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Christian Era Roman army brutality

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I've a question: was the Roman Army of the christian era less brutal against enemy civilians than during the pagan centuries? Any source of comparison?

 

 

Shouldn't this question be moved out of the Res Publica folder?

 

 

 

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There is one recorded instance of late empire Roman soldiers launching raids against Germanic villages for plunder at their own initiative, swimming across rivers using shields as flotation devices. I don't have the source handy but if I remember correctly, they were none too shy at slaughtering anyone who resisted.

 

That doesn't mean these soldiers were christian however. There was after all a number of executions of men refusing military service on religious objection.

 

I should add that Zosimus records how gothic heads were sent to Constantinople every day prior to the defeat at Adrianople.

Edited by caldrail

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In my experience, there are two breeds of violent people, those who don't have a religion to moderate their violence, and those who use their religion to justify their violence.

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I've a question: was the Roman Army of the christian era less brutal against enemy civilians than during the pagan centuries? Any source of comparison?

 

 

What's more brutal? Caesar cutting off the hands of numerous Gauls? Or Basil II gauging out the eyes of numerous Bulgarians?

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Brutality is unfortunate facet of human behaviour, especially in socieities that are expansionist. Older, more established societies tend toward more rigid customs and regulations designed to moderate that behaviourm,, since when everything is sorted you don't want brutality in the system to rock the boat. It's still there, of course, lurking under the surface, but socieities that suppress such instincts must either achieve a balance with it or become moribund and unable to cope with those aggressive external influences that embrace such instincts.

 

There is unfortunately a part of our psyche that enjoys brutality. Some are more prone to it than others, it must be said, but the psychological power derived from causing harm to others is one of the nastier elements of social behaviour we've inherited from our primeval roots.

 

The ancient world was a brutal enviroment. Life was short. Only two out of five Romans lived beyond the age of twenty. Life was cheap. Slavery was commonplace and accepted practice throughout Europe and Asia. Life was risky. Disease, accident, war... There were no ambulances to wisk you to hospital, medical care was crude, usually restricted, and utterly inseperable from superstition.

 

A lot is said about Roman brutality. With good reason, it must be said, but of course we shouldn't forget we're judging them by modern standards. Even the Romans were sometimes shocked by what they experienced or heard about regarding other cultures.

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In my experience, there are two breeds of violent people, those who don't have a religion to moderate their violence, and those who use their religion to justify their violence.

I think the concensus here is that early and late Roman armies were more or less identical in their brutality, Christianity only serving to give justification to the slaughter of non-Christian foes. I wonder, though, wether Alaric's Christianity played a part in moderating his sack of Rome?

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In my experience, there are two breeds of violent people, those who don't have a religion to moderate their violence, and those who use their religion to justify their violence.

I think the concensus here is that early and late Roman armies were more or less identical in their brutality, Christianity only serving to give justification to the slaughter of non-Christian foes. I wonder, though, wether Alaric's Christianity played a part in moderating his sack of Rome?

 

Most accounts seem to think so. Orosius says something to the effect the Goths (mostly Arians) were very respectful of church property while pillaging and even gives a vivid account of returning pillaged religious valuables to their places. Of course Orosius seems to think anything bad that happens to Rome under pagan leadership is God's punishment and if it happens under Christian (Catholic not Arian) rule then evil must be involved.

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I was actually interested in brutality against civilians after conquest/surrender rather than brutality against enemy soldiers.

 

I asked if christianity tamed roman military brutality against civilians because the bishop Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius after the massacre of Thessalonica, punishing him for that atrocity: I wondered if following emperors and military commanders were afraid of being excommunicated if they exceeded in brutality against civilian populations.

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Not to answer your previous question, but to give you an insight into the Christianity at that time, watch the film 'Agora' with Rachel Weisz

Edited by GhostOfClayton

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In my experience, there are two breeds of violent people, those who don't have a religion to moderate their violence, and those who use their religion to justify their violence.

I think the concensus here is that early and late Roman armies were more or less identical in their brutality, Christianity only serving to give justification to the slaughter of non-Christian foes. I wonder, though, wether Alaric's Christianity played a part in moderating his sack of Rome?

 

I've suddenly realised the significance of what you're suggesting. Christianity only justifioed violence in its name against heathens during the middle ages, when in 1097 Pope Urban II received a request from Emperor Alexius of Byzantium asking for military assistance against the turks, and gave a speech in which he exorted good christians to take up arms to free the Holy Land and just in case anyone was worried about Thou Shalt Not Kill, he declared it was less sinful to kill heathens and that fighting to free Jerusalem was a penance against their violent acts.

 

In Roman times, there was no official statement to this effect, and indeed, if individual christians were worried about the effect on their soul, they more than likely refused to fight at all. There were executions of those refusing to serve. I don't know of any pre-medieval christian who used his religion as an excuse to inflict harm, at least on a personal basis, though politics is another matter.

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