BMCR 2018.01.02

Exercitus Moesiae: The Roman Army in Moesia from Augustus to Severus Alexander. BAR international series, S2825

, Exercitus Moesiae: The Roman Army in Moesia from Augustus to Severus Alexander. BAR international series, S2825. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2016. 132. ISBN 9781407314754. $52.00.

The book by Conor Whately Exercitus Moesiae: The Roman Army in Moesia from Augustus to Severus Alexander deals with the history of the Roman army in the period between establishing the Principate all the way to the year 235 CE. It is the author’s second book, following a very fine first one that focused on the military narrative in the works of Procopius of Caesarea.1 Conor Whately set out to analyze the dislocation of Roman units within the territory of the two provinces that covered the lower stretch of the Danubian limes, i.e. Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior, from the moment these units were raised to the date that marks the onset of the 3rd century crisis, i.e. 235 CE. The author’s argumentation is based mostly on military diplomas and epigraphic sources.

The book is divided into six chapters, preceded by an exhaustive introduction and concluded with a summary. Additionally, it includes six valuable appendices.2 The first three chapters follow a chronological order, and are structured so as to present the available sources on the Roman army in Moesia during the reigns of successive rulers. It is worth noting that the author makes a distinction between the legionary forces and the auxilia, usually describing the two categories of soldiers separately. This makes the narrative easy to follow, and the arrangement of the contents facilitates looking up necessary information. Chapter Four is devoted to auxiliary units around the Black Sea, with much of the narrative focused on units stationed in the Crimea. The fifth chapter is largely a summary of sources used in the first three and a discussion of the placement and functions of Roman units along the lower section of the Danube. The final chapter was conceived as a wrap-up but, notably, it describes the strategy of the Roman armies stationed along the lower part of the Danubian limes (reminiscent of the controversial work by Edward Luttwak), and also provides additional context on how the Moesian limes fit into the situation of the empire as a whole.

Certain reservations may be had about Conor Whately’s research methodology, particularly the category of sources utilized. One of the main goals of the work was to reconstruct the process of dislocation of Roman forces in Moesia and evaluate its impact in a broader strategic context. The book was largely based on written sources, military diplomas and inscriptions, supplemented with works by Roman historians in the parts devoted to the empire as a whole. What is missing is a crucial type of archaeological sources that could help trace the movement of individual units within the province, namely stamped utility ceramics (in particular, stamped bricks). The author does mention stamped bricks at times, but this is always second- hand information, used to supplement and confirm the veracity of information from other sources. The importance of sources from this category in determining the dislocation of Roman units should be fairly obvious, especially since they allow us to trace back the movement of even smaller legionary vexillatio, which are never individually identified in other types of sources. Studies on this subject in the territory of Moesia have been conducted by Tadeusz Sarnowski 3, and it would have been a valuable contribution if they were supplemented with the latest results, seeing as the amount of available archaeological materials is systematically growing. Without an in-depth analysis of stamped bricks found in the territory of Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior one cannot claim to have presented a comprehensive and up- to-date breakdown of our knowledge on the subject of dislocation of Roman legions and auxiliary units. In the introduction to the book, the author notes that he would be paying more attention to legionary architecture (p. 4), but this aspect is completely absent from the main body of the work, which is particularly evident in the case of smaller forts and roadside posts that had already been studied by Serb and Bulgarian archaeologists. On the whole, the author’s analysis of epigraphic and historical sources is beyond reproach. However, overlooking the aforementioned categories of archaeological sources casts a shadow on an otherwise well -researched piece.

Whenever a book is to be reviewed the first thing to do is to go to the bibliography section, in order to get an initial feel for the piece. Being familiar with Conor Whately’s previous works, which I rate very highly, I was rather nonplussed looking at the listed references. As the book describes the history of two Roman provinces in the Balkans, it is surprising that not a single item in the bibliography is written in Bulgarian or Romanian. Granted, the research results of scholars from these two countries are referenced in the work, but only the ones that had been published in English; whereas most of archaeological reports that are crucial in studies of this kind, or analyses of the latest inscriptions, are first prepared in each scholar’s native language.4 This means that C. Whately did not account for the most recent studies, particularly archaeological studies. When discussing the situation in Crimea, the book refers to texts written in congress languages ; mostly older works by T. Sarnowski. There is a lack of sources in Russian and Ukrainian, and no mention of the more up-to-date studies of Roman forts written in English, e.g. the works of Radosław Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski. The author extensively quotes German texts, especially the results of studies from Iatrus, but we need to bear in mind that fortress was established after the year 300 CE, which means that it falls outside the chronological framework of Whately’s work (though it did not stop the author from marking Iatrus on a map). To further comment on my issues with the bibliography, I cannot fail to mention a missing Polish piece by T. Sarnowski that deals with precisely the same subject, i.e. Wojsko rzymskie w Mezji Dolnej i na północnym wybrzeżu Morza Czarnego. Granted, this work is only available in Polish, which significantly limits its readership in global terms, but it was published as part of an established series, Novaensia, the existence of which also was not acknowledged by Whately. Another subject close to my heart, Novae, is once again referenced with baffling omissions. The author does not include the works by Piotr Dyczek devoted to the valetudinarium; he makes no mention of E. Gencheva’s book on the beginnings of the Novae military camp, which is a seminal work covering the first stages of functioning of Legio I Italica’s headquarters, also touching upon the subject of dislocation of forces during the establishment of the province. The bibliography does not include the book on Novae’s fortifications written in English by Parnicki-Pudełko, or any works from the series Novae Studies and Materials edited by A. B. Biernacki. The situation is no better with regard to archaeological studies of other legionary camps.

Despite these harsh words of criticism, in scientific terms the book is of good quality. The argumentation is systematic and well -ordered, the narrative flows smoothly, the sources are utilized correctly, and some of the author’s conclusions are pioneering in character and should introduce a fresh perspective into the discussion about Roman Moesia. I was immensely pleased with a breakdown of military units stationed in Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior during the studied period, particularly with the reasonably comprehensive description of their relocations. Conor Whately has collected, systematically arranged and re-interpreted the data on the presence of auxiliary forces in Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior,5, and presented these within the context of the empire as a whole. This is, without a doubt, the most valuable portion of the book. It is also difficult to argue with the well presented interpretation of study results in chapter six, which to a large extent consists of the author’s own conclusions regarding Roman military activities along the lower Danube. The book, sadly, does not paint a complete picture of the movement of Roman armies over Moesia, which is a consequence of the sources and the literature used by the author. The work of Conor Whately should be treated as yet another step on the road to a better understanding of the structures and movement of Roman military units in the territory of Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior, based on selected types of sources. As such, it is a good book, compiling available knowledge on the subject and adding a number of new conclusions to ongoing studies. It is a shame that the author did not take into account more archaeological sources or the research works written in the Balkans, which are immensely important for the study of Roman armies in Moesia. Then, we could have had a comprehensive book on the subject. As it stands, Whately’s contribution leaves the reader with a slight feeling of missed opportunity.


1. C. Whately, Battles and Generals: Combat, Culture, and Didacticism in Procopius’ Wars, Brill 2016.

2. Summary Tables of Legions and Auxiliary Units, List of all the Military Units Based in Moesia, List of Moesian Diplomas, List of Ancient Sources, The Numeri and Maps.

3. T. Sarnowski, Wojsko rzymskie w Mezji Dolnej i na północnym wybrzeżu Morza Czarnego, Novaensia 3 (1988).

4. A quick study of Bulgarian and Romanian archaeological reports would have likely changed the author’s opinion of the state of research on the Moesian limes, which he reveals on page 4 when talking about fortifications and claims that “comparatively few have been excavated”.

5. Owing much to the results of studies conducted by Florian Matei-Popescu.