Barbarians and the Late Roman Army


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Lecture from week 11 of the Later Roman Empire module at the University of Liverpool, given on 7th December 2012.

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Barbarians and the Late Roman Army

  1. 1. BARBARIANS AT THEGATES, BARBARIANS INTHE ARMY The Belgrade cameo, 4th century: Constantine in pose of Alexander riding over barbarian corpses Dr Jamie Wood - CLAH266 - Week 11
  2. 2. Structure Barbarians in the Roman imagination German and barbarian identity Barbarians in the 3rd century Converting the barbarians A case study: The Goths Break The Army: discussing the reading
  3. 3. Tacitus, Germania (1st C CE) W hat, according to Tacitus, were the defining characteristics of German social, political and military life?‘The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with otherraces through immigration or intercourse. […] For my own part, I agree with those whothink that the tribes of Germany are free from all taint of intermarriages with foreignnations, and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves. […]They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimitedor arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority. If they areenergetic, if they are conspicuous, if they fight in the front, they lead because they areadmired. But to reprimand, to imprison, even to flog, is permitted to the priests alone,and that not as a punishment, or at the generals bidding, but, as it were, by the mandateof the god whom they believe to inspire the warrior. […] About minor matters the chiefsdeliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decisionrests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. Theyassemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either atnew or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transactionof business. […] When they go into battle, it is a disgrace for the chief to be surpassed invalour, a disgrace for his followers not to equal the valour of the chief. And it is an infamyand a reproach for life to have survived the chief, and returned from the field. To defend,to protect him, to ascribe ones own brave deeds to his renown, is the height of loyalty.The chief fights for victory; his vassals fight for their chief. If their native state sinks intothe sloth of prolonged peace and repose, many of its noble youths voluntarily seek thosetribes which are waging some war, both because inaction is odious to their race, andbecause they win renown more readily in the midst of peril, and cannot maintain anumerous following except by violence and war.’
  4. 4. Traditional Roman views of barbarians  Barbarians  Are multiple  Are situated outside the empire  Are described in stereotypes  Are defeated by good emperors and overcome bad emperors  Are used to attack/ denigrate other Romans Salvian of Marseille (440s) savages Roman  E.g. society: less just, less fair, more sinful, even than the barbarians  Are Rome’s “other”, against which it defines itself
  5. 5. German identity Tacitus’ idea of ‘Free Germany’: entire male population participating in decision-making  Adopted by later scholars as model of barbarian society  Problem 1: how can we use 1st C text to describe later situation?  Problem 2: Tacitus was comparing German ‘freedom’ to Roman ‘tyranny’ under the empire: not objective
  6. 6. Barbarian identity Concepts of Roman-ness and Barbarian-ness are neither fixed nor objective  They are fluid – a state of mind  Guy Halsall: ‘Ethnicity is multi-layered, flexible, cognitive (a state of mind) and situational (deployed in situations when it is advantageous).’  Helps explain how Romans could act (or be depicted as acting) as barbarians, esp. usurpers, rebels, bandits
  7. 7. Barbarians in the 3rd century Late 2nd and 3rd C: larger confederations exert greater pressure on Rome (e.g. wars of Marcus Aurelius, Severus, 3rd C crisis):  Alamanni (‘All Men’) – south-west Germany  Franks (‘the Fierce People’) – middle and lower Rhine  Saxons – north Germany  Picts (‘the Painted Men’) – north Britain  Goths (‘the Men’) – eastern Carpathians and lower Danube. 3 types of kingship proposed:  War leader  Sacral kingship  Judges Created by the Romans?  Politically: wealth/ diplomacy/ military experience (archaeology – Roman badges of office)  Historiographically
  8. 8. Converting the barbarians After conversion of Constantine, Romans began to try to convert barbarians too  Reign of Constantius II important  He is (and later 4th C emperors are) Arian, so most barbarians are Arian too Reasons  What a Christian Roman Emperor should do?  An act of diplomacy?  Building alliances  Demonstrates Roman dominance (baptism)
  9. 9. Converting the Goths (340s?)‘This Ulfilas, then, was the leader of this piousband which came out from among the Goths,and became eventually their first bishop. […] hetook the greatest care of them in many ways,and amongst others, he reduced their languageto a written form, and translated into their vulgartongue all the books of holy Scripture, with theexception of the Books of Kings, which heomitted, because they are a mere narrative ofmilitary exploits, and the Gothic tribes wereespecially fond of war, and were in more needof restraints to check their military passionsthan of spurs to urge them on to deeds of war.But those books have the greatest influence inexciting the minds of readers, inasmuch as theyare regarded with great veneration, and areadapted to lead the hearts of believers to theworship of God.’ (Photius, Ep ito m e , 2.5)
  10. 10. The Goths – a very brief introduction Possible origins in Scandinavia Speak Gothic, a Germanic language Migration to Danube frontier/ southern Russia by 2nd century CE Many different Gothic groups 2 ‘supergroups’ emerge  Visigoths (west Goths) – mid 4th century – under Roman influence  Ostrogoths (east Goths) – early 5th century – under Hunnic influence
  11. 11. Early Roman influence on Goths Goth as Roman soldiers  Inscriptions on eastern frontier from 3rd C Roman religion  Goths convert to Arianism  But this is a marker of belonging not difference Roman material culture  Roman coins and pottery throughout ‘Gothia’
  12. 12. Goths as barbarianenemies of Rome ‘Gothicus’: a common victory agnomen of emperors  E.g. Claudius II Gothicus (268-270) Column of the Goths in Constantinople (right):  FORTUNAE REDUCI OB DEVICTUS GOTHOS (‘To Fortuna, who returns by reason of victory over the Goths’)
  13. 13. Goths as enemies …in 410
  14. 14. Goths & Romans within the Empire Enter empire under treaty late 4thC; often ally with Romans  But: Adrianople (378); sack Rome (410) Fight as Roman fo e d e ra ti (federate troops) against  other barbarians  usurpers  bandits Gothic leaders demand Roman generalships Receive subsidies from the empire Demand lands within the empire
  15. 15. Orosius on Gothic federate troopsat Battle of Frigidus (394) ‘And so the civil war was ended by the deaths of these two men, apart from the 10,000 Goths who, it is said, were Theodosius’ advance guard and were completely wiped out by Arbogastes. But to lose them was a gain and their defeat was a victory.’  Paulus Orosius, Se ve n Bo o ks o f His to ry a g a ins t the Pa g a ns , 7.35.19
  16. 16. Gibbon on revolt of the Goths in 395W hat, according to Gibbon, motivated the barbarians (= Goths) torevolt against the Romans? ‘The barbarian auxiliaries erected their independent standard, and boldly avowed the hostile designs which they had long cherished in their ferocious minds. Their countrymen, who had been condemned by the conditions of the last treaty to a life of tranquillity and labour, deserted their farms at the first sound of the trumpet, and eagerly resumed the weapons which they had reluctantly laid down. The barriers of the Danube were thrown open; the savage warriors of Scythia issued from their forests; and the uncommon severity of the winter […]’  Edward Gibbon, The His to ry o f the De c line a nd Fa ll o f the Ro m a n Em p ire , (1776– 89), chapter 30
  17. 17. Orosius on Athaulf (r. 410-415)‘he was accustomed to relate that at first he earnestlyhad wanted to obliterate the name of Rome andmake the Romans’ land the Goths’ empire in bothword and deed, so that there would have been […] aG o thia where there had once been a Ro m a nia andthat he, Athaulf, would now be what Augustus Caesarhad once been. But when, after long experience, hehas proved to himself that, because of their wildbarbarism, the Goths were completely unable to obeythe law […] he chose at least to seek for himself theglory of having restored and extended the RomanEmpire by the might of his Goths and, since he couldnot be her supplanter, to be remembered by posterityas the author of Rome’s renewal.’ (Paulus Orosius, Se v e n Bo o ks o fHis to ry a g a ins t the Pa g a ns , 7.43.5-6
  18. 18. (Visi-)Goths in Gaul Take on imperial roles  pass laws  respect property rights  hold church council  respect Catholic religion Local aristocracy accept their rule  Goths collaborate to appoint Gallic senator Eparchius Avitus as Western Roman Emperor (455-456)  Gallo-Roman nobles (Catholics) fight and die for Alaric II (an Arian) against the Frankish king Clovis (a Catholic) in 507
  19. 19. Anti-Gothic sentiment in southernGaul “Why – even supposing I had the skill – do you bid me compose a song dedicated to Venus the lover of Fescennine mirth, placed as I am among long-haired hordes, having to endure German speech, praising oft with wry face the song of the gluttonous Burgundian who spreads rancid butter on his hair?”  Sidonius Apollinaris Ca rm e n 12.1
  20. 20. (Ostro-)Goths in Italy Politics:  Depose Odoacer, who had deposed the last Western Roman Emperor  Develop c ivilita s ideology: cooperation between Gothic warriors and Roman civilians  Make alliances with nobles  Some join Ostrogoths to resist (successful) Byzantine reconquest attempts under Justinian in 530s-550s Religion:  Support rather than persecute church; in collation of classical and patristic learning
  21. 21. Isidore of Seville on the Goths (625)W hat, according to Isidore, were (a) the defining characteristic(s) of theGoths and (b) their main achievement(s)? ‘All of the peoples of Europe feared them. The barriers of the Alps gave way before them. The Vandals, widely known for their own barbarity, were not so much terrified by the presence of the Goths as put to flight by their renown. The Alans were extinguished by the strength of the Goths. The Suevi, too, forced into inaccessible corners of Spain, have now experienced the threat of extermination at the hands of the Goths [...]. Subjected, the Roman soldier now serves the Goths, whom he sees being served by many peoples and by Spain itself.’  Isidore, His to ry o f the G o ths , ‘Recapitulation’, 68-70
  22. 22. (Visi-)Goths in Spain But, c o ntra Isidore… Politics:  Imperial roles:  Build cities and repair infrastructure  Intermarry with Hispano-Roman nobility  King Theudis (mid 6th C) marries Roman noblewoman;  revoke earlier laws against intermarriage Religion:  Convert to Catholicism (587/9)  Cooperate with Catholic bishops
  23. 23. THE ARMY (1) In groups, discuss Lee, ‘The Army’  How did the late Roman military differ from the early imperial system?  What does Lee say about the ‘barbarization’ of the late Roman military?  What does Lee say about the effectiveness of the late Roman military?
  24. 24. Differences from early imperialarmy  Increased specialisation  Smaller units and indivual army size reduced but an overall increase in the size of the whole army  Field armies (c o m ita ne ns e s ) and frontier defence forces (lim ita ne i) – old army had just been legions  Praetorian guard replaced by s c ho la e – elite troops
  25. 25. ‘Barbarization’ of the late Romanmilitary  Army couldn’t recruit enough troops so they had to rely on barbarians  More of a career choice than an enemy taking over – lots of barbarians rising through the military  Means that the term barbarisation is legitimate  Very little evidence that barbarians were disloyal or fled during battle
  26. 26. Effectiveness of late Roman army  Soldiers brought economic benefits; constituted a considerable market and steady income  Ammianus does not support the view that the army deteriorated  Some abandoned battles and panicked, but this happened throughout Roman history – no overall growth in later empire  Army got a bad press – it was not in decline  Vicious circle – provinces lost meaning less resources and fewer potential recruits = more reliance on barbarians
  27. 27. THE ARMY (2) In groups, discuss the source extracts on your handout, answering the following questions:  What were the positive and negative impacts of the army on the late Roman world?  What do these sources tell us about the relationship between the army and society in the later Roman Empire?
  28. 28. 1. Government aren’t making the army an appealing career choice2. Militarisation of society – army used for civilian purposes such as tax collection3. Soldiers becoming arrogant -> controlling pay agenda4. Veterans leave service with respect in local city5. Billeting -> soldiers living-in with families changes social makeup
  29. 29. Summary Barbarians & army = prime reasons for fall of empire?  Stereotypes of barbarians are strong in Roman sources and much scholarship  Easily leads to idea that barbarians want to overthrow Rome  But more likely that they wanted to become part of Roman order: barbarians as Romans not barbarians vs. Romans  Army, along with bureaucracy, predominant institution within later Roman empire  Not necessarily as ineffective as once thought  Integral part of society  Barbarians do play a big role, especially in West
  30. 30. Final class When: Monday 10th December Where: CYPS-209 For more on the army, there are some excellent maps and other materials here: