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Which Roman Emperors never did battle?

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I am working on a paper right now for a class, and came up with a question. Justinian the Great, so called, never conducted a battle, nor fought in one in person. What other Roman or Byzantine Emperors never were in the army or led a battle?

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After Theodosius I and until Maurice, which was about the end of the fourth century until the late sixth, there was a long line of emperors who did not go into battle. This was especially detrimental to the western empire, as the emperors increasingly became detached from the workings of the government and became figureheads, with the real power falling into the hands of Germanic kings and generals. Majorian was an excepction, but despite his best efforts, he couldn't accomplish do much. In the east, the Romans were able to expel the Germans, rely on a native army, and the emperors effectively ruled from the throne, even if they didn't go into battle. You mention Justinian. He never led an army personally, but he had a number of top notch generals that were highly effective, and he was always in total control of the government through his active governance. Maurice was the one who gradually brought back the habit of soldier emperor by leading his men in some expeditions against the Avars. His almost-immediate successor, Heraclius, was a full-time soldier emperor, who spent most of his reign fighting relentlessly against the Persians. After that, most emperors did do campaigning of some sort, mostly out of bare necessity, since the empire was almost in constant danger from then on.

 

As for earlier emperors, some sort of victory on the battlefield was usually necessary for an emperor to keep the respect and loyalty of his soldiers, especially during the third century. Elagabalus was one emperor who did not campaign, and because of that, the soldiers rebelled against him for his supposed weakness. Commodus also largely ignored the battlefield, and he too did not meet a nice end, although not all because of that.

 

Basically, except for the two hundred year period, it was generally expected for an emperor to lead an army into batlefield. I would argue that while he technically was in control of every aspect of the empire, the emperor's most important job was keeping the borders safe.

 

Some sources that you might want to look at are:

 

From Rome To Byzantium by Michael Grant

The Severans: The Changed Roman Empire by Michael Grant

Commodus: An Emperor At The Crossroads by Olivier Hexter

The Emperor Justininian and the Byzantine Empire by James Allan Evans

A History of Byzantium by Timothy Gregory

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Salve, L.

I am working on a paper right now for a class, and came up with a question. Justinian the Great, so called, never conducted a battle, nor fought in one in person.

That seems to be indeed the prevalent consensus, even if Petrus Sabbatius (his pre-Imperial name) was commander of the Army of the East from circa 522 to 527.

 

What other Roman or Byzantine Emperors never were in the army or led a battle?

I fear you will have to check on each biography one by one.

Answering that question is not so easy, mainly because primary sources tend to be inherently biased most often than not.

One of the main reasons the Roman Emperors were called so (imperatores) was because almost from the beginning they reserved the monopoly of Roman triumphs (certainly not of defeats) for them and their proxies (eg, Germanicus), even under child monarchs.

Conversely, hostile historians (eg, Caius Suetonius or Procopius of Caesarea) tended to minimize the military merits of some emperors.

 

Caius ("Caligula") was a nice example; C. Suetonius in his Vita Caius (cp. XLIII-XLVII) held the now traditional version that for getting a triumph he mounted a crazy farce, famously depicted in "I, Claudius" (episode Ten):

 

Postremo quasi perpetraturus bellum, derecta acie in litore Oceani ac ballistis machinisque dispositis, nemine gnaro aut opinante quidnam coepturus esset, repente ut conchas legerent galeasque et sinus replerent imperavit, "spolia Oceani" vocans "Capitolio Palatioque debita," et in indicium victoriae altissimam turrem excitavit,

 

"Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them "spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine." As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower"

 

However, based on archaeological field findings prof. Jona Lendering has made a convincing case for a real full military campaign having taken place under direct Caius' command near modern Katwijk at the time (SIC):

 

"In 40, he invaded the country of the Chatti on the east bank of the Rhine. Our sources describe the operation as some sort of joke by an insane emperor, but this is probably incorrect. At Wiesbaden on the east bank of the Middle Rhine, archaeologists have excavated the remains of a fort built in these years... In the winter of 39/40, a military base was constructed at Valkenburg near the debouchement of the Rhine. It was called Praetorium Agrippinae; the first word means 'headquarters', the second is a reference to the emperor's mother Agrippina Maior. The presence of the emperor is certain, as a barrel has been found that once contained wine from the emperor's personal vineyards. A similar object was found at nearby Vechten".

 

In general terms, Imperial dynasty founders were generally competent commanders (as winning the previous civil strife was always required); their successors tended to be lazier.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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Prior to the crisis of the 3rd century, the following either did not truly command or taken part in a real battle (beyond superfluous displays)... Claudius, Caligula, Nero, Nerva, Antoninus Pius and Elagabalus.

 

The Claudian invasion of Britain was conducted by Aulus Plautius, though the emperor himself did make an appearance. His reign was actually quite proactive in a military sense despite his personal lack of experience.

 

Caligula was already discussed by ASC above.

 

Nero relied upon competent commanders such as Corbulo in Parthia.

 

Nerva's reign was quite short, but he held no known military position in his long senatorial career prior to the assassination of Domitian.

 

Antoninus Pius career was largely administrative. His pre-emperor appointments included such non military (though prestigious) locales as Asia Minor. His reign was long and sound.

 

Commodus was suggested by Goblinus above, but despite his lack of military command after the death of Marcus Aurelius, he was active in the campaigns of his father along the Danube.

 

Goblinus also already addressed Elagabalus.

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I am working on a paper right now for a class, and came up with a question. Justinian the Great, so called, never conducted a battle, nor fought in one in person. What other Roman or Byzantine Emperors never were in the army or led a battle?

I think the exhaustive posts by EG & PP are a good example of what most Roman historians (eg, Publius Cornelius Tacitus or Claudius Cassius Dio) would have considered corruptio on the rulers' scale.

 

Having the Roman traditional military abilities of the dynastic founders been corrupted by luxury in their imperial descendants, the latter were commonly able to personally combat no more.

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After Theodosius I and until Maurice, which was about the end of the fourth century until the late sixth, there was a long line of emperors who did not go into battle.

 

I wonder how much this was influenced by events in the third and fourth centuries? Decius, Valerian, Julian and Valens all came to sticky ends fighting Rome's enemies. It could even be said that the Quadi 'talked' Valentinian to death!

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Antoninus Pius, despite being regarded as emperor over the most peaceful period of roman history, still had to deal with yet another revolt in Mauretania - which required the movement of troops from the Rhine/Danube border, and put down a peasants revolt in Egypt, possibly caused by economical concerns. He also authorised a military expedition into Dacia although its not clear if that was Roman Dacia or the small portion given back to the Roxolani.

 

Coins minted in AD154-155 indicate a victory against the britons, coinciding with the Antonine Wall. Since Antoninus Pius had no military experience he may have needed to make a gesture toward military conquest rather like Claudius did, and thus the Antonine Wall and the 'victory' surrounding it appears to be little more than a propaganda exercise, especially since the wall was abandoned soon afterward.

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Coins minted in AD154-155 indicate a victory against the britons, coinciding with the Antonine Wall. Since Antoninus Pius had no military experience he may have needed to make a gesture toward military conquest rather like Claudius did, and thus the Antonine Wall and the 'victory' surrounding it appears to be little more than a propaganda exercise, especially since the wall was abandoned soon afterward.

 

I don't necessarily get the same impression with Antoninus Pius as with Claudius. While it's clearly possible, I'd personally bet that Pius' military endeavors were either based on need (Moors in Africa, revolts in Dacia, etc.) or perhaps what was suggested by provincial governors. Perhaps the Caledonian invasion was an attempt to politicize himself as a conquering hero, but it may have also have been a statement to the world that Rome was in fact not withdrawing on all fronts. Unfortunately, the written source material from the period (like that of Trajan and Hadrian) is largely lost and we are left with a good deal of speculation based on non textual sources.

 

Interestingly though, the Historia Augusta (while it is admittedly not the most respected historical document) reported this of Pius:

"No one has ever had such prestige among foreign nations as he, for he was ever a lover of peace, even to such a degree that he was continually quoting the saying of Scipio in which he declared that he would rather save a single citizen than slay a thousand foes.

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After Theodosius I and until Maurice, which was about the end of the fourth century until the late sixth, there was a long line of emperors who did not go into battle...

Majorian was an excepction,

Regarding the aforementioned period (450 to 582) here are some other exceptions (please note that information on many "shadow" emperors is too scarce to define if they actually were or not at the battlefront):

 

WEST:

Constantine III (407-411) was described by Orosius as a soldier.

Constantius III (421) defeated the previous one.

Avitus (455-456) had a distinguished civil and military career previous to 455.

 

EAST:

Marcian (450-457) served as personal assistant (domesticus) to the emperor's commander-in-chief (magister utriusque militiae) before 450.

Leo III (457-474) had reached the rank of tribune in the regiment of the Mattiarii by 457.

Zeno (474-491) had a military career under Leo III.

Justin I (518-527) in 518 was commander of the excubitors.

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After Theodosius I and until Maurice, which was about the end of the fourth century until the late sixth, there was a long line of emperors who did not go into battle...

Majorian was an excepction,

Regarding the aforementioned period (450 to 582) here are some other exceptions (please note that information on many "shadow" emperors is too scarce to define if they actually were or not at the battlefront):

 

WEST:

Constantine III (407-411) was described by Orosius as a soldier.

Constantius III (421) defeated the previous one.

Avitus (455-456) had a distinguished civil and military career previous to 455.

 

EAST:

Marcian (450-457) served as personal assistant (domesticus) to the emperor's commander-in-chief (magister utriusque militiae) before 450.

Leo III (457-474) had reached the rank of tribune in the regiment of the Mattiarii by 457.

Zeno (474-491) had a military career under Leo III.

Justin I (518-527) in 518 was commander of the excubitors.

 

I didn't know about that, but were any of them of them military leaders while they were on the throne. I'm not knocking their accomplishments, but I was under the impression that the original poster was referring to miltary experience while on the throne.

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I didn't know about that, but were any of them of them military leaders while they were on the throne. I'm not knocking their accomplishments, but I was under the impression that the original poster was referring to miltary experience while on the throne.

Original question was: "Which Roman Emperors never did battle?".

 

Otherwise, we would require to exclude many other emperors too, like Augustus, Vespasian, Titus, Commodus and even Tiberius (an excellent commander BTW).

 

As I told before, information is just too scarce from many of the 450-582 emperors.

 

Anyhow, being all of the emperors mentioned in my last post professional military men who got to the throne via their military expertise under civil strife conditions, it would be really surprising if their reign wasn't a "military experience".

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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I don't necessarily get the same impression with Antoninus Pius as with Claudius. While it's clearly possible, I'd personally bet that Pius' military endeavors were either based on need (Moors in Africa, revolts in Dacia, etc.) or perhaps what was suggested by provincial governors. Perhaps the Caledonian invasion was an attempt to politicize himself as a conquering hero, but it may have also have been a statement to the world that Rome was in fact not withdrawing on all fronts. Unfortunately, the written source material from the period (like that of Trajan and Hadrian) is largely lost and we are left with a good deal of speculation based on non textual sources.

The revolts in Mauretania and Egypt required a response. Neither was considered serious despite the movement of troops. The Dacian expedition remains a little mysterious - I've no idea why that was undertaken, but its likely it was a peacekeeping operation rather than a territorial advancement. The british question is a little different. Antoninus Pius was not a military man, he had no experience of warfare, and thus depended on those that did. Further, he did not rule with the same direct oversight as Hadrian had, preferring a quieter time in Rome, and he was the first emepror that hadn't left Italy at any time. The defense policies of his reign were established by Hadrian. Antoninus was therefore playing it safe and living in the peace generated by his predecessor, taking care not to upset the senate nor seek conquest. Which makes the british question all the more interesting. Who initiated the conflict? Where the brits rising in revolt? It had happened in Hadrians reign - or was this a miltary excursion designed to further roman interests abroad? Antoninus made a fuss of the advancement to the border line that bears his name and no doubt got the requisite kudos from it, which is why I suspect him of doing the same as Claudius had done. Given his natural temerity involving conflict, it isn't impossible to imagine Antoninius making that advance as something he considered 'safe', an easy victory, and the willingness of the romans to abandon the antonine wall despite their victory seems a little odd. It would in fact suggest the victory was not secure, and that the area remained hostile, thus the generals concerned were exaggerating - unless it was Antoninus himself who was doing so.

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Antoninus Pius was not a military man, he had no experience of warfare, and thus depended on those that did. Further, he did not rule with the same direct oversight as Hadrian had, preferring a quieter time in Rome, and he was the first emepror that hadn't left Italy at any time. The defense policies of his reign were established by Hadrian. Antoninus was therefore playing it safe and living in the peace generated by his predecessor, taking care not to upset the senate nor seek conquest. Which makes the british question all the more interesting. Who initiated the conflict? Where the brits rising in revolt? It had happened in Hadrians reign - or was this a miltary excursion designed to further roman interests abroad? Antoninus made a fuss of the advancement to the border line that bears his name and no doubt got the requisite kudos from it, which is why I suspect him of doing the same as Claudius had done. Given his natural temerity involving conflict, it isn't impossible to imagine Antoninius making that advance as something he considered 'safe', an easy victory, and the willingness of the romans to abandon the antonine wall despite their victory seems a little odd. It would in fact suggest the victory was not secure, and that the area remained hostile, thus the generals concerned were exaggerating - unless it was Antoninus himself who was doing so.

 

Agreed, Antoninus very well may have authorized the Caledonian advance simply to gain personal military clout, but, on the surface at least, it doesn't really seem to fit his character. (The quote from the Historia Augusta provided above carries a considerable impact here). Unlike Claudius, Antoninus never made his presence felt anywhere near the battlefield and as you suggest there is very little commemoration or glorification of the campaign (at least that survives). Interestingly though and perhaps quite telling in its own right... the largest physical testament is the remains of the wall, which of course, did bear the name of the emperor. It's very presence could give a wide impression throughout the empire of a grandiose operation despite it's relative lack of of a lasting impression as a border.

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Salve, Amici.

Antoninus Pius was not a military man, he had no experience of warfare, and thus depended on those that did. Further, he did not rule with the same direct oversight as Hadrian had, preferring a quieter time in Rome, and he was the first emepror that hadn't left Italy at any time. The defense policies of his reign were established by Hadrian. Antoninus was therefore playing it safe and living in the peace generated by his predecessor, taking care not to upset the senate nor seek conquest. Which makes the british question all the more interesting. Who initiated the conflict? Where the brits rising in revolt? It had happened in Hadrians reign - or was this a miltary excursion designed to further roman interests abroad? Antoninus made a fuss of the advancement to the border line that bears his name and no doubt got the requisite kudos from it, which is why I suspect him of doing the same as Claudius had done. Given his natural temerity involving conflict, it isn't impossible to imagine Antoninius making that advance as something he considered 'safe', an easy victory, and the willingness of the romans to abandon the antonine wall despite their victory seems a little odd. It would in fact suggest the victory was not secure, and that the area remained hostile, thus the generals concerned were exaggerating - unless it was Antoninus himself who was doing so.

 

Agreed, Antoninus very well may have authorized the Caledonian advance simply to gain personal military clout, but, on the surface at least, it doesn't really seem to fit his character. (The quote from the Historia Augusta provided above carries a considerable impact here). Unlike Claudius, Antoninus never made his presence felt anywhere near the battlefield and as you suggest there is very little commemoration or glorification of the campaign (at least that survives). Interestingly though and perhaps quite telling in its own right... the largest physical testament is the remains of the wall, which of course, did bear the name of the emperor. It's very presence could give a wide impression throughout the empire of a grandiose operation despite it's relative lack of of a lasting impression as a border.

Real problem here is of course that we know almost nothing on Antoninus Pius and his reign.

Anyway, it's clear that for any Roman emperor peace was a relative term.

 

Here comes the Historiae Augusta again (cp. V, sec. IV):

"He waged a number of wars, but all of them through his legates.

For Lollius Urbicus, his legate, overcame the Britons and built a second wall, one of turf, after driving back the barbarians.

Through other legates or governors, he forced the Moors to sue for peace, and crushed the Germans and the Dacians and many other tribes, and also the Jews, who were in revolt.

In Achaea also and in Egypt38 he put down rebellions and many a time sharply checked the Alani in their raiding".

 

Legio VIII Hispana disappeared in or around Antoninus' reign; maybe in Cappadocia in 161, or during a revolt on the Danube in 162

 

The hard work of erecting the Antonine Wall by Legio II Augusta, Legio VI victrix and Legio XX Valeria Victrix in 138-142 just to withdrew to Hadrian's Wall in 162 at most, makes one wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to just conquer Caledonia. All these legions had to face the large uprising of the Brigantes (158-162)

 

Legio III Augusta seemed to have been active indeed at Lambaesis against the Moors, as it required Syrian reinforcements and even vexillationes from Legio III Cyrenaica from Egypt and Legio IIII Flavia Felix from Moesia.

The latter's presence suggests the Danube frontier was not so unstable.

 

Ioannes Malalas reported that Antoninus began a campaign against the Egyptians who had rebelled and killed the Augustalios deinarchos (probably a prefect).

 

Talmud stated to have been in Antoninus' reign that the Jews were deprived of the right to have their own courts (Yer. Sanh. vii.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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This is how the emperor Julian described Antoninus a century later:

"Thereupon entered a man of temperate character, I do not say in love affairs but in affairs of state.

I wonder why would Julian have considered him untempered in "love affairs"

Another fine background post A.

A very minor point but on your last comment I don't see how specifying affairs of state as opposed to affairs of love would suggest any activity in affairs of love by Antoninus. It seems Julian was putting the emphasis where it belonged and not where it was missing, and was putting distance between Ant. and love affairs. If we need more information on that:

 

(From Caesar and Christ by Will Durant)"

Edited by Faustus

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