Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.09.52

Jerome H. Farnum, The Positioning of the Roman Imperial Legions. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1458.   Oxford:  Archaeopress, 2005.  Pp. 121; figs. 37.  ISBN 1-84171-896-3.  £26.00.  

Reviewed by Peter Probst, Universität Hamburg (
Word count: 2501 words

For considerable time research on Roman military history has focussed on the dislocation of units. About the distribution of auxiliary units and legions in the Roman Empire substantial literature already exists, which particularly features studies of individual units and regionally limited surveys. A detailed general study on this subject, however, has been lacking, even though it would usefully provide scholars with a comprehensive overview of the current state of research. Such a survey may therefore be considered a desideratum for historical research.

In his monograph The Positioning of the Roman Imperial Legions Jerome Farnum (henceforth F.) has undertaken the commendable task of presenting such an overall view. His book deals with the dislocation of Roman legions between the years 30 B.C. and 300 A.D. In addition to the distribution of units, it concentrates on the relocations of troops all over the empire and the political background in each case. For his analysis F. draws on Ritterling's old, but still basic article "legio" in Pauly/Wissowa as well as on the numerous recent papers and treatises.1

The main part of the book contains tables and charts about the dislocation and history of the Roman legions (pp. 14-109) supported by two partially analytic and partially descriptive chapters (pp. 3-13 and 110-19). In his first chapter, entitled "The Positioning of the Legions" (pp. 3-13), the author gives a summary of the most important political and military events during Roman imperial time and their impact on the dislocation of the legions. His description of these events is factual and objective; problems arise when he interprets and evaluates some single events and their long-term influence on the whole Roman army. In the Augustan period a very close relationship had developed, according to F., between the legions stationed in fortified camps and the civilian settlements in their surrounding. In his opinion this had been "the first step in a static mentality that crept into and eventually destroyed the usefulness of the Imperial legions" (p. 6). But as the military conflicts until Late Antiquity show, the Roman army did not lose its efficiency by any means; it still was a professional instrument of war and in general very successful in its operations. Besides, F. himself lists enough examples of legionary movements in post-Augustan time to preclude the assumption of a "static mentality".

Likewise the heavily moralizing description of Septimius Severus is problematic, especially of his reorganisation of the Praetorian Guard and the enrolment of three new legions during the preparation for his Parthian War. "These two actions removed the best and the bravest [sc. 'centurions'] from the western frontier legions" (p. 11). It may have been the case that centurions were transferred from old legions to the recently added ones for reasons of support, but it is definitely wrong to claim that this would have led to a definite weakening of the remaining legions. In the use of his sources the author sometimes lacks the necessary distance and scepticism. Reports of doubtful character, e.g., Augustus having advised Tiberius on his deathbed not to expand the empire any further or Trajan having won the support of his soldiers before the first Dacian War with the prospect of much gold as booty, are taken for granted and not discussed with the necessary care. In this context an essential problem of this book becomes obvious: F. neither mentions the ancient authors nor modern research literature on which he bases his conclusions, nor does he give any references in his footnotes, so that it is impossible for the reader to verify his statements and critically review his conclusions. Definitely problematic issues appear unambiguous in his book and controversial questions are not discussed.

The second part of his survey is comprised of eight tabular outlines of particular aspects of legions and their dislocation. Basically, the same material is presented in each table, i.e., the dislocation of legions in the Imperium Romanum at different periods of the imperial era. In these tables the focus on the information presented varies with the result that the same facts appear in different categories in each table. It also needs to be pointed out that--with the exception of table G--the headlines of the chapters correspond to those in the index only in respect to content, not literally.

Table A (pp. 15-25) provides a list of the legions with the history of their names and their locations based on the numerical order of the legions. Table B (pp. 26-31) contains a list of the legionary bases and the history of their occupancy arranged according to the modern place names. Table C (pp. 32-33) comprises an index of the Latin and modern names of the bases (Latin/English and vice versa). Table D (pp. 34-41) gives an overview of the relocations of legions in all the regions of the Imperium Romanum during imperial times (31 B.C.-300 AD), which had become necessary because of important military events. Table E (pp. 42-93) is the most extensive, subdivided into regions and supplemented with numerous maps. Maps of each region show the distribution of the legions at different points in time. Table F (p. 94) briefly lists legions that perished, were disbanded or realigned between 30 B.C. and 250 AD. Table G (pp. 95-97) summarizes the distribution of the legions proceeding from an arrangement according to provinces. Table H (pp. 98-109) contains a substantial timetable with a detailed listing of significant military historical events (campaigns, battles, rebellions).

Many of the data in the tabular outlines are contradictory, which results from the fact that the author--as mentioned above--never gives any references. Particularly with regard to the periods in which legions were stationed at certain garrisons, F.'s survey can only be used for rough orientation. For detailed examinations of single legions or their positionings the interested reader will still have to rely on the specific research literature available. The cartographical material, on the other hand, is extremely useful for a quick orientation in terms of a general review. The chronological tables are extensive, but controversial dating is not indicated, so that each date needs to be verified. From a methodological point of view it should be mentioned that the restriction to the imperial era has not been handled consistently. In the list of the positioning of the legions (Table B), especially, various legionary bases are found and their history until Late Antiquity is presented.

In five appendices, attached to the tables of the monograph, the author deals with details concerning the Roman army. Each of the chapters ("The origin of the Augustan legions", "The importance of the legion's name", "The legionary eagles", "The tactics of territorial expansion", "When and why were legions disbanded") is concisely written and provides essentially a good synopsis of the different topics named. Merely the appendix on the "tactics of territorial expansion" cannot suffice. On the basis of examples from Scotland and Germany to the east of the Rhine, F. postulates that the Roman expansion in these territories was not successful because of the lack of political institutions and authorities in these under-developed regions. In his opinion the Romans were not able to establish their authority in backward areas.

This interpretation underrates the importance of the substantial tribal organizations as well as the existence of elites within individual clans. Furthermore, numerous examples can be given where the Romans succeeded in subjugating less developed nations and integrating them into the Imperium Romanum (e.g., the conquest of Spain under the Republic). In addition, the author's thesis cannot explain the failure of the Roman expansion in the East in the context of the long drawn out military conflict with the Parthians or Sassanids. Moreover, F. mentions the installation of "Client Kings" in the East, which he does not mark as a temporary phenomenon, but as a constant during the imperial era. It is also methodologically questionable that F. makes assumptions about the loss of population from war on the side of the Roman enemies, but draws only on information from republican times.

A select bibliography (120-121), which takes the relevant studies of the dislocation of the legions into consideration, rounds off the book. Certainly a few publications might be missing, but given the abundance of the research literature it is understandable that F. needed to make a selection.

F. fails to meet his own claim of presenting a well-founded survey of the dislocation of the imperial Roman legions based on a synthesis of the present state of the art. His study is sufficient for a rough and cursory orientation; any profound treatment of the subject, however, is ruled out by F.'s decision to dispense with references. This is the essential deficiency of the monograph. It is also unfortunate that the partially moralizing interpretations, subjective evaluations as well as methodical inconsistencies decrease the value of F.'s survey. For, in spite of the deficiencies it must be observed that the author invested a lot of time and work in his book and has thoroughly examined the English as well as the French and German research. This book cannot be recommended for the above-mentioned reasons. In questions about the dislocation of the Roman legions the reader still needs to be referred to the numerous studies on specific legions or provinces. The effort to research the literature will be worthwhile.

Corrections and Annotations:

In addition to basic problems with the monograph identified above, some corrections and annotations need to be made.

p. 15: (about I Adiutrix) symbol -- Capricorn + pegasus instead of just Capricorn

p. 16: (about II Adiutrix) symbol -- pegasus + boar instead of just pegasus

p. 17: (about II Italica) symbol -- she-wolf + capricorn instead of just she-wolf

p. 18: (about III Augusta) symbol -- pegasus + capricorn instead of just pegasus

p. 21: (about VII Gemina) symbol -- not known instead of not specified

p. 22: (about XI) the correct name is: XI Claudia Pia Fidelis

p. 23: (about XV Apollinaris) symbol -- Apollo? and/or griffon? instead of not known

p. 24: (about XX Valeria Victrix) symbol -- boar + capricorn instead of just boar

p. 27: Cephae instead of Cefae

p. 27+28: Scythia/ Scythia Minor instead of Scythica Minor

p. 28: Mainz and Mainz-Weisenau are treated as two different entries.

p. 32: Apamea instead of Apamca; Apud Aram Ubiorum (even better: Colonia Agrippina) instead of Apud arum Ubiorum; Danaba = Homs instead of Danaba = Damascus; Fectio instead of Fechtio; (more common) Mogontiacum instead of Moguntiacum; Nikopolis instead of Nicopolis; (more common) Bostra instead of Nova Trajana Bostra; Petavonium instead of Paetavonium; Tilurium = Trilj [Delminium = Gardun] instead of Tilurium = Gardun; Troesmis instead of Troesmi; Viminacium instead of Viminiacum

p. 34: 27 B.C. The division of the previous province Macedonia into Macedonia and Achaea dates to 27 B.C. Macedonia had been a Roman province since 148 B.C.

p. 34: 15-14 B.C. XI from Gardun, Illyricum opens Kostolac, Macedonia; until about 45 A.D. Macedonia and Moesia were an administrative unit--therefore the name Macedonia should be used systematically. Cf. the following correction.

p. 35: 9-10 A.D. XI from Kostolac, Moesia. . .

p. 37: 72-73 A.D. (1.) Cappadocia had been a Roman province since 17 A.D.; (2.) in principle a division into Syria and Iudaea can be assumed for this time, but the name of the province Syria Palaestina appears first under Hadrian (135).

p. 40: 274 A.D. Zenobias' victory over the legio III Cyrenaica must have occurred earlier (at the end of 269?), because Zenobias' defeat by Aurelian can be dated to 272.

p. 43: 9 B.C. The assertion that the expansion into Germany was abandoned after the death of Drusus is utterly wrong, because campaigns with offensive character continued until at least 9 A.D.

p. 60: 27 B.C. About the provincial history of Macedonia see above on p. 34.

p. 81: 6 A.D. Regarding the province Galatia one should speak about pacification (in a military sense), because it was integrated into the Imperium peacefully.

p. 81: 72 A.D. About the provincial history of Cappadocia see above on p. 37.

p. 94: II Italica was established in 165 for Marcus Aurelius' Danubian campaigns and the war against the Marcomanni; northern campaign is imprecise. p. 94: V Alaudae possibly also disbanded in 70/71 and not destroyed by the Dacians in 86

p. 94: VII Galbiana is called legio VII Gemina in the list of the legions (p. 21); it also appears as legio VII Hispana; Galbiana seems to only have been the name by which it was commonly called.

p. 94: IX Hispana did possibly not perish after 121 in Britain but perhaps later (Bar-Kohba Rebellion).

p. 94: XXI Rapax possibly already perished in the Dacian war in 86, not in Trajan's first Dacian war in 102.

p. 98: 28-26 B.C. Messalla instead of Mesalla; battles in Aquitania are more likely dated to 29 B.C.

p. 98: 23 B.C. Aulus [instead of Marcus] Terentius Varro Murena

p. 100: 53 A.D. C. [instead of G.] Manilius Valens

p. 101: 69 A.D. conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in 70, not in 69

p. 101: 71 A.D. Quintus Petilius Cerialis Caesius [instead of Cassius] Rufus

p. 102: 73-74 A.D. Cn. [instead of Gn.] Pinarius Cornelius Clemens

p. 102: 77-78 A.D. Q. Iulius Cordinus Rutilius Gallicus [instead of C. Rutilius Gallicus]

p. 102: 86 A.D. Cn. [instead of Gn.] Suellius Flaccus

p. 102: 88 A.D. L. Tettius Iulianus [instead of Tettius Julianus]

p. 102: 111 A.D. Lusius [instead of Lucius] Quietus (likewise p. 103 on 117-118 A.D.), besides, the destruction of Edessa dates into the year 116.

p. 103: 161 A.D. Vologaises III. [instead of I.] defeats L. Attidius Cornelianus in Syria

p. 104: 170 A.D. Marcomanni [instead of Chatti] invade Italy and burn Opitergium

p. 105: 197-202 A.D. The Parthian War dates into the years of 197-199.

p. 105: 223 A.D. Probably the defeat of the Parthian king Artabanos V. against the Sassanid Ardashir in 224 is meant.

p. 105: 231-233 A.D. After the end of the Parthian empire it should be correctly called the invasion of the Sassanids (New-Persians) under Ardashir.

p. 105: 235 A.D. The Parthians do not conquer Mesopotamia, but the Sassanids conquer Bactria. The contemporary Sassanid invasion of Mesopotamia is dated to the year 237.

p. 105: 238 A.D. Maximinus is not defeated with his troops during the siege of Aquileia, but murdered by his own troops.

p. 106: 249 A.D. Philippus the Arab is defeated by Decius at Verona in Italy [instead of Macedonia] and killed in the battle.

p. 106: 252 A.D. Trebonianus Gallus also is murdered by his own soldiers and not killed by Aemilianus.

p. 108: 274 A.D. The defeat of Tetricius' army is correct; it should be added that Tetricius surrendered to Aurelian before the battle.

p. 108: 284 A.D. Carinus defeats Marcus Aurelius Sabinus Julianus at Verona [instead of in Pannonia]

p. 108: 285 A.D. Carinus is not defeated, but in principle gains the victory against Diokletian; however, he is murdered by mutineers in his own army.

p. 109: 296 A.D. Constantius I. [instead of Asclepiodotus] defeats Allectus.


1.   E. Ritterling, s.v. legio, RE XII (1924/25) 1211-1829. The literature on the dislocation of the Roman troops has become so voluminous in the meantime, that it is difficult to stay abreast. An important review of the state of the scholarship with respect to individual imperial legions is presented in the congress-report from Lyon of the year 2000; Y. Le Bohec (ed.), Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire. 3 vols. Lyon 2000.

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