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Caius Maxentius

When did they stop being legions?

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Caldrail's source paints a depressing picture of the later Roman army, and this description of forces under some of the later Roman emperors certainly applied to a great many units. This was not, however, universal. Ammianus Marcellinus refers to Gallic legions in the service of the General Julian ( later emperor ) who fought with great discipline and almost fanaticism, and whose engineering skills were on a par with those of the earlier empire.


Good point, but even Zosimus' spent time praising some units and their efficacy in warfare. Sebastianus came from Gaul and presumably Zosimus' recounting is based on a comparison between the legions S was used to and what he saw in Constantinople. S's statement isn't really an indictment of the Roman army of that period as a whole but certainly a major slam on Valens' army specifically and an acknowledgement that there was a variation of quality in the legions.

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Zosimus gives an all or nothing opinion doesn't he? If soldiers achieve victory, they're men, tough soldiers, praiseworthy. If they fail, they're weak, effeminate, shameful. That's probably not so untypical of greek opinion in any case and conforms to the 'Winner Takes All' mindset of classic greek culture which had long since depaerted by the time Zosimus got around to pouring scorn on the legions at Adrianople.


However, regarding it as a comparison without any real evidence of it isn't convincing. Although Zosimus is being deliberately scornful, he isn't being untruthful. He's merely stating what many had opted not to say. In other words, as Vegetius implies as well, the state of the legions at the end of the 4th century was scandalous.


Much depended on who led those legions of course, and as we see from the account by Marcellinus, it was still possible for Roman soldiers to make good account of themnselves - however - also note that Sebastianus achieved success by using tactics adopted for the situation and by selecting men he regarded as suitable. Many of the soldiers at that time simply not battle ready and the attempt to engage the Goths in a set piece battle was a disastrous idea based on the pursuit of glory with troops unaccustomed to that sort of warfare.


It wasn't enough for Valens to order his men to war. He had to persuade them to do it. He spent some time making speeches to exort his men to go to war. That's from Marcellinus, and demonstrates a considerable morale problem. Trooops were lazy, indifferent, and unwilling. Which is confirmed by Vegetius as he states the strength and substance of the old legions had gone. Zosimus isn't making a comparison at all. He's making a big deal (and quite rightly) of something the martial Romans should have been ashamed of.

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