Monday, November 3, 2008


Paul Erdkamp (ed.), A Companion to the Roman Army. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Pp. xxvi, 574; ills. 24, fig. 1, maps 4, tables 3. $174.95. ISBN 978-1-4051-2153-8.
Reviewed by Duncan B. Campbell, Glasgow (

What exactly should one expect from a "Companion" to the Roman army? What field of study is it supposed to "accompany"? In their Companions to the Ancient World series, the publishers claim to provide "sophisticated and authoritative overviews" which are "designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers". Perhaps not so much a Companion, then, as a Digest, giving a complete overview of the subject. For this volume, twenty-nine scholars were each commissioned to contribute a paper on some aspect of Roman military life. So, how successfully has the editor of the present volume achieved the publishers' aims?

In his introduction, the editor explains that the twenty-nine chapters are intended to address four major themes: "(1) the army as a fighting force; (2) the mobilization of human and material resources; (3) the relationship between army, politics, and empire; and (4) the relationship between the armies and the civilian population" (1). He then proceeds to summarise his own view of the Roman army's development, where the reader would have been better served by an attempt to contextualize the individual contributions. In the absence of a unifying thread, the volume remains a diverse collection of papers, rather than either a Companion or a Digest. The impression that each chapter stands in isolation is strengthened by the lack of cross-referencing, or even a basic awareness of other contributions. For example, two contributors discuss the career of Spurius Ligustinus (166, 368), without mentioning the fact that a third has quoted his career in extenso from Livy (63). Or again, one contributor refers to cataphractarii in an ala dromedariorum (274), without noting that another contributor has quoted the relevant papyrus fragment (313).

The papers are organised into four parts: Part I, "Early Rome", has only two contributions; Part II, "Mid- and Late Republic", has eight; Part III, "The Empire (Actium to Adrianople)", has fifteen; and Part IV, "The Late Roman Empire (up to Justinian)", has four. All the papers are in English, but the editor has assembled an international pool of authors, principally from American and north European institutions. Thus, the volume's main strength must lie in making the contributions of our Dutch and German colleagues more accessible to an Anglophone audience. Each paper is self-contained, with its own bibliography and (in most cases) a 'Further Reading' section. If this makes for much duplication (Cornell 1995, for example, is listed by six of the first ten contributors), it at least facilitates the extraction of entire papers for photocopying by cash-strapped students.

Part I: Early Rome

In "Warfare and the Army in Early Rome" (7-23), John Rich presents a whistle-stop tour of Roman history down to the 340s BC. Although he has very little to say about Roman warfare, and less on the Roman army, he paints the historical background for Part I, incidentally providing a useful map of Latium. (As a general observation, the lack of maps considerably impairs the volume's usefulness and is a major shortcoming.) In "The Army and Centuriate Organization in Early Rome" (24-41), Gary Forsythe gives a masterful summary of the comitia centuriata, the Republican voting assembly in which all citizens were organised according to wealth, and which in turn dictated their military role. In "Army and Battle During the Conquest of Italy (350-264 BC)" (45-62), Louis Rawlings charts the development of the army from hoplite phalanx to manipular legion. (This last paper has been misplaced into Part II, although its subject matter properly belongs with early Rome.) There is some disagreement over points of detail, such as the introduction of Greek hoplite warfare into Roman society (Forsythe and Rawlings for, Rich undecided), but these three papers together form a useful introduction to the army of early Rome for the benefit of students and general readers.

Part II: Mid- and Late Republic

In "The Age of Overseas Expansion (264-146 BC)" (63-79), Dexter Hoyos tackles the army of the Middle Republic. The cut-off date, a suitably resonant year, dovetails with the following contribution, "The Late Republican Army (146-30 BC)" (80-95) by Pierre Cagniart. (Others may follow Forsythe (24) in preferring 133 BC as the watershed between Middle and Late Republic, but this is surely an area requiring editorial clarification.) In "War and State Formation in the Roman Republic" (96-113), Paul Erdkamp discusses Rome's expansion in Italy (which seems of greater relevance to Part I) and the resourcing of campaigns farther afield, concluding with the transformation of army general into provincial governor. In "Roman Manpower and Recruitment During the Middle Republic" (114-131), Luuk de Ligt discusses the methods of recruitment, arguing that the Roman losses during the Hannibalic War were easily offset by a high fertility rate. In "Military Command, Political Power, and the Republican Elite" (132-147), Nathan Rosenstein emphasizes the martial ethos of Rome and the link between military fame and electoral success. In "Colonization, Land Distribution, and Veteran Settlement" (148-163), Will Broadhead explains how the original strategy of founding colonies was adapted, first by Marius and then by Caesar, to provide land for time-served veterans. And in "Army and General in the Late Roman Republic" (164-179), Lukas de Blois expounds his theory of a "semi-professional military middle cadre" in order to disprove the thesis that Late Republican armies were more attached to their generals than to Rome. (I felt that he rather proves the opposite, with his claim that generals "could not simply ask the soldiers to do what they wanted them to do, but had to use their rhetorical skills to persuade them"; 172.)

Part III: The Empire (Actium to Adrianople)

This large section is divided into four subsections, the first of which is entitled "The Structure of the Imperial Army". In "The Augustan Reform and the Structure of the Imperial Army" (183-200), Kate Gilliver ably summarises the Augustan army (although the legatus Augusti pro praetore was far too senior an individual to command a legion, which was the job of a legatus legionis; 190). In "Classes. The Evolution of the Roman Imperial Fleets" (201-217), Denis Saddington sketches out the development of this important military adjunct, from the ad hoc fleets of the late Republic to the standing navies of the empire; but the reader gets no clear guidance, from his discussion of personnel, on the place of the ship's centurion in the hierarchy of naval command. In "Battle, Tactics, and the Emergence of the Limites in the West" (218-234), James Thorne dashes through the soldiers' battle, the general's battle, marching order, clothing, and assaults on fortified places, before making some remarks on the general development of frontiers. He takes an unusual approach by rooting the latter in Blaesus' use of castella and munitiones against Tacfarinas, but the reader gets no sense of the limes as a lateral zone of control. Everett Wheeler concludes a thorough and thought-provoking discussion of "The Army and the Limes in the East" (235-266) with interesting observations on how Roman armies never found a solution to Iranian battle tactics; along the way, he provides separate historical coverage of the northern and southern sectors of the eastern frontier. In "Strategy and Army Structure between Septimius Severus and Constantine the Great" (267-285), Karl Strobel contests the view that the Roman army declined during the third century and required major reform under Diocletian and Constantine, preferring to emphasize a continuity of development from Marcus Aurelius onwards.

The next three chapters are gathered under the heading of "Military Organisation". Sara Elise Phang discusses "Military Documents, Languages, and Literacy" (286-305), with remarks on writing materials, the enlistment process, the range of official documents used by the army, and the status of clerks as immunes. (The Julius Apollinarius on 296/298 appears elsewhere as "Julius Apollinaris", and has consequently been omitted from the index.) In "Finances and Costs of the Roman Army" (306-322), Peter Herz summarises issues of pay and expenses, with a lengthy section on remounts for cavalry regiments, but concludes that "the state of current research is very far from being decisive". (Incidentally, the statement that a centurion earned "18 times the pay of a simple soldier" [308] is surely an error; current consensus suggests 15 times, with primi ordines receiving a 30-fold salary.) And in "War- and Peacetime Logistics: Supplying Imperial Armies in East and West" (323-338), Peter Kehne explains the types and, sometimes, the quantities of resources required by the army, and the personnel involved. However, the implications of his statistics are not always apparent, and the casual reader will struggle with his figures: for example, "the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil alone consumed approximately 16,100 cubic meters of wood" (326; how big a forest is that?), or "the fortress near Anreppen . . . had a large magazine of approximately 3,808 square metres" (332; is that particularly big?).

The next three chapters are gathered under the heading of "Army, Emperor, and Empire". In "The Roman Army and Propaganda" (339-358), Olivier Hekster discusses the media through which the emperor's military prestige was communicated, concentrating chiefly on coins and monumental sculpture. (Readers should note that, in AD 68, the pretender L. Clodius Macer, governor of Africa, raised a legion called I Macriana to accompany the existing III Augusta; he did not "call his two legions respectively Legio I Maciana [sic] and Legio II Augusta"; 352). In "The Army and the Urban Elite: A Competition for Power" (359-378), Clifford Ando writes (rather obscurely, I felt) on the theme of emperor and soldiery. And in "Making Emperors. Imperial Instrument or Independent Force?" (379-394), Anthony Birley engagingly discusses army coups, noting that it was usual for usurpers to "blame" their elevation on an over-enthusiastic soldiery.

The final four chapters in this section are gathered under the heading of "Soldiers and Veterans in Society". In a chapter that seems somewhat out of place in this section, Norbert Hanel discusses "Military Camps, Canabae, and Vici. The Archaeological Evidence" (395-416), but has space to present only a generalised picture. The focus on "military camps" blurs the distinction between temporary and permanent fortifications and conceals a wealth of variation from the enormous legionary fortresses (here listed on one of the volume's few maps), via forts large and small, to the little fortlets and burgi. (Incidentally, the porta praetoria cannot be both the main gate and the rear gate of a camp, and the walls of a clavicula, a device normally restricted to temporary fortifications, do not both curve inwards; 402.) Walter Scheidel discusses "Marriage, Families, and Survival: Demographic Aspects" (417-434), with interesting observations on life expectancy, drawing the conclusion that some 15,000 recruits were required every year to keep the military ticking over. Gabriele Wesch-Klein discusses "Recruits and Veterans" (435-450) across four centuries, with illuminating comments on the reintegration of ex-soldiers into society. (It should be pointed out that "Julius Apollinaris, a former soldier of the Cohors I Apamenorum" [445/449], is a different individual from the homonymous legionary mentioned elsewhere and listed in the index.) And Oliver Stoll presents a fascinating discussion of "The Religion of the Armies" (451-476), both official and private. (In one of the very few infelicities of English that I noticed, the "so-called flag cult" is presumably a reference to the cult of the standards; 452 etc.)

Part IV: The Late Roman Empire (up to Justinian)

In this final section, Wolf Liebeschuetz discusses "Warlords and Landlords" (479-494), contrasting the situation in the east with that in the west, where the magistri militum managed to exert supreme authority. Timo Stickler discusses "The Foederati" (495-514), tracing the practice of barbarian recruitment back to Julius Caesar. Michael Whitby discusses "Army and Society in the Late Roman World: A Context for Decline?" (515-531), amusingly describing the heavy-armoured clibanarii as "boiler boys" (522). And Hugh Elton rounds off the volume with "Army and Battle in the Age of Justinian (527-65)" (532-550), in which he discusses operations, combat, skirmishing, battle and sieges.

Supplementary Material

The five-page listing of "Abbreviations of Reference Works and Journals" (xvii-xxi) could have been more informative, particularly with the general reader in mind. The bare listing of journal titles, mostly without publisher or place of publication, cannot even claim to be comprehensive: the general reader is given no guidance (for example) on "R.E." (199, for Paulys Real-encyklopädie) and will not know where to begin with "Limes 15" (217, for Maxfield & Dobson 1991), while even seasoned scholars may be foxed by "Notizie degli Scavi 1913, 22" (191, where AE 1913, 215 is a more useful reference for this inscription). Also, the editor might have taken the opportunity to explain the "Campbell" number which several authors assign to translations of passages, inscriptions and papyri; not every reader will know that it refers to the numbered items in Brian Campbell, The Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 337: A Sourcebook (London 1994).

A listing of common abbreviations could, in theory, have been useful, but the five-page listing of "Abbreviations of Works of Classical Literature" (xxii-xxvi) simply seems gratuitous, and includes many oddities, such as "Epictetus, Disc." as the abbreviation for "Diatribae" or "Fronto, Ad M Caes" for "M. Cornelius Fronto" (no title stated). For this listing to be of any use to non-specialists, it ought to give guidance on standard editions and translations. Otherwise, these are wasted pages, particularly when abbreviations are omitted (e.g. RGDA on 355), and those that have been included are not universally employed (e.g. Not.Dig.Occ. on 480). And most readers will be foxed by the reference to the "Gnomon of the Idioslogos" (424).

Similarly, I cannot see the justification for an "Index Locorum" (551-554). None of the cited passages is quoted, few are translated, and the listing is, in any case, selective. As an example, on a single page (524), one contributor has cited a selection of eight authors and texts of which only one (Cod. Theod) appears in both the Index Locorum and the Abbreviations (where the translation "Theodosian Code" might have made more sense than the strictly literal expansion Codex Theodosiani); four (Livy, Caesar, Tacitus, and Novellae Val.) appear in the latter but not the former; and three (Ammianus Marcellinus, Cassius Dio, and Laud. Iust.) appear in neither. Again, errors are in evidence. For example, both CIL 3.3676 (the so-called Soranus poem, better known as ILS 2558) and ILS 9100 (the tabularium legionis from Lambaesis) are listed amongst "Ostraca, Tablets and Papyri".

The space occupied by these redundant features might have been devoted, more profitably, to reference material. For example, readers are expected to know the relationship between sestertii, denarii and drachmae for the discussions of pay and expenses, and not all contributors have explained their use of Latin terms (e.g. profectio and adlocutio, 345; contiones, 347). In a true "Companion", the general reader would, no doubt, welcome a handy chronological listing to put into context, for example, "the fleet sent to invade Africa in 256" (65), or "the large-scale wars of the years 264-168 BC" (120). Another major failing of a reference book like this is the dearth of maps. Rich has provided a map of Latium (9) and Hanel has a map showing "Legionary fortresses and camps" (396), but the excellent maps of the eastern frontier that accompany Wheeler's chapter (244-5) simply emphasize the absence of anything comparable for the west. In particular, Broadhead's discussion of colonies (esp. 152) would have benefited from the provision of a location map.

This is not really a book for beginners. Of course, it is no easy task to commission and co-ordinate 29 separate contributions, and the editor's energy in doing so should be recognised. But one misses any attempt to integrate the disparate discussions. As in any collection of papers, some are good and some are not so good, but the content is basically sound. The volume will happily sit on an academic bookshelf, not perhaps as a reference work (the indices are not really up to the task), but as a handy compendium of the views of the individual authors.1


1. There are few misprints, none of them serious; for example, the fort at Benwell appears as "Benham" and the cohors I Cugernorum as "Cubernorum" (466, the latter perpetuating the stone-cutter's error on RIB 1524). Mistakes are generally trivial, many of them due to poor judgement or carelessness, rather than ignorance. The dating of the destruction of Pompeii to AD 69 (210) is surely simply a slip; similarly the appearance, in one bibliography (199), of J.C. Balty and P.A. Brunt as "J.C. Bally" and "P.D.A. Brunt"; more curious is the attribution, in another bibliography (60), of Peter Connolly's masterful Greece and Rome at War to M.T. Burns. The item "P. Panop. Beatty" in the columnar listing of "Abbreviations of Reference Works and Journals" has been clumsily truncated across two pages (xix-xx), creating the possibility of confusion. In the index, personal names appear arbitrarily, some by nomen (e.g. Julius Caesar, listed under "Julius"), others by cognomen (e.g. Julius Agricola, listed under "Agricola"), some with full name (e.g. "Cornelius Sulla, L."), others without (e.g. "Cinna" for L. Cornelius Cinna, or "Blaesus" for Q. Junius Blaesus). The index also exhibits some oddities, such as an entry for "prostitution", pointing to the brief remark that Marius expelled camp-followers, "even prostitutes" (87), as well as a more useful reference to "Sex and the army" (425). And there are one or two minor errors: e.g., Tullus Hostilius appears as "Tullius Hostilius", M. Valerius Maximianus as "Maximus" (also on 331), and the Legion IV Flavia felix as "firma" (also on 188-9, though correctly on 352). As well as a preference for Americanised spelling, the editor often adopts the curious idiosyncrasy of placing "AD" after the year number, giving the reign of Augustus, for example, as "31 BC-14 AD" (2). But there are remarkably few typographical errors in a work of this length, and none adversely affect the meaning of the text, although the bizarre selection of misspellings for the legionary base at Caparcotna (245, 248, 250, 253, 558) may confuse, and the legionary Castra Albana, located SE of Rome at Albano, appears as "Albanum north of Rome" (263). The end-note system generally works well enough, but the blanket decision against using Harvard-style in-text references is pointless if it simply creates a list of end-notes citing author and year of publication (as, for example, in Chapter 7); these may as well have been incorporated in the text.

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