Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.10.74 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.10.74

Catherine Wolff, Patrice Faure (ed.), Les auxiliaires de l'armée romaine: des alliés aux fédérés. Collection Études et recherches sur l'occident romain - CEROR, 51.   Lyon:  CEROR, 2016.  Pp. 796.  ISBN 9782364420731.  €70.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by François Gauthier, McGill University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This collection of 27 essays in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish is based on the sixth Lyon Conference held in October 2014, which aimed at correcting an injustice inflicted upon non-Roman soldiers who, despite their contribution to the Roman army, have been often neglected by modern historiography (p. 11). The work participates in a contemporary change in research on auxiliaries, as illustrated by I. Haynes’ recent book on this topic as well as the expected monograph by J. Prag.1 All contributors agreed to dedicate the volume to the memory of D. B. Saddington, who passed away in 2011 and whose research greatly contributed to our understanding of auxiliaries.

In addition to an introduction by P. Faure and Y. Le Bohec offering a general tour d’horizon as well as a brief literature review on auxiliaries, the volume has three chronologically arranged parts. Given the extensive epigraphic and archaeological evidence available for the Principate, the part dealing with that period is by far the longest. It is divided into four sections covering more than 300 pages.

The contributions of the first part cover the republican period up to Augustus. F. Cadiou’s paper challenges the common view that citizen cavalry ceased to exist in the first century BCE, arguing that the sources’ emphasis on auxilia externa has too often led modern scholars to forget about references to equites Romani. M. A. Speidel’s contribution traces the origins of the imperial auxiliary forces to the civil wars of the late republic and offers a useful inquiry into late republican and early imperial auxiliary recruitment, organization, and financing.

The first section of the second part, Les auxilia, l’armée et l’empereur, comprises the papers of W. Eck and P. Le Roux. Building on decades of research, Eck highlights the very diverse nature of recruitment for auxiliary units. While interesting, the contribution of Le Roux, who was not able attend the conference, on the emperor and war does not address the auxilia specifically.

The five papers of the section Le recrutement et l’histoire des troupes bring to light the highly cosmopolitan nature of the Roman imperial army. For example, an auxiliary unit raised in Thrace might be moved to Syria and reinforced by local recruitment there. B. Rossignol ends this section with his essay arguing that the military crises under Marcus Aurelius were met with what should be described more as adaptation rather than innovation as far as auxiliary recruitment is concerned.

The third section of the second part, Aspects des tâches, du fonctionnement et de la vie des auxilia, contains five essays dealing with various specific aspects pertaining to garrison duty and provincial life of the auxilia. P. Cosme demonstrates the existence of a well-organized archival system to keep track of remounts in cavalry units. M. F. Petraccia argues that the extensive depictions of auxiliaries on Trajan’s column were a way to acknowledge their participation in the victory in the Dacian campaigns. G. Baratta’s and M. Popescu’s essays focus on the religious peculiarities of the auxilia.

Provincial and local enquiries on auxiliaries in Spain, Africa, Italy, and Illyria are the focus of the five essays in the last section of the second part, Approches locales et régionales. These contributions greatly rely on archaeology and epigraphy to give a picture of the composition and evolution of different auxiliary provincial garrisons, mostly during the early empire, providing a closer look at units located far away from the better-known legionary fortresses.

The third and last part covers the third century and late antiquity. In his paper, J.-M. Carrié felt obliged to address first the abuse of the term limes by modern scholars to describe a uniform defensive system that did not exist. He also strongly disagrees with concepts of ‘grand strategy’, ‘defense in depth’, the idea that limitanei were ineffective peasant-soldiers, and that comitatenses were a central mobile army accompanying the emperor. While I agree with all his conclusions, Carrié’s fierce defense of his arguments could have been done with a somewhat milder tone.3 Moreover, I feel that Carrié’s views are now commonly accepted by the scientific community, though it is true that they were not in many of the late 20th century studies he discusses.4 That being said, Carrié’s paper does a particularly good job of highlighting the progress in scholarly discussions about key issues pertaining to the late Roman army.

In his paper, M. Petitjean argues that, contrary to what is commonly assumed, the proportion of cavalry in the army did not dramatically increase during the third century CE. The biggest increase in the ratio of cavalry to infantry actually took place during the late republic and early empire. In fact, many units considered as being raised from scratch in the third century CE actually originated from detachments drawn from existing units.

G. Sartor’s paper looks at what scholars commonly call foederati despite the rare occurrence of that term in the sources. Most of the paper discusses how the foederati were enlisted, how they fought, and how they were paid and supplied by the Roman state. Sartor argues that the gentes foederatae did not have much independence from imperial power and had to comply with its orders. This is to an extent true but it seems to me that this conclusion largely overlooks the fact that gentes foederatae, at least in the west, ended up gaining the upper hand in the balance of power vis-à-vis their imperial employer. Sartor summarizes this with the following: “Si le phénomène [i. e. the use of foederati] échappa au contrôle du pouvoir impérial en Occident, il pourrait avoir inspiré des solutions au pouvoir impérial oriental dans l’organisation thématique byzantine […]” (p. 573). However, he does not address why this loss of control occurred. Perhaps this was not possible given the format since it would have necessitated significant lengthening of the paper.

The volume includes an extensive bibliography of nearly 100 pages as well as an index of ancient sources and auxiliary units, making it easier to consult for research.

A recurrent theme throughout the volume is that of terminology. Indeed, the sometimes imprecise nature of the terms used by our sources can be frustrating to the modern historian eager to neatly categorize everything. For example, socii in the republican period will most often be associated with the Italian allies but the word could also be applied to non- Italian soldiers fighting for Rome. Moreover auxilia, when encountered in late imperial sources, can refer to a great variety of unit types. Most contributors acknowledge that prudence is required with terminology regarding auxiliaries.

Of course, the volume could not be expected to answer every question pertaining to auxilia. However, I was surprised that there was not more discussion in the third section of the impact of the inclusion of foreigners in the late Roman army. In light of the debate about the efficiency of the late Roman army, I think this would have been useful. J.-M. Carrié very briefly mentions the loaded term ‘barbarization’ but that is about it (p. 453).

That being said, these are minor quibbles and they do not take away from the fact that this is a volume of high quality. Along with Haynes’s recent book, Les auxiliaires de l'armée romaine: des alliés aux fédérés is sure to become a standard work of reference for research on auxiliaries.

Table of Contents

Introduction et mise en perspective
Patrice Faure, Les auxiliaires de l’armée romaine : une introduction
Yann Le Bohec, Sur les auxiliaires de l’armée romaine : des alliés aux fédérés
Chapitre 1. Les alliés de Rome, de la République à Auguste
Giovanni Brizzi, Socii et auxilia
François Cadiou, Cavalerie auxiliaire et cavalerie légionnaire dans l’armée romaine au Ier s. a.C
Michael Alexander Speidel, Actium, Allies, and the Augustan Auxilia: Reconsidering the Transformation of Military Structures and Foreign Relations in the Reign of Augustus
Patrick Sänger, “In conclusion, Rome did not disarm Egypt”: Some Critical Notes on Livia Capponi’s Depiction of Roman Military Policy in late Ptolemaic and Augustan Egypt
Chapitre 2. Les auxilia du Principat
A – Les auxilia, l’armée et l’empereur
Werner Eck, Die Entwicklung der Auxiliareinheiten als Teil des römischen Heeres in der frühen und hohen Kaiserzeit: eine Teilsynthese
Patrick Le Roux, Les empereurs romains et la guerre
B – Le recrutement et l’histoire des troupes
Dan Dana, Recrutement, prosopographie et onomastique au miroir de trois unités auxiliaires
Everett L. Wheeler, Parthian Auxilia in the Roman Army Part I: From the Late Republic to c. 70 A.D.
Christophe Schmidt Heidenreich, Les unités palmyréniennes de l’armée romaine : une approche historique
Agnès Groslambert, Les unités de Numides dans l’armée romaine sous le Haut-Empire
Benoît Rossignol, Nouvelles unités auxiliaires et troupes de renforts dans les guerres du règne de Marc Aurèle
C – Aspects des tâches, du fonctionnement et de la vie des auxilia
François Bérard, À propos de la garnison des provinces sans légions
Pierre Cosme, Les archives de la cavalerie auxiliaire
Maria Federica Petraccia, Gli ausiliari nelle guerre Daciche e loro rappresentazione sulla colonna Traiana
Giulia Baratta, Imaginarii uel imaginiferi: note sul ruolo e le funzioni dei portatori di imagines
Mihai Popescu, Des dieux et des troupes : autour des dédicaces collectives des auxiliaires danubiens
D – Approches locales et régionales
Juan José Palao Vicente, En torno a algunas tropas auxiliares en Hispania durante el Alto Imperio. Tropas regulares vs. tropas irregulares
Jean-Pierre Laporte, Notes sur l’armée romaine de Maurétanie césarienne de 40 à 455
Nacéra Benseddik et Jean-Pierre Laporte, Découverte d’une nouvelle inscription à El Bayedh (ex Géryville)
Cecilia Ricci, Cohortes et alae ad Aquileia. Tra epigrafia e storia (I-III secolo d.C.)
Marc Mayer i Olivé, La presencia de militares en Narona, Vid, Metković, Croacia, y las cohortes auxiliares de la zona
Chapitre 3. Les mutations du IIIe siècle et de l’Antiquité tardive
Jean-Michel Carrié, Les formations « auxiliaires » de l’armée romaine tardive : permanence et innovation
Maxime Petitjean, Pour une réévaluation de l’essor de la cavalerie au IIIe siècle
Guillaume Sartor, Les fédérés (foederati) dans les guerres impériales (IIIe-VIe siècles)
Péter Kovács, Notes on the Pannonian foederati


1.   Haynes, I., Blood of the Provinces. The Roman Auxilia and the Making of Provincial Society from Augustus to the Severans, Oxford, 2013.
2.   For example : p. 453, n. 20 on Elton 1996 : “L’argument onomastique invoqué p. 150-151 est des plus fallacieux.”; p. 458: “Dans la bibliographie courante, l’opposition entre armée comitatensis et armée limitanea peut prendre des proportions caricaturales, essentiellement à partir d’une représentation irréaliste de la première. Ainsi chez Treadgold [1995]… ”
3.   For instance: Strobel, K. 2007. “Strategy and Army Structure between Septimius Severus and Constantine the Great,” in P. Erdkamp, (ed.) A Companion to the Roman Army, Oxford, pp. 267-285; Le Bohec, Y. 2006. L’armée romaine sous le Bas-Empire, Paris.

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