Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Thucydides in Late Antiquity

One of my tasks over the next few months is to write a chapter for a companion that explores the place of Thucydides amongst the historians of late antiquity, which both has something for the specialist and the uninitiated.  It's no small task, and to make this manageable, and in the vague hopes of saying something (even if it's little more than a sentence or two) somewhat new, I'm going to focus my attention on one episode in Thucydides' History that has had a particularly marked impact:  his description of the Siege of Plataea.  Yes, this also means I get to touch on something I know reasonably well - the ins and outs of siege descriptions.  It turns out that there are three historians (that we know of) who modelled at least one of their accounts on Thucydides' Plataean siege:  Dexippus (3rd century), Priscus (5th century), and Procopius (6th century).  The main question that I will address is how far can we take this Thucydidean influence, and what does this mean for how we read these later historians?

As I comb through the modern literature and read and re-read some of the relevant ancient accounts, there are a number of issues that have jumped out at me thus far as I have considered those questions.  First, why have those historians chosen to base their description on a siege found in Thucydides and why Plataea?  Combat is ubiquitous in the ancient world, and we can find descriptions of sieges in all sorts of different historians.  What is it about Thucydides' siege that makes it so special?  I wonder how many moderns would ran it as a pivotal moment in the the text, let alone the war?  A siege like Syracuse?  OK - and it did have an impact on Procopius, for it seems to have influenced his account of the siege of Rome in 537/538, and just as Syracuse ushered in big changes in the course of that war, so too did Rome in the Gothic war.  There must have been something about Thucydides, then, and this particular siege that stood out in their minds when they sat down (so to speak) to describe their respective sieges (Philippopolis in Dexippus, Naissus in Priscus, and Naples in Procopius).

Of course, ancient historians are less likely to be motivated by the relative importance of a siege in selecting models, or so I would think.  Rather, it's the literary character that carries of the day more often than not.  This then brings up the second consideration, the impact of education and the rhetorical handbooks.  Indeed, as it happens a number of the surviving progymnasmata highlight Thucydides' account of Plataea as one worth noting.  If those three historians, and others, had read any of those rhetorical handbooks, and they likely would have done in the course of their similar educations, it seems likely the primacy of Thucydides' account would have been hammered into their heads and so it's not surprising, then, that they did think of Plataea.  If anything, maybe we should have been asking not why Thucydides, but which other historian and siege could they have used instead?  Could there ever have been any doubt? 

This, though, brings up a third issue.  Is it really Thucydides they have in mind, or some sort of list of key phrases, quotes, or even passages, the sort of thing that was said to be present (common, ubiquitous?)  in late antiquity?  Did they remember Thucydides from school, then turn to the section they needed and simply copy what they wanted?  Less of a full appreciation of Thucydides then than something far more superficial?  If you read Lucian's How to Write History you get the impression that there were a number of historians (most lost - and assuming he was alluding to real historians) from the first and second centuries who might have fallen into this superficial category, so to speak.

In fact, this brings up a fourth issue.  Although there are all sorts of interesting potential examples of intertextuality involving Thucydides and other authors like Procopius, a topic discussed in a number of provocative works by Pazdernik, is this the same sort of thing we have when we focus on episodes like these sieges or, as suggested above, are they something more superficial?  Can they ever really be something more than a sytlistic choice?  Given the comparative lack of importance it would seem unlikely.  And, the fragmentary state of both Dexippus and Priscus makes this a difficult issue to discuss outside the bounds of Procopius' Wars.  It is worth asking, however.

A fifth point, related to the previous one, if tangentially, has to do with what this Thucydidean impact then has on the veracity of the respective accounts.  If they're all based on Thucydides - and a handful of studies have highlighted the profound linguistic impact - does this mean their sieges are little more than literary artifices?  Ought we then throw out the baby with the bathwater?  The sieges are too closely modelled on Thucydides for comfort, they (the descriptions) couldn't then be based on the actual accounts, and so we should discard them as little more than something of literary interest.  Valuable for what they say about the impact of Thucydides:  check.  Useful for historians with a real interest in the respective conflicts:  no. 

A sixth issue, what does all this tell us about the practice of history-writing in late antiquity, when such a seemingly significant chunk of the works of one segment of the era's historians can be reduced to what we could consider examples of flagrant plagiarism?  In other words, from this perspective, should we consider going back to the old appellation, dark ages?  Are the classicizing historians of the age not deserving of the credit we tend to afford them if this is what they call history?  Perhaps, then, it really is the Malalas', the Jordanes', the Eusebius', the Theodorets and the Marcellinus Comes' that really deserve our attention, as they seem to be the ones who were really doing something different.  Or does the fact that there were still individuals capable of engaging with arguably the world's greatest historian in the age in addition to those experiementing with new forms and new subject matter reveal to us the age's vitality, at least from the perspective of historiography?

All this from Thucydides, late antique historians, and one little siege.  Should be a fun (if endlessly frustrating) chapter to write.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Procopius' Wars: Second Edition

At some point after writing the first seven books of his Wars, Procopius published them, and apparently to widespread acclaim.  Lo, he was so successful that he decided to write an update, of sorts, book 8.  Book 8, as Procopius readily admits, is something of an anomaly.  For him it was the organization that stood out:  he struggled finding a way to update the material of the first seven books, and must have reckoned that tacking them on to the first seven, or each war, wouldn't have worked that well.  Instead, then, he lumped it all together in one book:  8.  Once he decided on this, he did, at least at the most basic of levels, proceed to arrange it (book 8) as he'd done the first seven.  So, the first chunk of book 8 is devoted to PW matters, a wee paragraph is devoted to VW matters, and the last chunk to GW matters.  All good.

When we take a closer look, however, things are rather different.  Yes, there are lots of battles and sieges, much as there had been before - and given that it's a history of war it well should have this sort of stuff.  But, his descriptions of combat in book 8 aren't consistent, at least for the most part, with those in books 1-7.  Rather, it's more of a hodgepodge, with an especial emphasis on the factors he raises in the GW (for more on this, for the moment, see the relevant chapter here: (http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/view/theses/Department_of_Classics_and_Ancient_History.type.html)

There's plenty more that's different in book 8, however.  For one thing, there are far more methodological statements than we find, at least per capita, in the first seven books.  I would suggest that there are also far more "philosophy of history" statements.  Along those lines, we find a number of cases where our narrator feels the need to set the record straight:  "this or that matter has been discussed in a variety of ways by various sources, and they're generally wrong.  Here's how it really is."  That sort of thing.  We might well expect these sorts of statements to pertain, by and large, to key historical events, like battles.  And, near the end, in his description of the Battle of Busta Gallorum/Taginae, we find just such a comment, and it pertains to the various reports concerning the death of Totila.  It seems reports differed, and given the comparatively detailed account he presents first, I'm inclined to believe that it's the one he liked best.  Interesingly, however (and in Herodotean vein), he doesn't take a stand - he mentions the other version, and provides some detail, and then lets is stand for the reader to sort out, at least indirectly (as noted, I think he's pointing towards option 1).  Much more often, however, he chimes in when the matter pertains to matters of geography, less often ethnography, but quite too often mythology.  He's not unusual in this - again, this is very much a Herodotean thing.  What is unusual, however, is that Procopius himself tends not to do this in the first part of the Wars (books 1-7).

There are other unusual things.  There is far more attention on geography, again per capita, and on sensory aspects, at least from the perspective of combat.  In fact, you would be no worse off in writing a "face of battle" account of Justinianic era combat using book 8 alone than you would if you only had books 1 through 7.  There's also all that myth.  We read about Jason and Medea, Orestes, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Odysseus, Aeneas, and so forth.  The placing of his discussions of myth does make sense:  for the first of the lot, it comes in the heart of his Lazican discussion, and the setting for those myths tends to be in the lands that are the focus of that part of the war with Persia.  The same's true for the war against the Goths and Italy-based myths (Odysseus' voyages primarily).  So, all well and good, as I suggested.  But, why didn't he do the same in the first seven books?

The Procopius of book 8, then, is, for all intents and purposes, not the Procopius of books 1-7.  Why is that?  What made Procopius adopt this notably different approach, an approach that on the surface (and possibly deeper down?) is much more Herodotean than the very Thucydidean (even Polybian) first seven books?  It could be that in the absence of autopsy Procopius sought to supplement his narrative with details that he could provide given the resources at his disposal, ie the ancient/classical texts that he alludes to throughout book 8. 

But, I wonder if there isn't another possibility, one that doesn't necessarily preclude the former, though which might seem to contradict Procopius' statements at the start of book 8.  He claimed that his work was popular, and there might be something to these claims, but its appeal might not have been quite as universal as he had imagined.  In other words, some - many? - might have criticized the historian.  Reading Procopius again in full (in translation, admittedly - Kaldellis' new one) for a seminar I'm teaching, it's clear that he isn't for everyone.  Indeed, if you're not terribly interested in military history, it's hard not to read the Wars as little more than "one damned thing after another", where the thing, or things, in question is combat (and its attendant battles, sieges, and campaigns).  I hate to admit it, but even my eyes glossed over a little from time to time.  Maybe, then, there were others who lampooned Procopius for just this problem, and so to counter this - and to reach even greater renown - he sought to add extra episodes of interest, the types of scenes that would appeal to a broader audience.  What with all the myth, geography, and literary argumentation it's hard not to think that these were included for just this purpose.  Secular military history wasn't as popular in the sixth century AD as it was in the early fourth century BC.  Readers (and listners) had other options, even if Procopius was part of a grand tradition, and even if he is succeeded by Agathias, Menander, and Theophylact,  In sum, I read book 8 as a response to Procopius' critics, even if its character is to some degree conditioned by his resources.  Perhaps this pseudo-Herodotean approach might also reflect the appeals of his similarly-educated readers, those who spent years pouring over rhetorical treatises and argued over the respective merits of different figrues from myth.  Maybe they expected more of this, and told Procopius to include it in his update.

I realize that this reading is conditioned by my own circumstances - not everyone loves Procopius, and Herodotus is undoubtedly the most popular of classical historians, as evidenced by the success of Holland's recent translation.  What interests us, then, might not have interested Procopius' peers.  Still, might be worth considering - or exploring in more detail (at some unspecified point in my future, if I still have the fortitude to persevere with these Procopian projects).

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Military Language in [Late] Antiquity: an Addendum on Inscriptions

OK.  Just got back from a swim - had knee surgery recently and things seem to be coming along, well, swimmingly.  Was thinking a bit more about military language and started drifting back into the Roman imperial era, and Latin epitaphs in particular.  Now, it's been a while since I've read anything about an inscription beyond some papers/chapters/books that use them for the material they contain, rather than as something to be evaluated as an end itself.  Thus, what I'm about to say may in fact be bollocks - someone or more likely some ones have probably discussed this somewhere.  I'll have to take a look. 

Anyway, if my memory serves me, and it may not, as you from the early first century (AD) to the late second century (AD) the abbreviations, at least with respect to those epitaphs that honour deceased military men, tend to become more pronounced.  Granted, some other more standard abbreviations emerge while others disappear, but if we're talking about those used for military units and titles I think they become shorter and shorter.  If this is true, why might they have done this?  Well, it could be for economic reasons.  Tombstones became more affordable, so more people wanted them.  In turn, to churn out an increased number of stones those producing them might have had to cut corners - minimize time by using shorter and shorter epitaphs with more and more abbreviations. 

What I'm wondering, however, if there's any correlation between an increase in the use of abbreviations and the findspot of epitaph of a soldier.  If more and more soldiers were being buried where they were based (and I do believe soldiers were less and less likely to go back home after their term of duty came to an end) then the need to spell out the units they served in might have been minimized.  In other words, with epitaphs found in environments filled with soldiers, this target audience may not have felt the need for the names of military units to be spelled out.  They're could read and understand the abbreviations, just like my friends could understand each other.  So, a possible hint at military language and its prevalence in military environments.

As I type this, however, I realize a lot more work would be needed before any such idea went futher than this.  I'd have to do some reading.  I'd have to look closely at not just the military inscriptions from a region (the whole empire might be unrealistic), but all of them, their findspots, and so forth.  And, if there is an increasing number of abbreviations used in the Roman period over time in general and in a variety of contexts (that is not more likely in a military environment - i.e., they're used everywhere) then the theory goes out the window.  Still, when I start looking a bit more closely at inscriptions again, hopefully in the not too-too-distant future, I might give it some more thought.

Using Military Language in Late Antiquity

I recently read an interesting article (by Jonathan McLaughlin) on letters exchanged between members of the, let's say, cultural elite and the military elite in the fourth century in the latest issue of JLA (Journal of Late Antiquity).  The two principal characters were Libanius and Ellebichus, a "barbarian" general.  It turns out that we have the letters of Libanius (we have a lot of those, actually) to this general, but not the replies.  Nevertheless, a friendship was struck between these two unlikely gentlemen, who didn't always see eye-to-eye, and this exchange of letters helped bridge the culture divide - well, exchanges of this type between all sorts of different members of the elite helped to so.  Anyway, the article's give me much food for thought on a variety of issues from late antique communications and interactions, and the character of elite networks, to issue of genre, here epistolography.

One little point I want to pick up on here is a comment McLaughlin made about Libanius' use of military terms in a letter to Ellebichus (Ep. 925), and the phrases in question include:  "hurled arrows [ta belh] at both" and "put down their weapons [katethento ta hopla]".  The military terms and language that Libanius employs in this letter, and presumably in others - I'd have to check - is not very technical.  Yes, there are arms and arrows, but the words that he used had a long pedigree.  The point I'm trying to make is that the words that Libanius was using in the late fourth century (AD) are the same ones that Thucydides used in the late fifth century (BC).  There's nothing revolutionary about this, of course, for the classicizing practices of late antique writers have been commented on for some time.  Still, what I was struck by the generality of the language used by Libanius, much of the same sort that Procopius uses, someone whose language use I'm much more familiar with.  The point is Procopius isn't overly technical either, even though he does spend most of his time getting into military matters.  Indeed, it's quite likely that the sort of people who read Procopius (or listened to it) were those who read (or listened to) Libanius, and they might well have appreciated this general militayr langauge.  At least, that's been my take on it.

Libanius' apparent use of military language and terminology (JLA 2014:  272, n. 81) has me thinking: what constitutes military language?  It might seem obvious, terms that describe things that military do and are.  But, a considerable amount of technicality is often implied when discussing military matters, both ancient and modern, and thinking about military language reminded me of a night out a year or two ago.  It was a friend's bachelor party (something to that effect - maybe pre-bachelor party), and it was a fairly select group at the start. There were four of us, three of whom had served (or were serving in some capacity) in the armed forces, both British and Canadian.  Needless to say, the one person who hadn't (me - the guy who spends a good amount of his time thinking about ancient militaries) was about lost in a myriad of military acronyms.   I'd try to reproduce some here, but I can't remember any of them (sure some can be found here http://www.militaryacronyms.net/). Anyway, this is probably my modern experiences blurring my perceptions of the ancient world, but I have this notion that Roman military language would be some sort of ancient version of that, originally in Latin, but eventually in Greek.  Following this line of thinking, then, the "military language" of Libanius and later Procopius is actually the civilian version - it's been rendered into a form that civilians can understand.  Just as I struggled to understand (and struggled is generous - failed might be better) to understand what they were saying, the largely civilian audience that consumed Libanius' and Procopius' (and others') works would have had a much easier time with their language then anything "properly" military and technical. 

Let me step back for a second.  I've been reading more Procopius (for teaching purposes mostly, though research obviously too - in translation, Kaldelli's new version), been giving some thought to the earlier imperial military, and some perusing of the Notitia Dignitatum.  If we focus on one particular group of terms, those for units for example, if you read Procopius you find very little indication of technical terms for unit types and names.  There are vague references to infantry, cavalry, occasionaly a reference to some sort of Latin term, and there are mentions of all sorts of ethnic units (maybe).  But there are none of the sort of titles we find in the Notitia Dignitatum, or the units that populate the earlier funerary epitaphs and diplomata.  Those sorts of long-winded names, like the ala antana dromedariorum (Not. Dign. or. 34.33), strike me as, well, proper military language - and all the aspects that would go with it.  And admittedly, if Procopius' works (and those of all other classical and classicizing historians for that matter) included all of the participating units they would soon make for some very painful, and possibly confusing, reading, at least to most of us. 

Of course, unit names and so on might apply only to administrative matters.  It may even be that the military bulletins and so forth discussed in previous posts were filled with the names of participating units, and all sorts of other terms (officer ranks, troop types, etc.).  That too would, I think, count as military langauge, though at the administrative level.  Maurice's Strategikon, which I haven't mentioned yet, probably also consists of what could be called technical military language (I believe Rance has made a strong case for this in a number of publications, and I look forward to his translation and commentary).  I think then too that the stuff Procopius and Libanius use is something else - the civilian versions, translations even, of the technical military mumbo-jumbo.  To get back to the acronyms, does that mean Roman soldiers were running around using acronyms and technical terms when talking to one another in day-to-day life?  I don't know, and I'm not sure we have any good evidence for this (not that it didn't or might not have existed - we just don't know).  What we'd probably like is some letters, and there might even be some, but even those are problematic, at least if we assume that the literacy needed to compose letters was higher than that of your average soldier.  Officers - well, they had different experiences and upbringings in a lot of cases.  But regular soldiers?  How could we find out about the sort of language they used?  Harder to say.  Maybe graffito, if it existed, would be useful?  Maybe there are wooden tablets that might enlighten us?  Have to check.  But, it might remain an enigma for some time. 

Anyway, enough for now, though I supect I'll return to this in the future...

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Roman Soldiers and Camels at Nessana Continued

Been delving a bit deeper into the world of Roman soldiers and camels today.  Might be a little while yet before I actually get to the soldiers and their varied relationships.

As noted in the last related post, there are two papyri from Nessana that deal with camel requsitions.  Haven't looked at them, or the discussion about them, in detail just yet, but Kraemer was of the opinion that P.Ness. 35 had to do with camels used, at least in part, with combat, while P.Ness. 37 had to do with camels for transport.  Interestingly, the former includes both related terms, κά(μηλος) and δρο(μεδάριος), the latter just κ(άμηλος).  To the unitiated, namely me, the appearance of both kamelos and dromedarios was a bit surprising, since to me a camel was a camel was a camel, though some obviously have one humps and others two (Arabians mostly one).  This even though I had a trip to the local zoo a few months ago and they had both of the one- and two-humped variety.  Obviously, I had to get to the bottom of this, and dromedary seems to be the term used most often to refer to the one-humped variety, camel to the two-humped variety.  With that said, and just to complicate things even more, the Latin names of the two species are a little less than helpful:  the one-humped variety is the camelus dromedarus (!!), while the two-humped variety is the camelus bactrianus.  Ok, fair enough. 

The presence of the two terms in these Nessana papyri would seem to suggest that in these official circles (if we can call it that), there was an awareness or at least knowledge of the two varities.  On the other hand, what few known units of camel-riders we have are all (an earlier one called the ala I Ulpia dromedarium Palmyrenorum and a few units listed in the Notitia Dignitatum in Egypt and Palestine) called dromedarium (or some cognate).  One other sixth century source, my dear friend Procopius, does get into the military's use of camels: in his Secret History in the midst of one of his many diatribes he complains about Justinian's abolition of the camels set aside by the state for the transport of people and goods (SH 30.15-16).  The term he uses, however, is κάμηλος.  Although Procopius isn't, perhaps, the best item of comparison, and given my research, thus far, has been rather preliminary, is it possible that there wasn't a widespread awareness of the two different varieties, at least among the general populace?  Would not those with experience in the (Near East that is) most likely have been familiar with the one-humped variety.  I'm wondering two if the distinction should be between κάμηλος as simply camel, and δρομεδάριος as the camel-rider, though P.Ness. 35 doesn't really suggest this. 

All of this early work has to do with my attempts at determining, or at least revisiting, the nature of the soldiers based at Nessana, for I'm still not convinced that they should be considered a unit of dromedarii, simply because the evidence isn't good enough.  Indeed, following this thread I ended up taking a glance at the finds from Dura Europos, for most see the cohors XX Palmyrenorum as comprised partly of camel-riders (dromedarii).  This clincher for this argument (and not everyone refers to this, quite disappointingly) is one of the Dura papyri, particularly P. Dur. 82, which reads, early on, "...ṣ[esq(uiplicarius)] ị drom(adarii) xxxiiii in his sesq(uiplicarius)..." (find it in Campbell 1994, 180, Fink's RMR 47).  The papyrus is in Latin, and it's fragmentary, but it seems to refer to a umber of dromedarii under the command of someone at Dura - at least 34 of them, perhaps.  This has, in part, led to some speculation that this particular unit was equitate (cohortes equitatae).  Cohorts tended to be infantry, while alae tended to be cavalry.  Equitate cohorts were those composed primarily of infantry, with a few cavalry tacked on.  Indeed, in that same papyrus, what has been called a morning report (essentially a summary of what the troops at a locale were up to), we find several references to equites.  I wonder though if these dromedarii were necessarily attached to the unit, even if they were likely based at the site. 

Anyway, the point is I'm not entirely convinced that there were camel riders specifically attached to the Palmyrene cohort at Dura.  In turn, I'm still not convinced that the unit at Nessana was a camel-unit, per se, whatever that would have entailed.  Neither relevant papyri are very long, and I don't think we know if the names listed represent a suitable sample of the garrison at the base.  They might just include those soldiers who made use of camels to undertake the unit's various duties.  This could be simply the travelling from point A to point B, and they might not have made up a significant part of the total animals present.  Indeed, although I haven't gotten very far in my reading on camels at el-Lejjun, what I have found for that other desert near-eastern-locale is that there were all sorts of animals present, and this on the basis of the animal bones found on site.  Some were camels, but there were a whole lot of other animals.  There were sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, chickens, and so forth.  The majority were domestic, and used for a variety of things (working animals, and for consumption, for instance).  There might have been all sorts of other animals at Nessana, which for whatever reason haven't surfaced in our surviving evidence (in this instance consisting of papyri).  They might have made extensive use of horses for combat.  It could just be that the receipts or what have you detailing their requisition haven't survived.  It seems highly likely that all sorts of other animals were there too used by the military in some of the same ways that we find at el-Lejjun. 

Maybe the soldiers were somehow involved in the raising and selling of camels to units or government officials in Egypt - which is where some of the camels listed in P. Ness. 37 seem to be off to?  As noted, there were units of dromedarii in Egypt found in the Notitia Dignitatum, and maybe Nessana was a region known for its raising of camels.  It's also not 100% certain that P. Ness. 35 and 37 were official documents.  They certainly seem to have involved soldiers, but the soldiers might have been operating in an unofficial capacity.  There might not have been a whole lot going on at Nessana, and so they passed their time in other ways (dealing in property, raising families, selling camels). 

In the end, and so far (in this research), I'm leaning towards this unit not being particularly comprised of camel-riders, though that doesn't mean that camels weren't a significant part or at least involved in the unit's activities, particularly when it came to transport, and maybe even scouting.  Although only indirectly relevant, I also have my doubts about the cohort at Dura - not a camel unit (though they likely used).  Not quite sure if the distinction was made between camel types in the ancient world.  That will require some more reading.  Anyways, as always, more to come...

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Justinian's Foreign Policy

This term, while continuing work large-scale Procopian things, I'm also leading a seminar on the Caesarean scholar himself, and we just held our discussion of the Persian Wars.  I re-read it again for the first time in a while, and with what could be called fresh(-ish) eyes a few things struck me, one of which was Justinian's policy in the east.

As many know, our principal source for these wars is Justinian, even if there are some other accounts out there, including those of Malalas, Pseudo-Joshua, and Pseduo-Zachariah, among others.  As many also know, the personality conspicuously absent from the narrative is Justinian.  Where Khusro gets personally involved in his own western wars - we find him at the front, yelling at his soldiers and  involved in negotaiations - Justinian remained in Constantinople.  Both Procopius and Agathias complained bitterly about his foreign policy, Procopius in the Secret History, Agathias in the Histories.  They, of course, weren't alone in this, and both ancients and moderns alike have found fault with the emperor, and not just for his military policy (tyranny, spending habits, etc.).  Upon further review, however, and in keeping with recent work by Greatrex (Histos article/s) and Stewart (various blogposts), I wonder whether these assessments aren't a little harsh, at least in part. 

The Justinian of the Secret History is all sorts of things, and I wonder if the figure that Procopius' writing conceals is a workaholic - the long nights, the lack of sleep, and so on all seem to suggest as much.  Given his foreign policy challenges, to say nothing of all the other problems Justinian faced (many of which, including the foreign policy stuff, were his own creation), to have any measure of success it seems likely thast he would have had to put in some serious hours.  The Romans were at war on at least four fronts, and I think if we bear that context in mind his decision to stay at home, and the varied approach that he took, seems to make a great deal of success.

Although Procopius himself provides all sorts of explanations for Belisarius' movements, the initial explanations, that is those offered in the Wars (and I'm assuming the relevants there were written first) to my mind make the most sense.  Belisarius starts off in the east.  We see something of his rise and the ranks and the successes he has.  Then he gets shipped out west, and to two different spots, before returning the east, and then back west, and so forth.  For much of that period Belisarius was the highest ranking of generals, or at least hte one whom Justinian held in the highest regard, even if his views changed depending on results.  Would it have been feasible for Justinian to have done all that travelling himself, or even sensible, especially if Justinain wasn't the most qualifed of generals?  Why go marching about, something which your immediate predecessors hadn't done, when you had perfectly capable and loyal generals at hand?  

Plus, with Justinian back in Constantinople, presumably with reasonable information at hand about the situation on the various fronts, it would be much easier for him to deploy whatever resources he had at his disposal.  Justinian seemed willing to use a number of approaches to Persian aggression.  At times he sent in the troops.  Some of these came from newly conquered territories/defeated peoples, though it's likely there was a sizeable body of men already available for military action in the east in the various fortifications and cities.  At times he decided to pay off the Persians to prevent them from causing (more) harm. 

Just a few generals comments - with maybe more to come - but at least with respect to affairs in the east, Justinian's approach was, I think, sensible, and even practical (if I ignore the complications caused by his decision to go to war in the west, admittedly).


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Nessana, Forts, and Camels

I'm in the process of doing some resarch on a paper to be presented at the upcoming CACW here in Winnipeg, and something I plan on turning into a journal article at the conference's conclusion.  That paper's on the military and the wider community in sixth century Nessana, a village in the north/central Negev, and how the military interacts within that community.  I have vague designs on completing some sort of network analysis, though I'm not entirely sure how feasible that is (not enough people, not enough in a generation, will it give any kind of meaningful results, etc.).

Getting back to Nessana, probably the most remarkable thing about this site is the survival of a fairly significant cache of papyri, many of which detail the military's involvement in local life.  That brings me to the subject of the paper, and this entry - on my thoughts so far.   Initially the view was that the fort (kastron) at Nessana was built in the fifth century, possibly in the later end of the century too.  More recently, however, the view is that it was constructed in the fourth century, and in particular during the reign of Theodosius I.  One of the catches from this redating is the absence of the site from the Notitia Dignitatum, which purports to be, or I guess which for many people is, a resonably accurate indication of the disposition of the military in the east and west of the empire around 400 (generally speaking - the dates vary a little for east and west, and with respect to their relative dates of occupation).  What does this mean?

If the fort was built in the fourth century, especially later in that century, then we should expect the troops listed therein to appear in the document somewhere, particularly under the Dux Palaestinae (Nessana's province shifted back and forth a few times in late antiquity, and Palaestinae is one of its provinces).  There are other sites from the region listed under that frontier commander such as Birsama and Zoara, for instance.  So if the fort was built in time for the publication of the ND, what were the soldiers that were presumably there?  Why were they left out?  It's too early for Arab federates, which tend to be a later addition (6th century), and limitanei were well-used at this stage.  Is it the case that what we call a fort shouldn't be?  Not everything with walls is necessarily a fort (and this is something I'll have to take a look at - excavation reports).  Unfortunately none of the papyri go back that early, so it's not like we can find evidence for soldiers in their midst (though we do not doubt they were there later).  So maybe soldiers weren't there from the get-go and the fortified place shouldn't be considered a fort, at least in thes sense of a fort being associated with soldiers.  On the other hand, the ND is not without its problems, and it's entirely likely that some details were left out - and Nessana was hardly the heart of the empire.

The other issue to discuss for the moment is the identity of the soldiers who were later there.  They were originally thought to be part of the Arithmos of the Most Loyal Theodosians.  Now, this is disputed.  In truth, the evidence isn't strong enough to make a case one way or another.  We have the unit title but once in the archive, and it comes in reference to two soldiers, who say they're from Nessana, but are based in Rhinocorura.  The thinking now, generally speaking, is that if they're soldiers based in Rhinocorura in the Theodosian unit then it would stand to reason that that is where they are based, and the "from Nessana" (apo kwmhs Nessanwn) bit should be discarded.  And yet, soldiers were regularly stationed away from their main unit, and for all that a day's march is a considerable distance in antiquity, we have plenty of evidence for soldiers operating much further from their units in other places.  Does apo in this context have to designate the place they're from?  I admit the inclusion of kome is, perhaps, suggestive, but I have my reservations.

Regardless of identity, there is good reason to believe that camels made up a significant part of their retinue, at least on the basis of two camel lists/orders (P. Ness. 35 and 37).  Does this mean they were camel-cavalry?  Maybe - why else would you order a bunch of camels?  This, at least, is what most people assume (they used camels).  On the other hand, it's not impossible that the soldiers could have been infantry who relied on camels for transport alone of supplies, though possibly too of men.  That doesn't necessarily mean that they fought on camels.  Indeed, camels would make a lot of sense given the environment.

In sum, what do I think so far?  I need to see the excavation reports so that I can see why people have dated the fort the way that they have.  I still have doubts about the fourth century date.  Also, I'm not 100% convinced that the unit isn't the Arithmos of Most Loyal Theodosians.  Why can't they be off on some other duty as part of a unit mainly based in Nessana?  Could they not also be from Nessana too (born there - and working for the unit based there)?  Also, must they be camel-warriors?  Again, not convinced.  Not sure there's much in the way of equipment-finds that might be suggestive one way or the other, but I don't see why they might not be just for transit.

And there we have it.  More to come, most likely...