Sunday, June 19, 2016


Fred K. Drogula, Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire. Studies in the History of Greece and Rome. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. x, 422. ISBN 9781469623146. $59.95.

Reviewed by Simon Day, Wadham College, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site


Drogula's book begins, as it ends, with the bold claim that the history of provincial command was to a large extent the history of the Roman Republic and Early Empire (p. 1 and p. 382). Roman historians themselves were well aware that commanders and command played a crucial role in shaping the world in which they lived. Livy, for example, asks his readers to pay particular attention to the men and conduct, in the civilian and military spheres, through which imperium was established and increased (pr. 9). Tacitus later famously began his Annals with a sweeping account of over seven hundred years of Roman History, starting with the rule of kings and ending with the armies of Lepidus and Antonius passing into the hands of Augustus, who with the name of princeps took everything under his imperium (1.1.1). Drogula thus follows a long tradition in making a serious contribution to furthering our understandings of this history. Unlike Livy and Tacitus, though, he focusses on the development of a number of key concepts (imperium, auspicium, magistratus and prouincia) that defined provincial commanders and command rather than the deeds of individuals.

A vast amount has been written on these concepts both within specific contexts (e.g. research on particular regions, notions of empire, the Senate, individual magistracies, aristocratic competition, etc.) and within more general studies on the "Roman constitution" (or Römisches Staatsrecht) over the last two centuries. Drogula pulls together various complex topics into a comprehensive single study (p. 6) and, in doing so, challenges a number of the standard views held in the earlier scholarship. His book also offers an alternative interpretation of provincial command to Vervaet's recent monograph (which had not been published when Drogula's manuscript went to press) investigating the practice of assigning the supreme command (the summum imperium auspiciumque) to commanders in specific spheres.1 Vervaet is generally more willing to accept (with necessary criticism) the evidence from the so-called annalistic sources (most of which date to the first century or later and were liable to have been skewed by earlier family histories).2 Drogula, on the other hand, believes one must disentangle overarching "structural themes" from what he views as the unreliable and anachronistic details in the annalistic tradition (pp. 2-6 and pp. 8-13). Largely as a result of this fundamental difference, Vervaet observes a number of "enduring" constitutional "principles" (governed by custom and law), whereas Drogula argues that the concepts connected with provincial command—in particular imperium and prouincia—evolved gradually between the sixth and first centuries (all dates are BCE unless otherwise stated).

In Chapter 1 ("Concepts and Traditions of Military Leadership in Early Rome (to 367)"), Drogula questions the Roman tradition—such as is preserved in Livy's History—that two consuls were created as equal colleagues with supreme authority over domestic and military affairs after the expulsion of the last king of Rome (e.g. Liv. 2.1-2). He takes military authority as originally a "vague concept" (p. 13) that was unconnected with civilian authority in Rome: Roman aristocrats predominantly used military resources from their clans and tribes to wage private wars (pp. 18-33). He suggests that the state only gradually acquired control over commanders, starting, perhaps, with the exclusive right to grant imperium around 449 and culminating in a Licinian-Sextian law that limited the number of annual commanders to three praetors in 367 (pp. 33-44).

A major problem with this interpretation, as Drogula acknowledges on several occasions, is that the evidence is insufficient to reach firm conclusions (e.g. p. 25, p. 31 and p. 44). One may wonder whether there was more central organisation earlier than the mid-fifth century (perhaps even going back to the regal period). Likewise, the fact that the title consul only first appears in surviving inscriptions from around 264 does not tell us very much, given that there is a complete absence of any epigraphic evidence for Roman offices (including praetors) prior to the third century (cf. p. 41f). It remains open to debate whether the evidence we do have for the Early Republic from later historians should be rejected altogether, especially for the last half of the fourth century when information may have been better preserved (note esp. e.g. Q. Fabius Pictor's reference, though only surviving in a later Latin translation, to the election of consuls in 367 in FRHist, no. 1, F31).

The second and third chapters explore the key principles that defined military command. Chapter 2 ("Fundamental Concepts of Authority in Early Rome (to 367 BC)") focuses on the separation of authority domi militiaeque and the concepts of potestas, auspicium and imperium. It accepts the standard view that the power of magistrates was restricted by the rights of citizens in the civilian sphere (domi) and unrestricted in the military sphere (militiae). Yet, it mounts a strong challenge to Mommsen's widely accepted theory that this was the result of a difference between imperium domi (within the pomerium) and imperium militiae (outside the pomerium). Drogula plausibly contends that all magistrates had potestas within the city (at various levels)—which was all they needed to undertake their civilian duties (pp. 57-68) —whereas imperium was ordinarily exercised only within the military sphere (pp. 81-117).3 He proposes that exceptions were made to this rule for the decemuiri consulari imperio legibus scribundis between 451 and 449 (p. 103), commanders celebrating officially sanctioned triumphs (pp. 111-116), dictators (pp. 118-121) and magistrates following the passage of so-called senatus consulta ultima (pp. 121-125).

Chapter 3 ("The Concept of Provincia in Early Rome (to 367 BC)") provides an excellent—and much needed—account of the use of prouinciae as effective means of separating commanders into different spheres and preventing conflicts between imperium-holders (pp. 142-148). Earlier scholarship has tended to concentrate on the hierarchy of imperium (dictatorium imperium, consulare imperium and praetorium imperium) and auspicium. In contrast, Drogula (radically) argues that all commanders possessed the same type of imperium and that the prouincia was therefore the principal means of establishing whose imperium took precedence in a particular sphere. Although the dictator's power is discussed here (pp. 165-168), the arguments against distinct consulare imperium and praetorium imperium are made in the following chapter. (A cross-reference would have been helpful.)

In Chapter 4 ("The Development of the Classical Constitution (367 to 197 BC)"), Drogula argues that consular commanders came to possess greater prestige than praetorian commanders rather than de iure authority during the third century (pp. 183-189). In doing so, he offers alternative interpretations of the evidence traditionally used to support the notion that consuls had greater power than praetors (pp. 193-209). Although the discussion highlights that it should not be assumed that a legal distinction between consular and praetorian imperium necessarily existed as early as the fourth century, I am not convinced that we should abandon the possibility that this developed sometime between the third and second centuries (if not before). The earliest surviving reference to the praetor's minus imperium comes from the (now lost) Libri Magistratuum of C. Sempronius Tuditanus (cos. 129), as preserved by Aulus Gellius (second century CE) via M. Valerius Messalla (cos. 53).4 Tuditanus may well have correctly recognised a difference between consular and praetorian imperium in the second century (even if some of the other details in his account are wrong, for which cf. pp. 190-193), just as Cicero seemingly did in 55 (Pis. 38). The fact that praetors had six fasces securesque (at least militiae), whereas consuls possessed twelve, may be best interpreted as a reflection of the different types of imperium rather than prestige/rank (see esp. Plut. Aem. 4.2 and cf. p. 94, n. 155, p. 187, n. 14 and p. 216).

On balance, Drogula elucidates well the importance of the concept of the prouincia for delineating the authority of commanders, but arguably goes too far in rejecting other means of separation—such as official hierarchy (e.g. consulare imperium and praetorium imperium) and the designation of a supreme commander with the summum imperium auspiciumque (for which cf. p. 89 and p. 154 and Vervaet's recent study, referred to above).

The remaining three chapters further explore how the concepts that defined military command changed between the third century and Augustus' constitutional settlement of 23. Chapter 5 ("From Command to Governance") follows the orthodox view that the prouincia was originally a temporary military task assigned to a commander that gradually came to refer to a geographically defined territory under Roman control (pp. 235-255).5 Drogula argues that this change—which he suggests stemmed from the overseas conquests in the third century—had a number of significant consequences. First, whilst consuls continued to receive "traditional prouinciae" (involving military conquests), praetors were regularly assigned the less prestigious "permanent prouinciae" (geographically defined conquered territories which offered fewer opportunities to win military glory). Second, praetors were more likely to profit through improper means, as they took on more administrative functions in their prouinciae (pp. 263-273). This, in turn, led to new restrictions being imposed to regulate their behaviour from around the mid-second century (pp. 273-292). Drogula places particular emphasis on the lex Porcia (dated to 100, but conceivably somewhat earlier than this), which he claims was predominantly aimed at circumscribing the movement and activities of praetors (pp. 281-292).6

The distinction made between "traditional" consular and "permanent" praetorian prouinciae is arguably too neat and somewhat forced in places; and one may question whether Roman senators would have thought in those terms. There is evidence that consular commanders ordinarily needed permission to leave their prouinciae (e.g. Liv. 22.37.13; 28.45.8-9; 30.24.1-4; 39.55.3- 4; and 43.1.4-12), which presupposes that they were somehow geographically defined (and not conceived primarily as "wars" or "campaigns", as suggested throughout—cf. esp. p. 284f and p. 366). This also raises the question whether the lex Porcia sought to institutionalise what had previously been the mos maiorum for all commanders and was less aimed at praetorian prouinciae per se.

Chapter 6 ("The Late Republic (100 to 49 BC)") considers changes in the conception and use of prouinciae and imperium. It concentrates first on the effects of the lex Sempronia de prouinciis consularibus (123/122), which Drogula suggests "required" the Senate to name the consular prouinciae before the consular elections rather than at the start of each year (p. 343 and p. 379, although he is more cautious in conceding that it may not have been a legal "requirement" on p. 298). This meant that consuls had less influence over their provincial assignment, which led to an increasing use of popular legislation to secure desired prouinciae (pp. 304-314). Drogula observes that a number of extraordinary prouinciae voted for by the people in the first century—most famously Pompeius' command against the pirates in 67—overlapped with other existing prouinciae. He proposes that imperium maius was first conceived within this context about ten years later and, then, finally granted to Brutus and Cassius in 43 (pp. 318-332). The problem with this argument, however, is that there is no decisive evidence that Brutus and Cassius ever received imperium maius (which we should remember was not a type of power and was always used in comparison with another imperium).7 Cicero's proposal that Cassius should receive imperium maius quam the imperium held by other proconsuls was rejected (Phil. 11.30 and cf. Fam. 12.7.1); and none of the references given in p. 330, n. 75 explicitly refers to its approval some months later. At the very least, further discussion is required here to support the interpretation given.8

The final chapter ("Augustan Manipulation of Traditional Ideas of Provincial Governance") examines how Augustus took advantage of the evolution of the traditional concepts of prouincia and imperium, as interpreted in the previous chapters, in order to forge a new supreme position for himself in the state between 32 and 23.

Overall, the book is written in a clear and engaging style (though there are some particularly noteworthy errors, typographical slips and instances of unnecessary repetition).9 Drogula has mastered a vast array of ancient and modern literature and his overarching vision of provincial command as a fluid and complex concept that developed over time is refreshing. Whilst not all of his interpretations of the timing and manner of this development are entirely persuasive, they will undoubtedly stimulate healthy debate on provincial command and its place in the history of the Roman Republic and Early Empire.


1.   Vervaet, F.J. (2014). The High Command in the Roman Republic: The Principle of the summum imperium auspiciumque from 509 to 19 BCE, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag.
2.   Ibid., esp. p. 15f and e.g. pp. 91-93.
3.   This builds on the arguments made in Drogula, F.K. (2007). "Imperium, Potestas, and the Pomerium in the Roman Republic", Historia, 56.4, 419-452 (cited p. 57, n. 27).
4.   FRHist, no. 10, F2.
5.   Cf. Bertrand, J.-M. (1989). "À propos du mot provincia: Étude sur les modes d'élaboration du langage politique", JS, 3-4, 191-215 (cursorily dismissed by Drogula on p. 237).
6.   Here he returns to the arguments first made in Drogula, F.K. (2011). "The Lex Porcia and the Development of Legal Restraints on Roman Governors", Chiron, 41, 91-124 (cited p. 282, n. 140).
7.   See e.g. Paschoud, F. (2005). "À propos d'imperium maius: nil sub sole nouum", ZPE, 153, 280-282.
8.   Cf. Girardet, K.M. (1993). "Die Rechtsstellung der Caesarattentäter Brutus und Cassius in den Jahren 44-42 v. Chr.", Chiron, 23, 207-232 (which appears in the bibliography).
9.   For factual errors/questionable claims see e.g. p. 29 (L. Cincius may not be the L. Cincius Alimentus [pr. 210, not 209 as stated] referred to here, for which see Fest. 276L and FRHist, Vol. 1, no. 2, p. 181); p.124 (the so- called senatus consultum ultimum was not first used in 133, as claimed, but rather in 121, for which cf. Cic. Cat. 1.3 and 1.4); p. 133 and p. 311 (the date of the Lex Manilia is given as 67 instead of 66); p. 258, n. 78 (there is a strange reference to "slave revolts" in Sicily between "215 and 11 BC" for the defection of the Syracusan kingdom after the death of Hieron II); p. 308 (the date of the renewal of Caesar's Gallic command is given as 54 rather than 55); p. 360, n. 31 (it is claimed that Augustus' provincial command was renewed for ten years rather than five); and p. 382 (the reference to the "Second Triumvirate"—which is a misnomer and should be avoided in any case—is anachronistic). For less serious typographical errors see e.g. p. 73, n. 86; p. 162, n. 100; p. 216; p. 224; p. 302 (quia for quis in the quotation of the Lex Antonia de Termessibus); p. 307, n. 19; p. 365, n. 41; and p. 369, n. 53. For instances of repetition see e.g. p. 49 with n. 6 and p. 83 with n. 123; p. 156, n. 86 and p. 157, n. 89; p. 186 and p. 186, n. 10; p. 212 and p. 212, n. 78; p. 302 with n. 7 and p. 316 with n. 47; and pp. 304-314, p. 317 (which appears out of place) and p. 343.

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