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!

No comments:

Post a Comment