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Flavius Claudius Iulianus

Reliance on individual generals in the Western Roman Empire?

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indeed, Arminius's plan hinged on the Romans behaving as expected.

 

The fact these tribesmen had co-operated at all suggests also that Arminius was a considerable leader

 

Indeed, Arminius was trained by the Roman army, so he would know their tactics while having developed leadership skills of his own.

Without these I'm not sure they would have done as well as they did.

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Coming back to the thraed name - What was the point between emperors-generals like Valentinianus, Valens, Theodosius etc' (until 395) and the transfer of power to the magister militum like Stilicho, Aetius etc' ? It was just the personality of Honorius or a political/social development ?

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It was for a variety of reasons.

 

Valens for instance asked for Sebastian to be a general of his armies (I believe they were related, and Sebastian had a good reputation working in the western military). Whilst Valens was busy wit some pressing matters and reforming an army to take on the Goths on his return to Constantinople, he got Sebastian to keep the Goths busy. Acccording to Zosimus, heads were arriving in the city every day, and Valens was well aware of how Sebastian was pressing him not to fight a set-piece battle against the Goths. Eventually Valens set forth with an army toward Adrianople, but was persuaded to let Sebastian force-march a contingent of the best troops as a reconnaisance in force, which resulted in a victory at the River Maritza - Sebastian made the mistake of glorifying the event. So Valens wanted a victory. he wanted to outdo Sebastian so as not to suffer the embarrasement and politcal threat, and he wanted to secure a victory without the help of Gratian, the western emperor, en route but delayed.

 

So in this case it was all about image. this was the Dominate, a period of Roman history in which emperors were keen to put on shows of wealth and military success, and really only bred an atmosphere of intrigue.

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Coming back to the thraed name - What was the point between emperors-generals like Valentinianus, Valens, Theodosius etc' (until 395) and the transfer of power to the magister militum like Stilicho, Aetius etc' ? It was just the personality of Honorius or a political/social development ?

Wasn't there a piece of legislation, about this time, which prevented men of senatorial rank from assuming officerships in the army? I've forgotten exactly when it was passed, but i know it was mid to late 4th century. Possibly drawn up to prevent usurpation, it resulted in an army in which the Roman ruling classes now had no direct involvement.

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Perhaps the institution of the "Dominate" can be blamed for the apparent reliance on single, trusted retainers. Aurelian brought in the Dominate in order to strengthen the institution of the Emperor who, no matter how great, was still in human incarnation. The system of the Tetrarchy instituted by Diocletian to assure a stable succession of Emperors led, perhaps inevitably, to civil war amoungst the many Augustus's, Caesar's and their heirs and pretenders. Civil war was something which an Emperor obviously could not have, and as such, power was ever more withdrawn into an exclusive cabal (and it wasn't exactly shared by everyone during the preceding years, as we all know). History is full of examples of what happens when the individual considers themself to be the institution i.e. Alexander the Great. The individual will die. The institution, or ideal, will live on.

 

At any rate, it's all pretty much as Sonic and Caldrail describe. The Emperor become more and more important, with many varied duties such as holding court for days on end :), and as such could only allow those he trusted (or thought he could trust) to discharge the duties he had no time (or inclination) for. It was only a matter of time before people come to realise where the real power in the Empire lay, and the rest, as they always say, is history.

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Coming back to the thraed name - What was the point between emperors-generals like Valentinianus, Valens, Theodosius etc' (until 395) and the transfer of power to the magister militum like Stilicho, Aetius etc' ? It was just the personality of Honorius or a political/social development ?

Wasn't there a piece of legislation, about this time, which prevented men of senatorial rank from assuming officerships in the army? I've forgotten exactly when it was passed, but i know it was mid to late 4th century. Possibly drawn up to prevent usurpation, it resulted in an army in which the Roman ruling classes now had no direct involvement.

 

Not at Adrianople. The list of officers killed are clearly well connected, and for instance, Richomeres (who avoided the battle by agreeing to become a hostage of the Goths and was at the Roman camp collecting other agreed hostages when the battle started) had a noble title.

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Wasn't there a piece of legislation, about this time, which prevented men of senatorial rank from assuming officerships in the army? I've forgotten exactly when it was passed, but i know it was mid to late 4th century. Possibly drawn up to prevent usurpation, it resulted in an army in which the Roman ruling classes now had no direct involvement.

 

 

Interesting, do we have a source ?

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I am almost certain that references to this legislation crop up in Averil Cameron's 'The Later Roman Empire' and Heather's 'The Fall of the Roman Empire'. I am looking through now - however, in my websearch for such references I came across this interesting view which seems to run counter to some currently held views which were touched on earlier in this thread, and couldn't resist fuelling the debate by including it:

 

Barbarian influence on tactics, equipment and organisation also appears to have been very limited. The longer swords used by Roman infantry soldiers from the second century AD were not a sign of changing tactics. The use of the Roman shortswords for stabbing rather than slashing has always been overemphasized in modern literature. Even the republican legionaries are explicitly described by Polybius to employ their Spanish swords for slashing as well as thrusting. The longer blades of late Roman troops were pointed and would have increased their reach in close quarter battle. The spatha was in fact not a weapon that Romans took over from Germanic barbarians, but a seperate Roman development of earlier Celtic blades. As most weapons of this type found across the borders were imports from the Roman empire it appears that the barbarians adopted a Roman weapon rather than the other way round.

 

http://members.tripod.com/~S_van_Dorst/lrarmy.html#lrarmy

 

I must add, that a Spatha was less than a eight inches longer than a Gladius; as a former re-enactor I must say that this moderate increase in length would not have diminished its use as a stabbing weapon, but would have somewhat increased its effect as a slashing weapon.

 

I have also seen references which suggest that the LEGIO actually maintained its internal rank structure during the Dominate, and that the reduction of legionary strength to 1'000 was merely a 'tidying up' policy in response to the situation whereby Legions had been increasingly split up into vexillations as early as the time of Trajan, never again to join their parent unit. Sometimes a legion was spread out along an entire frontier; Diocletian's policy improved and strengthened the legionary faction of the army in the face of a decline which had ALREADY taken place, rather than diminishing the effectiveness of the legion. Once more, central control of a legion was maintained in its entirety from a single point.

 

Regarding the original subject of this thread, the problem was not, I think, reliance on individual generals - this had been going on at various times for centuries - but rather, the reliance on the 'Wrong Kind' of generals. The law I alluded to in a previous post augmented this situation, and as I type I am leafing through my books looking for a reference to it.

Edited by Northern Neil

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The attack of Germanic tribes at Kalkriese took place over miles of dense temperate rainforest and was a co-ordinated attack, which indicates central planning and communication. Also, the plan was not simply to whittle the Romans down, but a successful attempt to lure the legions into a prepared killing ground. The attacks further back along the column were intended to disrupt the Roman column and prevent any retreat. The fact these tribesmen had co-operated at all suggests also that Arminius was a considerable leader. Certainly his demise took place because of the differences between tribes (though one can speculate about Roman intrigue).

 

The weather did turn bad, but this was less of an physical factor, since the storm was deeply significant to superstitious Roman soldiers so it was their morale that was harmed. The legions of the time were no less disciplined that at any other - indeed, Arminius's plan hinged on the Romans behaving as expected.

 

What civilians are you discussing? The legions were on campaign to stop what they'd been told was a revolt. They were marching to battle in other words.

I was on vacation for a couple days sorry it took so long to reply. Anyways, the stuff I've read on the campaign there were civilians with the legions in the promise of slaves to sell and loot to take, but that's what I read anyway.

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The spatha was in fact not a weapon that Romans took over from Germanic barbarians, but a seperate Roman development of earlier Celtic blades.

To give cavalry longer reach from horseback. We know that :huh:

 

I must add, that a Spatha was less than a eight inches longer than a Gladius; as a former re-enactor I must say that this moderate increase in length would not have diminished its use as a stabbing weapon, but would have somewhat increased its effect as a slashing weapon.

Not in doubt at all. But the point here is that the use of a longer blade as a slashing weapon necessitated a looser battle formation. Whilst the 'stabbing' element of the earlier gladius is 'emphasised', it must be pointed out that this is the natural result of close-order and disciplined formation of troops with large rectangular shields. They couldn't easily swing swords because they didn't have the space to do so. The change toward longer blades might also be described as a reaction to the increasing frequency of cavalry in their enemiies, but the wide scale adoption of longer blades coincides with the decline in standards following Constantines civil wars and those alluded to by Vegetius and Zosimus.

 

Since the Roman recruits from barbarian cultures were inevitably more accustomed to longer blades anyway, it made sense to simply allow them to use similar weapons given that training wasn't adhered to as strongly as it once was.

 

That barbarians adopted Roman weapons isn't so suprising. Swords are expensive items and if they happened to acquire Roman blades, somebody is going to use them. However, the length of barbarian blades by and large doesn't change much during the Roman period and thus the length of native weapons is more dependent on custom and technique than Roman influence.

 

I have also seen references which suggest that the LEGIO actually maintained its internal rank structure during the Dominate, and that the reduction of legionary strength to 1'000 was merely a 'tidying up' policy in response to the situation whereby Legions had been increasingly split up into vexillations as early as the time of Trajan, never again to join their parent unit.

It reflects the change in Roman military operation. The days of large set-piece battles had gone. Sebastian pleaded with Valens not to march on the Goths for instance, but to continue letting him raid them (with great success according to sources). The Roman military of the late empire was focusing on small scale actions, raids and skirmishes, which better suited the mindset and training of the average Roman soldier of the day, and clearly the Romans had pretty well lost their expertise in command and control of large formations by the late 4th Century (Sebastian was vindicated, as Valens found out the hard way).

 

Therefore 'large' legions had become obselete anyway, and given the decline in CCC, smaller units made more sense.

 

Regarding the original subject of this thread, the problem was not, I think, reliance on individual generals - this had been going on at various times for centuries - but rather, the reliance on the 'Wrong Kind' of generals.

The trouble is we look at the Roman Army with modern hindsight. We see it as essentially similar to our own modern national armies - which is incorrect. Generals of the Roman Legions were not senior officers of a national army nor part of a formal command structure. They were leaders of their own mini-army. The legions were independent formations and whilst they conformed (usually) to military command from their Emperor or his chosen man, the legionary legate was essentially no different to a tribal warband leader. His men were loyal to him, not Rome, and the system relied on these generals remaining loyal to Rome which all to often they weren't. Look how often usurpers were chosen by their own men to be emperor as a result of their popularity with the soldiers. Since Rome was an intensely competitive state, the temptation to use that military capability for their own ends was always present, and the threat of retaliation from other legions was often the only counter to it. For the Romans, 'Might is Right'. Right from the beginning of the principate, emperors were suspicious of succesful generals, and for good reason.

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