Anyone who has looked at fortifications built by the Roman army of the early empire knows that they were stupid about towers. These forts are often generously provided with towers, but those towers don’t stick far enough out from the walls to provide flanking fire against anyone trying to climb them. They provide extra height for fighting and observing, and protection from the weather on cold wet nights, but they don’t let people shoot and throw things at anyone trying to get over the walls between the towers (or sitting at the base of the wall trying to dig into it and pry things out ). The basic idea of how to use projecting towers had been known since the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, and although the Greeks were slow learners by the time of Alexander the Great some of them had understood these principles and even written textbooks. Roman forts became more sophisticated in the fourth century CE as Roman urban society was struggling. I just realized that Vitruvius explained how to use towers tool in his first book on architecture!Read more
Taylor, Michael j. (2022) “Decimatio: Myth, Discipline, and Death in the Roman Republic.” Antichthon, pp. 1–16 doi:10.1017/ann.2022.9
Around 150 BCE, Polybius wrote that Roman military law contained the fearsome punishment of decimatio:
If the same thing (i.e., acts of cowardice) ever happens to large bodies, and if entire maniples desert their posts when exceedingly hard pressed, the officers refrain from inflicting the fustuarium or the death penalty on all, but find a solution of the difficulty which is both salutary and terror-striking. The tribune assembles the legion, and brings up those guilty of leaving the ranks, reproaches them sharply, and finally chooses by lots sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of the offenders, so adjusting the number thus chosen that they form as near as possible the tenth part of those guilty of cowardice. Those on whom the lot falls are clubbed mercilessly in the manner above described; the rest receive rations of barley instead of wheat and are ordered to encamp outside the camp on an unprotected spot. As therefore the danger and dread of drawing the fatal lot affects all equally, as it is uncertain on whom it will fall; and as the public disgrace of receiving barley rations falls on all alike, this practice is that best calculated both to inspire fear and to correct the mischief.
But historian Michael Taylor noticed that the Romans had only two or three examples of this punishment being carried out before the time of Crassus and Pompey, both of which belonged to the misty times before 300 BCE.Read more
Roel Konijnendijk has published his second monograph, on the intellectual climate in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century and how that influenced the writing of ancient military history. Its from Brill, so its priced for libraries not individuals (if you can’t borrow a copy or have your library buy one, email him for other options!) I think a research history like this would play to his strengths. Just remember that there was also research in French and Russian before and after serious ancient history started to be written in English!
- Konijnendijk, Roel (2022) Between Miltiades and Moltke: Early German Studies in Greek Military History (Brill: Leiden) vi + 118 pages https://brill.com/display/title/64402
In the before times, when I could travel and had something to travel to, I visited Bologna. In their museum of antiquity I saw this funerary stele. Judging by the clothing and style I would date it around 150-250 CE. The soldier wears boots not sandals, his tunic has long sleeves, and his belt is narrow and not covered with brass or silver plaques. At first I was amused by the soldier’s very Celtic moustache in one of the cities where the Romans did their best to eliminate the native Celtic population. A little research showed an unexpected story!Read more
Hadrian’s wall across Britain has left complex traces in the forms of trenches, pits, scraps of stonework which were not salvaged by later farmers and road-builders, and of course inscriptions boasting of what the dedicator had accomplished. Geoff Carter, the archaeologist of Britain, is working on his theory that Hadrian’s Wall was first built as... Continue reading: Was Hadrian’s Wall Proceeded by an Earth-and-Post Construction?
The new issue of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies has arrived in Tirol. The two volumes published last year contained articles such as:
- A study of the impact marks from catapult balls and sling bullets on the walls of Pompeii, presumably dating back to the Roman siege of the town during the Social War.
- A project on Roman locking scale from Carlisle by David Sim and J. Kaminski which started with billets of specially-made wrought iron and ended in having a good bash at the armour with replicas of Roman weapons. This particular armour was sophisticated and effective, and the authors have many interesting insights into metallurgy and manufacturing process, including a time that their wish to ‘tidy up’ more than the original armourers did created a problem. I was left wishing that they had addressed some other issues, but I will put those below the fold.
- A pair of articles on the reconstruction of Roman boots and their use on a march across the Brenner Pass. I enjoyed the contrasting perspectives of the shoe-wearers and the shoemaker-cum-archaeologist who made the shoes.
The latest volume includes things like:
- Two examples of Roman lorica hamata squamataque preserved as a whole (rather than as loose scales or small clusters of scales), one of which was preserved with its linen liner. To my knowledge, this is the first archaeological evidence for mail with a lining in the Roman world.
- A copper-alloy crescent (lunula) similar to those mounted on Roman battle standards from a layer dating to the first century BCE at Gurzufskoe Sedlo in the Crimea. Both the date and the location are worth noticing.
- A set of silvered bronze saddle plates which ended up buried with a cow in the Meroitic kingdom of Kush.
- An article by Jon Coulston on Roman archery which makes use of comparative evidence from outside the Roman world.
If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to read or support, copies are available here.
One category of evidence central to this issue [of the abuse of civilians by soldiers] is the large number of petitions directed to officials, where in one sample roughly a third were directed to centurions acting in a local police role (Hobson 1993 = ‘The Impact of Law on Village Life in Roman Egypt,’ in B. Halpern and D. Hobson (eds.), Law, Politics and Society in the Ancient Mediterranean World. Sheffield, pp. 193-219). The sheer number of petitions suggests that abuse was widespread. A still further complication could be that a centurion was petitioned concerning abuse by a soldier. How likely is fairness in this regard? Such was the case for Aurelius Sarapion in a petition to the centurion Aurelius Marcianus:
there is nothing more dreadful or harder to bear than maltreatment. At the time of life I have reached, being over eighty years, I served faithfully as an Arab archer. A sow having escaped from my daughter in the village and being reported to be at the house of the soldier Julius, I went to him to demand his oath about this matter, and he laying hands on me, despite my age, in the village in the middle of the day, as if there were no laws, laboured me with many blows. (P. Graux 4 )
He goes on to list witnesses and to seek redress.
From Colin Adams, “War and Society in the Roman Empire” in B. Campbell and L. A. Tritle eds., The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2013) p. 267
(I do not have access to that volume of P. Graux, so I cannot give the original text)
Adams uses this papyrus to ask a question about how often Roman centurions (who often acted as judges and police in the countryside) gave justice when a civilian accused a soldier. Today I will ask another question. In this passage an ancient person tells us a great deal about who he was, or who he wanted to be seen to be. So what was Sarapion’s ethnicity? I would encourage my learned readers to really think about this whether or not they click “more” to see my opinion.Read more