changing modi operandi from both sides.

To name all German studies would be too long, there are so many, but the best overview (and also a beautifully designed book) is
Die Alamannen, K. Fuchs, M. Kempa, R. Redies eds., Theiss Verlag 1998

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 15:45:22 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2013 17:09:35 GMT
JPS says:
Thank you for this. It is both very interesting, and very helpful (at least for me).

Settlement continuity and name continuity are what could be called "circumstantial evidence". However, as you mentioned yourself, this does not necessarily imply the same ethnicity, and this was the point I was making. Hilltop sites could just as well be occupied by several waves of chieftains and their associates over time, since their respective locations make them into the obvious spots for chieftains to settle (whether you want to call them nobles, chiefs, warlords, princes or kings). I am aware that I am somewhat playing "devil's advocate" here, but it is rather imprudent to jump to conclusions too quickly based on archeaological findings that could be interpreted in several ways.

So yes, ultimately, I believe we agree on this and on other poibnts as well. I understand your uneasiness about this book. I was also uneasy about it and we are probably saying the same thing in slightly different ways. You mention the author as being "biased" (and I agree), but then so are we all when we believe that a given thesis is the "right" one. My little problem was similar, but slightly different since I was concerned with the author's generalisations or exagerations, although this might be what you meant by his "obstinacy".

Amusingly, I happen to know a little about the region and places that you mention since I happen to live quite close to it. Interestingly, since the writen sources were all Roman, they still tend to shape debates. Some of these may be somewhat sterile (such as whether a region was a "pagus" or a "regnum"), since there are done on Roman terms and we have - at least for the time being - no way of corroborating one thesis or the other, neither do we really know whether, and if so, to what extent, the Romans may have maintained some form on control over the Agri Decumates and the right bank of the Rhine once they pulled back. I tend to believe that they did to some extent, but it is little more than that: a belief...

Also amusingly, none of the points that you mention as the "author's strong points" are entirely original, or even original to the Alamanni. As you certainly know, similar points have been debated for these and other Germanic groupings (I even hesitate to use the term "tribe" these days!) for the last thirty years or so, and not only in Germans studies.

Finally, you point out "that the Alamanni were no unsophisticated barbarians, but a well-developed and viable culture." The first point was true for just about ALL of the so-called "Barbarians" along the both the Rhine and the Danube. It was also true for the Caledonians and the Picts in what is known Scotland. Even at the time of Augustus, there were not "unsophisticated barbarians", with "Arminius" being a prime example, among others. Whether their culture was "well-developed" or not, and "viable" or not are, however, quite different and more complex questions. The first point implies comparisons and the answer will clearly depend with whom the comparison is being made. It also implies amalgamating together those that the Romans bunched together and called "Alamanni", as if they had some kind of commonality. The second point about "viability" is also tricky. The Alamanni did survive the fall of the Western part of the Roman Empire, although I am not sure how much this helps to assess the "viability" of their culture, and even what allows us to use this term of "culture". There was a duchy of the Alamanni right down to Charlemagne, although whether at this point the culture of this region was still specific and in what ways (when compared, say, to Austrasia) may be difficult to tell.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion. Much appreciated.

Regards
JPS

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 17:52:54 GMT
K. Brandner says:
"Amusingly, I happen to know a little about the region and places that you mention since I happen to live quite close to it."
Funny, so we are very probably neighbours...

I agree with your points, and I'm well aware that many points of view I prefer are based on "circumstantial evidence", but especially for the period treated in this book, most historians and other scholars have nothing else to rely on, because the historical sources are sparse, contradictory and were often just political propaganda. So any theory has a slightly speculative taste.

And yes, those topics in Drinkwater's study which I see as the strongest points are mostly not very original, so my uneasiness with his book is probably connected with the fact that when he is really original, he is also quite unconvincing, at least in my eyes.
One thing which I cannot believe is that the Alamanni regularly advanced far into Roman territory in insufficient strength, only to fall prey to a casual paw stroke of Roman power. After one or two centuries of experience in border warfare, they must have been idiots. I prefer a more balanced view - sometimes both sides were active, intelligent players, sometimes, especially during times of crisis, one side could only react. The fact that the Alamanni survived more than two centuries of border warfare, offering enough material for an outstanding scholar like Drinkwater to fill more than 400 superbly written pages, is for me proof enough that they were more than just playthings for Roman Emperors.

"Some of these may be somewhat sterile (such as whether a region was a "pagus" or a "regnum"), since there are done on Roman terms and we have - at least for the time being - no way of corroborating one thesis or the other, neither do we really know whether, and if so, to what extent, the Romans may have maintained some form on control over the Agri Decumates and the right bank of the Rhine once they pulled back. I tend to believe that they did to some extent, but it is little more than that: a belief..."
This is a very interesting point, and still hotly disputed. Fact is that after the fall of the Limes and the loss of the Agri Decumates, the Romans still maintained fortifications on the "Germanic" side of the Rhine. How far Roman influence extented from this bridgeheads is unknown, most likely it was substantial, at least periodically. Very interesting is also the historical and linguistic debate over the "Romania submersa" in Southwest Germany, there are several notable concentrations of Celtic and Gallo-Roman toponyms, scattered over the Black Forest and adjoining regions, which are interpreted by some historians and etymologists as indications of Celtic/Gallo-Roman clusters which remained in situ after the Alamannic conquest, interacting with their Germanic neighbours.
So there's still enough left for scholars to earn their spurs.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2013 19:44:40 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2013 20:20:37 GMT
JPS says:
True: given what the sources are, there is no way to avoid circumstantial evidence entirely, because this is often the only thing that is available. There is no way either to entirely avoid speculation or to run the risk of over relying on archeology and chance findings on which one then builds a nice theory that is presented as the "truth". I have seen historians and archaelogists do this dozens of times over the last few décades. I remember an article writen by some Swiss archaeologists in Archeologia a few years ago where they were imagining how one of the colleagues of the the 23rd century would interpret finding a horde of coca cola bottle tops. From this, he would build a whole theory about global economic collapse sometime during the early 21st century, with the emergence of a cheap global currency made up from these bottle tops...

On your second point - "One thing which I cannot believe is that the Alamanni regularly advanced far into Roman territory in insufficient strength, only to fall prey to a casual paw stroke of Roman power." I would perhaps have two things to note. First, a mobile warband of a few hundred or up to a thousand warriors or so could move quite quickly and deeply into Roman territory and do a lot of damage. They would be hard to catch (assuming they were caught at all), especially if they moved across country rather than following the Roman main roads, and given that the army was spread prettry thin on the ground once the frontier had been crossed and the frontier guarrisons had been avoided. Second, these warriors would not necessarily be the ones that would fall prey to the Roman superpower's "paw stroke" (I rather like the image conveyed here: quite apt). Rather, it would whatever settlement was in easy reach of the nearest Roman fort, and it could quite easily have little to do with the raisers themselves, especially if those, as Drinkwater (and others) have argued, came in fact from much further away (the banks of the Elbe, rather than those of the Rhine). One of the points here is that, in a number of cases, it mighty not even have been the Alamanni who were doing the raiding (although they certainly DID raid), but whether it was them or not, they would on the receiving end when the Romans retaliated with their usual ruthless and heavy fisted way.

As for the exact role of the bridge heads that the Romans built and maintained up to the early fifth century, we essentially do not know what it was and how far Roman influence extended. Note that even the most restrictive interpretation - they were only outposts - gives them quite a lot of importance in both peace and war for a couple of reasons. During peace time, they were very probably used to channel trade and communications along the frontier. During periods of war, it is from these bridge heads that the Roman punitive expeditions would come, as shown rather well in Drinkwater's book. By the way, I happen to live about five kilometers away from one of these bridge heads.

As for the persistence of Gallo-Roman clusters and names on the right bank of the Rhine, this is also discussed quite a bit by Drinkwater. Just like in Dacia, when the Roman army pulled back, everybody did not necessarily leave with them. Whether Rome maintained some kind of overlordship over these regions after leaving or not is, as you mentioned, a hotly debated issue, but it seems that the area was not entirely depopulated and then repopulated by Germanic groups.

As you say, there is still quite a lot of work for archaelogists in the region (all along the Rhine and the Danube, but also within what almost became Germania Magna), despite everything that has been done already.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Dec 2013 13:07:22 GMT
K. Brandner says:
Refering to mobile warbands and "quick" advances and retreats:

Drinkwater's theory of raiders/invaders mainly or entirely from the interior is for me not very convincing. War bands or small armies from the interior, for example the Elbe, on their way to Roman provinces had to pass through the territories of several Germanic groups. Some of them would have been antagonistic (intertribal warfare seems to have been common), others - if Drinkwater's theory is sound - would have been only too aware of the risk of Roman retaliatory strikes, especially those along the frontier. So these small or large parties had to pass undetected and unhindered through mostly unfamiliar areas to cross somewhere into Roman territory, even more unfamiliar and risky ground, always in danger to be cut off their retreat or to encounter superior forces from the provincial defences, Roman foederati or tribal enemies. And even if they were successful, they had to go back, hundreds of kilometres and now encumbered by plunder, captives and perhaps their own wounded. The most likely route (back and forth) for such a raiding party would have been along the Eastern limits of Alamannic control into Raetia, but most incursions seem to have been directed against Gaul, crossing somewhere the Upper Rhine and therefore the most densely populated regions of Alamannic territory. A rather improbable scenario. More likely the tendency of Alamannic groups to cooperate with the Romans declined further inland or among those pagi or regna who had secure retreat areas or who didn't rely in the same extent on agriculture and trade like the Alamanni in the Upper Rhine Valley. In my eyes these are the most likely candidates for incursions into Roman provinces. This is admittedly just another theory, but one which contains less "ifs". I won't deny the possibility of far-ranging war bands, but considering the possible gains and risks, they were probably rather the exception than the rule.
Drinkwater's picture of a systematic misidentification and exaggeration of enemy forces and the use of Alamannic groups as "soft targets" of prestigious and riskless punitive expeditions is as simple as tempting but it neglects a closer look on the geopolitical situation. If his theory is accurate and the Alamanni were indeed as passive and powerless as suggested, then the big questions would be
- How succeeded the Alamanni in seizing and occupying so much former Roman territory, economically important and comparatively well defended as it was?
- Why should they stay in such an exposed and dangerous position?
- Why should the Roman administration tolerate their constant presence on this important part of their frontier, being neither an effective buffer zone nor strong or reliable foederati?
I don't find many answers in Drinkwater's book, well-written as it is.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Dec 2013 13:33:03 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Dec 2013 13:35:24 GMT
JPS says:
Agree to a large extent regarding the warbands from the Elbe. Possible, but it is not very plausible for the reasons you mention. Agree also that "they were probably rather the exception than the rule." I also agree that this is another instance where Drinkwater has been so systematic that he damages his case and makes it unconvincing. Also agree that the Alamanni were neither as passive nor as powerless as the author needs to suggest to make his case and paint them as "victims". I finally agree with "the big questions" that the author's interpretation raises.

To tell the truth, it is this, and a few other similar exagerations and simplifications that a) gave me the idea for the title of my review, "JPS scepticism", as you called it and b) it is also this that made me hesitate between a four and a five star rating. I finally went for four, but may have been over-generous. Four and a half would have suited me perfectly, but it was not possible...
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JPS
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