Thursday, 27 June 2019

Soldiers and War in the Madrid Skylitzes: some comments from an amateur

I haven't posted much in a while, again.  It's been a struggle to keep up with everything.  So, having sent off three things today, I thought I'd blabber on about something, and I'm going to talk about something vaguely related to my last post (mid-Byzantine things).  Where that was about one fabulous text/history, this is about one fabulous manuscript that illustrates a history. 

One of the things I submitted in the past few weeks is a review of Brill's Companion to the Byzantine Culture of War, ca. 300-1204 (, and it includes all sorts of interesting stuff (my review will appear in the English Historical Review).  So, during a lull, and to break up the run of usual stuff, I took a look (brief glances, really) at the dozens and dozens (hundreds even) illustrations of the Madrid Skylitzes.  They can be viewed, for free, here:   It's probably the most remarkable illuminated manuscript from the entirety of Byzantine history, though I gather there are far fewer of these to go on than there are for the medieval west. I confess I'm coming to this as a novice, and those in the know will probably find this all very familiar.

Anyway, the text illuminated is the Chronicle of John Skylitzes, an 11th century author, and an important source for the emperor Basil II, better known as the Bulgar slayer.  Given all his discussion of war, quite a lot of the illustrations depict war and soldiers in some capacity or other.  The rarity of illuminations of works of Byzantine history has given this manuscript considerable importance.  The images contained therein have served as importance sources for those looking to reconstruct the appearance, equipment, and armour of mid-Byzantine soldiers. 

As someone approaching all of this as someone much more familiar with (earlier) Roman history, it reminds me of the comparable place of the friezes from Trajan's Column to our understanding of the appearance, equipment, and armour of high imperial Rome's soldiers.  Scholars have treated the images in the manuscript as pretty accurate representations.  Haldon, for one, one of the most esteemed Byzantinists in the world, used it as an accurate indication armour of Byzantine cavalry from the 9-11th centuries in his chapter on early Byzantine arms and armour (Haldon 2002:  78,  Kolias' Byzantinische Waffen ( discusses its value in various places, and even includes some choice plates from the manuscript.  Even more recently, Grunbart's chapter on depictions of enemies in Brill's Companion to the Byzantine Culture of War touches on the value of the manuscript's illustrations.

Now, I must stress that this is as far as I've got, and Kolias' book I've only glanced it, though he seems to have recognized some of the restrictions of the images.  Down the road, I'd like to look into the matter in more detail, possibly/probably in concert with my desired study of Anna Komnene.  So, it could all be a lot of bollocks, or even something (or some things) that some scholars have already said.

To get back to Trajan's Column, one of the growing views out there is that the soldiers so depicted are in no way representative of second century CE soldiers such as we know them (Michael Charles,  Some of the points about that column might be valid for the material on the Madrid Skylitzes.  Would the army of illustrators for the manuscript really have made their images with the intention of making them as accurate as possible?  Or would they have tried to depict them in such a way as to be recognizable to whomever the manuscript was intended?  But it's also worth asking if the two questions are mutually exclusive.

There are all sorts of interesting questions that these images generate.  For one, we have little in the way of Byzantine physical evidence for arms and armour in the mid-Byzantine era.  Instead we have this manuscript, some coins, and a variety of texts, especially Anna Komnene's Alexiad, though also some military manuals.  So we have to use evidence like this.  But despite the many different illustrations contained therein, they don't come together in the same sort of sequence as we find in Trajan's Column.  Indeed, the difference in medium made producing the same sorts of images impractical if not impossible - and the chronological gap and cultural differences were significant too.  So, the artists were forced to make due with the space allotted, and were likely hamstrung by what was written on the page.  There were also two different groups of images too:  those with a western origin, and those a Byzantine one. 

Tsamakda's ( seemingly impressive study (seemingly because I haven't really read it, though I've glanced at it and its beautiful illustrations) does catalogue just about everything in the manuscript.  It includes type scenes, which I'll have to look into.  She seems to suggest in places (many places?) that the items catalogued in some scenes couldn't be identified with anything known.  There is a great deal to consider about these illuminations, and when the time comes, I'll see what I can find, though it's possible it's already been said.  Whatever comes out of this, if any of it sounds vaguely interesting you should check out the illustrations yourself in the link noted above.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Anna on War

The term's over and we're well into exam season.  More importantly, I'll be on leave soon, which means I hope to get back to posting blog posts regularly after a prolonged silence.  It's been another helluva year.  But the teaching has gone better than last, I think, as I've adjusted to life with two wee, wonderful children.

Not only is it exam season:  it's also rejection season.  I invested lots of effort in a big grant (SSHRC Insight) back in the late summer.  But to no avail.  After getting the bad news, I considered abandoning my proposed research project (the follow-up to all this stuff I'm working on now).  With the size of these grants and the lag time between proposal, application, success, and funding, you gotta think long term - or plan for things way down the road. 

Anyway, I considered shifting to Agathias.  It's definitely something I plan to do someday, and I thought this might be the time.  I also considered turning to the impact of war in the age of Justinian project, which I paused with the publication of Heather's book.  In the end, however, I've decided to stick with a big, long-term project on Ammianus Marcellinus.  I've already got some revisions already, which I think will make it a much better proposal when I reapply in the fall.

So what does all this have to do with Anna (and by Anna I mean Anna Komnene)?  Well, I also contemplated the merits of jumping to the middle Byzantine period, something else I've contemplated.  In the end, it seemed to me that too much work would be required of me to get it ready in time to reapply in October:  while I wouldn't entirely be starting from scratch, it wouldn't be far off.

One thing that has struck me, however, while thinking about this Ammianus project and thinking vaguely about later Byzantine historiography has been some of the points made by Nadeja Williams in this excellent article in Eidolon:  In that article, Williams says,

"women are socialized differently, their scholarship on military history is often different from the scholarship traditionally done by men. Put simply, women tend to ask different research questions about the nature of war than men have done, and tend to be more interested in the human experience and the reality of suffering in war for all who experience military conflicts."

One of the angles to my Ammianus project is a consideration of his interest in the human experience of war, which seems much more pronounced than Procopius', though which might be comparable to Agathias'.  While all three are men, of course, we do have one later female historian, namely Anna Komnene.  Can we find a different approach to combat in Anna, one that differs from the typical male approach we find in other classicizing historians, whether early or middle Byzantine? 

Unfortunately, my only frame of reference is the earlier historians, so I can't compare her account with her contemporaries and near contemporaries (something for another day?).  But, I thought I'd take a look at one battle, and one that jumped out was the Battle of Kalavrye fought in 1078 between the the forces of Bryennios and those of Alexios.  A civil war battle, yes, that comes early in the Alexiad, but one that she describes in some detail.  And, although she can make no claims to being there, she obviously had good access to one of the principal participants (her father), if not both (if Bryennios was her father-in-law).  Before I raise a few points, I should say that some have disparaged her accounts of battle:  the translators of the revised Penguin version called her descriptions of battle "the least impressive passages in the history" in the midst of an otherwise glowing assessment.

In this one case, is Anna more interested in the human experience of war, at least in this one battle (described at 1.4.1ff)?  Well, at the start she includes some expected elements, like relative deployment and composition of the two forces, and a comment or two about the fortune of war.  Not surprisingly, she does tend to single in on individual soldiers, and officers, and her father at that (the heroic lead of her Alexiad, and by her reckoning an equal to Scipio Aemilianus or even Hannibal (1.1.3)).  It's not surprising, however, because this is what "good" Byzantine historians had been doing for centuries, as tradition dictated.  That said, Anna includes some remarkable descriptions of the human experience of combat. 

In the midst of the catalogue of forces, for instance, Byrennios, "circling round in their midst like some Ares or a Giant standing out head and shoulders above all others, taller by a cubit, was in truth an object of wonder and dread to those who saw him" (1.4. - all translations from the updated Penguin edition). A little later, while the battle is well and truly under way, we get this:  "Seeing all this Alexius covered his face, drawing down the vizor fastened to the rim of his helmet, and with the six men I spoke of before rushed violently against them" (1.5).  Alexios single-handedly emboldens his side by snatching the the emperor's horse and leading it back to his men.  Then,

"Wherever they happened to be they stood motionless, looking back to the rear and amazed beyond all belief by what they saw. It was indeed an extra-ordinary sight: the horses on which they rode were gazing to the front, but the faces of the riders turned backwards; they neither advanced nor had they any intention of wheeling about, but just stopped, dumbfounded and utterly unable to understand what had happened. The Scyths thought of home and were already on their way; they had no further interest in pursuit, but far off from both armies wandered around at random with their booty."

Anna doesn't fly around from general to general, but zooms in on smaller groups with their officers and focuses on their experiences - physical, emotional, and pyschological.  She has any eye for the vivid detail too.  A bit later, having switched to Bryennios, we find this episode:

"He himself, the deviser of the whole stratagem, followed immediately behind them with as many soldiers collected from his scattered forces as the circumstances demanded. At this point one of the ‘Immortals’ serving under him, a hot-headed, reckless fellow, spurred on his horse in front of the rest and slackening rein charged straight for Bryennius. He thrust his spear very hard at Bryennius’ chest, but he, drawing his sword quickly, before the spear could be driven home cut it off above the point, struck his attacker by the collar-bone, and as he bore down with all his might severed his whole arm, cutting right through his breastplate. Meanwhile the Turks riding up one after the other covered the enemy with showers of arrows. Bryennius’ men were overwhelmed by the unexpectedness of this onslaught; nevertheless they recovered and re-formed ranks. Calling upon one another to endure like men they bore the shock of the attack."

Things get worse for the general a bit later:

"But when his [Bryennios'] horse grew weary, unable either to flee or even pursue (for it was almost at its last gasp through constant chargings) Bryennius reined it in, and like some noble athlete stood ready for combat, challenging two high-born Turks to fight. One struck at him with his spear, but was not fast enough to give a heavy blow; instead he received a heavier one from Bryennius’s right arm, which, too quick for him, cut off his hand with his sword, and hand and spear rolled to the ground. The other Turk leapt down from his horse and panther-like jumped on to Bryennius’ mount, fastening himself on its flank, and there he clung desperately, trying to climb on its back. Bryennius like a wild beast kept twisting round and tried to stab him off with his sword, but without success, for the Turk behind him kept swaying to avoid the blows. Eventually his right arm tired of striking at empty air and himself worn out with fighting, Bryennius surrendered to the main body of the enemy. They seized him and like men who have won great glory took him off to Alexius. The latter was standing not far away from the place where Bryennius was taken and was at the time marshalling the Turks and his own men, encouraging them to fight."

This is remarkable stuff.  There's nothing quite like this in Ammianus, Procopius, and Agathias, so far as I can remember.  I'll have to look closer at Anna and her contemporaries' and near-contemporaries' accounts, but Williams' comments might not only apply to modern scholarship, but to medieval authors too.  More to come...eventually...

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!