Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Ian Haynes, Blood of the Provinces: The Roman Auxilia and the Making of Provincial Society from Augustus to the Severans. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xviii, 430 p.. ISBN 9780199655342. $150.

Reviewed by Tyler Franconi, University of Oxford (tyler.franconi@arch.ox.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site


Those familiar with Haynes's previous work will recognize this volume as the culmination of nearly 30 years of research on the Roman auxilia across the Empire. It should come as no surprise, then, that this book is an exceptionally detailed piece of scholarship that engages with a wide range of archaeological, literary, and epigraphic evidence in order to produce a comprehensive examination of the Roman auxilia between the reigns of Augustus and Alexander Severus. This book is, however, much more than just a military history. Haynes uses the auxilia as a lens through which to study the development of provincial society under the early and high Empire, making this a widely applicable and extremely interesting work.

The book examines both the auxiliary units and the provincial societies from which they were recruited in order to understand how imperial administration incorporated newly conquered groups as functional parts of Roman society. The concept of 'incorporation,' Haynes writes, "conveys the force with which Roman systems of classification ordered and integrated individuals into provincial society, but does not conflate this pull with debates about the notional 'Romanity' of different patterns of material culture" (23). As an alternative to Romanization, incorporation utilizes post-colonial concepts of 'third space' (5) and structurationalism (23) in order to understand the homogeneous heterogeneity of provincial society. Haynes argues that the Roman auxilia formed an 'occupational community' (10) that helped form an exclusive society of soldiers who, despite regional differences across the Empire and through time, shared responsibilities, dangers, privileges, and terms of service that kept them separate from other groups.

Haynes explores this military community and its surrounding society in twenty chapters divided between six sections. The first section, consisting of four chapters, examines the history and development of the auxilia in the Roman military from the Republican period up to the Constitutio Antoniniana of AD 212. This section starts with the idea that "The crucial principle was that one could become a Roman—that it was not necessary to be born one" (31). Indeed, from the civil wars of the first century BC onwards, the desire to 'become Roman' led a large number of men to join in military service of Rome with the promise of the reward of citizenship. The gradual institutionalization and legitimization of these units through grants of citizenship and other legal rights helped incorporate the soldiers into the system of the wider Empire.

The second section explores the methods and ramifications of auxiliary recruitment from provinces and subsequent deployment to other regions. Using case studies ranging from Gauls to Spaniards to Thracians, this chapter examines how Rome's recruitment policies adjusted to local conditions and fit into provincial taxation schemes. Haynes argues that manpower for auxiliary units was assessed by census in the same manner as taxes in cash and in kind, illustrating this point with many examples. The Roman Empire often targeted potentially dangerous and troublesome groups for recruitment into legitimate military service rather than allowing them to descend into revolt or banditry. This process took many forms, from the incorporation of warrior tribes to the royal body guards of client kings. The contrast between recruitment in Western Europe and the Roman East is striking, as the Romans often took advantage of existing institutions where they could, such as royal units, and incorporated them wholesale. Regardless of their origin, Rome harnessed and directed the fighting spirit of these men by rewarding them with monetary and legal incentives for loyal service to the Empire.

Specific groups were known for their martial prowess across the Empire, and Haynes offers an important examination of 'ethnic' units such as Syrians and Batavians and the idea that Rome made some effort to reinforce these units continually from their 'homeland.' Haynes argues that this model was not as common as some scholars believe, and the idea has more to do with imperial British military practice than Roman (139). Instead, it is clear that an auxiliary unit, initially raised from a single group, was more likely to be reinforced with recruits outside of this first group as time went on. This inter-mixing of recruits from different backgrounds helped foster the community of soldiers in which their Roman traits were the unifying feature of life, rather than their ethnic origins.

The third section examines the elements of auxiliary service that were experienced on a daily basis: urbanism, food, fashion, and bathing. Opening with a discussion of Dura Europos, Haynes explores the overlapping elements of fort and urban life and the many forms that these could take. Despite widely varying designs and situations, forts shared a remarkable homogeneity across the Empire, a fact that Haynes attributes to the institutional habitus instilled through the auxiliary's daily routine overseen by commanding officers. Daily activity encompassed a wide variety of tasks and activities, including an array of food, drinks, and other commodities that some troops may otherwise have not had the chance to experience. These directly contributed to the new identity of men and their families within the military structure, a structure which often set them apart from the provincial societies around them.

Religious experience formed another important element of the auxiliary habitus, discussed in section four. Haynes chooses to focus on 'cult practice' rather than 'religion' in order to emphasize the many different forms of worship evident in the archaeological record. Many similarities in cult practices are seen across the Empire, resulting from the loose definitions of rituals and other forms of adherence common in the Roman world. Emperor worship was a key unifying element, though this too saw substantial variation between regions and even unit types. Military interaction with other deities such as classically 'Roman' gods like Jupiter and Mars or more 'local' gods like Hercules Magusanus "underpins broader cohesion by lending force to the process of incorporation through local engagement with imperial endeavour" (206). In this way, cult practices evident in the archaeological record come as a combined result of cultural preferences within the unit, within the local community, and within the wider Empire, making it extremely difficult to separate a specific 'military religion' from this milieu. Other studies of provincial cult activity would do well to similarly recognize this complexity.

Section five offers a detailed discussion of the arms, armor, and tactics of the soldiers. Detailing the complex patterns of change seen throughout the study period, Haynes discusses how the Roman military adopted the equipment of its allies and enemies and gradually disseminated them throughout the military community. He argues that there were probably never official reforms of equipment within this period, as no central authority for standardization existed. Instead, the functional aspects of equipment encountered by troops created the 'bricolage' of Roman military equipment. This system was made possible in part by the creation of the standing military, which resulted in a social class of professional soldiers with money to spend (251). Conspicuous consumption within this class led to the proliferation of different sorts of arms, armor, and decoration across the Empire, evident in both material assemblages as well as funerary monuments. Military equipment was laden with symbols and mottos of the auxiliaries, often co-opted from neighboring or conquered groups. There were notable distinctions made within this equipment, particularly between the infantry and cavalry units, the latter of whom earned more money and enjoyed a higher standing.

Following this, the book offers a re-assessment of the importance and place of literacy within the Roman military, placing the discussion within the context of Empire-wide multi-lingualism based upon written evidence from a number of different military sites. Given the multi-ethnic composition of many auxiliary units, there is no reason to assume that only Latin or Greek was spoken within the camp. A mixture of terminology from different languages probably characterized the language of the soldier, and it was this language that helped differentiate soldiers from fellow provincials while also contributing to substantial regional variations (311). This did not guarantee literacy amongst the soldiers, though the army certainly maintained a high level of paperwork. A number of different documents, ranging from letters to payment receipts to diplomata demonstrate that many soldiers had at least some command of writing.

The final section focuses on veterans and their place in society after honorable discharge from the units. Rather than supporting the traditional view that places veterans in an elevated position, Haynes argued that their impact in society has been over-estimated in most zones of the Empire. Given the rather short life expectancy of antiquity, a man who retired after 25 years of military service probably did not often have it in him to make substantial waves in provincial society. There are clear exceptions to this, but Haynes argues that auxiliary veterans more often chose to blend into society if they could, rather than emphasize their status. This is clearly distinct from legionary veterans who were sometimes settled in purpose-built coloniae like the Trajanic cities of Timgad or Sarmizegetusa (the contemporary foundation of Xanten goes unmentioned). Regions like Batavia or Thrace, on the other hand, with their high levels of recruitment and their propensity for returning home after retirement, may have had more visible veterans than others.

This book is a crucial contribution not only to Roman military studies but to Roman archaeology and history more generally. Hayne's argument that "incorporation did not require homogenization" (76) has wide implications for other cultural themes within the field, and future scholarship on socio-cultural change must now address this viewpoint. The breadth of knowledge harnessed in this volume is impressive to say the least, ably interlacing narratives from distant provinces such as Britain, Dacia, and Egypt in order to present a highly nuanced understanding of the auxilia and their place within Roman society. The multi-faceted investigations of the auxiliary demonstrates ably demonstrates the complexities of military life under the Roman Empire, particularly the daily negotiations of identity and status that each soldier had to navigate. As Haynes illustrates in the conclusion, it was precisely these negotiations of imperial incorporation that maintained the Empire, and the contradictions and oppositions often seen in this material were not obstacles to provincial societies, but rather the nexus through which they were reconciled and created (381).

My criticisms of the books are few. Aside from some minor editorial errors (e.g., pg. 50, footnote 95 is blank; pg. 141, footnote 24 "warden" instead of "werden"), the only content that raised an eyebrow were remarks in Chapter 11 (169-70) on the relationship between imperial and military fashion. This section would have benefitted greatly from the inclusion of the arguments made by Smith years ago regarding beards and provincial emulation of emperors 1, as well as the work by Wood on third century imperial portraiture 2. These would have added support to Hayne's arguments in favor of local rather than empire-wide factors determining fashion and taste. Otherwise, the book requires a high degree of geographical knowledge from the reader, and a map marking major sites discussed in the text would be helpful for many.

These small comments take nothing away from the strength of this contribution. Blood of the Provinces has set the bar high for future work on the Roman military, and we can only hope that later Roman military units, particularly the period from the Severans to Diocletian, soon receive comparably comprehensive studies.


1.   R. R. R. Smith, "Cultural Choice and Political Identity in Honorific Portrait Statues in the Greek East in the Second Century A.D.," The Journal of Roman Studies 88 (1998): 56-93.
2.   S. Wood, Roman Portrait Sculpture 217-260 AD: The Transformation of Artistic Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1986).

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