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The Legion Re-Envisioned Analysis of the Roman Military: 4th Century AD

Geofre Schoradt Professor Eric Goldberg, Advisor

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honors in History Williams College Williamstown, Massachusetts April 2006

Table of Contents:

Introduction p. 1

Chapter 1: The Crisis of the Third Century p. 22

Chapter 2: The Military and Political Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine p. 39

Chapter 3: The Lesser Battles and Military Actions p. 63

Chapter 4: Julian: The Roman/Hellenistic Blend p. 78

Chapter 5: Valens and Adrianople p. 99

After Adrianople p. 113

The Roman Empire holds a special place in Western historical thought for a wide variety of valid reasons. The Roman Empire has acted as the theoretical blueprint for many, if not most, of the empires that sought to dominate the European continent in the centuries after its decline. Charlemagne attempted to forge a new Roman Empire in Western Europe, while his contemporaries, the Greek Byzantines, sought to maintain their own claim as the empire's literal successors in the east. Many, many, centuries later, Muscovite Russia termed itself the "third Rome"; Napoleon adopted the Roman symbol of the eagle for his army, as did Nazi Germany as an avatar for its political ambitions. The fascination European thought has had with the Roman Empire is the result of several salient characteristics particular to that empire. Rome was the only political entity to successfully found an empire that united all the elements of the Mediterranean world. Rome's impressive geographical dimensions were matched only by her surprising longevity. The empire itself lasted for close to five hundred years; the republic on which the empire was built was another five hundred years old. Add on to this the survival (of the eastern half of the former empire for another thousand years, and you have a Roman tradition that spans close to two millennia.

For all of the empire's size and longevity, the fact still remains that the imposing edifice ultimately collapsed. In many ways the sharp contrast between the myth of the empire and the tragedy of its collapse has added to the appeal of empire's history, making it not just a monument to political control, but also a lesson in the cyclical nature of empires. The fall of the Roman Empire has fascinated scholars and intellectuals for over a millennium. The most important question that the tale of the Roman Empire's collapse has generated is not surprisingly "why?" The answer to that most burning of questions has proved a difficult quarry; efforts at examining the history are hindered by holes in the historical narrative and the wide breadth of opinion concerning what the evidence actually means. It is a fact of historical inquiry that historical answers, such as why the Roman Empire collapsed, are frequently caught up in present-day agendas and biases. During the nineteenth century, as German nationalism was gaining steam, German intellectuals, not surprisingly, put forth the idea that the superior virtue of the Germanic barbarians living outside the Roman Empire allowed them to overrun the empire militarily and politically. The French, not to be outdone, fought back with evidence that the Germanic barbarians had actually not been so instrumental.

A more recent trend in scholarship concerning the collapse of the Roman empire has been to look at what the empire itself did wrong. One of the more compelling theories to come about in recent years is the work of Arthur Ferrill. Arthur Ferrill is a military historian who looked at the nature of warfare in the late Roman empire as a means of explaining a collapse that had sizable military components. Much of Ferrill's analysis concerned the events of the fourth century AD, specifically the reforms of the emperors Diocletian and Constantine,

and the Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople. Ferrill's argument is that Diocletian and Constantine segregated the elite troops from the lower-quality soldiers and grouped the elites into centralized mobile field armies.' The field armies were intended to counterattack an invader that breached the frontier. Ferrill contends that such a force made the empire strategically vulnerable; if such a force was destroyed in battle; the empire was even more open to attack. Ferrill holds that the defeat at Adrianople was the realization of this situation and caused the ultimate collapse of the empire. Ferrill's arguments borrow a lot from the work of Edward Luttwak and his Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire. Ferrill primarily utilizes Luttwak's ideas concerning the evolution over time of Roman strategies for imperial defence. Although sowld in many ways, Ferrill's military analysis of the fall of the Roman Empire is not completely satisfactory. The purpose of this study is to re-examine much of the material available about the fourth century Roman empire and its military and argue that the military situation was different than Ferrill's interpretation.

Tackling the Fourth Century

The fourth century AD did not witness a significant decay in either the fighting quality, or effectiveness, of the Roman military machine. The Roman military was effective because a combination of political objectives and evolving military science kept it that way. The fourth century army is too often viewed in the context of the collapse of the fifth century. Historians, like Ferrill, focus too much on drawing connections from the fourth to the fifth centuries, instead of identifying the connections from the third to the fourth. The true character of the fourth century army is only illuminated when one looks back into its history, as far back even as the time of Alexander the Great. A part of what made the fourth century military effective was that it was an intelligent melding of Roman and Hellenistic Greek military traditions. Although the Romans had conquered the Hellenistic empires, they still adopted their literary works, many of which included treatises on military science. The army of the fourth century was not necessarily a precursor to the fifth, but rather a response to the political collapse of the third century. The empire almost disappeared in the third century for military, as well as political, reasons. The army of the fourth evolved in response to the third century's need for a better military. Roman access to both Roman and Hellenistic military traditions allowed the empire to combine the best elements of both.

Looking at, and examining, battles, sieges, and campaigns can prove Roman military effectiveness. The character of the Roman army can be explained by looking back on earlier military traditions. The military, however, is only ever half the story of an empire.

The more one looks at military history, the more one inevitably runs into politics. A discussion of the political dynamics of the fourth century empire is a key component to this re-evaluation of the Roman military.

1 Arthur Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire, (London: Tharnes and Hudson, 1986),


The linchpin, the all too physical connection between military and politics, is the historical persona of the Roman emperor. The Roman emperor, more so than most monarchs, was as much a military official as he was a political one. The emperor was the supreme political authority and the highest-ranking general. Through his person, politics could directly affect the military, and vice versa. The unique position of the emperor is thus a critical component of this study of the fourth century military. The role of the emperor as the conduit by which politics and military affairs intermingled explains a great many of the events of the fourth century. The importance of the emperor as both the supreme political and military official also ties into a discussion of what were the lingering weaknesses of the empire and its military machine. This study does not completely ignore the collapse of the empire a century later, and position of the emperor is an important element in explaining why it eventually took place.

While this study is a re-evaluation of the fourth century military, it is not a complete reinvestigation of every aspect of that military. This study will look at the political events of the third century, as a background and precursor to the events of the fourth century. The third century directly influenced the actions of Diocletian and Constantine, whose reforms of the political and military systems took place during the first quarter of the century. Diocletian and Constantine are important because their actions as emperors set- the stage for the rest of the century; their military reforms in particular succinctly divide the army of the third from the new army of the fourth.

The actions of this new army will be divided by degree of scale. The bulk of the military engagements during the fourth were small, but numerous, campaigns that did notalways result in big battles. The difference between big and "small" battles will be more thoroughly explained later. Roman conduct in small battles and campaigns followed a general pattern that allows for a comparison between such a wide arrays of events. Roman success, or failure, in engaging in certain types of small actions had a profound effect on the ability of the empire to handle military situations. As shall be demonstrated, the empire was unable to successfully prosecute certain small operations strategies that weakened its ability to deal with the large-scale invasions that were becoming more common and frequent from the third century onward.

Although they were less frequent, the large battles that the Roman army engaged in are balanced out by their relatively higher degree of importance. This importance had a lot to do with the intimate Roman connection between military and politics, and with the particular way in which the Romans handled these sorts of engagements. The historical study of large battles is restricted by the availability of their coverage in historical sources. Of the many important contests during the fourth century. two have been passed down in history as being well recorded. The first is the Battle of Strasbourg, a Roman victory, which, although it was indecisive in an overarching strategic fashion, provides a good depiction of how Roman battles were fought. It is through the analysis of Strasbourg in particular that the blend of Roman/Hellenistic military traditions becomes apparent. The second is the Battle of Adrianople, a Roman defeat, which ultimately had a great deal of strategic significance for the Roman empire.

The battle itself stands as a convenient counterpoint to the Roman success at Strasbourg and illustrates how the same strengths that won the latter could just as easily lose the former. The aftermath of Adrianople brings together the political and military trends of the fourth century, and highlights the weaknesses inherent in the imperial system they defended.

The Sources

The principal resource for any study of the fourth century AD Roman military is the narrative written by Ammianus Pvlarcellinus. Ammianus was a Roman citizen of Greek origin who was born in the city of Antioch (coastal Syria) in AD 330. Ammianus's history of the Roman empire, based on style on the work of Tacitus, was intended to cover the period from AD 96 to 378.3 The volumes covering the period up to AD 354, however, have been lost to history, so Ammianus's narrative only actually covers about a twenty-four year period. For the sake of this study, Ammianus's time frame is good because it covers the important reigns of Constantius II, Julian the Apostate, Valentinian I, and his brother Valens. This relatively short period still1 manages to include the important battles of Strasbourg and Adrianople, the disasterous Persian expedition of Julian, and numerous minor campaigns conducted against the barbarians that lived north of the Roman frontier. What the narrative unfortunately is not able to include are the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine, and tlie reign of Theodosius that began after 378 AD.

Arnmianus Marcellinus was not the on1y writer of late antiquity to commemorate the events of the fourth century Other important sources for the period include Libanius, Lactantius, Themistius, Eusebius, and Zosimus, as well as the bureaucratic document. the Notitia Dignitaturn. From the standpoint of this study, however, Ammianus's narrative holds the most utility for a military-based analysis.

The primacy of Ammianus's narrative is the result of the work's inherent advantages and the disadvantages of the other sources previously mentioned. Libanius and Lactantius were contemporaries to Ammianus, yet the problem with their works is that they deal very little with the military, especially in comparison to Ammianus. Libanius’s literary contributions are a series of letters, while Lactantius focuses mainly on religious matters. Themistius was a speechwriter and propagandist for Emperor Theodosius, so while his selected works provide some political context, the material itself is highly suspicious. Although all writers for that period put their own unique spin on events, Themistius is one of the more extreme cases, because spin was his job. Eusebius, like Lactantius, is limited1 by his focus on church matters and religious arguments. Zosimus, in addition to his own bias, suffers further from his chronological distance since he was; wrote his history a century later than

3 Ammianus Marcellinus, The Late Roman Empire, translated by Walter Hamilton and 4 Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, (London: Penguin Books, 1986), 9 Ammianus did.4

The Notitin Dignitattun provides only marginal data for this study because it is simply a register of offices and military posts. In addition, the Dignitattun was composed after the disaster at Adrianople, something that weakens its ability to accurately poirtray the military as it stood for most of the century. 5

One ancient scholar remains who rivals Ammianus in his discussion of the fourth century Roman military. The Epitome ofMilitary Science is a text written by a man named Publius Fliavius Vegetius Renatus for consumption by the Roman emperor, most likely Theodosius. Vegetius wrote his piece as an attempt at reforming a Roman military that he saw as flawed. Key elements of his argument were that the army was undisciplined, it relied too much on contingents of foreign barbarians (from Germanic tribes), and that it needed to be changed back to the way it had been during late Republican times.7 Vegetius believed that the Roman army was becoming an undisciplined horde no different from the enemies it fought. It is the purpose of this examination, however, to prove that the army, as it stood in the fourth century before Adrianople, was actually evolving along different lines.

Vegetius is actually more similar to Ferrill than Ammianus because he was writing an interpretation of the fourth century military, rather than recording it. Vegetius's work is inherently biased, although that should be expected in a work tailored to prove a point to an autocrat. Most of what Vegetius talks about is actually more relevant to early Roman history; Vegetius's suggestions for military drill and army organization were taken from Republican sources. Information concerning the fourth century is mostly inferential because Vegetius focused on what the army should be, not what it was. Ammianus is the principle source because he lived and experienced most of the events he chronicled; Ammianus was actually present at the Persian siege of Amida, a Roman city, was a companion and officer of the Emperor Julian, and took part in that emperor's unsuccessful campaign against Persia. Arnmianus was a military man, which adds some credence to his ability to describe wars and Vegetius, Epitome of Militmy Science, translated by N. P. Millner, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996), xxxvii 7

In order for Ammianus to be the principle foundation of this study, however, the inherent weaknesses of his narrative must be addressed. Like the other period sources that have already been mentioned, Ammianus without a doubt comes packed with his own set of biases. Amrnianus was a thorough admirer of the Emperor Julian, the fact of which colours a good deal of his narrative. Ammianus's opinion shines through the most in his depictions of the morals of the rulers, specifically Julian, who is shown as a good man, and his predecessor Constantius II, shown as psychotically paranoid. The biggest danger, with the early part of the narrative, is the possibility that Ammianus is downplaying the military achievements of Constantius II and exaggerating those of Julian. To his credit, however, Punmianus does not seem to overdo it; Ammimus's bias against Constantius

4 Southern & Dixon, The Late Roman Army, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996),


seems only to affect his diagnosis of the man's motives and mental state. For his part, Constantius is given credit for military victories; it is off the battlefield that the slander against him comes into play. Seeing as Constantius is relatively a minor figure in this military analysis, since he did not reform the army and is not depicted in large battles, Ammianus's dislike for the man doesn't really affect the analysis. Ammianus's affection for Julian could potentially be another matter, unfortunately. Whether he meant to or not, Ammianus spends a great deal more time documenting the events of Julian's rather short reign, than he does with most other emperors. Ammianus generally paints Julian as a rather good military commander. However, once again, Ammianus does not noticeably go overboard.

Even in Julian's triumph, the Battle of Strasbourg, the emperor receives surprisingly little mention once the action actually starts. Ammianus was not averse to citing Julian's failings, and pulls few ]punches during his description of Julian's disastrous Persian campaign.'0 There is no doubt that Ammianus interprets events through certain lenses, however, his description and record of the actual events themselves appear to be reliable too the extent that he is not tampering with the fundamental course of those events. This study uses the account of Ammianus more for its catalogue and (description of events, and less for its interpretation of why those events took place.

If Ammianus's biases can be dealt with satisfactorily, there still remains the issue of how accurate a source is he? Ammiianus, like all writers of ancient times, was limited by what he knew, where he could be, and how much he could possibly include in the space he chose. The last touches back on the topic of bias; the decision what to include and what not to have a lot to do with what one feels is important. Ammianus includes very little having to do with Christianity; the religion is almost invisible, save for some of its; conflicts with Julian. Arnrnianus was a pagan, which may explain his enthusiasm for Julian, the last pagan emperor, and why he put so little emphasis on the influence of Christianity in the empire." Ammianus most likely did not include all the battles, big and small, that took place in his chosen time frame. The fact is, that half of what makes a large battle is the press that it is given. That being said, Ammianus gives a fair balance of wins and losses for the Romans, and without further evidence of a larger number of Roman losses, something that would hurt an argument for its effectiveness, it must be assumed that Ammianus's account is representative of the military situation.

The last concern with the account of Ammianus has to do with writing style and terminology. Many of the problems associated with analyzing this time period come from inconsistencies in terminology. Ammianus is generally not very helpful when it comes to distinguishing between different types of units, especially when it comes to their equipment; the terms "spearmen" and "shield men" only illustrate so much. Some of that may not necessarily be Ammianus's fault; militaryterminology is famous for its colloquial jargon. Ammianus was also writing in a certain historical style that was not so much technical as it was colourful. l2

6 Ammianus, 13-15 9

10 Ammianus, 23 l1 Ammianus, 30

Fortunately, archeology provides the physical component that can be applied to Ammianus's account. For example, when Ammianus talks about men clashing their shields together, or mien throwing javelins, or men shooting arrows, archeology can fill in the visual blainks. For the sake of efficiency, this study relies upon archeological evidence collected in the secondary sources. Actual first hand analysis of the artifacts would be preferable, but is frankly not feasible. A wide enough variety of military artifacts is present in the available secondary sources, ensuring that the interpretation is not skewed by a paucity of sample size.

In order for any analysis of the Roman military to be effective, a certain mount of background terminology is needed. When dealing with the geographical extent of the empire, certain conventions are usually addressed. The terms "east" and "west" simply mean direction; "East" and "West" as proper names refer to an artificial division of the empire. Operationally, "West" refers to Gaul, northern Italy, and the upper Danube frontier; "East" refers to Turkey/Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine. "East" stands, as metonymy for what would officially become the Byzantine Empire, while "West" represents the Western Roman Empire that would collapse. The principal unit designations in the Roman army were "legions", "auxilia", and "alae". "Legion" was originally used to refer to an entire Roman army. Army legions were units of around six thousand men, all of whom were expected to be citizen Romans. "Auxilia" were mirror images of the legion; basically another au-my that traveled with the legion, also around six thousand men. "Auxilia" were traditionally formed by non-citizen Romans, and as such, could differ in equipment and appearance from legion soldiers. Legions and auxilia were composed of cohorts, each of about one thousand to eight hundred men, although realities of war almost always kept them below ideal strength. "Alae" were cavalry cohorts, traditionally of non-citizen Roman origin since Romans tended to be poor cavalry troops at first. "Alae" were of much more variable size, ranging from as little as two hundred to as much as a regular cohort.13

In the fourth century, the traditional Roinan military lexicon changed, most of which will be dealt with in the succeeding chapters. What does not get addressed is the new terminology applied individual army units. Contact with the Persians spurred the Romans to adopt new heavy cavalry units called clibanarii l3 Southern & Dixon, 19 13 and cataphractarii. For the purposes of this study there is no real difference between the two; both terms referred to extremely heavily armed and armored cavalry soldiers. Clibanarii troopers were completely covered in chain and scale mail armour, as were their horses. The account of Ammianus and the Notitia Digitaium bring to the fore a wide range of unique names applied to army units. To name but a few, Cornuti, Batavii, Jovii, Parthica, and Scutarii are used intermitantly. The term "Batavii" most likely associates the unit with a Germanic tribe that had been peacefully incorporated into the empire. The term "Jovii" indicates that the unit may have been dedicating itself to the god Jove, a.k.a. Jupiter, for good luck. "Scutarii" was a specific unit name that can be translated generally as "shield men"; it is enough to know that it refers to a particular unit,

most likely heavy infantry. "Parthican was a more traditional unit name, indicating that the group was originally recruited to fight "Parthia", a.k.a. Persia. Other special names may come up, and most of them can be identified as indicating a unit's name, its origin, or both.14

The Importance of the Emperor

It is impossible to study the history of war without first understanding the political context in which military action takes place. The focal point for the events of the third and fourth centuries was the emperor. The Roman Empire was neither the first, nor the last, large political state to be ruled by the sole authority of one man. What made the Roman Empire distinct was the way in which its political system interacted with historical events. The first thing to keep in mind is the origins of Rome's politics. Most of the territory that the empire controlled was directly inherited from the Roman Republic. The republic was a reaction against the excesses of a king of mythical past, the solution to which was a representative form of government beholden to the propertied elite. The biggest problem faced by the republic was political competition that manifested itself first in class warfare between rich patricians and poor plebians,which later morphed into contests between great senatorial patrons.

Political competition was all about who had control or access to power; socioeconomic classes wanted better access, and important individuals catered to those whims. The importance of the individual in politics became more pronounced towards the "end of the republic." While the republic was more representative than a monarchy, its style of representation still put the power of many into the hands of a few. Legislation within the senate was still the purview of the important, the distinguished, and the elite.

Perhaps the only effective way that the greater portion of society could influence the senate was through mob action. The violence of a mob was a powerful argument. By the time of Caesar and Pompey, astute politicians were taking advantage of this through various manipulative and demagogic means. The city mob was not the only form of popular power, however. The army, opened to all citizens by (hius Marius was another means of transferring the power of the many into the hands of a charismatic leader. Caesar and Pompey used the army to further their political goals by intimidating the

senate and eventually killing off their principle rivals (each other).

aftermath of Caesar's death, the army once again became the deciding factor in

political disputes. Competitors for power, Lepidus, Octavian, and Marcus Antonius each gathered together armies from Rome's military establishment for personal protection. Octavian defeated Antonius at Actium and removed the last military obstacle in his way.

In the

14 Pat Southern & Karen R. Dixon, The Late Roman Army, (New Haven and London:

Yale University Press, 1996), 19-20

Octavian proclaimed himself Augustus based on the authority provided by his military supremacy. Legitimacy, however, u7as something that could not come solely from the army. Augustus couched his rise in power in republican terms and officially called himself "First Citizen", rather than king or monarch.

Although Augustus was clearly superior to the senate, it was not yet the time to alienate the political body of Rome by threatening its powers and privileges. The manoeuvres of Augustus highlight the three-way split in political influence that I characterized the Roman government. The three legs of the imperial power structure in Augustus's day were the army, the emperor, and the senate. The army gave the emperor his supremacy over all political rivals. The senate and its related offices were what actually ran the state. The senate provided the officials who actually ran the provinces and ensured that the state received its money. The senate was also closely associated with the treasury. The emperor may have controlled the empire, but he needed people to run it for him. In the modern American democratic system, a branch exists that makes the laws, one that interprets the laws, and one that executes the laws. Things worked fundamentally different in the Roman Empire of the third and fourth centuries AD. The emperor was the one who made and interpreted the laws, and in instances where he was physically present, enforced them.15 Although the senate was originally the entity that handled these duties, by the time of Diocletian, it was the emperor's responsibility, or at least prerogative.

The senate, in fact, disappeared as a real force in politics by the third century AD as the emperor diverted more and more of their powers out of their hands. What ultimately took the senate's place was the imperial bureaucracy, initially an outgrowth of the imperial court. Access to the bureaucracy was different than access to the senate had been. The senate had been socially exclusive; certain classes could enter, and those that could pretty much had a place for lift:. The bureaucracy was open to more classes, in part because it, dong with the military, had been reformed along meritocratic lines. Bureaucrats were appointed, and were thus highly political.16 And since politics in the empire passed through the empire in one way or another, the two were more connected than emperor and senate had been. The bureaucracy evolved in response to the colossal task that was the maintenance of a far-flung empire. The bureaucracy ran the state by ensuring that taxes were collected and redistributed, and that necessary officials were stationed around the empire. The army, of course, maintained its position as the ultimate arbiter of political power.17

The Roman Emperor was the supreme military and civil official, with all the powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The emperor was the very nexus of power in the empire.

15 Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Emipre: A New Yistory of Rome and the

Barbarians, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 24 l6 Peter Heather, 28-30

17 Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, (New York: Meuthen

Inc, 1985), 102- 108

To be made an official and ensure one's importance in society, one had to go through the emperor, or at least his court. Emperors decided what was just and unjust violence, and whom violence could be directed against. Technically, the bureaucracy and the army could function without the presence or even existence of an emperor. The lack of an emperor, however, meant that no new political positions were being assigned. The emperor was also the one who redistributed money to the civil and military officials; no emperor meant a significant interruption in everyone's paycheck.18 The most important thing, however, was that anything undertaken in the absence of an emperor could be overturned once an emperor came to power. An emperor could repeal edicts and reshuffle assigned offices, throwing existing patronage arrangements out the window. The importance of the emperor only increased during the course of the fourth century, and it was his intimate association with military matters that translated defeats on the battlefield to political problems for the whole empire.

Areas Outside This Study

Although this study primarily concerns the military dynamics of the fourth century, a number of important topics related to the military decline of Rome will not be discussed in this analysis. One of the more popular topics is the idea of the barbarization of the Roman army during the fourth and fifth centuries. Barbarization took place in two forms; one was the natural shift in the demographics of Roman recruitment, the other was the increased enrollment of allied barbarian tribal segments into the army.'" The first was termed "barbarization" because the "ethnicity" of the Roman soldier moved away from being Roman "Italian" (recruited from the Italian peninsula and Rome like Caesar's legions) to being Roman Gauls, Illyrians, and Anatolians (Turkey).

Little evidence exists, however, to prove that this demographic shift changed anything fundamental in the army of the fourth century. New "ethnic" recruits were subjected to the same, albeit generations aged, training regimens as their Italian Roman predecessors. If the fundamental training and indoctrination remained the same, then the new ethnic soldiers should have been the equals to the old ethnic soldiers. Barbarian enrolled contingents, however, may have been a different thing. The primary difference between the barbarian warriors and Roman soldiers was not necessarily fighting prowess, but rather training and discipline.'' It is this disparity that military historians like to cite in their explanation of the decline of the Roman military. However, the bulk of the enrollment associated with the military decline took place in the fifth century, outside the purview of this study.

The idea of discipline, inherent in the study of Rome's military barbarization, is another important topic. The problem with any study of how disciplined Rome's army remained in the fourth century is the limited amount of available sources. The primary resource for this study, Ammianus, unfortunately does not deign to delve into such military mechanics like training programs.

Vegetius spends most of his time on discipline, but, once again, his focus is more on what it should be, not on what it was. There is a way around the discussion of discipline, however. Ammianus does provide modem scholarship with a number of battle narratives. The performance of the Roman soldier in battle is one method of determining how effectively he was being trained. This is a tangential method at best. but the purpose of this study is to prove the effectiveness of the Roman military; if the military was effective, than any decline in effective training regimens might not have been detrimental at that time. Regardless of how well the individual soldiers were trained originally, the picture of the fourth century is further muddied by the fact that most units that took part in the various campaigns were battle-tested veterans. It was not until Adrianople that the fourth century military took a significant hit to its supply of veterans. Ammianus is lost after the Battle of Adrianople, which is fortunately very close to the end of the fourth century. Once again, the purpose of this study is the effectiveness of the military machine during the fourth century; only the discussion of politics will bleed over into the fifth century experience.

One topic that will only be briefly touched upon is the idea that the fall of Rome was the direct result of an overburdening of the imperial economy. The topic in and of itself is a difficult one because the majority of scholars are divided over to what extent it actually took place. Original arguments pointed to declines in trade within the empire, while more recent ones have focused on the disruptive effects of heavy taxation, worker shortages, and destructive barbarian incursions. Ferrill argues that worker shortages took place, but that taxes did not significantly

impact the economy.21 Ferrill and this study agree that whatever shifts were taking place in the imperial economy, only during the fourth century, had little

impact on either the quality of the army, or the prosecution of wars. Peter Heather also argues that bureaucratic growth was not as detrimental as it is made

22 to seem. The extent to which the economic system is important to the political

and military concerns of the emperors will be addressed in the section covering the changing costs of maintaining the army. Overall, however, an examination of the economic system of the late empire is simply too complex a topic to deal with in the scope of this particular study of the fourth century military.

l9 Thomas S. Burns, Rome and the Barbarians 100 BC - AD 400, (Baltimore andLondon:

20 Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 320-323

Thomas S. Bums, 31 9-320

21 Ferrill, 19-20

22 Peter Heather, 1 16-1 18

The Crisis of the Third Century

Any explanation of the fourth century Roman military has to begin with Diocletian and Constantine. To understand the efforts of Diocletian and Constantine, however, one must first look at the events of the third century. The crisis of the third century is important not only for understanding where Diocletian. in particular, came from, but also because it witnessed a decline in imperial power that rivaled the collapse of the fifth century. The empire of the third century was tom apart by escalating foreign threats on the frontier and political competition between imperial claimants within. The problem of the third century was not that the empire hadn't faced such threats before, although the threats posed by the Germanic tribes to the north and the new Sassanid Persian dynasty to the east were becoming more serious for internal reasons of their own.

The empire had also faced imperial coups, assassinations, and armed civil wars before; just never so many in such ,a frequency and space of time. The problem was not that the empire had weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but rather that these vulnerabilities all came into play at the same time. As shall be demonstrated, the empire was in trouble politically and militarily because imperial coups and civil wars undermined the ability of the military to fend off foreign threats, and these same threats exacerbated the political problems by distracting many emperors and killing and/or capturing some others.

Where the Problem Started

To say that Diocletian was born of a turbulent time does not do the third century AD justice. To really understand what Diocletian was trying to solve militarily at the turn of the century, the political details of the third century must be dealt with in some detail. It is not enough to say that there was a disturbing turnaround in the number of emperors and imperial candidates during the third century; why there were so many is the question that must be asked. The Roman Empire was created by the competition that existed between great men in the waning days of the Roman Republic. The Republican system was ultimately unable to divest or contain these competitive urges, and it was only a matter of time before this competition produced a leader strong enough to centralize power permanently around his person. Control of the army was the fundamental pilla of the imperial monarchy because it was legions loyal to the person of Pompey, Caesar, Antony, and Augustus that gave these men the power to change the dynamics of power in the Roman state.23

Septimus Severus was one of those insightful emperors who highlight for historians the fundamental role of the Roman legion in politics. It is no surprise that Severus, who won the purple on the backs of the Pannonian legions, was concerned with the political loyalties of the army. Severus demonstrated this recognition of the soldier's status with a pay inicrease for the entire army: legion, auxilia, everyone.24 In addition, Severus is also said to have instructed his sons to always ensure that they had the loyalty of the army. Severus tried his best to


John Lendon, SoMiers and Ghosts, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press,

2005), 231

24 Michael Grant, The Severans: The Changed Roman Einpire,

(London: Routledge, 1996), 34 23

establish a strong dynasty for the empire." Unfortunately for him, a dynasty was not something that proved to be practical for the Roman Empire. The problem with dynasty was that the empire was supposed to be ruled by men like Augustus who were competent enough leaders to handle political intrigue, lawmaking, diplomacy, and military command, to name just a few. Genetic breeding among humans is an imprecise science at best, and the problem with an imperial dynasty is that it often turns out men who are not as qualified as their predecessors. Granted, it would not have destroyed the empire were it to be ruled by a few average or sub-par emperors. The problem was that the precedent existed for a strong leader to try his luck and left an army against the established authority. In a way, it was kind of like survival of the fittest: if the emperor was not fit enough to rule, someone who was would usher him out of the way. Being fit to rule didn't necessarily mean excellence, or any particular virtue, but it did mean competence. A fit emperor was one who could beat his competitors politically and/or militarily.

An effective emperor, like Constantine or Diocletian, who actively tried to improve the empire, was further preferable to an emperor who was just ruthless. Still, even having a cruel emperor was marginally preferable to having two imperial claimants completely disrupt the empire through civil war. Regardless of the individual quality of the heirs of Severns, the sons of Severus did not follow their father's advice as well as he would have liked. In AD 234, legionaries on the German border put the last imperial son of Severus to death. The man who occupied the new imperial vacancy was a lowborn Thracian soldier styled himself Emperor Maximinus

Before Maximinus seized power, the list of available candidates was somewhat restricted to men of senatorial class, because they were the men who had the power, and who generally occupied the high military posts. Maximinus was of a new generation of men who rose to power through the ranks based solely on merit. Again, Severus had something to do with that as well. In his own attempts to consolidate power, Sevens reorganized the officer structure of the army to be favourable to the advancement of career soldiers of common origins. To his credit, Severus was endeavoring to ensure that qualified men held the important offices in the army." The jump from soldier's gear to imperial purple that took place with Maximinus opened a veritable pandora's box of rebellion.

The fact that he proved that anyone could become emperor may have had something to do with why there were so many imperial candidates in the third century. If one were to plot the number of coups in the third century vs. the amount of resulting political and civil disturbance, one would quickly discover an exponential curve. It is entirely possible to have a coup that merely changes who

holds the reigns of power and thus hurts only a few people at the top. If the new holder is not up to the task, however, and another coup happens, things deteriorate quickly. It is the perceived weakness of the emperor and the central authority that opens the door for insurrections to take place. 'Re more coups that take place, the more apparent it becomes that the central authority is not as strong as it should be, and the more likely it is for ambitious generals to try their luck. It is important to remember that it was often only the fear of that central authority that kept powerful generals and competing political interests in check. Combine this with an army that caught onto the fact that whenever a new emperor comes to powers, he is bound to reward the entire army with donatives (a one-time pay bonus) to ensure its loyalty, and one has an adequate recipe for why so many emperors met a quick and dirty end.28

The Persian Empire Strikes Back

Not all imperial candidates in the third century went to meet their gods after an inopportune encounter with the assassin's blade. Several key imperial fatalities must be laid at the feet of Rome's only remaining "civilized" enemy, Parthian Persia. On the final yeas of the Republic (66 BC - 58 BC), the campaigns of Pompey the Great brought Roman influence to the Middle East and Roman domination to Syria, Palestine, and Roman advances in the region were made at the expense of the Hellenistic kingdoms that were the remains of Alexander the Great's empire. Principal among these was the Seleucid kingdom, which at its height included parts of Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, and modern day Iran. At the same time that the Romans were biting off pieces of this kingdom to the west, the Seleucids were facing an invasion of steppe horsemen from the north.30 Most commonly referred to as "Parthians", this group succeeded in subjugating Iran and Mesopotamia and creating a new "Persian" Empire. By the time of Augustus, the stage was set for a permanent conflict over dominance of the Middle East.

The boundary between the Roman world and the Parthian world ran roughly south from the Armenian highlands in the north, through the middle of ancient Assyria, before disappearing into the relative no-mans-land of the northern Arabian desert. At first a stalemate existed between the two powers on account of military geography. It was very difficult for either party to make an effective invasion of the other because the terrain worked against the efforts of the

25 Michael Grant, 18-19

26 Michael Grant, 26-27

27 Michael Grant, 35-38

28 George C. Brauer, The Age of the Soldier Emperors, (Park Ridge: Noyes Classical

Studies, 1975), 6-7

29 d c o l mA. R. Colledge, The Parthians, (New York and Washington: Frederick A.

Phraeger, 1967) 36-37

30 Malcolm A. R. Colledge, 24-25

invader. The Parthians were a cavalry-based army, and when they advanced into the rough highland terrain of the Romans, they were at a distinct disadvantage in battle.31 Parthian tactics revolved around the use of heavily armored noble horsemen and light horse archers. On the open plain, the horse archers would shower the enemy with arrows to weaken them and prepare the way for a thundering charge from the nobles. Forested olr hilly terrain disi-upted the easy maneuvering of the horses and the effectiveness of the archery. Before Pompey reached the scene, a Roman general named Lucullus defeated a Parthian cavalry army that attacked his troops while they sheltered on a hill. Shooting arrows uphill was less effective, and when the nobles charged, they were too tired to

break the Roman line. On the other hand, whein Romans such as Marcus Licinius Crassus invaded Parthian Mesopotamia (55 BC), they often found themselves on relatively flat deserts that allowed Parthian horse archers to decimate the slower Roman infantry.32 Although this explanation is a little simplistic, it does help illustrate that the balance of power in the region could not be shifted by half- hearted attempts. To break through both geography and the enemy's military would require a great deal of determination and resources. The Romans were the first ones to bring their determination

to bear on their enemy. Hostilities were kept alive between the two throughout the Pax

Romana by disputes over whose puppet king would rule Armenia, a kingdom sandwiched between the superpowers.

In the second century AD, Roman emperors who felt particularly belligerent would

marshal the resources of the empire and invade Parthian Mesopotamia. Of those who made the attempt, including Septimus Severus in AD 195, only Trajan (AD 115) stands out as the most successful. Actions are not without consequence, however. For all their success, Severus and Trajan were unable to gain any real advantage from their conquest


Mesopotamia because, in plain terms, the new provinces were way too far from Rome


be administered and protected.

The real consequence of the Roman victories was that it fatally weakened the authority of the ruling Parthian Arascid dynasty.34 parthian rulers were killed in battle, cities were taken, armies slaughtered, all of which proved that the Arascids were not up to the task. Just as in Rome, Parthian Persia was home to plenty of men who thought that the royal diadem would fit them better than the current wearer.

31 Malcolm A. R. Colledge, 44-45

32 Malcolm A. R. Colledge, 40-41

33 F. A. Lepper, Trajan 's Parthian 1'Vnr. (L,ondon: Oxford University Press, 1948),


34 Peter Heather, 60-61

A powerful native-Persian noble family that hailed from the Fars region

instigated the coup that ultimately toppled the Parthians. Unlike the Roman coup that ousted the Severans, this Persian coup put in place a powerful man with a powerful (and loyal) family at his back. In AD 226, the patriarch of the

Sassanid family Ardashir crowned himself shahranshah: king of kings, an Old

Persian term from the time of Darius and Xerxes. To validate such a title and prove himself worthy of it, Ardashir had to take on the Romans. From AD 231 to his death in 241, Ardashir, although not particullarly successful in gaining territory, proved to be a worthy enemy for the Romans. Severus Alexander's failure to inflict a decisive defeat on Ardashir may have a lot to do with why he was the one toppled by a coup in AD 234. In contrast to Roman bad luck with imperial heirs, the successor to Ardashir, Shapur, was even more vigorous than his father.37 By 242 the tables had fully turned and at the Battle of Meshikc, Shapur was victorious and the Roman Emperor Gordian was killed. Things only went downhill after that for the Romans. Over the course of the next ten years, Shapur installed a pro-Persian king of Armenia and invaded Roman Syria, capturing the important city of Antioch and obliterating the Roman garrisons in the region.38

By the late 250s, the rapid Roman turnover of emperors that made it easier for Shapur to be victorious in the East finally turned out a competent pair of candidates:

Valerian and his son Gallienus. For a time Valerian, with Gallienus as heir-designate, were competent because they were able to hold off incursions from the north and internal disruption. They were not so lucky with the Persians; the high point for the Sassanids in the third century came when Shapur captured Valerian when the Roman Emperor led a campaign into Mesopotamia to punish the Persians for their previous invasions. Although highly prestigious, the Persian capture of Valerian actually gained them very little. Roman defenses in the East were reorganized under lolcal leadership that exhibited a surprising amount of military success; Roman authority was re-established and a minor campaign was launched against the Persians.

By 272, Shapur was dead, and the Persian war effort was in the hands of his two sons Hormizd and Vahram. Like the sons of Sevelus, this pair was not the same caliber as their father, and with their reigns Persian success against Rome came to a halt.40 Sassanid success in the third century was a function of the men who ruled the two superpowers. At a time when the Roman world was experiencing a great amount of difficulty with its succession policy. the Persians were centralized behind a strong leader. Roman emperors, distracted by rival claimants were unable to give the eastern provinces the support they needed when faced with the full might of the Persian shahanshah. The Persian threat was a political one, first and foremost. The only difference between the Sassanid and the Parthian dynasty in regards to Rome was that the Sassanids were actually committed to carrying

35 The word "Persia" loosely comes from a bad English translation of a bad Greek

translation of the name of this region: Persia = people from Fars. This is why Iranians

speak something called Farsi.

36 Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, (London and

NewYork: Routledge, 2001), 228-229

37 Pat Southern, 234-235

38 Pat Southern, 236

through an offenive.' A certain amount of credit goes to Ardashir and Shapur who must have been effective military leaders to mount successful operations against the formidable Roman frontier defenses. Structurally, very little changed between the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties; both had similar resources, Ardashir and Shapur just used them better.42 The military elements of the Persian army did not change significantly; Ardashir and Shapur both relied upon an almost feudal system to supply their armies." As a result, the Sassanids used armies similar to the Parthians: heavy cavalry backed by horse archers with levy infantry filling out the numbers. Thus, it must be emphasized that the threat posed by Sassanid Persia was strategic, army maneuvers on a map, so to speak, rather than tactical, maneuvers on the battlefield. The Persian military was not necessarily new or improved, just used by better leaders.

Usurpers: Rebels or Saviors?

There is an old saying that good fortune conceals; adversity reveals. Persian adversity in the form of the Romans under Severus and Trajan inadvertently brought forth a stronger Persian monarchy: the Sassanids. Ironically, it was Sassanid aggression under Shapur that brought forth the unique character of Odenathus of Palmyra. Palmyra was located in eastern Syria, and during the time of the late Roman empire it was a vibrant metropolis made wealthy through its control of valuable eastern trade routes." Odenathus was one of the city's more important citizens, and as such he would have become acquainted with Valerian when the emperor arrived to conduct his campaign.45 In the aftermath of Valerian's disastrous expedition against Shapur in AD 260, Odenathus was the official who rallied the remains of Roman forces in the region and prevented the Persians from exploiting the Empire's weakness. Odenathus was even able to exact a measure of revenge on Shapur when he led a combined PalmyreneRoman force to retrieve the Roman eagles taken from Valerian. A few years later, Odenathus also helped out Valerian's successor Gallienus by putting down a rival imperial claimant based in the east.46 Odenathus was a member of the ruling establishment who successfully extended his authority over Roman affairs in Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor.

Odenathus was given this opportunity on account of the circumstances; had the empire been on better footing, the emperor himself would have been able to salvage the situation. The emperor's absence and a dearth of trustworthy candidates in the east left the door open to a man of Odenathus's ability and loyalty, thought it is always debatable how personally loyal Odenathus may have

39 Pat Southern, 236-237

40 Pat Southern. 240-241

41 Peter Heather, 61-62

42 Pat Southern, 230-231

43 Pat Southern, 230

44 Pat Southern, 100

been to Gallienus. Regardless, everlts kept Odenathus and Gallienus close enough for the former to be given titles such as dux Rornnnorttrn, imperator, and corrector totius rientis."Reading into the nature of the titles reveals the degree to which Gallienus, a decently strong emperor in his own right, relied upon the services of Odenathus. Unfortunately for Gallienus, Odenathus was assassinated in 267 AD (rumors blamed Gallienus) and Odenathus's ambitious wife Zenobia took over.48 Where Odenathus had been content to administer Roman provinces in the emperor's name, Zenobia went the extra step and declared her own kingdom by forcefully annexing Egypt into a new creation, the Palmyrene Empire. Gallienus was too preoccupied to do mything about it, and so were his ''SUCCSSORS'.

Zenobia's end, however, came when the new emperor Aurelian decided in AD 272 that he wanted his provinces back.49 Odenathus was not the only local potentate to take advantage of the third century situation. The death of Emperor Valerian in AD 260 was truly an opportunistic situation for many ambitious leaders throughout the empire. At the same time that Odenathus was putting down irrlperial contenders in the east for Gallienus, a governor of lower Germany named Postumus was proclaimed emperor by provincial troops.50 Within a short time he was able to secure the loyalty of the Rhine provinces, as well as Gaul, Spain, and Britain. Another empire within an empire was created. Postumus was independent from the authority of Gallienus in large part because Gallienus was unable to assert his

authority, being distracted by other troubles on other frontiers. Postumus was not just another imperial claimant, however. The nnandate of Postumus was to be the defender of the West, just like Odenathus tried to be in the east . The difference

45 Anyone who was anyone in a province visited by the emperor would make his

presence and services available to the imperial court as soon as was humanly possible. The emperor was the arbiter of political influence, and anyone who wanted to improve

his position knew a visit to the emperor was the path to advancement.

46 Pat Southern, 101

47 Pat Southern, 101- 102

48 Michael Grant, The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire, (London

and New York: Routledge, 1999),28

49 Pat Southern, 102- 1 17

50 Pat Southern, 97-98

51 Pat Southern, 98-99

was that Odenathus got his mandate from Gallienus, while Postumus got it from his army. The importance of Posturnus and Odenathus can be tied to the fact that both were "given" the title of imperator; in Odenathus's case by Gallienus, and in Postumus's case by the army. In both cases, the title meant something different than it normally would, especially in Odenthus's case where the title did not indicate a claim to the throne. The power of the title was the authority it provided the one who bore it. The bestowal (of the title of imperator on Odenathus and Postumus was a means to an end. It may seem overly simple, but the title of

emperor allowed Postumus and Odenathus to effectively coordinate provincial defense because they could outrank existing power structures within those provinces the same way Gallienus could if he were present.

Again, imperator did not have to mean that the two potentates were competing with Gallienus for the seat at Rome because neither usurper made a bid for the seat. Rather, they were using the power of the title to make defense of their regions more efficient.52 Postumus's fate, however, was sealed by the fact that he never got official recognition fron Gallienus. Although working for the benefit of an imperial region, Postumus remained outside the necessary hierarchy of the empire.53 The argument could also be made that Postumus's refusal to march on Rome was fatal to his cause as well; by not seizing supreme power, he surrendered the initiative to the central authorities. Posturnus himself was eliminated by a bit of irony: a coup from within his pseudo-empire. Postumus's "successors" were later brought to

52 Peter Heather, 210-21 1

53 Pat Southern, 98

heal by Aurelian.54 Although reincorporated into the greater empire, the experiences of the Palmyrene and Gallic Empires illustrate the lengths to which local areas of the empire would go to protect themselves.

Enter the Germans

Postumus's mandate was to protect the Rhine frontier from the barbaric "German" tribes that lived across the river. The missing piece from the examination of the third century so far has been the interference of the Alemanni, Franks, Vandals, and Goths (to name but a few) in Roman politics. The Sassanid Persians were not the only foreign force to take advantage of Roman disarray in the face of competing imperial claimants. It was standard Roman foreign policy in regards to the tribes beyond the Rhine and Danube to prevent costly border raids by supporting one tribal chieftain against another. Gold was sent across the frontier to enrich a chief and allow him to win supporters through his own redistribution of gifts.56 This bought-and-paid-for chief would then restrain his own warriors from raiding Roman land. In addition, the subsidized chief would likely get into conflict with another chief or tribal group (maybe even one that raided Roman land) and the two would waste their strength fighting each other instead of the Romans. The Roman subsidy policy was very cost effective. What it lacked, however, was a degree of Roman control over the situation. The Romans only saw the immediate impact of their involvement, not the long-term effects. At the

54 Pat Southern, 119

55 Although not directly pertinent to the fourth century, it is pertinent to the fifth, and can

explain why barbarian kingdoms were able to assume so easily the manrle of responsibility for different sections of the empire.


Pat Southern, 192-193

same time that the Roman government was sending gifts for sympathetic chiefs, Roman merchants were at work trading goods for money and money for goods.57 The net result of these two activities was that tribal units beyond the Roman frontiers were becoming increasingly wealthy and Romanized. Within the tribes, the repercussions of this shift in wealth must have been significant. As most anthropologists know, where there is wealth there is social inequality. This is not to say that tribal groups prior to the Roman Empire were egalitarian, however. Rather, the involvement of the empire accelerated the acquisition of wealth in these societies. At the very least, by the third century. the gap between rich and poor in the Germanic and Gothic tribes was wider and more pronounced than it had been. Combine this increase in[ distributable wealth with competitive politics between tribes, and one has the ingredients necessary to produce the more powerful and centralized tribal units that the Roman empire came into contact with in the third.

Frequent turnaround among the emperors of the third century interrupted the traditional flow of wealth across the border. Decreasing subsidies threatened the ability of the chief to enrich his key followers, something that undermined the power structure of the tribal confederations. Combine this with the fact that the border legions were often away fighting other legions on behalf of one claimant or another, and one can understand why the Danube and Rhine provinces were so much more susceptible to large-scale raids. While Severus Alexander was away facing Persia, the Alemanni invadeld Gaul; in 260, they did so again.

57 Pat Southern, 195-196

58 Peter Heather, 86-91

In the 250s the Franks ravaged Gaul. The 250s also saw extensive raiding by the Goths

across the Danube and over the Black Sea to Asia

exacerbated the situation by exposing the inability of the central authority to stop such incursions, and by killing emperors either directly or indirectly; an emperor unable to stop tribal incursions of the border regions was an emperor liable to appear weak and lose his job.

Frequent invasions like these

Models for the Future

The events of the third century set the stage for Diocletian and Constantine, and for the empire of the fourth century. The Roman world was faced with the twin threats posed by Roman strong men who competed with each other for supreme power and external enemies all too capable of taking advantage of any apparent weakness. Diocletian was not the first imperial claimant to grasp a possible solution to the problem of maintaining an empire safe from enemies within and without. Gallienus and Aurelian stand out as emperors who set the mould for Diocletian to later fill. Gallienus maintained a tenuous grasp over the reigns of empire by reworking the army, something that will be discussed

in more detail in the section on Diocletian, and delegating significant authority (Odenathus), also something similar to what Diocletian would later do.60 Gallienus, however, lacked the military and organizational capability, and capacity, to do more than hold onto his limited territories. Gallienus's inability to subdue Posturnus, Palmyra, and Persia would have been a political weakness practically begging for exploitation, which was ultimately what happened.

59 Pat Southern, 209-225

60 Pat Southern, 83-84

Aurelian, in contrast, was the one emperor prior to Diocletian who had enough military and political leadership to defeat rival claimants for the throne and the usurpers in the East and west. Aurelian, however, did little to solve any of the long-term weaknesses of the empire,. Aurelian's death, and the subsequent chaos in the empire (out of which Diocletian emerged), illustrated that the empire was still plagued by the problem of effective imperial succession. Pat Southern, 121-122

The Military and Political Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine

The reigns of Diocletian and Constantine provide the framework with which to begin the examination of the fourth century. Diocletian and Constantine are important because they are associated with five principle reforms that altered the character of the Roman Empire for the remainder of the century. Diocletian reorganized the military and enlisted more legions, created the tetrarchy as an imperial institution, and altered the way in which the emperor was envisioned. Constantine furthered the efforts of Diocletian to improve the military, and is generally credited with initiating the division between the cornitatensis, the field armies, and the limitanei, the border forces. Constantine also made his own impression on Roman politics by adopting Christianity and allowing for its spread through the government apparatus. There has allways been some question, however, as to how closely one should associate the military reforms with one emperor over the other. It is known that Diocletian had a comitatatus, a trusted group of advisers that doubled as many things, including bodyguard. The linguistic similarity between comitatatus and comitatatus was intentional, and is something that will be explored later. Even if it was Diocletian who really started the idea of the comitatatus, Constantine is the one Ferrill associates with the segregation of the army between the field armies and border forces, and so this study will take some license and give Constantine the credit (and perhaps the blame?) for the implementation of this system.62

Diocletian and the Military

The principal criticism of Diocletian's reformation of the army was that he made it too large, something Ferril supports in his own analysis.6' This assertion is based on the dramatic increase in the number of legions that occurred during the early years of the fourth century. The explanation for this is that Diocletian was responding to the external threat along the borders by increasing Roman manpower along the frontiers. This massive mobilization of manpower was

thought to have allowed Diocletian to put more men on the borders and thus make them more secure. An exorbitant increase in how much said m y cost the state to maintain would also have accompanied such an increase in the size of the army.64 More men meant more wages, more expenses for equipment, more expenses for food, and then there are the additional costs associated with shipping more food, more gold, and more goods.

Roman expansion throughout the republican and imperial periods was driven by the twin concerns of strategic advantage and monetary gain. Strategic advantage covered those wars waged by the Romans in which they gained little territory but succeeded in weakening a rival power, often in preparation for later conquest. Monetary gain covered all those other wars in which the Romans opted for political incorporation of a defeated entity.

62 Arther Ferrill, 42-45

63 Arther Ferrill, 41 -42

64 Averil Cameron, The Late Roman Empire, (Cambridge: Hmard University Press,

1993), 146 40

The Roman Empire ceased expanding when it ran into an area whose potential profit did not exceed the cost that it would take to subdue them. The forests of Germania were undeveloped relative to the Roman provinces, as was northernmost Britain, and the richness of Persia was outweighed by its distance from Rome and its formidable


Monetary gain, of course, came in two forms: intrinsic wealth and pillage. Intrinsic wealth came either through commerce (Greece for example), agriculture (Egypt), or mining (Spain). Intrinsic wealth was often the long-term expectation of what certain regions could bring to the Roman polity. Pillage, on the other hand, was of far more immediate importance. ]Roman armies were often able to defray their formidable maintenance costs through pillaging enemy stores. Soldiers were paid with all the booty they could carry, animals were fed with captured fodder, and enemy treasuries became Roman pay-chests.66 Needless to say, pillage of one sort or another was expected on almost every campaign undertaken outside of Roman territory. The problem that resulted was that, once the empire stabilized, and campaigns across the border became fewer, pillage could no longer be called upon to defray military expenses. Soldiers also now expected to receive most of their economic gain from an army salary.67 As a result, the theory that Diocletian's increase of the Roman military for purely defensive purposes was harmful in the long run. has at least some merit.

Considering that the guiding Roman grand strategy, as put forth by Luttvak, was preservation of force, the idea that an enlarged army fatally overburdened the state makes a certain amount of sense.


Adrian Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, (London: Thames and Hudson,

2003), 154

66 Adrian Goldsworthy, 96-97

67 Adrian Goldsworthy, 94-95

Luttwak's assertion was that the size of the Roman army varied in relation to the security threat it faced, and that the relatively secure nature of the early empire limited the need for a bigger military.68 The larger threat of the third century spurred Diocletian to increase military spending in order to safeguard the borders. Luttwak highlights two main areas of military spending: fortifications and army size.69 Diocletian's spending on fortifications is not really a problem for this discussion of the overburdening of the Roman economy. Building a fort was only a one-time cost and repair costs occurred less frequently than soldier wages. A well-placed fort could allow a small body of men to protect the same amount of territory as a larger body out in the open. Bottom-line, the increase in fortifications attributed

to Diocletian would have been less of a permanent drain on the imperial treasury.

A larger army, on the other hand, would have been a much bigger one. It is

painfully simple, but the fact that forts themselves did not need food would have been a big monetary difference. There was also the matter of the donatives, the regularly scheduled pay bonuses that the Roman army had come to expect by the fourth century.70 Such expenditures would have dramatically increased with

a bigger army.

The problem with the argument that the number of soldiers in Diocletian's army dramatically increased is that it is not fully supported by the evidence. True, Diocletian did create more legions, but he also shrank the size of the legions.

68 Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, (Baltimore and

London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 16-18, 192-194

69 Edward Luttvak, 195- 198

70 Adrian Goldsworthy, 94-96

Throughout most of the imperial period the size of the legion generally was 6,000 men. Diocletian's reform was to redistribute most of the men in the Roman army into legions of only 1,000 men.71 Dividing the legions into six parts produced more "legions" without drastically increasing the number of men. New legions that were created would also only number around 1,000 men.72

In the literature, however, Diocletian's change in regard to army size was obscured by the

fact that some legions remained at 6,000.The fact that most of the forts constructed by Diocletian on the frontier were better designed to fit 1,000 men supports the idea that most of his "new" legions were considerably smaller.74 This is not to say that military expenses did not increase during the period before and during Diocletian's reign; they just were not the result of this particular reform. What is much more likely is that it was the constant state of war that the empire faced

from the reign of Marcus Aurelius up to the end, the state of war that never allowed the military to demobilize, the state of war that required men and material to be continually reproduced: that overburdened the military spending of the empire. 75

The question that remains to be answered is what was Diocletian's rationale behind the reorganization of the army? The answer to the question begins with the experience of Emperor Galliens forty years prior. As has already been discussed, Gallienus, as emperor, only had direct control over about a third of the Roman Empire; the West belonged to Posturnus, and the East to Odenathus.

71 Pat Southern, 156

72 Southern and Dixon, 32

73 Averil Cameron, 33

74 Adrian Goldsworthy, 206

75 Pat Southern, 155

The defection of the eastern and Rhine frontier deprived Gallienus of the legions, traditionally stationed in those regions and their troop recruitment. In addition, the loyalty of the Roman military establishment was seriously fractured by the existence of two significant power bases within the empire; a good job market if you will. These two factors weighed heavily on the actions of Gallienus when he set about reconstituting an my under the direct control of the emperor. Gallienus is traditionally associated with two trends in the Roman military; the increased use of vexillationes and heavy cavalry.76 Vexillationes were an old Roman military term for legionary detachments; rather than completely to remove a legion from its stationed province the emperor might only requisition a portion of the legion for service in a campaign. Vexillationes were usually either a cohort or two of infantry, or an ala wing)^ of cavalry, or sometimes a combination of the above.77 Cohorts and alae had a tradition of tactical mobility on the battlefield, and by the fourth century, were also gaining a tradition of strategic mobility through the practice of vexillation.

Gallienus created an army by requisitioning a broad array of vexillations from the remaining legions under his authority.79 On the one hand, this would allow the remaining elements of the legion to still operate effectively on the borders. On the other hand, the army moulded by Gallienus was less likely, at least in theory, to exhibit disloyal tendencies. Gallienus was concerned with commanding an army that had no existing loyalties.

76 Southern and Dixon, 1 1

77 Adrian Goldsworthy, 206

78 Brian Campbell, Roman Army, 31 BC to AD 337, (London and New York: Routledge,

1994), 88-89

79 Pat Southern, 83-84

By creating an army from different units, Gallienus broke existing bonds and created a central army whose only common thread was its relation and proximity to the emperor.80 The soldiers and officers were all new to each other, and it would take some time before new bonds were forged that could compete with the loyalty naturally owed to the emperor as the paymaster.

Diocletian was not creating a single new army in the same way that Gallienus was; his reforms dealt with the military structure as a whole. As Diocletian set about the task of reconstituting the defence of the frontiers, the new legions he created were much smaller; vexillation became the official structure of the army. This new vexillation system facilitated the military goals of Diocletian's defensive policy and integrated well with the Diocletian's tetrarchy. Diocletian's defensive policy, as was already hinted at, had a lot to do with fortifications. Diocletian focused on creating more forts and walls along the borders, and it was easier to staff these forts with smaller units than it would have been to have one big unit spread across many little forts." Diocletian was so interested in forts because they were an effective means of discouraging raiders and slowing down invader^.'^

As shall be seen in the Battle of Adrianople discussion, a fortified strong point was of immense tactical use. In addition, the new political system, the tetrarchy, doubled the number of emperors and heir- emperors in the empire, and thus the number of campaign armies that would be in action. More campaign armies required more shuffling around of units from one end of the empire to the other. Diocletian's reign was far from tranquil, and the emperor and his generals initially faced a usurper in Britain, tribal incursions along the Rhine and Danube, and the obligatory threat from Persia.'

80 Pat Southern,

81 Southern and Dixon, 23-24

82 Edward Luttwak, 160-161

The Tetrarchy

The tetrarchy system has taken a lot of hits over the years because it is directly associated with the division of the empire that emerged in the fifth century. The tetrarchy system, however, did have a number of merits. The tetrarchy system put in place by Diocletian divided imperial authority in the empire between four people; two senior emperors and two junior emperors. The senior emperors were called augusti and they were the two ruling emperors. The juniors were called Caesars, and they were the designated heirs of the emperors who wielded a certain amount of military and political power. The tetrarchy system established a distinct hierarchy and increased the number of imperial autocrats running around the empirje. Although there was no official geographic distinction between the tetrarchs, it was generally assumed that one augustus/caesar pair would watch over Gaul and the West, and the other would monitor Persia and the a s t .

The tetrarchy system also had an established succession policy, something that the empire had been sorely lacking. Under the rules of Diocletian, the present emperors would pick their heirs, but they could not pick family members. In effect, Diocletian was trying to reconcile a meritocracy with a strict line of succession.

83 Stephen Williams, 7 1-79

84 Pat Southern, 145- 148

Meritocracy in the Roman empire traditionally meant a coup in favour of the strongest candidate.85 Diocletian's succession plan attempted to chart a peaceful course to the same end. The biggest problem that Diocletian would run into was the natural desire of men in power to want to transfer that power through their family. As was seen in the example of Septimus Severus, however, that plan rarely worked well, and Diocletian was desperately trying not to follow that


The rationale behind Diocletian's division of authority in the empire has a lot to do with the experience of the empire in preceding centuries. Militarily speaking, the empire was overextended by having to face threats along its entire northern and eastern border, the entire way from Britain to Syria. Septimus Severus spent most of his time fighting in the east against Parthia, yet he still managed to die while on campaign in northern England . The problem, of course, was that the emperor could only be in one place at once, and the empire often faced two or more threats, simply because the border was so long. The emperor was also hindered by the slow travel and communication speeds of that day and age.@ Diocletian's answer was to create more figures with the requisite authority of the emperor. The key was not so much that there were more important people in the empire, but rather that the authority and prestige of the emperor could be in more places at once. The emperor was the nexus, and Diocletian's solution was to create more nexuses.

Of course, the increased number of men with imperial authority running around required a changed military structure. Since emperors usually created a campaigning army from a combination of legions and vexillationes, making legions and vexillationes effectively the same, facilitated the ability of the emperors to respond to military threats.

85 ibid, p. 145

86 ibid, p. 147

87 ibid, pp. 42-48

88 Peter Heather, 106-107

Emperor Re-Envisioned

Diocletian's tetrarchy was only part of the solution; the relationship between the emperor and the military still remained a problem. An emperor whose primary pillar of support was the army was inherently vulnerable; the old adage "live by the sword, die by the sword" very much applied to the Roman Empire, as the third century in particular attests. No matter how much an emperor tried to appease the army, anyone less than a truly inspirational leader of men would always have to worry about their loyalty. The emperor was by necessity a supreme politician, and in a crisis, politicians know to hedge their bets. The position of the emperor changed during the early years of the fourth century; this is something that writers from Ammianus to Gibbon have noted.

Two distinct trends emerged from the efforts of Diocletian and Constantine, who both sought to create an imperial structure that would not fall prey to the same evils that vexed it in the third century. To Diocletian, the answer involved the invocation of an imperial style that Romans traditionally associated with the decadent cultures of the East: Persia and the Hellenistic Edward Gibbon widely criticized Diocletian for his introduction of elaborate court rituals, dress, and related paraphernalia. Under Diocletian, the court of the emperor became more opulent, to see the emperor became more formal and more difficult, and the very ideology of what it meant to be the emperor fundamentally changed.90 Diocletian's "wardrobe" changes brought the ruler of the Roman world back to his kingly origins. Gibbons' derision of Diocletian comes from his infatuation with the Republican civic virtues that characterized the Romans through most of the imperial period.

Gibbon probably echoed a number of Roman conservatives who felt a certain amount of hostility towards the political styles of cultures and kingdoms they felt superior to. Diocletian did not adopt Eastern styles of court paraphernalia because, as a former peasant, he was tickled by the idea of wearing jewelry all the time. Diocletian was a rational thinker in most cases, and his adoption of new court etiquette was done for a specific purpose. The chief danger of Diocletian's tetrarchy system was that it would dilute imperial prestige in the same way that usurpers weakened it under Gallienus. Authority of the emperor had to be manifested in some other form. For Diocletian, the answer lay in the examples of Persian-influenced high kingship.91 High kingship imbued the office with so much ceremony and ritual to physically and metaphorically separate the ruler and his government from his people. The key idea was superiority; if you made people think that the emperor was more important, than he very quickly would become more important. Diocletian was hoping that by increasing the inherent "dignity" of the imperial office he could create an institution that could withstand political turmoil in the future.

89 Averil Cameron. 42-43

90 Peter Heather, 23-24

Dignity of office is different than dignity of the person; dignity of the person requires a capable person, while dignity of office functions irrespective (mostly) of who occupies that office. Ammianus provides an interesting example of this redefinition of how emperors saw themselves in his account of the visit Constantius I1 made to Rome in AD 357. In particular, during the parade into the city, Constantius took care to appear as stoic and inhuman as possible. Ammianus connects suclh gestures to peculiarities in Constantius's character, which they may have been. They were also, however, characteristic of an emperor who wanted to appear superior in every way to his people.92

Constantine and the Field Armies

One of Arther Ferrill's principal arguments is that the military reforms undertaken during Constantine's reign weakened the long-term military effectiveness of the empire, as well as its overriding grand strategy.93 Diocletian is generally associated with strengthening the frontiers of the empire, while Constantine is associated with its subsequent weakening. The reforms that so vilify Constantine revolve around his further reorganization of Diocletian's military by dividing the armed forces into what amounted to two classes, the comitatatus and the limitanei. According to Ferrill, Constantine withdrew the strongest imperial forces, the heavy cavalry and infantry, from the frontier legions and reconstituted them as a central mobile reserve, whose units were generally called comitatatus. These new armies were intended to be mobile strike forces that relied upon their preponderance in cavalry to respond quickly to threats that breached the imperial frontier. Once they arrived on the scene, their superior arms, armour, and 6lan were supposed to ensure their victory in battle over the invader.

The downside of the comitatatus strike forces, according to Ferrill, was that it effectively put all the empire's eggs into one basket. Examples like Julian's Marengo Campaign and the Battle of Adrianople were used to illustrate that if such a force was defeated, it left the rest of the empire wide open to attack; if all the elite troops were wiped out, that just left the poor quality limitanei to defend the empire.g5 The elite forces of the comitatatus were composed of men with years of experience and training, and such a force would require a great deal of time to replace. The other weakness of the strike armies was that they surrendered the initiative to the enemy and altered the strategic framework of the Roman military. By only acting once the enemy had penetrated the frontiers, the Comitatatus ,effectively sacrificed the border regions of the empire; the Romans responded only once the damage had been done. The new role of the comitatatus was evident of the weakening strategic vision of the late Roman Empire. Ferrill's argument links this decline into a broader picture of the empire's strategic history put forth by Luttvak .

92 Ammianus Marcellinus, 100-101

93 Arther Ferrill, 45-46

94 Arther Ferrill, 47-49, 66

In this picture, the empire originally entrusted its borders to client states, then to fortifications like Hadrian's Wall, then to mass garrisons under Diocletian, and finally the decision to draw back from the frontiers under Constantine.

95 Arther Ferrill, 63-66

96 ibid, 50-60

The term "limitanei" refers to the Roman troops who remained behind after Constantine took away the cream of the army.

The limitanei are considered to be substandard soldiers by Ferrill; poor quality infantry whose only purpose was to slow down an invader crossing the frontier.97 Ferrill partially explains Constantine's move by citing the difficulty of protecting a vast frontier against enemies that could throw large armies at a concerted point on a relatively thin defensive line. Although such an explanation is an oversimplification of the Roman defensive system, the evidence supports it; Roman borders were understandably permeable to large-scale attacks. According to Ferrill, the limitanei became glorified border patrol agents who settled themselves down permanently into a pseudo-militia that abandoned most of its military vigor.98 In creating the limitanei, Constantine made a large segment of the Roman military progressively useless, and thus further depleted the effective manpower of the empire.

Ferrill's analysis of what Constantine's "reforms" runs into a number of problems when the events of the fourth century are examined. The first weakness of the argument is that the divide in quality between the " comitatatus " and the "limitanei" is not as great as Ferrill would have us believe. Through consultation of the Notitia Dignitatzm and accounts of various campaigns, it becomes apparent that elements of the limitanei were often used side by side with comitatensis forces, both on and off campaign. Although not conclusive, it does begin to indicate that the limitanei were not as useless as Ferrill makes them out to be.99

The biggest problem, however, with qualitatively differentiating between the comitatatus and the limitanei is that Ammianus's narrative never mentions the term when describing Roman campaigns. Ammianus makes no mention of expendable border troops versus special elite mobile armies. Rather, the units that Ammianus mentions are shuffled around between commanders, regions, and frontiers. It is entirely possible that Ammianus simply did not deign to elaborate on a bottom-rate section of the Roman military; glorified border guards may have been outside his interest. However, the point of Ferrill's argument is that the decay of the limitanei was a gradual process, and thus the limitanei should not have been that useless by the time that Arnrnianus arrived on the scene. In Ammianus's time, the decay of the limitanei forces should not have been in place.

97 ibid, 49

As such, Ammianus should have noted a division of the army between border and field armies, because the only thing differentiating them was their placement. What Ammianus does make mention of is elite units being shifted around the empire from one border to another, independent of an imperial campaign army. Prior to Adrianople, two crack units of legionaries from Armenia were sent to Thrace to hold off the Goths.

The second weakness of the argument has to do with Ferrill's assumptions of how military forces worked in late Roman times. The key assumption made by Ferrill is that since the comitatenses featured a larger amount of cavalry, it was

99 Adrian Goldsworthy, 202-205 l00 Ammianus Marcellinus, 422-423

inherently more mobile.l01 There are numerous problems with this argument alone. The cavalry forces that were assigned to the comitatatus were primarily heavy cavalry; those assigned to the limitanei were primarily light cavalry (javelin throwers and horse archers).l02 heavy cavalry is completely incapable of functioning on its own against a prepared enemy, and as such, would have been a poor choice for use as a sole striking arm. Heavy cavalry cannot directly charge into a group of infantry that holds its ground and does not route.l03 The only cavalry that could function on its own to any sort of extent was in fact light cavalry. Parthian Persian, the Mongols, and the various steppe peoples were tough opponents on the battlefield because the light cavalry horse archer was decisive weapon under the right circumstance^.^^^

Terrain conditions being adequate, a force of horse archers could easily stay out of reach of the infantry while peppering them to death with barrages of arrows. On the open plain, such tactics would win entire battles. In Europe, however, the terrain was usually unsuited for large-scale horse archer engagements, and as a result, light cavalry was relegated to a secondary role in major battles. On the small scale, say for chasing raiding parties or patrolling long borders, light cavalry was still the best thing out there. The highly proportioned cavalry forces that Ferrill envisioned to represent the comitatatus would more likely have been found amongst the forces of the limitanei.l05

l01 Arther Ferrill, 47 l02 Adrian Goldsworthy, 206 l03 Malcolm Colledge; 65

104 Peter Heather, 155-157

105 Adrian Goldsworthy, 205

Heavy cavalry, however, was still an increasingly important factor in Roman battlefield tactics. The late Roman heavy cavalry tradition was borrowed directly from the Hellenistic tradition of Alexander the Great and the Macedonians. In the Macedonian system: heavy cavalry was the decisive element

of a combined arms battle; once the infantry fixed the enemy in place, the cavalry would sweep around the flank(s) and strike the enemy in the rear. Such tactics were quite capable of routing even the toughest army.106 The details of how such tactics worked in the Roman context of the fourth century shall be discussed later in the section on the Emperor Julian. Suffice it to say, the heavy cavalry that Ferrill envisioned as operating independently in fact operated in close cooperation with the Roman heavy infantry. As a result, any comitatensis force could only move as fast as the slowest oxen required to transport the armies food, much less the pace of the slowest foot soldier.Io7 AS shall be illuminated later, the emphasis on heavy cavalry in the comitatensis had less to do with creating a physically quick mobile reserve, and more to do with way the Roman army performed on the field of battle. Arthur Ferrill maintains that the division between the comitatensis and the limitanei was undertaken for strategic reasons: the creation of mobile strike forces. Ferrill does address the utility of a frontier army in regards to its better positioning near an emperor; putting the strongest military force under direct imperial control would have made him feel safer. Ferrill does not focus too

l06 John Lendon, 126-133

107 Adrian Goldsworhty, 203

closely on that aspect, and for a good reason.l08 During the third century, it was just as likely for an emperor to be removed by a coup within his own army, as he was by an army farther away that declared for someone else. However, that does not change the fact that the term "comitatensis" is directly related to comes which translates to "companion7'. Comes was an official term in the Roman hierarchy, actually instituted by Diocletian. Diocletian had a comitatus, a group of friends, so a comitatensis was an army that functioned as a "group of companions" for the emperor.lo9 err ill was correct, in that the comitatensis/limitanei designation was in many ways locational; the comitatensis would have spent most of their time in the presence of the emperor, if not an important regional commander, while the limitanei were loosely assigned to frontier duty. 108

The real question is to what extent were they permanent designations? Ferrill's assertion is that they were permanent; this study asserts that they were not, or at least, not completely exclusive. Exclusivity is one of the keys to Ferrill's strategic argument; the permanent division lessened the quality of the limitanei and thus made most of the army ineffective. As has already been shown, crack units could be moved around outside of the campaign armies. But even if such a division were the case, a dramatic decrease in quality would not necessarily have resulted. Proximity to the emperor did mean better advancement for officers and probably more donatives for the soldiers, but it did not mean that frontier forces were left out of

108 Arther Ferrill, 47-49

l09 Southern and Dixon, 15- 16

110 Southern and Dixon, 21-22, 35-36

the salary loop. To deprive the frontier forces of funding would have resulted in almost immediate rebellion, especially considering how touchy Roman soldiers were about even the smallest delays in payment.'12 AS far as combat effectiveness goes, there is no reason to expect that it would have immediately declined, especially on the dangerous Roman frontier. If the purposes of the limitanei were to combat border raids, that function would have provided them with a constant amount of combat experience. Barbarian tribes were constantly testing the borders, and not always with full-scale armies; most action was done by small bands of raiders, something the dispersed limitanei would have been able to handle. If anything, saving one army for only big duties, and making the other focus on constant skirmishing would have quickly inverted the combat effectiveness of the two as the limitanei closed the experience gap. This actually supports the idea that limitanei units could serve in the campaign armies alongside the comitatensis.' 1l4

The major piece of evidence in support of the limitanei is the Notitia Dignitaturn, which lists limitanei by name as "cultivators of land and soldiers".l15 Does this really mean that the limitanei became Ferrill's low quality militia soldiers? The fact that there could be pseudocomitatenis, as listed in the Notitia Dignitaturn, limitanei that were elite enough to warrant transfer to the field armies, indicates that the line of thinking that border combat maintained fighting

112 Adrian Goldsworthy, 94

113 Adrian Goldsworthy, 213

l14drian Goldsworthy, 203

115 Original Sources of European History, The Notitin Dignitaturn, (University of

Pennsylvania, 1978), 8

effectiveness has a good deal of merit.l16 "Cultivators of land", however, does not necessarily imply a decrease in quality. Roman soldiers were originally part time soldiers, who expected to go back to their farms after service was done, and they were more than capable during the early republic. A militia did not necessarily make an incompetent army. In Hellenistic times, a similar situation actually occurred in which the Greek kingdoms settled their soldiers in colonies amongst their very large now Greek populations. These kleruchoi were expected to be farmers who donated a certain amount of their time to the king as soldiers. In the Ptolemaic Egyptian kingdom, which was protected from frequent conflict, the effectiveness of their klemchoi steadily decreased.118 In the Seleucid kingdom, however, the frequent raids and campaigns that plagued that geographically exposed state kept the kleruchoi in a constant state of readiness. The Seleucid klerztchoi system was able to maintain an effective force of Greek farmer-soldiers. 119 There is reason to expect that the limitanei system would have worked similarly. It is entirely possible that units rotated who was on duty, and who farmed, so that everyone coulld maintain a level of combat effectiveness.

This is assuming that the Notiiia Dignitatum accurately reflects the fourth century as much as it does the fifth century


Compositionally, there was little to distinguish the forces of the comitatenses from the limitanei, at least during the course of the fourth century. The comitatenses became more associated with heavy cavalry because such forces

116 Notitia Digit itaturn, 8

117 Adrian Goldsworthy, 26-28

118 Bezalel Bar-Kochva, The Seleucid Army, (Cambridge University Press, 1976), 53,


119 Bar-Kochva, 43-45

120 Notitia Dignitatum, 1

were more suited to the battle tactics used by the campaign armies. Limitanei were organized into smaller groups to facilitate their role as border guards and possible auxiliaries for the comitatenses. The comitatenses was so organized to keep better political control over the constituent army elements. In some ways, the comitatenses was just a larger grouping of limitanei units; it wasn't so much the soldiers present that mattered, rather how they were grouped and who commanded them. Constantine and Diocletian were endeavoring in their reforms to create a military that was better able to meet its external as well as internal threats. The bottom line is that evidence concerning the relative quality of the comitatenses and the limitanei is too sketchy for it to definitively discredit the effectiveness of the fourth century military.

Constantine's New Empire

Both Diocletian and Constantine tried to create a political paradigm that could help lift the emperor above the influence and danger of the army interfering in a succession crisis. Diocletian created the tetrarchy as a systemic way of transferring power around the empire and between candidates. Constantine's adoption of Christianity can be interpreted as his own attempt to solidify the office of the emperor by associating it with a religious ideology. This is not to say that Constantine was immediately trying to create a church that would solidify the empire for him. The first place that Constantine's religion came up was in the context of an army; Constantine was trying to install a framework that would increase the loyalty of the military to the emperor.121 Constantine's conduct at the Council of Nicea shows that he was very much concerned with creating a unified doctrine. Constantine was interested in establishing a set of religious rules and codes that would make Christianity a substantial force within the empire.l22 Constantine's efforts eventually bore out and Christianity became intimately tied to Rome and Roman civilization, if not the empire, persia.123

The rationale behind Constantine's interest in such a religion can be seen in the interesting connections to the religious actions of Aurelian. During the

apex of his reign, Aurelian endeavored to make worship of Sol Invictus (aka Major Sun God) something close to the state religion of the empire.124 Aurelian chose the Sun God for a combination of personal and practical reasons. On the one hand he was probably already an adherent. On the other hand, the image of the sun was something that almost every regional pantheon had in common. Aurelian was trying to tie the many religions of the empire to the religion of the emperor, and thus to the person of the emperor.125 It is unknown what the tangible benefits of Aurelian's plan would have been, but the association between Roman politics and religion bad a strong history.

121 A.H.M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe, (Toronto, Buffalo, and

London: Toronto University Press, 1978), 85-87

122 A.H.M. Jones, 138-141

123 A.H.M. Jones, 207-208

124 Watson, Aurelian and the Thivd Century, (London and New York: Routledge, 1999),


125 Alaric Watson, 193-195

In particular, the worship of the deceased emperor is an excellent example of the Romans tying religion to political allegiance. The problems with the Jews and Christians revolved around the fact that they would not sacrifice to the dead emperors, and were thus showing defiance to the empire.

Although there was no direct relation between Diocletian's alteration of the way the emperor was envisioned, and Constantine's tying of the Christian religion to the emperor, to the military effectiveness of the fourth century army, they were instrumental in the redefinition of the emperor that occurred during that century. The efforts of both Constantine and Diocletian were directed towards creating a new imperial paradigm. To stabilize the empire the office of the emperor had to be strengthened and dynastic continuity of some sort established. The empire needed some sort of structure that could survive the almost inevitable civil wars and military upsets. A key part of this study is that the emperor became an increasingly important figure, which made the stakes of military defeat that much higher, and the consequences that much more severe. To understand the consequences of military action, politics, the dynamics of power relationships within a state, must be examined. Military failure in the third century invariably doomed an emperor, while military victory was the only means that could save the empire (in this case by Diocletian).

The military reforms of Diocletian and Constantine set the strategic stage for the fourth century. The creation of smaller legions, the construction of more forts, and the debatable deployment of permanent units to the frontiers indicated that the Romans were very concerned with their ability to react to threats in time. The remainder of the study will deal with how the new units of Diocletian were used in combat, irrespective of whether they were comitatenses or limitanei.

Ammianus's narrative makes no mention of such distinctions, and so what information can be gleaned from his work as to the effectiveness of the army will shed little light on how each designation performed. The debate will only come into play again after the Battle of Adrianople, where the destruction of a Roman field force necessitated a major redeployment of military forces in the eastern portion of the empire.

The Lesser Battles and Military Actions

The ultimate test of how effective the army bequeathed by Constantine to his sons and heirs was how able it was at meeting the military challenges of the fourth century. In many ways, the challenges of the fourth were the same as the challenges of the third; Sassanid Persia was the biggest enemy, while the Rhine and Danube barbarians were perhaps the most annoying. The reforms of Diocletian created a military that could be moulded and adapted to the changing strategic situation because the army was segmented into units designed to facilitate deployment to different theatres. Frontiers could be reinforced and campaign armies could be gathered quickly and easily by contemporary standards. The ability of the Roman empire to organize offensive and defensive operations in a relatively short time was perhaps its greatest strength. How successful those operations were is the crux of whether or not the fourth century military was effective.

Rome's army in the fourth century was professional, a combination of career soldiers, who either volunteered or were drafted for upwards of 20 years, and battle-hardened mercenaries. Rome's military was, in theory, a year-round force capable of taking the fight to the enemy at almost any time (weather and supplies permitting).126 Contrast Rome7 s professional army with the militaries wielded by her two enemies, the Sassanids and the Germanic tribal confederations.127 Sassanid Persia was a vast feudal empire whose only permanent military forces were the troops that garrisoned the various cities. To

126 Adrian Goldsworthy, 76-77, 162,208

127 Adrian Goldsworthy, 164

create a campaign army, the Sassanid shah had to call out the nobility and levee the peasantry.128 Similarly, the warriors of the Germanic tribes were not completely full-time warriors either. Some members of the nobility, the elite, were supported enough by the lower classes, pseudo-peasants, to devote most of their time to war. But the majority of the rank and file infantry were farmers and craftsmen who practiced their trade most of the time; such an m y was inherently seasonal because the soldiers needed to return home to continue their jobs. A professional army required a great deal of money to keep it going and an associated ethos; a tradition of citizen soldiery like what existed in the cultures of Greece and Orient. 129

The Roman Empire was the only state that possessed both at that time. The professional soldier was a warrior that spent most of his life in the service of an army with the hope of making enough in salary and booty to be able to retire before he died. The Roman possession of such a military machine was what enabled them to be constantly ready to respond to enemy incursions and/or launch campaigns.130 This point needs to be clarified a little bit, however. Professional soldiers were not fighting three hundred and sixty five days a year; that would have been impossible.

In most cases, the soldier did not fight during the winter; it was general practice in the professional army to send the troops to quarter in the barracks during the winter.'" Winter campaigns were not unknown, but their advantages in surprise were generally offset by the inherent.

128 Malcolm Colledge, 66

129 John Lendon, 3 12-3 13

130 Adrian Goldsworthy, 74

131 Adrian Goldsworthy, 170- 17 1

hardships of trudging through snow. The real advantage of the professional soldier was that his constant immersion in the military system, with its constant training and physical toughening, made him an able combatant.132 Professional soldiers generally kept their sharpness, their skills, and their discipline, unlike levee soldiers, who were much more likely to lose their battle readiness once they were disbanded. This is not to say that the Romans were the only ones with decent soldiers, or that professional armies automatically fought harder. What it is saying is that, man-for-man, a professional soldier was much more likely to be a more effective soldier than his part-time opponent. Roman advantages in organization, logistics, and readiness came to the forefront when small campaigns and engagements were waged. It must be remembered that small battles, skirmishes, sieges, surprise assaults, and quick marches represent the scope of the military experience than do large battles.133 For sake of definition, large-scale operations include campaigns that resulted in set-piece battles and/or drawn out sieges. Large-scale operations required a great deal of time and effort to organize."' Small-scale operations were either components of a large campaign or were a small campaign undertaken for limited objectives. Small-scale battles were different than set piece battles because the army was not drawn up in formation; either no enemy was present in a rival formation to require such action, or speed obviated against a lengthy deployment. Such operations are smaller in scope but no less important than the prosecution of epic battles. Small-scale operations could produce important

131 Adrian Goldsworthy, 9G-93

132 Adrian Goldsworthy, 162

133 Adrian Goldsworthy, 165-167

political results, just the same as large battles.135 Small-scale operations could also positively or negatively contribute to the outcome of a subsequent large battle, as shall be seen in the discussions of Strasbourg and Adrianople. The ability to wage small-scale operations was a key characteristic of the Roman army, and thus must be addressed in regards to the military's effectiveness. In addition, small-scale operations required different tactics than those used on large battlefields, and thus provide a better picture of what the Roman military could, and could not, do. Unfortunately, small operations not undertaken by high-level commanders are notoriously hard to track. Even in the modern day, most skirmishes don't get recorded in detail in history texts. Ammianus is no exception, and almost every engagement of any size has at least a named commander in control. However, this does not mean that Ammianus only records large battles. Large battles are generally the ones that Ammianus goes the most detail into, but he still mentions plenty of small engagements that don't warrant extensive detail; most of these will be discussed shortly.

Rome's geopolitical positioning made it almost a certainty that small-scale operations would be the order of the day. Rome did not have the resources to commit to a full-scale invasion and subjugation, although Persia posed enough threat to warrant the full-scale invasion portion. Most enemies along the Roman border either did not pose enough of a threat, or were not economically viable enough for the Romans to bother with permanent subjugation. The Dacian territories in modem day Romania are an example of a "barbarian" territory subjugated for a period of time, in this case by the Emperor Trajan. Dacia was

135 Adrian Goldsworthy, 167

justified on the grounds that the barbaric kingdom possessed abundant mineral resources. Such justification, however, did not prevent the area's strategic demise and ultimate abandonment. During the period of the late Roman empire, the Romans were interested primarily in threat reduction and prevention, rather than expansion; protecting what they had rather than acquiring more. As a result, it cost a lot less to accomplish victory through a small-scale operation than a full- blown military campaign.136

Minor Offensive Operations

The small-scale operations that are depicted in Ammianus's narrative are an excellent example of military strategy being made to fit political policy. The small-scale operations conducted by the emperors of the fourth century were, like those performed by their predecessors, intended to ensure Roman superiority over external threats through direct and indirect means of intimidation. The most common style of small-scale operation was the "lightening strike." The lightening strike operated similarly to a normal campaign; the emperor or general advanced at the head of the army into the enemy's territory and burned or pillaged everything in his path. Constantius II conducted one such strike against the

Sarmatians, who were so overcome by the Roman onslaught that they quickly sued for peace.137 The emperor Valentinian performed a similar operation against the Quadi, a tribe that happened to border the Sarmatians that Constantius II had attacked. Valentinian wintered his army in the adjacent province before choosing

137 Adrian Goldsworthy, 166-167, 172-173, 198,213;Ammianus Marcellinus. 133-134

a suitable time to strike, most likely when he knew the enemy would not be

prepared for war. At such a time, Valentinian crossed the Danube and laid waste

to the territory of the Quadi, many of whom fled to the hills to escape the Romans.

Valentinian returned to Roman territory unscathed to await the Quadi envoys. which dutifully came sometime later. Unfortunately, it was at the meeting with these envoys that Valentinian became so enraged that he had a stroke.138 The lightening strike was the ancient version of the "shock and awe"

campaign of modem warfare. Fields were burnt, stores were pillaged, villages and villagers were terrorized, and political centres were sacked. Not all of these might occur during any one strike; the point was instead to intimidate the enemy and/or illustrate the weakness of the local ruler.

A successful lightening strike wrecked the enemy7 s economy and/or forced the enemy

leader to acknowledge the superiority of the emperor. In the East, most small-scale operations were raids conducted by the nomadic allies of the Romans and Persians. the Arabs and Berbers. The cities of the East on both sides were heavily fortified, and would

have required a full-scale campaign to capture them. Leaving raiding to the nomads, who would probably raid the countryside anyway, was more effective in cost and manpower


Similar, but slightly different from the lightening strike, was the "counter strike", utilized against an enemy that was already present in Roman territory. The lightening strike was delivered against an enemy that was fundamentally not prepared for the Roman military's onset. The counter strike, on the other hand,

138 Ammianus Marcellinus, 400-401

139 Adrian Goldsworthy, 213

was directed against an enemy that, although he might be surprised by a sudden move, was fundamentally prepared for military action by virtue of being the invader. Ammianus provides only a few examples of this particular style of small operation, one of which is Julian’s attack on the Alemanni in AD 356, prior to the Battle of Strasbourg. Receiving word that an Alemanni band was threatening the city of Autun, Julian decided to attack that force with only a small group of bodyguards, heavy cavalry, and "artillerymen", which probably meant archers. The Alemanni were surprised by the audacity of the manoeuvre and Julian was able to rout the Alemanni detachments with some courageous charges.140 Ammianus rightly cites that Julian's actions were exceedingly bold; the force he took with him was not overly substantial and the operation itself was rather risky on that account.'" A similar situation took place, before the Battle of Adrianople,

in AD 378. Before Valens arrived on the scene, a regional sub-commander by the name of Sebastian attempted a similar attack by trailing a Gothic raiding party with a picked force of men. Under the cover of night Sebastian attacked and succeeded in scattering the Gothic party.142 Successful counter strikes like those shown above could reward the Roman military for boldness in action. Yet such boldness needed to be tempered by cunning in order for it to be effective. in both cases, the enemy was attacked while he was in the worst possible situation: bogged down in front of a city or asleep with plunder and booty. Part of what distinguished a good commander was his ability to discern when boldness needed the application of cunning. Julian

140 Ammianus Marcellinus, 89

141 Ammianus Marcellinus, 89

142 Ammianus Marcellinus, 43

demonstrated, at least in Gaul, that he had some experience with cunning, or at least prudence. Following the Battle of Strasbourg in AD 357, Julian surprised a band of six hundred Frankish warriors in the process of raiding Roman territory. The Franks had enough time and warning to take shelter in a pair of abandoned forts. Julian was reluctant to bypass them and leave an enemy force at large in Roman territory. Julian instead chose to starve the band out, rather than storm the forts, which would probably have been the purely "bold" tactic.l43 Julian showed similar flexibility in the early stages of his Persian campaign in AD 363. The first few fortified cities Julian encountered were either bypassed or surrendered after a short negotiation. In the case of surrender, Roman might and Julian's clemency was enough to convince the defenders of such a course of action. Those forts bypassed were either less likely to hinder the army's supply or gave Julian a promise that they would go to whoever won the contest between the Roman emperor and the Persian shah.'" As the campaign dragged on, however, Julian was increasingly forced to lay siege to those cities he came across, because he could not afford to ignore them that far inside Persian territory.145 Still, the fact that Julian exercised some choice in which cities he dealt with, and which fashion he dealt with them, showed that he was capable of exercising some strategic judgment.

143Ammianus Marcellinus, 1 19 144Ammianus Marcellinus, 267-269

145 Ammianus Marcellinus, 275-281

Alternatives to Aggressive Action

Against an enemy dispersed in pillaging Roman territory, bold tactics, like Julian's, of striking quickly and decisively were a wise course of action. On the Eastern frontier, however, a Persian campaign, like that launched by the Shahanshah Sapor in AD 359, required a different kind of application of cunning and boldness. Sapor spent a great deal of time preparing for this offensive

because it was no easy feat to gather intelligence on the Roman border zone, or put together an army drawn from the vastness of the Persian empire.'" The Romans, at the time, were only dimly aware of the size of the threat posed by this latest Persian invasion; the invasion launched by Sapor in AD 359 would have important consequences for the rest of the century. Emperor Constantius II was busy settling the Danube frontier, and without sufficient warning of Sapor's actual invasion, was in no position to "rush to the immediate defense of the East.147 The only aid that came to the East from the rest of empire were several vexillation detachments, including two units of Illyrian light cavalry who were so incompetent that they almost got Ammianus himself nabbed by the Persian vanguard. 148

The immediate objective of the Persian host was the Roman city of Amida. Along the way, Sapor stormed or ignored Roman border forts as he saw fit. Amida was Sapor's objective because the city was an important fortress in the Roman defensive network separating Syria from the Persian Mesopotamian domains. The garrison of Amida typically consisted of the Legion V Parthica and

146 Amminaus Marcellinus, pp. 148-149

147 ibid, 140- 141

148 ibid, 158

a force of native cavalry (light horse most likely).149 warnings of a Persian offensive in the region spurred Roman officials to send in some reinforcements who arrived in the city only just before the Persians encircled it. These reinforcements were the Legions XXX and X Fortenses, as well as six further legions, unfortunately unnamed by Ammianus, that were stationed in the East because of their previous role in a usurpation; it was felt that their loyalty would be less of a problem it they were deployed against a foreign enemy. Together with some supporting units of skirmishers, these reinforcements allowed the Romans to fully garrison the formidable defensive works of the city."0 Ammianus's narrative of the siege of Amida is a sizable reservoir of anecdotes on the fighting effectiveness of the Roman soldier. The Roman forces in the city were even able to undertake sorties against the superior Persian army and inflict significant losses on the host and its siege equipment.151 Although the actions of the besieged speak a great deal about the ability of the Roman soldier, it is the actions of Roman forces outside of the siege that have more to do with this particular study of small-scale operations. The overall command of Roman forces in the region was in the hands of a high level military commander named Urscinus. Urscinus is seen with regular frequency during the narrative, and is somewhat of a tragic figure due to the man's constant difficulty in regards to political court intrigue. Urscinus was one of the highest-ranking military officials in the empire, holding the titles of Master of Cavalry and Master of Infantry at various points. Urscinus, despite his high standing, or maybe because of it, was

149 ibid, 160

150 ibid, 160

151ibid, 170- 172

severely hindered in his duties by the jealousy of the political elite, particularly the emperor. The reason why Urscinus changed titles so many times during the course of the narrative was because Constantius II was constantly revoking his authority.152 By virtue of his high position, and his conduct during the siege of Amida, Urscinus was probably a capable leader of men. Nevertheless, the military and thus political influence, wielded by Urscinus made him a natural threat in the eyes of the emperor. Arnmianus paints Constantius with very paranoid strokes, which may not always be believed, considering Ammianus's motives in regards to promoting Julian at the expense of Constantius. Whether or not Constantius was as obsessive about such intrigue as Arnmianus makes him out to be, the fact remains that a powerful military commander was inherently competition for the emperor. If Constantius went to the extreme in this case, plenty of previous emperors met their ends at the hands of military commanders about whom they weren't paranoid enough.

Urscinus's politically based restrictions had tangible ramifications for the Amida campaign. Urscinus did not possess a sufficiently large enough force to drive back Sapor's army or even engage in any sort of sizeable battle. Indeed,

many of the best troops in the region were bottled up in Amida, valiantly keeping the Persian's off the city's walls. Since Urscinus could not risk direct confrontation, he would have had to choose more indirect means of hindering Sapor's campaign.153 Defense against such a large-scale invasion usually involved three tactics: garrison of fortified cities, scorching of the earth, and



ibid, 66-67, 167, 185-186


Ammianus Marcellinus, 167

harassment. The last tactic was the one remaining option for Urscinus. Harassment is the favoured tactic of a weak force facing a superior force, and as a result, has been commonly associated with guerrilla warfare and insurgency forces. Organized empires, however, were not above using the same tactics; the Persians did it to Julian when he invaded in AD 363.154 according to Ammianus, it was an established plan of Urscinus to conduct raids on the Persian encampment around Amida. Attacks on the supplies, equipment, and personnel of a besieging army were traditionally effective strategies with which to aid the besieged.155 Laying siege to a fortified city was a frustrating and time-consuming business that had a long history of embarrassing commanders who could not get their armies into the cities. Urscinus was well aware that he could seriously blunt Sapor's invasion if he could exhaust the shahanshah's army before the walls of the city.

Consequences for the Future

Ultimately, however, the city's fate was decided by the valour of the besieged, not by the aid of the Roman forces in the area; Urscinus was prevented from interfering by his Roman superior in the province. Ammianus relates that it was the jealousy of the emperor and the political establishment that hamstrung Urscinus. Whether the real reasons were political jealousy (not unreasonable) or reluctance on the part of Urscinus's superior Sabinian to engage in such tactics, the dispute in the upper echelons of the regional military doomed the defenders of

154 Ammnianus Marcellinus, 285-286

155 ibid, 167

Amida. To their credit, the defenders manned their posts to the very end, and the city was only taken when a weakened section of wall collapsed and the Persian

m y gained entry to the city.lj6 The fall of Amida would have important and far-

reaching consequences for the empire. The loss of Amida required Constantius II

to mobilize the empire for another campaign in the East. Troops were called up

and units were redeployed from less threatened frontiers to the army headed by Constantius. 157

The shift in imperial focus back towards the East had its own important consequences for the rest of the fourth century. Constantius's departure from the central position of the Danube and his call for reinforcements from Gaul precipitated Julian's decision to assume the title of Augustus. Julian had many reasons for choosing the time and place of his insurrection; the fact that Constantius was preoccupied on the other end of the empire could not have been the least of them. Constantius's distance from Julian allowed the latter to take the offensive through northern Italy and Illyria, safe in the knowledge that the emperor would not be able to reach him for some time.15' This delay paid off well for Julian in an unforeseen way; the grueling journey back across the empire took its toll on Constantius, and the emperor died of a fever in western Turkey. The motivation of the Gallic legions in declaring for Julian because they did not want to leave their province "unprotected" is a little suspect.159 Ammianus could have been portraying Julian as not having been so hungry for power by showing

156 Ammianus Marcellinus, 173- 175

157 ibid, 186- 187

158 ibid, 217-219

159 ibid, 186- 187

that it was the army that readily wanted him to assume the purple. It is also possible that Julian secretly incited members of the officer corps to influence the general mood of the troops. While these are inherently pure speculation, the fact that those same legions eagerly followed Julian across the empire to Persia after all more or less hurts the idea that they didn't want to go to Persia in the first place. 160

The ability to conduct small-scale operations was a necessary component to the success of the Roman military. A key platform of the Roman imperial system was the promise of protection. The provinces had to be protected from external threats; otherwise they would become discontented, and in some cases would shift their allegiance to those who could get the job done. The problem that the Romans faced throughout the fourth century was that as effective as their operations were in the short term, in the long run they did little stem the tide of raiders from across the frontiers. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that each emperor had to put down the same enemies (Persians excluded) as his predecessor. Roman pre-emptive strikes were effective because they inflicted destruction with little cost to the Roman army. Counter strikes were often a risky gamble; Julian successfully pulled them off because he could combine bold action with prudent restraint, but, as shall be shown later, Valens neglected to temper his bold action at Adrianople with some cunning. For one reason or another, harassment tactics were not something that the Romans were able to get right. In some ways, harassment conflicted with Roman

160 ibid, 214, 301-302

love of bold action.161 Lightening and counter strikes took advantage of the Roman ability to strike quickly and solidly with well-motivated professional soldiers. Harassment, however, required patience and enough discipline for the army to not rush into battle. Politics may have played multiple factors; a bold way was a quick way, and an impressive way, and as such was attractive to an emperor trying to prove his military fortitude. The inability of Urscinus to harass the Persians was a problem that would come back to haunt the Romans later, when the Goths migrated across the Danube during the reign of Valens.

161 John Lendon, 200-201

Julian: The Roman/Hellenistic Blend

The narrative that Ammianus gives of the short reign of Emperor Julian is incredibly useful for any analysis of the Roman military. Of particular importance is the Battle of Strasbourg, fought between Julian and a powerful confederation of Alemanni chiefs, before Julian became an emperor. Ammianus provides a detailed account of what took place during the course of the battle. Combined with other smaller and less detailed accounts provided by Amrnianus of other battles in the period, the Battle of Strasbourg forms the basis for the theory that the army of the fourth century successfully combined elements of Roman and Hellenistic military tradition. The term 'Hellenistic" refers to the era of Alexander the Great, and his Macedonian successors who ruled the broken fragments sf the empire the conqueror had created. This era saw a melding of Greek culture with the cultures of the east, such as Persia and Egypt. The combination of the Roman and Hellenistic military styles produced a military that was geared towards certain tactical functions that can be seen in Roman conduct during the battles of the fourth century.

In addition, the command style of the Hellenistic tradition integrated well with the augmented authoritarian vision of the fourth century emperor.

The Battle of Strasbourg

The most valuable part of Ammianus's narration of Strasbourg is the extent to which he details the actions taken by individuals and groups during the course of the battle. Ammianus is less helpful in regard to discerning the types of troops that took place in the battle, at least in respect to what they would have been called at the time. So while it is very easy to get a sense of what was done by the soldiers in the battle, it is less easy to say what units were there. The battle of Strasbourg started like most set piece engagements did during ancient times. Julian knew the general vicinity of where the Alemanni host might be gathered and desired to make battle with them. The Alemanni themselves were busy crossing a river, and since they were readily able to form a battle line, it can be assumed that they were marching with the intent of meeting Julian's host.

Indeed, Marcellinus makes distinct mention of the Alemanni leaving three scouts on the battlefield to warn the rest of the army of Julian's approach.162 The battlefield on which the armies were to meet was one suited to the task of generalship. With the exception of a slight rise near the Roman line of approach, the field itself was flat and mostly devoid of obstruction. While crafty generals often sought uneven terrain for their own advantage, equally competent generals realized that being able to arrange one's forces easily on a plain was a tactical aid if circumstances were right. On the Alemanni right (the Roman left), however, there appears to have been some sort of obstructing brush equal parts natural and constructed by the Alemanni. Marcellinus relates how the Alemanni hid their warriors in this obstruction intending to disconcert the Roman left flank through surprise and advantageous topography.163 To the Alernanni rear laid the river that they had recently crossed. The amount of clear and level ground must have been significant, in order for two armies to comfortably deploy. In other

162 Ammianus Marcellinus, 106- 108

163 ibid, 109-110

words, it can't have been some convenient break in the trees. While the figures for the armies are vague and always a little suspect, the Alemanni forces are quoted as around 35,000 and Julian's army at a much lower 13,000. The width of Julian's army, and by inference the width of the battlefield, was such that Julian needed to ride from one end to another in order to speak to all of them, rather than by addressing them from a single point.164 What is most interesting here is that it postulates a very wide frontage for an army that is outnumbered in excess of two to one.

It is unfortunate that Ammianus does not take time to describe in detail the layout the Roman order of battle, however, judging from a number of his comments and some of the units he does mention, it is possible to reconstruct a

general sense of how Julian arrayed the army for battle. Ammianus makes reference to three distinct areas of fighting: the left flank, the right flank, and the center. Each one was distinct and each saw a different form of attack from the opposing Alemanni. On the right, Julian and his mounted bodyguard commanded an imposing force of heavy Roman cavalry, the cataphractarii. The fear that the Alemanni felt towards these troops is highlighted by Ammianus, who relates that the Alemami interspersed light infantry with the cavalry facing the Roman sight. Such a tactic was designed to take advantage of the only weakness of these armored giants. While a man on horseback holding spear might not be able to make much of a dent against the cataphractarii, a nimble man on the ground could get under the mail skirts of the Roman mounts and stab at their only exposed point.165 In the centre, Julian positioned the bulk of his infantry opposite the Alemanni, who were drawn up into a series of wedges.166 The final component of the Roman battle array was the lefi flank under an officer named Severus. Before the main battle lines actually collided, Severus and his men approached the rough terrain on their left side of the battlefield. Sensing the Memanni trap, Severus brought his men to a halt and calmly waited for the Alemanni ambushers to make the first

Why Severus chose to stop, rather than take the Alemanni right flank head on might have been because the rough terrain appeared to him to have been too dangerous to assault. It is equally probable that Severus was following the doctrine, if not the plan, of the Hellenistic left flank. The Hellenistic left flank was traditionally the weakest of the three wings. Hellenistic commanders generally expected to face armies that sported the same style tactics that they did, since their major enemies were each other. As a result, the left flank generally faced the enemy's right flank, the wing where the Alexander-inspired general gathered his strongest cavalry. 168

Unless the commander deliberately changed the established order to surprise his enemy (kind of what the Alemanni did at Strasbourg), the left flank of the army was purposefully weaker because it was expected to be overrun. This did not always mean that the left flank was expendable, specialized troops like light cavalry were put on the left flank because they could avoid the enemy's right flank the easiest. Severus may not have had the best troops, but the fact that his flank was not


ibid, 108-109


ibid, 108, 110


ibid, 109


John Lendon, 145

overwhelmed once the main battle joined indicates that he may have had enough infantry present to hold a line against the opposing Alenanni.' As the Romans under Severus, and the Alemanni waiting in ambush stared at each other with grim determination, the remainder of the two armies lurched towards each other with a great shout. At a suitable distance from each other, both armies halted one last time to hurl javelins, spears, and darts at each other. Once the Alemanni centre exhausted its supply of projectiles, it hurled itself upon

the Roman line with what Marcellinus refers to as an absolute "fury." For their part. the Roman infantry locked shields and braced themselves against the barbarian on1aught.169 Action on the Roman right was a little more confused. It is reasonable to assume that the ones to make the attack in this case were the heavy Roman cavalry. The thunderous charge of the clibanarii was not enough, however, to break the solid formation of the Alemanni left, who had dismounted their cavalry prior to the final advance. Cavalry cannot ride right over infantry, and the Romans were forced to turn around and regroup.171

It was at this point that things took a bad turn for the Romans. Ammianus relates that the Roman right was engulfed in a dust cloud, which would not be surprising, considering that over seven hundred horses were in action at that time (Julian7s bodyguard of 200, plus at least one alae of 500).172 The dust cloud disoriented the cavalry as they tried to reform. Julian, operating with a smaller number of men, his bodyguard, was able to get his personal unit back into

169 Ammianus Marcellinus, 109

170 Ammianus Marcellinus, 110- 111

171 ibid, 111

172 ibid, 109- 111

formation. Unfortunately, the rest of the cavalry were further disrupted by the death of their commander in the midst of the maneuver. His death probably came from the fact that the Alemanni light infantry originally interspersed with the Alemanni left wing cavalry had rushed forward to attack the Roman cavalry when it was most vulnerable. The heavy Roman cavalry were thrown into confusion and quickly routed.173 Three things saved the situation. First, the direction chosen by the retreating cavalry took them right into the reserve rank of the Roman centre. While their own panicking cavalry may have trampled some of the Roman infantry, the majority of the soldiers were able to quickly raise their shields and create a wall, which to stopped the momentum of the horses. Second, Julian, fortunate enough to have his personal cavalry under control, was able to rush to the scene and use his presence to rally the cavalry with a bit of mild scolding. Lastly, Julian had placed a couple units of auxilia behind the cavalry during the deployment phase. Ignoring the flight of the cavalry in front of them, these men kept their heads and raised their own shield wall, which prevented the Alemanni from exploiting the route.174

The clash that took place between infantry forces in the center of ancient battles typically devolved into a glorified pushing match. With their shields locked together, and with the men behind pushing on the men in front, the Roman line presented a pretty immovable obstacle. The Alemanni had failed to

decisively defeat the Romans on the right, and although the Alemanni on the right


had finally broken cover to attack, the Woman left flank had held firm.


173 ibid, 11 1

174ibid, 111-112

Although the Alernanni still had the advantage of numbers, the mobile nature of the rallied Roman cavalry still posed the danger of outflanking the Alemanni. In an attempt to force the issue in the center, the Alemanni gathered together a picked group of nobles, the best warriors in their army. These nobles formed a super-tough wedge that went straight for a weak spot between two Roman units, the Batavii and the Cornuti.l Such a concentration of elite warriors succeeded in piercing the Roman line. Fortunately for the Romans, their line, despite being wide enough to face the Alemanni horde, still possessed reserve cohorts. Ammianus relates that although the Alemanni were able to penetrate the entire front rank, the men of the Primani legion stopped them cold at the second.

Although Ammianus does not specify a shield wall, he does say that they adopted a close formation of several ranks.177 With their every attempt at victory thwarted and the cream of their warriors literally swallowed up by the Roman center, the Alemanni began to lose hope. As more Alemanni casualties mounted with fewer and fewer Roman casualties to show for them, it became apparent to the average Alemanni warrior that this battle was not going to be worth the effort. Although we don't know where the route originated in the Alemanni battle line, we do know that it spread quickly.177 Unfortunately for the fleeing warriors, the Alemanni had left the Rhine to their rear and now found it to be an unwelcome barrier. Marcellinus is

175 ibid, 1 12

176 ibid, 1 13

177 ibid, 1 13

17' ibid. 113

very colorful in his depictions of how many Alemanni were cut down in the route, and how the Rhine literally foamed with blood. Casualty figures for the day's butchery are recorded as 250 dead for the Romans and over 6,000 for the Alemanni, plus untold numbers given unto the river. The Alemanni king was taken alive.179

The Analysis

At first glance, the Battle of Strasbourg is a textbook example of Roman legionaries defeating a numerically superior force of "hairy barbarians." Under the surface, however, the Battle of Strasbourg reveals itself as an example of how much the Roman military had evolved from the days of the early empire, and how much it still stayed the same. The Roman generals of the fourth century used a sophisticated battle array that blended the traditional cohort system with the older

Greek Hellenistic style of warfare. It was the cohort system that allowed the Primani and the auxilia on the right to move into a position that thwarted the Alemanni attacks. The Romans used the cohort system in the late Republic and early Empire, and its effectiveness in battle had a lot to do with why Roman armies were a formidable force during this period. What made the system so effective was its flexibility on the battlefield. Today we have battalions and brigades; in Roman times, the principle organizational and tactical unit was the cohort. On the battlefield, the Roman legion was laid out in a pseudo- checkerboard fashion to enable the various cohorts to advance, retreat, and fill in gaps in the line. Key to the success of this system was the vaunted training and

179 ibid, 1 14 85

discipline of the Roman army. Moving eight hundred to a thousand men across a noisy and chaotic battlefield was no small task for officers and soldiers alike; to do so efficiently required months, if not years, of practice.1S0

The cohort system was built on the early Republican manipular system. The maniple was the structural predecessor to the cohort, although it was comparatively simpler. The manipular system was hindered, however, by the fact that its infantry was divided into distinct classes loosely based on wealth and age. First came the poor, and young, skirmishing velites. Second came the young and slightly wealthier sword-wielding hastati. Third came the "middle-age" and even wealthier principes; identical to the hastati, except for their better armor. Last in formation were the old and wealthy triari. spearmen supposed to do nothing except form a spear wall in case the rest of the army was defeated.181

The reforms of Gaius Marius in 107 BC abolished property qualifications and made it the state's responsibility to equip all soldiers with armour, shields, weapons, and other necessities. The new style cohorts were more flexible than the maniples because, since all soldiers were equipped equally, a cohort could be dispatched against any threat.182 The problem with the maniple was that it was designed to crush an enemy directly in front of the legion; other situations, and directions, decreased the ability of the different equipment classes to work together. The new legion still maintained the tactical outlook of the older maniple system; late republican and early imperial legions were designed to smash the enemy through infantry combat in the centre. The cohort system, however, allowed the legion to face

l80 Adrian Goldsworthy, 49, 164

181 Adrian Goldsworthy, 26-27

182 Adrian Goldsworthy, 46-47

threats to the flanks because cohorts could be detached to independently hold key points on the battlefield.l83

The Hellenistic system, on the other hand, had evolved along a different direction by the time the Roman manipular legion came to Greece around 200

BC. The Hellenistic system was the integration of an infantry block, the phalanx, in the centre with light infantry and heavy cavalry utilizing the wings, usually the right wing, to flank and route the enemy.l84 The key difference that must be emphasized here is that although the Romans did not necessarily ignore action on the flanks, their system was geared towards winning the infantry fight in the centre. The Hellenistic system was geared towards the opposite; the centre only held the enemy in place while it was the flanks that secured victory. Like the Romans, the Greeks had a tradition of tough, disciplined infantry that allowed them to defeat the Persians on numerous occasions. The Macedonians under Philip I1 and Alexander altered the traditional Greek soldier, exchanging heavy armor and short spear for a long pike and light armour. The new purpose of this infantry phalanx was not to destroy the enemy, but rather to hold him in place. With the infantry phalanx pinning the enemy, the Macedonian cavalry composed of Macedonian nobles, also armed with the new twenty-foot pike (sarissa), rode around the flanks to strike the enemy army in the side or rear.l85

The enemy, already facing a fearsome hedge of long pointy sticks, almost always lost their nerve and ran when the Macedonian cavalry charged home. Macedonian

183 John Lendon, 223-225

184 John Lendon, 143-146

185 John Lendon, 126-127

experience with the cavalry of Persia and Media continued their interest in acquiring heavy cavalry after the conquests of Alexander. 186

It is difficult to pinpoint when the Roman military began to adopt Hellenistic military forms. Arrian, in the second century AD, is usually the first source cited for evidence of a change in Roman battle tactics. Around AD 135, Arrian was a provincial governor for Cappadochia, a province situated in modern day Turkey. Although closely bordering Parthian territory, Arrian was actually forced to deal with an incursion of Alan nomads that originated north of the Black Sea. Although his account does not go so far as a reconstruction of a battle, Arrian does describe his Roman troops forming a phalanxshield-wall to cope with the prodigious horsemen of the Alans. The problem with drawing too much from Arrian's account is the fact that his terminology could refer to either the more Hellenistic phalanx, or the traditional Roman testudo. On the one hand, the phalanx relied on the long spear that was never adopted by the Romans. On the other hand, the testudo was an elaborate shield-formation defense against arrows that was only used during sieges. It is difficult to definitely pin down what formation Arrian was actually referring to. However, the fact that Ammianus, a military man himself, referred to a shield wall, makes it highly likely that Arrian was referring to a similar formation.

Exactly what is a shield-wall, and how does it relate to the idea of blending of Roman and Hellenistic military stiles? A shield-wall was a defensive tactic used by ancient infantrymen that relied upon a tight formation of men and a

186 Bar-Kochva, 69-72

187 John Lendon, 266-267

188 John Lendon, 267-268

bunch of large shields. To make a shield-wall the men in the front row of an infantry unit bunched closely together so that their shields overlapped and formed a solid surface. To augment the wall formed by the front ranks, the succeeding ranks of soldiers would also tighten their formation and press their shield against the back of the man in front of them. By putting their shields to the back of the man in front of them, the men of the rear ranks could actually transform their energy into forward momentum. A well-functioning shield-wall turned a disparate group of men into a cohesive whole that could hold off less organized enemies. When pushing, the wall could produce greater momentum than a simple crowd of soldiers pushing in an uncoordinated manner. When being pushed, the interlocked nature of the wall meant that a soldier could hold his position and use less energy than his opponent. Once the enemy wasted himself beating on the wall of shields, the infantryman could either push forward or break formation and go at the enemy in a looser/quicker style.189

Prior to the reforms associated with Philip II, the shield-wall was more or less the battle tactic used by the Greeks. Philip equipped his infantry with pikes to improve their ability to hold off an enemy. On the other hand, Philip took away the infantryman's large (Greek-style) shield, which was only natural, because a two-handed pike could not be combined with a large shield anyway.190 Roman legionaries were traditionally equipped along different lines. The Roman legionary was a swordsman, who although trained to maintain formation to allow for efficient battlefield maneuver, was still geared towards individual combat.

189 John Lendon, 264-268

190 John Lendon. 12 1 - 124

When engaging in individual combat (with swords), two equipment styles were traditionally used: sword and small shield, and sword and large shields. To use a sword small shield (a.k.a. buckler) combo generally required a good deal of skill and dexterity. The better protection afforded by the large shield meant that the user could also wear heavier armour than the buckler user, who had to conserve weight to remain quick and nimble. Technically, neither style was particularly superior to the other, and more often such equipment choices revolved around money. The Roman legionary, whose equipment was state financed, could afford the better overall protection offered by the large shield and armour.191 The large shield also gave the soldier the ability to form the shield-wall.

The shield-wall fits into the Hellenistic style of warfare not on account of its equipment, but on account of how it was used in battle. A shield-wall was not a very mobile formation on the battlefield due to how closely it packed soldiers together. The wall could move forward and push an enemy, but most attempts at turning tended to disorganize the formation to the point that the wall no longer existed. The phalanx, in general, worked in the same way; it was a more or less static formation that tended to move only in one direction. Like the phalanx, the shield wall was also vulnerable on its flanks; with the men focused on pressing forward, they were less aware of threats from other angles. As a result, cavalry and screening troops became more important because they were used to occupy the flanks and protect the centre

191 G. R. Watson, The Roman Soldier-, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), 55-57

192 John Lendon, 263-268

Yet, if the shield wall was as inflexible as the phalanx (which the legion had already beaten), why did the Romans go about adopting it? Some scholars have put forth theories revolving around how the past was viewed and Roman respect for Greek/Hellenistic ideas.'" Answers, however, also lie in the military realm of thinking. The shield wall itself was rather inflexible, but it did offer the same tactical advantages of the phalanx without the need for a complete change in Roman equipment. The phalanx was completely geared towards its purpose; in other words, phalanx infantry training was focused on fighting in that formation. The shield-wall was technically simpler than the phalanx (it did not require specialized equipment like a pike) and did not preclude training in other combat styles or formations. As can be seen in the battle of Strasbourg, the shield wall was something that a unit formed only in specific circumstances. The shield wall had a specific role to play in the battle, but it was not the only role that the infantry played; the wall was one trick among many. Roman soldiers were still armed in styles suitable for individual combat (unlike phalanx troops) and were often deployed in roles unsuited to the shield wall formation.193 The cohort system maintained by the Roman army ensured that tactical mobility on the field was maintained. At the battle of Strasbourg, cohorts could advance in normal formation with good mobility, and only assumed the shield-wall when it was necessary to stand ground and hold a spot.

193 John Lendon, 267-268

New Tactics, New Tools

The equipment of the Roman soldier also changed around the same time that Hellenistic influences were percolating within the Roman army, and there may have been some connection between the two. Fundamentally, the Roman legionary of the fourth century, in its broadest definition. was still similar in most ways to his counterpart of the first and second centuries. Some things didn't change; he still wore heavy armour, had a good helmet, a spear, a shield, and a

sword. What did change were the details. The large shield that the legionary carried in the fourth century was subtly different than the traditional scutum. The original scutum was larger than its fourth century equivalent, because it curved in such a way as to protect most of the soldier's body. The fourth century scutum looked to be the same size, but was actually a little smaller because it did not have this curve. Think one side of a rectangle as opposed to three: from the front they look the same, but from above one is obviously larger. The purpose of the curved scutum was to provide superior protection for the legionary by curving around the

body of the soldier and thus deflect blows better. A relatively flat shield, like the fourth century scutum, was still effective in single combat, but not to the same

However, if the soldier was part of an organized

formation, he was only facing one direction anyway. A similar development happened in Greece. The traditional shield of the Greek hoplite (the legionary's

counterpart) was the hoplon, a round shield that had some depth to it, and this increased its individual protective qualities. Once phalanx warfare was adopted, however, shields became smaller because the soldier had to hold a massive spear.

195 extent as the curved scutum

195 John Lendon, 263

To match with the new scutum, the Roman legionary also went back to the use of the hasta or spear. There was nothing really special about the hasta, it was pretty much like every other spear in the ancient world that was designed to be wielded with a decent sized shield. The hasta, however, was a lot different than the traditional legionary spear, the pilum. The pilum was actually a large javelin, but this made it a smaller spear than the hasta, and thus the two indicate different functions. The pilum was a specialized throwing weapon designed to incapacitate an enemy's shield; the hasta could be thrown, but it was generally more effective as a stabbing weapon that poked over the shield wall. The traditional legionary used his scutum to push aside his opponent's weapon while he moved close enough for his short stabbing sword to be used; essentially an individualistic tactic.196 The hasta and shield could also be used individually, but once again, it was just as effective being used in an organized/static formation. The longer reach of the hasta was the key when the soldier was trapped in a situation in which he could not move closer to his enemy; with the hasta, he could still strike. The Romans did not stop using javelin weapons, however. Instead of a couple heavy pila, many legionaries opted for a greater number of smaller javelins. On the farthest end of the spectrum from the pilum was the plumbartum. The plumba were basically big iron darts that could be clipped to the back of the flat legionary shield. By virtue of their smaller size, the soldier could carry more of them, and this offset plumba's inferior penetrating power in relation to the pilum. The pilum was only thrown right before the battle lines joined; the plumba had no such restrictions. The plumba could be thrown before, and after the lines

196 John Lendon, 263 93

crashed together. In fact, the plumba worked will with the general Roman tactic of placing its archers in the rear ranks. These missile troops were placed in the

rear ranks so that they would shoot over the heads of the front ranks, and thus cause further casualties amongst the enemy. Hand-thrown darts would have fit well into such a system, and would have increased the number of missiles harassing the enemy. 197

The final significant difference between the original legionary and the fourth century version was the sword carried by troops in the later period. The traditional Roman sword was the Gladius Hispaniensis. Of Spanish origin, the gladius was a short thrusting sword designed for very close combat. A stabbing sword was something of an anomaly in ancient times because most swords were designed for a cutting action. By the fourth century, however, most Roman legionaries were using the long bladed spatha, rather than the old short The spatha was originally a cavalry sword, since cavalry troopers needed longer blades to reach infantry while fighting from their higher perch. Why the spatha

became popular is a little more difficult to sort out. Some scholarship connects use of the spatha to the rise in popularity of trousers and long shirts in place of Mediterranean tunics.'" Such clothing changes were associated with a perceived demographic shift in the empire, as more soldiers of northern Gallic and Illyrian origin constituted the army. and the increasing amount of "Germanic" influence on the army. Unlike the hasta, there is no clear advantage to using a longer sword in a packed melee. The decline of the gladius may have had more to do with the

198 Adrian Goldsworthy, 205

199 Southern and Dixon, 103

l" John Lendon, 263-264

changing nature of the scutum. The gladius and traditional scutum were designed to work together; the legionary sheltered behind the big shield and only attacked with little, close range, jabs of the gladius. In a way, it makes sense that if one changed, the other would most likely lose its popularity. The scutum of the fourth century became a lot more like the traditional Celtic shield: big, flat, and oblong. Since the Celtic shield was mostly used in tandem with either a spear or a long sword, it may not be surprising that the spatha came to be the sword of choice for the legionary.200

The Dynamics of Integration

The inclusion of the shield-wall into the lexicon of Roman battle tactics was a conscious decision designed to increase the effectiveness of the Roman army in battle. The shield-wall was very effective at holding a position in the face of an enemy charge. Soldiers using the wall wasted less energy than their opponent who hacked away at the shields in vain. The use of special formations by the legion was not new to the army of the fourth century; in the second, the governor of Britain ordered his men into wedges in the final battle against Boudica in AD 60. The charge of the wedge shaped cohorts broke the cohesion of the enemy army and routed the opposing warriors off the field.201 At Strasbourg, Julian's troops adopted the shield-wall when faced with a particularly

violent charge. Whether or not the inclusion of the shield-wall resulted from

200 Adrian Goldsworthy, 205,219

201 Adrian Goldsworthy, 52-53

reverence for Hellenistic warfare, or a more natural tactical evolution that brought them to the same place, the use of the shield-wall fit perfectly into the combination Roman-Hellenistic system that can be seen in Julian's battle array at Strasbourg.

The other key element of the Hellenistic system was the decisive use of cavalry. Two features that traditionally identified Hellenistic style cavalry were the placement of the commander on the right flank and the general reliance on heavier cavalry than Rome traditionally used. In republican times, cavalry was provided by allied states, and its quality varied in relation to which allied state the army was closest to. In the late empire, the distribution of cavalry was more centrally directed and more attention paid to quality.202 By the fourth century, the Romans regularly used units of the heavily armoured cataphractarii seen at Strasbourg with Julian. Again, it is difficult to tell if this was on account of Hellenistic influences, or because Rome was facing more of these armoured behemoths in the eastern battlefields than before. Certainly the Romans had already encountered such units in their battles with Alexander's successors and with the Parthians, so either explanation has its strong and weak points.203 At Strasbourg, the cataphractarii of Julian were intended to crush the Alemanni left flank and role up the line. The fact that they were turned back may speak ill of the cataphractarii, but almost certainly speaks more to the competency of the Alemanni battle tactics at that time.

202 Southern and Dixon, 12

203 Adrian Goldsworthy, 205

In some ways, the Hellenistic style of warfare did not work at the Battle of Strasbourg. Julian never made the decisive flank blow because his heavy cavalry routed. In Hellenistic warfare, the infantry was never supposed to win the battle through action in the centre, yet that is exactly what happened at Strasbourg. In their battles with the Romans, Alexander's successors generally failed for the same reasons; their cavalry failed to deal the decisive blow and their infantry, despite some notable and valiant efforts, succumbed to the mobility of the cohorts. Even the shield wall ran into trouble that day when the Alemanni noble- wedge broke the front shield line. What won the day for the Romans was the leadership of Julian (he rallied the cavalry and inspired the infantry) and the fighting qualities of the Roman legion. The infantry of Julian's army were excellent and experienced soldiers who did not run, who adapted to the attacks of the Alemanni, and who were tough enough to wear down the superior numbers of the enemy. Credit for the infantry must partly go to training and experience. Part

of it must also go to the cohort structure. The depth of the Roman line allowed for cohorts to be dispatched to counter Alemanni moves on the Roman right, and to absorb the impetus of the Alemanni wedge. This is not to say that the traditional legion or even the phalanx would not have been able to handle the situation, only that the amalgamation of the two was up to the same task.

In terms of reported casualties, the Battle of Strasbourg was a resounding success; relatively few Roman soldiers fell, while droves of the Alemanni were cut down. The battles body count should not be relied upon too heavily, however. Disregarding the probability of number exaggeration on the part of the victors, ancient battles frequently saw such disproportionate casualty figures because most deaths occurred only once one side turned its back in flight. A running enemy was infinitely easier to kill than a fighting enemy. When looking at the tactical ebb and flow of the battle, however, the well-handled complexity of the military machine becomes apparent.

The fact is that plenty went wrong for the Romans during the battle, yet they were still able to win. A good deal of credit goes to Julian who handled his troops well in the lead up to the battle, and who was able to rally his broken right wing. The remainder of the credit actually goes to the soldiers and officers of the army, who not only fought well, but were also able to reorganize their lines and formations as the course of battle dictated. The experience of Strasbourg goes a long way towards proving the effectiveness of Roman infantry in the fourth century.

Valens and Adrianople

If there is one battle that has come to signify the decline of the Roman Empire, it is the Battle of Adrianople. Adrianople took place in AD 476 somewhere in modern day Bulgaria. Part of the battle's fame has to do with the two groups of people who faced each other on the field that day. Valens, emperor of the eastern section of the empire deployed the "flower" of the Roman army against a ragged horde of Gothic men and women. The decisive defeat dealt to the Romans by the ragged Goth horde that day has been passed down through history as an allegory for the collapse of the empire in the face of the Germanic and Gothic barbarians.

Like all "great' battles, most debate revolving around Adrianople has had to do with either answering why it was a defeat for the Romans, or, even more importantly, what type of effect it had on the Roman military. Any examination of the effectiveness of the Roman military in the fourth century is obliged to answer the questions posed by the defeat at Adrianople. Almost twenty years separated the events of Strasbourg from Adrianople. The Roman/Hellenistic blend that won Strasbourg was the same one that lost Adrianople. Understanding how the same military performed so differently in these two examples is the final step towards understanding what the weaknesses of the fourth century military were.

Before Adrianople

Explaining why the Romans lost Adrianople involves looking at the military maneuvers that took place before and during the battle. A key component of that explanation revolves around the actions of Emperor Valens. One of the biggest reasons for the Roman defeat at Adrianople was that Valens chose to engage the Goths on his own, rather than wait for the Army of Gaul under the Emperor Gratian to arrive on the scene.204 How valid is this criticism, considering that even Ammianus delivers such a verdict with the benefit of hindsight? It is true, had Valens waited for Gratian to arrive, the Romans would have had two large and powerful armies in operation against the Goths. With such forces, it is entirely possible that the Romans could have corralled the Goths and either persuaded them to accept Roman terms, or eliminated them through military action. Valens waiting for Gratian would have been a wiser option because of such thinking, but that does not automatically make it the best option.

It must be remembered that two emperors would have brought two powerful egos into play and it is also entirely possible that the two would not have been able to cooperate. Valens was not without his reasons for such precipitous action. The flip side to the immense power and influence wielded by the emperor was that he constantly had to prove that he was worthy of it; worthy, or at least capable enough to hang onto it. Whether such pressure was manifested through the real threat of rival powerful generals, or simply in the mind of the emperor, the importance of maintaining the image of imperial superiority was real enough. Against rival generals, Valens should have at least been protected by the existence his co-emperor Gratian; a usurper would have to deal with them both. Then again, the existence of Gratian was a threat in and of itself. The history of the fourth century up to that point included plenty of examples of co-emperors turning on each other for any and all reasons. Whether or not Gratian had any designs on Valens's throne, it would not have been overly paranoid of Valens to keep such a thought in mind. Finally, the competitive instinct that existed between Roman military officers is nothing to scoff at. Valens was aware of Gratian's all too recent successes, and in light of the preceding factors, a little competitive instinct to gain some of his own would not be all that surpriing.'

On the surface, the military picture of the Adrianople campaign does not appear to be one destined for failure. In retrospect it appears clear that Valens should not have attempted to take on the Goths on his own. From the Roman point of view prior to the battle, however, there was no reason to believe that a well-led Roman army could not triumph over these barbarians, no matter how numerous they may have been. Roman strategy up until the time of Adrianople was based on the premise that the Roman army could, and very well should, attack any army inside its borders and come out victorious. This is not to say that it always happened that way, but the Romans were reasonably confident of their advantages in home terrain, logistics, and military readiness. In fact, the more

time an enemy spent inside Roman territory, the more damage that enemy would do. This is actually the primary criticism of the defense in depth strategy; waiting until the enemy is inside the territory to defeat it sacrifices the border region of the province in question.206 The fact was that the Roman forces in the area had already tried to attack the Gothic force as it pillaged its way around the province

205 Ammianus Marcellinus, 432

206 Arther Ferrill, 46-47

of Thrace. The problem was that none of them had been particularly successful, especially when they engaged the Goths too close to the horde itself. The fact that Roman forces prior to Adrianople had run into trouble confronting the Gothic main body may have hinted that something was wrong with the way the Romans were handling the Gothic problem. The situation prior to Adrianoplle was actually not all that different from that which existed prior to Strasbourg.

Both cases featured large barbarian armies that were campaigning almost at will in Roman territory. The lead up to both battles featured a number of preliminary skirmishes as Roman forces attempted to corral the invaders. The difference between the two cases is that the skirmishes before Strasbourg contributed beneficially to the battle's outcome, whereas the skirmishes before Adrianople did not. The Romans used similar sorts of tactics before both battles, but the problem was that they faced a different sort of enemy before Adrianople. The Battle of Strasbourg was fought against what amounted to a large raiding party; Adrianople was against an entire people on the move. The objectives of the two barbarian hosts were very different; the Alemanni were in it for plunder, while the Goths were looking for a new place to stay. Granted, the Goths were not necessarily looking to conquer a portion of the empire, rather they were looking for the empire to settle them somewhere. Gothic objectives were based around extracting a political settlement from the empire.207 Alemanni objectives cared little for imperial agency; all they wanted from it was transportable wealth.

207 Ammianus Marcellinus, 41 6-41 7

That was why the Alemanni sacked and burned towns, instead of occupying


The tactics that Julian used to defeat the Alemanni were the same used against the Goths. Prior to his battle, Julian led strikes against the Gothic raiding parties in prelude to the final blow. The Roman generals in the Balkans tried the same thing against the Goths. The biggest problem that the Romans ran into against the Goths was the sheer size of the host they were fighting. Arnrnianus frequently highlights the number of Gothic warriors and how they frequently overwhelmed the Romans through sheer mass.209 unfortunately, the numbers of barbarian soldiers invading the empire were frequently exaggerated, so Ammianus's account of the horde may not be completely reliable. What is

reliable is his depiction of the Gothic wagon laager. A wagon laager is a kind of improvised fortification in which a group of wagons are arranged in a large circle, forming a sort of rampart. Although temporary, a laager acted as a home base for an army on the move. The wagons were there in the first place because the Gothic army included a large proportion of non-combatants: women, the elderly, and children. The large role that the laager would play at Adrianople was amply predicted by the altercations before the battle. Every time the Romans fought the Goths, any victory that they might win over thein was negated by the Gothic ability to retreat to the safety of the laager.210 The Goths were a nation on the move, and with the laager acting as a home base, they had a convenient point to retreat in the face of defeat. The Alemanni home base was back across the Rhine,

208 Ammianus Marcellinus, 90

209Ammianus Marcellinus, 423-425

210 Ammianus Marcellinus, 423-425

the result of which was that when Julian defeated the Alemanni army he had no one left to fight on his side of the river.211 Had the Goths not had this defensive position to fall back to, the actual defeats inflicted on them by the Romans prior to Adrianople would have had some effect. A raiding force that sustained such defeats would have been gradually pushed back over the frontier, but a force like the Goths was only pushed back to its laager. What worked against the Alemanni was not working against the Goths. Instead, the Romans found themselves facing an enemy more like the Persians in the Amida campaign, only they did not fully realize it. What likens the Persian force that took Amida to the Gothic horde is that both had a certain amount of staying power. The Goths had their laager, while the Persians, fully prepared for siege efforts, were a large army capable of building their own field fortifications.

The solutions to both threats were the same, but for some reason the Romans were not up to the task in both cases. Ammianus goes on to criticize Valemns and the Roman generals for not attempting the use of harassment tactics against the Goths. From the reading of the narrative, it becomes easily apparent that the Romans were most successful when they did not actually engage the Goths directly. At a couple points, the Romans were able to isolate the Goths through the use of terrain and fortification^.^'^ Unfortunately, these were not successful because the Romans lacked the manpower because most units were still being transferred back from the Persian front. Had the Romans gotten such

211 Ammianus Marcellinus, 1 17

212Ammianus Marcellinus, 423,425,432

tactics to work, the hunger of the Gothic horde would have done their work for them.

The fighting quality of the units that engaged each other prior to the Battle of Adrianople must also be addressed. As was recently mentioned, Roman attacks against the Goths did not work in the same way that they had against the Alemanni. Alternate explanations could exist for why this was the case. One possibility could be that the Alemanni were inferior fighters compared to the Goths. Looking back on the conduct of the Alemanni in the Battle of Strasbourg, the ambush tactics, the infantry wedges, the routing of the heaviest Roman cavalry, it is more than apparent that the Alemanni were capable of holding their own against a Roman army. The question of whether the Goths were still better because they outfought the Romans in the actual battle will be dealt with during the discussion of the battle itself. The other possible explanation is that the Roman forces that engaged the Goths prior to Adrianople were of an inferior quality maybe even limitanei. Whether or not limitanei were present is difficult to tell because the first troops recorded taking the field against the Goths were units drawn from Gaul, Pannonia, and the Transalpine provinces. As far as fighting quality goes, many of the units were reported to be under strength.213 These troops were apparently enough to give the Roman commanders in the region confidence in their ability to take on the Gothic army. After waiting for an opportune time to attack, the Roman generals initiated a battle near the town of Salices. The battle between the infantry was standard fare: the Romans locked shields, the rear ranks hurled missiles, and the Roman reserve line stopped a Gothic

213 Ammianus Marcellinus, 423 105

In fact, Ammianus goes as far as to cite the extreme discipline of the Roman soldiers, who reportedly stayed in their positions and resisted the urge to sally forth and fight individually.215 The battle was apparently ended by the onset of nightfall. Interestingly enough, although cavalry was mentioned, it did not succeed in playing a decisive role, perhaps because no heavy cavalry was present; the cavalry is only recorded as riding down routers. It is possible that only light cavalry was involved in the battle, and as such were neither equipped, nor trained, to charge an infantry flank.216 Still, the conduct of the infantry in the battle was on par with the quality exhibited during the Battle of Strasbourg. Although the Romans were unable to route the Goths, the vexillation system proved its effectiveness in that quality units were transferred all the way from Gaul and the Alps to Thrace in time to engage the Goths in battle.

The Battle of Adrianople

When Valens finally arrived on the scene, the Roman forces in the region had fought a couple more inconclusive battles against the Goths, and Gratian had won a battle against some Alemami raider^."^

As has already been mentioned, Valens had a few options open to him in Thsace: wait for Gratian, harass the Goths, and/or attack the Goths immediately. Valens chose the bold option, partly for personal reasons already discussed, but also partly because Gratian was

214 Ammianus Marcellinus, 424

215 ibid, 424

216 ibid, 424-425

217 ibid, 431-432

delayed and Valens may not have wanted to delay ridding himself of the Gothic problem. Although none of his subordinates had fared exceedingly well against the Goths so far, there was nothing to say that Valens, like Julian, would not be able to decisively defeat the barbarians. As shall be demonstrated shortly, Valens did not correctly reckon the influence the Gothic wagon laager would have on the outcome of the battle. Valens knew of its existence, but pressed on to attack the Goths nonetheless.218

Traditionally, scholars fault Valens for how hard he pushed his army in his efforts to attack the Goths that day. Most cite the heat, the dust, the time of day, and the length of the march, in defence of the argument that the army was exhausted by the time it reached the scene.219 When Ammianus's narrative is read in more detail, however, some parts of that interpretation do not completely hold up. First of all, prior to Strasbourg, Julian actually marched his army a longer distance. Julian marched as much as twenty miles to reach the Alemanni at Strasbourg; Valens only had to march his army eight.220 Second of all, as much as the weather may have been fatigue inducing, the men of Valens army were trained professionals in good shape, and hard marching in full gear was what they were trained to do. The march to the battle was actually done without the packs and baggage that they would normally have carried. Vegetius even claimed that the traditional Roman legion could cover those same twenty miles in full gear in a space of five hours. 221 On the other hand, Ammianus does go out of his way to

218 ibid, 433

219 Arther Fenill, 60-62

220 Ammianus Marcellinus, 106,433

221 Adrian Goldsworthy, 80-8 1

describe how hot and dusty the day of battle was, to the extent that he even claims that the Goths fired much of the countryside to augment this affect.222 Then again, he also says that the battle was initiated by a segment of the army impulsively rushing forward. It would seem to make more sense that exhausted men would be inclined to rest and wait, rather than attack.223 There are most likely other interpretations of that particular incident, but the fact still remains that exhaustion does not completely explain why Valens was defeated at Adrianople. The problem that resulted from Valens's "forced march was actually quite similar to what happened to Harold the Saxon before the Battle of Astins.

Valens's march to the field was done in column; prior to Strasbourg, Julian marched his men to the battlefield in column as well. Julian, however, had time to actually deploy his men into formation. When an army of any significant size marches in column there is a significant time delay in when the different sections arrive on the scene, simply because so many men on the road. This lag in deployment is the reason why Union and Confederate divisions entered into the Battle of Gettysburg in increments identical to their marching order. A more or less contemporary example of how dangerous it was for an army, especially a Hellenistic one, to not have ample time to deploy its forces is the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. Cynoscephalae placed the Roman manipular legion against the Macedonian phalanx. The battle took place along a ridge that the Macedonians captured early on.

222 Ammianus Marcellinus. 434

223 Ammianus Marcellinus, 434

224 Harold's haste to face William the Conqueror at Hastings meant that Harold left

behind a good portion of his army, namely those who were still being mustered from other areas of Britain.

The Macedonians, however, were too eager to finish off the Romans, and advanced down the slope before their left wing fully deployed. Although successful in a frontal assault, the gap that developed between the main army and the left flank allowed a Roman maniple to slip into the gap and fatally flank the rest of the army.225 The relevance of Cynoscephalae to Adrianople is that both featured a right to left deployment of the army; the right wing moved out of column first and the left last. This may have had a lot to do with the greater prestige of the stronger right wing of the Hellenistic military.226

This theory is born out in Ammianus's description of the Roman order of battle at Adrianople. Ammianus specifically places the heavy Roman cavalry in the front of the column and the "greater part of the infantry" farther back in line.227 The left wing cavalry were making better time than the infantry, but were still struggling to get into position. The first units to deploy were the right cavalry wing, a unit of heavy infantry and the majority of the skirmishers. For some reason or another, these units charged the Gothic laager, and met with predictably poor results.228 Stopped cold by the fortifications, the Romans were thrown back by a combined Gothic infantry and cavalry assault. Fortunately, the Roman route was stopped by the arrival of new Roman heavy infantry. The Romans regrouped and pushed the Goths back to the laager. The Gothic repulse was only a temporary measure; the Goths had a safe, fortified position in which to shelter

225 Lawrence Keppie, The Making of the Roman Army, (Totowa: Barnes and Noble

Books, 1984) 41-43

226 John Lendon, 127-129

227 Ammianus Marcellinus, 433

228 ibid, 434

their cavalry and allow it to repeatedly sortie out and assault the Roman flanks.229. For a time, Roman repulses were also temporary, but unfortunately. they did not have stable walls or fortifications to fall back on, only the limited supply of men in the army. Each time the Romans fell back they regrouped behind the shields of a newly arrived unit. Such a sequence of events could not last forever, however; the Romans could not take the Gothic laager, and they were destined to run out of reinforcements eventually. Even when the Romans did run out of reinforcement, however, the infantry still held out as long as they could in the face of Gothic cavalry, infantry. and archers. Under such monumental pressure from all sides, the Roman route was only a matter of time. Somewhere during the confused melee, Valens met his end. 230

Picking Up the Pieces

The Battle of Adrianople was a failed gamble on the part of Valens. The Romans went into battle faced with a series of disadvantages that a competent commander would have been able to see. Roman haste and boldness on the attack were thwarted by the Gothic laager, which provided a fortified strongpoint for the Gothic infantry and cavalry to shelter behind. The Roman infantry were unable to take the fortifications by storm, and this singular fact doomed the operation to failure. Had Valens exerted better control over his army and ensured that the entire army had time to deploy, the battle might not have turned out so disastrously. The cohort system was much better adapted to handle the repulse of

229 ibid, 435

230 Ammianus Marcellinns, 436

the front infantry rank, in this case in the face of determined Gothic fortifications. Still, the fact that the Goths possessed a strong defensive position tilted the balance heavily in their favour. Had the Romans had a functioning battle line, however, there was a small chance that they could have swept aside the Gothic cavalry and surrounded the laager in a more organized fashion. Surrounding the laager could not have lasted forever, but it would have given the emperor a good position to bargain from. At the very least, an organized formation would have given the Romans the chance to make an orderly retreat. The Battle of Adrianople stands in counterpoint to the example of Strasbourg, and in doing so, illustrates the weaknesses that were inherent in the same military machine that won Strasbourg. Adrianople and the Persian siege of Amida highlight an important blind-spot in the Roman military of the fourth century. Both cases were major invasions of Roman territory, and both could have been handled better had the respective emperors not been distracted by events on other frontiers. In the case of Arnida, not enough initiative was taken by the Roman forces in the region under the command of Urscinus and Sabinian, the result being the Persian capture of the city. In the case of the Goths, the Roman commanders, generals and emperor alike, opted for the wrong type of initiative. They adhered too closely to the traditional Roman formula of taking

the fight to the enemy and thus resolving the situation quickly. Such attacks, even when marginally successful before Adrianople, had little permanent effect on the Goths; the Goths were consistently able to acquire new food stores and pillage new areas.

If there was one thing that the Roman Empire had trouble dealing with, it was full-scale invasion threats like those posed by the Persians and the Goths. If the Romans could not deal with the enemy in the course of a decisive battle, they had few other effective options. Roman boldness, even when at the expense of cunning, was not necessarily a fatal flaw. It had its advantages, and generally inspired Roman commanders to lead their men in courageous actions that, when combined with Roman logistical advantages, would more than likely succeed. The Romans of the fourth century were not all that different from the Roman commanders during the Second Punic War against Hannibal. The smart strategy used by the Roman leader Fabius was to avoid battle with Hannibal and instead starve him out. Such tactics were unpopular with the Roman senate, and Fabius was replaced with commanders who were more aggressive, and who subsequently played right into Hannibal's hands. What allowed the Romans the luxury of such bold action was the fact that they could replace men, and most importantly, leaders. This is where the imperial system ultimately ran into trouble. The empire could afford the bold action of the commanders prior to Adrianople because more men were on the way, and the potential loss of a general was replaceable. The fundamental fact of the empire was that the emperor was not so easily replaceable. The Roman military system could not afford such aggressive action in the army of the emperor because the stakes were too high; an operation that failed deprived the empire of its political nexus. The increased importance of the emperor by the fourth century only made military defeat of the emperor that much more dangerous.

After Adrianople

At first, the defeat of Valens at Adrianople was only a minor setback for the Romans, and even the victorious Goths gained very little in the immediate outcome. Events, however, quickly conspired to make the situation for the Romans increasingly more serious. The death of Valens at Adrianople created a political vacuum in the Eastern Empire that exacerbated the already difficult matter of dealing with a recalcitrant Gothic army. Political matters, plus the time it took to organize a new army delayed the Roman military response of the Gothic victory. Newly appointed by Gratian, Theodosius was unable to bring an army to bear for some time because the troops available to counter the Goths had been cut down on the field of Adrianople. Theodosius was forced to call upon less readily available forces to create a new army. Unfortunately for the Romans, Theodosius's new army fared little better than Valens's. The Goths were only brought to heel when they ventured too far to the west and were defeated in battle by Gratian.

Adrianople was such a blow to the empire because it destroyed an army that had been intended to close the gap in the imperial defenses that the Goths had created. Roman reluctance to engage in harassment operations, in preference for direct action, limited the army's ability to handle the threat of the Goths. The defeat of the two eastern imperial armies meant that the empire would have to until another significant army (Gratian's) became available to successfully deal with the problem. Roman preference for direct action in this case was ultimately

231 Peter Heather, The Fall ofthe Roman Empire, pp. 187-188

a gamble, because the Romans were betting that they could defeat the Goths in such a battle. Harassment might have been the better tactic because it played to Roman advantages in logistics and home territory. The destruction of the eastern armies was serious, not because it removed a key selection of elite troops, but rather because it removed most of the closest troops in the area. The battle destroyed most of the available troops in region; it wasn't so much the quality of the soldiers that were killed that mattered, but their numbers, and the distance replacements would have to march. The lengthy communication times continued to be a serious hindrance to the military flexibility of the empire. Adrianople was a strategic military disaster for the Romans because it hurt the chain of command through death of the emperor, and because it gave the Goths freedom of action because there were no more organized forces in the region (outside of Gratian's overextended forces) to effectively hinder their movements.

Fundamental Roman Problems

Overwhelming military force could not cover every theatre of action along the borders of the empire. As a result, the Romans were left with two choices; either the troops stationed in a region were enough to counter the invader, or a campaign army had to be assembled and called in. Roman strategy was reactionary by necessity. Edward Luttwak is right in the respect that the Roman military situation became severely disadvantaged when responsibility for the protection of the long frontier transferred from the client states to the Roman army.232 Military victories could only preserve this status quo and never advance it; the fourth century is rife with successful campaigns against barbarian tribes who could be cowed, but would most likely cause trouble again in as little as two years. Julian handily defeated the Alemanni and they were still a problem for Valentinian and Gratian.

As lackluster as victories were for the Romans in this context, serious defeats that either conquered a fortified place or wiped out a significant army were far from preferable. Not only were they embarrassing to an emperor trying to show that he was better than other Roman commanders, but they also necessitated a costly redeployment of forces throughout the empire. The Romans had access to reserves of manpower, what they did not have was the time that it took to get those men there. It is really easy to see how this

state of affairs got roped in with the comitatensis/limitanei argument. The reaction pattern is the same; invader breaks through, local forces can't handle it, large army called in to save the day. Ferrill, however, reads too much into the special status of the comitatensis army; the "comitatensis" was not supposed to be the only good troops in the empire, just the ones that were drawn together for the purpose of a campaign. Valens sent elite troops, Armenian legions, to Thrace to aid local forces before Adrianople. The fact that Theodosius was defeated when he went against the Goths does not prove that he was using inferior soldiers, because the Goths had already beaten the supposedly superior army of Valens. Theodosius's army could have been just as potent and still gone down in defeat if it was led incorrectly, like it had been at Adrianople.

232 Edward Luttwak, 190-191

233 Ammianus Marcellinus, 144, 3 19,432

The military situation created by the defeat at Adrianople and its unsatisfactory aftermath paved the way for the political settlement that dealt the real long-term damage to the empire. The Romans were forced to accept a semi- autonomous Gothic tribe settled on imperial land with only the promise that the Goths would provide soldiers in time of war. What made this a problem for the Romans is quickly obvious; the same Goths who Theodosius settled in Illyria sacked Rome in 410 However, such an answer oversimplifies the matter. From a structural viewpoint, the Gothic sack of Rome was not the fundamental problem; the problem was the precedent of such political incorporation.

The fifth century AD saw an increasing number of barbarian tribes co-opted into the empire in the same way as the Goths. By maintaining the political integrity of these tribes by incorporating them in such a way, the Romans were unable to override the individual agendas of the tribes. A desire for refuge from the Huns, and the chance to partake in the economic wealth of Rome, were the agendas that originally brought the tribes inside the empire.'35 Although the details of the agendas changed over time, the basic principle remained the same. When the Goths, this time under a general named Alaric, caused trouble for the Romans again in AD 408, the agenda was to effectively rewrite the terms of the original Romano-Gothic agreement and acquire better rights and territory for the Goths . Similar movements took place when the Visigoths and Vandals migrated from southern Gaul to southern Spain in the fifth century.237 The fact was that the

234 Peter Heather, 190

235 Ammianus Marcellinus, 41 6

236 Peter Heather, 229-23 1

237ibid, p. 206

Romans inadvertently preserved barbarian agendas, not in line with the Roman agenda, through this method of incorporation. This difference in agenda between barbarians and the central government should not be so surprising; the Postumus and Odenathus in the third century showed that even Roman provinces could have

agendas different from imperial policy.

Forward to The Fifth Century

The reason why the Western Empire became host to future barbaric kingdoms and the East did not was that the Western Empire was weak at the wrong time. Up until the reign of the Theodosius, the Western Empire had a fairly decent record as far as its army was concerned. Indeed, the Gaul-raised contingents of the empire were highly regarded as excellent soldiers. Although Gaul and Raetia (modern Austria) were frequent targets of barbarian raids, the

East had an equal share, facing threats across the Danube and the Syrian frontier.

It was after the reign of Theodosius that political dominancy shifted to the East,

and the Western Empire lost its martial reputation.238 Prior to Theodosius, strong

emperors were also associated with the Western Empire; Constantine and Julian both came from the West, and Valentinian (the senior to Valens) and Gratian (senior to Theodosius) ruled the West.

This association had a lot to do with circumstance. In the early examples,

Constantine and Julian, both arose as strong imperial contenders in the West because the emperor was in the East. Both halves of the empire saw conflict, but

it was the East that faced Persia and was the greater threat. As a result, in the

238 Arther Ferrill, 83-85 117

early stages of the fourth century, the emperor oriented himself in the East, which left only the West open for a contender to emerge from; the personal presence of the emperor in the East decreased the likelihood of a contender in that theatre. Valentinian and Gratian, however, were strong candidates who made their residence in the West. This had a lot to do with increasing trouble on the Rhine frontier during the latter half of the fourth century; the Hunnic advances that had displaced the Goths in AD 376 were now making their presence felt closer to the Rhine, in Central Europe.'

The fifth century AD saw a decided shift in the power relationship between the East and the West. The declining importance of the West began with the last major clash between imperial forces, the Battle of the Frigid River. Frigid River was fought between the Army of the East, augmented by Gothic contingents, led by Theodosius, against the generalissimo of the West. The details of the battle are not as important as what the legacy of the battle was. The battle came at a point when the Western Empire was lacking in strong imperial leadership. The Emperor Gratian died in AD 383 as the result of a military coup that placed a man named Magnus Maximus in control of the Western army. Gratian7s "legal" heir, his son Valentinian II, appealed to Theodosius for aid, and the eastern emperor was more than forthcoming. Theodosius marched west and defeated the usurper Maximus in Italy. Not long thereafter, however, Valentinian

head west and defeat the Western army at the Battle of the Frigid River."

239 Peter Heather, 203-205

240 Arther Ferrill, 7 1-73

Had the West not been faced with barbarian incursions that occurred at the turn of the century, it might have been able to gets its politics back in order."' The empire had faced such a monumental crisis during the reign of Gallienus, who from his central position in Italy laid the strategic groundwork for the reincorporation of the Western and Eastern frontiers.

In the fifth century, however, the nexus of power drifted permanently to the East because the West, as an entity, was weak. As a result, reincorporation of imperial power would be couched in terms of what was strategically best for the East, and that quickly translated itself into a subordinate position for the ruler of West. Eventually, the Eastern Emperor would condone a general of barbarian origin to rule what remained of the imperial West in place of an emperor.242

Weaknesses of the Imperial System

One of the single biggest problems that faced the Roman Empire during the fourth century AD was the strategic overextension of its military-political complex. This was hardly a new phenomenon, however; the third century had seen the same sort of overextension. The empire was strategically overextended by the necessity of facing so many threats, so far apart, and to do so quite frequently. Constantius II was distracted on the Danube and the Persians were able to mount a campaign practically unopposed. He was then prevented from crushing the upstart Julian because he was on the other side of the empire trying to correct the Persian problem. Valens was not immediately on the scene in

241 Peter Heather, 195-200

242 ibid, 386-388,429-430

Thrace because he was in the east preparing to finish the Persian job, the one started by Constantius, exacerbated by Julian's failed campaign and the hasty peace signed by Julian's successor Jovian. The influence of Sassanid Persia on the events of the fourth century in the Roman empire should not be underestimated. Similar to the way that the Romans inadvertently brought down the Parthian dynasty two centuries earlier, the Sassanids constantly drew Roman attention eastward from the third century onward. Like the situation beyond the rivers to the north, the heart of the matter was that the Romans could not deliver a finishing blow to the Persians. Julian marched his men right to the Sassanid capital, defeated the Persian army in battle, and still failed in the end.243 Overextension on a strategic level was not particularly helped by the fact that political and military authority was highly centralized into the person of the emperor. The emperor of the later empire was an absolute Ruler to a greater

degree than he had been in the earlier empire. The crisis of the third century showed that the authority of the imperial mantle was what kept the empire together politically and militarily. The actions of the emperor impacted every other aspect of Roman political life because the emperor was the highest arbiter of political influence.

In the fourth century, these characteristics were augmented by the actions of Diocletian and Constantine, who attempted to solve one weakness of the imperial system and in doing so merely opened the door for another. Diocletian and Constantine tried to shift the balance of power in the direction of the emperor. The emperor was re-envisioned by a combination of Persian absolute monarchy and Christian dogma. In the political arena, Diocletian and

243 Ammianus Marcellinus, 280-282,285-286

Constantine attempted to solve the problem of imperial political chaos by increasing the power and importance of the emperor. Centralization of power into the emperor was a double-edged sword. The events of the third and fourth century can be illuminated by one single phrase "the emperor cannot be in two places at once." The emperor could be very effective where he was, but there were too many places in the empire that required his attention. As his importance increased, his ability to actually help the different areas of the empire decreased as long communication links diluted his effectiveness.

One famous example was the Libyan incident that took place during Valentinian's reign from around AD 363 to 377. Libya was under threat from nomadic tribes raiding settlements on the frontier. The central government sent aid (money for soldiers and supplies) to the province, which was quickly diverted into the pockets of the governor." The citizens appealed to the only body that could address both the old and new grievances: the emperor himself. Valentinian received the delegation, and sent a lieutenant to investigate. The lieutenant was bribed and brought back a fictitious report to the emperor; the delegation from the citizens was executed shortly thereafter. It was only after several years had gone by that a new investigation brought the truth of the matters to light.245 Corruption of this sort was, nor is, unique to the Roman Empire. Rather. What the example illustrates, is that although had the reputation of a political arbiter, his actual effectiveness could be severely limited by the vagaries of communication; he obviously couldn't go investigate himself, he had to send someone else, and so

244 Ammianus Marcellinus, 363-368

245 Peter Heather, 100- 102

the truth of the matter was diluted. Corruption is always a problem in any society, but what makes it so serious in this case is that there were no alternate routes of redress. Corruption can be handled so long as there are many paths to political satisfaction; if one is bribed or obstructed, then another one can be used to lessen

the damage of corruption. In the Roman case, however, corruption became more serious because the one path, the path to the emperor, could be very easily obstructed. Corruption, however, did not bring down the empire, but it's dynamics during the period help to illustrate a fundamental weakness that pervaded the entire political structure. Although Diocletian's tetrarchy system went a long way towards solving the problem of where direct imperial authority could be, it was ultimately not up to the formidable political task of the fourth century.

Diocletian was successful in that the empire of the fourth century had more emperors in the field than was previously the case. However, Diocletian was unsuccessful in his bid to reduce serious competition between imperial candidates. Constantine. Constantius, Julian, and Valentinian, the majority of Diocletim's immediate successors, all had to fight for their imperial seat. Indeed, it was only with Valentinian, and the second half of the century, that the idea of the imperial colleague actually gained some traction with the appointment of a colleague emperor (Valens), and a co- emperorheir (Gratian). Constantius, it must be said, had tried, but both his serious attempts at creating an imperial partner failed in the end (Julian). The increased power and influence of the imperial office in the fourth century only raised the stakes in any struggle for the purple.

The Military Concluded

Changes in the political realm were mirrored by developments in the military arena. At the same time that the status of the emperor was being re-evaluated, the way that Roman generals prosecuted war was also changing. The army of the fourth century was a unique blend of older Hellenistic and Roman military traditions. The Hellenistic blend evolved in part because the literary works that educated Romans studied in the empire were written by Greek Hellenistic scholars, many of whom wrote about leaders and battles. Rome's absorption of the Eastern Mediterranean, with its Greek culture, large exotic populations, and military traditions had a decided effect on the evolution of the empire's military. The Hellenistic system was a viable and effective military style that the Romans eventually used to augment their own formidable style. Both styles required a tradition of tough infantry, which in the Hellenistic case, was combined with the skillful cavalry that could be accessed through imperial expansion. Rome's adoption of Hellenistic type units was in many ways a response to the greater diversity of soldiers that a large empire could call upon. There was no fundamental reason for the empire to envision a battle line that was lacking in cavalry, infantry, or archery. Such were the foundations of the army of the fourth century.

The Roman Army of the fourth century AD was not the decaying force that Vegetius would have us believe. The political structure of the empire was still strong in the century, and as a result, the military was still well funded, and appropriately well motivated. Rome still possessed a professional army that was

more than a match, man for man, than anything facing it.

In addition, the empire also possessed a solid logistical system that allowed the military to handle multiple foreign threats. The army still suffered defeats, sometimes at the hands of people who it perhaps should not have, but this was not a problem. The Roman army had a long history sf significant defeats as well as impressive victories; a defeated Roman army was not something new. What were ultimately new were the political results of key military failures.

It must be remembered that military contests are only significant when they are matched with political outcomes. Individual defeats are meaningless until politics is decided one way or the other. Militarily, the empire was not seriously threatened by any of its external enemies, even Persia. Although the Sassanids were able to mount devastating invasions of Roman Syria, the empire's strategic position in the East would not be seriously threatened by anything less than a massive loss of territory.

The Roman army was not without weaknesses, and it was these problems, not the ones framed by Ferrill, that helped bring about the collapse of the empire. One significant problem with the tactics of the Roman military was that it was not effective in utilizing harassment style warfare, because it conflicted with the Roman predilection for decisive action. On the small scale it is difficult for archeology and history to determine if localized bands or defense forces performed their own harassment of invaders, and as such will always be an opening in this argument. On the large scale, however, in the context of serious invasions, the answers to which were directed by high-level figures like emperors or magistrates, the Romans were decidedly reluctant to undertake harassment tactics. In the case of the Amida siege, it was political jealousy prevented a general astute enough to realize the wisdom of such tactics from utilizing them. Prior to Adrianople, Roman commanders opted for more direct confrontations, perhaps for more glory, perhaps for other reasons.

Had the Romans used these tactics, it is possible that the military situation would not have turned out badly, and the political consequences would not have been so adverse. Whether or not they would have been effective, the fact remains that this Roman oversight limited their tactical options when facing large-scale invasions. Small-scale invasions, ones that had no designs on territory, the Romans could reasonably handle; it was the large scale ones, the ones that had a greater will to stay in Roman territory that required the full measure of Roman tactical finesse. The Romans in the republic and early empire never relied upon their armies being victorious all time. The fault of the fourth century was that as well designed as the Roman/Hellenistic blend was, it was not infallible, and should not have been expected to constantly deliver victory. Yet, victory was what the bold tendencies of the fourth century military required, and therein lay a major problem with Roman reluctance to utilize other tactics.

A Final Word on the Roman Empire

The ultimate problem with such an intimate association between military and politics is that it increases the number of ways that one can hinder the other. All states face this problem in some way or another, but it was the unique position of the emperor that destabilized the balance in the Roman Empire. Battles are always risky, but when the emperor is also the general, battles automatically have a political importance. Victory in battle is a good way to boost one's imperial influence, but by the same token, military defeat can embarrass the emperor at best, and kill him at worst. The Hellenistic command method did little to lessen this inherent danger. The Hellenistic commander had both command and combat responsibilities on the battlefield; the fighting emperor was often a decisive 246 tactical and morale-boosting forces. Counter to these advantages, however, was the fact that by leading from the front, the Hellenistic commander put himself at tremendous risk. Once again, in the hands of a competent leader, one who could fight and lead well, the Hellenistic-Roman system worked splendidly.

However, in the hands of one who was not up to the task, the system ran into trouble and the consequences could be tremendous. On its most general level, the Roman political-military system ran on a number of gambles that were, admittedly, not necessarily intentional. The Hellenistic-Roman military style gave a lot of power to a general who could fight as well as command. That same style had the nasty tendency to put the commander in the thick of fighting and in a position of greater danger. These same characteristics applied to Roman dynamics of imperial rule. The Roman political system put a large amount of power and responsibility into the hands of the emperor.

In the hands of someone who smart enough to outwit rivals, courageous enough to lead armies, and diligent enough to keep on top of what must have been mountains of legislative paperwork, that system worked well.

246 John Lendon, 147-148

Like all monarchies, the position of the emperor was designed give the most amount of power to the right man so that he could do what needed to be done with the least difficulty. Unfortunately, this system was plagued by two inherent problems. The first was that the size of the empire made it actually more difficult for one man to keep track of so many events taking place in so many far off places. Diocletian's tetrarchy tried to solve this problem, and might have if it had not immediately run into trouble with competition between emperors. The second was that the emperor might not always be the strongest man for the job. Ideally, in the wake of the tetrarchy experiment, emperors chose their imperial colleagues and their successors. Their choices, however, may not have always been made with the idea of bringing someone strong enough to compete with them into power. Whatever the reason, the fact was that the empire was bound to sun into a

situation in which it effectively centralized a great deal of power to someone who was not up to the entirety of the task.

Problems in the military and political leadership combined themselves in the context of the Battle of Adrianople. Ammianus provides his own opinion on the qualities of Valens, some of which may have been tsue, and some of which may have not.*" Regardless, the weight of responsibility for defeat at Adrianople rests with Valens, who did not prove himself up to the task of defeating the Goths that day. Valens rashly chose to engage a fortified position, which housed a very large and very prepared enemy force, with an asmy that was not fully deployed.

Even if he was not responsible for the rash initial attack, Valens, as emperor, should still have been in better control of his army. The political aspects came

247 Ammianus Marcellinus, 437-439

into play with the death of Valens. The initial political failure of the battle was that the emperor was unable to escape the defeat and deprived the empire of half of its necessary centralized leadership. Considering the stakes of succession, and the importance of having an emperor who ran the political machinery of advancement through patronage, Valens's death in battle was a needless loss. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that Roman emperors could have avoided the dangers of battle. Entrusting military victory to any subordinates would ultimately have created powerful men with enough support in the army to challenge the emperor; it had happened plenty of times before in Roman history.

Conversely, if the emperor attempted to limit the power of these same subordinates, he would have quickly weakened the military position of the empire by depriving it of competent field commanders. The fact was that the Roman empire at that time could not house a peaceful emperor and a warmongering my. A warlike emperor was the only solution to the problem, but was unfortunately one that came with its own inherent disadvantages.

Geofre Schoradt The Legion Re-Envisioned


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