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Late Roman Army Paperback – 20 Jan 2000
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'The book is both readable and enjoyable, and it can be heartily recommended as a starting point for the study of the Late Roman army.' - The Classical Review
'There is much in this book to be lauded, and it will be a useful tool for students and teachers of Roman military history and archaeology.' - Jane Webster, University of Leicester-- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Hardcover.
About the Author
Pat Southern is head librarian in the department of archaeology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Karen Ramsey Dixon is a research fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Hardcover.
Top customer reviews
Information and evidence placed in context with limitations honestly acknowledged
Well wrththe price
They describe the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine - particularly the origin of the Comitatenses, or field armies as distinct from the frontier army and give a good impression of the complexity of the debate surrounding the shifting definitions and structures as the period progressed.
The authors include an interesting discussion of morale, motivation and identity in the context of increasing cultural mix within the late Roman army. It has been criticised for containing some mistakes and for its caution in drawing new academic conclusions, but provides an excellent starting-point for study, particularly for those enthusiastic amateurs looking for an expanded and more heavily referenced progression from more introductory titles, such as the 'Osprey' series.
One of the main strongpoints of this book, which is replicated in many other books authored by Patricia Southern, is to clearly show the limits of our knowledge. This the two authors do repeatedly throughout the book, although I will only mention a few examples.
One is the emphasis put on the fact that it is quite often very difficult or even almost impossible to ascribe a given military reform or even the building, rebuilding or repair of a given fortress to a specific Emperor. The typical example here is the extent to which the separation between “frontier troops” and “mobile army troops” should be ascribed to Diocletian (and the Tetrarchy more generally) or to Constantine or even to Valentinian I and his brother Valens. There is a similar example about the fortifications along the Empire’s frontiers, but also about the fortifications of the main lines of communications.
The authors describe succinctly but clearly the sources and the “Third century crisis” that the Empire narrowly survived after almost collapsing. This was, as the author’s chapter title summarises it quite neatly a period of “crisis and transition” that saw the first embryo of a central army being put together to address emergencies by Gallienus (AD 253-268) on an ad hoc basis. The authors are however quite uncertain as to whether there were mobile armies under the Tetrarchy or whether the Emperors and Caesars only had their bodyguards and a few elite units around them. Diocletian and his colleagues seem to have redeployed the bulk of the army on the frontiers which they restored.
On the other hand, Constantine is blamed by one (very unfavourable) source for having weakened the frontier armies, both in numbers and quality, and for having built up the mobile forces at their expense. As the authors show, this accusation is somewhat unfair. Initially, the frontier troops were not necessarily second class forces. Units of frontier troops were incorporated into mobile armies after the divided into these categories, showing that they were considered good enough to hold their own in these mobile forces. Finally, and although the frontier troops did have a lower status and the separation with mobile strike forces increased overtime, these frontier troops were maintained throughout the period and continued to be available in the Eastern part of the Empire in the early Sixth century. One point where the authors do believe that Constantine can be blamed was the decision attributed to him to quarter the mobile troops onto the civilian population in cities. As the authors show rather clearly, this had far-reaching and very negative consequences. It alienated the civil population by increasing the divide with the army and it severely undermined military discipline to an extent that civilians in some cases feared their own military just about as much as the so-called “Barbarians”, if not more.
Two other related themes are presented and discussed. One is about numbers or, to put it a bit differently, the rather vexed question of the size of the Late Roman Army under Diocletian and under Constantine, and to extent to which each Emperor was responsible for expanding it, bearing in mind that both of them did increase it. The other question is about how the forces were deployed across the Empire, and whether, and to what extent, they varied in quality. Here again, the authors do a good job in showing the limits of our existing knowledge because of incomplete sources. One of the main points made is that any numbers are not only tentative, with the authors mentioning some of the numbers quoted by various authors, but they are also more “guess-estimates” than anything else. Even the so-called Notitia Dignitatum, which only lists commands and the various units placed under each of them (but no specific numbers), needs to be handled with extreme care because the document is not consistent. The data for the Western part of the Empire is more or less updated to the early decades of the Fifth century (somewhere around AD 420-430) although some of it is not, but the commands and unit lists for the Eastern part seem to be those prevalent in the closing years of the Fourth century (with most authors conveniently mentioning AD 395, the year of the death of Emperor Theodosius I, although even this is an assumption).
The other theme that had led to major scholarly debates for decades is the so-called “barbarisation” of the Roman Army. Here also, the presentation and discussion is clear, with the main points being neatly made and the issues being set in context. The Roman Army had been recruiting and integrated so-called “Barbarians” for centuries without this affecting its performances. What changed however, according to the authors, is that in the last quarter of the Fourth century both the Eastern Roman Army (at Andrinople in AD 378) and the Western Army (at Frigid River in AD 394, but also in AD 388 when Theodosius defeated the Western Army of Magnus Maximus) suffered disasters. Rather than the recruitment of growing numbers of barbarians, losing the most experienced soldiers (and probably an even greater proportion of junior officers) was a loss that could not be repaired quickly. It was this loss, they believe, that was critical because it was precisely through these soldiers that Roman discipline was exercised and integration took place.
Other parts of the book – the pieces on conditions of service, equipment, fortifications and siege warfare – are good summaries even if perhaps not great.
Two other major themes of this book are the recruitment crisis and the poor morale from which the Roman Army allegedly suffered. The authors list the numerous examples that have often been quoted by both Jones and Mc Mullen and which are largely drawn from imperial legislations from the second half of the fourth century onwards. The problem here is that they never really forward any causes or enter into any real discussion explaining why recruitment from within the Empire seems to have become such an issue or why the army’s morale deteriorated.
There is also one main piece which is missing and this is a thorough assessment of the Late Roman Army’s effectiveness on the field, whether on campaign or in battle. A related missing piece is an attempt to identify what Arther Ferrill called “the turning point” or, in the different terms, the point of no return, although the authors seem to have been largely influenced by his views.
Unfortunately, and this is where Patricia Southern’s and Karen Dixon’s book tends to show its age a bit, the debate among historians has evolved quite a bit since it was published. For instance, Hugh Elton holds the view and demonstrates in his book (Warfare in Roman Europe AD 350-425) that the Roman Army in the West was still largely effective during the early Fifth Century, at least up to the death of Aetius. Other books, such as "The Rome that did not Fall: the survival of the East in the Fifth Century" (Friell and Williams), present a complete narrative of the Fifth century which is mostly absent in Southern's and Dixon's book. It also lists numerous reasons for the Fall of the West and the survival of the East, many of which are not examined in this good but narrowly focused book.
This book is a sequel of sorts to her previous book, The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History, and a companion to The Roman Cavalry. Like that last one this book was written with Karen Dixon. I have yet to read it but if it's as good as this one then it should be a treat. This book is very technical and is laid out in a very organized and rational fashion. The first chapter deals with the army during the crisis of the third-century. There is little known about that period so this section is mostly spent trying to trace the origins of the comitatenses, the field army that was used as the nucleus of every imperial army during the fourth century. It was apparently created under Gallienus, but then it either died out or was expanded under Diocletian. What is known is that by the death of Constantine it was a unit of major importance. The second chapter continues the loose narrative right up through Justinian. This is an effort to see how the army operated rather than what it did.
The next chapter begins the thematic part of the book. The first section deals with recruitment. Where did the soldiers come from, how were they trained, did their numbers decline, etc. This is followed by 'Conditions of Service,' which covers how a soldier lived through how they were paid. This chapter could probably have been longer. The next chapters are very technical. The first one deals with their equipment. This section is filled with diagrams and drawings and takes up most of the plates in the middle of the book. There are some beautiful pictures of some late Roman helmets which I have never seen reproduced in such detail. This section is very precise and is usable mainly as a reference work. The next section deals with fortifications and also features many sketches and diagrams. The next part deals with siege warfare and includes a large glossary of terms for the various weapons and siege equipment. The final section deals with morale and is rather speculative.
The conclusions regarding the failure of the Roman army were interesting. She holds that a shortage of manpower was never the problem for the Roman state. Rather it was a shortage of TRAINED manpower that was fatal. Troops were needed so badly that the customary Roman discipline was forced to slip. And once it went below a certain level there were no experienced men to form a core around which a unit could be built. She also feels that the garrisoning of soldiers in cities was a mistake. By spreading the soldiers out in this way the Roman state relaxed its discipline and lessened the sense of fraternity. There are other more obvious comments that she makes such as the dangers of placing barbarians under their own officers.
There were things that annoyed me about this text. The constant use of in-text citations was a nuisance. I much prefer footnotes or endnotes to that. The sections on equipment and siege warfare were too technical for easy reading and can really only serve as a reference. But these are fairly minor problems. The book as a whole is good, and it provides valuable information that is difficult to get otherwise. A useful book.
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