Contents Introduction 7 Chronology 10 Background to war Controlling the empire 12 Warring sides Inside and outside the empire 19 Outbreak Creating crisis 27 The fighting Challenges to empire 34 Portraits of soldiers Brothers in arms 62 The world around war Impact of conflict 67 Portraits of civilians Notable individuals 77 How the war ended Making new boundaries 81 Conclusions and consequences Roman legacies 86 Further reading 92 Index 94
IntroductionIn the early third century AD the Roman the Balkans, with specific leaders emerging inEmpire stretched from Scotland to the Sahara certain areas: Bulgars in the north-east, Serbsand to the northern River Tigris - an enormous and Croats in the north-west. In Italy theimperial enterprise and the most powerful Lombard kingdom, based in the Po valley,state in the world. Four centuries later the fragmented authority in the peninsula, andEmpire had shrunk to consist of Anatolia, the so it remained until reunification in theAegean fringes of the Balkans and limited 19th century. Franks controlled Gaul, thoughterritories in Italy around Rome and Ravenna. it was usually split between different branchesStill strong in Mediterranean terms, it was of the ruling Merovingian dynasty. In theforced to confront and interact with a variety Iberian peninsula the Visigoths hadof new powers. To the east Arabs, inspired by established authority, sometimes tenuously,Islam, had overrun the Levant and Egypt, as over the groups who had settled during thewell as the Persian kingdom. More than a fifth century; however, their switch frommillennium of conflict between Islamic east Arian to Nicene Christianity in the seventhand Christian west was introduced as Arabwarriors pushed westwards through North The Emperor Theodosius and his family receive tokens of submission from barbarians while seated in theAfrica and into Spain and regularly raided imperial box at the hippodrome. From the base oftowards Constantinople. Slav tribes the obelisk at the Hippodrome in Constantinople.established themselves throughout much of (Ancient Art and Architecture)
Essential Histories • Rome at Warcentury provided a force for unity whichwould survive centuries of conflict withMuslim invaders. The British Isles presentedanother mosaic, with Saxons increasinglydominant in the south and east, Britonsholding on in the west, and rival Pictish andScottish kingdoms in control of southernScotland. Here again religion offered hope forfuture unity, with the Saxons progressivelyconverted through the Roman mission basedat Canterbury and the Celtic Church, whichwas dominant in Ireland, Scotland and thenorth-west, then reconciled with Romantraditions. By the end of the seventh century many ofthe important elements of the modernEuropean political landscape were in place, orat least in evidence, but the stages wherebyRoman hegemony fragmented are complex. Itis essential, above all, to remember that therewas nothing inevitable about this process:Europe did not have to be organised into theterritorial units and dominated by thenational groups with which we are familiartoday. Decline and fall has been a powerfulmodel for analysing this transition, from the Bronze head of Constantine with eyes characteristicallycomposition of Edward Gibbons masterwork gazing to heaven. (Ancient A r t and Architecture)in the late eighteenth century, and before. Butthe vitality of the Roman system - especially but the setback ushered in 140 years of almostwhen reinvigorated by Christianity - the unbroken peace in the eastern Empire. In 378commitment of peoples to the Roman ideal, the eastern emperor Valens was killed inand the sheer power of Roman arms also need battle at Adrianople in Thrace, and many ofto be stressed in opposition to this analysis. his Gothic opponents had to be allocated Identification of turning points is an lands for settlement, but thereafter successiveunderstandable temptation, and acceptable eastern emperors generally managed theprovided that the qualifications for each Gothic problem to their advantage. Whenparticular date are not forgotten. The the last sole Roman ruler Theodosius I died inconversion of Constantine to Christianity in 39S, the Empire was split between his youngAD 312 initiated the Empires transformation sons, and emperors ceased to campaignfrom polytheism to Christianity, and regularly in person, but such divisions hadprompted the development of the Church as occurred in the past, often beneficially, anda powerful and wealthy institution. For some there were advantages in withdrawing thescholars the Church was yet one more emperor from the battlefield. Immortalsubstantial group of idle mouths for Roman Rome was captured by Alarics Visigoths intax-payers to support, with unfortunate AD 410, but it had long ceased to be anlong-term consequences, but the Church also imperial capital, so the event was largely ofserved imperial goals beyond the frontiers and symbolic importance: Augustine in Africareinforced loyalties within. In 363 Julians wrote City of Cod to demonstrate thegrand invasion of Persia ended in death for superiority of the heavenly over the terrestrialhim and near disaster for the Roman army, city, but in Italy the Visigoths withdrew and
Introduction 9emperors continued to rule from Ravenna. In cumulatively they contributed to diminishingthe 440s Attila challenged imperial authority imperial authority, undermining the fiscal and- in both east and west, threatening even to military structures which permitted thereduce emperors to vassal status - but his imperial machine to function. By the late fifthHunnic federation disintegrated after his century an emperor had become irrelevant indeath in 453 so that within a decade his heirs the western Mediterranean, although thewere seeking Roman help. In 476 the last eastern ruler was accepted as a figurehead byRoman emperor in the western Empire was some. The eastern Empires continuing powerdeposed by a barbarian general, but the was revealed by its ability to organise theauthority of the eastern emperor was still reconquest of the Vandal and Ostrogothicacknowledged. A western consul was annually kingdoms, which extended to the recovery ofnominated to share the chief titular parts of Spain and the exercise of intermittentmagistracy with eastern colleagues, and under influence in Gaul. Even if the cumulativeTheoderic the Ostrogoth a regime, which impact of recurrent bubonic plague and thecarefully maintained a Gotho-Roman facade demands of western warfare left the Empiredominated the western Mediterranean from economically and militarily weaker in AD 600Ravenna. than it had been in AD 500, in comparative Individually the significance of each of terms it might have been stronger, since itsthese key dates must be qualified, but greatest rival, the Persian kingdom, also suffered heavily during a century of conflict; its then ruler, Khusro II, had only secured the One of the more accurate assessments of the throne with Roman help. In the early seventh Empires demise occurs in a conversation century internal dissension and foreign between lews in prison at Carthage in the invasion seemed to have forced the Romans 630s. They discuss the state of the Empire to the brink of destruction, symbolised by the and the news of a new prophet among the arrival of a Persian army on the Bosporus and Saracens in terms of the vision of Empire in its co-operation with the Avar Chagan in the the Book of Daniel (Doctrine of the AD 626 attack on Constantinople. But the city Newly-baptised Jacob 3.8). and its Empire survived: within two years Jacob asked him: "What do you think Heraclius had defeated the Persians, and of the state of Romania? Does it stand as overseen the installation of friendly rulers on once, or has it been diminished?" the Persian throne, including, briefly, the Justus replied uncertainly, "Even if it Christian Shahvaraz; and during the 630s the has been somewhat diminished, we hope Avar federation began to disintegrate as the that it will rise again." reduced prestige of its leader permitted But Jacob convinced him, "We see the subordinate tribes to assert their nations believing in Christ and the independence. For the eastern Empire the fourth beast has fallen and is being torn decisive blow came out of the blue when in pieces by the nations, that the ten the new religion of Islam transformed horns may prevail." long-standing manageable neighbours into a potent adversary.
Chronology226 Ardashir overthrows Parthian dynasty. 395 Death of Theodosius; Empire divided235 Murder of Severus Alexander by between Arcadius and Honorius. troops. 406 German tribes breach Rhine frontier.243/4 Gordian defeated by Shapur I of 408 Stilicho executed. Persia. 410 Sack of Rome by Alaric and Visigoths.251 Death of Decius in battle against 418 Establishment of Visigoths in Goths. Aquitania.260 Defeat and capture of Valerian by 429 Vandals cross into Africa. Persians. 445 Attila becomes sole ruler of Huns. Franks invade Gaul; Alamanni invade 451 Attila invades Gaul; defeated at Italy; revolts in Balkans. Catalaunian Plains (near Troyes).261-68 Odaenathus of Palmyra takes 453 Death of Attila. control of eastern provinces. 455 Vandals sack Rome.262-67 Goths invade Asia Minor. 476 Odoacer deposes Romulus Augustulus,271 Aurelian withdraws Romans from Dacia. the last western emperor. Circuit of walls built for Rome. 493 Theoderic captures Ravenna and kills272 Aurelian defeats Palmyra. Odoacer.275 Murder of Aurelian. 502 Kavadh invades eastern provinces and284 Accession of Diocletian. captures Amida (Diyarbakir).293 Tetrarchy with Maximian as co- 505 Truce on eastern frontier; Augustus and Constantius and construction of Dara starts. Galerius as Caesars. 507 Clovis and Franks defeat Visigoths at305 Abdication of Diocletian and Maximian. Vouillé.312 Constantine captures Rome after 527 Renewed warfare in east. Accession of battle of Milvian Bridge. Justinian.324 Constantine defeats Licinius and 532 Endless Peace with Persia. becomes sole emperor. 533 Belisarius defeats Vandals and337 Death of Constantine at start of recovers Africa. campaign against Persia. 540 Belisarius enters Ravenna and ends353 Constantius II defeats usurper Ostrogothic kingdom. Magnentius and reunifies Empire. Khusro I invades eastern provinces355 Julian co-opted by Constantius as and captures Antioch. Caesar. 542 Arrival of bubonic plague.357 Julian defeats Alamanni at Strasburg. 546 Totila recaptures Rome.361 Death of Constantius. 552 Narses defeats and kills Totila at Busta363 Julians invasion of Persia and death. Gallorum.376 Goths cross the Danube. 562 50 Years Peace with Persia.378 Defeat and death of Valens at 568 Lombards invade Italy. Adrianople (Edirne). 572 Justin II launches new war on eastern382 Theodosius settles Goths in Balkans as frontier. federates. 578/9 Avar invasions of Balkans start.394 Theodosius defeats usurper Eugenius 586/7 Slav raids reach Athens and Corinth. and reunifies Empire. 591 Termination of war with Persia.
Chronology602 Revolt of Balkan army and overthrow 632 Death of Muhammad. of Maurice. 636 Arabs defeat Romans at River Yarmuk.610 Heraclius captures Constantinople 638 Arabs capture Jerusalem. and kills Phocas. 639 Arabs attack Egypt.614 Persians capture Jerusalem. 642 Arabs capture Alexandria.622 Muhammad leaves Medina (Hijra). 651 Death of Yazdgard III, last Sassanid626 Avars besiege Constantinople, with ruler. Persian support. 661 Muawiyah becomes Caliph at627 Heraclius defeats Persians at Nineveh. Damascus.
Background to warControlling the empireMarking boundaries conquest of Gaul, although it was only a century later that the frontier stabilisedThe centuries of conflict covered in this along the river - once grander Romanvolume saw the Romans pitted against visions to incorporate Germania wereenemies in three main sectors: along the renounced. Temporary military installationsRhine against the Alamanni, Franks and were replaced in stone, permanent campsother Germanic tribes; on the Danube against attracted settlements of veterans, traders andfirst the Sarmatians and Goths, then the other camp-followers, and prosperous sitesHunnic tribes, and finally the Avars and were honoured with colonial status, formanifold Slav groups; in Armenia and example Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) andMesopotamia the Sassanid Persians; Moguntiacum (Mainz). Stability along theeventually, towards the end of the period, frontier required active defence, and thereArab tribes erupted from the Arabian were major campaigns commanded by anpeninsula to sweep through the Levant. Since emperor in the 90s (Domitian), 170s (Marcusthe Roman Empire was a military institution Aurelius) and 230s (Severus Alexander).whose widespread control had been imposed The Rhine provided a partial barrier toby force, there was naturally a long history of tribal movement which the Romans couldconflict in each sector, even if the preciseopponents were not always the same. Impressive defences reinforced Romes psychological The Romans first campaigned on the superiority along the frontiers. Taken from Trajans columnRhine in the 50s BC during Caesars in Rome. (AKG London/Hilbich)
Background to war I3Troops crossing a river by pontoon bridge, from a The second major European river frontier,section ofTrajans column. (AKG Berlin) along the Danube, was joined to the Rhine frontier by linear defences, which protected acontrol through naval squadrons and by triangle of territory to the south-east ofsupervising recognised crossing-points. Argentoratum (Strasburg), always a sensitiveBeyond the Rhine were numerous tribal area. The Romans had reached the upper andgroups whose relationship with the Romans middle Danube during the reign of Augustuswas not always hostile: tribesmen served in (31 BC-AD 14), confirming their control overRoman armies, Roman garrisons had the hinterland in the face of massive rebellionsconsiderable wealth (by local standards) to in Pannonia and Illyricum; furtherspend on slaves, furs or basic foodstuffs, downstream the Danube became the frontierwhile the Romans were a source of luxury during the first century AD. A process ofgoods such as wine or spices. A symbiotic consolidation similar to that on the Rhine gotrelationship could emerge: Romans wanted under way, but in this case the need totribal manpower and supplies, while tribal dominate the Dacian tribes of the lowerleaders relied on Romans for the wealth and Danube led to major campaigns across thedisplay goods to demonstrate superiority river under Trajan (98-117) in the early secondover their rank and file. A cyclical pattern to century and the creation of a new provincerelations on the frontier can be seen: the within the arc of the Carpathian mountains.Romans bolstered the authority of compliant In the eastern Empire the Romansleaders whose expanding following encountered the Parthians during the firstgenerated greater demands; when these century BC, experiencing one of their worstbecame excessive, conflict ensued between defeats in 53 BC when three legions wereRome and a major tribal grouping; thereafter annihilated at Carrhae (Harran) inthe cycle would begin again. Mesopotamia. Until the mid-first century AD,
Background to war 15small client kingdoms constituted buffer North Africa, which the Romans graduallystates for Roman territory in Anatolia and took over between the mid-second centurythe Levant. Thereafter the upper and middle BC and the mid-first century AD, resembledEuphrates provided a suitable line on which the southern portion of the eastern frontier.to base legionary positions - though, as Desert, supplemented on occasion by linearalong the European rivers, the Romans barriers, played a significant part in markingmaintained a keen interest in events beyond. the boundaries of Roman authority. TribalBetween the River Euphrates and the Arabian instability could pose threats, though, asGulf, desert offered a reliable buffer zone, along the European frontiers; outsiders werealthough tribes who knew how to operate in tied into the Roman system through militarythis inhospitable terrain troubled Roman service and economic exchanges. The Britishlands to the west intermittently. For the Isles, which the Romans invaded in the firstRomans the east was the prestigious area for century AD, stands in contrast to the otherconflict, ideally for expansion, with the major frontiers as a place where the Romansrenown of Alexander the Greats relied primarily on linear defences - theachievements luring successive western rulers walls of Hadrian and Antoninus - to separateto emulation: in the early second century the untamed tribes of Caledonia fromTrajan campaigned to the head of the Persian Roman areas.Gulf, briefly establishing a province in It is ironic that the best-studied RomanMesopotamia; in the 160s Lucius Verus defences - the salient between the Rhine and(161-9) fought energetically in lower Danube in south-western Germany and theMesopotamia, and in the 190s Septimius walls of north Britain - are not typical ofSeverus (193-211) again defeated the Roman frontier areas overall. As aParthians and annexed new territory. consequence, however, we may fail to understand how the frontiers operated. TheA view along part of Hadrians wall (showing Chesters traditional view is that frontiers werefort), another defensive structure which combined maintained to delimit and protect Romanprotection and propaganda. (Ancient Art and Architecture) territory by barring entry to foreigners. But
I6 Essential Histories • Rome at Warfrontiers are now seen as zones of contact, as maintain imperial control and ensure themuch as lines of exclusion: this is clearly smooth collection of taxation. Theytrue for the European river frontiers, and suppressed brigandage (which subsisted at aeven in the case of an apparent barrier, low level in many parts of the Empire),scrutiny of the installations along Hadrians regulated disputes between provincial citiesWall reveals its purpose was to control, but and ensured their internal stability, andnot prevent, movement. It is also argued that oversaw communications between thegenerals and emperors were more interested province and Rome, including thein the rewards of conquest than in routine important annual expressions of allegiancedefence of the Empires inhabitants, and that to the emperor.from the military perspective the provincesmore often required subjugation than Taxes and tradeprotection. Exchanges across frontiers, the Taxation was the lifeblood of the Empire,significance of military glory, and the which depended upon a regular cyclical flowpreservation of law and order are all valid of wealth. The areas of greatest consumptionconsiderations, but the ideology of pax were Rome - where the imperial court andRomana was also important: emperors were senatorial households spent lavishly - and thebelieved to have a duty towards the civilian frontier armies whose salaries had to be paidmembers of the Empire - or at least their to prevent the risk of mutiny. Most frontierperformance of this role was an issue which provinces could not support the full costs ofmight be picked up in speeches of praise or the legions based in them, and so taxdefamatory tracts. surpluses had to be transferred from interior Within the frontier Roman territory was regions, for example Spain or Asia Minordivided into provinces, of which there were where the inhabitants generated cash to meetabout 60 in the early third century AD. Most tax demands by selling produce: the Empireprovincial governors were drawn from the evolved quite a complex system which lockedsenate, the council made up of former different areas together. The two mostmagistrates, which had considerable important taxes were a poll tax and a land tax.authority but little real power. Governors of The former was simpler, although its coveragefrontier provinces with substantial armies and rate varied. The latter was based on anwere chosen from among former consuls assessment of land value as determined by(the most senior group within the senate) by agricultural use, for example arable as opposedthe emperor. In the interior provinces the to vineyard or pastureland, and was levied as agovernors primary functions were to fixed percentage of the valuation. These taxes were not progressive, which meant that financial burdens fell more heavily onA panel from Constantines arch at Rome showing theemperor distributing largesse. This victory monument small-holders than grandees, who would alsodepicts the emperors civilian virtues as well as his have greater influence to secure exemptions.military triumphs. (AKG London/Pirozzi) In addition there were customs duties at both
Background to war I7imperial and provincial boundaries, and a enriched both the imperial exchequer5 per cent tax for Roman citizens on through customs revenues and theinheritances and the freeing of slaves. middlemen whose profits were invested in Movement of produce, as both trade and Petra and Palmyra. The current view of thetax revenue, was an important aspect of the Roman economy, based in part on theEmpires economic system. Massive amounts increasing evidence from ship-wrecks, is thatof grain from Egypt and other parts of North trade played a minor but significant role inAfrica, and of oil and wine from Spain, were the Empires prosperity: trade in luxury itemstransported to supply Rome as taxation or was the tip of an iceberg of local, intra-the produce of imperial estates; similarly regional and inter-regional exchange whichsenators provincial estates supported their was greatly facilitated by the existence of thepalatial households in the capital. Supplies roads, ports and other installationsfor the army might also seem to be located established to service the crucial elements ofwithin this command economy and to an the imperial system, namely the capital andextent they were, but the Vindolanda writing the armies.tablets, which preserve correspondence of an Overall, the Empire was prosperous duringauxiliary cohort based in north Britain the first two centuries AD, as can be seenc. AD 100 reveal that army units were also from the archaeological remains of provincialsupported by their own supply networks. cities where local elites competed to beautify The best evidence for Roman trade their home towns. Wealth did flow out of theinevitably relates to the exceptional needs of Empire, but this was balanced by thethe elite, who had an enormous appetite foreastern luxuries: spices from eastern Africa, The colonnaded streets of Palmyra were evidence of theand silks, gems and spices from India. The wealth derived by the city from its trading activities.eastern trade was a substantial enterprise; it (Ancient A r t and Architecture)
18 Essential Histories • Rome at War substantial production of mines (such as thesilver mines of Spain), imperial properties Cassius Dio, historian, twice consul andwhich were exploited under the protection experienced provincial governor, writingof military units. In spite of the inflexibility about 230, assesses the change in theof the tax system, imperial revenue tended Empires fortunes in 180 (72.36).to exceed expenditure during peace time, [Marcus Aurelius] encountered a hostwhile wars could be supported, especially if of problems practically all through histhey were of limited duration and generated reign ... he both survived himself andsome booty: the agricultural production of preserved the Empire in extraordinarythe provinces sustained both the imperial and untoward circumstances. One thingmachine and the demands of local cities. alone marred his personal happiness: his On the other hand, there were already son [Commodus] ... our history nowominous signs of strain in the second falls away, as affairs did for the Romanscentury, the golden age of imperial of that time, from a realm of gold toprosperity. The purity of the basic silver one of iron and rust.coin, the denarius, was reduced from about90 per cent to 75 per cent, and then to50 per cent under Septimius Severus. The Empire functioned best when rulersProlonged warfare was expensive, especially survived for reasonably long reigns with thealong the European river frontiers where support of both senate and provincialbooty was unlikely to offset costs: troops armies, when conflicts remained localisedhad to be moved to the area of conflict, and did not coincide with challenges onimposing demands on communities along other frontiers, and when climatic and othertheir lines of march, and extra resources conditions permitted a reasonable level ofwere demanded to make good losses. Civil agricultural production. The accession ofwar was an even worse prospect, partly Septimius Severus in 193 provided a severebecause such conflicts were, at best, a jolt, since this was followed by three years ofzero-sum game (and at worst ruinously internal conflict across much of the Empire.expensive to ravaged provinces and all His son Caracalla, who succeeded in 211,who supported the losers), but more had to buy favour with the troops bysignificantly because any attempt to secure awarding a 50 per cent pay increase,the throne required lavish promises of financed by issuing a new (overvalued) silverdonatives and higher pay for armies, which coin and by doubling the 5 per centwould also be expanded to meet the crisis. inheritance tax: to increase the revenue fromThe plague brought back from the east by the latter, he gave Roman citizenship to allLucius Verus army in AD 167 was also a the free inhabitants of the Empire and sosignificant factor, and the consequences of brought them into the tax net. The Empirethe loss of agricultural population can be survived Caracalla, but if the balance oftraced in papyrus records of land leases in imperial prosperity was delicate during theEgypt: in some areas the impact seems to second century it now become precarious,have lasted for a generation, in others three with a major external threat or significantgenerations. internal upheaval likely to generate a crisis.
Warring sidesInside and outside the empireArmy of the Roman Empire were recruited into the legions, while non-citizens traditionally enteredThe Roman Empire depended on the the auxiliary units. Remarkably little ispower of its armies, which had always known about the process of recruitment:been composed of a combination of citizenand non-citizen troops. Before the universal Late Roman cavalry. Artwork by Christa Hook.extension of citizenship in AD 212 citizens (Osprey Publishing)
20 Essential Histories • Rome at WarLate Roman infantry. Artwork by Christa Hook. (Osprey Publishing)
Warring sides 21conscription was probably always a feature, a horseman equipped with a composite bowwith manpower needs being apportioned in to represent the ideal contemporary soldier.line with census records of citizens, but there But infantry remained the basis for mostwas also some element of hereditary service armies, and Roman foot-soldiers, whenas units drew on veteran settlements. At properly trained and led, were capable oftimes, perhaps often, military service offered defying all opponents.a reasonably good and quite safe career for Another development in the late Romanthe young provincials, especially if they army was that, from the fourth century,served close to home. distinctions were drawn, in terms of status In the later Empire it is often alleged that as well as rewards, between limitanei andthe balance of the armies changed, with troops of the comitatus, i.e. between morecitizens being outnumbered by foreigners, static provincial units and those whichthe traditional infantry backbone eclipsed accompanied the emperor or seniorby cavalry units, and frontier units generals. It is often claimed that limitanei(limitanei) relegated to an inferior status. became soldier-farmers, losing their militaryRomans were progressively demilitarised quality along with their professionalism,and the increasingly un-Roman armies but that misrepresents the nature of thedeclined in discipline and loyalty. These estates which helped to support them andtheories reflect developments in the later ignores their continuing use in conjunctionarmy, although they are all ultimately with mobile troops on major easternmisconceptions. campaigns. It is noticeable that the limitanei Roman armies did continue to rely on included more cavalry units than thesubstantial units of non-citizens, especially comitatus, a reflection of the usefulness ofwhen troops had to be recruited quickly, as horses for local patrolling and of the greaterin civil war and after military defeat, or for ability of infantry to retain fightingspecial expeditions. These outsiders were strength when required to move longoften excellent troops who provided reliable distances quickly.bodyguards for emperors and generals, There had been a gradual change in thewhose personal retinues of bucellarii deployment of Roman armies. In the early(biscuit-men) might represent the elite part empire legions were quartered in majorof an army. There were also several senior bases near the frontier (e.g. Cologne), butnon-Roman commanders who played military need dictated that units wereimportant political roles, especially during detached for specific duties as frontierthe fragmentation of the western Empire in garrisons or in the interior. Later this ad hocthe fifth century, but it is invalid to infer dispersal was consolidated so that troopsfrom their prominence that non-Romans were spread across provinces in numerousalso dominated the ranks of the army. forts and cities. Emperors, however, also Infantry had always been the particular needed mobile forces for more rapidstrength of the Romans, and it is true that deployment. In the east there came to becavalry units performed a more important two armies in the presence stationed nearrole in late Roman armies, but there is little Constantinople, and others in the Balkansevidence to support the popular notion and the east; in the west Gaul and Italy hadthat the Romans switched to reliance on their own armies until imperial authorityheavy-mailed cavalry, an anticipation of contracted from the former.medieval knights. The Romans had a few Overall, Roman armies changed betweenunits of mailed lancers (clibanarii or the third and seventh centuries, but theboiler-boys) in imitation of Parthian and majority of troops were drawn from thePersian units, but mounted archers on the Empires inhabitants. Specific uplandHunnic model were probably more common. regions had the reputation for producingThe sixth-century historian Procopius chose good recruits: the Balkan highlands,
22 Essential Histories • Rome at WarLate Roman parade helmet (AKG London) looked quite barbaric and undisciplined, but the same could often have been saidmountainous Isauria in southern Asia about early imperial armies.Minor, and Armenia. Goths, Germans and The size of late Roman armies is a complexHuns also made important contributions, game for which most of the pieces are missing.but such soldiers often came from groups In the third century army units probablywho had been accepted into the Empire and numbered upwards of 350,000, with a furthergiven lands with the explicit purpose of 40,000 in the navy. Numbers increasedproviding recruits. To educated observers significantly under Diocletian (284-305) andfrom the cities, the people who wrote most Constantine (306-37), so that the totalof our evidence, Roman armies undoubtedly military establishment exceeded 500,000 -
Warring sides 23perhaps even 600,000. But paper strength will Folio from the Notitia Dignitatum, depicting thealways have surpassed disposable strength, and responsibilities of the Master of Offices which included the imperial weapons factories (fabricae). (MS Canonmany troops were committed to particular Misc. 378, f. 141 r, Bodleian Library)assignments so that only a small proportion ofthe total establishment could be deployed forindividual campaigns. In the fourth century Empire, although it is probably correct thatan army of 50,000 was large, and by the sixth organisation, rather than basic military skill,century mobile armies rarely exceeded 30,000. increasingly emerged as the way in which In spite of complaints about discipline, Romans surpassed their opponents. TheRoman training appears to have remained Romans had the capacity to co-ordinate troopstough. A succession of military manuals over long distances to build up complexindicates that attention was devoted to armies, with artillery units as well as infantrytraining and tactics, at least in the eastern and cavalry, and then keep these supplied on
24 Essential Histories • Rome at Warcampaign: the infrastructure of roads,warehouses, granaries, arms factories and the The Greek historian Theophylact preservesbilleting arrangements generated a complex rare information on Persian militarybody of law, and enabled the Romans to move arrangements.(3.15.4)their men wherever thev were needed. For, unlike the Romans on campaign, Persians are not paid by the treasury, not even when assembled inPersian arrangements their villages; the customary distributions from the king, which theyOnly in the East did the Romans face an administer to obtain income, areenemy with a sophistication comparable to sufficient to support themselves untiltheir own. The Iranian Sassanids supplanted they invade a foreign land.the Parthian Arsacids during the 220s,imposing themselves as a new military eliteon a heterogeneous population, which Persian kings did not maintain a largeincluded substantial groups of Jews and standing army until at least the sixthChristians in densely populated lower century: there were garrisons in frontierMesopotamia. Persian armies are not clearly cities and fortresses, but for major campaignsunderstood, since almost all our knowledge kings instructed their nobles to mobilisecomes from Roman informants reporting provincial levies. Minor gentry of free statusPersian actions during the repeated conflicts. served as mounted warriors providing aOne important strategic point to bear in backbone, and they probably brought alongmind is that, from the Persian perspective, their own retinues. The system was feudal,their north-eastern frontier, the sector in with royal land grants carrying an obligationwhich they confronted the nations of central to serve or send troops on demand;Asia, took priority; we occasionally glimpse campaigns inside the Persian kingdom seemPersian action in this area, as when King to have been unpaid, on the assumption thatPeroz led his armies to disaster against the soldiers could support themselves from theirHephthalite Huns in the late fifth century, or estates, but payment was given for foreignduring the service of the Armenian Smbat expeditions. Feudal arrangements could beBagratuni in the early seventh, but there is extended to attract troops from outside thea substantial gap in our appreciation of kingdom - who worked for specific terms -Persian might. but mercenaries were also recruited, sometimes from the Hunnic and Turkic tribes beyond the north-east frontier, The career of Smbat sometimes from specific internal groups The Armenian Smbat, a member of the such as the Dailamites who inhabited the noble Bagratid house, commanded mountains south of the Caspian. cavalry for the Romans in the Balkans in Persian armies are often associated with the 580s, but was exiled to Africa for heavily mailed cavalry, but their most potent instigating revolt. In the 590s he element were mounted archers: Roman reappears in Persian service, being tactical writers advised that the Persians appointed provincial governor by King could not withstand a frontal charge, but Khusro II; he was trusted to suppress that any delay in engaging at close quarters awkward rebellions in the east and would permit them to exploit their received the nickname Joy of Khusro, superiority at archery. The Persians were but Khusro was reluctant to allow him heirs to a long Middle-Eastern tradition of to return to Armenia and Smbat was siege warfare and they had a formidable kept at court as an honoured advisor. capacity to organise sieges, dig mines and deploy a variety of engines to capture even
Warring sides 25the most strongly fortified positions. In the mobilise 10,000 warriors, and larger forces -sixth century there was a substantial such as those that confronted Julian atoverhaul of the tax system as well as a Strasburg in AD 357 - could be producedredistribution of land, which was intended through alliances. On rare occasionsto bolster royal power by permitting the German leaders commanded larger numbers -payment of some permanent units, an the Amal-led Ostrogoths fieldedimitation perhaps of the Roman comitatus. 25,000-30,000 warriors after subsuming aBut the feudal link between king and rival Gothic group in the Balkans - butnobility remained crucial, dictating that this was exceptional, the product of Romanmilitary prestige was essential for royal power which forced tribes to coalesce orauthority: kings might embark on foreign face defeat.campaigns to acquire booty and prestige for The most powerful Roman enemies wereinternal consumption. the supranational federations, represented by the Huns in the fifth century and the Avars in the sixth and seventh. These groupingsEnemies in Europe swallowed the variety of smaller tribal units within their sphere of action, with terror andThe personal prestige of the war leader was booty providing the cement; their existencealso vital for Romes various tribal enemies in required regular warfare, and their ruthlessEurope. These groups ranged from small war leaders had the manpower to overrun thebands from an extended family or single defences of even major cities. Both Huns andvillage, through more complex clan and Avars posed serious challenges to Romantribal bands into which the family units authority, but their inherent instability waswould be subsumed, to the occasional but their undoing: Attilas death in 453 led tomighty international federation. At the fatal dissension among his potential heirs,bottom of the scale were the Slav raiders who while the Avars never recovered from theircrossed the Danube in the sixth century; failure at Constantinople in 626, sincethese might operate in groups of 200 or weakness at the top permitted constituent300, perhaps accompanied by their families sub-groups to rebel. The image of the Huns isin wagons as they sought land for settlement. of nomadic warriors whose attachment to Most of the German and Gothic groups their horses was such that they couldwho challenged the Empire were collections scarcely walk, and it is true that the variousof such smaller clan or village units, united warrior elites will have fought as cavalry,under the authority of a king. The right to but all these groupings could also fieldlead depended ultimately on success, substantial infantry forces which wouldespecially in warfare; although leading have been provided by less prestigiousfamilies (such as the Gothic Balti and Amali) elements, for example the Slavs within theattempted to create dynasties, these could not Avar federation.survive the shock of prolonged failure or the Collectively Romes enemies rivalled, orabsence of a suitable war-leader. There was surpassed, its military strength, but thesome instability in these groups, and units - Romans could usually hold their own, partlysuch as the Carpi, who were prominent down through superior organisation and training,to AD 300 - might disappear permanently; partly through strong defences, but aboveothers such as the Lombards are absent from all by the strategy of trying to avoidour sources for several generations before re- simultaneous conflict on different frontiers.emerging in the sixth century. Such changes Along the Danube or Rhine tribal groupingsdid not represent the elimination of these might co-operate in the short term, butpeople but their subjection to a different elite Roman diplomacy was adept at exploitingwhich imposed its identity on its followers. potential splits. Wider collaboration wasPowerful German kings might be able to extremely rare, the only real instance
26 Essential Histories • Rome at War Movement of Goths across Europeoccurring in 626 when Persian troops which distinguished the Romans from allencamped on the Bosporus attempted to join their opponents, with the exception ofthe Avar attacks on Constantinople, only to Saxon raiders in the North Sea and thebe thwarted by the Roman fleet. Possession Vandal kingdom in North Africa which tookof a small but powerful navy was a factor over part of the western Roman fleet.
OutbreakCreating crisisAfter the murder of Severus Alexander in 235the Roman Empire experienced 50 years The Greek historian Herodian recordsof instability, commonly termed the demands of a Persian embassy to AlexanderThird-century Crisis, a period which marks the Severus in the 220s (6.4.5).transition to the later Empire. The crisis can The mission declared that by order ofbe viewed from a number of interlocking the Great King the Romans and theiraspects - frontier pressure, usurpers, religious ruler must abandon Syria and the wholechange, financial shortages - but it is of Asia opposite Europe, allowing Persianreasonable to begin from the frontiers: here rule to extend as far as Ionia and Cariadevelopments can be identified which then and the peoples within the Aegean-arguably prevented the Empire from Pontus seaboard. For these were thecontrolling change in other areas. traditional possessions of the Persians. Beyond the eastern frontier a new dynastywas inaugurated when the Sassanid Ardashirwas crowned in Ctesiphon in 226. The inevitable refusal. Gordians attempt tochange was significant since the Romans had discipline Ardashirs son Shapur I ended ingenerally dominated the Parthians, and humiliation in 244, with Gordian defeatedindeed repeated Roman successes had and murdered and his successor Philip thecontributed to undermining royal prestige, Arab forced to purchase the withdrawal ofbut the Sassanids propagated a dynamic his army. Shapurs invasions in 253 and 260nationalism, including links with the resulted in the capture of Antioch, the majorAchaemenids, who ruled Persia before city of the eastern provinces as well asAlexander the Greats conquests. Embassiesdemanded the return of their ancestral The ruined walls of Dura by the River Euphrates.property, with war as the consequence of the (Ancient A r t and Architecture)
28 Essential Histories • Rome at WarThe Valerian Wall at Athens, cutting across the agora. mouth; a decade later they swept across the(Authors collection) north-eastern Balkans, and Emperor Decius was killed and his army annihilated whilenumerous lesser places such as Dura on the trying to force them back across the DanubeEuphrates, and the transport to Persia of in 251. Further ravaging occupied the 250s,massive booty; Emperor Valerian was with the Goths commandeering shipping oncaptured in battle at Edessa (Urfa) in 260 and the Black Sea to cross to Asia Minor and sailtaken back to Persia. For the next decade into the Aegean where they sacked Athens inimperial authority in the east was limited, 268. Mining operations in Macedonia andwith the most effective resistance to the Thrace were inevitably disrupted.Persians being provided by the ruler of This great movement of Goths naturallyPalmyra, Odaenathus. The east had become displaced other peoples who might findan expensive military arena for the Romans, themselves squeezed against the Romanand the substantial tax revenues of its frontier; this process could trigger theprovinces were jeopardised. formation of substantial federations as The problem was compounded by events different tribes steeled themselves for theon the Danube, where the Romans also had ultimate challenge of attacking the Romans.to face a new enemy. Here change had been On the upper Danube the Vandals, Quadislow, the result of the gradual movement of and Marcomanni breached the frontier, andGothic peoples from northern Poland. The on the upper Rhine the Alamanni increasedfirst attested Gothic incursion came in 238, their strength to the extent that they twicewhen they sacked Istria near the Danube invaded Italy in the 260s. On the lower Rhine
Outbreak 29Porchester Castle. One of the late third-century Alexander, who had just campaignedSaxon shore fortifications, built to protect southern and unsuccessfully in the east, was overthrowneastern Britain from raids across the North Sea.(Ancient Art and Architecture) by the Rhine armies who feared his leadership. They proclaimed as their leader Maximinus the Thracian (allegedly anthe Franks gradually came to dominate uneducated peasant risen from the ranks).another large federation which threatened Maximinus made no attempt to conciliatefrontier defences during the latter half of the the senate, his control of the armies,century, and Saxon pirates began to raid especially those in the east, was shaky inacross the North Sea and down the Channel. spite of a promise to double military pay, Of the Roman world only Africa, the and the extensive confiscations needed toIberian Peninsula and, to a lesser extent, provide funds for his promises damaged hisBritain, were spared invasion. The reputation further. Maximinus survived untilcumulative nature of the frontier pressure is 238 when his failure to deal with rivalsevident, with emperors unable to divert supported or proclaimed by the senatetroops from one sector to another and caused his troops to mutiny. Seven emperorsinstead constrained to confront invaders in within one year, fighting in North Africa andconditions which led to defeat. The northern Italy, and disturbances in Romeconsequences for imperial prestige are were a foretaste of the anarchy to come; suchobvious, and by the late 260s the Empire was substantial internal upheavals naturallyvirtually split into three units which afforded external enemies a chance toattended separately to their own security. invade, which then increased the problemsTrouble began in 235 when Severus for whoever happened to occupy the throne.
30 Essential Histories • Rome at War The rapid turnover of emperors is best Romes foundation in spectacular fashion,illustrated by a simple list - with the proviso but the military reverses of the 250sthat it is difficult to include all the effectively split the Empire into three.shorter-lived local claimants to the throne. Odaenathus defence of the east fuelled ambitions for imperial authority, which were235-38 Maximinus inherited by his wife Zenobia in 268/9, while238 Gordian I & Gordian II in Gaul, the Rhine armies proclaimed their238 Balbinus & Maximus successful general Postumus. The air of crisis238 Pupienus generated apocalyptic literature in the east238-4 Gordian III (for example, the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle),244-19 Philip the Arab and a circuit of walls for Rome, 11.8 miles249-51 Decius (19 km) in length, was rapidly constructed in251-53 Trebonianus Gallus 271. The Empire was only reunited by251-53 Volusianus Aurelian in a series of energetic campaigns,253 Aemilianus which were helped by instability in Gaul253-60 Valerian following the murder of Postumus in 269253-68 Gallienus and by the death of Odaenathus; also, he268-70 Claudius II Gothicus was prepared to abandon the exposed270 Quintillus province of Dacia and redeploy Roman270-75 Aurelian troops along the lower Danube. Perhaps275-76 Tacitus most significantly, the energetic Shapur died276 Florianus in 270 and it was to be 50 years before the276-82 Probus Persians had a comparable leader. If military282-83 Carus failure guaranteed overthrow, success did not283-85 Carinus ensure survival: both Aurelian and Probus,283-84 Numerian who continued Aurelians re-establishment of the Empire, succumbed to plots in Each new emperor meant another military camps, and Cams died whiledonation to the troops; each bout of civil invading lower Mesopotamia, allegedlywar more loss of life, physical destruction struck by lightning.and distraction from the frontiers. Ironically,in 248 Philip celebrated the millennium of Aurelians wall at Rome. (Ancient Art and Architecture)
32 Essential Histories • Rome at WarCoin with legend Carausius et fratres, c.AD 286. Empire, it transpired that Pannonians, and(Ancient Art and Architecture) other officers of Balkan extraction, became prominent. These were professional soldiers, Another consequence of crisis was the at whom civilian intellectuals might sneermarginalisation of the senate and a for their lack of culture, but they provedprofessionalisation of military command. In to be solidly committed to the idea of238 the senate and armies had contested the Rome and its traditions, as well asimperial succession, but under Gallienus effective generals.senators were effectively removed from The crisis also had a religious impact, sincemilitary commands. This development a natural inference from repeated misfortunehad begun earlier, since the Severans was that the gods had to be placated. At firsthad sometimes preferred trustworthy this took the form of intensified supplicationnon-senators for important commands, but to traditional deities: in 249 Decius issued athe insecurity of emperors furthered the general instruction to all citizens to offerchange while troops also demanded reliable prayers and sacrifices on his behalf. Aleaders rather than aristocratic amateurs. consequence, probably unintended, of thisWhen Aurelian came to power with the order was that Christians were faced with thebacking of the upper Danube legions and choice of disobedience or apostasy; somethen used these troops to restore the abandoned the faith, many more probably
Outbreak 33Radiate coin of Aurelius (AD 270-275). (Barber Instituteof Fine Arts) A papyrus of AD 250 demonstrates the consequences of Decius demand for sacrifice:found means to evade or connive in the everyone needed a receipt to prove compliance.ruling, but there were enough martyrs to To those superintending theidentify Christians as traitors to the Empire. sacrifices of the village of Theadelphia,Persecution lapsed with Decius death, but was from Aurelia Bellias, daughter of Peteres,restarted in 257 by Valerian who specifically and her daughter Capinis. We havetargeted the Christians, with attention focused sacrificed to the gods all along, and nowon the priestly hierarchy; his defeat in battle in your presence according to orders Iterminated proceedings. The successful have poured a libation and offeredAurelian advertised his devotion to the sacrifice and eaten of the sacrificialtraditional divinities, especially Victoria, Mars, offering; we ask you to sign below toHercules and Jupiter who were all connected this. Farewell.with success in war, and to these he added a Signatures: We Aurelius Serenus andspecial devotion to the cult of the Aurelius Hermas saw you sacrificing.Unconquered Sun, Sol Invictus, after the defeat Signed by me, Hermas.of Palmyra in 273. Devotion to the correct Year 1 of the Emperor Caesar Gaiusdivinity did bring success, as Diocletian and Messius Quintus Traianus Decius PiusConstantine would continue to demonstrate Felix Augustus, Payni 27.in their different ways.
The fightingChallenges to empireDiocletians stabilisation for Diocletian and Hercules his son for Maximian. After six years of joint reign,Aurelian reunified the Roman Empire, but rebellion in Egypt prompted Diocletian toDiocletian re-established imperial stability increase his imperial resources by appointingthrough a reign of 20 years which ended in two junior colleagues as Caesars, Galerius forplanned retirement. The secret of success was the east and Constantius for the west.an imperial college, since one factor Marriage between the Caesars and daughterspromoting earlier disunity had been the of the Augusti united the Tetrarchy.desire of major armies to have their own The energetic campaigning of Diocletianemperor. Power-sharing had worked in the and his colleagues is reflected in the victorysecond century when Marcus Aurelius titles which precede his Edict on Maximumco-opted Lucius Verus to command his Prices of 301:Parthian campaign, and was tried in the The emperor Caesar Gaius Aureliusthird century by the families of Valerian and Valerius Diocletianus, pious, fortunate,Carus. Family control might enhance loyalty, unconquered, Augustus, pontifex maximus,but perhaps at the expense of ability. Germanicus maximus six times, SarmaticusDiocletian elevated a long-standing maximus four times, Persicus maximus twocolleague, Maximian, to the rank of Caesar times, Britannicus maximus, Carpicusin 285 and dispatched him to Gaul to quell maximus, Armenicus maximus.an uprising of baccaudae, rebels who have Constantius was sent to recover Britain,been variously interpreted as Robin which permitted Maximian to leave the RhineHood-style brigands or supporters of local frontier and move to Africa to deal withwarlords. In 286 Maximian was promoted Moorish incursions. In the east the majorto Augustus, with the relationship between achievement was Galerius success against thethe Augusti represented by their divine Persians in 298, after initial defeat in thecompanions, Jupiter king of the gods previous year. The decisive action was Galerius capture of King Narses womenfolk, although he also ravaged lower Mesopotamia. An orator in Gaul addresses Maximian in Narses sued for peace and surrendered territory 289, praising his co-operation with Diocletia east of the Tigris to recover his women. (Latin Panegyrics 10.11). Almost as important as the victories was Your harmony has this result, Diocletians administrative overhaul, which invincible princes, that even Fortune doubled the number of provinces - where responds to you with an equally great governors were expected to keep closer measure of success. For you rule the control of their areas - and introduced State with one mind, nor does the great dioceses which grouped provinces and distance which separates you hinder you provided a judicial buffer between the from governing, so to speak, with right governor and the praetorian prefect at court. hands clasped. Thus, although your The tax system was reformed perhaps to doubled divinity increases your royal distribute the burdens of land and poll majesty, by your unanimity you retain tax more fairly, perhaps to improve the advantage of an undivided Empire. efficiency. Provision was made for regular reassessment; for the first time it was
The fighting 35theoretically possible to construct animperial budget. Diocletian also attempted to Diocletian explains the need to control prices.stabilise the coinage, with new issues of gold, (Preamble to Edict on Maximum Prices.)silver and bronze, but he seems to have Who does not know that whereverlacked the bullion to issue enough precious communal safety requires our armies tometal coins to convince people. As a result be sent, profiteers insolently and covertlyinflation continued, and in 301 Diocletian attack the public welfare, not only inissued an Edict on Prices, a law for display in villages and towns, but on every road?all towns and markets of the Empire on They charge extortionate prices forwhich was listed the maximum prices for a merchandise, not just fourfold orwide range of goods and services. In terms of eightfold, but so that human speechmilitary organisation, Diocletian may have cannot find words to characterise theirbeen less innovative than in other areas, profit and practices. Indeed, sometimesalthough the evidence for his actions is in a single transaction a soldier isindecisive. His concern for frontiers was stripped of his donative and pay.reflected in the strengthening of defensive Moreover, the contributions of the wholeinstallations, the construction of new roads - world for the support of armies fall asfor example the Strata Diocletiana which ran profits into the hands of thesefrom the Gulf of Aqaba to the Euphrates - plunderers, and our soldiers appear toand the deployment of troops near the bestow with their own hands the rewardsfrontiers. The army most probably increased of military service and their veteransin size during his reign, though there are no bonuses upon the profiteers.precise figures. Augustus of the west died at York in 306,Constantine and conversion his troops promptly acclaimed his son Constantine. Over the next six yearsDiocletian retired in 305, to a specially Constantine schemed and fought his way toprepared palace at Spalato (Split), but his mastery of the whole western Empire, asuccession arrangements faltered because process which culminated outside Rome atthey disregarded the soldiers strong dynastic the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312: hisloyalties: when Constantius the new opponent, Maxentius, son of Diocletians partner Maximian, deployed his troops onTowers at Constantina (modern Viransehir. Turkey). the north bank of the Tiber, but they wereThe large horseshoe towers of basalt date back to the routed and during the confused flight backfourth century. (Authors collection) to the city the wooden bridge collapsed. The
36 Essential Histories • Rome at Warmost significant aspect of the victory wasthat Constantines men fought under the Constantine writes to the king of Persiasign of Christ, whose inspiration (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4.9-13).Constantine proclaimed; after the battle he With Gods power as ally 1 beganset about rewarding his new God. In some from Oceans shores and progressivelyways this marked a decisive change from raised up the whole world with sureDiocletian (who had initiated persecution of hopes of salvation ... 1 believe that I amChristians in 303) and Constantines not mistaken, my brother, in confessingconversion did eventually lead to the this one God the Author and Father ofChristianisation of the Empire and so of all, whom many of those who reignedEurope, but the underlying religious attitude here, seduced by mad errors, havewas the same: correct worship of the right attempted to deny. But suchdivinity provided victory. punishment finally engulfed them that all men saw that their fate superseded all other examples, warning those who A contemporary Christian teacher, attempt the same ends ... With these Lactantius, records how Constantine had persons - 1 mean of course the the chi-rho monogram (the first two Greek Christians, my whole concern is for letters of Christs name) painted on his them - how pleasing it is for me to learn soldiers shields (On the Deaths of the that the chief regions of Persia too are Persecutors 44.5-6). richly endowed! ... These therefore I Constantine was advised in a dream entrust to you, since you are so great, to mark the heavenly sign of God on putting their persons in your hands, the shields of his soldiers and then because you too are renowned for piety. engage in battle. He did as he was commanded and by means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent Christian population of lower Mesopotamia round, he marked Christ on their to raise hopes of liberation; he had already shields. Armed with this sign, the army written to the young Persian king Shapur II took up its weapons. to inform him of the benefits of Christianity and to warn him not to harm his Christian subjects. In the event Constantine For the next 12 years Constantine shared bequeathed the conflict to his successors,the Empire in uneasy partnership with since he died near Nicomedia in 337 at theLicinius in the east, but in 324 the two start of the march east.clashed in a decisive naval engagement in Although his accession disrupted thethe Bosporus, with Constantine emerging as Tetrarchy, Constantine was in most ways asole ruler of the whole Empire. This victory true heir to Diocletians purpose. For half hiswas marked by the construction of a new reign Constantine was involved in civilcapital - Constantinople - on the site of the conflicts, which diverted attention fromold city of Byzantium, which gained new frontiers: he reorganised the central forceswalls, a palace and the other appurtenances which accompanied the emperor, theof an imperial seat. Constantine now comitatns, and created two prestigiousinherited responsibility for the Danube and commands for cavalry and infantry, thePersian frontiers. During the 330s he magister eqiutum and magister peditum. Thecampaigned energetically against the Goths, praetorian prefect lost operational militaryto such effect that the area was quiet for the responsibility, but took overall charge ofnext generation. Towards the end of his administration, including military suppliesreign tension began to rise in the east, with and recruitment; in recognition of thisConstantine probably contacting the increased role, the Empire was divided into
The fighting 37four grand prefectures. At provincial level confrontation. Constantius was engaged onmilitary command was also separated from the Danube, when Shapur II planned tocivilian duties. Constantines greatest strike deep into Roman territory, for onceachievement was the establishment of a disregarding Nisibis. The Romansstable currency, based on gold solidi struck at implemented a scorched-earth policy and72 to the pound: the bullion gained from placed strong guards at the Euphratescivil war and confiscations of temple crossings, but the river was in flood and thetreasures underpinned this coinage. Persians turned northwards. At Amida Shapur attempted to overawe the defenders by a display of might, but a RomanThe eastern Empire artilleryman disrupted proceedings when a bolt aimed at the king struck a member ofThe Empire was divided between his entourage. Shapur felt obliged to punishConstantines three surviving sons, the city, which eventually fell after 73 daysConstantine II in Gaul, Constans in Rome, of determined resistance, but thewith Constantius II in the east inheriting the combination of delay and heavy casualtieswar against Shapur. Constantius II has terminated the Persian invasion.suffered historiographically, since most Civil conflicts as well as the demands ofChristian writers regarded him as heretical, other frontiers distracted Constantius,while the major contemporary secular especially after he became sole ruler in 353.author, Ammianus Marcellinus, Between 351 and 353 Constantius co-optedmisrepresented him because of his clash with his cousin Gallus to supervise the east, butthe pagan Julian. As a result his dogged he proved unsuitable. In 355 Constantiusconduct of 24 years of war with Persia is turned to Gallus younger brother, theunderrated, although he managed to intellectual Julian, and used him to controlpreserve the eastern frontier with only the west, with better results until in 360limited losses in the face of one of the most Julians troops - quite possibly with Juliansdynamic Persian rulers. There was only one encouragement - demanded imperialpitched battle during the conflict, outside equality for their commander. ConstantiusSingara in 344: the Romans had the stabilised the frontier before turning west toadvantage until a disorderly pursuit and confront his rival, but he died en route;attack on the Persian camp permitted the Julian inherited the Empire without a battle.enemy to recover so that the engagement Julian arrived in the empire of the east inended indecisively. Constantius strategy was 361 with a reputation as a successful generalto build new forts and rely on the major and a need to demonstrate that he couldcities of the frontier to hold up Persian surpass Constantius. A major factor in thisincursions, with Nisibis holding the key to was religion: Julian espoused the old godsadvances across upper Mesopotamia: Shapur and had renounced formal adherence tobesieged the city three times, bringing the Christianity when challenging Constantius.full might of Persian siege technology to Persia offered the great testing ground, wherebear, but the defences held, with divine Julian could prove the rectitude of his beliefssupport provided through the citys deceased and the pusillanimity of Constantiusbishop, Jacob, whose corpse was paraded policies. Preparations were made for a grandaround the ramparts as a talisman. Singara, invasion in 363: Julian himself would lead anhowever, was captured in 360 when a newly army down the Euphrates while a secondrepaired section of wall was undermined, army created a diversion in northernand Bezabde also fell that year. Mesopotamia. The campaign began well, The siege of Amida (Diyarbakir) in 359, of with Julian overrunning Persian forts alongwhich Ammianus was a fortunate survivor, the Euphrates and reaching the vicinity ofillustrates the dynamics of strategic the capital Ctesiphon in spite of Persian
38 Essential Histories • Rome at WarThe arch of Galerius. Thessaloniki, showing fighting supply ships which could not be hauledbetween Romans and Persians. (Authors collection) upstream. Treacherous guides led him astray and then Shapur, whose army had not beenattempts to thwart his advance by breaching tied down effectively in the north, began totheir irrigation canals. However, he now harass; Julian was mortally wounded in arealised that he had little chance of capturing skirmish, and his successor, the officer Jovian,the city, and resolved to march back up the could only extricate his army by surrenderingTigris; this entailed burning his fleet of territories to the east of the Tigris, plus
The fighting 39 Eastern frontier in the fourth centuryNisibis and Singara. Bitter opposition from experienced, a fact crucial for the easternthe inhabitants of Nisibis who pleaded to Empires survival during the fifth century.continue their battle with the Persians was There were moments of tension, and twooverruled, and they were resettled in Amida. brief conflicts, but no prolonged warfare Blame for the Roman reverse was until 502. Tension persisted for a time,allocated in accordance with religious primarily over control of Armenia, but thisloyalties: for pagans the heroic Julians was settled in 387 when the Armeniansuccess was squandered by the cowardly kingdom was suppressed and its territoryJovian, whereas for Christians Jovians piety partitioned between Rome and Persia. Inrescued the Romans from Julians folly. The 421/2 war was provoked by the behaviour ofloss of Nisibis rankled, and its recovery was Christian activists in Persia againststill on the imperial agenda two centuries Zoroastrian shrines; the Christians fled westlater, but the agreement of 363 ushered in and Theodosius II refused to surrender histhe most prolonged period of peace which co-believers. In 440-42 conflict flared again,the Roman eastern frontier had ever this time over Roman payments for the
40 Essential Histories • Rome at WarTne Baptistery at Nisibis with the lintels of the original position also became easier when doctrinaldoors just visible. Only a year after the buildings questions separated them from Romandedication Nisibis was transferred to Persian control by Christians. Attempts were made to regulateJovian (AD 363). (Authors collection) the transhumant Arab tribes of the frontier, construction of new fortresses was banned,defence of the Caucasus; the Romans once the defence of key fortifications in themore had the better of limited fighting. On Caucasus was accepted as a shared burden,each occasion the Romans were prompted to and trade was funnelled through specificagree peace because of Hunnic activity in the markets at Nisibis, Callinicum andBalkans, while the Persians also had Artaxata. Rome and Persia came to seedistractions on their north-eastern frontier. themselves as the two lights of the world, During these years there emerged a with a mutual obligation to help eachsystem of diplomatic arrangements, which other against disruptive and uncivilisedreduced the risks of disagreements spilling outsiders. There was even a story thatover into full-scale war. The rights of Emperor Arcadius appointed his Persianminority religions were recognised, which counterpart Yazdgard as guardian for hisprotected the Christians in Persia; their infant son Theodosius.
The fighting 41 (perhaps compounded by jealousies) Khusro appeals to Emperor Maurice, unravelled the strategy and the army of Italy recalling the tradition of collaboration was defeated near Basel. But in August Julian between their states. (Theophylact 4.11.2-3) confronted the Alamanni on the right bank God effected that the whole world of the Rhine near Argentoratum (Strasburg): it should be illumined from the very was a hard-fought struggle. Since Ammianus beginning by two eyes, namely by the described it in reasonable detail, it is one of most powerful kingdom of the Romans the few battles in late antiquity whose course and the most prudent sceptre of the can be reconstructed. Ammianus commented Persian state. For by these powers the that superior Roman discipline and training disobedient and bellicose tribes are overcame the Alamannis advantage in winnowed and mans course is physical size, which gave their intitial charge continually regulated and guided. such ferocity; it is also noticeable that the battle was won by the Roman infantry, whereas their cavalry, which included some heavy-armed cataphracts (suit of armour), wasEuropean frontiers in the forced to flee.fourth century After Jovians brief reign, the brothers Valentinian and Valens shared the Empire,After Constantines death, the crucial factor with the senior Valentinian taking charge ofin the west was civil war: Constantine 11 was the Rhine and upper Danube and Valenskilled while fighting Constans in 340; in 350 responsible for the lower Danube and east.Constans was overthrown by Magnentius, an On the Danube the stability established byofficer on his personal staff, who then Constantine was broken, the reason, as sodispatched a rival in Rome. Constantius, after often, Roman internal conflict. The Gothsseducing the troops of another usurper in relations with Constantius had moments ofIllyria, clashed with Magnentius at Mursa on tension, especially when imperially28 September 351 in one of the most sponsored attempts to promote Christianitydestructive battles of the century. Once provoked a backlash, but they remainedMagnentius was eliminated after a further allies of the house of Constantine to thedefeat in 353, the Rhine armies were again extent that when Procopius, Julians cousindisrupted when court intrigues pushed a (and hence distant relative of Constantine)Frankish general Silvanus into revolt in 354; revolted against Valens in 365, he was ablefinally Julian (who had been sent to Gaul in to secure help from the Tervingi, the main355 because internal conflict had permitted confederation on the Danube. ThereafterFranks and Alamanni to breach the frontier) Valens set about disciplining these rebels, butwas acclaimed Augustus at Paris in February severe flooding and the Goths ability to360; he marched his best troops east to disappear into the swamps and mountainsconfront Constantius. prevented a decisive encounter. When Valens Julians actions in Gaul are painted in rosy halted proceedings in 369, the Tervingicolours by Ammianus, whose surviving books secured better terms, which included aopen with the suppression of Silvanus, a reduction in their obligation to providedaring action in which Ammianus troops for the Romans. South of the riverparticipated. During 356 Julian campaigned Valens embarked on energetic fortification,energetically and re-established Roman while the Tervingi returned to persecution ofauthority along the Rhine. In 357 an Christians. Further west Valentinian wasambitious campaign was planned to take the engaged in similar operations against thewar into Alamannic territory, with the armies Alamanni, Quadi and Sarmatians, while hisof Gaul and Italy operating a pincer subordinates dealt with disturbances inmovement. Problems of co-ordination North Africa and Britain.
42 Essential Histories • Rome at War LEFT BATTLE OF ARGENTORATUM Battle of Argentoratum Phase I: I Alamanni infantry in ambush; 2 Main Alamanni infantry in wedge formation; 3 Alamanni skirmishes; 4 Alamanni cavalry; 5 Roman flank guard under Severus: 6 Roman light infantry; 7 Roman front line including Cornuti and Brachiati: 8 Roman second line including Batavi and Reges; 9 Roman reserve including Primni; 10 Julians personal guards; I I Roman cavalry; 12 Roman baggage and camp guards. Phase 2: 13 Alamanni infantry drives Roman light infantry behind front line; 14 Alamanni cavalry routs Roman cavalry on right wing; IS Alamanni ambush discovered and neutralised by Roman left wing, helped by Julians personal guard. Phase 3: 16 Alamanni break through Roman front line, but are held by second line; 17 Julian re-forms Roman cavalry and stabilises right wing; 18 Roman left wing pursues Alamanni ambush from field; 19 Alamanni drive back Roman lines to foot of hill where camp sited; 20 Roman reserve and camp guards push Alamanni back: 21 Alamanni flee towards Rhine, pursued by Romans. RIGHT BATTLE OF ADRIANOPLE Phase I: Roman army deploys from front line of march with cavalry on the right wing and light infantry in lead. I Gothic wagon circle defended by infantry; 2 Gothic light infantry; 3 Roman light infantry; 4 Roman cavalry on right wing (sagitatti and scutarii); 5 Roman heavy infantry; 6 Roman cavalry on left wing; 7 Roman reserves (Batavi); 8 Gothic cavalry (arriving late). Phase 2: While Goths try to delay the battle to allow their cavalry to return, the two armies come to blows. 9 Gothic infantry withdraws to laager during negotiations; 10 Sagitatti and scutarii repulsed; I I Main Roman infantry force attacks laager; 12 Part of cavalry on Roman left wing attacks laager; 13 Gothic cavalry returns, shatters Roman left wing; 14 Roman cavalry on left still forming up. Phase 3: 15 Most Roman cavalry driven from field; 16 Roman reserves withdraw; 17 Roman army trapped between Goths counterattacking from laager and Gothic cavalry. In the 370s the position on the frontiers changed. In the west Valentinian suffered a stroke while trying to overawe a delegation of Quadi, and was succeeded by Gratian, whose military experience was limited, and the infant Valentinian II. On the lower Danube masses of Goths arrived to pester Roman officials for the right to cross and settle peacefully. Their desperation was caused by the westward movement of the Huns, who had been displaced from further east and were now approaching the Black Sea with a