Thursday, 28 April 2016

Catafractarius: officer rank, type of soldier, or both?

I'm frantically trying to make some notes and do some reading so that I can do some typing. I have three draft chapters due June 1st (thought they were do July 1st, then double-checked and saw the mistake). I'm also giving a paper in 2 weeks (the ideas, and nearly an outline, are ready to go -and I've been told the rougher the better). I also have a paper that was due May 31, but which has been pushed to July 1st. Anyway, frantically working away.

One of those pieces is a chapter in my intro to the Roman military book-project, and a chapter on combat at that. I've been struggling, a bit, with how much to include, especially since you can only say so much about combat in 8,500 words (my target) - and given it's meant, really, as in introduction, I'm cognizant of the need to keep the material manageable (not overwhelming with titles, for instance). Anyway, nearly ready to start typing the chapter and gather some last minute research. In particular, I'm going back over Speidel's (the elder, so to speak) 2000 paper, "Who Fought in the Front?". It's a bit fuzzy, because I read it ages ago. Essentially it takes the evidence of Maurice and uses it to look at who was at the front of the ranks in combat fighting in the years between 300 and 600.

It's not an unreasonable idea - using Maurice for an earlier period. After all, Vegetius is regularly used in that way, though he does regularly refer to this antiqua legio (though scholars use other information too). Now, all well and good in this chapter until I get to Speidel's claim that catafractarius could refer to a rank in the military, like decurio (a cavalry rank, usually), and that it under-officers of this new rank were those who fought in the front. That they were heavily-armoured would, on the surface, seem to support his claim. Indeed, if you're at the front doing most of the fighting, then you really do or probably would need more armour, though there's a lot we don't know about what actually happened when opposing sides came to blows, so to speak.

As suggested, what stood out to me was Speidel's claim that catafractarius could refer to rank, and not just a type of soldier. On the surface the suggestion struck me as just plain wrong - I did an encyclopaedia article on them, and I didn't come across any indication it could be an officer. So, I decided to do some digging and find out if I'd been mistaken (wouldn't be the first or the last time I've gotten things wrong). It turns out, however, that the evidence for this is comprised of two lone papyri: CHLA 18 660, and CHLA 43 1248. You can look up all the papyri at, and the inscriptions I'll allude to at The two papyri, however, need not be interpreted as Speidel (and actually Rea in ZPE 56 and Zuckerman in ZPE 100) suggest.

CHLA 18 660, a list of sorts (of supplies) seems to be contrasting soldier catafractarius with actuarius, and an actuarius in this case isn't a rank in the military, but effectively an accountant (albeit one doing paperwork for the military). So, to my mind a type of civilian in the military, and unintentionally contrasted, with a type of soldier in the military. CHLA 43 1248 might point to catafractarius as a rank – for we have a Sarapio promoted (provectus) to decurio at line 1.13: sarapio catafracta(rius), prou(ectus) decur(io), and an Apion promoted to catafractarius at line 1.14: Apion eq(ues) prou(ectus) catafra(ctarius). But in the case of Sarapio, why must it be evidence he’s going from catafractarius to decurio, and why can’t it be that he’s a catafractarius who’s promoted to decurio?  In the case of Apion, might it not be evidence for a regular cavalryman (eques) who’s just been upgraded to catafract? Indeed, in the other two instances, in the same papyrus (CHLA 43 1248), catafractarius is clearly being used to refer to soldier-type. It would seem to me to be needlessly complicated to use both (potential) senses of term, rank and soldier-type, in this document (Contra see Speidel 2000: 477, n. 22).  The two other uses are at 2.8, where we find scholam catafractariorum, and at 3.15, where we find catafractarii. The latter, admittedly, is a bit more ambiguous.

In any case, in these instances it's best to bring in comparative evidence, and for that I turned to the Notitia Dignitatum, and the aforementioned epigraphic and papyrological databases.  In the ND, it should come as no surprise that all mentions of catafract denote a type of soldier (or type of unit). There are at least three units of catafractarii in the eastern praesental armies (Not. Dign. or. 5.34, 6.35, 6.36), one in Thrace, (Not. Dign. or. 8.29), another in the Thebaid (Not. Dign. or. 31.52), and a third in Scythia (Not. Dign. or. 39.16), to say nothing of those we find in Britain   (Not. Dign. oc. 7.200, Not. Dign. oc. 40.21).  

In the epigraphic database there are 16 inscriptions (Latin) that come up that list a form of "cataf", the term I used in my search.  They are AE 1912, 192; AE 1919, 18; CIL 3.99; CIL 3.10307; CIL 3.14406a (here specifies that he’s a heavily armoured cavalryman – equites catafractarios); CIL 5.6784; CIL 11.5632; CIL 13.1848; CIL 13.3493; CIL 13.7323; CIL 16.110; IBulgarien 52; IIFDR 110; IK 31.40 (this one lists both catafractariorum and clibaniariorum); ILCV 504; and AE 1931, 68.  In all 16 of those inscriptions, a form of catafract is used to refer to describe or denote a type of unit, and without question. 

Next I turned back to the papyrological database and decided to try the Greek form, kataphraktos/oi.  In this instance I got 9 hits, but of those only 7 of 9 dated to the common era, and those 7 generally dated between the early third and middle fourth centuries. The first, BGU 1.316, uses the term to refer to a heavily-armoured horse. The second,  P. Abinn. 77, is a lot like CHLA 18 660, and so makes distinctions between civil-military persons and strictly military ones, again actuarius vs. catafractarius (though Hellenized forms, of course). Yes, it could be for officials, but I think catafractarius as heavily-armed cavalry soldier conveys the sense just as well.  The next one, P. Abinn. 78, another this food or supply list, like the previous one makes a distinction between a soldier, and in this case a citizen (or something like a citizen - completely civil then). The next case, P. Oxy 41.2951, uses catafractrius in the exact manner we find it in the epigraphy, namely as a kind of soldier or unit (line 19, ἀριθμοῦ καταφράκτων). P. Panop. Beatty 2 makes the sort of contrast we have in P. Abinn. 77 and 78 and CHLA 18 600.  The penultimate case, SB 18.13852, is the only really ambiguous one, where it could refer to a type of officer. It could also, however, refer to a type of solider. Finally we come to Stud. Pal. 5.97. This, like the occasional other example, could refer to officers, for they are listed as ἐπιμελητῶν καταφράκτων, so armoured men in charge,  or those in charge of the catafracts, who are sent off (ἀποστελλομένων) to Alexandria (lines 5-7). On the other hand, if the term katafractarius refers to officer, why bother specifying that they are in charge? Makes no sense.

The balance of evidence, then, such as I've found, points to catafractius meaning heavily-armoured cavalryman only, and not officer. Of course, if anyone has any evidence or thoughts they'd like to share to contradict or modify this suggestion, please do get in touch! Come to think of it, I think I should draw this up and send it in to a journal. Maybe this summer - and with more detail. Anyway, I believe I've sorted this out.  Now, to get back to the other pages of Speidel's chapter.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Agathias on War

It may seem all too predictable, especially given the trajectories of Cameron and Kaldellis, but for a long time I've considered dabbling much deeper into the world of Agathias. As little as there has been written on Procopius, even less has been written on Agathias, and a good part of that, for obvious reasons, has been devoted to his poetic proclivities. What is more, though this is, to some degree, par for the course, opinions of his capabilities vary widely, and there have been no sustained and extensive treatments of his value as an historian.  Kaldellis did write a handful of papers that focused on Agathias the historian, and Cameron wrote her monograph on Agathias more generally, but there's nothing substantial (in terms of size at least - not quality) out there on Agathias as an historian, and certainly nothing focused on his military credentials.

And yet, despite his legal background and poetic leanings, Agathias devoted a lengthy, or at least significant, and detailed history to military matters, a fact which he himself professed early in his text.  He self-consciously followed in the footsteps of Procopius, at times seeking to distance himself from Procopius' perceived failings, at others subtly agreeing and/or engaging with Procopius' military leanings.  Some see Agathias' discussion of military matters as excellent (Syvanne); others as sub-par (Wheeler).  And yet, if no one has undertaken a sustained analysis, how can we know, and how should we use him, if at all?

It's hard to underscore his importance, whether real or potential.  Like Xenophon in his Hellenica to Thucydides in his History, Agathias picks up exactly where Procopius left off in book 8.  And yet, unlike Procopius, his narrative is concentrated on only a few years, though important ones for Justinian's empire.  Agathias' History is undoubtedly shorter than Procopius' Wars - and the fact that current editions and translations don't exist in comparable texts makes my attempts to eyeball the differences between them questionable at best, there's no getting round the potential benefits of that level of detail. 

As I go through the History for other reasons, and start thinking I should devote more energy to the military character of his writing than I have (my interest in Procopius waxes and wanes several times over the course of a day), there have been a number of things that have jumped out at me.  For instance, he seems to engage with Procopius regularly, often indirectly, at least when one focuses on the military angle.  This is, I think, worth drawing attention too, especially since he's less overt in these instances than he is when it comes to the Persians, for instance. 

In addition, we know that Agathias lacked Procopius' experience with war, and so his sources for military matters would inevitably have differed in significant ways.  This would seem to cast doubt on his usefulness on military matters, though so many people who write about war these days who consider themselves experts, at least of a sort, have had no such experiences themselves, myself included.  Thus, it's not out of the realm of possibility for an educated and intelligent writer like Agathias to track down all the necessary materials to craft a believable work of military historiography.  Indeed, with this in mind, another topic that I'd have to explore would be Agathias' engagement with wider military thinking, both that evinced in the surviving military manuals, but also in the wider world.  It has struck me that Agathias' accounts have seemed far more sensible and satisfactory than I had expected and been led to believe - or even remember.  Admittedly, the last time I read him in this much detail my interest was focused almost squarely on combat. 

Anyway, much to consider.  While a thorough analysis may reveal that he doesn't deserve to be classed with Procopius, it might well be that he deserves more credit than he often gets, at least, again, in the realm of military matters.  Indeed, as I've noted before, if nothing else he seems to be one of the best writers of the experience of combat, a not unimportant subject in the wider category of military history.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Unit Cohesion - Part 2

In the previous rambling post I babbled on about some of the terms and discussions that have surfaced about unit cohesion and related matters, and I highlighted two of the key concepts (for my purposes, but in general too) from Marshall's famous book.  Here I plan to outline my course of action for the paper, and I'll draw on some of the other stuff I've read (not hitherto mentioned) - and some of the past stuff I've written, both in the earlier Warwick blog, and in the Procopius book.  I don't think the copy I submit will say too much on the background that I mentioned in the previous post, as it seems there's a lot to say, and I want to cover as much as I can in my 7000 words (and that's all in).

So, let's start with the definition:  " the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress".  From what I can gather, there are a number of ways that I might look for evidence of how, or even if, soldiers bonded together in combat, despite the limitations of the evidence.  Those that seem most profitable include:  the institution of the army/military and its mission; unit sizes within the army/military in all their variety, and in what contexts we expect to find them; the objectives of particular wars, and whether they were achieved or not (success or failure); brotherhood, and in particular whether there is evidence for men forming these sorts of bonds; ideology, whether there was any particular ideology that might have motivated soldiers; and the leadership, especially at the highest levels.

In terms of the army as institution, it seems it would be useful to set out how men were recruited and why, and even what the purpose of the military was.  For unit sizes, it would be good to set these out - from the largest to the smallest.  Here the evidence of Maurice is likely to help the most, even if the divisions he describes are a combination of the factual and the fictional, or so it seems.  If I can establish the presence of smallish units, like the contubernia of old, then I'll have the size of unit most relevant to discussions of primary group cohesion.  Whether I'll be able to tell if the men in these units spent a lot of time together is another matter, both when it came to combat and times of rest (at home - bases, etc.).  Did each little unit fight as a whole as part of a larger whole?  Would they always be mixed in with the others in larger formations, and how did this effect any perceived sense of brotherhood?  Vaguely related to units sizes is the standard and/or battle flag.  Do they serve as symbols of units still, and what impact do they have on cohesion?

When it comes to objectives, I'll focus on some Justinianic-era wars, and the three big ones that fill the pages of Procopius' Wars.  Can we deduce Roman objectives in those wars?  Were they successful?  Did they fail?  Can we find evidence of the performance of particular units?  Do we have evidence for particular units within particular battles or conflicts?  Related to this, were any soldiers ideologically motivated, and what sort of ideologies might they be?  In the case of Persia we could imagine them fighting for freedom, or better security.  But what about those western invasions?  Perhaps some were compelled, while others when voluntarily.  Why?

Finally (at least at this stage in the planning), there's leadership. What role did Rome's generals play in ensuring the cohesiveness of the participating units, if any?  This pops up in a small portion of the material I've read - in an interesting paper by Eckstein, for instance, who highlights the stress that Polybius places in the role of leadership.  Incidentally, and not surprisingly (for all sorts of reasons), so does Procopius.

Anyway, that's where I am.  These two posts have taken me quite a lot longer to do than I'd expected.  They also seem to be inspiring to undertake a larger study of combat motivation in Roman antiquity.  That's another matter, however - and I seem to be getting ahead of myself.  If nothing else, I think too much Procopius is probably a bad thing, so I should try to limit my exposure.

Unit Cohesion - Part 1

One of my current little projects is a paper on unit cohesion in the sixth century (AD/CE) for a book on that topic.  Fortunately, it is something that I've thought about before, particularly when I was doing the PhD thesis.  So far, besides some mental mapping of the shape of the paper, I've been reading and re-reading some of the literature on the subject, both that dealing with the ancient world and the modern.  As I say, some of it I've read before, and some I haven't.  This post, then, pretty much like all the others, will serve as a research diary entry.  In this case, I need to take stock of my progress so far, and write down some of the things I've been thinking about.

First, I've occupied myself with looking at some of the standard literature - again, it's extensive so it can only be a selective reading, and some of it's new (to me), some of it's not.  One of the classics is Marshall's Men Against Fire, a book that pops up in a number of discussions.  I confess that I've found it a difficult book to read, and not because of the complexity of the content, but rather because of the style and, to some degree, its content.  Marshall writes like someone who knows a great deal about their subject, and then exaggerates how much they know all while on occasion fudging the content to suits one's ends, and without going to the trouble of supporting these sorts of claims.  Granted, I'd read about the book in the past, and this might have coloured my reading (first time), and I also expected to enjoy it much more than I did.  I'm also writing this post decades after it was written, so much of what Marshall writes seems pretty obvious to me now, and in a way that it probably wasn't to his initial readers. 

Now, one of the key highlights include Marshall's suggestion that the majority of WWII US soldiers didn't actually use their weapons (20% or less).  The former point has inspired the work of later writers, including those who've tackled the ancient world, like Goldsworthy and Sabin (both to some degree or other).  It has been jumped on by a number of people, however, and in the copy I have there's a preface (by Russell W Glenn) that basically shows how those figures are a load of crap.  Another book on my to-read list is Grossman's On Killing, and I have this sneaking suspicion that he too uses similar figures - I wonder if I'll discover that he gets it from Marshall.  If so that will cast doubt (in my eyes) on the applicability of at least some of material.  Indeed, although my paper's on cohesion, it's clear that combat motivation is connected, and it's worth considering.  If few men really were able to make an effort to kill in combat, how would an ancient army work around this?  It's worth stressing too that ancient peoples, and even those from different places and times (Greece, even Athens vs. Sparta, Imperial Rome, Republican Rome, Late Antique Rome, etc .), would approach war in a different way from us, even if we're all humans.  We also don't have ancient people to interview, or ancient diaries to read, to figure out how often weapons were discharged and the like - harder to do with swords, easier with arrows and javelins.  Even if we did, of course, interviews aren't always the best means of deducing this sort of information.  People forget things, or confuse things, or even fabricate things, intentionally to suit their own ends, or unintentionally to give the interviewer what he or she might want.  So, in some ways were better off without it.  In sum, Marshall's numbers are suspect, and even if they aren't it's extremely difficult to do this for the ancient (impossible?).  Worth noting too, that Marshall's views were heeded by the US military, and later research evidently showed that proportion of soldiers who fired their weapons in subsequent wars (Korea, Vietnam) improved significantly as a result of the changes they made.

The second key suggestion was Marshall's abundant claims that one of (or the) main reasons men fought was for the men in their unit (social cohesion, bonding, band of brothers stuff, etc.).  This key point has, in some circles, achieved far more in the way of acceptance.  The "band of brothers" perspective certainly has been adopted by the public, but many scholars too see this as the best means of explaining unit cohesion.  A recently published book on the 2003 Iraq war, for instance, argues for the continued importance of social cohesion in explaining performance, though the authors also stress ideological motives (which they contrast with motivations of past American soldiers).  It shouldn't be a surprise to learn that many have questioned this too:  this brotherly bonding is not what motivates men and leads to cohesion.  For the ancient world, Crowley has questioned its application to Athenian hoplites, while Lendon has questioned its applicability to Roman soldiers.  Then there are a number of sociologists and political scientists, amongst others, who have questioned how effectively social cohesion explains performance (in combat in particular).

If we move beyond Marshall, we discover that there are two different kinds of cohesion that have been the focus of much of this research, social (the bonding of Marshall), and task (unifying to achieve a goal).  You can have one without the other, and social cohesion doesn't necessarily lead to task cohesion.  Even within the topic of social cohesion (or is it separate?) - or group cohesion (the unit cohesion that's the focus of my paper) - there are a host of variations, from peer bonding, to leader bonding, to organizational bonding, to institutional bonding.  We also find primary cohesion, and secondary cohesion.  For the purposes of the volume, they've (editors) make unit cohesion the umbrella term, with some of the variables worth pursuing including:  horizontal unit cohesion, vertical unit cohesion, task cohesion, and social cohesion.  Their definition of unit cohesion is:  " the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress".  There is, then, a baffling array of potential terms and topics of discussion.

The question, then, is how I narrow down what is already a large collection of material, even if I've only presented some of it.  Part 2, then, will focus on how I plan to address this in the paper.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A Sensory History of Combat in Late Antiquity

Several months ago, Jonathan Eaton introduced a book to me on Twitter that presented a seemingly novel way of approaching historical combat.  The book in question is Mark Smith's The Smell of Battle, the Taste of a Siege: a sensory history of the Civil War, does what it's title suggests.  I haven't finished it yet, but I've been working through it while working on a number of other things.

Admittedly, and for my sins, I've contemplated/started working a sensory history of combat in late antiquity, and the sixth century in particular.  While it's early days yet, there are a few things that have struck me about this approach to war, especially when the ancient world is the subject matter.  The first is the inevitable, "is this even possible".  Smith's book draws on all sorts of different kinds of evidence, from letters to newspaper and magazine articles, and paintings.  He's also able to draw on the perspectives of a wide swath of the 19th c. US.  As always, we don't have the same quantity of material, and the perspectives are much more limited.  What's more, even if there is considerable variety in the kinds of literary evidence that we have from the sixth century, and if it comes from all sorts of different people, that late antique swath wasn't all interested in the same things.  We may have monks and officers and local elites writing about all sorts of things, but it's still a restricted group of people who write about war:  historians, though not always, and the occasional poet.  We do have letters, of course, both the more polished published ones (say of Augustine), and seemingly more authentic ones preserved on papyri, but even when we have letters with military figures they're not writing home about war.  So, we're still restricted:  we have well-educated men, writing in Greek and Latin, operating in an archaic, by their own day, literary world, with some exceptions.  This makes it tough to get a balanced picture.

Another thing that has struck me is related to the first.  Most of our evidence for combat comes from literary descriptions that, for right or wrong, follow a traditional model.  The bulk, majority, even all the writers were classically educated, and well-versed in rhetorical exercises.  Those rhetorical exercises, when they were discussing battle or not, emphasized the sensory.  Indeed, battle itself was classed as an ekphrasis, and the purpose of an ekphrasis was to bring the thing described before the eyes of the reader or listener.  You could, too, extend the eyes to the mind - the reader/listener should be able to imagine what they're reading/listening to.  And, while a great deal of attention is placed on the visual, some of the language is directed towards other senses, like sound.  The conundrum, then, should be all too obvious.  I'm looking for evidence of the sensory experience of battle.  To find it I'm having to rely on, by and large, literary accounts that are, in turn, heavily dependent on classical models that emphasize the sensory.  How do you separate the literary from the historical?  Book 8 of the Wars and Agathias' History provide very descriptive sensory accounts of combat, which aren't dissimilar from the literary flourishes of Corippus, the epic poet, in his Iohannis.  Is it possible to disentangle this material?

One last thing I want to draw attention to is the character of Smith's book, at least so far.  It seems to be heavy on description, and short of analysis.  Granted, the purpose seems to be to get a sense of what it was like to experience an historical event, in Smith's case the Civil War (US), based on what evidence and tools we have at our disposal.  In the case of war, however, this seems to be a version of Keegan's "face of battle", which advocated approaching battle from the perspective of the common soldiers rather than the officers and generals that had featured so heavily.  I am, then, struggling to see what makes this sensory history unique.  Granted, I've read almost nothing, and none of it has focused on antiquity, but at this point I'm quite sceptical. 

I have a growing list of items to read, one of which combines archaeology and the senses.  Indeed, when I decided to give it a go, I thought about how I might find comparative evidence to support (contradict, or other) what I find in the literary accounts, and the physical evidence seemed to be a way forward.  I've thought about the kinds of weapons that we're likely to be used, and what sorts of sensations they were likely to give:  what do iron swords sound like when they crash together, what does it feel like when 100s or 1000s of horses come barrelling down a hill, what does it taste like to have your face in the dirt as you're trampled by your comrades in the midst of mad dash to escape?  If I know something about the environment of a battle (near a city or out in the middle of nowhere), the season (what temperature might it have been, and what sort of precipitation might they have had to deal with), the time of day, the number of participants, and their constituent parts perhaps I can draw on this factual material along with some comparative evidence (the feel of 100s/1000s of horses) perhaps I can write a sensory history of sorts. 

At this point, however, and to be perfectly honest I'm not sure.  Indeed I might be able to pull this off, though I might also end up writing an essay that all-but-slams this approach to history.  And yet, on the other hand, while my mind says yes, my heart says no (don't do it) - this has often been what I'd like to know most.  What was it like to be alive and experience a particular epoch?  Well, perhaps I'm finally about to find out.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Procopius on the Battle of Satala

Surprise, surprise, I'm not done with Procopian battles yet.  More of the historical in the sequel, however, and less of the military historiographical.

In the first book the idea was to try to discern something of Procopius' military mind, and how that fit into larger cultural and historiographical trends from his era.  Reading through these same accounts again, and in the same kind of detail, but with what I guess you could call a more balanced perspective, thanks in part to all the work I've done in between finishing the PhD and finishing the book, I'm encouraged to see that I'm still seeing that P has understood combat in the way that I surmised.  In other words, my head isn't in my hands and I'm not shouting, "Oh God, what have I done/what was I thinking?" It's tempting to say too that, in hindsight, it seems to have made a lot of sense to have tackled "Procopius on War" aspects in the order that I have.  Understanding something of his approach to describing and explaining combat should now make it easier to make sense of what he says.

I've just taken a look at the Battle of Satala (530) again, which you can find around 1.15.1ff.  For Procopius, the battle seems to hinge on the bravery of one elite Roman individual (a Florentius - 1.15.15), who charges the Persian line, at a point when no one side seems to be making much headway, and manages to seize the Persian general's standard (to strategikon shmeion) and thrust it to the ground before meeting his fate.  The Persians panic, freak out, and return to base in light of this, before heading home the next day.  And the battle ends.  For Procopius individuals, especially those in command positions, are important, and with in mind it's no surprise that things turned out the way they did.  But while this might tell us something about what Procopius and some of his peers thought about what happened and understood as important in what happened, does it tell us anything about might what have happened?

The trick, this time round, is to cut through what Procopius says, and I confess that upon looking it over it's more than a little maddening.  Still, there are some things we can pick out.  We find, for instance, the importance of numbers.  Procopius' implies that the Persians had almost twice as many soldiers as the Romans (30,000 to less than 15,000), and that they were all cavalry.  Whether these numbers are feasible or not is something that I'll have to look at later.  For the moment, while the difference does seem to be significant, it's also important to note that Procopius himself seems to imply that both sides are perhaps less than aware of some important details about each others' contingents.  Procopius (1.15.12) claims that the Persians couldn't work out how many men the Romans had - aided in part by the all the dust kicked up by the conditions, though I suspect too by the speed of the Roman advance, as well as their height advantage.  There is then a hint of the sensory here - sight, sound (implied if not stated), and perhaps too taste (we could imagine the taste of the dust on a hot summer's afternoon).  We also get some of the concerns highlighted by the authors of military manuals (Vegetius and Maurice):  conceal your numbers, especially if you're at a disadvantage.

I've been reading Decker's book on Byzantine warfare, and he implies that the Byzantine state (which includes this era) was lacking exceptional commanders, but did have some competent ones.  It's hard not to think that this might be a bit harsh, or at least that we have evidence of some better-than-competent performance is on view here, if Procopius is anything to go.  For we also read that the Roman force had been split up, with a comparatively small contingent (about 1000) sent up high onto the hills that surround Satala (and you can see them on Google Earth), while the rest moved inside the city walls.  The barbarians had moved outside the city walls when Sittas' force came down upon them from on high, as noted earlier.  He also split it in two - this allowed him to use gravity and the conditions to his advantage against a clearly superior-in-numbers foe.  It also seems to be the case that the Persians were amassed in some sort of confined space round the city walls, which meant that they were bunched up.  Indeed, if you take a look at Satala on Google Earth (best I can do without going there), the ancient city is in a little valley, with a plain, and is surrounded by hills.  In other words, it's easy to imagine this happening, especially if the Persians had as many men as Procopius claims.  So while Sittas may have had more than 1000 with him, contra Procopius, the conditions all seem to support Procopius' claims:  Persians crowded together, backed up against the city walls on one side, looking up at the hills on another side, and seeing an indeterminate number of men charging down on horseback, in the middle of a large dust cloud, and then another army charging out from the city gates.  It's easy to think that the Persians would have been terrified, as Procopius implies.

While the Persians may have had the numeric advantage, everything else so clearly favoured the Romans - spatially, they were much better off.  It's hard to work out (impossible really) what the units were at the Romans' advantage - 15,000 seems a large garrison for Satala, and one wonders when all the soldiers arrived and whether any were based there (that's something to check).  Interestingly, Procopius says all the participants on both sides were horses, which seems astonishing to me.  Either way, he also says that the battle became fierce, but even, with both sides constantly, owing to their abundant cavalry, charging and then withdrawing.  In this I'm reminded of Van Wees' suggestions about Homeric warfare, for which he drew on research on warfare in Polynesia (or, well, somewhere).  Basically, there's a lot of each side sitting back while contingents, individuals, what have going forward regularly to charge and so forth.  Not sure if the Homer/Van Wees/Polynesia (somewhere) parallel works - quite different kinds of soldiers involved (see Procopius' preface even).  It seems to imply not a lot of tactical wizardry, however, at least based on how things were going.  So maybe I'm coming round to Decker's claims (competent but not exceptional leaders - still, given they were outnumbered).

I better wrap this up - and so, this is the historical that I can deduce so far (at this early stage).  Procopius's account is short on detail, full of drama, but most certainly plausible.  This brings us back to the charge of Florentius:  is this not, then, too a plausible outcome for why the Romans won?  Given that the two sides seem to have been evenly matched based on all the other available criteria, if Florentius' charge is all that's left, might it not be the reason for the outcome?   This battle may not tell us too much about how the Romans waged war in the sixth century, but I think it does point to the veracity of Procopius' writing, which in turn would lend greater credence to those other, more detailed battles that he describes.  They'll all have to be checked independently and compared with all available evidence, but suggestive.  NOTE:  I tend not to edit these posts, so apologies for typos/moments of awkwardness. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Finding Evidence for Strategic Thinking in the Age of Justinian

Besides the aforementioned Roman military textbook, I'm also working on the follow-up to book one on Procopius.  The follow-up exists - something I've referred to in past blog posts - because of some of the troubles I had with that earlier project.  Basically, it nearly fell off the rails completely, then I attended a conference in Oxford (2014 on Procopius), which got me back on, by which point I had already made plans to go in a different direction.  The result was that the original project was rejuvenated, while the new one became a follow-up.  In a nutshell, that's why it exists.

Anyway, I happen to be on sabbatical, and so I have the time to work on these two projects, and if all goes well I'll have made considerable progress by the time the period draws to a close in July.  Like a lot of things, my enthusiasm waxes and wanes depending on my progress, but there is as much positive as negative, which is more than I can say about the hockey I've been watching most of the year (and am right now - mostly negative).

Today, and presumably for the next little while, one of the topics in that project that I'll be working is strategy, fortifications, frontiers and Procopius, in part because I've been (re-)reading Procopius' Buildings, with what could be considered a fine-tooth comb. A number of things are jumping out at me this time round, and one that I'll be devoting more attention to, and which I want to flag here, is his emphasis on defence.  In particular, my reading of Procopius' Buildings so far seems to point towards a strong emphasis on defence in east Rome, and there is a real sense that the purpose of the fortifications was both to monitor and to prevent/check incursions of Saracens and Persians.  Now, maybe this isn't all that surprising.  The Buildings is on, well, buildings, and so of course he's going to talk about fortifications, and if you're talking about fortifications it seems self-evident that you'll be talking about their defensive properties, particularly based on the character of late antique fortifications.  So, of course its defence, and scholars have argued in support of this defensive mentality for quite a while - Luttwak and defence-in-depth, Greatrex more recently on a longer-term defensive mentality. 

Now, in this book/project, the idea is to test as often and wherever possible Procopius' views/comments/descriptions/ with other evidence, whatever shape it comes in.  How do you do this, however, when your subject is strategy?  Given I'm dealing with Justinian, what I'd like is his memoirs, commentarii, or some such thing that sets his foreign policy thinking.  Of course, these things don't exist.  Now, if I'm arguing for, or better testing for whether the strategic mentality with respect to the frontiers was defend and if I'm taking as my starting point the Buildings, there's always the Wars to compare.  I could (will) take a look at all known conflicts in the east and identify who in each case is the aggressor.  If you're always been attacked, then a defensive mentality would seem likely.  On the other hand, it is presumably more than a little bit sketchy to check Procopius by means of Procopius.  In other words, it would be easy enough for him to make sure his statements in one of those works support his statements in the other. 

Thus, I'll certainly have to take a look at the other accounts we have, works like those of Count Marcellinus, Malalas, Pseudo-Joshua, Pseudo-Zachariah, and Agathias.  It would be helpful to visit all known fortifications, but of course this isn't feasible (cost, political situation, etc.), so I suspect that Google Earth and assorted published excavation reports and otherwise will become my friends.  On the other hand, a fort on its own can't say what a fort is doing, and that's where things get stickier.  I could also take a look at Justinian's legislation - does he delve into defensive concerns at any point in his massive collection of Roman law, and if he does is it the case that this reflects a defensive strategic mentality?  There's what evidence of propaganda I can find too - though would you emphasize a defensive mentality?

If I adopt the definition of strategy that I've adopted in the past (following Kagan's 2006 article), that would mean that I should look for evidence of the Roman state using its resources to pursue various foreign policy ends, and in the earlier Roman imperial situation we have all sorts of really good evidence for troop movements, dispositions, and so forth.  In late antiquity, especially after about AD 400, the situation is dire.  The Notitia Dignitatum is a fabulous piece of evidence, and recent research has emphasized the accuracy of the list as we have it for the east (based on examinations of the situations in Egypt and in the Caucasus).  Should we really expect the list as we have it to still be applicable by the time that Procopius is writing though, nearly 150 years later?  Perhaps not, or not exactly, and unfortunately we just don't have something from the sixth century that I'm aware of that provides the desired level of detail.  What are we, then, to do?  To be honest, I'm not sure yet, though I'll be getting to this issue soon enough.

If the defensive approach does turn out to the case at least with respect to the east, that makes for a nice contrast with the wars in Africa and Italy, so clearly offensively-minded, at least on the surface.  I was wondering if these could be taken as attempts of Justinian to counter criticisms that he was too defensively-minded.  If that were true, however, why not take a more offensive approach in the east rather than the west?  Also, if all anyone has known for some time was a defensive approach in the east, who would really criticize a presumed-defensive mentality? 

So, I anticipate a considerable amount of trouble with this topic, and more so than for some of the others that I have in mind.  Only time will tell, I guess, whether I can't find some sort of resolution.