BMCR 1995.02.19

1995.02.19, Also Seen: Vegetius

Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993. Pp. 152. $16.95.

Vegetius is an author notoriously difficult to use as an historical source, although the information contained within this work ensures that it is indispensable to any student of the Roman army. While this technical treatise dates to the last decades of the fourth century or first half of the fifth century CE, the author compiled earlier military works, almost certainly including Cato’s second century BCE de Re Militari. Hence the work includes information on the Roman army and military institutions from a number of distinct and different phases of their development. It is difficult for a non-specialist reader to disentangle the chronological threads within Vegetius’ writing, and so Milner’s new translation of the Epitoma Rei Militaris, with a useful introduction and excellent notes, is of tremendous value in making the work more accessible to a wider audience of general historians, non-classical military historians, and students.

The core of Milner’s work is a sensible and readable translation of Vegetius’ treatise. Technical terminology either is given in Latin in the body of the translation and translated and glossed in a note, or vice versa, translated, with the Latin in the notes. What makes this translation particularly usable is the useful introduction and extensive annotation. The introduction includes a brief summary of Vegetian scholarship, Milner himself taking the view that the Epitome‘is a “scissors and paste” mosaic of other works excerpted and arranged according to the epitomator’s own system … extensively augmented and interpreted by the epitomator (xvi-xvii),’ rather than a ‘faithful summary of other works, preserving their general order and arrangement’ (xvi). Milner’s proposed date for the Epitome is the reign of Theodosius I, although he provides a useful summary of the chronological arguments that have led others to propose later dates. The notes are thorough and provide helpful and up-to-date bibliography on military and other matters. As mentioned above, these notes do a particularly good job of disentangling the different periods of the Roman army’s development, Republican, early and middle Imperial and late Imperial, represented in Vegetius’ writing.

Milner is to be congratulated on producing what is by far the best English translation of Vegetius available, and one that will be of tremendous value to anyone with an interest in the Roman army and Latin technical manuals.