Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.04.34

Armin Eich (ed.), Die Verwaltung der kaiserzeitlichen römischen Armee. Studien für Hartmut Wolff. Historia-Einzelschriften 211.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2010.  Pp. 210.  ISBN 9783515094207.  €54.00.  

Reviewed by Everett L. Wheeler, Duke University (


The nine papers (listed below) constitute the acta of a Tagung (16-17 February 2007) at the University of Passau honoring Prof. Hartmut Wolff, initial holder (1980-2007) of that university’s Chair of Ancient History. Prof. Wolff’s keen interests in Roman administrative, military, and social history suggested the theme of military administration. But like many Festschriften, this volume’s cohesion is elusive and not aided by the banal Vorwort’s twin definitions of the theme: the Roman army both as a self-administered organization and as the central government’s instrument for control of the Empire. Instead of a proper introduction, the editor’s overly long and tedious essay, in some ways attempts to bend the work’s contents into his own sociological perspectives and to disguise the variegated contents. As is often the case in such works, the value of individual papers lies in the beholder’s eye. Some papers largely recycle previously published work (Eich, Stauner) or somewhat duplicate forthcoming efforts (Speidel). Other papers (Palme, Leppin) adequately describe a theme with little or no novelty and without really proving a thesis. Sometimes “documents-ology” is also evident, i.e., epigraphical and papyrological texts as ends in themselves, as opposed to their auxiliary use for larger historical investigations.

Nevertheless, the volume’s real significance may lie not in studies of military administration, but in its contributions to various controversies—not least the Roman strategy debate, which involves not only military policy but also the degree of centralized control in the Empire.1 Despite efforts in some circles to “primitivize” Roman government and to reduce real decisions to regional or local levels, contributors to this volume stress centralized control and uniformity. Stauner’s demonstration of the immense amount of “paperwork” generated within administration of even a single army unit speaks for the general uniformity of documents and procedures throughout the army,2 as does Haensch’s impressive treatment of administrative control and the significance of counter-signatures on documents at different bureaucratic levels in Roman Egypt. Eck’s useful discussion of military diplomas for issues of recruitment shows the coordination between “central command” at Rome and provincial governors, after their armies had suffered significant losses, in re-filling the ranks from the manpower of other provinces. Further, the frequent use (contrary to some assumptions) of the dilectus, especially in the 2nd c., indicates centralized supervision.

Hotly contested, however, remains the issue of provisioning the army with food, arms, and clothing, whether the system was centralized, local, or some combination of the two. Contrary to Vegetius’ view of an essentially autarkic legion, Herz’s treatment of the production and distribution of arms and equipment (chiefly) on the Rhine frontier demonstrates that making arms and armor was too labor-intensive for legions to produce their own, although local (civilian) and intra-legionary repairs and modifications to equipment manufactured elsewhere occurred. The original production site could in fact be close to the frontier. Indeed the degree of symbiosis between army units and local populations, well treated for the Rhine frontier by Bender, speaks against the “army of occupation” arguments of the “no strategy” school, even if those arguments chiefly drew inspiration from conditions in Semitic areas of the East. But arguments for the army as an isolated element within a local population, the “total institution” perspective, have already also been refuted for the eastern army.3 The army’s supposed exploitation of local populations creating hostility also makes no sense in Bender’s view: why should the army bite the hand that feeds it? In peacetime at least applications for admission to the army far exceeded the slots available (Eck, p.93)—hardly a sign of hostility.

If a short review precludes comments on all the papers, some observations may be recorded. In Eich’s paper Max Weber (on bureaucracy) meets the Roman army—not always happily. Efforts to bend the evidence into Weberian modes often argue the obvious with much special pleading to excuse evidence not fitting the model. An unnecessarily abstract comparison, for example, of the difference in the army’s larger role in thinly populated areas like Bu Njem (Gholaia, 300 km south of Lepcis Magna) and its minimal presence in the province of Asia overlooks the simple point that the former site is on a frontier at the Sahara’s edge. For Eich the army is very much a Staat im Staat despite lacking the professional officer corps characteristic of modern militarism. Arguments about transfer of the military model of organization to other areas of Roman administration and the militarization of the Roman state from the 3rd c. on lead to some slippery slopes.4 The case for Roman mints (p.34) does not fit the evidence. If some military titles were transferred to civilian posts in the 3rd and 4th cc., identification of a “military term/title” is often very problematic, as the author realizes (e.g. praefectus, dispensator). Extension of the army’s duties into non-military domains reflected in part the lack of a sufficiently large civilian administrative apparatus, but a potential modern comparison is missed: the frequency of military dictatorships in the so-called “Third World” of the 1950s and 1960s, where army officers could be the chief educated element of the population and the army the only efficient tool for even non-military tasks.

Readers should also be aware that Stauner’s analysis of army “paperwork,” relies on hypothetical entities (Tabularium, Quaestura, Arma, Victus, Vestimenta, Valetudinarium), often thematically combining the practices of different administrative units and agents. The neat “flow chart” of communications (Tafel 3) is simplistic and its four different types of arrows indicating channels of information transfer are not defined.

Eck’s attempts to explain mass discharges from the auxilia in the 150s are convincing for those mass recruitments of twenty-five years earlier necessitated by losses in the Jewish War (132-136), but less so for other cases. Not all such mass discharges have a creditable explanation on present evidence. As Eck now abandons his view of Hadrian’s visit in 128 spurring a mass recruiting drive in Mauretania Tingitana, he should also do so for the similar case of Hadrian’s visit to Moesia Superior in 132. The cohors I Dacorum, as he notes, raised in 104, had to be “restocked” in 129. Barring excessive losses from battle or plague, recruitment for the auxilia ran in twenty-five-year cycles. Thus the mass discharges/recruitment in Moesia Superior for 132 would reflect replenishing Moesian units in 107 at the end of Trajan’s Dacian wars, and those discharged in 107 perhaps responded to heavy recruiting in 82, the time of a minor Dacian war (81-82), seen in an unusual “two-province” diploma and foreshadowing Domitian’s conflict 84-89.5

Speidel reexamines the Danube-Euphrates nexus for the Severan era of Parthian wars with particular attention to Aulutrene (near Phrygian Apamea), a station manned by a vexillatio Aulutrenesis, and Syrian Zeugma, from which he offers the text of a new gravestone (found 2003) of a soldier of the legion II Adiutrix, based at Aquincum (Pannonia Inferior). As plausibly argued, stamped tiles at Zeugma of Danubian legions sent to the East may indicate construction of more permanent quarters, a phenomenon paralleled by the camp of the II Parthica at Syrian Apamea. The frequency of Danubian troops traversing Asia Minor for Severan Parthian wars may indeed have led to a “regularization” of the route in the late 2nd and early 3rd cc. and an improved infrastructure, but the historical background of the development is lacking in Speidel’s rebuttal of Maurice Sartre’s assertion of the army’s lack of influence in Asia Minor. Erick Gren (although often criticized) studied economic aspects of the Danube-Euphrates nexus in 1941 and the massive Flavian efforts in road building (on a traditional interpretation) drew inspiration from the failure of the legion V Macedonica to reach the Euphrates from Moesia in time for Caesennius Paetus’ Armenian operations in 62.6 Severan developments only continuedor improved earlier efforts. The Danube-Euphrates nexus and its ramifications are not new discoveries.

Other scholars should join the contributors in celebrating Prof. Wolff’s career. The volume’s brief Vorwort, however, recognizes the honoree only in a cursory final paragraph—hardly the laudatio expected in a celebratory tome. Regrettably, Prof. Wolff’s many useful contributions, often not well-known outside Germany, are not listed, thus depriving posterity of a valuable bibliographic tool. But no doubt students of Roman administration and documents will find elements of interest in this volume’s wide variety of papers and themes.7

Table of Contents

Armin Eich, Die Verwaltung der kaiserzeitlichen Armee. Zur Bedeutung militärischer Verwaltungsstrukturen in der Kaiserzeit für die administrative Entwicklung des Imperium Romanum, 9-36

Konrad Stauner, Rationes ad milites pertinentes: Organisation und Funktion der Binnenadministration militärischer Einheiten in der Frühen und Hohen Kaiserzeit, 37-85

Werner Eck, Friedenssicherung und Krieg in der römischen Kaiserzeit. Wie ergänzt man das römische Heer? 87-110

Peter Herz, Die Versorgung der römischen Armee mit Waffen und Ausrüstung, 111-32

Michael Alexander Speidel, Auf kürzestem Weg und gut verpflegt an die Front. Zur Versorgung pannonischer Expeditionstruppen während der severischen Partherkriege, 133-47

Bernhard Palme, Militärs in der administrativen Kontrolle der Bevölkerung im römischen Ägypten, 149-64

Helmut Bender, Die römische Armee und ihr Einfluss auf Produktion und Bevorratung im zivilen Bereich. Archäologische Beispiele aus den nordwestlichen Provinzen des Imperium Romanum, 165-76

Rudolf Haensch, Kontrolle und Verantwortlichkeit von officiales in Prinzipat und Spätantike, 177-86

Hartmut Leppin, Truppenergänzungen in einer außergewöhnlichen Situation: Theodosius der Große und die Rekrutierungen nach Adrianopel, 187-99


1.   For the current state of this question see E.L. Wheeler, “Rome’s Dacian Wars: Domitian, Trajan, and Strategy on the Danube, Part II,” Journal of Military History 75 (2011) 191-219.
2.   Cf. his Das offizielle Schriftwesen des römischen Heeres von Augustus bis Gallienus (27 v.Chr.-268 n.Chr.) (Bonn 2004).
3.   O. Stoll, Zwischen Integration und Abgrenzung: Die Religion des Römischen Heeres im Nahen Osten (St. Katharinen 2001), rebutting N. Pollard, Soldiers, Cities, and Civilians in Roman Syria (Ann Arbor 2000), inspired by (e.g.) B. Shaw, “Soldiers and Society: The Army in Numidia.” Opus 2.1 (1983) 133-59.
4.   Brother Peter Eich’s paper is unsurprisingly endorsed: “Militarisierung und Demilitarisierung im dritten Jahrhundert n.Chr.,” in L. de Blois/ E. Lo Cascio, edd., The Impact of the Roman Army (200 BC-AD 476) (Leiden 2007) 509-28.
5.   See Wheeler (supra n.1) 209-10.
6.   E. Gren, Kleinasien und der Ostbalkan in der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung der römischen Kaiserzeit (Uppsala 1941).
7.   The volume is by no means free of misprints and erroneous citations, but none attain “howler” status.

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