The Defense Strategy of the Late Roman Empire – Arther Ferrill

Synopsis:

Defense strategy in the Roman Empire following the Crisis of the Third Century evolved considerably from the earlier preclusive security apparatus of Hadrian – which emphasized a synthesis of passive and active defense along mostly static lines of effort. Arther Ferrill credits the Emperor Constantine with the transition from the preclusive ideal to a novel defense-in-depth approach, which offered weakened frontier defenses in favor of large mobile field armies. This new model Roman army allowed more centralized control for the Emperor – as well as greater personal security – but with a vastly less controlled border region for the Empire.

Excerpts:

“Such obvious advantages, reflecting organization of war-making capacity far beyond that of Rome’s potential opponents, gave the Roman armies a psychological edge, a superiority in morale, often sufficient in itself to deter hostile military action. In the great days of the second century, with an army of about 300,000, the Romans defended an empire of some 50,000,000 people living in the Mediterranean basin.

“More than anything else Roman grand strategy in the High Roman Empire was based on the tactical superiority of the Roman army against all potential foes. To that extent the famous walls and fortresses can be misleading. The army, not the walls or forts, defended the frontiers.

“Roman grand strategy of the second century was predicated on political stability – preclusive security requires the presence of the legions on the frontiers. Civil war and rebellion, especially when they became endemic, diverted legions from the frontiers to the interior, creating marvelous opportunities for enemies across the border. That is what happened in the third century.

“The big change in Roman grand strategy came with Constantine the Great. As Zosimus claimed in the passage quoted above, Constantine organized a large mobile field army (probably 100,000 or more), stationed centrally, by withdrawing units from the frontiers, leaving them in a weakened condition. Zosimus saw this modification of traditional Roman grand strategy as catastrophic, an interpretation endorsed by Gibbon.

“The worst feature of the defense-in-depth is that inevitably the central mobile army will become an elite force and the frontier defenders merely second rate actors in defense policy. Troops that are not expected to defeat the enemy can hardly be blamed for wanting to avoid him altogether.

*All excerpts have been taken from Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, Thames and Hudson Inc.

Theodosius and the Antibarbarian Reaction – Alessandro Barbero

Synopsis:

The Battle of Adrianople in 378 often signals a key crossroad in the history of the late Roman Empire, but Alessandro Barbero lays out a somewhat different narrative in his book The Day of the Barbarians. Barbero examines the event within a three century context, and chronicles the cultural evolution of Roman civilization leading up to the battle – as well as the civilizational reaction following the final peace agreement with the Goths. As Roman power began to decline in the fifth century the long ignored aristocracy of Rome began to reassert itself by becoming the foremost voice of the anti-barbarian reaction.

Excerpts:

“In the dissatisfaction that the Greek East felt at the political and military hegemony of the Latin West lay the seeds of competition – if not hostility – between the two parts of the Roman Empire; those seeds would not fail to produce fruit, and soon.

“All the rhetoric about the universality of the empire, about its capacity for assimilation, was trotted out to demonstrate that Theodosius had made the right choice. And, to be clear, it wasn’t all empty rhetoric; to a certain degree, that capacity for assimilation genuinely existed.

“The army, which was a community, seemed like the perfect machine for handling this integration process. It absorbed barbarians, ground them down, and transformed them into Roman veterans, into the men whom emperors in their public discourses addressed as ‘comrades in arms’ and who constituted the real pillar of the empire.

“In certain regions of the empire, where the mercenaries had completely replaced the units of the regular army, the change was reflected in the language itself: In Syriac, starting at the end of the fourth century, the word for ‘soldier’ became Goth.

“Most people ultimately shared the assumptions about the empire’s ability to assimilate the barbarians but resisted granting them too much power too quickly and thereby abdicating the civilizing mission of the empire.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire, Walker & Company.

On Living in Accordance with Nature – Cicero

Synopsis:

In Book One of On Duties Cicero examines the vital center of Stoicism – i.e. living in accordance with human nature. According to Cicero, human nature is underpinned by human action, and human action is supported by reason. Likewise, reason is balanced by virtue.

Excerpts:

“A salient characteristic of humankind is our quest for truth. When we are free from necessary care and labor, we long to see, hear, and learn, and we regard knowledge of hidden and marvelous matters as essential to a happy life.

“For whenever it’s impossible for the majority to excel, competition becomes so intense that it’s extremely difficult to maintain the sacred bond of social order.

“For it is appropriate to refer to the basic elements of justice I described at the outset: first, not to harm anyone; second, to be of service to the common good.

“Of the two sources of injury, force and fraud, fraud is fit for foxes, force for lions, and neither is at all suited to human beings.

“The Stoics are thus correct to define courage as virtue struggling on behalf of fairness. This is why a person who acquires a reputation for courage through treachery or foul play does not deserve praise. For nothing is honorable if it is devoid of justice.

*All excerpts have been taken from Cicero: On Living and Dying Well, Penguin Classics.

Julian the Apostate in Gaul – Adrian Goldsworthy

Synopsis:

When Julian was elevated to the rank of Caesar by his cousin Constantius II it was for the purpose of countering continuous and destructive Germanic raiding into Roman Gaul. Julian had been brought up – and educated – in isolation in Cappadocia, and had survived the dynastic purges of the Constantinian dynasty by Constantius II. This reality made Julian the only option left for Constantius if he wished to have a member of his own dynasty raised to the position of Caesar – because Constantius had no sons.

Julian was an introverted intellectual with no military background, and was not intended to take on an active role within the campaign against the Germans – i.e. Julian was to act only as a figurehead for Constantius. Unexpectedly, Julian quickly took command of the campaign and achieved staggering battlefield successes in Gaul, as well as in Germany. Later, as sole Emperor of the Roman Empire Julian attempted to roll-back Christianity, and return to the primacy of Roman paganism – which earned him his famous cognomen of ‘the Apostate’ from Christian writers.

Excerpts:

“In the years before Julian’s appointment as Caesar the frontier along the Rhine and Upper Danube had been stripped of many of its garrisons as men were drawn off to fight in the civil wars. Roman weakness was confirmed when barbarian raiders were able to penetrate deep into the settled provinces and come back with plunder and glory.

“The army of the fourth century was geared towards warfare on a relatively small scale, an impression which Julian’s operations in Gaul confirm.

“In the third and fourth centuries many communities which had not felt the need of fortifications in the early Principate acquired walls. Simultaneously the army was putting far more effort into constructing strong ramparts and projecting towers around its bases. Defence was a much higher priority than it had been in earlier centuries.

“The Roman plan was to launch a major offensive against the Alamani, Julian attacking from the north and Barbatio from the south. Indirect pressure would also be put on the Alamanni by the Augustus’ own operations from Raetia on the Upper Danube.

“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the soldiers of the fourth century were all too aware of their capacity to dispose of any general and replace him with an alternative of their own choosing, and as a result felt very free to express their opinion.

*All excerpts have been taken from In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, Orion Publishing Group.

Ostrogothic Italy – J.B. Bury

Synopsis:

Born into the Ostrogothic nobility, but raised among the Roman aristocratic elite of Constantinople, Theodoric the Great embodies the synthesis of two disparate civilizations. Theodoric had been educated at the Pandidakterion in Constantinople, and was a Roman citizen. However, he captured fame as a Gothic warlord who united the fragmented Ostrogothic people under his rule, and was later directed to conquer the Italian peninsula by the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno.

Ruling Italy as – officially – a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Emperor, Theodoric was in reality a Western Roman Emperor in all but name. Although nominally a barbarian by birth Theodoric’s reign in Italy had considerable continuity with the institutional mores of the Western Roman Emperors of the fifth century, and he expertly balanced Roman culture with Gothic culture to advance a calibrated fusion of both.

Excerpts:

“The formal relation of Italy to the Empire, both under Odovacar and under Theoderic, was much closer and clearer than that of any other of the states ruled by Germans. Although practically independent, it was regarded officially both at Rome and at Constantinople as part of the Empire in the fullest sense.

“Now what about the highest office of all, that of Master of Soldiers? Under Odovacar we hear of Masters of Soldiers. But under Ostrogothic rule no Master of Soldiers is mentioned. The generals employed by Theoderic are not described by this title… The solution, as Mommsen has shown, is that Theoderic himself was the magister militum. He had, as we saw, received that title – magister militum praesentalis – from Zeno ten years before he conquered Italy; he bore it when he conquered Italy, and he continued to retain it while he ruled Italy. It is intelligible that he did not designate himself by this title, because his powers as ruler of Italy far exceeded the powers of the most powerful magister militum; but this does not mean that he gave the office up.

“The senate continued to exist under the Ostrogothic kings, and to perform the same functions as it had performed throughout the fifth century. It was still formally recognised as a sovereign body… The constitutional difference between a senator and the emperor was that the senator was under the law and the emperor was not. But only the senators of the highest class, the illustres, had the right of voting, and as this class consisted of men who held the highest state offices, and were appointed by the emperor, it was the emperor who nominated the senators. Such was the constitutional position of the senate: politically it had no power, and its functions were practically confined to the affairs of Rome.

“In Procopius, it is expressly stated by representatives of the Goths, that neither Theoderic nor any of the Gothic rulers issued a law. This statement involves the admission that the right of legislation was the supreme prerogative of the emperor. And there is no formal contradiction between this statement and the fact that ordinances of Theoderic exist. None of these ordinances are designated as leges. They are only edicta… In legislation, the position of Theoderic as an official of the empire is clear and unmistakable, and it is remarkable how loyally he adhered to the capitulations.

“The essential fact is that the constitutional system of administration which Theoderic adopted and observed was not a necessity to which he reluctantly or half-heartedly yielded; it was a system in which he was a convinced believer, and into the working of which he threw his whole heart and his best energies. His avowed political object was to civilise his own people in the environment of Roman civilisation.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians, Endeavour Press Ltd.

Abolition of the Philosophical Schools at Athens by Justinian – George Finlay

Synopsis:

George Finlay’s illustrious, and nuanced book on the history of the Greek people is a landmark triumph for Western civilization. He surveys the history of the Greeks from the time of the Roman conquest until his own time in the middle of the nineteenth century. Finlay examines cultural, political, as well as military metamorphoses in Greek civilization, and how these developments evolved over the centuries. He touches upon almost everything including the abolition of the philosophical schools at Athens by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the early sixth century.

The abolition happened early in Justinian’s reign – i.e. before the plague, and the wars – and for this reason has somewhat perplexed historians. Finlay finds fault with policy for the decision, which was rooted in Justinian’s conceivable wish to make the newly established University of Constantinople – i.e. the Pandidakterion – the premier intellectual institution in the Roman Empire. However, the decision may also have been influenced by Justinian’s campaign against crypto-paganism within the empire.

Excerpts:

“History tells us that Athens prospered, and that her schools were frequented by many eminent men long after the ravages of Alaric and the visit of Synesius. The empress Eudocia (Athenais) was a year old, and Synesius might have seen in a nurse’s arms the infant who received at Athens the education which made her one of the most accomplished ladies of a brilliant and luxurious court, as well as a person of learning, even without reference to her sex and rank.

“St. John Chrysostom informs us that, in the court of the first Eudocia, the mother of Pulcheria, a knowledge of dress, embroidery, and music, were considered the most important objects on which taste could be displayed; but that to converse with elegance, and to compose pretty verses, were regarded as necessary proofs of intellectual superiority.

“When the members of the native aristocracy in Greece found that they were excluded by the Romans from the civil and military service of the State, they devoted themselves to literature and philosophy. It became the tone of a good society to be pedantic. The wealth and fame of Herodes Atticus have rendered him the type of the Greek aristocratic philosophers.

“Antoninus Pius increased the public importance of the schools of Athens, and gave them an official character, by allowing the professors named by the emperor an annual salary of ten thousand drachmas. Marcus Aurelius, who visited Athens on his return from the East after the rebellion of Avidius Cassius, established official teachers of every kind of learning then publicly taught, and organized the philosophers into a university. Scholarchs were appointed for the four great philosophical sects of the stoics, platonists, peripatetics, and epicureans, who received fixed salaries from the government. The wealth and avarice of the Athenian philosophers became after this common subjects of envy and reproach. Many names of some eminence in literature might be cited as connected with the Athenian schools during the second and third centuries; but to show the universal character of the studies pursued, and the freedom of inquiry that was allowed, it is only necessary to mention the Christian writers Quadratus, Aristeides, and Athenagoras, who shared with their heathen contemporaries the fame and patronage of which Athens could dispose.

“At last, in the year 529, Justinian confiscated all the funds devoted to philosophic instructions at Athens, closed the schools, and seized the endowments of the academy of Plato, which had maintained an uninterrupted succession of teachers for nearly nine hundred years. The last teacher enjoyed an annual revenue of one thousand gold solidi, but it is probable that he wandered in a deserted grove, and lectured in an empty hall.

*All excerpts have been taken from Greece Under the Romans B.C. 146 – A.D. 716, Cristo Raúl.

A Military Life of Constantine the Great – Ian Hughes

Synopsis:

Emerging from the Third Century Crisis, the Roman Empire and its military underwent a cultural revolution of colossal breadth. The era before the transition is recognized as the ‘Principate’ – i.e. rule by the First Citizen – and the era after as the ‘Dominate’ – i.e. rule by despot. This evolution was necessary for the autocracy of the Roman central government, because of the unremitting dynastic chaos of the Third Century Crisis. The architects of the revolution were the Emperors Diocletian, and Constantine.

Diocletian created an institutional division between civil and military offices – beforehand the two had often been fused – increased the administrative capacity of the central government, and humbled the Roman aristocracy. Constantine sought to unify the state under a single religious faith – Christianity – as well as establish an enduring administrative division between the Greek East and Latin West of the Roman Empire by founding a second capital city – Nova Roma or Constantinople – with its own Senate. Ian Hughes chronicles all of these events in his book, but with special attention given to the revolution in military affairs which took place under the two Emperors.

Excerpts:

“Modern estimates suggest that the number of legions probably doubled between the reigns of Severus and Diocletian, and by the time of the Notitia Dignitatum (early-fifth century) the 30 legions of the Early Empire had grown to more than 200.

“It has been noted that cavalry only has a ‘strategic mobility’ – the ability to march and retain the capability to fight effectively – that is superior to infantry over short distances. Over longer distances – for example, any march taking around a week or longer to complete – cavalry actually have a lower mobility due to the need to rest the horses, so in reality their strategic mobility is actually less than that of infantry. These questions have resulted in the whole idea of a ‘mobile cavalry force’ being seriously doubted.

“The chaos and confusion caused by piecemeal reforms and temporary solutions to short-lived problems in the third century resulted in the Roman army becoming a disorganized and inefficient organization. Despite it winning many battles in the third century, it was hardly capable of protecting the frontiers from the ‘Germanic’ tribes to the north, the Sasanid Persians to the east or even the Blemmye to the south.

“…it is possible to infer that both Maxentius and Daia offered better pay, higher donatives and better retirement benefits than their opponents. However, the fact that these troops were still easily defeated at the Battles of the Milvian Bridge and Tzirallum suggests that, despite the financial benefits, the troops’ opinion of their emperors was low. The further implication is that, rather than being generous, in order to retain their troops in their service the two emperors had little option but to increase their pay and benefits… It is the morale and readiness to fight and die for their emperors that were the main reasons for the victories of both Constantine and Licinius, not Constantine’s access to new types of troops.

“Their ability to plan and finance large-scale military campaigns, alongside their ‘sound and sophisticated logistical organization’, was only equaled by the capabilities of the Sasanid Persian Empire. Rather than simply attempting to defeat an enemy or conduct a raid, the Romans were capable of ‘having goals, knowing routes, terrain and the type and strength of the opposition’, meaning that their campaigns could be focused and their intended outcome clear. Of equal importance, they could gain intelligence concerning enemy location, direction and intentions, either through the means of informers or from the fact that an army on the move deployed a screen of light cavalry to gain information and screen the main body as it marched.

*All excerpts have been taken from A Military Life of Constantine the Great, Pen and Sword.