Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.59 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.59

David L. Kennedy, Settlement and Soldiers in the Roman Near East. Variorum collected studies series, CS 1032.   Farnham; Burlington,VT:  Ashgate, 2013.  Pp. 300.  ISBN 9781409464365.  $165.00.  

Reviewed by Nigel Pollard, Swansea University (

Table of Contents

David Kennedy has made a crucial contribution to the study of the Roman East that now spans four decades. While this volume reprints only a small sample of his vast and distinguished output (and significant areas of this are absent, Zeugma, for example), and is a rather mixed selection in terms of subject matter, it provides a convenient collection of important articles that illustrate his range and key themes of his work, namely the Roman army in the East and urban and rural settlement in the region. They also illustrate Kennedy’s expertise in both written and archaeological evidence, and the impressive range of methodological and theoretical approaches employed in his research.

The volume is organized into three sections, titled ‘The Roman Near East’, ‘Settlement’, and ‘Soldiers’, with the soldiers taking up nearly half of the book. Since the linking themes are broad ones rather than presenting detailed arguments that can be followed through the whole book, it is perhaps most useful to single out particular highlights from each section.

The Roman Near East

While the first paper, a 2006 review article focused on Maurice Sartre’s The Middle East under Rome, introduces some important themes that run through the volume (diversity of identity in the region and the crucial role of archaeology in studying and defining it), the second piece, ‘Demography, the population of Syria and the census of Q. Aemilius Secundus’, reprinted from Levant (2006) is a particularly good one to demonstrate the range of Kennedy’s interests and expertise. While centred on a discussion of CIL III, 6687 (ILS 2683), which records the involvement of an equestrian auxiliary officer in Quirinius’ census of Syro-Palestine in AD 6, Kennedy places the inscription in the context of recent scholarship on demography and its centrality in the study of the ancient economy. He also brings to bear archaeological evidence from both urban and rural Syria to evaluate the past and present contexts of the inscription. The inscription provides rare numerical information on for the population of a Roman city, recording that the census officer counted 117,000 individuals in the territory of Apamea. Kennedy convincingly argues that this figure represents a “high count” that includes almost all the free inhabitants of the city and its rural chora rather than a narrow one composed of (for example) just enfranchised adult males, as argued by Cumont and others. Kennedy adduces evidence from the urban and rural archaeology of the region to demonstrate the implausibility of a population of half a million or so inhabitants of Apamene (implied by Cumont’s figures) while acknowledging, in conclusion, the limitations of applying a static and undifferentiated number when confronting the problem of ancient demography in a wider sense.


‘The identity of Roman Gerasa: an archaeological approach’, from a 1997 conference in Canberra, reiterates Kennedy’s view that archaeology produces a much more complex and diverse picture of identity than studies (such as Fergus Millar’s) based largely on written evidence. He examines environment, rural settlement (‘the less dramatic and largely unseen developments’), and urban archaeology to demonstrate how these factors (and their accretion over the centuries) led to considerable local variation in the character of cities and their territories, even within the Decapolis. ‘The Frontier of Settlement in Roman Arabia: Gerasa to Umm el-Jimal… and beyond’, from Mediterraneo Antico 3.2 (2000) examines in detail a ‘slice’ of Roman Arabia, from the fertile hinterland of Gerasa, through the steppe town of Umm el-Jimal and into the desert proper to take a fascinating look at the relationship between sedentary and nomadic populations. It considers environmental factors, rural settlement, urban development and military deployment. Kennedy discusses the intensification of civilian settlement in marginal areas in (broadly speaking) the Roman period, and its relationship to the considerable evidence for Roman militarisation of the region in (particularly) the Severan period. He argues that the civilian occupation may have pre-dated the military presence and suggests that initial settlement and sedentarisation were perhaps relatively peaceful, but provoked longer-term problems with nomads that required the later deployment of Roman garrisons. A third paper reprinted in this part of the book (from JFA 22.3, 1995) examines the issue of ‘Water supply and use in the Southern Hauran, Jordan’.


This part of the volume is largely made up of older contributions, mostly from the 1980s, many of which were fundamental in developing our knowledge of the Roman army in the eastern provinces. Most are based on epigraphic and literary evidence. For example, ‘Legio VI Ferrata: The Annexation and Early Garrison of Arabia’ (from HSCP 84, 1980) sets out some of the evidence relating to the complex question of the deployment of the legions in the eastern provinces in the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian. It particularly follows III Cyrenaica, from Egypt to Arabia, then back to Egypt and finally back to Arabia and VI Ferrata from Samosata in Commagene to Arabia and then to Syria Palaestina. While more recent evidence (from Saudi Arabia and Israel, among other places) has provided a more detailed picture of the deployment of these legions, none of it undermines Kennedy’s principal arguments, and the paper remains fundamental. The same applies to ‘The Garrisoning of Mesopotamia in the Late Antonine and Early Severan Period’ (Antichthon 21, 1987), which examines the implications of Severan expansion for the existing legions of Syria as well as the legions I Parthica (based at Singara) and III Parthica (Kennedy argues, entirely plausibly, for Nisibis), newly raised in 194/5. ‘ ”Europaean” Soldiers and the Severan Siege of Hatra’ (from Kennedy and Philip Freeman’s 1986 volume The Defence of the Roman and Byzantine East disputes Michael Speidel’s view that Cassius Dio’s reference (76.12.3-5) to elite but mutinous troops at Severus’ second siege of Hatra as Europaioi alludes to elements of the garrison of Dura-Europos. Kennedy follows the traditional interpretation of the term, that they were European troops, perhaps from Moesia, rightly presenting the ineffectiveness of the Syrian troops there (Dio’s Suroi) in the light of their recent defeats in support of Niger and their limited experience of siege warfare rather than the literary topos of the general laxity of eastern legions. ‘The military contribution of Syria to the Roman imperial army’, from David French and Christopher Lightfoot’s 1989 volume The Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire provides an important overview of the rather scattered evidence for recruitment of individual Syrians and of Syrian auxiliary units to the Roman army, emphasizing the extent to which this contribution has been underestimated, partly due to the ancient prejudice against easterners as soldiers. Of the four other papers in this part of the collection, only one (‘The special command of M. Valerius Lollianus’, from a 1997 volume edited by Edward Dabrowa) is perhaps unsatisfying, not because its argument (that the inscription naming Lollianus as praepositus of a group of alae and cohortes equitatae in Mesopotamia relates to unrest on the Parthian frontier in c. AD123) is inherently implausible, but because it is intricate but remains essentially hypothetical, as Kennedy himself admits in the five pages of addenda and reflection that round off the book.

Overall, the quality of the papers is excellent, and all of them are well worth reprinting and re-reading. Their selection in terms of subject matter seems a little uneven, although they do serve to illustrate the range of Kennedy’s output and expertise, as already noted. The volume is fairly expensive for a collection of reprints, particularly when many readers will be able to access the papers in their original publications. The brief preface and addenda by the author himself, while providing useful updates, do not add much to the book. However, for a reader who has yet to encounter this material, or for a library lacking the original versions (the 1980s BAR volumes in particular may be hard to find now), this volume is invaluable and strongly recommended.

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