Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Justinian's Guide to Ruling an Empire

I just finished reading Peter Heather's (PH) Rome Resurgent, which I now have to write a review for.  When I first heard about the book, I was both excited and horribly disappointed: excited because I love the topic and have read some of Heather's other work, disappointed because it looked like he had done what I had done.  The good news, for me, is that he doesn't quite seem to have done what I had intended:  write a detailed study of the impact of Justinian's wars on the fate of the empire.  Yes, this is what the book purports to do - and to some degree it does just that, but not quite in the way that I would. 

I'm not going to get into all the nitty-gritty here; most of that will have to wait for the review.  That being said, there is one issue I want to raise, which PH got to, or at least underlined, at the end:  how do you rule for a really long time?  As PH makes clear, Justinian (J) did a lot of things while he was emperor, some of which are quite significant, with four items the accomplishments that usually get most of the attention:  wars of conquest, legal reforms, building of Hagia Sophia, and the closing of the Academy in Athens.  Besides those accomplishments, PH illustrates well J's determination in a number of other capacities, including the religious sphere, for J, like many before and after, strove to bring unity to the Christian church, though with mixed results.

As PH sees J, a great deal of his accomplishments should be ascribed to his attempts to prove his credentials (for rule) and, in the aftermath of the Nika revolt, restore order and his lost prestige (or something to that effect).  J didn't have a clear plan with the west.  Rather, with real challenges to his rule all around, J needed to find some means of consolidating his power, and military success in far-flung places, as the opportunities arose, seemed the best bet.  Yes, there was some strategic thinking on J's and his empire's part, but little of it was long term, and PH argues there's not much in the way of concern for the wellbeing of that empire.  Ultimately, then, while J doesn't deserve the blame for the later ills of the empire, which were largely the result of the world war (as PH calls it) of the later sixth century, most of his success would seem to be a combination of opportunism and - as I take PH's underlying message - dumb luck.

Like others, PH sees J as an emperor only out for number one, with little regard for his people and what impact his policies had on them.  He was quite happy to plunder and pillage if it got him what he wanted, and that was control of the empire.  So, the many thousands who died in Constantinople itself, or the wider parts of the empire at large (Antioch, North Africa, Italy), mattered little.  Many have seen J as a particularly harsh ruler, and PH would seem to fall on this side of the spectrum, if not quite at the far end.

This is where I come in.  I don't want to make a judgement on J's cruelty here, but I do wonder if the absence of long term strategic planning fits well with what we know about J's reign.  Few emperors lived and reigned as long as J.  While many of PH's explanations are perfectly reasonable, is it really possible to rule for nearly 40 years on dumb luck, or something a little more sophisticated than that?  Augustus' long reign is undoubtedly due to his careful networking, planning, and plotting - and like J, he was a master propagandist.  Even if J didn't have any real long term version at the start of his reign, the near disastrous Nika riot would, to my mind, seem to have provided just such an opportunity, after the dust settled, for J to carefully, with Theodora's help, work out how to rule for a long time without the same kinds of crises.  Rather importantly, it seems to have worked, despite all the challenges that he later faced, from the death of his wife and the onset of the plague, which might have afflicted J himself, to the Persian invasions of 540 and the 559 Kutrigur attack of Constantinople.

This doesn't necessarily mean that J had a long term plan to conquer the west and rebuild the ancient pan-Mediterranean empire.  A good part of J's initiatives on that front truly could have been the result of circumstances, and I don't doubt that J did many of the same things that many if not all pre-modern rules have done to ensure rule, including prove their religious and military mettle.  I think the absence of detail - and insufficient evidence - are the cause of some of my dissatisfaction with the explanation PH offers.  I guess then too that what I'd also like to know more about is how exactly an emperor like J went about carrying out his foreign policy objectives - and even how he created them in the first place.  To what degree were there sets of instructions, or guidelines, left from previous rulers that laid out some of this stuff?  Anyway, what the book proves to me, at least for the moment, that my 'great' "impact of war under Justinian" project isn't dead yet, and in fact might be in better shape than I'd feared.  Now if only I hadn't just sent in a proposal for a big research project on Ammianus.  Oh well, maybe it'll get rejected in April? :)

Wednesday, 23 May 2018


Been a challenging few days professionally (these seem to happen quite a lot, particularly the past two to three years).  It's a day when I, again, thought about leaving academia behind, selling the house, buying a big rural lot out in PEI and doing...well, I don't know.  So I'm still here.  On that note, however, this post will be about something different.

This post will have nothing to do with academia and everything to do with trees.  Ok, maybe not nothing to do with academia:  if I hadn't moved to Leamington Spa and then to Winnipeg, I'm not sure I would have been quite so taken with the different kinds of trees out there in the world.  Much of it has to do with age too, though.  I appreciate plant life much more now than I ever did when I was younger.  Sure, I appreciated a good maple tree and even saw the beauty in the red (and multi-coloured) maple leaves.  But it's on a much deeper level now.  In fact, the one tree I miss most  here is the great maple - though I also now know that there isn't such a thing as a maple, but rather many different kinds of maples. 

Anyway, so this post is a just some photos I've taken over the past nine years or so of trees I've loved here (mostly - Manitoba) and occasionally elsewhere.  It doesn't have some of the big, wonderful trees I saw in suburban/exurban Atlanta in October, the riverbed trees of DC, the maples of southern Ontario, or those cool evergreens (not sure what kind) of Carmel, California.

Also, with the exception of the two at the end, it's less about specific, individual trees, and more beautiful, collections of trees (re forests/woodlands).  Obviously, it's Manitoba-heavy, given they date from the last 9 years or so.

The first one, below, is a view of the mixed coniferous and deciduous trees of Spruce Woods Provincial Park, which is better known for its "Spirit Sands", not depicted here.

The next vista comes from atop the valley of Pembina Valley Provincial Park, which lies astride the US/Canadian border (North Dakota/Manitoba).  In fact, the few times I've made it down there my phone often picks up US cell coverage.  It's a beautiful valley, like the one above.  Both make for a nice change from Winnipeg, which is flat as a pancake.

I don't remember exactly where this next one is, but I think it's Hecla Island Provincial Park, one of my favourite parts of the southern half of Manitoba, best visited when it's quietest.  It's got a good mixture of trees, and each of the next few shots comes from the park (next four after this one for sure).  I've got more, but this seemed enough for now.  One of the shots comes from the large wildlife-viewing tower located in the northern tip of island - that's the top of the trees view (surprisingly).  The rest, so far as I can tell, all come from the northern trails of the island, which is actually a little more settled, though only a little, than the photos imply.  One of them includes the lake, so you get a taste of its "island nature".

 I believe the next one, and the two after it, come from parks just outside of Winnipeg.  I might be wrong, but I believe the next one comes from the little bunch of aspens (love aspens) in Beaudry provincial park, one of the most beautiful spots around Winnipeg, especially in the fall after the bugs have buggered off.

The next two come from Birds Hill Provincial Park, which has some remarkable patches of aspen trees.  The first, obviously, comes from the fall - with my dog, Don, in the bottom, centre of the shot.

This one comes from later in the fall at Birds Hill, when you get this beautiful contrast between the white trunks, golden leaves, and blue sky.

Sadly, I don't entirely remember where this next one is, but I believe it's in and around Cantebury Hills in the Greater Hamilton Area of southern Ontario, the part of the world I'm from.  It's got this wonderful Carolinian forest, as they call it, on the western edge of the urban area and nestled along the Niagara escarpment (of Niagara Falls fame).  Hamilton's usually better known among the unknowing for its steel mills, which is a shame because it's got some remarkable natural landscapes.

 The next four, and final, photos come from the UK (work and family visits).  The first comes from Cornwall and the remarkable Lost Gardens of Heligan, truly a sight to behold.  A wide assortment of trees, many vaguely tropical, due to the very mild weather.  Worth a visit.

The next tree comes from just outside the Roman legionary fort at Caerleon in Wales.  I vaguely recall some sort of Twitter conversation about what it is.  Suffice to say, it reminded me of the tree from Game of Thrones.

The penultimate green space is from just round the corner of the fantastic museum at Vindolanda up by Hadrian's Wall.  That part of Britain is just about one of the best places on earth, and wall or not, worth a visit.


The last tree is some sort of mysterious, old, and wonderful coniferous tree located on the green-space just south of the council offices (main ones?) of Sidmouth, in Devon.  There's talk of this area becoming flats or something, and it may well already be going ahead.  It'd be a shame, for it's a beautiful little park, with these amazing trees.  I have other shots that give the full scope of their breadth, but they include who don't want me to share their likenesses on the interwebs so you don't get them.

The next post might be more academic stuff.  It might also be more trees.  It might even be about hockey (Sens didn't make it, Jets so close but so far, Vegas and Ovi in the final - oh my word).  Or maybe it will be about me moving to PEI.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Isidore of Seville and Vegetius

No trees yet. I think a post on trees is coming - it'll mostly be pictures - but not yet.  I want to see out this thread, in part because I had more to say after completing the last post.

In the last post I noted the discrepancy between Isidore's figures for the subdivisions of the legion and Aulus Gellius', my possible/probable source.  The number of centuries and maniples seemed fine, but the number of cohorts was off, turmae were added, and Isidore gave a troop total, namely 6000.  Where did the extra material come from?

One reasonable possibility is Vegetius, the famed and popular (in the medieval era) writer of the Epitoma Rei Militaris.  Vegetius, as I'm sure I've mentioned before (and as you may already know), spends a good deal of time in his work discussing the ancient legion, which Sylvain Janniard has identified with the legion of the Severan dynasty.  While Janniard doesn't argue that Vegetius' legion is a bang-on copy of that earlier one, he makes a good case.  At the same time, there's still scope for other legionary components to find themselves in Vegetius' corpus. 

First, Vegetius isn't the source, it seems, of Isidore's definition of a maniple, which runs (9.3.50, trans. Bentley et al.):  "A maniple consists of two hundred soldiers soldiers. These troops are called maniples either because they would begin a battle in the first combat, or because, before battle-standards existed, they would make 'handfuls' for themselves as standards, that is, bundles of straw or of some plant, and from this standard the soldiers were nicknamed 'manipulars'."  Isidore then gives a quotation from Lucan (1.296), which mentions maniples rallied around standards, and which seems only vaguely related.  That said, one of the definitions for manipulus in the Lewis and Short reads as follows:  "B. Because the ancient Romans adopted a pole, with a handful of hay or straw twisted about it, as the standard of a company of soldiers; in milit. lang., a certain number of soldiers belonging to the same standard, a company, maniple; generally applied to infantry, and only by way of exception to cavalry".  So Isidore and Lewis and Short seem to agree, at least in part, on the origin of the term maniple.  For Vegetius, however, a maniple could be a couple of things:  first (2.13), it could be another word for contubernium, or at least an earlier form of that term.  Secondly, he conflates century and maniple (2.14).  Why the discrepancy?  I think it's due to the same reason that Isidore explains maniple (manipulus) in terms of first combat (manus), as the translators have it.  He says the contubernium used to be called a maniple because they found in groups (manus) joined together.  What we seem to have is some disagreement between Vegetius and Isidore over what manus means in this military context, or at least this organizational one (both are right).

Just because they disagree over maniples and manus, that doesn't exclude Vegetius as a potential source for Isidore's much larger legion (in Isidore's 6000 range) and its attendant turmae.  Vegetius (2.2) gives the size for a legion as 6000 (2.2 - sena milia), and the passage in which we find this is not unlike Isidore's (9.3.46), a point not lost on Milner (p. 31, n. 7):  both refer to the regiments of Macedonians and Gauls, though Vegetius includes many more.  Vegetius' (2.6) legion only contains ten cohorts, however, not Isidore's twelve, and it could have as many as 6100 men and 726 cavalry.  Seems reasonable (though nothing like conclusive) to suppose that this is the source of Isidore's 6000 soldiers.  And, as noted in the previous post or two (can't remember), Isidore would seem to be modifying his source material as he sees fit.

But Vegetius doesn't append turmae to his legion, and speaks of legionary cavalry solely in terms of numbers of soldiers, at least when he first brings them up at 2.2.  That doesn't mean he leaves out turmae; rather, that he saves them for a different discussion.  At 2.14, he has a section entitled "On the Turmae of Legionary Cavalry" (XIIII. De turmis equitum legionariorum).  Therein he says that one turma contained thirty-two men, just two off Isidore's thirty (9.3.51).  The rest of the discussion concerns the duties of decurions and ideal types - it reminds me of Procopius' horse-archers.  Anyway, it's easy to imagine Isidore taking the number and rounding it out to better fit the other figures he gave for the legionary divisions, though it doesn't quite explain how he got to 200 turmae.  When he discusses their 30-man size, he's reasonably accurate, and his vague connection (in my mind) of turmae with republican politics isn't far off the mark.  What he might have done, then, is simply conflated the 200 cavalry usually associated with a legion and forgotten that a turma isn't applied to individual soldiers.

So there we go:  the first half (or its original incarnation) of that little phrase in Isidore possibly/probably from Cincius via Aulus Gellius (not listed as a citation in the translation I'm using), and the modifications from Vegetius.  Of course, there could even have been an intermediary, like Cato, who's work on military matters is lost.  For the moment, I'll stick with what I've got.  Ultimately, too, this should help me to understand how Ammianus uses forms of manipulus and legio, believe it or not.  To close:  I enjoy looking into Roman military divisions and subdivisions more than most things.  Next...maybe tonight...trees?

Isidore, Aulus Gellius, and Cincius Alimentus

My perusing of parts of Isidore's Etymologies has led me to some more uncharted waters, namely those of Aulus Gellius and Cincius (?).  I'd been "aware" of Aulus Gellius before, but I've never given it much thought.  I think too - and I'm certain I've done this a few times - I'd thought it was some sort of novel until I checked and discovered it was an, well, encyclopaedia of sorts:  I'm sure my thinking had been, why is X in a work like Y?  Then I'd check and discover:  oh, that's not what I thought this was.  That being said, the name makes some sense.  Anyway, enough of my convoluted thinking.

While thinking more about Isidore's division of the 6000-man legion into cohorts, maniples, centuries, and turmae, I stumbled across a comparable quotation from Aulus Gellius.  It comes at the end of a long series of quotations of a work called, On Military Science (De Re Militari), by a Cincius (possibly Lucius Cincius Alimentus), and includes snippets of a few sections of that earlier work.  You can find more of the text at Perseus.  As for the parts I'm interested in (translated) here they are, in segments.

"CINCIUS writes in his third book On Military Science that the war-herald of the Roman people, when he declared war on the enemy and hurled a spear into their territory..."  The tossing of a spear as a declaration of war in the republican era was an established practice we know well about, and as far as I know Aulus-cum-Cincius' words on what was said might be true enough. 

Cincius also discusses the levy, the oath a soldier would declare in book four, which also stressed the importance of appearing before the consul once they had been enrolled.  There are also several excuses for missing the day in question that could be acceptable.  This too, so far as I can tell, is fair enough, even if some of the details turn out to be misleading.  I should say too that it'd be interesting if any of this material served as the foundation for later Roman military law, but that's another issue (it discusses desertion and branding, for instance).

Next we come to the possible source of the Isidore passage, and I quote:  "Also in the sixth book we find this: “The columns of cavalry were called the wings of the army, because they were placed around the legions on the right and on the left, as wings are on tile bodies of birds. In a legion there are sixty centuries, thirty maniples, and ten cohorts.”"  In the end, then, we get a pretty close approximation of Isidore's "A legion has sixty centuries, thirty maniples, twelve cohorts, and two hundred squadrons" (9.3.46).  In case there's any doubt, here are the two passages, side by side, in Latin (look, I'm experimenting with links!). 

First Aulus Gellius:
In legione sunt centuriae sexaginta, manipuli triginta, cohortes decem. 

Now Isidore:
Legio habet sexaginta centurias, manipulos triginta, cohortes duodecim, turmas ducentas.

So, pretty similar.  The numbers, however, are off, and both have still put centuries and maniples in the same legion, though in differing quantities.  Isidore's phrasing is slightly different, he's tweaked the numbers, and added an element.  If he was a student, I'd given him credit for not providing a direct quotation, though at the moment I'm tempted to say that this was probably the source of Isidore's information.  As it happens, not only have I discovered, recently, that Lucan was popular in late antiquity, but so too was Aulus Gellius.  Given the two works are not dissimilar, I can understand Isidore's decision. 

All this being said, the passage from Aulus Gellius creates problems of its own.  First, like Isidore, is the information it provides.  The grouping of a century, maniple, and cohort into a legion seems spurious, and at least on the surface seems the questionable part of this series of passages that he's included from Cincius.  But even his alleged source opens up an interesting problem.  A quick google search and an inevitable stop at wikipedia "revealed" that the Cincius in question was a Lucius Cincius Alimentus, a mid-republican individual who had military experience in the Second Punic War.  This man was evidently wrote a great deal, only a portion of which have survived, including many (?! - I'm sceptical) works on military science.  His context, the Second Punic War, makes sense of the content from Gellius' quotations:  the tossing of the spear, the appearance before a consul on a given day, and the appearance of a maniple all make sense in the context of the mid-republic.  This makes the identification of this Gellius Cincius with that republican Cincius believable.  That said, the cohort-maniple situation still creates problems.  How can there be these two subdivisions in one legion, even if the timing is right (generally speaking - it's murky) for the replacing of the latter with the former?

On the one hand, this could be a case of faulty transcription.  Gellius might have had access to the original text (some 300 or so years old) when he composed his work, and a later copyist might have erred in some way or other.  After all, the maniple might have been familiar as a republican thing, and in a gap in the text the copyist might have inserted maniple. 

On the other hand, there are other issues with the quotation.  For instance, how many men did the Cincius think were in a legion?  Polybius (1.16.1ff) says that a mid-republican legion numbered about 4300, 5000 in times of turbulence (6.20.1ff), while Livy (22.36.2-3) says it was 5300 late in the Second Punic War, with an additional 300 cavalry.  When 4300 or 5300, is divided by 60, 30, and 10 we get some odd numbers indeed. 

So if there is a mistake, where is it?  A mid-republican Cincius with real practical military experience seems unlikely to have made this kind of mistake.  It could then be that Gellius' Cincius is not the earlier one.  That said, if it is accurate (or matches Cincius exactly, and Cincius was mid-republican and knew what he was talking about), it could be things were never as fixed as we sometimes think they are.  Those 4000-5000-strong legions were only ever approximations, and the arrival of the cohort might have come about in a random sort of way alongside the maniple. 

There's also a way to make sense of the three divisions, 60 centuries, 30 maniples, and 10 cohorts in a legion:  make it 6000-strong.  In that case, we get centuries of 100 men, maniples of 200 men, and cohorts of 600 men.  These figures are much more in line with what we know about these sizes of these divisions.  Centuries are usually in the 100 range (80-100), maniples in the double century range (160-200), and cohorts in the 500 range (600 for double-cohorts - I know the number is off).  This solution, the 6000-man legion, would make sense of Cincius' numbers.  We could also do it the other way, however, and work backwards:  if the centuries contained 80 men, that would give us about 4800-strong legions.  The 160-man maniple and the 480-strong cohort make sense too - and the chronology works well, as noted earlier, for all these items being together (see Sekunda p 356 in this, admittedly not in the preview).

This brings us back round to Cincius:  even this, on the surface, odd bit in book seven would seem to be pretty accurate.  The association of Cincius the military writer with Cincius the mid-republican praetor works, at least on the basis of the accuracy of what he says and his subject matter, assuming Aulus Gellius has quoted him accurately.  What it doesn't do is help us to understand how Isidore got from Cincius-via-Gellius' figures to his own.  The 6000-legion is still too big.  A 4800-legion would also be big too for the seventh century (the 4th-6th century ones were 1000-1500).  Even if the maniple continued to be used into the imperial era in some capacity or other, other numbers are off. 

What might have happened is that Isidore took this nugget from Cincius-Gellius (he might have got it direct from Cincius, a possibility I have not yet entertained, in part because of the popularity of Gellius in late antiquity), and then attempted to update it with more recent material.  Speidel, for instance, has argued that the paper strength of a legion was closer to 6000, which would make Isidore's total much closer to reality, though it wouldn't explain how he arrived at that total.  It could be the figure is hiding somewhere, and I'll just have to keep digging. 

Suffice to say, interesting stuff (to me) - and quite a roundabout route it always is, with the focus ultimately still me trying to come to grips with Ammianus' use of "legions" and indirectly "maniples" in his Res Gestae.  Next time, perhaps, trees!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Isidore of Seville on War Part 1

Lately, Ammianus Marcellinus has been on my mind for a number of things.  I'm working on a paper on Ammianus for a conference in July that focuses on his discussion of legions.  To that end, I found myself looking through the admittedly much later Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, composed, it seems, in the first quarter of the seventh century.  Isidore has a section on military terms, and another on war. Isidore's discussions are interesting for a number of reasons, and I want to highlight a few features.  One of the interesting questions is where he gets his material, and as the examples I highlight will show, it's an eclectic army that he describes.

As I said, my interest was in his use of legion.  Not surprisingly in a work on Latin terms, Isidore defines quite a few divisions in the Roman army.  Surprises include the size of the legion he gives (6000), and its Romanity (Isidore lived in post-Roman Spain - all 9.46).  What's more, he says the legion is comprised of 60 centuries, 30 maniples, 12 cohorts, and 200 turmae.  A legion was comprised of centuries and cohorts, and at one stage maniples.  But turmae?  And were maniples and cohorts ever part of one legion, and one that numbered 6000?  Turmae were usually cavalry squadrons - he says so as much a short while later (9.51).  Could it be he's referring to the cavalry attached to the legion?  That would make sense, though 200 turmae, which says comprised 30 horsemen, would seem high (that makes for 6000 soldiers).  There's also no 30-man unit within the legion:  there's the 80-100 man century, and the 8-10 man contubernium.  So the 200 30-man turmae (10 is better) is a mystery.

The size of the cohort (500-men) and the century (100-men) are fine, at least at a basic level.  The 6000-men legion and the 200-man maniples are harder to understand.  The imperial-era (Lucan and Tacitus) legion was about 5000 or so (closer to 5200) strong.  The mid-republican was usually about 4200 ordinarily, or 5000 in emergencies in the mid-republic, the era of the maniple.  By the second Punic war the cohort had been introduced, and some speculate that by its conclusion it was already used widely.  The maniple as a word gets used much later than the maniple as pre-cohort division survives.  It's hard to say (and I haven't really checked), but it might well continue to be a division in the Roman navy well into the imperial era (a few inscriptions imply as much).  That doesn't explain its association here, however.  It's used by Ammianus occasionally, sometimes just for a generic unit, though also in a phrase he repeats a few times before speeches ("centuries, cohorts, and maniples").  Did it continue to be used long after its death, only it effectively disappeared from contemporary records?  Is that how we should understand the discussion of maniple here, and how we should understand the regular usage of commanipularis in imperial-era inscriptions?  I suspect, however, that the latter's appearance was more a matter of tradition than its continued usage.  

For Isidore, a camp, the place a soldier was stationed, was given that name (castra) because it was as if they were chaste (castus) or they might be castrated (castrare).  That, in turn, was due to women never entering a camp (9.45).  Now there's been a lot of debate on the presence of women in Roman military bases, and it now seems pretty clear that they were there.  So on this matter he's wrong, but was he basing his estimation strictly on what he knows about those other words?  Or was he using one of the many earlier Latin texts he refers to, like the works of Lucan, Sallust, or Vergil?

Anyway, just a sample.  There's much more interesting nuggets in the Etymologies, and I've only been focusing on military things.  More work to do!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Scrubbing Out Procopius, or the Anti-Kaegi "Procopius the Military Historian"

It's pretty hard to escape the pull of the Procopius-black hole when it comes to the sixth-century East Roman Empire, at least if you're interested in military and political issues.  That's part of the reason why scholars like Roger Scott have devoted so much attention to the other historians like Malalas.  Scott's four pillars of the age of Justinian are:  the construction of Hagia Sophia, the codification of Roman law, the closing of Plato's Academy in Athens, and Justinian's reconquest of the west.  Although Procopius does devote considerable attention to Hagia Sophia in the Buildings, it's the reconquest that garners so much attention in the Wars.  There's no doubt that this presents a skewed view of Justinian's world.  In this post, however, I'd like to flip things around.  To what degree does Procopius' interests in war obscure other pertinent matters, and in turn cause most of us to overlook other important pieces of evidence?  Bearing all this in mind, I want to discuss six aspects of Procopius' military history:  his classicizing vocabulary, his descriptions of combat, his interest in the conquest of Africa and Italy, and his focus on Belisarius in the Wars, his account of the fortifications of the northeast frontier in the Buildings, and his account of the malaise of the empire's soldiers in the Secret History.

Let's begin with the latter, and proceed in reverse order, finishing with Belisarius.  In the Secret History Procopius' emphasizes the suffering of most of the empire's inhabitants, and the soldiers are no exception.  One particular group that Procopius complains suffered a great deal are the border troops, who got into such a sorry state that they effectively stopped being soldiers.  If we forget about Procopius' comments here, and in the other two texts for that matter, in which frontier troops feature hardly at all, and instead look at the surviving evidence we get quite a different picture, at least potentially.  We have plenty of documentary evidence for frontier soldiers in Egypt and Israel/Palestine, and to a lesser degree Jordan.  That material points to thriving frontier communities full of soldiers, who identify as such.  Most seem fully integrated into local life, and if anything the abundance of property documents, not to mention marriage certificates, point to some degree of wealth and prosperity amongst those very soldiers.  So where are they getting their money?  Have they managed to supplement their income through other means, as some has suggested was the case with the soldier from Aphrodito who also served as a boatmen?  Or is their income derived primarily if not entirely from their state income?  If we didn't have Procopius' comments, I suspect the argument would be that the frontier soldiers were flourishing, at least in the sixth-century southeast.  The legal evidence, which is full of material concerned specifically with soldiers, would reinforce these sorts of arguments.

Next we move to the forts of the northeast.  Procopius' love-in for Justinians' building programme has led to a great debate:  just how many of the fortification work we read about is really attributable to him?  Many have highlighted the work of Anastasius, for instance, though in other cases the jury is still out.  What if all we had were the surviving fortifications and a few incidental anecdotes?  Justinian's efforts would certainly be diminished, but then so too might Anastasius'.  There are plenty of forts still standing in Syria (or there were until recently), and plenty more in Jordan.  The date of some of those Jordanian forts are ambiguous, while others are more obviously fourth century in date.  Some seem to have been occupied regularly, though only some have been privy to detailed excavations.  If all we had to go on was these Jordanian (and the neighbouring Israeli/Palestinian forts) forts, we wouldn't see Justinian's reign as an age of considerable frontier work in this part of the frontier, though the comparative epigraphic and papyrological evidence would imply that many if not most of the fortifications continued to the sites of a good deal of activity.

Procopius tends to use archaic vocabulary, vocabulary better suited to the world of Thucydides, or so goes the usual complaints.  This applies to military matters too, and we get hints of this in the words he uses for divisions within the military.  Much of his terminology is vague:  the men with general X, the infantry, the horsemen, etc.  In other cases, his diction has occluded more than it has illuminated.  He likes to use the word katalologos, for instance, a word rarely used by classical or even classicizing historians, when describing groups of soldiers (units or even regiments).  Quite a few have taken this to mean that the term had a more technical meaning, and more specifically that it denoted the army's field units.  It's not an unreasonable assumption if we assume that Procopius is mostly concerned with the field unit soldiers (at the expense of frontier soldiers).  That it features in virtually no other military source for the sixth century should give us pause, however, and A H M Jones is one of the only ones to have done so.  If we didn't have Procopius' Wars narrative where he used words like  katalogos we'd probably devote more attention to the words we do occasionally find in the inscriptions and papyri.  The newly published inscription form Perge would receive a great deal of attention - and scholars would likely be obsessed with how we get from the regiments of the eastern section of the Notitia Dignitatum to the units of Maurice, with no unnecessary - even unhelpful - pauses to consider Procopius.  To some degree this might still happen, though maybe it should happen sooner.  Is it not, for example, interesting that Theophylact can talk of legions on the eastern frontier around the same time that we find the word "legion" in Egyptian papyri - and just a few decades after that Anastasian inscription detailing the structure (it seems) of a legion? 

Turning to combat, Maurice's Strategikon might give the impression that cavalry played a major role in combat at the end of the sixth century.  But it wouldn't explain quite which proportions of the military dominated decades earlier.  Our material evidence is limited, while the other evidence is ambiguous.  If we had to rely on Pseudo-Joshua, we wouldn't get too far.  Corippus' Iohannis, though quite detailed, is a panegyrical epic, and his combat scenes are vaguely Homeric:  they involve single combats, and the dashing to and fro of soldiers into and out of battle.  Agathias, on the other hand, does go to some lengths to describe the experience of combat even if he spends only a little on the finer details. In his most detailed battle, the Battle of Casilinum, there's little in his account that betrays a clear emphasis on either cavalry or infantry.  That might help provide context for the anonymous treatise of political science which includes that fictional debate between Menas and Thomas on the relative merits of the two solitudes to borrow a Canadian literary-cum-historical phrase.  But whether cavalry had supplanted infantry would not yet be clear.

Moving on to the conquest, we would suspect that the campaign in Italy had the smallest of impacts on matters in the capital, which would be in line with some of Scott's arguments.  Even the more local evidence, the Lives of the Popes, devotes only a little bit of attention to the war, with the siege of Rome, such a central feature of Procopius' account, restricted to a few lines.  North Africa, on the other hand, is something else.  Later writers, like Photius and Theophanes, who had read all of part of Procopius, either paraphrase or quote Procopius' narrative of the Vandal Wars.  The aforementioned epic of Corippus also gives the impression that a significant conflict had taken place in the region.  In fact, we could even look to another of the four pillars, Roman law, for yet more evidence of the war's impact.  Besides the overt propaganda at the opening of the Codex of Justinian, there are specific laws that point the acquisition of significant territory in North Africa, and the efforts of the state to administer the new lands.  What this evidence might imply was that a long and significant war had taken place in North Africa, which resulted in a lasting Roman victory.

That North African success brings us to the last point, the reputation of Belisarius.  It seems to me, and many others besides, that his reputation rests largely on the literary efforts of Procopius.  A closer look at the epigraphy, on the other hand, might bring greater attention to Solomon, who published his successes in North Africa quite widely.  Belisarius features in maybe a dozen Latin inscriptions, and a handful of Greek ones.  Solomon, however, features in nearly three times as many Latin inscriptions from North Africa.  On this limited evidence the impression might be that Solomon was the great general of the age, or at least the campaign.  Thanks to Agathias, Narses' reputation might rise too, and though the historian is not unflattering towards Belisarius, his account gives only the vaguest impression of the man's military accomplishments.  Indeed, if all we had to go on was the many later references to Procopius' works, we'd be left wondering what the scope of Belisarius' accomplishment truly was, and perhaps a little baffled the comments of authors like the one who wrote the entry on Procopius in the Suda, or the later Byzantine historian Manasses.

All this is to suggest that the survival of Procopius' long works has not only obfuscated our understanding of the wider world of sixth-century Byzantium, but also more specifically Byzantine military affairs.  While his work has undoubtedly shed a great deal of light on matters like combat, in other instances, such as the careers of "lesser" generals like Solomon or the hardships of the frontier soldiers, what he has provided has obscured other important aspects of the empire's military history.  A greater focus on these other kinds of evidence for sixth-century military affairs might bring a much more about this period to light.

NOTE:  I'd forgotten about Foss' paper on Theodora.  He does this, only with the Secret History.  I've got a copy, but haven't read it yet (will do so now...)

End of Term, Continued

The term may be over, but the deadlines remain.  Besides the pile of marking that awaits, I have a conference paper to write, two book chapters to finish/tweak, a pile of research grants to review, a volume's worth of Phoenix articles to read, and a webinar to think about.  And all of this is due by the 10th of May. 

All that being said, and perhaps not surprisingly, I want to start with Netflix.  I waited with eager anticipation for the arrival of the new Troy show.  The first episode left me wanting, though I was surprised by how varied the quantity of myths connected to Troy they included (death of Menelaus' father, Paris' first love as a shepherd, the Odysseus' madness and his son story).  Because I wasn't enamoured, and all I really want to do is travel the stars, Lost in Space stole me away a little into episode two of Troy.  I'm more than halfway through, and am thoroughly enjoying it.  Admittedly, I tend to like shows like this more for how they stir my imagination (what would it be like to travel the stars) than anything else. 

Anyway, I did manage to go back to Troy, and I think the second episode was thoroughly enjoyable, at least what I've seen so far.  Although Agamemnon was underwhelming at first, once the issue with the winds cropped up, and the decision was made to sacrifice his daughter, I was impressed with how they presented it.  I wondered too, like the fate of the Trojans as a whole, if it was somehow more emotional (for me the viewer) because I knew what was going to happen.  To have to meet Iphigenia, and see how she reacted to her father's confession - and his anguish, Clytemnesra's pain, Odysseus' subterfuge:  that scene to my mind was something else.  Suffice to say, I'm now hooked, even if I've always wished the Trojans had won.  They may have left out ole smelly-foot's abandoning (Philoctetes), or the thrilling landing on the shore at Troy, but I'm looking forward to what comes next.  It's definitely something I'll be using in myth class next year - and Troy as a whole will be getting much more attention. 

Over the next few days, I need to do some thinking about Procopius, as I'll be participating in the Virtual Centre for Late Antiquity's first webinar on Monday (10:30...or 10am CST) on said historian.  We have a few bigger themes that we're going to discuss, and I guess I should get a better handle on where I land on all of them, or even if there is somewhere I land.  I don't want to give the game away - is it possible to build up suspense for a webinar on Procopius - but they're big issues, some I've been thinking about for the purposes of this SSHRC grant that is getting closer to its end.  Along those lines, rather than spilling the beans, I'd like to highlight a question I asked an undergraduate student (Dan Russell) who defended his honour's thesis just a few days ago:  how would you approach the subject if you didn't have Procopius?  Because the central item (Procopius book one sequel) that will emerge from the grant deals with him, I've started wondering that myself.  How would a monograph-length account of military matters in the sixth century East Roman Empire look if you didn't have Procopius?  To some degree, I'll be answering this in my follow-up, which will focus more specifically on limitanei (think all these trips to Jordan).  But it's easier to do in that case as you have inscriptions, papyri, and the physical remains of fortifications, some of which have been fully excavated.  What do you do if you want to focus on matters that pertain to war and that have a direct impact on the heart of the state, and the central activities that an army is engaged in?  Battle would be difficult, though not impossible, without Procopius:  you'd still have Maurice, Pseudo-Joshua, and Agathias for instance.  You could even cover aspects of Justinian's reconquest thanks to authors like Malalas, Corippus, and the author/s of the lives of the Popes.  It would be easier still if you used Theophanes, though given he both quoted and paraphrased Procopius it would seem a bit like cheating.  This (leaving out Procopius) is an easier question to ask/issue to tackle if you're not interested in war.  It's much more difficult if you are.  Would anyone read/accept an article on the things Procopius covers that doesn't include Procopius? Maybe I'll do a post on this over the weekend to get me thinking about the webinar.

I'm going to stop there.  For all the challenges I faced with my Roman army (and myth) class this year, the former's essays were just about the best, collectively, I've ever read.  I'm not sure if this is because I've gone soft, I've forgotten past years, they're cheating (some), or the abstract/outline assignment actually worked, but I'm pleasantly surprised.  And with that, I'm going to do some Procopius reading/thinking, at least when I'm not thinking about the Jets' playoff run - one more tangent.  I seem to have reached a stage in my sports-fan life when there are very few teams that I really care about (i.e. there used to be so many more):  number one the Sens (Ottawa Senators), two the Jets (Winnipeg Jets), and three the Jays (Toronto Blue Jays).  I used to be much more into certain national team things, and random teams from other sports, but really it's Sens, Jets, and then Jays.  Who was I kidding?

Till next time...