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?

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