Saturday, 22 July 2017

New Directions in the Roman Military and the Celtic Conference in Classics

When I signed up for this conference (i.e., sent in an abstract in the hopes of sharing the fruits of my SSHRC labours, pre-acceptance), I only had 1 daughter and wasn't sure I'd be going (been turned down before).  The abstract was accepted, and I now have two wonderful daughters.

The call papers stated they (the organizers) were looking for work that presented new research and covered any point between about 500 BC and AD 500.  Fortunately I had new work, and my subject matter wasn't too late.  What neither I, nor the organizers, expected, however, was that the topics would land so heavily on the republican (and earlier) side of things.  Once the dust had settled, perhaps just two papers could be classified as expressly imperial (my own included), with at least three that dabbled in the republican and imperial eras. 

On the one hand, this left me with little meaningful to contribute in the first two days' worth or so.  I taught a full-year history of Rome class back in 2009-2010.  Before that, my last serious dabbling in republican matters came in 2003, in my "Roman Constitution" graduate seminar.  So, not a lot, though I've done some reading here and there (and I'm teaching a course on Hannibal in the fall).  On other hand, getting to listen to all this new work on vaguely similar, though still different, subject matter has proved a boon.  I'm still working on the textbook, which will begin with the late republic, so I've been provided with some new ammunition.  Plus, there's that Hannibal class - and I now have a big list of big issues I want to raise with those few students who take the class (and right now it's only a few, sadly).  One last note:  I just saw Dunkirk in 70mm (not showing that way in Winnipeg), and it's a powerful movie.  So I have that side of war floating around my head too.  In sum:  a very fruitful full days.  A number of threads ran through the papers, and I want to get some of them down before they're lost forever.  I hope to return to these again in the next few days, especially as I continue plugging away on other projects.

In early Rome warfare seems to have been dominated by warlords with private bands, and most of it consisted of raids, and little of it consisted of set-piece battles.  This was, then, a stark echo of what I've discussed before (and am building towards) in this project on Procopius.  It's not all entirely new (the late antique stuff), but it does deserve stressing.  In fact, in private discussion (on the Metro no less), Jeremy Armstrong (the organizer) noted that in some (many?) ways the big wars and battles of the mid-to-late republic with their large armies and pitched battles were the exception to the norm of pre-modern combat.  In some ways, then, warfare in early Rome was very much a reflection of wider practices around the Mediterranean (and beyond?), and warfare at the end of antiquity represented a return to this. 

As someone with surface knowledge of the republic only, it was intriguing to hear about the stress upon the Punic War and the Social War.  I knew about some of the important things that happened in the Punic War and their role in later events, but not all of them - or I'd long since forgotten.  And here's where Dunkirk (and the major war that preceded that war) comes into it.  There was general acceptance that the elites of mid-republican Rome, to say nothing of the regular folk, suffered serious losses during the war, and to such a degree that we can speak of a "lost generation" or two.  What's also interesting about this, however, is the impact that this might have had on the usual pattern of republican political offices, or at least the pattern at the time.  There were so many losses (here consuls and praetors - from the senatorial families) that there was a return to repeated terms of office (checks had been put in place for this some 100 or more years earlier.  Once the war was over, there is even evidence for a strong dissatisfaction amongst the regular troops for all the fighting.  In these matters, then, the republican soldiers and their officers are perhaps not so different from their 20th century Anglo-saxon ones.

To touch briefly on the Social War:  it was this that had a significant impact on the transformation of the Roman army near the end of the republic, not the sole efforts of Martial, though they would have played some part.  People who had been allies were now fighting with each other, and it wasn't only Romans versus Italians, for there was a great deal of mingling.  But also too - and I hadn't considered this - Rome found itself with an economic-military problem at the end of the war.  Evidently, it had long been cheaper for Rome to supplement its military with allied forces.  They paid for themselves, both in terms of salary and equipment and arms.  When the number of Romans jumped at the end of the war, suddenly the Romans had to find a way to pay for a huge number of troops (much more than before).

One final point for now:  after this point I'll have to consult my notes (and that requires additional effort).  It's remarkable how evidence contributes to the kinds of questions that scholars pose.  This gaggle of republican scholars were asking the sorts of questions that are vaguely relevant (or more so) to late antique scholars - it's a shame more late antique scholars don't draw on the comparative material of the republican era (but don't worry, I will).  After all, both groups are generally left with lots of texts to work with (the assorted classical, classicizing, and other texts).  But the imperial scholars can't look at those same sorts of issues:  there's very little evidence about the details of the practice of warfare, but quite a lot on organization and social matters, among other things.  In fact, I guess that's where being a late antique person you get to draw on a bit of both (there are some inscriptions, some more papyri, and lots of legal evidence). 

Anyway, as I say, that's enough for now (going on too long - need to finish this cider and head to the hotel to catch a taxi to head to the airport to head home).  Montreal is beautiful.  I had planned a post on it, but it'll have to wait (if it comes at all).

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