BMCR 2007.03.24

Flavio Vegecio Renato: Compendio de técnica militar. Letras Universales

, , Compendio de técnica militar. Letras universales ; 338. Madrid: Cátedra Letras Universales, 2006. 399 pages : map ; 18 cm.. ISBN 8437623138. €10.00.

This Spanish translation of Vegetius’ Epitoma Rei Militaris joins a welcome number of recent publications on Vegetius, including a monograph of my own that is (hopefully) due to appear some time this year. Paniagua Aguilar’s translation (hereafter P. A.) is published in Cátedra’s Letras Universales series, which is home to a vast number of texts from all eras and all manner of genres. In view of this, it would be churlish to criticize the author, or indeed publisher, for not including a Latin text of the Epitoma. While ancient historians and classicists might not be pleased over much with this, it should be borne in mind that, in the context of the series in which it is published, this would be akin to a Spanish translation of Dickens’ David Copperfield being paired with the original English text — something which would surely raise an eyebrow. Of course, an original Latin text and translation would have been optimal, and very handy for sake of comparison. Indeed, it is to be hoped that this very good translation might be paired with Vegetius’ original language at some later stage.

With respect to format, this well-produced and generally well-researched volume comes with an extensive introduction to Vegetius and his oeuvre. This spans the best part of one hundred pages (pp. 9-106). The introduction is itself broken into two useful sections. The first, which deals with biographical details (“Perfil biográfico del autor”: pp. 9-27), includes discussions of Vegetius’ name (“El nombre”: pp. 9-15), his social position (“La posición social”: pp. 16-22), and his geographical origin (“Adscripción geográfica”: pp. 22-27). The second, which deals with the text in question (“La ‘Epitoma Rei Militaris'”: pp. 28-103), includes discussions on the time of composition (“Localización cronológica”: pp. 28-48), the title of Vegetius’ military work (“Título y forma literaria”: pp. 48-52), the contents of the work (“Estructura de la Epitoma rei militaris“: pp. 52-58), Vegetius’ sources (“Fuentes documentales Epitoma rei militaris“: pp. 59-63), the epistemology of ancient military texts in general, including the various Tactica (“La Epitoma rei militaris y la literature militar grecoromana”: pp. 63-77), the fate of the Epitoma and its post-antique tradition (“Tradición y fortuna de la Epitoma“: pp. 78-100), and, finally, the manuscript tradition (“Transmisión manuscrita”: pp. 100-103). There follows a brief note — or so one might call it — entitled “Este edición”, in which the rationale for certain aspects of the translation is discussed (pp. 105-106). My only real complaint regarding format (again, surely not the fault of the author) is the lack of book and chapter numbers at the top of each page, which are of great help, I find, in locating particular loci with ease.

Those seeking to look beyond P. A.’s introduction are well served by a relatively comprehensive bibliography (pp. 107-119), with few major omissions of recent works related to the topic.1 This bibliography is divided up into themes, viz., works on the late-Roman period, texts on the Roman army and related themes, literature on Vegetius and the Epitoma, works on the fortune of Vegetius’ works, critical editions of the Epitoma, and a selection of the most significant recent translations of the text, broken up into Spanish, Italian, English, German and Polish. This list of translations, in particular, served to remind me that there is still, at least as far as I am able to ascertain, no Collection Budé edition, or indeed any other recent French edition, available to those francophones unable to read Latin with facility. It is to be hoped that this situation will change — hopefully soon.2

At the rear of the book are two useful appendices. The first provides a chronological list of Roman emperors from Augustus through to Justinian I, though P. A. uses plain “Justiano”. From 286, the column sometimes divides into two, as need be, depending on whether the emperor was ruled by a single emperor, or an emperor in the East, and one in the West. Important usurpers such as Maximus and Eugenius are also listed. The second appendix provides a “mapa de las provincias romanas a finales del siglo IV”, which P. A. obviously presumes to have been the time in which Vegetius was writing his Epitoma. The map is accompanied by a numerical legend of place names. An onomastic index follows (pp. 389 ff.), in addition to a table of contents (an “índice”, of course, in Spanish) (pp. 393 ff.).

P. A.’s Spanish text is generally clear and inviting and does not depart wildly from the original Latin. If this approach sometimes makes for a few clunky phrases here and there, so much the better — P. A.’s translation was intended to achieve a trade-off between precision and readability, and in this he has done very well. The chapters are conveniently divided into sections according to Reeve’s recent OCT edition of the text. Almost all Latin words in the main text are translated, except in cases, such as armatura, where there is no equivalent word in modern Spanish ( armadura, in modern Spanish, of course, means something rather different to Vegetius’ armatura). In general, any Latin words found in the introductory material and notes are translated, which means that those Spanishspeakers without Latin need not worry. Of particular utility are the relatively abundant and concise notes, which are conveniently located at the foot of each page rather than unhelpfully shunted to the rear of the volume as they are, for example, in Müller’s 1997 German translation of the Epitoma.3 The notes are designed to guide the reader and explain important points. They will be of interest to the general reader, yet will also bear the scrutiny of an academic audience. Indeed, in many places, they offer fresh and insightful commentary on elements of the text that have long been the subject of debate, for example Vegetius’ use of gynaecea at Epit. 1.7.1 (see p. 145, n. 34) and his detailed treatment of the various winds at Epit. 4.38.1-16 (see pp. 365-368, with various notes).

On matters of detail, P. A. favours a dating of the Epitoma to the reign of Theodosius I rather than those of other possible imperial candidates such as Valentinian II, Honorius, Arcadius, Theodosius II and Valentinian III, the last of whom I believe deserves greater support as Vegetius’ honorand. Whatever the case, P. A. at least presents, albeit briefly, the various sides of the argument. Another important point is P. A.’s conviction that the terminus ante quem for the text is 440 rather than 450, as suggested by the subscriptio made by the otherwise unknown Flavius Eutropius in Constantinople. P. A. bases this assumption on the belief that Vegetius’ reference to iam dudum pacato mari ( Epit. 4.31.1) means that it must have been written before an increase in the frequency and severity of Vandal naval activity (pp. 39-30). In this, the author follows the reasoning of Sirago and Chastagnol,4 though a forthcoming study hopes to show that these arguments are not all that convincing.5 P. A.’s attempt to establish a terminus post quem of 384/385 instead of the accepted 383 (the date of Gratian’s death, as suggested by divus Gratianus at Epit. 1.20.3), spreads across two pages and adds little, it seems, to our understanding of the text.

Although this is naturally not the place to provide an in-depth discussion of the date of the Epitoma, it is worthwhile to point out that many of P. A.’s views on the themes of date, personal circumstances and social position are predicated on a strong belief that the text must have been written under the ‘Spanish’ emperor Theodosius I. This established, P. A. then seeks to emphasize a similarly Spanish origin for Vegetius (e.g., p. 26). This is taken to the extent, based in part on manuscript titles (pp. 16-18, where the title of comes sacrarum largitionum is not implausibly supported), that Vegetius was some kind of imperial confidant (“miembro del estrecho círculo del poder”) and that he was an instrument of Theodosius’ imperial policy regarding military matters (pp. 43 and 45). Of particular interest is the following: “Vegecio trata … de fomenter una representación de Teodosio como líder de éxito en sintonía con la propaganda oficial … con la intención de colmar la necesidad y el deseo del pueblo romano de sentir que … la protección estaba garantizada gracias al nuevo emperador” (p. 45). Yet, if this is so, why does Vegetius not make any specific references to Theodosius’ many victories, both before and after his accession? And why does he not, for that matter, make any concrete references to Theodosius’ actions in general? What is more, it is one thing for P. A. to cite the increased number of public triumphal processions in the wake of Adrianople as evidence for his thesis (p. 44), and another to imagine that the same audience would ever have read — or have been able to read — a text such as the Epitoma. P. A. also points out the significance of “elementos [del texto] que contribuyeran a la formalización de la imagen pública de Teodosio como triunfador militar, como inuictus imperator” (p. 45).6 Now, the latter epithet is mentioned on several occasions in the Epitoma, e.g., at Epit. 1 prol. 6, 1.28.1, 2 prol. 2, 2.18.4, 3 prol. 4, 3.26.35 and 4.31.1, but there is no reason whatsoever to hold that this salutation should be attributed exclusively to Theodosius I — it is merely an example of empty formalism. Indeed, nonsensical and even stronger titles for princes far weaker than Theodosius the Great proliferated in the Late Empire. Besides, what emperor of the period would not have been called imperator inuictus if his predecessor had been so addressed? Valentinian II, certainly not a martial emperor, is often addressed as uictor and triumphator, titles in which an almost verbal force is retained, in Symmachus’ Relationes, e.g., Rel. 43.1. Likewise, Honorius and Arcadius are accorded these same epithets on inscriptions, e.g., CIL 6.1188-1190.7 Still, P. A. does admit that Vegetius’ call to reduce reliance on foreign troops, which ran counter to Theodosius’ policy of exploiting barbarian military potential where possible, fell largely on deaf ears (p. 47).

More cogent is P. A.’s discussion regarding Vegetius’ name. I have previously made my views on this matter relatively clear in a previous review in BMCR ( 2004.11.16). In view of this, P. A.’s conclusion that “Flavius” is nothing more than an honorific name, while “Publius” is his praenomen is well stated (p. 11-13). Still, his view, on p. 13, that the reason for the omission of “Flavius” on manuscripts of the Mulomedicina, Vegetius’ other extant work, is that he had not yet been so honoured cannot be proved, though it is a view that perhaps deserves some consideration. Whatever the case, that P. A. steers clear of the “Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus” espoused by other writers is most certainly welcome.8 I was also intrigued by P. A.’s comment regarding the naval chapters of book 4 of the Epitoma, which he holds might be considered “casi como apéndice de la obra” (p. 358, n. 408). In this, P. A. accepts the general view that Epit. 4.31-46 should not be regarded as a possible fifth book, or an independent treatise, as Rubio once stated.9 P. A. makes further interesting comments on this point at p. 58, especially the claim that the abrupt end to book 4 “sugiere una cierta disminución quizás del fervor, del interés o de la propia capacidad y competencia de Vegecio en la redacción de esta sección final”.

Of note, too, is P. A.’s treatment of Richardot’s contention that Claudian used the Epitoma in his composition of the De Quarto Consulatu Honorii. Richardot claims that lines 320 to 351 of this work show a thorough knowledge of the Epitoma,10 which he claims to be evidence for dating of the text to the reign of Honorius, yet P. A. points out that, while there are some similarities between lines 320-336, lines 337-351 “no son reconducibles a la Epitoma” (p. 78, n. 158). In any case, P. A. should perhaps have pointed out that similarities between Claudian and Vegetius may have had more to do with common source material rather than any intertexuality between the two. Yet this is not the place to criticize Richardot — I have dealt with this issue elsewhere, especially in the context of the date of the Epitoma.11

In sum, this is a volume well worth having for anybody with an interest in Vegetius, or those interested in the military and political environment of the late Roman Empire in general. It breaks very little in the way of new ground or (re-)interpretation of the text, but it does, at least, offer some informed and useful commentary on minor points of textual (and indeed contextual) detail. Some more circumspect treatment regarding Vegetius’ social position, time of composition and (supposed) relationship with his imperial honorand might have been preferred, yet, as a translation, I can find little about which to complain.


1. Some recent works that P. A. might well have adduced include the following: M. B. Charles, “Vegetius on Armour: The pedites nudati of the Epitoma Rei Militaris“, AncSoc 30 (2003), 127-167; id., ” Mattiobarbuli in Vegetius’ Epitoma Rei Militaris : the Iouiani and Herculiani“, AHB 18 (2004), 109-121; id., “Vegetius on Liburnae : Naval Terminology in the Late Roman Period”, SCI 24 (2005), 181-193; M. R. Mezzabotta, “Aspects of Multiculturalism in the Mulomedicina of Vegetius”, Akroterion 45 (2000), 52-64; P. Richardot, “La tradition moderne du De re militari de Végèce (XVe-XVIIIe siècles)”, in P. Defosse (ed.), Hommage a Carl Deroux. Tome V: Christianisme et Moyen Âge, Néo-latin et survivance de la latinité (Brussels, 2003), 537-544.

2. It was reported some time ago that a Collection Budé edition was planned, but, sadly, nothing seems to have come of this. Any advice to the contrary would be much appreciated. I have searched on the website of “Les Belles Lettres” to no avail.

3. F. M. Müller (ed. & trans.), Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Abriss des Militärwesens (Stuttgart, 1997).

4. V. A. Sirago, Galla Placidia e la trasformazione politica dell’Occidente (Louvain, 1961), 465 ff.; A. Chastagnol, “Végèce et l’Histoire Auguste”, in A. Alföldy (ed.), Bonner Historia-Augusta-Colloquium 1971 (Bonn, 1974), 59.

5. Chapter 5.3 of M. B. Charles, Vegetius in Context: Establishing the Date of the Epitoma Rei Militaris, Historia Einzelschriften 194 (Stuttgart, 2007). On this, see also W. Goffart, “The Date and Purpose of Vegetius’ ‘De Re Militari'”, Traditio 33 (1977), 86-87.

6. On this, P. A. directs the reader to his own article on the theme: “La Epitoma rei militaris de Vegecio y el imperator inuictus“, Voces 14 (2003), 165-183.

7. For further examples, see chapter 3.2 of Charles, Vegetius, forthcoming.

8. See, for example, A. Önnerfors (ed.), Vegetius. Epitoma Rei Militaris, Bibliotheca Teubneriana (Stuttgart/Leipzig, 1995).

9. L. Rubio, “El ms. Scorialensis L.III.33: nuevos datos para una futura edición del Epitoma Rei Militaris de Vegetius”, Emerita 41 (1973), 209-223, especially 215-219. For some brief discussion on this, see my comments at BMCR 2004.11.16.

10. P. Richardot, “La datation du De Re Militari de Végèce”, Latomus 57 (1998), 136-147.

11. Chapter 3.5 of Charles, Vegetius, forthcoming.