BMCR 2001.10.20

Römisches Heer und Gesellschaft (MAVORS Roman Army Researches, Vol. XIII)

, Römisches Heer und Gesellschaft : gesammelte Beiträge 1991-1999. Mavors Roman Army researches ; v. 8. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2001. 522 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3515078177

Although the Roman army has always been a popular topic among ancient historians, in recent years it has attracted considerable scholarly attention, a development at least partially due to the ever-increasing number of military inscriptions discovered throughout the former territory of the Roman empire. Recent works on the Roman military and related topics include H. Elton’s Warfare in Roman Europe. AD 350-425 (1996), M. Speidel’s Die Denkmäler der Kaiserreiter. Equites Singulares Augusti (1994), and the series, MAVORS Roman Army Researches, of which Oliver Stoll’s Römisches Heer und Gesellschaft is the thirteenth volume.

Stoll’s book is mainly a collection of articles previously published in various German periodicals between 1991 and 1999, although four of the eighteen appear for the first time in this volume. It is divided thematically into three sections. The first and longest section, containing eleven articles, is entitled Culture of the Roman Border-Provinces and Religion of the Roman Army. The second section, Hierarchy of Rank and Function contains three articles, while the final section, Army, Economy, Technology, contains four. In his introduction the author states that, in general, the purpose of all of these articles is to demonstrate the close connection and interaction between the Roman army and society, particularly in the frontier regions of the empire (p. 9-10).

While specific comment on every article is beyond the scope of this review, it is useful to concentrate on those that are most interesting, and which best illustrate Stoll’s view of the ‘symbiosis’ between Roman soldiers and civilians. In the third article, ‘Garrison and City in Roman Syria and Arabia’ (p. 59-76), he demonstrates the close interaction between the cities and garrisons in the Greek east through the evidence of local coinage depicting both a particular city’s deity and the ‘mascot’ of the local legion. Coins minted in third-century Samosata, for example, depict both the city-goddess and a winged horse, the latter being the ‘mascot’ of the nearby legio XVI Flavia Firma. As Stoll suggests, the fact that many such coins were minted in the third century may reflect increasing local responsibility for urban defence, a development that bound cities even more closely to local garrisons.

Two of the articles in the first section of the book involve the Roman army’s use of local quarries for the decorative and religious sculpture found in their forts. The second of these, ‘Silvanus in the Quarry. Cult Transfer through Soldiers of the legio IIII Scythica in Syria?’ (p. 222-68), is particularly interesting. As Stoll notes, many scholars in writing of the movement of various religious cults throughout the empire focus on eastern religions, such as that of Jupiter Dolichenus, transferred to the west, but his article provides evidence that the transfer could also occur in the opposite direction. Dedications to Silvanus made in a local Syrian quarry by the legio IIII Scythica, as well as papyri from Dura Europos, indicate that soldiers originally from the western empire (such as the original Gallic and Italian recruits of the legio IIII Scythica) could bring the worship of western deities like Silvanus with them after taking up posts in the eastern empire.

The second section of the book, Hierarchy of Rank and Function, contains perhaps the most interesting article in the volume: ‘Ordinatus Architectus: Roman Military Architects and their Importance for the Transfer of Technology’ (p. 300-368). In this article Stoll first of all points out that architects in the Roman army were not just responsible for the types of building projects we associate with them today but were also entrusted with various military duties, such as the design and maintenance of Roman artillery. Much of the article, however, is concerned with the meaning of the term ‘ordinatus’, as found in a number of inscriptions mentioning ‘ordinati architecti’, and what implications this term might have for the rank of such architects within the Roman army. Stoll concludes that the term ordinatus (also used in connection with other specialists in the army like medici) did not denote a full-fledged promotion to the ordo (rank) of centurion, but merely a salary commensurate with that rank. Specialists like architecti and medici, therefore, received a higher salary reflecting their specialized skills but would not have to perform the ‘mundane’ duties of a regular centurion. Stoll’s discussion has important implications, not just for the rank of architects but also for hierarchy within the Roman army as a whole. Status within the Roman army, as in the case of architecti, did not depend upon a single criterion but was determined by a variety of factors, such as an individual’s length of service, function, pay, and the prestige of one’s unit (centurions of the first cohort, for example, received higher pay than their counterparts in the other cohorts of the legion).

The final section of the volume, Army, Economy, Technology, is mostly concerned with the relationship between Roman soldiers and civilians in the frontier regions of the empire, in particular on both sides of the German limes. In ‘The Transfer of Technology in Roman Antiquity’ (p. 395-420), Stoll discusses the different means by which groups living outside of the empire were able to acquire Roman ‘know-how’, and vice versa. Technology could be transferred on a ‘personal’ basis, as when individual potters set up new workshops outside of the empire, or on a more ‘collective’ basis, such as when various groups at war with Rome gained new technology through prisoners or deserters. The success of German tribes and the Sassanid Persians in acquiring the ‘secrets’ of Roman artillery in the latter fashion may perhaps be indicated by the unprecedented thickness of Roman fortification walls in the late empire.

In his next article, however, ‘Terra pecorum fecunda, sed plerumque improcera or: Why the Germans did not partake in the fruit of Roman animal-breeding’ (p. 421-51), Stoll points out that Rome’s neighbours did not indiscriminately steal her technology, even when it was readily available. In recent years, osteological evidence has tended to confirm Tacitus’ statement ( Germania, 5) that German livestock was substantially smaller than that bred in Roman territory. Despite the higher quality of Roman livestock, however, German tribes on the border of the empire appear never to have adopted Roman breeding techniques to any significant degree. According to Stoll, the Germans did not employ the Roman method of animal-husbandry, despite its production of larger livestock, because Roman practices were far more labour-intensive than the breeding techniques traditionally employed by the German tribes.

In general, the book provides discussion on a wide spectrum of topics related to the Roman army, including, as noted above, some which have been relatively neglected by modern historians. The value of Stoll’s collection of articles is enhanced by the fact that, in many cases, the author provides appendices of primary documents or artwork related to a particular topic for the reader to consult. In his article on military architects, for example, he provides an annotated list of known inscriptions mentioning individual architects (p. 301-18).

There are aspects of this highly useful book that, although minor, may disturb some readers. In terms of presentation, the articles in the book are copies of those originally appearing in various journals, and differ substantially in fonts and typeset. It would have added to the overall appearance of the volume if they had instead been reprinted in a uniform format. The choice and arrangement of the articles is also, in certain cases, somewhat questionable. ‘The Transfer of Technology in Roman Antiquity’ (p. 395-420), for example, repeats many of the findings presented in the latter section of Stoll’s article on military architects (p. 337-68). Ideally, these two articles could have been placed in the same section of the book, or perhaps the shorter one could have been replaced by a contribution on a different topic. A related problem involves the three articles in the volume involving the sculptural decoration of Roman military installations.1 These articles, like those on technology transfer, overlap somewhat, especially as concerns the sculpture from the camp of Niederbieber. The most general one, however, is placed at the end of this series. It would be better for the reader if the order of these three articles was reversed, beginning with more general comments on sculpture in Roman installations before proceeding to the specific decoration found in a single camp.

It should be stressed, however, that these minor criticisms do not seriously detract from the overall value of the book. This is an important collection of articles, many of which, in their original publication, may have been largely inaccessible to scholars outside Germany. Throughout the volume the author makes skillful use of a wide variety of sources ranging from ancient coins to osteological evidence. Because of the large number of topics touched upon in Stoll’s book, it should be of value not only to scholars of the Roman military but also to those interested in other aspects of Roman culture, such as religion, trade, technology, and agriculture. This reviewer would recommend the volume to anyone interested in the Roman army and society.


1. ‘The Genii from Niederbieber’ (p. 167-70), ‘The Bronze Genius from Niederbieber Fort’ (p. 171-80), and ‘Stone Sculptures from the Military Installations of the Upper German-Raetian Limes’ (p. 181-221).