Please note this page is currently a work in progress changes to the abstracts and related programme due to unforeseen circumstances may occur.
Prof. Philip Sabin (King’s College London) ‘Novel Methods in Reconstructing Ancient Warfare’, followed by various simulation game experiences. (The plan is for this to be a whole day event)
Dr. Jason Crowley (Manchester Metropolitan University): The Closer You Get The Better I Feel: Or Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Hoplite Combat, But Were Too Afraid To Ask.
The classical hoplite is justifiably famous for his pugnacity, and in particular, his willingness, to echo Xenophon’s celebrated phrase, to press shield against shield, to fight, kill, and, ultimately, die. Certainly, this was remarkable even in antiquity, yet few modern scholars ever stop to consider the foundation of the hoplite’s indomitable courage, merely taking it as a given in their sweeping narratives of inspired generalship or novel tactics. Thus, this paper seeks, in a very small way, to redress the balance: by employing one theory and two case studies it will, hopefully, reveal the hidden psychological genius of the hoplite phalanx.
Dr. James Thorne (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Manchester, and Head of Latin, St Mary’s College Crosby): Grand Strategy in the Early Roman Empire: walking the walk and talking the talk
.Total War will be presenting at this year’s conference.
Jan van der Crabben : Designing Historical War Games
This is a report from the trenches of designing Total War games, looking at the challenges game designers face when creating a game that not only needs to be fun, but also historical. Historical accuracy and good gameplay are often diametrically opposed, and getting it “right” requires skill and abstraction. Instead of focussing on the fun details of history, the historical game designer must first abstract and look at the feeling and experience of a period the game wants to give the player. Having established that position, the designer then digs deeper and finds those historical details that will work for the game, while discarding or abstracting others. Jan van der Crabben is a veteran designer who has worked on multiple award-winning Total War titles since Empire, and he is also a history aficionado who founded the popular reference website Ancient History Encyclopaedia.
A Panel of four papers: Back to Basics: Fundamental Questions of Greek Warfare
This panel will focus on some basic, yet fundamental questions to the study and understanding of ancient Greek warfare. The overreliance on pre-existing models to explain Greek warfare has allowed a void of knowledge to persist. Each of these papers address a set of simple, yet awkward questions which so far go unanswered, or at least underappreciated, despite the fact that they are paramount to our understanding of Greek warfare: How can we talk about the evolution of hoplite warfare if we do not know where it came from? How can we judge the practicality of the panoply if we do not know what it was originally designed for? How can we discuss the practicalities of tactics in Greek armies if we do not know if, or how, the men were trained? How can we trust our own models if they are based on battles that are cherry-picked to fit those same models? While some solutions will be posited, the aim of this panel is not to offer nice comforting answers, but to question our automatic reliance upon models which fail to answer some of the most basic questions.
Titles & Abstracts
Cezary Kucewicz (UCL): The rise of Greek citizen army or the real ‘hoplite revolution,
For the past century the orthodox model for the study of early Greek warfare has had a major influence over historians’ understanding of archaic Greece. The model, most clearly formulated in the works of V. D. Hanson, takes the rise of the hoplite phalanx, the so-called ‘hoplite revolution’, as central to the political and social development of early archaic Greek poleis, placing it at the end of the eighth century BC. Despite a number of attempts by revisionist historians to challenge Hanson’s theory, the orthodox model still stands as the dominant one in the study of early Greek warfare, as confirmed by the most recent edited volume by D. Kagan and G. F. Viggiano (Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece, Princeton 2013).
The aim of this paper is to revisit some of the central assumptions of the orthodox theory and to offer a different approach to the study of archaic Greek war and society. I will focus my attention primarily on the composition of archaic Greek armies, as well as the procedures concerning the retrieval and treatment of the war dead. Using a variety of evidence, including iconography, gravestones and early mythological accounts, I will suggest that the orthodox ‘hoplite revolution’ took place much later, if at all, than currently assumed, and must be seen as the result of a number of political, social and cultural changes which took place in the Greek poleis of late archaic / early classical periods. The origins of hoplite warfare, as it will be argued, go hand-in-hand with the rise of first Greek citizen armies.
Roel Konijnendijk (UCL): Improvisers in Soldiering’: Why Greek hoplites refused to train
The question of military training is a hidden controversy in the study of Greek warfare. Some believe elaborate drill was essential to the tactics of hoplite armies, while others hold that the levy received no training whatsoever. Whole models of Greek battle are built on these assumptions, but the issue is rarely openly discussed.
In this paper I will focus on formation drill. I will argue that the complete absence of such drill outside of Sparta is not a case of our sources ignoring the obvious, but is in fact a necessary result of the values and attitudes that were central to polis life. Free Greeks made bad soldiers; they rejected
discipline, were hostile to military authority, and could not be trained if they did not want to. Ancient authors therefore paint a picture of Greek tactics as frustratingly, inevitably simplistic. Theories positing sophisticated hoplite unit tactics must be torn root and branch from our modern analyses; nothing so advanced could be demanded of the ordinary hoplite militia.
Owen Rees (Author): The Law of Arbitrary Selection: How our choice of battles predetermine our understanding of Greek warfare
Battles are the foundation upon which military history is based. They form the core material from which all subsidiary interests must relate, and yet they so often get over looked for grander questions.
It is no secret that traditional military history, of battle maps and tactical manoeuvres, has become more and more the realm of popular history rather than academia, but as this paper will show, this is causing some fundamental problems to arise in scholarship which are still going unaddressed. Our over-reliance upon a set number of battles are predetermining our conclusions, usually in accordance with our preferred scholarly model of Greek combat, and warfare as a whole. It will be argued that when a much larger array of battles are examined at face value, many of our pre- existing assumptions are shown to be false. By showing how the cherry-picking of our battles can so easily create predetermined conclusions, this paper will argue that Greek military history needs to return to basics – and there is nothing more basic, nor fundamental to our subject, than the battle narrative.
Dr. Josho Brouwers (Editor of Ancient Warfare Magazine): From horsemen to hoplites revisited
Back in 2007, an article of mine was published in which I tried to resurrect an idea originally put forward by Detienne in 1968, namely that the Greek heavily-armed warrior of the Classical age (the so-called “hoplite”) had its origin in the mounted infantry of the Archaic period. There are a number of different elements of the hoplite panoply that seem to be tailor-made for use by men who spend much of their time on horseback, such as the Argive shield and the bell-shaped cuirass. In this paper, I revisit this hypothesis and add further observations and evidence in support of it, with the idea of stimulating further debate.
Tine Scheijnen (Phd Student: Ghent University) How to be a hero? The Trojan war and heroism in Greek epic poetry
“Whether or not I am brave and strong you soon shall learn in battle; that is where the strength of a man is seen” (Posthomerica 2, 154-155). Spoken on the evening before his first and final battle in the Trojan war, Memnon’s words programmatically endorse the “heroic” code of epic warfare: the vigour of heroes is proven on the battlefield. Since the dawn of Greek literature, epic poetry has recalled great mythological wars like the Trojan siege. The heroic ideology is omnipresent in the characterization of the warriors.
To date, research on the representation of ancient epic heroism has mainly focussed on the Iliad. One must be “the best” in both battle and council. In Hellenistic and Imperial epic, the Homeric conception of heroism, however, did not remain unchallenged. My analysis of the reception of the Homeric hero in later epic focusses on the Posthomerica of Quintus Smyrnaeus (3rd AD), whose “sequel to Homer” fills the gap between Iliad and Odyssey. His style is clearly inspired by Homer, but later literary and mythological influences are undeniable.
After Homer, his heroes live on. The values they represent have been reinterpreted throughout ancient literature. Quintus’ main challenge is to retell the end of the Trojan war in the light of this complex reception history. He re-characterizes old heroes, introduces new ones and in this way brings the ancient myth to a “new” end. Abandoning the Iliadic version, he eventually rewrites Achilles’ final moments to introduce his son Neoptolemus, who will later stand up against Odysseus. His re-evaluation of Iliadic heroic beliefs is revealed in the use of warrior titles, epithets, Homeric similes and explicit ideological statements by both the narrator and characters. The horse will still take Troy, but the heroes hiding inside have new faces.
Dr Aimee Schofield: It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you: fear of treachery in Aeneas Tacticus’ Poliorcetica
Aeneas Tacticus’ fourth century BC commentary on siegecraft contains many useful pieces of advice for the would-be defender of the polis: make sure that your passwords are not too confusing, dig pits for the enemy’s siege machinery to fall into, watch out for traitors, do not forget to lock the gate, make sure your men are trustworthy, post regular patrols, and watch out for traitors (again). Of the forty chapters in the treatise, at least twenty-one deal directly or indirectly with how to prevent the reader’s city from falling to a fifth column. Aeneas’ message for his audience is very clearly ‘Watch your back.’
This paper seeks to understand whether Aeneas’ concerns about treachery are justified. Was his advice to generals and city leaders in the fourth century useful, or were the tactics he suggested quickly rendered out of date by the advancing technology of the period? By comparing the evidence for treachery in sieges up to and after the time at which Aeneas composed his treatise with evidence for the use of other forms of siege warfare (e.g. assault, blockade and circumvallation, and the use of siege machinery) we can begin to understand whether Aeneas was right to see traitors round every corner.
Alyson Roy (University of Washington): Private Luxuries and Public Extravagance: The Transformation of Plundered Objects from Triumphal Spoils to Cultural Currency
Beginning in 212 BCE with the conquest of Syracuse, the plundered objects displayed in triumphal procession gradually replaced the procession itself as the most desirable manifestation of a general’s prestige within Roman society. Objects became what I term material expressions of conquest; they were physical representations of the people and region that had been conquered. In essence, these “triumphal” objects absorbed the ritual and symbolic significance that was once limited to the triumphal procession and became a form of public spectacle on their own through display. While the triumph and plunder have received significant attention in recent years, most importantly from Mary Beard (2007), Ida Östenberg (2009), and Steven Rutledge (2012), the relationship between the display of plunder, the social value of plundered objects, and conquest have not received enough attention. This paper examines how these triumphal objects took on greater social value within Roman society and how the desire for plunder to display led Roman generals to petition for commands in regions with more opportunities for spoils in order to surpass their predecessors. Where this paper deviates from other studies of the triumph is in its examination of how these objects not only represented conquest, but also how the desire of Roman civilians to participate symbolically in conquest created a new luxury market, what I term an economy of prestige, borrowing from Dr. James English. By purchasing luxury goods that mimicked triumphal plunder, elites could assert their own social status and participate, albeit at a distance, in Roman conquest. Through a study of shipwrecks, certain Roman copies, and literary references, this paper will focus on one material expression of conquest, statues, in order to understand how the Romans transformed spoils from a representation of violence into an object to be displayed and copied for its social value.
Dr. Alexander Thein (University College Dublin): Booty in the Sullan Civil War of 83-82 B.C.
Ancient writers highlighted the materialism of the army which followed Sulla in his march on Rome in 88, in his campaigns against Mithridates from 87 to 85, and in his invasion of Italy in 83: the soldiers returned from the Greek East laden with booty, and after the civil war they received land allotments in veteran colonies in Italy. Scholars have noted this evidence and argued that Sulla secured the loyalty of his ‘client army’ with the promise of foreign booty and Italian land. My aim is to give emphasis to a body of material which highlights the sale of booty from Italian towns sacked by Sullan armies during the civil war of 83-82 B.C. Appian, Cicero, and Plutarch attest that Sena Gallica, Praeneste, Tuder, and Ariminum were plundered, and that Norba would have been sacked if it had not first been destroyed. Florus, in a passage which is generally understood to refer to veteran settlement, indicates that there were also booty sales at Spoletium, Interamna Nahars, Florentia, and Sulmo. The evidence for booty is substantial, and it indicates that Sulla’s men did not all wait for the hour of victory to claim a share of the spoils. The case of Sulmo is especially interesting: it was an ‘open city’ which did not even close its gates, and it was sacked for booty, in violation of the rules of war, to compensate the army which had besieged nearby Norba, and which had been denied plunder when the city was set on fire and burned to the ground. Roman soldiers marched against foreign enemies in the expectation of spoils, and it is my aim to argue that booty was also integral to Roman warfare in civil wars fought at home on Italian soil: there is substantial evidence from the Sullan civil war of 83-82, and there are clear precedents in the civil war of 87.
Gabriel Baker: (Univeristy of Iowa) The Military Logic of Massacre: The Case of Galba and the Lusitanians
In 150 BCE, the Lusitanians had been at war with Rome for five years. During which time they had defeated Roman armies, violated agreements, and raided deep into Roman territory. Nevertheless, when several Lusitanian communities sought a truce, the praetor Ser. Sulpicius Galba offered fertile territory for settlement instead of punitive terms. As it turns out, the offer was disingenuous. Led to three separate locations, thousands of Lusitanians were surrounded, disarmed, and finally killed en masse by Galba’s legionaries. Any survivors were sold. (e.g. App. Hisp. 59-61; Cic. Brut. 89; Val. Max. 8.1.2; 9.6.2; Suet. Galb. 3.2; Liv. Per. 49; Oros. 4.21.10).
A mass execution such as this would have been a considerable undertaking for a pre-modern army, involving labor, time, and effort as the many victims were killed by hand. However, despite the apparent scale of this violence, modern scholarship has tended to focus on the subsequent political attacks that Galba faced back in Rome (e.g. Richardson 1986; Muñiz Coello 2004; Dmitriev 2011; Burton 2011). This paper takes a different approach by highlighting and explaining Galba’s conduct within its larger military-strategic context. Notably, Lusitanian forces had defeated the legions in several recent engagements. Furthermore, even after the Romans had won the field, captured their towns, and ravaged their lands, the Lusitanians continued to fight; they were evidently formidable. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the Lusitanians reportedly fought like guerrillas, employing rapid attacks before withdrawing to mountainous refuges—where larger armies were reluctant to follow (Diod. 5.34.4-7; Strabo 3.3.6). In short, the Romans faced a collection of Lusitanian communities that were difficult to subdue, had violated previous agreements, and excelled at something akin to guerrilla warfare. These circumstances likely incentivized mass killing when more standard measures had proven ineffective.
Elizabeth Pearson (University of Manchester) The tumultus of 225, Polybius and Orosius
In225BC the Roman senate declared an emergency military levy, the tumultus. A large force of Gauls, Rome’s most feared enemy, was believed to be heading south through Etruria. The senate required that a tumultus occur, enrolling men not using the census records but based on their apparent fitness with little care for the ordinary standards of eligibility. Polybius provides a detailed breakdown of the foot and horse enrolled that year. Figures are also found in several other authors, most probably derived from the lost book of Livy, which largely agree with those provided by Polybius. However, the figures of Orosius appear more problematic. All the figures have been subject to a great deal of discussion in modern scholarship.
It is the aim of this paper to demonstrate that it is possible to understand the manpower figures of 225 in a manner by which they are not contradictory. The assumption of the majority of scholars has been that the lists were based on a census return, meaning that Polybius has in effect ‘double-counted’ those already under arms before the tumultus. This paper will show that such an interpretation is not warranted; rather Polybius’ figures demonstrate a state readying itself for war in a well organised manner despite the urgency of the situation. Following this, it is the contention here that the Orosian figures, otherwise either ignored or altered, can be considered both accurate and helpful for understanding the tumultus and its record. This interpretation is just a hypothetical one, but it too adds to the impression that Rome’s response to the Gallic threat of 225 was well organised and thought-through.
Dr. Eugeny Teytelbaum (Centre for advanced education: Youth academy. Kazan, Russia). Polybius and «Face of battle»: a reapproach.
Our aim is to make a re-interpretation of the traditional views on Polybian account of battles. Modern researchers who work within the «Face of battle methodology» like G. Daly and A. Zhmodikov, seem to demonstrate a point of view, according to which Polybius was looking at the war «from the general’s tent». We plan to challenge such perceptions. Greek historians also paid a great deal to showing the battles from the eyes of a soldier. In addition to battle descriptions on grand tactical level (battle deployment and the maneuvers of large units) the historian paid great attention to a lower tactical details, describing thoroughly the participation of different types of troops, physical circumstances of battles and soldiers’ psychology. For Polybius the decisive factor in determining the defeat of troops was moral break of the soldiers caused by different cases (disorganization of the rows and the attacks from flank). Besides this historian paid a great attention to the natural conditions (dust, fog). Polybius described battles much more chaotical than it was considered previously, stressing therefore the role of minor units and their commanders. All this makes Polybius an indispensable source on the nature of battles in Antiquity.
Alberto Pérez Rubio – (PhD Student: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid): The Bravest of the Gauls: the Belgae Coalition of 57 BC
In 57 BC a coalition of civitates from Gallia Belgica confronted the onslaught of Caesar’s army. A close examination of the description that De Bello Gallico gives about that episode, enriched by the archaeological data, sheds light over the political, social and cultural changes developing in 1st century BC Northern Gaul.
In our paper we will stress how the Belgae communities were able to organise their war effort through a coalition, analyzing its features: members, institutional framework, calendar, meeting point, contingents and leadership, etc. From this analysis we can discern how the web of relations among the different social and political layers that structured the Belgae communities –family, pagus, civitas– worked. Over these layers the Belgae were able to develop a supra-local institution, a coalition built over “ethnic networks”, in which a tenuous shared identity was constructed through memory and warfare.
Sara Perley (PhD candidate: The Australian National University, Canberra):The use of counterintelligence in the mid-Republican Roman army
Intelligence is the gathering and analysis of any information that aids one state in understanding another in order to facilitate policy decision making. There is a general conception that the military and political forces of the mid-Roman Republic lacked an appreciation of intelligence (Dvornik, 1974, Austin and Rankov, 1995, Sheldon 2003). Such studies focus on the intelligence failures and the absence of a bureaucratic service devoted to intelligence activity. This paper challenges this conception by examining the use of counterintelligence in martial endeavours during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.
Counterintelligence refers to the efforts engaged in to prevent hostile forces gaining pertinent information. Lowenthal (2006) gives it three primary goals – to investigate the intelligence capabilities of others; to prevent the dissemination of vital information; and to manipulate and mislead hostile agents. Such activities are a common feature of in Roman military activity. Extant sources reveal consistent patterns of behaviour in activities, such as the treatment of defectors and deserters, the protection of their camps against infiltration, the use of disinformation, and the countering of enemy misinformation and disinformation. There are also examples of psychological warfare in instances where primary counterintelligence attempts have failed. The development of these behaviours would not have occurred in the absence of complex thinking about intelligence and the acknowledgement of the use of information in warfare. For counterintelligence to be successful, an understanding of hostile intelligence involvement is required. It would be futile to spread disinformation without an expectation that it would reach a hostile party. This paper suggests that the utilisation of counterintelligence activities in military situations, whether successful or not, has important implications for the understanding of intelligence in the Roman Republic.
Ben Greet (University of Leeds): The Deity of our Legions: The Religious Function of the Aquila and Standards
There has been much scholarship on the institutional worship of the legionary eagle and standards in the subject of Roman army studies; however, most of these studies are similar to Goldsworthy (1996) who examines the role of the standards in the legion’s community or Helgeland (1978) who examines the ritual surrounding the cult of the standards, or specific religious ceremonies involving the standards (Hoey, 1937). Yet despite these studies the exact divine nature of the standards has never been examined in detail, and their position in Roman religious ideas. In this paper I will add to these studies by examining the exact divine nature that the standards possessed. To do this I will explore how the standards were worshipped before questioning their usual connection to Jupiter Optimus Maximus seen in much of the scholarship (Helgeland, 1978; Webster, 1969). Instead, through the Feriale Duranum, the standards’ will be shown as the means by which many deities were worshipped. Additionally, I will attempt to show that these standards may have had their own supernatural qualities. It seems that the standards were either, as seen on inscriptions, Genii or, from a reference in Tacitus, numen. Through this examination I hope to provide an interpretation of this cult that creates a wider view of the divine qualities of these standards but also that helps explain their religious function, and the unifying religious force they provide for the legions.
Alberto Pérez Rubio –(PhD Student: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid );Dr. Enrique García Riaza (Universidad de las Islas Baleares ) and Dr. Eduardo Sánchez Moreno (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) : War shaping peoples? Roman expansion and regional ethnicity in Iberia (3rd-1st centuries BC.
In the framework of the Roman expansion in the Iberian Peninsula, from the Second Punic War to the Cantabrian Wars (ca. 218-19 BC), we witness the organization of defensive coalitions by the local populations. Celtiberians, Vettones and Carpetani are mentioned on the literary record as allied in a symmachía against the Roman forces in central Spain. Meanwhile, Lusitanian leaders in south-west Iberian Peninsula gather different native communities in a wide front of resistance. These coalitions are sketched in the written sources as compact entities, reportedly due to the pre-existence of a certain degree of shared collective identity. Thus the ideological framework of these military alliances has been so far explained as a result of the traditional links among communities based on cultural, religious and, perhaps, ethnic affinities. But we must wonder to what extent the external vision of the classical writers reflects the extremely complex peninsular reality in the Late Iron Age, considering the relative misinformation of our informers and the construction of the literary topos of ‘the enemy’, raised to a historiographical category.
Our aim is to supersede the former and obsolete approach to the subject through an analysis of the phenomenon of native coalitions from both a contextual and internal perspective (namely, an emic view), which pays particular attention to the geopolitical, military and ideological characteristics of the aforementioned Celtiberian and Lusitanian symmachíai. The question of the existence of a collective identity in the hub of the coalitions shall be addressed, taking into account the heterogeneous and sometimes multicultural features of their members, as well as the diversity of reasons (whether defensive or offensive) and trends (whether active or passive) involved in the formation of alliances. Thus, literary references to ethnic affinities and kinship diplomacy in the context of the Roman imperialism in Iberia must be interpreted primarily in the sense of strategies of political convergence and reciprocal needs of military assistance against a common enemy or threat.
Dr. hab Yasmina Benferhat (University of Lorraine, Nancy) :Bridges in War time : A study on the control of rivers during the Roman Civil War in 69/70, according to Tacitus »
There are movies about the importance of bridges in a war we all know, especially A Bridge Too Far (Richard Attenborough, 1977). The question is whether we could see the same already in Antiquity : actually, Tacitus offers a very interesting presentation in his Histories, while telling us how the 69-70 civil war was. We see that bridges were already important, especially maybe in the North of Italy when Vitellius’ armies arrived to fight against Otho. Bridges are destroyed to prevent the other’s arrival ; bridges are built sometimes too to attack.
This study analyses the importance of bridges, within a more general context ie the control of water (rivers only, the sea is another problem) because during the Batavian revolt there was another way to control a rivers’ water, that is by destroying barrages. And we must see the difference between Romans and Barbarians about the control of water, from an anthropological point of view.
Christopher Sparey-Green (Independent Researcher) Caesar’s British Campaigns– exploration or failed conquest?
The Caesarian campaigns in Britain remain the best documented account of a Roman invasion of the island across the Ocean, Caesar’s admittedly biased account complemented by Cicero’s letters and other sources. These texts may yet yield new information on the course of this abandoned campaign, despite centuries of study of the first events in our island history. The archaeological record has not yet yielded evidence for the two campaigns although potential camp and battle sites may exist in Kent, where Bigbury remains a candidate for a native stronghold attacked in 54 and there is now the nearby find of the Bridge helmet, stylistically a contemporary object. The identification of Roman camps of this period, perhaps using continental comparanda, would be a rare opportunity to check the surviving account, perhaps even judge whether Caesar had intended to overwinter but had been thwarted by events in Gaul. The scale of any campaign bases might belie the historical record of mere explorations or punitive raids.
Michael Stawpert: (KCL): The Stuff To Make Good Generals”: The High Command of the Roman Army c.350 AD.
Between 284 and 350 the Roman army of the Late Empire emerged as a structurally distinct institution from that of the Principate. While aspects of this transformation occurred as a gradual evolution, such as the dress or armaments of the soldiery, the reorganisation of the high command of the army can be pinpointed to a very specific moment in the late 330’s, when the emperor Constantius, following the death of his father Constantine, became Augustus in the East and reconfigured the command structure of the army. The most significant change to occur was the creation of the magistri as the senior generals in the Roman army, stripping the Preatorian Prefect of their military responsibilities and developing the trend of separate civil and military branches of government.
The source material for the period from 337 to 350 is extremely sparse, particularly on military affairs, but, from 350 the most important fourth century author, Ammianus Marcellinus, gives an account in unrivalled detail of the operations of several top generals. The most important figure in Ammianus’s narrative is the magister militum per equitum, Ursicinus, commander in the East from the mid-340’s into the early 350’s. Ammianus provides detailed examinations of both the magister as a military leader and a political figure.
What this paper will present, is a detailed case study of the career of Ursicinus, and it will use the specifics of his career to examine the role of the magistri in the mid-fourth century more broadly. In particular, it will ask whether military or political concerns were the prime driver behind the reorganisation of the army, and following that, how far was military efficiency compromised or promoted by these reforms? Most important is the theme of imperial interaction with the magistri and how the changing limits of their authority were a directed effort by the emperor to neuter a potential rival.
Dr Jeroen Wijnendaele (University College Cork): Getting away with Murder” – Aëtius’ Rise to Power (425-430 CE).
During the early fifth century CE, the Roman Empire witnessed an unprecedented deterioration of central authority in its western provinces. Britain was de facto severed from the Empire, whilst control over the outer Danubian provinces became nominal at best. Meanwhile large parts of Italy, Spain and Gaul were thoroughly wrecked through civil war and foreign incursions. Control was gradually established over these areas, though several barbarian war bands were allowed to garrison parts of Gaul and Spain as federate armies. A prime victim of this turmoil was the western Roman army whose field units experienced massive casualties and suffered heavily from attrition. These events also have significant repercussions on the army’s high command.
The early career of Aëtius represents a decisive stage in what can be described as the ‘privatization’ of the western Roman army. Aëtius used violence to establish himself on three different occasions against the legitimate dynasty before entrenching his position as ‘generalissimo’ (425, 430, 432/433 CE). Not once did he resort to usurping imperial power, but instead he fostered personal control over a loyal body of troops. This approach was similar to that of the comes Africae Bonifatius, but Aëtius’ tactics to obtain ultimate military power were far more aggressive than any fifth century general before him. This paper especially wants to reconsider his elimination of his superior, the magister utriusque militiae Felix, whose position he managed to take over. Scholars have often treated this episode superficially, but it is of fundamental importance to understand how Aëtius managed to break the western Roman court’s monopoly of violence. By carefully considering the historiographical record of Aëtius’ campaigns during the late 420s, the chronology of his itinerary, and the wider context of the Vandal invasion of Africa, it will offer a new interpretation of how Aëtius managed to get away with Felix’ murder and maintain his influence at court.
Stuart McCunn (University of Nottingham): A Prefect Solution to Army Supply: The Praefecti Praetorio Vacantes in Late Antiquity
Following the Vandal capture of Carthage in AD 439, the imperial government in Constantinople made preparations for a major expedition against the Vandals in 441. The sources for those preparations include reference to a new official with oversight for the logistical support of the expedition. This official served as an acting praetorian prefect and traveled to Sicily with the army as a quartermaster general. Individuals with similar responsibilities appear a number of times in accounts of subsequent expeditions and it is the aim of this paper to investigate this role and its development during Late Antiquity.
The variable title of these officials and the somewhat limited amount of source material detailing their position mean that they have rarely hitherto received the attention or the credit they deserve. These officials were a vital part of the logistical apparatus of the late Roman state and offer an ideal opportunity to examine the top levels of the Roman army’s logistical system in operation. An examination of the position shows the importance of the vacantes to the army of the sixth century and the flexibility that the position brought to the commissariat. This paper will explore the ways in which the office was used and the extent to which it changed over its lifespan.
Consideration of this position has wider significance for the effectiveness of the Roman army in Late Antiquity, which is often regarded as inferior to its predecessor of earlier centuries. The appearance of high level state officials dedicated solely to the supply of the army is a measure of the importance placed on well-managed, reliable logistics and a sign that the army was still capable of effective action.
Jeremy Dixon (University of Ottowa): The Walls Have Eyes: The Role of Structures in Tactical Intelligence Collection in Roman Late Antiquity
In order for a government organization to operate efficiently, particularly in a dynamic environment such as a military campaign, timely and accurate intelligence is required. This paper will address how physical structures contribute to tactical reconnaissance; in particular, I will examine Roman military fortifications operating in Late Antiquity. I will compare the Roman bases of Mogontiacum and Dura Europos to identify two different functions of Roman military fortifications in regards to intelligence collection. Mogontiacum, present-day Mainz, functioned as a staging area from which the military could operate. Strategically positioned at the joining of the Main and Rhine rivers, Mogontiacum was first constructed as an outpost, but later grew into a major military installation. It hosted not only several legions, but also a Roman fleet of lusoriae which patrolled the rivers. This allowed for multifaceted, active intelligence collection along Rome’s northern border. Dura Europos, on the other hand, functioned as a bulwark against a potential enemy invasion. The nature of its construction, in particular its thick defensive walls, is an indicator of the fort’s purpose. It was located on the frontier and garrisoned with sufficient strength that it could not be safely bypassed, and strongly fortified to withstand at least a short siege. While the enemy assaulted Dura Europos, intelligence on the attacking force could be sent back to ensure proper reinforcements were dispatched. Though entirely passive in nature, such intelligence collection should be considered equally vital to the conduct of a military campaign. By examining the different ways in which information was gathered in Mogontiacum and Dura Europos, it will be possible to gain a better understanding of the role of military structures in intelligence collection in Roman Late Antiquity.
Dr. Alexander Sarantis (Aberystwyth University) : Waging war in Late Antiquity: the role of fortifications
In recent decades, scholars have refuted the traditional view that military weakness was one of the contributing factors to the fall of the Roman empire. They have shown that the Late Roman army in fact performed extremely well in battles and campaigns against the most formidable opponents the Roman empire had ever faced. This military strength contributed to the longevity of the West Roman empire, the survival of the East Roman empire, and the East Roman re-conquest of a number of West Roman provinces in the 6th c. But how were Roman governments able to juggle and absorb threats in so many different regions from different opponents? In a period of major political changes and almost constant warfare, what played the key role in deciding the course and nature of military campaigns? This paper will argue that, along with the tactical diversity afforded by the ethnic diversity of Roman troops, the Late Roman empire profited greatly from the largest ever fortification drives Europe and the Near East have ever witnessed. The vast network of monumental fortresses, fortress cities, cross walls and watchtowers has often been viewed as a sign of military insecurity and defensive grand strategy and compensating for a lack of manpower. This paper will question this assumption, examining the ways in which the fortification system offered Late Roman armies the platform from which to campaign effectively both within and beyond the frontiers of the Roman empire, and served as a means of centralising political control. In doing so, this paper will explore how we can bridge the gap between an archaeological record dominated by physical infrastructure and literary sources dominated by accounts of battles, campaigns and the actions of individuals.