Over time major rebellions against Roman rule ceased, even if this took a little longer in Judaea. Small-scale revolts did occur in a number of provinces, although even these were rare. In AD 171 or 172, a group called the Boukoloi (or Bucoli) – ‘cowboys’ or ‘herdsmen’ – rebelled in the Nile Delta. Our sources are poor, with the fullest little more than a paragraph from a much later epitome of Dio’s account, whose collator focused on the lurid and bizarre. He claims that some of the Boukoloi disguised themselves as women, so that they could get close to the centurion sent to collect money from them. The Roman officer was taken by surprise and hacked down, and a companion butchered as a sacrifice, his entrails being eaten to bind the rebels in a dreadful oath.

Joined by a group led by a priest named Isidorus – described as ‘the bravest of them all’ – the rising gathered momentum. The Romans responded in the usual way and attacked, but the force sent against the rebels was defeated. By this time Egypt was garrisoned by a single legion, supported by at most a dozen auxiliary units. Some of these troops were stationed on the province’s southern frontier, guarding the Upper Nile, and others patrolled the roads to the Red Sea ports or were dispersed in small detachments, guarding quarries or granaries, and acting as policemen and administrators. Such a deployment makes it unlikely that the column sent to deal with the rising was either large or consisted of the best-trained and motivated troops in Egypt, making the defeat less surprising.

Success encouraged the rebels to advance on the great city of Alexandria, although clearly this was some months later, for they were blocked by forces sent from Syria and led by the legate of that province, Caius Avidius Cassius. Senators were forbidden from visiting Egypt, and this intervention must have been ordered by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, requiring a report to reach him, an order to be sent to Syria, and time for a force to be mustered and then moved to Egypt. Cassius avoided a major battle and instead wore the rebels down, fighting many smaller actions and defeating each of the rebel groups separately. This suggests that they had either dispersed as raiding bands or each settled down to defend their own homes.

Many important details of the episode elude us. For instance, the attack on the centurion suggests that Roman levies were resented, but it is not clear whether this was the main cause of the revolt. A gruesome human sacrifice and the mention of the priest Isidorus both hint at religious fervour, whether simply as a unifying force and reminder that they were ruled by foreigners of a different culture, or as a promise of divine aid like that Mariccus offered to his followers among the Boii. Yet we should be cautious, given so brief an account. Greeks and Romans alike saw the people of Egypt as excessively superstitious and alleged that they practised strange and savage rituals, and so were inclined to depict their behaviour in this way. The Boukoloi also appear in ancient fiction, turned into a caricature of wild barbarians given to human sacrifice and cannibalism, and this fictional imagery may well have seeped into historical narratives.

For all our doubts about the rebellion, some aspects are revealing. As was often the case, it appears to have taken the Romans by surprise, in the long as well as the short term, for the gradual reduction in size of the garrison of Egypt in the later first and second centuries AD suggests that no major trouble was anticipated. Whoever the Boukoloi really were, and whether or not they were truly as savage as the sources claim, they were just one group within the wider population of rural Egypt. Others joined them, but the revolt was not by a unified people with a common sense of identity, and instead consisted of multiple communities loosely banded together. If the scale of the revolt is unclear, there is no hint that it involved anything more than a small minority of the provincial population, and while the rebels were clearly hostile to Rome, the move on Alexandria suggests little sympathy for other subjects of the empire. That city was always described as Alexandria ‘near Egypt’ rather than ‘in Egypt’ and was a metropolis with a population of several hundred thousand. Founded by Alexander the Great, its inhabitants were mixed, but the dominant group was legally and culturally – if not necessarily ethnically – Greek. Groups like the Boukoloi and the rural population in general had little affection for this ‘foreign’ city, any more than the Alexandrians had any liking for them.

The mix of populations within a province was one of the main reasons why even the major rebellions struggled to unite the entire population of a single province against the imperial power. Lesser rebellions tended to focus on small regions or groups, and found it difficult to spread, because other provincial communities were antipathetic or openly hostile to them. Few of the areas in the empire had experienced peace and stability before the Romans arrived, and memories of past feuds remained strong. The experience of conquest reinforced some divisions among the indigenous population, as did any subsequent real or perceived favouring of particular leaders and sections of the population. In the eastern Mediterranean, where the Romans were merely the latest in a succession of conquerors, their arrival did not remove every long-standing division created or exacerbated by earlier empires. Even if the Alexandrians and the Egyptians from the countryside both felt alienated by Roman rule at the same time and rebelled, there was no prospect of them joining together. In fact, throwing off Roman rule was likely to make them eager to revive far older quarrels.

During the civil war after the death of Nero, the hatred between Lugdunum and Viennensis (modern Vienne) in Gaul flared into new life, and led to skirmishes ‘too savage and frequent for anyone to believe that they fought on behalf of Nero or Galba’. Later, the leaders of Lugdunum tried to persuade an army on its way from the Rhine frontier and fighting for another claimant to the throne to sack Viennensis as a place ‘foreign and hostile’ and also rich in plunder. The people there managed to placate the soldiers by a dramatic display of submission and by handing over money and weapons to them. Later during the same power struggle, the cities of Oea and Lepcis Magna in North Africa went from disputes between peasants stealing each other’s cattle and crops to ‘proper weapons and pitched battles’. Oea enlisted the aid of some of the Garamantes to the south, ‘an ungovernable people well practised in raiding their neighbours’, and so gained the upper hand. Eventually a force of auxiliaries arrived and drove off the Garamantes, recapturing the plunder they had taken, apart from the goods already sold off to distant communities, and peace was restored.

Even Italy was not free of rivalries between its cities. During some fighting in this same civil war, the ‘most splendid’ amphitheatre outside the city walls of Placentia (modern Piacenza) was burned down. No one was quite sure whether the blaze was started by the besiegers or by the defenders hurling burning missiles at them, but afterwards the ‘common folk of the town’ alleged that the building had been packed with combustible material by unknown agents of other Italian cities who envied Placentia its magnificent monument. The games were a great opportunity to parade civic pride, both in the grandeur of the venue and the scale and style of the gladiatorial fights and other shows. In AD 59 this exploded into violence between Pompeii and its neighbour and rival Nuceria at a show staged in the amphitheatre at Pompeii. A few bits of graffiti from the city hint at long-standing hostility – ‘Good luck to the Nucerians and the hook for Pompeians and Pitheucusans’. At first there was simply chanting and mutual abuse of the type common enough between rival fans at many sporting events, but Tacitus then says that this was followed by ‘stones, and finally cold steel’. A famous wall painting from a house in Pompeii showing gladiators fighting in the arena while other figures battle it out on the streets outside surely depicts the disturbances that followed. The visiting Nucerians were heavily outnumbered and soon had the worst of it, with many being killed or wounded. Some of the injured were taken to Rome, and the matter was brought to the attention of Nero, who ordered the Senate to hold an enquiry into the whole incident. They found against the Pompeians and banned the city from holding games for ten years.

Fighting on this scale was unusual anywhere in the empire and especially in Italy, and we know too little of the background to identify what sparked the trouble. The Senate exiled several leading culprits, including the man who staged the games, who had been expelled in disgrace from their own ranks before this incident. Although competition between cities was common throughout the empire it was mainly peaceful, if only because there were few occasions when large crowds of hostile communities would meet. More common was bickering over the boundaries of their jurisdiction, where the risk was of small-scale violence and theft. An inscription from Sardinia records the formal end of hostility between two villages after 185 years, the peace deal being imposed by the Roman authorities in AD 69, centuries after the region became a province. This only occurred because the Romans threatened to use heavy force against one of the rivals. For many provincials Rome was a distant presence, resented rather less than the ongoing annoyance of living close to old enemies.


Around 160 years after Cicero landed at Ephesus on his way to govern Cilicia, another former consul arrived there on his way to his own provincial command of Bithynia and Pontus. Pliny the Younger (Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) had not dawdled like the reluctant Cicero, but even so arrived later than he hoped, his ship delayed by bad weather. More delays followed as he pressed on to his province. The heat was excessive, making overland travel by carriage arduous, and Pliny went down with fever and had to stay some days at Pergamum, but when they took passage on trading ships operating along the coast they were again held back by the weather. It was not until 17 September AD 109 that the new governor reached Bithynia, allowing him to celebrate the birthday of the Emperor Trajan on the next day.

Pliny was a ‘new man’ like Cicero, his family coming from one of the towns of Italy, in his case Comum (modern Como, on the picturesque lake of the same name). He was also a highly successful advocate in the courts and a prolific author who published nine books of edited letters in conscious emulation of his famous predecessor. Pliny’s correspondents included many of the distinguished senators of the era, notably the historian Tacitus, and dealt with domestic themes, literature, admirable behaviour by prominent men and women, and the conduct of some of the important trials in which he was involved. There were also a number of letters soliciting favours for himself or his associates. Wholly absent is Cicero’s concern for the outcome of elections, for building political friendships with others, for the changing balance of power and influence within the Senate and with the details of legislation. The reader of Pliny’s Letters can be left in no doubt that this was a state controlled by a princeps, whose influence – malign in the case of Domitian and benevolent in the case of Trajan – was everywhere. It is no coincidence that the only one of Pliny’s published speeches to survive is a panegyric of Trajan, for senators under the Principate were dependent on imperial favour to a degree that Cicero could scarcely have imagined, even during Caesar’s dictatorship.

It was as a representative of the emperor, as legatus Augusti on a special commission, that Pliny went out to Bithynia, his appointment made by Trajan and not subject to senatorial debate or lot. Even so his authority was greater than that of anyone else in the province, except in the highly unlikely event of the princeps coming in person. However, the greater power of Trajan could not be ignored. Pliny took with him a set of instructions (mandata) issued by the emperor, which were longer and more prescriptive than the suggestions the Senate made to someone like Cicero. It would be difficult for provincials to appeal over his head to Rome unless they had his permission, but it was certainly not impossible. There was also a procurator overseeing the imperial estates and some of the taxation of the province and this man corresponded directly with the princeps and his advisors. In this case the relations between the two men were good.

Bithynia and Pontus was not a major military province and was garrisoned by at most a handful of auxiliary units – one cohors equitata consisting of infantry and a small force of cavalry is definitely attested, a second is almost certain, and there may have been other regiments. In normal times the province was under senatorial control, its governor a proconsul selected by lot from a list drawn up by the Senate of sufficient men to fill the number of posts coming vacant in the public provinces. Sometimes the princeps’ advice on selection was sought, and even when it was not it is clear that they would not choose anyone who was obviously out of favour. In office, these governors had limited independence and their decisions could be overruled by the princeps if a matter was brought to his attention. They were also bound by rulings made by past emperors, and would need to seek approval to change these. Augustus may at first not have issued mandata to proconsuls, but probably began to do so later in his reign and this became normal under his successors.

In the early second century AD Bithynia and Pontus was a troubled region. Several of its former governors were prosecuted for corruption, while there were bitter rivalries for dominance within its major cities and widespread misuse of public money. Trajan decided to intervene, temporarily adding the region to his provinces and sending Pliny there as his legate. He was princeps and the Senate could not refuse, although in this case it is unlikely that it resented the move, since it still meant that one of their number was given the command.

On the whole, proconsuls and imperial legates did much the same job, and successful senators served in both capacities at different stages in their careers. The essentially civilian role of the proconsul was emphasised in the wearing of the toga on ceremonial occasions, while the overtly military legates wore a sword, military cloak and cuirass. The former were accompanied by six lictors bearing fasces, the latter probably by five, marking their lesser imperium as representatives rather than magistrates in their own right. Both types of governor held essentially identical authority over the garrisons of their provinces in every important respect, and it was simply that the proconsuls had far fewer troops at their disposal. Their tenure was also shorter, often no longer than the traditional twelve months. In contrast it was rare for a legate to hold command for less than three years, and many were in post for even longer, giving the province greater continuity of leadership and allowing the governor to address more serious problems, whether military or civil. Pliny died before the end of his third year in the post and we do not know how long he was due to be in the province, but he was sent expressly to restore order to its finances and administration so there may not have been a fixed term.

Throughout his time in the province Pliny wrote to Trajan, often seeking guidance on specific problems. A tenth book of correspondence was published posthumously, consisting of letters to the emperor, and it is dominated by his time as governor – his letters from Bithynia and Trajan’s replies make up 107 out of a total of 121. Although we do not know the circumstances of their preparation and release, this must surely have occurred with at least the approval and perhaps the active involvement of Trajan and his advisors. It was an era when many technical manuals were being written, and in some ways the letters from Bithynia have a similar, instructional feel to them, showing the way that a good governor should go about his job. Pliny’s approach to a problem involved looking for precedents and past rulings, trying to find the most beneficial solution for the provincial communities, and seeking the emperor’s decision on some issues where he was unsure. This was clearly how Trajan wished his principate to be seen, as efficient, benevolent, respectful to local traditions and obedient to the spirit as well as the letter of the law. The Trajan of these letters has the same tone of friendship and interest in the welfare of provincial communities that can be seen in many inscriptions recording replies from emperors to requests from cities and individuals.

All imperial legates sent reports and queries to the princeps, and we cannot say whether or not Pliny wrote more often than was normal – or indeed whether there were originally far more letters, some too brief or too mundane to be included in the published version. The tendency to address just one issue in each letter was more likely intended to make it easier for the imperial secretariat to check for precedents and to respond or advise the princeps rather than being a sign that letters were extensively rewritten before publication. It is possible that some of the questions were asked in order to permit Trajan to give the official response, although this would assume that it was always planned to publish the letters. One instance is the repeated requests for specialists such as architects and surveyors to be sent out from Italy or from a military province – the army produced very skilled technicians of all kinds. Only once does the princeps agree, saying that he will instruct the legate of Moesia to send a man to supervise a complex canal-building scheme. Otherwise, he invariably assures Pliny that not simply Bithynia but any province will have competent specialists among the population, an answer with a general application.

All in all, the letters in Pliny’s tenth book appear genuine and give us our best picture of a provincial governor under the Principate, worthy of comparison with Cicero’s letters from Cilicia. As always, the different circumstances of the early second century AD compared to the middle of the first century BC are obvious. No doubt Pliny wrote plenty of letters to friends, relations and other connections while in his province, but none of these were published. What mattered was the relationship between princeps and legate and the provincial communities. Throughout Pliny addressed Trajan as domine – master or lord – and was in turn called ‘my dear Secundus’. Augustus had not cared to be called dominus, but under his successors – even ones considered to be good rulers and respectful of the Senate – this became normal. Some of the replies have a formal style, reflecting their drafting by imperial secretaries, but now and again the tone of familiarity or of exasperation at the provincials is surely the authentic voice of the emperor.

French Wars of Religion between 1540 and 1600 Part I

The Battle of Dreux, March 1590, engraving by Franz Hogenberg (1535-1590). France, 16th century.
Francis I, Duke of Guise taking the Prince of Conde as his prisoner, December 19, 1562, engraving by Franz Hogenberg (1535-1590). France, 16th century.

The unexpected death of Henry II in 1559 ushered in thirty-five years of royal weakness and internal strife. Henry’s immediate successor, the teenaged Francis II, reigned for barely a year; he was succeeded by Henry’s second son, the 10-year-old Charles IX. Henry’s widowed queen, the shrewd and capable Florentine princess Catherine de’ Medici, picked up the pieces and served as regent. She would continue to be a force at court long after Charles, an uninspiring and mentally suspect man, reached his majority Catherine eventually rallied the royal cause in the name of her sons – three would rule France – but in the meantime a few crucial years had been lost to dynastic flux and confusion. France descended towards a complicated, many-sided civil war.

The French crisis was in part purely political, as the most prominent and ambitious noble families of the realm jockeyed both with each other, and with the crown, for position and power. This competition would only intensify as it became clear that Catherine’s three sons, the last Valois kings of France, would remain without legitimate issue. The struggle in France was also, of course, about religion. Calvinism had found many converts, particularly in the south and west, and also within some of the greatest noble houses. Faith and family therefore determined the factions. The most powerful Catholic party was that of the Guise; their rival-allies included the Montmorency Several clans shared – and squabbled over – leadership of the French Protestants, or Huguenots. Among these men were Gaspard de Coligny and the Bourbon princes of Conde. The Valois remained staunchly Catholic, but Catherine de’ Medici was profoundly – and correctly – suspicious of the Guise. She also rightly concluded that her own family had the most to lose by civil war, and so Catherine was often, but not always, one of the foremost promoters of settlement and peace. In January of 1562 she promoted a royal edict that granted Huguenots the right to worship openly.

Toleration proved no solution to the French crisis, as a particularly provocative act of violence forced a civil war. On 1 March 1562 the armed entourage of the Duke of Guise massacred a Huguenot congregation discovered holding a service – now perfectly legal – in a barn outside the small town of Vassy. In response the Protestants of France rose in arms, and committed their own excesses: in late April, Lyons was pillaged with exceptional ferocity Indeed, atrocity and counter-atrocity would be the steady, brutal pattern of the wars to come.

First War of Religion, (1562–1563)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots (with English aid) in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Huguenots sought religious freedom.

OUTCOME: A degree of tolerance was granted to the Huguenots.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Catholics, 23,000; Huguenots, 15,000 (including 3,000 English troops)

CASUALTIES: Military losses were about 4,000 killed on each side; Huguenot civilian losses were about 3,000 killed.

TREATIES: Peace of Amboise (March 1563)

On March 1, 1562, supporters of the Catholic duke François de Guise (1519–63) killed a congregation of Protestants at Vassy. This massacre was instigated by the granting of limited toleration to the Protestants by Catherine de’ Medici (1519–85), the queen mother who took control of the throne at the death of King Francis II (1544– 60). The Catholics, under François de Guise, the Constable de Montmorency (Anne, duc de Montmorency; 1493– 1567), and Prince Antoine de Bourbon (1518–62), king of Navarre, and the Protestants, under Louis I de Bourbon, prince of Condé (1530–69), and Comte Gaspard de Coligny (1519–72), admiral of France, were soon pitted against each other in a battle known as the First War of Religion. Louis de Condé and Gaspard de Coligny ordered the Huguenots to seize Orléans to retaliate for the Vassy massacre and called on all Protestants in France to rebel. In September 1562, the English sent John Dudley (fl. 16th century) of Warwick to help the Huguenots, and his force captured Le Havre. About one month later, the Catholics defeated Rouen, a Protestant stronghold. One of the leaders of the Catholic movement, Antoine de Bourbon, was killed during the attack. The Huguenots continued to rise in rebellion, and in December 15,000 Protestants under Condé and Coligny marched north to join the English troops at Le Havre. En route, they encountered about 19,000 Catholics at Dreux. The Catholics under Guise were victorious, but one of their leaders, Montmorency, was captured, as was the Protestant leader Condé. On February 18, 1563, Guise was killed while besieging Orléans. Peace was finally secured in March when Montmorency and Condé, both prisoners since the Battle of Dreux, negotiated a settlement at the request of Queen Catherine. The Peace of Amboise stipulated a degree of tolerance. The opposing sides then combined forces to push the English from Le Havre, which fell on July 28, 1563. 

Further reading: R. J. Knecht, The French Civil Wars, 1562–1598 (New York: Pearson Education, 2000); R. J. Knecht and Mabel Segun, French Wars of Religion (New York: Addison-Wesley Longman, 1996).

Second War of Religion, (1567–1568)

The interrelated struggles in France and the Low Countries ended with the defeat of Philip II, both in his attempt to suppress the Dutch Revolt and in his aim to prevent the accession of Henry IV in France. Spain, however, displayed its military power, not only in its successful re-conquest of the southern half of the Low Countries, but also in its ability to affect the course of the bitter civil conflict in France.

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Huguenots sought religious freedom.

OUTCOME: A degree of tolerance was granted to the Huguenots.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: 16,000 French (Catholics); 3,500 Huguenots

CASUALTIES: Numbers unknown, but heavy on both sides

TREATIES: Peace of Longjumeau (March 1568)

The Peace of Amboise (July 28, 1563), which stipulated a greater degree of tolerance between the Catholics and the Huguenots in France, ended the First WAR OF RELIGION. However, peace lasted only four years. On September 29, 1567, the Huguenots under Louis de Bourbon, prince de Condé (1530–69), and Comte Gaspard de Coligny (1519–72) tried to capture the royal family at Meaux. Although they were unsuccessful, other Protestant bands threatened Paris and captured Orléans, Auxerre, Vienne, Valence, Nîmes, Montpellier, and Montaubon. At the Battle of St. Denis, a force of 16,000 men under Constable de Montmorency (Anne, duc de Montmorency; 1493–1567), attacked Condé’s small army of 3,500. Despite the long odds, the Huguenots managed to remain on the field for several hours. Montmorency, aged 74, was killed during the fray. This war ended on March 23, 1568, with the Peace of Longjumeau by which the Huguenots gained substantial concessions from Queen Catherine de’ Medici (1519–85).

Third War of Religion, (1568–1570)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Huguenots sought religious freedom.

OUTCOME: A degree of tolerance was granted to the Huguenots.


Catholics, 18,000; Huguenots, 16,500

CASUALTIES: Catholics, 1,000 killed or wounded;

Huguenots, 8,400 killed or wounded

TREATIES: Peace of St. Germain, August 8, 1570

The Third War of Religion broke out on August 18, 1568, when Catholics attempted to capture Louis de Bourbon, prince de Condé (1530–69), and Comte Gaspard de Coligny (1519–72), the primary Protestant leaders. The Royalist Catholics continued to suppress Protestantism. Sporadic fighting occurred throughout the Loire Valley for the remainder of 1568. In March 1569, the Royalists under Marshal Gaspard de Tavannes (1509–73) engaged in battle with Condé’s forces in the region between Angoulême and Cognac. Later in March, Tavanne crossed the Charente River near Châteauneuf and soundly defeated the Huguenots at the Battle of Jarmac. Although Condé was captured and murdered, Coligny managed to withdraw a portion of the Protestant army in good order. About three months later, help for the Huguenots arrived in the form of 13,000 German Protestant reinforcements. This enlarged force laid siege to Poitiers. Then on August 24, 1569, Coligny sent Comte Gabriel de Montgomery (c. 1530–74) to Orthez, where he repulsed a Royalist invasion of French held Navarre and defeated Catholic forces arranged against him. Royalist marshal Tavanne then relieved Poitiers and forced Coligny to raise the siege. The major battle of the Third War of Religion occurred on October 3, 1569, at Moncontour. The Royalists, aided by a force of Swiss sympathizers, forced the Huguenot cavalry off the field and then crushed the Huguenot infantry. The Huguenots lost about 8,000, whereas Royalist losses numbered about 1,000. The following year, however, Coligny marched his Huguenot forces through central France from April through June and began threatening Paris. These actions forced the Peace of St. Germain, which granted many religious freedoms to the Protestants.

Religion, Fourth War of (1572–1573)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Huguenots sought religious freedom.

OUTCOME: A degree of tolerance was granted to the Huguenots, and a group of moderate Catholics formed a new political party known as the Politiques.





A massacre of 3,000 Protestants and their leader Louis de Bourbon, prince of Condé (1530–69), precipitated the outbreak of the Fourth War of Religion between Catholics and Protestants in France. After the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve in Paris, August 24, 1572, Prince Henry IV of Navarre (1553–1610) took charge of the Protestant forces. Marked primarily by a long siege of La Rochelle by Royalist forces under another Prince Henry, the younger brother of Charles IX (1550–74), this Fourth War of Religion resulted in the Protestants’ gaining military control over most of southwest France. However, at least 3,000 more Huguenots were massacred in the provinces before the war ended.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre outraged even Catholic moderates, who, seeking to counter the extremes of the Catholic Royalists, formed a new political party, the Politiques, to negotiate with the Protestants and establish peace and national unity.

Religion, Fifth War of (1575–1576)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Henry, duc de Guise; and his Royalist faction wanted to take the French throne away from Henry III, who was more tolerant of religious differences than they.

OUTCOME: The Royalist Catholics under Henry, duke de Guise, formed a Holy League with King Philip of Spain to secure the French throne for the Catholics.



TREATIES: Peace of Mousieur, May 5, 1576

Protestants and Catholics in France had been fighting sporadically since 1562 in the First War of RELIGION, the Second War of RELIGION, the Third War of RELIGION, and the Fourth War of RELIGION when violence again erupted in 1575. In the most important action of this war, Henry, duc de Guise (1555–88), led the Catholic Royalists to victory at the Battle of Dormans. Aligned against Guise, however, were not only the Protestants under Henry IV of Navarre (1553–1610) but also the Politiques, moderate Catholics who wanted the king to make peace with the Protestants and restore national unity. Henry III (1551–89) was not wholeheartedly in support of Guise, and he offered pledges of more religious freedom to the Protestants at the Peace of Mousieur, signed on May 5, 1576. Guise refused to accept the terms of the peace and began negotiating with Philip II (1527–98) of Spain to organize a Holy League and secure Spain’s help in capturing the French thro ne.

Sixth and Seventh Wars of Religion, (1576–1577, 1580)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Huguenots sought religious freedom.

OUTCOME: After subduing the Protestants, Henry III wavered in his determination to carry out the terms of the Peace of Bergerac.



TREATIES: Peace of Bergerac (1577)

The Sixth War of Religion between the Catholics and Protestants in France included only one campaign and was settled by the Peace of Bergerac of 1577. During this period, Henry III (1551–89) tried to persuade the Holy League, formed in 1576 by Catholic leader Henry, duke de Guise (1555–88), and Philip II (1527–98) of Spain, to support an attack on the Protestants. Henry succeeded in subduing the Protestants but wavered in his determination to carry out the terms of the Peace of Bergerac.

The Seventh War of Religion in 1580, also known as the “Lovers’ War,” had little to do with hostilities between the Catholics and Protestants. Instead fighting was instigated by the actions of Margaret, the promiscuous wife of Henry IV of Navarre (1553–1610). Over the next five years, Catholics, Protestants, and the moderate Politiques all engaged in intrigue in their attempts to name a successor to the childless Henry III. Although Henry of Navarre was next in line by direct heredity, the Holy League maneuvered to ensure that Henry, duc de Guise, would gain the throne after the reign of Charles de Bourbon (1566–1612), proposed as the successor to Henry III.

Eighth War of Religion, (1585–1589)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Catholic Royalists in France wanted to ensure that one of their numbers would be named successor to the childless Henry III.

OUTCOME: King Henry named the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre as his successor.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Catholics, 8,700+; Huguenots, 6,500

CASUALTIES: Catholics, 3,400 killed; Huguenots, 200 killed


The Eighth War of Religion, also known as the “War of the Three Henrys,” pitted the Royalist Henry III (1551–89), Henry of Navarre (1553–1610), and Henry de Guise (1555–88) against each other in a struggle over succession to the French throne. The war began when Henry III withdrew many of the concessions he had granted to the Protestants during his reign. At the Battle of Coutras on October 20, 1587, the army of Henry of Navarre, 1,500 cavalry and 5,000 infantry, smashed the Royalist cavalry—1,700 lancers—and 7,000 infantry. More than 3,000 Royalists were killed; Protestant deaths totaled 200. Especially effective against the Royalist was the massed fire of the Protestant arquebuses, primitive muskets.

Despite the Protestant victory at Coutras, the Catholics under Henry of Guise prevailed at Vimoy and Auneau and checked the advance of a German army marching into the Loire Valley to aid to Protestants. Henry’s next victory was in Paris, where he forced the king to capitulate in May 1588. In subsequent intrigues, Henry de Guise and his brother Cardinal Louis I de Guise (1527–78) were assassinated. Fleeing the Catholics’ rage over the murders, Henry III sought refuge with Protestant leader Henry of Navarre. The king failed to find permanent safety and was assassinated, stabbed to death, by a Catholic monk on August 2, 1589. On his deathbed, the king named Henry of Navarre his successor. The Catholics refused to acknowledge him king, insisting instead that Cardinal Charles de Bourbon (1566–1612) was the rightful ruler of France. This conflict sparked the NINTH WAR OF RELIGION.

French Wars of Religion between 1540 and 1600 Part II

Ninth War of Religion, (1589–1598)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catholics vs. Huguenots in France



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Protestants in France sought religious freedom.

OUTCOME: Henry III, although he had returned to the Catholic faith, issued the Edict of Nantes, which proclaimed religious freedom for French Protestants.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Catholics, 26,000; Huguenots, 20,000

CASUALTIES: Catholics, 13,550 killed or wounded; Huguenots, 12,040 killed or wounded

TREATIES: Edict of Nantes (1598)

The naming of Henry of Navarre (1553–1610) as successor to the French throne sparked the final War of Religion between Protestant Huguenots and Catholics in France. Insisting that Charles, duke de Bourbon (1566–1612), was the rightful successor to Henry III (1551–89), the Catholics enlisted the aid of the Spanish. Charles, duke of Mayenne (1554–1611), the younger brother of Henry of Guise (1555–88), led the Catholic efforts.

At the Battle of Arques on September 21, 1589, Henry of Navarre (1553–1660) ambushed Mayenne’s army of 24,000 French Catholic and Spanish soldiers. Having lost 600 men, Mayenne withdrew to Amiens, while the victorious Navarre, whose casualties numbered 200 killed or wounded, rushed toward Paris.

A Catholic garrison near Paris repulsed Navarre’s advance on November 1, 1589. Not to be daunted in his quest for the throne, Henry withdrew but promptly proclaimed himself Henry IV and established a temporary capital at Tours.

Henry of Navarre won another important battle at Ivry on March 14, matching 11,000 troops against Mayenne’s 19,000. Mayenne lost 3,800 killed, whereas Navarre suffered only 500 casualties.

Civil war continued unabated. Between May and August 1590, Paris was reduced to near starvation during Navarre’s siege of the city. Maneuvers continued, especially in northern France until May 1592; however, in July 1593 Henry of Navarre reunited most of the French populace by declaring his return to the Catholic faith. His army then turned to counter a threat of invasion by Spain and the French Catholics allied with Mayenne.

On March 21, 1594, Henry of Navarre entered Paris in triumph and over the next few years battled the invading Spanish: at Fontaine-Française on June 9, 1596, at Calais on April 9, 1596, and at Amiens on September 17, 1596. No further major campaigns ensued.

On April 13, 1598, Henry of Navarre ended the decades of violence between the Catholics and the Protestants by issuing the Edict of Nantes, whereby he granted religious freedom to the Protestants. Then on May 2, 1598, the war with Spain ended with the Treaty of Vervins, whereby Spain recognized Henry as king of France. The next major conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in France occurred 27 years later when the Protestants rose in revolt in 1625 and the English joined their cause in the ANGLO-FRENCH WAR (1627–1628).

As with any civil war the sudden mustering of large numbers of infantry means the quality generally drops. There were however, aside from the Swiss, some excellent infantry out there that was indeed decisive.

First, there was the ‘Spanish’ infantry regiments, composed of separate nationalities of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish and the Italians were best, followed by Burgundian and Walloon. It was they that crushed the Dutch in so many battles and saved their French Catholic allies at others.

The French had their ‘Legion’ infantry from different quarters of the country. Some were recently raised while others like the Bande Noire were initially veteran companies of from the late Italian wars who were excellent. Also, the garrisons of the three bishoprics gained from the Holy Roman Empire were considered the best soldiers in France.

Even the Huguenots had their crack infantry regiments, like those under La Noue in Poitou that were long service veterans (by 1570) and could stand up to the best of the Legions. Navarre’s infantry in the 1580’s were very tough veterans as they proved at Coutras and later north of the Loire allied to Henry III.

The Papacy sent some fine infantry to France in 1568 which were feared because of their discipline and excellent officers, and were in the thick of the fighting.

Regiments that were long service and well equipped could be and were decisive (especially in Sieges, of course) on the battlefields of Dreux, St. Denis, Moncontour and Coutras. There were dozens of less famous (but fairly large) battles where they took the lead.

Hastily raised regiments were generally of very low quality and were mostly good for running away. The Huguenots who were pike-and-corslet poor would strip some units to supply others, leaving them only with staves and arquebus. They were usually kept far to the rear in battle.

It should be remembered that France fielded the best cavalry in Europe and therefore had pride of place. Much of the war was financed by the wealthy and as you can guess they lavished money on their Gendarmes companies before they took care of the infantry. The crown could afford (on credit) to keep infantry embodied and armed so they were of better quality.

Infantry played an important part in several battles of the French wars but this tends to get overlooked due to a focus on the cavalry or a lack of details in English language descriptions which often rely heavily on Oman. And Oman used a narrow selection of sources while turning a blind eye to facts which did not suit him. As a result his battle descriptions are inferior in detail and quality when compared to those of French or German historians.

Dreux 1562
The Swiss infantry are rightly famous for their stout resistance in this battle. Despite all of their supporting troops being overthrown and routed and the lack of support from the other half of the Royal army they fought on resisting attacks by both horse and foot. But even though the Landsknechts were easily beaten by the Swiss they could not stand up to the repeated & skillfull attacks made by the Huguenot Gendarmes, Reiters and skirmishing Enfants Predu. With most of the Swiss senior officers killed or wounded and a good part of the rank & file dead and wounded the mighty Swiss regimental square broke apart as it was attacked from almost every direction. But the men did not rout, rather they banded together around individual standards and in small bands made fighting withdrawal from the field.

During the Duke of Guise’s counterattack the veteran Gascon infantry play a critical role as they resisted all attacks by the Huguenot Gendarmes even though they became completely surrounded during the Huguenot charge. Their resistance tied up a lot of cavalry and eased the pressure against the rest of the catholic army which was taking a beating from the combined attack of Gendarmes & Reiters.

Just before that the Spanish infantry had made short work of the Huguenot foot which forced the Admiral to attack without infantry support.

Without the actions of the Swiss & Gascon infantry it is probable that the Royalists would have lost the battle of Dreux. Their cavalry clearly came second best in most of the actions when fighting on their own.

Moncontour 1569
The Swiss again played a very important part in the battle, two regiments took part. Cléry’s weaker regiment was deployed in the Vanguard with strong support by French arquebusiers who were posted on each flank. (In order to avoid a repeat of Dreux where the Swiss lack of arquebusiers meant that they could not effectively resist the Huguenot Reiters & Enfants Perdu). In the Main Battle Pfyffer’s regiment was also supported by two ‘regiments’ of French shot, in addition the cavalry of de Cossé was also tasked with protecting Pfyffer’s flank

In the battle Clery’s regiment engaged the Huguenot Landsknechts, Segesser describes the ensuing combat as “hard fought and “for quite some time undecided”. Pfyffer’s regiment remained in reserve in the beginning but the battle reached a crisis point with the defeat of Anjou’s cavalry and the death of the Markgraf of Baden Tavannes sent Pfyffer’s Swiss into battle together de Cossé’s cavalry. The Swiss advanced rapidly (“at a trott”), an attack against their flank by 1500 Reiters was defeated by their supporting French arquebusiers and the disordered Reiters were then routed by Royal cavalry. Meanwhile the Pfyffer’s men smashed into the cavalry melee at a run and decided it for the Royalists. The Landsknechts who so far had put up stout resistance was disordered by fleeing Huguenot cavalry and then broken and massacred by Clery’s Swiss and their supporting troops. Meanwhile Pfyffer had wheeled his regiment against the right wing of the Huguenot army and effortlessly broke the resistance of the Huguenot’s infantry.

Arques 1589
Arques was very much an infantry battle but since Sully’s account is one of few easily available in English and he fought with the cavalry the cavalry’s part of the battle tend to get exaggerated. But it was the Swiss & French infantry who held the critical fortified positions and without their ability to resist superior numbers or willingness to counterattack to regain lost positions Henri IV would have lost the battle.

Other battles
Battles like Coutras 1587 may not have been decided by the infantry but saw extensive fighting between the infantrymen on both sides who were anything but passive spectators. I suspect that a detailed look at the smaller and less well known battles may well turn up similar details. The only battles in which the infantry seems to have remained mostly passive seem to be St. Denis 1567 and Ivry 1590 and even there I suspect that one might find that the infantry saw more action that is commonly believed if one digs deep into the sources.

Battle of Telamon 225 BC

The Gallic War II – The Battle of Telamon (225 BC)

It is only during the Gallic retreat northwards that Polybius reintroduces the second Consul, C. Atilius Regulus. We have no details of his activities in Sardinia, and only know that he was detained long enough to leave eastern Italy under-defended, allowing the Gallic tribes to push through unopposed. We must assume that when the Gallic army did invade western Italy, messengers were sent to him at the same time as Aemilius in the east. Again, Polybius does not provide us with a timescale, but whilst events were transpiring at the Battle of Faesulae, Atilius seemingly ended his campaign in Sardinia (though we are not told with what level of success) and transported his army across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the city of Pisa. Polybius states that Atilius marched south towards Rome, which he must have assumed was the intended objective of the Gallic force. At this point it is clear that he did not know of the events of Faesulae or that the Gauls were heading directly towards him. He naturally sent scouts out ahead of the main force and it was they who first encountered the retreating Gallic army near the city of Telamon (modern Talamone) on the Etrurian coast:

When the Celts were near Telamon in Etruria, their advanced foragers encountered the advance guard of Caius and were made prisoners. On being examined by the Consul they narrated all that had recently occurred and told him of the presence of the two armies, stating that the Gauls were quite near and Lucius behind them. The news surprised him but at the same time made him very hopeful, as he thought he had caught the Gauls on the march between the two armies.

The Battle of Telamon (225 BC) – Polybian Version

Thus, through a change of circumstance Atilius found his fortunes drastically changed; from having been held too long in Sardinia and missing the Gallic invasion, he now found that he was in prime position to fight and defeat the Gauls, and set his army to give battle. We are fortunate to have a detailed narrative of the battle preserved in Polybius, probably based on a first-hand account from Fabius Pictor:

He ordered his Tribunes to put the legions in fighting order and to advance thus at marching pace in so far as the nature of the ground allowed the attack in line. He himself had happily noticed a hill situated above the road by which the Celts must pass, and taking his cavalry with him, advanced at full speed, being anxious to occupy the crest of the hill before their arrival and be the first to begin the battle, feeling certain that thus he would get the largest share of credit for the result.

It seems that Atilius was over-eager to claim the glory of defeating the Gauls for himself and neglected to link up with the army of Aemilius, which was trailing the Gauls. Once again two Roman commanders failed to link up properly and deliver a decisive blow to the Gauls, and utilise the numbers of both armies catching the Gauls in a pincer. Nevertheless, Atilius’ decisiveness had allowed him to select his own battle site and occupy the high ground. The first clash of the battle was a light skirmish between an advance force of Gallic cavalry and infantry and Atilius’ cavalry on the top of the hill:

The Celts at first were ignorant of the arrival of Atilius and imagined from what they saw, that Aemilius’ cavalry had got round their flank in the night and were engaged in occupying the position. They therefore at once sent on their own cavalry and some of their light-armed troops to dispute the possession of the hill. But very soon they learnt of Caius’ presence from one of the prisoners brought in.

Although Polybius gives us no details of this first skirmish between the two sides at Telamon, his narrative does indicate that the Gauls were able to take prisoners and thus ascertain the nature of the threat they faced, and were able to make the appropriate tactical decisions. Thus Atilius seems to have lost some of the initiative:

[the Gauls] lost no time in drawing up their infantry, deploying them so that they faced both front and rear, since, both from the intelligence that reached them and from what was happening before their eyes, they knew that the one army was following them, and they expected to meet the other in their front.

Whilst the fighting was continuing for the hill between Atilius’ cavalry and the Gauls, fortune again favoured the Romans, as Aemilius was now close enough to learn of Atilius’ disposition and lend aid:

Aemilius, who had heard of the landing of the legions at Pisa but had not any idea that they were already so near him, now, when he saw the fight going on round the hill, knew that the other Roman Army was quite close. Accordingly, sending on his cavalry to help those who were fighting on the hill, he drew up his infantry in the usual order and advanced against the foe.

Thus a third force of cavalry entered the battle on the hill, to join Atilius’ cavalry and the Gallic cavalry supported by Gallic infantry. Away from the hill, it seems that Aemilius was in fact closer to the main body of the Gallic army than Atilius’ main force, which must have been further ahead. Polybius presents us with a detailed disposition of the Gallic force:

The Celts had drawn up facing their rear, from which they expected Aemilius to attack, the Gaesatae from the Alps and behind them the Insubres, and facing in the opposite direction, ready to meet the attack of Caius’ [Atilius’] legions, they placed the Taurisci and the Boii from the right bank of the Po. Their wagons and chariots they stationed at the extremity of either wing and collected their booty on one of the neighbouring hills with a protecting force round it. This order of the Celtic forces, facing both ways, not only presented a formidable appearance, but was well adapted to the exigencies of the situation. The Insubres and Boii wore their trousers and light cloaks, but the Gaesatae had discarded these garments owing to their proud confidence in themselves, and stood naked, with nothing but their arms, in front of the whole army, thinking that thus they would be more efficient, as some of the ground was overgrown with brambles which would catch in their clothes and impede the use of their weapons.

Despite the Gauls being caught between two Roman armies, the lack of Roman co-ordination and the skirmish on the hill had allowed them time to make adequate dispositions to face both Roman armies with confidence. Facing the north and Atilius’ army were the Boii and Taurisci, and to the south and facing Aemilius’ army were the Gaesatae and the Insubres.

As before, the initial phase of the battle was between the cavalry of all three armies and focussed on gaining control of the hill, though we do not know the number involved:

At first the battle was confined to the hill, all the armies gazing on it, so great were the numbers of cavalry from each host combating there pell-mell. In this action Caius [Atilius] the Consul fell in the mêlée fighting with desperate courage, and his head was brought to the Celtic kings; but the Roman cavalry, after a stubborn struggle, at length overmastered the enemy and gained possession of the hill.

Thus, the Romans emerged victorious in this initial phase, but lost the Consul Atilius. It is difficult to know what to make of Atilius’ tactics. He seems to have made the decisive move to offer battle at Telamon and chose his ground well, but we must question his decision to take the fore with his cavalry on the hill. From the information we have, it does seem that he struck out too far from his main army and made himself a tempting target sat on top of that hill. At first the Gauls were able to attack him in force, capturing prisoners, and thus learn of the nature of the force that awaited them, avoiding any attempt at ambush.

Furthermore, his force seems to have been overwhelmed on that hill, leading to his death in battle. Ultimately, his decision not to link up with the army of his Consular colleague appears to have cost him at least his life, but not the battle; an outcome which was only avoided by Aemilius’ timely arrival rather than any co-ordination between the two men.

With the cavalry battle concluded and the Romans victorious on the hill, the main armies moved to engage. Despite the loss of the Consul Atilius Regulus, it seems that the Romans armies were able to co-ordinate their actions, possibly thanks to the cavalry of the two Roman armies intermingling on the hill. We have no timescale for the lapse between the cavalry battle and the advance of the main armies. Now, however, the Gauls found themselves attacked on two fronts:

The infantry were now close upon each other, and the spectacle was a strange and marvellous one, not only to those actually present at the battle, but to all who could afterwards picture it to themselves from the reports. For in the first place, as the battle was between three armies, it is evident that the appearance and the movements of the forces marshalled against each other must have been in the highest degree strange and unusual. Again, it must have been to all present, and still is to us, a matter of doubt whether the Celts, with the enemy advancing on them from both sides, were more dangerously situated, or, on the contrary, more effectively, since at one and the same time they were fighting against both their enemies and were protecting themselves in the rear from both, while, above all, they were absolutely cut off from retreat or any prospect of escape in the case of defeat, this being the peculiarity of this two-faced formation. The Romans, however, were on the one hand encouraged by having caught the enemy between their two armies, but on the other they were terrified by the fine order of the Celtic host and the dreadful din, for there were innumerable horn-blowers and trumpeters, and, as the whole army were shouting their war-cries at the same time, there was such a tumult of sound that it seemed that not only the trumpets and the soldiers but all the country round had got a voice and caught up the cry. Very terrifying too were the appearance and the gestures of the naked warriors in front, all in the prime of life, and finely built men, and all in the leading companies richly adorned with gold torques and armlets. The sight of them indeed dismayed the Romans, but at the same time the prospect of winning such spoils made them twice as keen for the fight.

As was custom, the Romans opened with a volley of pila, which seemed to have a particularly devastating effect on the Gaesatae facing Aemilius’ army:

But when the javelineers advanced, as is their usage, from the ranks of the Roman legions and began to hurl their javelins in well-aimed volleys, the Celts in the rear ranks indeed were well protected by their trousers and cloaks, but it fell out far otherwise than they had expected with the naked men in front, and they found themselves in a very difficult and helpless predicament. For the Gallic shield does not cover the whole body; so that their nakedness was a disadvantage, and the bigger they were the better chance had the missiles of going home. At length, unable to drive off the javelineers owing to the distance and the hail of javelins, and reduced to the utmost distress and perplexity, some of them, in their impotent rage, rushed wildly on the enemy and sacrificed their lives, while others, retreating step by step on the ranks of their comrades, threw them into disorder by their display of faint-heartedness. Thus was the spirit of the Gaesatae broken down by the javelineers.

With the volleys of pila exhausted, the two sides met head on:

…but the main body of the Insubres, Boii, and Taurisci, once the javelineers had withdrawn into the ranks and the Roman maniples attacked them, met the enemy and kept up a stubborn hand-to hand combat. For, though being almost cut to pieces, they held their ground, equal to their foes in courage, and inferior only, as a force and individually, in their arms. The Roman shields, it should be added, were far more serviceable for defence and their swords for attack, the Gallic sword being only good for a cut and not for a thrust.

It seems, however, that the two sides were evenly matched until the decisive move was made by the Roman cavalry on top of the hill, attacking the Gallic force from the flanks:

But finally, attacked from higher ground and on their flank by the Roman cavalry, which rode down the hill and charged them vigorously, the Celtic infantry were cut to pieces where they stood, their cavalry taking to flight.

Thus it seems that both Consuls had a hand in the tactics that led to the Roman victory; Atilius for recognizing the importance of taking control of the hill top which would give the Romans access to the Gallic flank, and Aemilius for having the presence of mind to send reinforcements to the hill top when it seemed that Atilius had overreached himself and placed his position in jeopardy. In the end, despite the disjointed start to the battle, the Roman emerged totally victorious, with the defeated Gauls trapped between three Roman forces and annihilated. Polybius, supported by other sources, places the total Gallic dead at 40,000, with 10,000 taken prisoner; the most comprehensive Roman victory over the Gauls in Roman history to date. Given that our sources stated that the Gallic forces were 70,000 strong (50,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry, see above), this must mean that some 20,000 Gauls escaped. Of the Gaesatae chieftains, Concolitanus was taken prisoner and Aneroëstus fled, but committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner.

The Battle of Telamon (225 BC) – Non-Polybian Versions

Although Polybius preserves by far the best account, written less than 100 years later and based on first-hand accounts, a number of other sources provide shorter versions of the campaign, some of which add some interesting details or variations. Both Diodorus and Orosius offer short accounts of the campaign and the Battle of Telamon; both are remarkably similar:

The Celts and Gauls, having assembled a force of 200,000 men, joined battle with the Romans and in the first combat were victorious. In a second attack they were again victorious, and even killed one of the Roman Consuls. The Romans, who for their part had seven hundred thousand infantry and seventy thousand cavalry, after suffering these two defeats, won a decisive victory in the third engagement. They slew forty thousand men and took the rest captive, with the result that the chief prince of the enemy slashed his own throat and the prince next in rank to him was taken alive.

Battle was joined near Arretium [modern Arezzo]. The Consul Atilius was killed and his 800,000 Romans, after part of their number were cut down fled, even though the slaughter on their side ought not to have panicked them, for historians record that only 3,000 of them were killed.

After this a second battle was fought against the Gauls in which at least 40,000 of them were slaughtered.

Both sources seem to make the same mistake on the Roman numbers, interpreting Polybius’ figures for total available manpower as the number of soldiers Rome had in the field, and Orosius seems to believe that all eight hundred thousand Roman soldiers fled the field. Diodorus interestingly has three battles in his campaign; two Roman defeats and a victory. However he states that a Consul (Atilius) was killed in the second battle, which indicates that both sources, or their source, separated the Battle of Telamon into two separate battles; the cavalry action on the hill and the infantry clash, the former of which he believes to have been a Roman defeat. Similarly Orosius has separated the battle into two, with Atilius being killed in a defeat, followed by a victory.

It is interesting to see how the narrative of this battle has evolved over time, with Atilius’ action evolving into a Roman defeat, which was then avenged at Telamon, rather than being seen as two parts of the same battle. Ancient historians seemed to have judged Atilius poorly, mostly for being killed in battle, which then discredited his actions on the hill. As it was, it was his tactical move to secure the hill for the Roman cavalry which proved to be the turning point of the battle, securing Roman victory, though he needed Aemilius’ force to secure control of the hill, having seemingly overstretched his own position. Despite his short and garbled account, Orosius is the only one to provide us with a figure for the Roman dead; three thousand as opposed to the forty thousand killed on the Gallic side.

The theme of Atilius’ role being downgraded as time passed can be seen in the account preserved by Eutropius, who erases him altogether:

When Lucius Aemilius was Consul, a vast force of the Gauls crossed the Alps; but all Italy united in favour of the Romans; and it is recorded by Fabius the historian, who was present in that war, that there were eight hundred thousand men ready for the contest. Affairs, however, were brought to a successful termination by the Consul alone; forty thousand of the enemy were killed, and a triumph decreed to Aemilius.

Here Eutropius goes out of his way to state that it was Aemilius alone who was responsible for the Roman victory. Florus too has a short account of the war, which although severely lacking in detail, states that it was Aemilius who defeated the Gauls.¹⁷ The only exception to this trend is Pliny, who does not provide detail of the campaign, but does comment on Aemilius and Atilius raising nearly 800,000 men (again a misreading of Polybius, who stated that that number were available, not mobilized. Plutarch comments on the early years of the war without even mentioning either Consul of 225 BC:

The first conflicts of this war brought great victories and also great disasters to the Romans, and led to no sure and final conclusion.

The figure of 40,000 Gallic dead is a common one throughout all accounts of the battle. Even Jerome preserves the figure in an entry. Dio has a fragment on the Gallic character, which may reveal some small additional detail about the battle:

The Gauls became dejected on seeing that the Romans had already seized the most favourable positions.

Zonaras, however, preserves an interesting variation on the campaign, no doubt mirroring the original account of Dio:

The barbarians plundered some towns, but at last a great storm occurred in the night, and they suspected that Heaven was against them. Consequently they lost heart, and falling into a panic, attempted to find safety in flight. Regulus pursued them and brought on an engagement with the rear-guard in which he was defeated and lost his life. Aemilius occupied a hill and remained quiet. The Gauls in turn occupied another hill, and for several days both sides were inactive; then the Romans, through anger at what had taken place, and the barbarians, from arrogance born of their victory, charged down from the heights and came to blows. For a long time the battle was evenly fought, but finally the Romans surrounded the others with their cavalry, cut them down, seized their camp, and recovered the spoils.

Here we have some significant differences. The first notable one concerns the early Gallic campaigns, which ignores the Roman defeat at Faesulae and has the Gauls turning back due to divine omens. Next we have the role of Regulus, who again is relegated to a supporting role, killed fighting the Gallic rearguard, which is interesting as he actually lay in the path of the Gauls and was attacked by an advance contingent of Gallic cavalry, whilst it was Aemilius who was to their rear. Dio again separates the two engagements, this time inserting a number of days between the clashes. During the final battle, again unnamed, both sides occupied opposing hills and then charged at each other, though again the battle is won by the Roman cavalry.

This is a fascinating example of the divergences we see in the ancient sources. If we did not have the account of Polybius, then it would be Zonaras who provided the most detail. We would conclude that there were indeed two final battles to the campaign, separated by a period of time, with Atilius and Aemilius not joining up their forces and Atilius dying in battle first. Given this disparity, it does beg the question how many other accounts of Roman battles and campaigns we have which are similarly skewed towards one version without us even being aware of it.

Brazil: Late Nineteenth Century to WWI

Riachuelo (1883) – Presidential visit to Buenos Aires in 1900

The Empire of Brazil, c. 1889. Cisplatina had been lost since 1828 and two new provinces had been created since then (Amazonas and Paraná)

The Paraguayan War and the ‘Military Question’

Brazilian participation in the Paraguayan War of 1864–70 had dire consequences for the country. It is a war that has become notorious for causing more deaths in proportion to the number of people who fought in it than any other war in history. It also created a new generation of junior officers who differed from those who had gone before. They were educated men – very often having attended universities abroad – who had less regard for the monarchy than their predecessors.

Uruguay had come into existence in 1828 after three years of conflict between Argentina, Brazil and the faction seeking independence for the region. The British, with financial and commercial interests in the River Plate estuary, were very pleased to see the creation of a country that they hoped would bring stability to the region. The nineteenth century brought unrest, however, as Uruguay’s two political parties – the Colorado, linked to business interests and Europe, and the Blanco, made up of rural landowners who opposed European influence – vied for power, often violently. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the old Spanish province of Paraguay had overthrown their Spanish administration in 1811. In 1842, President Carlos Antonio López (1792–1862) declared himself dictator and in 1862 his son, Francisco Solano López (1827–70), came to power following his father’s death. That year he entered into an alliance with the Blanco Party that ruled Uruguay at the time. Fighting broke out between the Blancos and Colorados and spilled over into Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil, spurring the Brazilians to invade Uruguay in order to help the Colorados seize power. The Uruguayans captured a Brazilian ship and then invaded the Mato Grosso region in western Brazil. In 1865, the Paraguayans planned to invade Uruguay but this would involve them in crossing Argentinean territory. Subsequently, on 1 May, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay entered into a Triple Alliance and declared war on Paraguay. The Paraguayans did not attack Uruguay as planned and all the fighting actually took place in Paraguay itself.

Brazil was not prepared for war although its navy, consisting of a few warships, easily defeated the tiny Paraguayan navy. Its army, consisting of only 18,000 poorly trained fighting men, had long been neglected. The desperate Brazilian government promised slaves their freedom if they enlisted. Finally, in 1866, the Brazilian army invaded Paraguay but was defeated in its first engagement at the Battle of Curupayty. In summer 1867, however, the Duke of Caxias led the siege and capture of the important fortress at Humaitá in southern Paraguay. The capital was taken a short while later. Brazil would occupy Paraguay until 1878.

The war was costly for Brazil. It brought a steep rise in inflation and the empire’s foreign debt increased. The most telling consequence was the effect on the army. Its prestige and influence, as well as its size, were greatly increased by the conflict. The officers, whose number increased from 1,500 to 10,000, were now politicised but were uncomfortable with what appeared to be an anti-military stance emanating from the emperor. Indeed, he had deliberately eschewed the caudilho, military style of leadership that was popular amongst many Spanish-American rulers and was careful not to appoint military men to high-ranking political positions. The officer corps’ disquiet was increased by the enforced resignation of the Liberal Prime Minister, Zacarias de Góis e Vasconcelos (1815–77), whose direction of the war effort had been to their liking. Only the fact that the military commander Caxias remained loyal to Pedro eased their feelings of discontent. His death in 1880, therefore, was a blow not only to the emperor personally, but had grave implications for the future of the monarchy.

The junior officers’ irritation at the failure of the government to improve army pay and conditions developed into a feeling of political disenchantment and the beginnings of a movement to reform Brazil’s political system. Officers were barred from political activity but in 1879 a group of officers publicly criticised a proposal before the General Assembly to cut the size of the army. No action was taken against them but in the coming years when officers again engaged in political debate, they would be disciplined.

The ‘military question’, as it was known, became a source of growing tension between the army and the government. The unrest soon spread to senior officers who demonstrated support for their younger colleagues. The main spokesman was Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca (1827–92) who, in 1887, was elected first president of Brazil’s Club Militar (Military Club), a society created to uphold soldiers’ rights. Tension rose when, in June 1889, Emperor Pedro appointed a Liberal, the Viscount of Ouro Preto (1836–1912), as prime minister. Ouro Preto wasted no time in antagonising Deodoro by naming an opponent of his as president of Rio Grande do Sul.

The Military Coup of 1889

For some time, Republican politicians had been cultivating friendships with the military, realising that as neither elections nor the General Assembly were likely to bring the empire to an end it would take the support of the army to do so. In 1887, Marshal Deodoro wrote to the emperor, warning him about his attitude towards the Brazilian military and indicating to him that the ongoing support of the army could not be guaranteed. Meanwhile, his fellow officers were eager to replace the empire with a republic, amongst them men such as Benjamin Constant (1836–1891), like Deodoro a veteran of the Paraguayan War. Meanwhile, Pedro II was suffering from diabetes and, although only 64, was becoming increasingly frail. He seemed to have lost interest in the business of government and it has been suggested that he had already accepted that the empire would not survive his death. The fact that he had no male heir suggested that he had good reason to fear for the empire’s survival. His daughter, Princess Isabel (1846–1921), who had already courted controversy with her support for abolitionism, was the legal heir, but it was highly unlikely that a male-dominated society like Brazil would be prepared to accept a woman on the throne. As if it was not bad enough that she was a woman, her husband, Prince Gaston, Count of Eu (1842–1922), was French.

There was a growing feeling in Brazil that too much power was vested in the emperor, the Senate and the Council of State, none of whom, after all, had been elected. As republican clamour grew, Ouro Preto introduced measures to reduce the power of the Council of State, the General Assembly and the provincial presidents, but they were thrown out by the General Assembly. The emperor responded to this setback in the customary manner, by dissolving the General Assembly and calling for new elections to be held in November 1889. It was obvious that nothing was likely to change. The military responded by ordering Benjamin Constant, in concert with Republicans such as Quintino Bocaiúva (1836–1912) and Rui Barbosa (1849–1923), to devise plans for a coup. Early in the morning of 15 November 1889, troops commanded by Deodoro, who had agreed to be the coup’s leader, surrounded government buildings in Rio de Janeiro. It was initially supposed that the action was intended simply to change the cabinet, but that afternoon Deodoro declared that Pedro II had been overthrown and that Brazil would henceforth be a republic.

That day, Pedro was at his summer palace at Petrópolis, outside Rio de Janeiro. After hurrying back to the capital, he was ordered to leave Brazil within twenty-four hours, taking the rest of the royal family with him. On 17 November, he sailed into exile in Portugal and France, choosing this fate rather than subject Brazil to an inevitable civil war. All proceeded peacefully, although many observers were astonished at the lack of support for the monarchy. Robert Adams Jr (1849–1906), United States Minister to Brazil at the time of the coup, wrote that it was ‘the most remarkable ever recorded in history. Entirely unexpected by the Government or people, the overthrow of the Empire has been accomplished without bloodshed, without riotous proceedings or interruptions to the usual avocations of life’.

Estados Unidos do Brazil (United States of Brazil)

The leaders of the coup of 1889 immediately established their regime as a ‘provisional’ government, declaring Brazil a federal republic. They issued proclamations justifying their action, claiming that they had undertaken the coup on behalf of the Brazilian people. Deodoro was in charge as ‘chief of the provisional government’ and a number of prominent politicians quickly rallied to his cause, including Rui Barbosa, Quintino Bocaiúva and Benjamin Constant, who were each rewarded with a position in the new government. Rui accepted the position of Finance Minister, Constant was appointed Minister for War and Quintino took office as Minister of Foreign Relations. The formal name of the country was changed from the Empire of Brazil to the Republic of the United States of Brazil and a new national flag was designed. Work began on a new constitution, the aim being to transform Brazil into a modern, industrial democracy.

The new constitution advocated a federal political system, fulfilling the objectives of a Republican manifesto of 1870 that had demanded the transfer of power from the centre to the regions, a move welcomed by the influential coffee industry, especially in São Paulo. As in the days of the Empire, however, there would still be a central executive administration, with a national legislature based in Rio de Janeiro. The Liberals considered this to be the best way of maintaining national unity and merchants and businessmen hoped it would help create a domestic market. It was decided to follow the political model of the United States, with a president and a federal government made up of executive, legislative and judicial bodies. The president would be elected by the people for a four-year term and would be prohibited from serving consecutive terms. The franchise was limited to literate males over the age of twenty-one, representing about 17 per cent of the population. A large majority of the Brazilian people were still unable to participate in the choice of their ruler. The rest of the world was expanding the franchise, but Brazil, still afraid of the will of the people, was reluctant to follow the trend.

Legislative power was placed in the hands of a National Congress which, like its imperial predecessor, the General Assembly, would consist of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate. Each state was allocated three senators, each of whom would serve nine years before standing for re-election. The deputies would serve terms of three years and would be elected on the basis of population, the more highly populated states benefiting most from this, of course. Inevitably, elections were rigged. Voters in rural areas were forced to vote for the chosen candidates of the local oligarch – an abuse known as coronelismo. If all else failed, the election results could still be changed by Congress’s Verification of Powers Commission as the election authorities in the República Velha (Old Republic), were not independent from the executive and the legislature and those were, of course, controlled by the ruling elite.

The twenty provinces that had existed under the empire became twenty-one with the creation of the new Federal District of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Each was permitted to create its own constitution and be self-governing, with directly elected governors and their own legislative assemblies and courts. They were given financial autonomy with the power to levy taxes on exports, this being particularly welcomed by São Paulo and Minas Gerais, two states with lucrative export economies. States were permitted to establish their own militias or police forces and São Paulo even had its own army which was every bit as well-equipped as the national army.

Church and state were separated, meaning that Brazil no longer had a state religion. The state assumed many of the responsibilities formerly held by the church – only civil marriages would be officially recognised and cemeteries were taken over by municipalities. These measures were a reflection of the beliefs of the republican leaders but also brought the many Lutheran immigrants in Brazil into the national fold. To further embrace its immigrant population, the government passed a measure decreeing that unless they expressed a wish otherwise, all foreigners who had been in Brazil on 15 November when the Brazilian Republic came into being would automatically be considered Brazilian citizens.

Generally speaking, the power lay not only with the newly politicised professional military class but also in the hands of the planter elite based mainly in the coffee-producing regions of São Paulo and the commercial and banking interests concentrated in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais. For most people little changed but army officers probably benefited more than most with increased salaries and lucrative appointments to government positions. The elite, along with the military, therefore, still controlled the machinery of government and, although a few liberals, such as Rui Barbosa, tried to persuade the government to introduce reforms in education and working conditions and pay and to consider the issue of land reform, nothing would really change until well into the next century.

In effect, of course, what had occurred was a military coup. The army ruled as a military dictatorship for the first five years following the coup in what was known as the ‘Republic of the Sword’. Inevitably there were clashes between politicians and the newly politicised army officers, especially Deodoro who was authoritarian by nature. Eventually, in January 1891, the cabinet resigned. Meanwhile, the constitution demanded the election of the first president of the Republic who would serve until 1894. Deodoro was the obvious choice, but opponents to the military’s involvement in government put forward a rival candidate, Prudente de Morais (1841–1902), president of the Constituent Assembly and a former governor of São Paulo. As anticipated, Deodoro won, by 129 votes to 97, and was sworn in as the first President of the Republic of Brazil on 26 February 1891. The margin of victory was sufficiently small to suggest that the new president was not the most popular of choices, but, as everyone was well aware, if he had lost, the army would almost certainly have stepped in and declared a dictatorship.

Deodoro took office amidst unrest, much of it caused by the economic crisis, the Encilhamento, a word borrowed from horse racing and suggestive of efforts to get rich quick. His handling of this situation was calamitous and gained him the animosity of Congress as did his lack of control over his ministries. Congress obstructed him at every opportunity. The Republicans from the South eventually withdrew their support from him and the provisional government. When the government was accused of corruption in November 1891, Deodoro dissolved the new National Congress, declaring a ‘state of emergency’ and assuming virtual dictatorial power, something for which he was heavily criticised and which lost him a great deal of support, even within the army. The vice president, Marshal Floriano Peixoto (1839–1895), conspired with other officers, leading to the seizure of warships in Guanabara Bay by Admiral Custódio José de Melo (1840–1902). De Melo threatened to open fire on Rio de Janeiro unless Deodoro recalled Congress. Deodoro responded by resigning on 23 November 1891 and Floriano, as Peixoto was popularly known, assumed the presidency, immediately recalling Congress.

The republic’s second president – known as the ‘Iron Marshal’ – gained a reputation as an upholder of the constitution, but although he is said to have had a better understanding of ordinary people than his predecessor and succeeded in consolidating the republic, he was, in reality, not that different. He increasingly championed centralisation of power and nationalism but he faced stiff challenges. Some claimed that his presidency was unconstitutional because Deodoro had failed to serve the statutory two years in office and Floriano should, therefore, call a presidential election. His solution to this problem was simply to retain the title of ‘Vice President’. He also faced opposition from senior officers of the Brazilian navy who resented the power and prestige of the army. Civil unrest raged in several states from the north to the south of the country and in 1893 revolutionaries occupied Santa Catarina and Paraná in Rio Grande do Sul, capturing the city of Curitiba. Ultimately, though, they were ill-equipped for outright war. In 1893, Admiral de Melo also acted against Floriano, once again threatening to bombard the capital, but the president refused to follow the example of Deodoro by resigning. By 1895, he had quashed the revolt in Rio Grande do Sul and had also succeeded in pacifying the naval rebels.

In March 1894, Floriano called a presidential election, following pressure from the Republicans running São Paulo who were providing vital financial, military and political support to him. They sought to safeguard national stability and unity and protect their state from an influx of foreign investment and immigrants. The paulistas had helped Floriano by founding the Partido Republicano Federal (Federal Republican Party) or PRF in 1893, but he was, of course, excluded by the constitution from standing for election for a second term. Now eager to replace military rule with a civilian leader from their own ranks, this coalition of senators and deputies from several states put forward Prudente de Morais Barros as their presidential candidate. This marked the end of political activity by the army for the time being and Floriano’s subsequent death helped to further distance them from politics. The rival 1894 presidential candidate from Minas Gerais, Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena (1847–1909) lost heavily to Prudente – by 277,000 votes to 38,000 on 1 March 1894. It is worth noting, however, that with turmoil in Rio de Janeiro at the time, civil disorder in three of the country’s southern states and the severely restricted nature of the franchise, only 2.2 per cent of the entire Brazilian population voted in this election.

The Rubber Boom 1879–1912

From the middle of the nineteenth century until the collapse of the market in 1910, rubber was vitally important to the Brazilian economy, bringing enormous profits to those involved in it. Natural rubber comes from a milky white fluid called latex drained from the Hevea brasiliensis tree found in abundance in the Brazilian state of Pará in the Amazon tropical rainforest. Latex, found in sap extracted from the tree trunk through a small hole bored in it, had been exploited by the native peoples for centuries, smoked over a fire and molded into objects. In the late eighteenth century, the colonial government was ordering boots made of latex from them but, until around 1830, no one viewed it as having any real commercial potential. Towards the end of that decade, however, British and North American scientists devised the process of vulcanisation, in which the raw sap could be stabilised by heating. Soon, rubber was being used in a variety of products such as tyres for bicycles and motorcars and electrical insulation devices. Demand went through the roof and before long entrepreneurs and immigrants were flooding into the Amazon region. These rubber tappers extracted the sap before forming it into large balls of rubber that were sold at local trading posts. It was then transported to the coast before shipping to foreign ports.

As a result of the boom in demand for rubber, a number of towns and cities grew astonishingly rapidly, populated by ‘rubber barons’ who had amassed great fortunes. One example was the Amazonian port city of Manaus which grew from just a few settlers to a bustling city of 100,000 by 1910. Its famous opera house was constructed in 1881 by a local politician, Antonio Jose Fernandes Júnior, who envisioned a ‘jewel’ in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. It was the second Brazilian city, after Campos dos Goytacazes in the state of Rio de Janeiro, to have electricity. Foreign capital was invested in the region to create trading houses and companies, amongst which was the one that built the Madeira-Mamoré railway, completed in 1912, which linked Brazil and Bolivia. 6,000 workers are said to have lost their lives during its construction.

By 1910, the Amazon’s pre-eminence in the production of rubber was coming to an end. Several decades earlier, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew in England had smuggled some rubber seeds out of Brazil and produced trees in its hothouses in London. Seeds were then sent to the British colonies of Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) and Malaya (modern-day Malaysia) where, unlike the Brazilian variety, they proved resistant to disease. They also produced a more abundant crop. The American Ford Motor Company tried to replicate what the British had done by creating rubber plantations at a place they called Fordlandia near the town of Santarém in Pará but the South American trees’ lack of immunity to disease led to failure and the British, with their efficient and cost-effective Asian plantations, were left in control of the world’s rubber market. The development of a synthetic substitute for natural rubber during World War One caused further damage to the Brazilian rubber industry. Only when the Allies were cut off from their Asian supplies during the Second World War did Amazonian rubber see a brief revival.

The Paulista and Café-Com-Leite Presidents

It could be said that the Brazilian First Republic was little more than a search for the best type of government to take the place of the monarchy, the argument alternating between centralisation and devolution of power to the states. The instability and factional violence of the 1890s was a result of the lack of agreement amongst the various elites about the most appropriate government model. The Constitution of 1891 had given the states considerable autonomy and, until the 1920s, the federal government was therefore dominated by a combination of the most powerful states in the Republic – Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and, of course, Sâo Paulo.

Prudente’s first year in office saw the end of the Naval Revolt and the uprising in Rio Grande do Sul, although he was criticised for being too lenient to the Rio Grande do Sul rebels. In some quarters there was still a hankering for the monarchy and defenders of the Republic such as the ultra-national Jacobins, who had formed militia to defend Rio during the Naval Revolt, warned of monarchist conspiracies. Their warnings seemed to have been justified in 1896 as news reached the capital of a charismatic preacher, Antônio Vicente Mendes Maciel (1830–97), nicknamed Conselheiro who, in 1893, had assembled a community on an abandoned ranch at Canudos, a settlement 200 miles to the north of Salvador in Bahia. Conselheiro preached the return of the monarchy, describing the republicans as atheists. In 1896, he was engaged in a dispute with local officials over the cutting of timber that resulted in a force of police officers being sent to Canudos. They were sent packing, leading the Bahia Governor, Luís Viana (1846–1920), to request federal troops. Despite being armed with artillery and machine guns, they, too, were defeated and their commander was killed. The local dispute had quickly escalated into what became known as the Guerra de Canudos (War of Canudos), threatening the fledgling republic. There was protest and an outbreak of violence in Rio de Janeiro before an even larger military force was dispatched to the Northeast, consisting of 10,000 troops personally directed by the Minister of War, Marshal Carlos Machado Bittencourt (1840–97). During the ensuing siege, Conselheiro died, probably of dysentery, and Canudos was razed to the ground, more than half its 30,000 inhabitants being killed in the fighting and its aftermath. This ‘monarchist threat’ had been defeated but at a cost to the reputation and prestige of the army and of Prudente. The president’s unpopularity was made clear when a young soldier, Marcelino Bispo (1875–98), tried to assassinate him on 5 November 1897. Bittencourt, the Minister of War, died after being stabbed protecting the president. When it emerged that Bispo had been encouraged in his assassination attempt by the editor of the Jacobin newspaper, O Jacobino, Prudente used the full force of the powers allocated to the presidency by the 1891 Constitution by coming down hard on Rio de Janeiro, especially the Military Club, a haunt of the Jacobin army officers, which was shut down.

The next president, Dr Manuel Ferraz de Campos Sales (1841–1913), governor of Sâo Paulo, was a paulista, like Prudente, emphasising the stranglehold that the political elite of the major states had on the country. To combat growing unrest in the states as well as factional fighting, Campos Sales devised a strategy known as the ‘policy of the governors’ by which a state’s parliamentary delegates would be connected to the dominant political grouping in that state. As well as ending the factional fighting, he also hoped this would enhance the power of the executive branch of the government. He added to this by making the Chamber of Deputies more submissive to the executive. Unfortunately for him, it was only partially effective.

The ‘policy of the governors’ also proved useful in dealing with the Brazilian economy. Foreign debt inherited from the monarchy remained a huge problem and military expenditure during the 1890s did not help the situation. Between 1890 and 1897, the national debt increased by 30 per cent, resulting in even greater indebtedness to foreign banks. It was not helped by a fall in the price of coffee caused by abundant harvests in 1896 and 1897 that meant less foreign exchange coming into the country. Campos Sales arranged a funding loan that placed a great many difficult conditions on Brazil – all of its customs income from the port of Rio de Janeiro were to go to its creditors and further loans were prohibited until 1901. A programme of deflation also had to be undertaken. In an attempt to balance the books, Campos Sales increased federal taxes and introduced austerity measures, making his government very unpopular. By such desperate means, Brazil was prevented from going bankrupt, but the country would be hampered by these decisions for many years to come. Making all this happen required the support of the legislature and, as congressmen’s loyalties lay with the political leader of their state and their parties, the president went directly to the state governors and the ruling elites. Campos Sales made a promise not to intervene in the states’ internal affairs and the governors made it all work by using the coronelismo system. They provided positions and favours to the local coronéis who, in turn, delivered votes at the municipal and federal elections.

The governors had a vested interest in maintaining this system but that was dependent on the right man occupying the post of president. They met before each election, therefore, to select a suitable candidate and then ensured that he received enough votes. Naturally, the most powerful states, especially São Paulo and Minas Gerais, being the wealthiest and also possessing more citizens who satisfied the literacy requirement, were most influential in this process. Furthermore, their state political parties were far better organised than those of the other states. This way of manipulating the political machine came to be known as café-com-leite (coffee with milk) because of São Paulo’s connection with the coffee industry and Minas Gerais’ with milk. As a result, their candidates often achieved more than 90 per cent of the vote. This was helped by the fact that the ballot was rarely private and opposition was summarily dealt with. In this way, Brazil failed to develop a healthy multi-party political system. But the ‘politics of the governors’ undoubtedly had the desired effect, producing political stability and guaranteeing that the army would stay out of politics. As a system, however, it differed little from the corrupt political system that had prevailed during military rule and the Empire.

During his term of office Campos Sales succeeded in maintaining peace and order and in improving the nation’s economic situation, but the austerity measures he had imposed on the Brazilian people led to a rise in the cost of living and made his government extremely unpopular. Nonetheless, the ‘politics of the governors’ managed to deliver a third paulista president in 1901 when Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves (1848–1919), governor of São Paulo, romped home in the presidential election by 592,000 votes to Quintino Bocaiúva’s 43,000. Rodrigues Alves was chosen because it was expected that he would continue with the policies of Campos Sales. He had served as Minister of Finance in the governments of both Floriano and Prudente and had a reputation for financial expertise. He would also distinguish himself as a town planner, launching a major undertaking to modernise Rio de Janeiro.

Towards the end of his term of office, Rodrigues Alves proposed another São Paulo governor, Bernardino de Campos (1841–1915), as his successor but this time there was resistance from the smaller states. At the time, Rio Grande do Sul had been increasing in wealth and political status and one of its senators was the charismatic and powerful José Gomes Pinheiro Machado (1851–1915). For more than a decade, Pinheiro Machado, vice president of the senate, dominated Brazilian politics. He led a group of congressmen known as the Bloco, many of them from the less powerful northern and northeastern states, who gained a voice through his leadership. Machado became something of a ‘kingmaker’, as was proved in 1905 when he swung the votes of his bloc behind Afonso Pena, from Minas Gerais, former vice president to Rodrigues Alves. Afonso Pena won the election by 288,000 votes to a mere 5,000, bringing to an end the run of paulista presidents. When it came time to decide who would succeed him, Pinheiro Machado threw his voting bloc behind Marshal Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca (1855–1923) – known as ‘Hermes’ – nephew of the Republic’s first president, Deodoro. Incumbent President Pena chose as his nominee his finance minister, Davi Campista, another Minas Gerais politician whom the paulista elite believed would continue with the policies of Pena’s government. Campista’s candidacy came to an abrupt halt, however, with the death of Pena in June 1909. Vice President Nilo Procópio Peçanha (1867–1924) stepped into his shoes and then endorsed Hermes as presidential nominee for the 1910 election, to the dismay of the paulistas.

The election of 1910 was the first presidential election in the history of the República Velha that was not decided from the outset. The reason was the paulistas’ choice of the noted liberal Brazilian statesman, Rui Barbosa, as a candidate to run against Hermes. After many years languishing in the political wilderness, the former Finance Minister had risen to national and international attention with his speeches in support of the rights of the world’s smaller nations at the 1907 Hague Conference on International Peace where he had gained the nickname the ‘Eagle of the Hague’. Barbosa railed against the corrupt oligarchies that had been running Brazil and he was also deeply concerned at Hermes’ candidacy, seeing it as an attempt by the army to regain influence in government. He based his campaign on the simple choice between civilian rule and military rule, claiming that if the marshal won, Brazil would ‘plunge forever into the servitude of the armed forces’. (Quoted in Documentary History of Brazil, E Bradford Burns, New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1967) The election was keenly fought, Rui Barbosa travelling widely to spread his ideas for liberal reform. Hermes’ supporters were confident of victory, with only São Paulo and Bahia lining up in favour of Barbosa. Army officers, concerned at Barbosa’s anti-military stance, campaigned vigorously for Hermes and in the end he won 233,000 votes, while Rui only managed 126,000. The paulistas had been defeated in an election for the first time since 1894, even though the winning margin was the narrowest to date.

It seemed that every military president was blighted by a naval revolt and Hermes’ version occurred in November 1910, just a few days after he had been sworn in as president. The mutiny on board two Brazilian battleships was soon quashed but it was evident that the relative peace of the last decade was at an end, a fact emphasised by a number of civil disturbances around the country. Being a military man, Hermes was more prepared to send in the troops than the civilian presidents before him, bringing rioters quickly under control.

He was determined to avenge himself on the members of the regional elites who had thrown their support behind Rui Barbosa in the 1910 election by replacing them with his own supporters. The army officers that he sent in to overthrow these regimes described their work as política da salvacão (politics of salvation) and there was a degree of irony in the fact that in rooting out Hermes’ opponents, they were often also dealing with the reactionary elements Rui had criticised during his election campaign. There was serious fighting during this process, including the bombardment and invasion of Salvador.

By this time, Pinheiro Machado’s Partido Republicano Conservador (Republican Conservative Party) or PRC, created to take the place of the Bloco in 1910, had begun to fall apart. He had also suffered during the period of the política da salvacão because many of his people were the very ones targeted by the army. Meanwhile, the paulista elite was determined to stop Pinheiro becoming president in 1914. When the oligarchs of Minas Gerais proposed their former governor Venceslau Brás (1868–1966), currently vice president, as a candidate, the paulistas immediately gave him their wholehearted support. Realising all was lost Pinheiro gave Brás his support but ensured that his preferred candidate, the Maranhão senator Urbano Santos, was selected as vice-presidential candidate. Brás was elected with an overwhelming 90 per cent of the vote. Pinheiro’s days as kingmaker were over and his brilliant political career was brought to an abrupt halt by his assassination in September 1915.

Brás‘s presidency was overshadowed by the outbreak of World War One. Brazil was initially reluctant to go to war. After all, there were large numbers of German immigrants in southern Brazil, many of whom were still loyal to their homeland. The Brazilian foreign minister, Lauro Müller, also had German antecedents. However, when Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, Brazil, as an Atlantic trading nation, became involved. On 5 April 1917, the Brazilian ship Parana was sunk off the coast of France and three crew members lost their lives. When news of the sinking arrived in Brazil, riots broke out, an angry mob attacking German businesses in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil eventually declared war on 26 October, after the dismissal of Müller, Brazilian ships patrolling the South Atlantic and engaging in mine-sweeping off the coast of West Africa. An Expeditionary Force was being readied when the armistice was signed.

The 1918 election followed customary café-com-leite guidelines and former paulista president, Rodrigues Alves romped home with 99 per cent of the popular vote. However, illness prevented the newly elected president from taking office and he died the following year. It was decided to hold a special election but the decision as to who would replace Rodrigues Alves was a subject of debate between the elites of Minas Gerais and São Paulo. Eventually, Epitácio Pessôa (1865–1942), a Paraíba senator and Minister of Justice in the Campos Sales administration was selected. Pessôa was a delegate at the Versailles Peace Conference that followed the end of the First World War. In fact, he was still en route back to Brazil from the conference when the election was held. Once again, Rui Barbosa stood and once again, despite receiving almost 30 per cent of the vote, he was soundly beaten by the candidate of the elites, by 286,000 votes to 116,000.

Pessôa made enemies and antagonised the military as soon as he named his cabinet, appointing civilians to the ministries for war and the navy. By this time, Hermes, who had been living in Europe, had returned to Brazil where he was elected president of the Military Club in Rio de Janeiro. He became a major critic of Pessôa, especially when the new president vetoed the military budget. Pessôa faced still more criticism when it appeared that he was giving preferential treatment to his own home region of the Northeast by allocating 15 per cent of the federal budget to help install irrigation projects to deal with the drought there.

But Pessôa was no more than an interim president. For the 1922 election, the elites of São Paulo and Minas Gerais chose the Minas Gerais governor, Artur da Silva Bernardes (1875–1955). Once again, however, café-com-leite caused anger amongst the other states – Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul – who were never given a chance to nominate one of their own. They formed a coalition, the Reação Republicana (Republican Reaction) and threw their support behind Nilo Peçanha who had served briefly as president of Brazil from 1909 to 1910 following the death of President Afonso Pena. His campaign was based on claims that, under the café-com-leite system, the other states of Brazil suffered from neglect. Of course, there was little chance of defeating the ‘official’ candidate but some letters appeared in the Correio da Manhã newspaper that were purported to have been sent by Bernardes to a politician in Minas Gerais. They spoke disparagingly of Peçanha, describing him as a ‘mulatto’ and calling Hermes da Fonseca an ‘overblown sergeant’. Corruption amongst army officers was also mentioned. Although the letters turned out to be forgeries, the army at the time accepted them as genuine and put all their support behind Bernardes’ opponent Peçanha. In the closest election in the history of the republic, Bernardes scraped in with 56 per cent of the popular vote. The elite had won again.

The disgruntled military now acted against the wishes of the presidency. It had been Pessôa’s habit to order the army in where there were problems with state elections, which Hermes believed was an abuse of power, using the army for political ends. He sent a telegram to the commander of the garrison at Recife suggesting that he resist any presidential directive to intervene in situations involving local politics. When he was informed of this, Pessôa was furious, immediately placing Hermes under house arrest and shutting down the Military Club for six months. A couple of days later there was a mutiny at Fort Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro that its participants said was aimed at ‘rescuing the army’s honour’. Government forces besieged the fort and bombarded it by sea and by air. The following day, most of the mutineers surrendered but a group of eighteen had resolved to fight to the death. They made their last stand on the beach where sixteen of them were killed. Afterwards, a state of emergency was declared, hundreds of cadets were expelled from the army school and officers who had participated in the mutiny were posted to remote garrisons.

The 1922 Revolt was the foundation for a movement involving junior officers of the Brazilian army that became known as tenentismo as most of those involved were lieutenants (tenentes). They believed that the Republic would never achieve its full potential as a nation under civilian government and demanded radical reform, both economically and socially to alleviate poverty in Brazil. At the same time, however, the tenentes realised that there was little hope of bringing down the regional oligarchies and party bosses without the use of force and without that their movement never really progressed into a full-blown political entity. Brazilian politics continued as before.

As Bernardes took office, Brazil was in a parlous state, embroiled in both economic and political crises. He added to the problems by intervening in state politics – claiming he was merely trying to maintain law and order – and often installing his own men where he could. He took his revenge on the press by introducing censorship and refused to grant an amnesty to those involved in the 1922 revolt. He courted even greater unpopularity with a strict, conservative fiscal policy, demonstrated most vividly in his withdrawal of financial support for the valorisation – manipulation of the price – of coffee. He also withdrew funding for the irrigation projects that Pessôa had launched during his term of office. So unpopular did Bernardes become that he rarely left the presidential palace.

Finally, he faced a major crisis with what is called the ‘second Fifth of July’. On that date, two years to the day after the revolt of 1922, there was a better prepared uprising of young officers in São Paulo with the aim of bringing down the Bernardes government. The leader was a retired Rio Grande do Sul officer, General Isidoro Dias Lopes (1865–1949) and amongst other prominent military figures involved were Eduardo Gomes (1896–1981), Newton Estillac Leal (1893–1955), João Cabanas (1895–1974) and Miguel Costa (1885–1959), the latter an important officer in the São Paulo Força Pública (State Militia). They demanded the restoration of constitutional liberties and denounced what they described as Bernardes’ excessive use of presidential authority. They succeeded in taking control of the city for twenty-two days until they were forced to withdraw. Other rebellions erupted in Sergipe, Amazonas and Rio Grande do Sul. The São Paulo rebels left the city and headed west, establishing their base in western Paraná and awaiting another force, led by Captain Luís Carlos Prestes (1898–1990), that was marching north from Rio Grande do Sul. The two groups joined up and marched into the interior of the country, hoping to persuade the peasants to join with them in bringing Bernardes down. For two years the Coluna Prestes (Prestes Column), as they had come to be known, marched across the North and Northeast, fighting several battles en route to Bolivia where they arrived and finally disbanded in 1927. The ‘Prestes Column’ failed in its principal aim of bringing down the government but it gained a huge amount of publicity and helped to make people aware of rural poverty. Prestes became a Marxist in 1929, visited the Soviet Union in 1931 and, in 1943, after a number of years in prison, became leader of the Brazilian Communist Party. Tenentismo carried on, seeking economic development as a way to create social and political change in Brazil.

Café-com-leite continued unrelentingly and, in 1926, it was the turn of the paulistas to come up with a candidate. After all, the last paulista president, Rodrigues Alves, although elected in 1918, had fallen sick before taking office which meant the last paulista actually to serve as president had been the same politician during his first stint from 1902 to 1906. Washington Luís (1869–1957), governor of São Paulo, was duly nominated by a meeting of state governors, with Fernando de Melo Viana (1878–1954) of Minas Gerais as his vice-presidential candidate. With Rui Barbosa now dead, there was little opposition and it was an election marked by general apathy. Needless to say, Washington Luís won 98 per cent of the vote.

One of the new president’s cabinet appointments had immense importance for the future of Brazil – that of Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (1882–1954) as Minister of Finance. The forty-three-year-old politician from Rio Grande do Sul would become one of the most significant figures in Brazilian history.

Soviet UAV Lavochkin La-17

Soviet developments in unmanned aircraft lagged behind those occurring in America, the United Kingdom and Germany. The upheavals after the revolution and the intensity of Russian involvement in the Second World War had left their mark on the Soviet research and development base. When the very existence of a country is at stake, any programme that does not directly contribute to the main war effort is a distraction.

Once the war was over resources could be diverted to new projects. Initially advances in jet fighter technologies preoccupied the main aircraft design bureaus. New research facilities were also created to help develop transport aircraft and helicopters. Many of the names that remain famous today, such as Antonov and Kamov, saw their genesis during this period. Such was the need to play catch-up with developments in the west that there was not a great deal of funds left for the development of unmanned aircraft. Rapid developments in missile technology, however, did create conditions where target drones would need to be developed.

Being ever pragmatic in their approach to the development of new capabilities, the Soviets initially sourced their need for target drones by adapting former manned aircraft into their new role. Aircraft such as the MiG- 15 had an additional letter M added to their designation to indicate they were a mishen (target). The early variants were manually flown into a test area before the pilot handed over control of the aircraft to a ground station and ejected. If the target drone was to survive the engagement it would be destroyed by remote control from the ground. This approach, however, was not sustainable and the requirement for a low-cost target drone was developed. The first variant of this was the La-17 (Izdeliye 201) which emerged from the Lavochkin design bureau.

The La-17 design was quite simplistic. It was designed to be launched from a large bomber acting as a ‘mother ship’. The aircraft first selected to act in this role was the Tupolev Tu-2. It had been mass-produced in the Second World War and was therefore available in large numbers. However, mating the La-17 to the Tu-2 proved problematic. The plan to fly the La-17 from the Tu-2 was quickly abandoned in favour of attaching it to the Tupolev Tu-4 heavy bomber, a derivative of the Boeing B-29.

The design of the La-17 involved a series of compromises. Weight requirements ruled out any means by which the UMA could be recovered if it failed to be destroyed by a fighter in the course of an engagement. The La- 17 could therefore fly for a maximum of forty minutes before it would belly-flop onto the ground and onto the engine. Despite this somewhat simplistic approach, photographs show La-17s with several markings on their tails indicating that they have been used more than once.

In the first flight tests a problem with engine thrust became apparent. The top speed of the Tu-4 was insufficient to prevent the La-17 diving after it had been released. The RO-900 engine simply could not generate enough lift at this speed as the air flow into the engine chamber was insufficient. Ramjet engines are simply unable to move on the ground without external power. They rely on forward motion to compress air into the combustion chamber and work most efficiently at speeds around Mach 3.

Once the La-17 had been dropped from the Tu-4, control often took around ninety seconds to be established. At a speed of around 850 kilometres per hour (528 mph) the La-17 was able to make the kind of manoeuvres required to make the task of shooting it down representative of a current threat. These problems caused the programme to be suspended for a short period of time while modifications were made. After successful flight tests by ten La-17 drones in a variety of roles it entered service with the Soviet Air Force where in various advanced configurations it would remain in service for nearly thirty years.

In contrast to the pulse-jet engine flown on the V-I, the design team opted for a ramjet. This was a far from ideal choice. Fuel consumption rates limited the length of time the La-17 could fly. This gave it a higher overall speed of 900 kilometres per hour (560 mph) and an operating ceiling of 10,000 metres (32,810 feet). This configuration of the target drone allowed it to partially mimic the performance of the MiG-17.

The MiG-17s maximum speed was slightly higher at 1,145 kilometres per hour (710 mph) but its service ceiling was much higher at 16,600 metres (54,450 feet). The ramjet configuration was a sensible compromise that meant the cost of the La-17 could be held down. However, with the introduction of the Soviet Union’s first supersonic jet, the MiG-19, into service, the performance of the La-17 soon fell well below that of the fighter jet it was supposed to be simulating. This was not the only problem.

The size of the drone itself posed a problem for contemporary Russian radar system technologies. Its radar cross-section was quite small and needed to be enhanced so the ground-based radar systems could guide the chasing aircraft to a point where they gained visual contact with the target. To enhance the radar signature the target drone could be fitted with a number of Luneburg lenses on the wings and tailplane. These devices increased the radar cross-section of the La-17 by an order of magnitude, allowing it to simulate contemporary threats from the English Electric Canberra or American medium-range bombers such as the B-47 Stratojet.

Despite achieving its initial design goals, other issues were emerging that led the design team to look at developing a new generation of target drone. This was to become the La-17M (lzdeliye 203). It was to be ground-launched from a platform based on a KS-19 anti-aircraft gun mount. This would allow the La-17 to overcome the restrictions of being launched from the Tu-4 which also limited the numbers that could be fired in a salvo. Film taken at the time shows several examples of La-17s being fired in a salvo to create a high-density threat environment. It also had a new radio system and autopilot installed. However, the target drone was hampered by its short range and primitive guidance system.

To launch the La-17M two additional PRD-98 solid-fuel Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO) engines were mounted on either side of the main engine. These had a bum time of between 1.6 and 3.1 seconds. Combined with the main engine running at idle, this generated enough thrust to accelerate the La-17M to more than 300 kilometres per hour (186 mph). Two seconds after launch the main engine was commanded to full power. The boosters were jettisoned after five seconds, at which point the La-17M transitioned to level flight.

After some debate in the design team over the exact configuration of the power plant, a decision was made to use the Mikulin RD-9BK turbojet engine used in the MiG-19. It could produce 19.1 kN (4,300 pounds) of thrust. This was to double the power that was available, although it actually marginally reduced the maximum speed that the target drone could achieve. However, its service ceiling increased dramatically and its flight time increased from forty to sixty minutes.

It was at around this time that rapid developments in missile technologies started to create an increasingly hostile environment for manned aircraft. The ultimate demonstration of this was the shooting down of the U-2 carrying Gary Powers on a reconnaissance mission in Soviet airspace in 1960. Reconnaissance, however, was not a military capability that could be easily given up. The La-17 provided a platform from which a new generation of UMA could be developed that could fly hazardous reconnaissance missions. Yet it was far from being an ideal baseline from which to work.


Marcus Ulpius Traianus (AD 56–117)

He always marched on foot with the rank and file of his army, and he attended to the ordering and disposition of the troops throughout the entire campaign, leading them sometimes in one order and sometimes in another; and he forded all rivers that they did. Sometimes he even caused his scouts to circulate false reports, in order that the soldiers might at one and the same time practise military manoeuvres and become fearless and ready for any dangers.

After the death of Augustus, the Roman Empire gained little new territory. Throughout the remainder of the first century AD a number of allied kingdoms were annexed to become directly ruled provinces, but the only major new conquest came when Claudius sent an army to invade Britain in AD 43. The great conquerors of the last decades of the Republic had also been the principal leaders in the civil wars which had torn the State apart, and it was simply too great a risk for an emperor to permit any of his commanders to win fame and glory in a similar way. It was absolutely vital that the military achievements of the princeps never be overshadowed by those of any other senator. Even Augustus had sacked a Prefect of Egypt who had celebrated his victories too boldly, and forced him to commit suicide, though the man in question had only been an equestrian and not a member of the Senate. Tiberius, Vespasian and Titus already had distinguished military records before they came to the throne, but Caligula, Claudius, Nero and Domitian had not this advantage and were thus even more reluctant to permit potential rivals to gain too much prestige. We have already seen how Claudius recalled Corbulo from beyond the Rhine rather than permit him to expand the war and reoccupy part of the German province lost in AD 9. The same emperor made sure that he was in at the kill for the culmination of the first campaign of his British expedition in AD 43.

Claudius spent less than a fortnight in Britain, but was present at a major defeat of the Britons north of the Thames and the capture and occupation of the tribal capital at Camulodunum (Colchester). How active a role he actually played in the running of any of these operations is questionable, but it is significant that he felt it was worth considerable travel and six months away from Rome to preside over the army’s success. Brief though the visit was, it helped to associate the emperor very personally with the subjugation of a mysterious island visited, but not conquered, by Julius Caesar. Claudius was then able to return to Rome and ride in triumph along the Sacra Via, something emperors did not normally do as a result of the victories won vicariously through their legates. In the flood of propaganda, which included games, the construction of a number of monuments, and both Claudius and his son adopting the name Britannicus, it was always made clear that this was the emperor’s victory. For a man whose reign had begun when he was discovered hiding behind a curtain in the chaos following Caligula’s murder and raised to power by the praetorian guard in spite of the wishes of the Senate, it was a great proof of his right and capacity to be Rome’s first citizen.

In the long run, the political system created by Augustus discouraged further expansion of the Empire. Most emperors were reluctant to spend the long periods of time on campaign carrying out fresh conquests and did not trust anyone else to do this for them. Some authors in Augustus’ day were in any case already proclaiming that Rome controlled all the best and most prosperous parts of the earth and that further expansion would prove more costly than any profits it might yield. There was some truth in this, although the suggestion put forward by some modern scholars that the Romans stopped expanding because they now bordered on peoples whom their military system could not readily defeat is not supported by the evidence. Yet it is certainly true that the professional army as constituted under the Julio-Claudians could not quickly or easily be expanded in size to provide troops for new military adventures. Conscription was deeply unpopular, as Augustus had found in AD 6 and 9, and avoided if at all possible by all subsequent emperors. The imperial army was on average a far more efficient fighting force than the pre-Marian militia, but it lacked the seemingly limitless pool of reserve manpower which had proved such a strength in the Punic Wars.

Under the Principate the army’s main roles were controlling the provinces – a task which involved them in everything from minor policing to putting down rebellions – and securing the frontiers, usually achieved by a combination of diplomacy and the aggressive domination of neighbouring peoples through real or threatened punitive expeditions against them. Wars of conquest were rare, although the ideology of the Empire and its rulers remained for centuries essentially one of expansion. It was still considered a fundamentally good thing for the imperium of Rome to increase, but as had always been the case, this did not necessarily require the acquisition of more territory. Roman power could be respected in a region even when it was not physically occupied by the army or governed by a Roman official, and many areas which were never controlled in this way were still felt by the Romans to be part of their empire. The determination to protect and increase Rome’s imperium provided the motivation for most of the wars fought under the Principate.

Domitian spent several years supervising his armies fighting on the Rhine and Danubian frontiers, although it seems unlikely that he ever exercised direct battlefield command. A line of frontier forts was established in Germany further forward than had been the case in the past, but only a relatively small area was annexed in this way. In the main these conflicts were especially large-scale versions of the frequent campaigns to maintain Roman dominance over the tribes bordering on her frontier provinces. Dacia was invaded in response to heavy raids on the province of Lower Moesia, but it is unlikely that permanent occupation was anticipated, and in the event the operations there met with little success. One army – commanded by the Praetorian Prefect Cornelius Fuscus, much to the annoyance of the Senate who felt that any army ought to be led by a member of their class and not a mere equestrian – was defeated, and perhaps annihilated, by the Dacians in AD 86. Domitian’s relationship with the senatorial class steadily worsened throughout his principate, denying him the popularity – and favourable treatment in our sources which were mainly written by senators for senators – of his father and brother. In the end he was murdered in AD 96 through a palace conspiracy and replaced by the Senate with one of their own members, the elderly Nerva.

Nerva was the first of what Edward Gibbon termed the ‘five good emperors’ who presided over the Roman Empire at the height of its power and prosperity in the second century AD. He was succeeded by Trajan, who devoted much of his efforts to renewed expansion. His conquest of Dacia grew from Domitian’s unsatisfactory campaigns in the area and had its root in frontier problems. In contrast the invasion of Parthia and the march to the Persian Gulf had little motive beyond the traditional desire of a Roman aristocrat to win glory by defeating powerful enemies.


Trajan was born and brought up at the city of Italica in Spain. His family claimed descent from some of the original Roman and Italian troops who formed this colony established by Scipio Africanus after his victory at Ilipa in 206 BC. Italica prospered and grew to be one of the largest and most important cities in Spain. Its citizens seem to have had Latin status, although the local aristocracy could gain full Roman citizenship through the holding of local magistracies. If they had sufficient wealth – and political success even at a local level always required money – then these families were able to become equestrians and send some of their sons into imperial service. Over time some gained the riches and favour to enter the Senate. In the first century BC, especially under Augustus, many Italian noblemen were made senators. Under his successors a growing number of men from the provinces joined the House. Some of these men were descendants of Roman colonists, but an increasing number were drawn from the indigenous aristocracy who had been granted citizenship. Claudius introduced a number of Gauls into the Senate. By the end of the first century there were also men from Spain, North Africa and the Greek east.

All of these men were Romans, both in law and in culture, regardless of their ethnic background, and their behaviour in public life differed in no significant way from that of senators of Italian or strictly Roman ancestry. Under the Principate Rome’s ruling élite gradually absorbed the rich and powerful of most of the provinces without losing its traditional ethos. This process did a great deal to make widespread rebellion extremely rare throughout most of the provinces, save for those where the local aristocracy remained outside the system. Trajan was the first emperor whose link with Italy was extremely distant. He was succeeded by his cousin Hadrian, another Spaniard whose provincial accent earned the scorn of many other senators when he first came to Rome. Near the end of the century the throne would be seized by Septimius Severus, a senator from Lepcis Magna in North Africa. Later there would be Syrian, Greek, Pannonian and Illyrian emperors.

Trajan’s father and namesake, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, had had a fairly distinguished senatorial career, although it is not clear whether he was the first of the family to enter the Senate. In AD 67 he was the legionary legate commanding X Fretensis under Vespasian during the campaign in Galilee, and supported him during the Civil War. This brought him a consulship, perhaps in AD 70, and appointment as legatus Augusti first of Cappadocia and then of Syria. During this time there appears to have been some friction with the Parthians and Traianus’ skilful handling of this affair led to his being awarded triumphal ornaments. It is uncertain whether the operations involved actual fighting or just vigorous diplomacy. During these years the family was granted patrician status. Scarcely any genuine patricians still survived by this time, for such prominent men had inevitably suffered much in the purges of successive emperors, and Vespasian had decided to create new patricians to add dignity to his Senate. Most of the beneficiaries were men who had shown themselves to be reliable during the Civil War, including the family of Tacitus’ future father-in-law, Julius Agricola.

Trajan’s own upbringing appears to have been fairly conventional by the standards of the senatorial class, although it was claimed that he proved no more than adequate at rhetoric and other academic pursuits. At an early age he developed a passion for hunting which persisted throughout his life, and excelled at physical and especially military exercises. At the end of his teens, probably around AD 75, he became a senatorial tribune (tribunus laticlavius) in one of the legions in Syria, serving under his father’s command in the manner of many young aristocrats. Later he transferred to a legion on the Rhine frontier and saw further service against the local tribes. Some tribunes were notorious for wasting their military tribunate, but Trajan embraced the military life with great enthusiasm and served for far longer than was usual. The Younger Pliny in his Panegyric – a written version of a speech praising the emperor and originally delivered in the Senate – claimed that he served for ten years, the traditional term required to make a man eligible for political office in the Republic. This may be an exaggeration, but his account of Trajan’s time as tribune may well give an accurate picture of the enthusiastic young officer:

As a tribune … you served and proved your manhood at the far-flung boundaries of the empire, for fortune set you to study closely, without haste, the lessons which you would later teach. It was not enough for you to take a distant look at the camp, stroll through a short period of duty: while a tribune you desired the qualifications for command, so that nothing was left to learn when the moment came for passing on your knowledge to others. Through ten years’ service you learnt the customs of peoples, the localities of countries, the opportunities of topography, and you accustomed yourself to cross all kinds of river and endure all kinds of weather … So many times you changed your steed, so many times your weapons, worn out in service!

A number of civil posts followed this spell in the army, until in the late 80s AD Trajan became the legate of Legio VII Gemina at the town of Legio (the root of its modern name, Léon) in the peaceful province of Hispania Tarraconensis. In AD 89 Lucius Antoninus Saturninus, the legate of Germania Superior, rebelled against Domitian. Trajan was ordered to march from Spain to confront the rebel army. In the event he did not arrive before Saturninus had been defeated, but his loyalty and prompt action won him the emperor’s trust. It seems that his legion remained on the Rhine and mounted a successful punitive expedition against a German tribe – perhaps the Chatti who had made an alliance with Saturninus. In the 90s he gained a further reputation as a commander, and served as a provincial legate, perhaps in both Germania Superior and Pannonia on the Danube. During his tenure in the latter he fought and defeated some of the Suebic tribes. When Domitian was murdered and Nerva elevated to the throne, Trajan was widely respected as one of the gifted generals of an age for active service – he was then in his fortieth year. Facing pressure from the praetorians who demanded the punishment of Domitian’s murderers, and probably nervous of rivals emerging from amongst the provincial legates, in AD 97 Nerva adopted Trajan, marking him out as his heir. The choice was a popular one, especially with the army, and did much to secure the new regime. A year later Nerva died and Trajan became emperor. Within a year he was touring the Danubian frontier, and in 101 he began a major campaign in this area, aimed at the defeat of King Decebalus of Dacia.


In 58 BC Julius Caesar had considered attacking Dacia (an area roughly equivalent to modern-day Transylvania) until the Helvetii gave him an even more attractive alternative opportunity for winning military glory. Only his murder in 44 BC prevented a revival of his original plan for such a war from being fulfilled. The Dacians were at that time united under the rule of Burebista, a charismatic war leader who controlled a far larger force of warriors than most tribal leaders. Not long after Caesar’s death the Dacian king was himself assassinated, and no comparably strong ruler emerged amongst his people for over a century. This changed when Decebalus rose to power in the last decades of the first century AD, once again massing a strong force of warriors – he was especially keen to recruit deserters from the Roman army – and subjecting many neighbouring peoples, such as the Sarmatians and Bastarnae, to his rule. Dio described him in conventional terms as the ideal commander, who was:

shrewd in his understanding of warfare and shrewd also in the waging of war; he judged well when to attack and chose the right moment to retreat; he was an expert in ambuscades and a master in pitched battles; he knew not only how to follow up a victory well, but also how to manage a defeat.

Under Decebalus’ aggressive leadership the Dacians had raided across the Danube, and inflicted serious defeats on the Romans. Domitian’s campaign against them ended in a deeply unsatisfactory way with a treaty by which the Romans paid Decebalus an annual indemnity and provided him with engineers and artillery to strengthen the fortifications of his realm. Such terms indicated that Rome had not won the war and even hinted that she had lost, and added to Domitian’s unpopularity with the Senate. When Trajan launched an invasion of Dacia in AD 101, its main aim was to achieve a far more satisfactory peace, based on a Roman victory which would allow the imposition of an appropriate treaty, making Rome’s superiority over Dacia obvious to all. At first he does not appear to have planned to annex the kingdom.

Trajan subsequently wrote Commentaries describing his Dacian Wars, but only a few tiny fragments of these have survived. Cassius Dio, a senator of Greek extraction who wrote in the early third century AD, provides our best narrative of these operations, but even this remains only in the form of epitomes produced centuries later and lacking detail. A few other sources provide a little information, but it is impossible to produce a narrative of this conflict in anything like the detail of the other campaigns examined so far. The spoils from the conquest of Dacia funded the great Forum complex later constructed by Trajan in Rome. Little of this has survived beyond its massive centrepiece, a column 100 Roman feet high (97 feet 9 inches), decorated with a sculpted spiral frieze telling the story of the wars. Several hundred scenes depicting thousands of individual figures of Roman soldiers and their enemies were laid out to form a clear narrative. Originally it was highly colourful, the figures painted and equipped with miniature bronze weapons, the sculpture incorporating levels of detail which cannot possibly have been visible to the observer at ground level.

Trajan’s Column tells a story, but it is a narrative which we can read only with difficulty. The task would be similar to looking at the Bayeux Tapestry, but without the captions and with only the haziest idea of the events and personalities of the Norman Conquest. Although many attempts have been made to relate the reliefs to the topography of Romania and to reconstruct the course of the wars in detail, none of these have ever carried much conviction and can never move beyond conjecture. Yet in another sense Trajan’s Column provides us with a fascinating glimpse of how Roman commanders liked to be depicted in art. A range of artistic conventions influenced its style, but much of it drew on a centuries-old tradition of Roman triumphal art, for generals riding in triumph through the city almost invariably included in their processions paintings showing their own and their armies’ deeds. Such pictures were often used to decorate temples or other monuments constructed with the spoils of war. The Trajan of the Column represents the ideal commander of Roman art, and it is interesting to compare this to the literary figure of the great general. Scenes from another monument at Adamklissi in Romania probably also show episodes from the war, but the story they tell is even harder to reconstruct. Trajan may be one of the officers depicted in the Adamklissi metopes, but these are too badly weathered to allow definite recognition.

Preparations for the campaign were extensive and probably occupied at least a year. Ultimately nine legions – at full strength or at least in the form of a substantial vexillation – were concentrated on the Danube to take part in or support the operations. Other legions sent smaller vexillations and the already substantial auxiliary forces of the region were augmented by whole units and detachments from other provinces. Perhaps a third of the Roman army as then constituted was to take part in the war, although these troops were never massed in a single field army but operated in a number of separate forces and in supporting roles. It was a formidable force, but the task ahead of them would not prove easy. Dacia was defended by the natural strength of the Carpathians. The kingdom was rich in gold deposits and Decebalus had used this wealth to create a large army and to establish well-fortified strongholds controlling the main passes through the mountains. Excavation at a number of these sites has confirmed their formidable nature, with walls and towers which combined native, Hellenistic and Roman methods of construction.

Dacian warriors were brave, though perhaps no more disciplined than those of other tribal peoples. Their religion, based around the worship of the god Zalmoxis, often prompted men to commit suicide rather than surrender. In battle few appear to have worn armour, apart from the allied Sarmatian cavalry who fought as cataphracts, with both horse and man covered in metal or horn armour. Weapons consisted of bows, javelins, Celtic-style swords, and also the scythe-like falx, a two-handed curved sword with the blade on the inner side and ending in a heavy point. This last weapon was capable of reaching past a shield to inflict terrible wounds, and appears to have encouraged some Roman legionaries to be equipped with greaves and an articulated guard to protect their exposed right arm.

Trajan’s Column begins with scenes showing the Roman frontier posts along the Danube and a force of legionaries marching behind their massed standards over a bridge laid across river barges – the Roman equivalent of a pontoon bridge. Then the emperor appears, holding a consilium of senior officers to discuss the forthcoming operations. Trajan usually appears to be slightly larger than the men around him, but he never dominates by sheer size in the manner of the monumental art of other ancient rulers, such as the pharaohs of Egypt. High-level planning and the issuing of orders to the army’s high command is followed by other preparations from the campaign. His head veiled in accordance with his office as pontifex maximus, Rome’s senior priest, the emperor puts a circular ritual cake, or popanum, on to the flames of an altar, as around him the rite of the suovetaurilia is performed with the sacrifice of a bull, a ram and a boar to Mars. This important ceremony was held outside the ramparts of the army’s camp near the start of any major campaign to purify the troops and ensure the support of Rome’s deities. Just as they did in political life in Rome itself, magistrates played a central part in the regular religious ceremonies of the army. There is then a curious scene which shows Trajan watching a peasant clutching a large circular object fall off a mule, and which may be connected with an anecdote in Dio in which allied tribes sent a message to the emperor written in Latin on an enormous mushroom. Then the commander mounts a tribunal and makes a speech to a parade of his legionaries, an address known as an adlocutio. Afterwards the soldiers fortify several positions – presumably on the enemy bank of the Danube – the emperor moving amongst them as they labour and supervising the work.

Its crossing place secure, the main army advances into the hills, probably moving towards the pass in the Carpathians known as the Iron Gates. Trajan and one of his officers are shown inspecting an enemy hill fort, which appears to have been abandoned, before he returns to oversee a group of legionaries clearing a path through the thick woodland. A prominent theme on the Column, as indeed in much literature, is the engineering skill and dogged perseverance of the citizen soldiers of the army, and very often Trajan and his officers are shown overseeing the labour. He is also shown interrogating a Dacian prisoner, just as Caesar and other commanders had done, before the action moves rapidly on to the first major battle. In this the legionaries are shown formed up in reserve, whilst the auxiliaries, who include amongst their number bare-chested barbarians – probably Germans or perhaps even Britons from the irregular units known as numeri – wielding wooden clubs, do the actual fighting.

The savagery of these non-citizen soldiers is emphasized in this and other scenes. One regular auxiliary infantryman grips in his clenched teeth the hair of an enemy’s severed head so that his hands are free to keep fighting. To the rear two more auxiliaries present severed heads to the emperor. In this scene Trajan appears to look away, but in a later, similar scene, he is shown reaching out to accept two such ghastly trophies. The Romans had outlawed headhunting in the provinces of the Empire, but it was evidently acceptable for soldiers to practise this when fighting against foreign enemies. Yet with one possible exception, only auxiliaries are shown on the Column taking heads and it seems likely that such behaviour was acceptable amongst these less civilized troops, but not amongst legionaries.

The bringing of trophies to the commander echoes incidents in the literature, such as the cavalryman at Jerusalem who picked up a rebel and brought him to Titus. The general, and even more the emperor, could reward such heroic feats and his role as witness to his men’s behaviour was vital. Such a task meant keeping relatively close to the fighting, so that the men believed that they could be seen as individuals. One of Domitian’s generals is supposed to have ordered his men to paint their names on their shields to make themselves feel more visible. Later on the Column Trajan is shown distributing rewards to auxiliary troops, although other evidence suggests that these men no longer received medals (dona) like the legionaries so that the awards must have taken another form. Auxiliary units gained battle honours, and sometimes an early grant of the citizenship which was normally given on discharge, so perhaps promotion and sums of money or plunder were the most common form of reward to an individual auxiliary soldier.

This first battle probably took place near Tapae, where in AD 88 one of Domitian’s generals had won a victory which did something to remove the shame of Cornelius Fuscus’ defeat. A god hurling thunderbolts at the Dacians is shown at the top of the frieze, but it is unclear whether this is simply intended to show Rome’s deities fighting on her behalf or indicates an action fought during, or perhaps terminated by, a storm. Some commentators have suggested that the reliance on auxiliaries to do the fighting whilst the legionaries remain in reserve reflected a Roman desire to win victories without the loss of citizen blood. Tacitus praised Agricola for winning the battle of Mons Graupius in this way, but in fact such a sentiment is rarely expressed.


It does seem to have been fairly common by the late first century AD to form the first line of infantry from auxiliary troops, whilst the legions formed the second and subsequent lines. This was certainly logical, for the higher organization of the legions, with ten cohorts coming under the command of a legate and being used to operating together (unlike auxiliary cohorts which were all independent units), made them easier for the army commander to control. For this reason legionaries were more effective as reserve troops to be committed as and when the fighting line needed reinforcement. In some cases, the battle may have been won by the auxiliaries without the need for any reserves. It is impossible to tell whether this was the case at Tapae in AD 101. It is equally possible that the sculptors chose simply to represent the opening phase of the battle begun when auxiliary infantry and cavalry launched an attack on the enemy. Dio tells us that the fighting was extremely fierce and that victory cost the Romans heavy casualties. When the Roman medical aid stations – medics are shown treating soldiers in one of the later scenes on the Column – ran out of bandages, Trajan sent them much of his own store of clothes to cut into strips and make up the shortage. To commemorate the fallen, he also established an altar on the site of the battle.

Following up on their success, the Romans are shown continuing the advance and putting captured settlements to the torch. The parapet of one Dacian fort is shown decorated with a row of heads mounted on poles, whilst in front of the rampart are stakes concealed in pits, resembling the ‘lilies’ made by Caesar’s men at Alesia. Dio tells us that in one such captured fort the Romans found standards and equipment captured from Fuscus’ army. The Romans then cross a river, this time without the benefit of a bridge. One legionary is shown wading through the water with his armour and equipment carried in the rectangular shield raised over his head. After this Trajan addresses another parade, before meeting with a group of Dacian ambassadors, and subsequently a group of native women. Then the action moves to another area as the Column shows Dacian warriors and Sarmatian cataphracts swimming – and in some cases drowning in the attempt – across the Danube to attack some Roman garrisons held by auxiliary troops. One group of enemies employ a battering ram with an iron tip shaped like the animal’s head in an effort to breach a fort’s wall, and this may perhaps be an indication of the knowledge of siege techniques which Decebalus had acquired from deserters and the treaty with Domitian.

In response to this new threat, we see Trajan and a mixture of praetorian guardsmen and auxiliaries embarking on a warship and a barge. They are bareheaded, wearing travelling cloaks (paenulae) and burdened with bundles – perhaps folded tents or simply supplies. The force moves along the Danube, then disembarks. Trajan is always at their head, and rides with a group of auxiliary infantry, cavalry and barbarian irregulars to hunt for the enemy raiding force. Two auxiliary cavalrymen seem to report to the emperor – presumably scouts who have found the Dacians – and this is followed by a massed Roman cavalry attack. Surprise appears complete – the goddess of Night is shown at the top of the scene suggesting an attack under cover of darkness – and the Sarmatians and Dacians are routed and cut down around their four-wheeled wagons. Caesar noted that Gallic armies were always accompanied by carts carrying their families, and it is possible that the Dacians followed a similar practice. However, it may be that these scenes represent not a raiding force, but a migration by some of the local peoples, perhaps tribes allied to Decebalus.

The Adamklissi metopes also show fighting around barbarian wagons and a dramatic Roman cavalry charge led by a senior officer, perhaps Trajan himself. Although cruder in style, these reliefs are less stylized than those on the Column and appear to show three distinct types of barbarian, probably Sarmatians, Bastarnae and Dacians. It is possible that the Adamklissi metopes correspond with these scenes on the Column, but they might equally depict entirely different events.

After this Roman victory Trajan is seen receiving another Dacian embassy, this time consisting of aristocratic ‘cap-wearers’ (pileati) rather than the socially inferior warriors who were sent by Decebalus at the start of the war. Dio mentions several attempts at negotiation, which failed due to Decebalus’ mistrustful nature and, most likely, the uncompromising nature of Roman demands. This is followed by a major battle, in which legionaries are shown fighting alongside auxiliaries. The Roman troops are supported by a scorpion mounted in a cart drawn by a team of two mules and known as a carroballista. Trajan supervizes from behind the fighting line, an auxiliary presenting him with a captive – perhaps one he had captured personally. Behind him is the famous field dressing-station scene, which may mean that Dio’s story about the bandages should be associated with this battle rather than the earlier encounter. As always with the Column, we simply cannot know.

After the defeat of the Dacians – many of whom are shown held captive in a compound – Trajan mounts a tribunal to address his paraded soldiers, and then sits on a folding camp chair to dole out rewards to brave auxiliaries. Yet in the midst of these scenes of Roman celebration is a bleaker scene off to the side, where several bound, naked men are brutally tortured by women. The men are most probably captured Roman soldiers and the women Dacians – in many warrior societies the task of humiliating and killing with torture enemy captives has often been performed by the women of the tribe. The scene may well be intended to show that the war was still not finished, for such a savage enemy needed to be defeated utterly.

At this point the narrative of the Column contains a clear break, perhaps indicating the end of the first year’s campaigning, so that subsequent scenes should be assigned to AD 102. Another river journey is shown, then a column of legionaries marches across a bridge of boats and two Roman armies join together. In these and the following sections we see Trajan formally greeting arriving troops, making speeches to parades, taking part in another suovetaurilia sacrifice to Mars, receiving Dacian embassies, and accepting a prisoner or other trophies brought to him by soldiers. As the army advances through the mountains, making roads, building forts, fighting battles and besieging forts, the emperor is always with them, watching, directing and inspiring. He does not wield a tool or a weapon to join the soldiers in their tasks, for his role is to direct their efforts rather than share in them. Eventually the Romans overcome the difficult terrain and their stubborn and ferocious enemies. The First Dacian War ends with the formal surrender of Decebalus and the Dacians, kneeling or standing as suppliants before the emperor, who sits on a tribunal surrounded by the massed standards of his praetorian guard. Then Trajan stands on this or another tribunal to address his parading soldiers. Trophies and the goddess Victory mark the end of the conflict.

The peace was to prove temporary. Decebalus agreed to the loss of some territory, gave up his siege engines and engineers, handed over Roman deserters and promised not to recruit any more of these. In most respects the war had ended in an entirely satisfactory way for the Romans, with their enemy reduced to the status of a subordinate ally, and Trajan was justified in taking the honorary title Dacicus. Yet in the following years Decebalus broke most of the terms, beginning to rebuild his army and strengthen his power, occupying some of the lands of the Iazyges, a Sarmatian people, without seeking Roman approval for this expansion. The king was clearly not behaving in an appropriate manner for a Roman ally and war, which was threatened in 104, was openly renewed in 105 when the Dacians began to attack some Roman garrisons. The commander of the most important garrison, Cnaeus Pompeius Longinus – a former legatus Augusti who may still have been holding this rank – was treacherously imprisoned during negotiation. However, Decebalus’ attempts to use him as a hostage came to nothing when the Roman managed to obtain poison and committed suicide. At some point the Dacian also enlisted a group of deserters to assassinate the emperor, but this plan also failed.

Trajan was in Italy when the Second Dacian War erupted, and the Column’s narrative begins with his voyage across the Adriatic to be greeted by local dignitaries and the wider population. Two scenes of sacrifice follow. Even greater forces seem to have been mustered for the Second War. Trajan raised two new legions which were named after him, II Traiana Fortis and XXX Ulpia Victrix, both of which probably served in the Second War, although it is unclear whether they took part in the First. In the conventional Roman way the emperor combined force with vigorous diplomatic activity in AD 105, accepting the surrender of individual Dacian chieftains who abandoned their king, and negotiating with ambassadors from all neighbouring peoples. Decebalus appears to have had far fewer allies as a result. Even so the Column shows a heavy attack against some auxiliary outposts, which held out until relieved by a force led by Trajan himself.

The main Roman offensive may not have been launched until 106, and most probably followed a different route to the earlier campaign. It began with another sacrifice on the bank of the Danube, before the army crossed the river at Dobreta. This time they did so not on a temporary bridge of boats, but on a monumental arched bridge, built in stone and timber and supported by twenty piers each 150 feet high, 160 feet in width and 170 feet apart. It was designed by Apollodorus of Damascus – who would later plan Trajan’s Forum complex and presumably had much to do with the construction of the Column – and built by the soldiers. A roadway was cut into the cliffs of the Danube to permit easier approach to the bridge. Dio’s account describes this feat of engineering in loving detail strongly reminiscent of Caesar’s account of his bridge across the Rhine. It was a great and magnificent victory for Roman engineering, in its way as admirable to the Romans as any feat of arms. The Column provides a detailed, if stylized depiction of the bridge as the background to the scene of sacrifice.

After this Trajan joins the army – the soldiers are shown cheering him enthusiastically, much as Velleius described the legionaries welcoming Tiberius – takes part in another suovetaurilia purification ceremony, with the ritual processions walking round the camp, and then addresses legionaries and praetorians at a parade. At a consilium, Trajan briefs and discusses the campaign with his senior officers. The usual preliminaries over, the army advances, harvesting grain from the fields to supplement their supplies. The Column suggests some fighting, though not perhaps as much as in the First War, and Dio tells the story of an auxiliary cavalryman who, discovering that his wounds were mortal, left the camp to rejoin the battle and died after performing spectacular feats of heroism. The culmination of the campaign was the siege of Sarmizegethusa Regia, the religious and political centre of the Dacian kingdom set high in the Carpathians. After a stiff resistance, and it seems an unsuccessful Roman assault, the defenders despaired and set fire to the town before taking poison. The war was not quite over, but its issue was no longer in doubt as the Romans pursued the remaining Dacians. Decebalus was eventually cornered by a group of Roman cavalry scouts, but slit his own throat rather than be taken alive.

The leader of the Roman patrol was a certain Tiberius Claudius Maximus, who had joined the army as a legionary before becoming a junior officer in the auxilia. On the Column he is depicted reaching out to Decebalus, and by chance his tombstone has survived, carrying an inscription describing his career and giving another version of the scene. Decebalus was beheaded and the head taken back to Trajan, who ordered it to be paraded before the army. The war was over, and victory was completed by the discovery of the king’s treasure, buried in a river bed, after much labour by Roman prisoners.

A new province was created, guarded by two legions supported by auxiliaries and with its main centre at the newly founded colony of Sarmizegethusa Ulpia – a grand city built on fertile land at the foot of the Carpathians, unlike Decebalus’ mountain fastness. Settlers came from many parts of the Empire, but especially the eastern provinces, and Roman Dacia soon prospered. The fate of the Dacians, whether they were completely expelled or simply absorbed in the more normal way, has been the subject of fierce debate in recent centuries, most especially amongst the Romanians – contemporary politics has had a major influence on whether they believe their ancestors to be Romans or Dacians.


A massive programme of propaganda, of which the Forum complex was only a part, celebrated the victory in Dacia. Had Trajan simply wanted military glory to confirm his position as emperor, it is unlikely that he would have sought other opportunities for aggressive warfare. His rule was as popular as that of any emperor, and subsequent generations preserved his memory as the Optimus Princeps, the best of emperors, only rivalled in prestige by Augustus himself. His relations with the Senate – always the most critical factor in determining a ruler’s treatment in our literary sources – were generally very good, his rule considered both just and successful. Even Trajan’s vices – he was prone to infatuations with boys and youths – were pardoned, since his behaviour never reached a stage which Romans considered excessive or made him vicious. His decision to launch an invasion of Parthia in AD 114 was, according to Dio, motivated by a desire to win renown.

Trajan had spent more of his life with the army than most Roman aristocrats, and certainly appears to have enjoyed the military life. The pretext for war was, once again, a dispute over the relationship of the Armenian king to Rome, for a new monarch had been presented with his diadem of authority by the Parthian ruler and not by a Roman representative. The peace with Parthia had always been uneasy, since for the Romans their eastern neighbour represented a deeply unsatisfactory thing – the former enemy who had not been reduced to subordinate status and remained fully independent and strong. Trajan appears to have planned to win a permanent victory, for his campaign was from the beginning far more than simply a struggle to show dominance over Armenia. Massive Roman and allied forces – some seventeen of the thirty legions went in their entirety or as a substantial vexillation to the war – were backed by huge quantities of supplies which had been massed in the east for several years in preparation for the conflict. At the back of his mind the emperor was eager to emulate the great conquests of Alexander in the very region through which the Macedonian king had passed centuries before. The culture of the Roman Empire was firmly Greco-Roman and the heroes of the Hellenic world every bit as worthy of emulation as earlier generations of Romans.

Trajan’s eastern war began well, as in successive years he overran Armenia, Mesopotamia and most of Parthia itself. The Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and the major city of Seleucia were both captured, after which Trajan sailed down the Tigris to reach the Persian Gulf. If Trajan had any plans to follow further in the footsteps of Alexander – and it seems unlikely that he did – these were then dashed when major rebellions erupted throughout his newly acquired territories in AD 116. Roman columns had to operate throughout the new provinces, putting down insurrection. Matters were made worse by a major rebellion by the Jewish communities in Egypt and other provinces – though not Judaea itself – which required substantial numbers of troops to defeat. Trajan himself began a siege of the desert city of Hatra in Arabia. During the siege, when his own guard cavalry took part in at least one of the assaults, Trajan himself was almost struck by a missile as he rode past the walls. Dio notes that the emperor was not wearing any symbols of rank, hoping not to stand out amongst the other officers, but his age – he was now 60 – and grey hair made his seniority clear. He was missed, but a cavalryman riding beside him was killed. Hatra withstood the Roman onslaught until Trajan’s men, desperately short of water and other provisions, withdrew. The emperor was planning fresh operations when he suffered a stroke and died soon afterwards.

Trajan was succeeded by his relation Hadrian, but there was considerable doubt over whether in fact he had formally nominated him before he died. Thus, at the beginning of his reign, Hadrian’s position was somewhat insecure, making him reluctant to spend several years away from Rome fulfilling his predecessor’s eastern ambitions. This, combined perhaps with a feeling that Rome’s military resources were overstretched, led to the abandonment of the territories taken from the Parthians. Another casualty was Trajan’s great bridge across the Danube, which was partially demolished to prevent its ever being taken and used by an enemy. There were to be no wars of conquest during Hadrian’s reign from AD 117 to 138, and in most cases the wars which developed in response to rebellion or attack were fought by the emperor’s legates without his on-the-spot supervision. Lacking Trajan’s aggressive ambitions, Hadrian nevertheless spent much of his reign touring the provinces and in particular visiting and inspecting the army. Dio noted that he ‘subjected the legions to the strictest discipline, so that, though strong, they were neither insubordinate or intolerant’. A cult of Disciplina – one of a number of Roman deities personifying virtues – flourished in the army at this time, especially with the troops in Britain and Africa, and may well have been encouraged by Hadrian himself. Even when the army was not at war, the emperor could still conform to the ideal of the good general by ensuring that the troops were well trained and ready to fight if necessary. According to Dio:

He personally viewed and investigated absolutely everything, not merely the usual appurtenances of camps, such as weapons, engines, trenches, ramparts and palisades, but also the private affairs of the men serving in the ranks and of the officers themselves – their lives, their quarters and their habits – and he reformed and corrected in many cases practices and arrangements for living that had become too luxurious. He drilled the men for every kind of battle, honouring some and reproving others, and he taught them all what should be done. And in order that they should be benefited by observing him, he everywhere led a vigorous life and either walked or rode on horseback on all occasions … He covered his head neither in hot weather nor in cold, but alike amid German snows and under scorching Egyptian suns he went about with his head bare. In fine, both by his example and his precepts he so trained and disciplined the whole military force throughout the entire empire that even to-day [i.e. a century later] the methods introduced by him are the soldiers’ law of campaigning.

Hadrian watched the troops on exercise, just as a commander did in battle, praising and rewarding skill and criticizing and punishing poor performance. An inscription set up by an auxiliary soldier named Soranus survives, recording – albeit in rather poor Latin verse – an incident when the emperor commended his skill as an archer. Much fuller inscriptions found at Lambaesis in North Africa include selections from a number of speeches delivered at a parade of the provincial army as a culmination to a series of rigorous exercises. Hadrian’s style is very direct, referring to Legio III Augusta as ‘his’ legion and its commander as ‘his’ legate. He shows a detailed knowledge of the legion’s recent history, noting that it was seriously under strength through having detached a cohort for service in a neighbouring province. He also mentions that it had subsequently sent a cohort, strengthened by men drawn from the rest of the unit, to reinforce another legion. Stating that under such conditions it would have been understandable if III Augusta had failed to meet his high standards, he reinforces his praise by declaring that they had no need of any excuse. The centurions, especially the senior grades, are singled out for specific praise. Both in this section of the speech and in those parts delivered to individual auxiliary units, the emperor repeatedly pays tribute to the diligence of the legate Quintus Fabius Catullinus. His address to the cavalry element of a mixed cohort (cohors equitata) gives a good indication of the style of these speeches:

It is difficult for the cavalry of a cohort to put on a pleasing display anyway, and especially difficult not to displease after an exercise performed by an ala; the latter fills a greater expanse of plain, has more riders to throw javelins, makes frequent wheels to the right and performs the Cantabrian ride in close formation, and, in keeping with their higher pay, has superior horses and finer equipment. However, you have overcome these disadvantages by doing everything you have done energetically, in spite of the hot temperature; added to this, you have shot stones from slings and fought with javelins and everywhere mounted quickly. The special care taken by my legate Catullinus is very obvious…

Some criticism is contained in the speeches, for instance when a cavalry unit is reprimanded for pursuing too quickly and falling into disorder which would have made them vulnerable to a counter-attack. Yet overall Hadrian sought to encourage his soldiers and make them feel that they and their units were valued and respected. Apart from the specific details there is little that would seem out of place in a similar address by a modern general or manager.

Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius was not a military man, and spent no time on campaign. It was a mark of the security of the time that he was content to trust his legates to fight the major conflicts of the time. These were all in response to problems on the frontiers. From the late first century AD the military bases on the fringes of the Roman Empire had taken on more and more of an air of permanence, with old timber fortifications and internal buildings being replaced by stone. Hadrian had taken the process further in his visits to the provinces, ordering the construction of new installations and frontier boundaries. In Northern Britain the army laboured to construct the Wall which bears his name and stretched for 80 Roman miles from coast to coast. Such barriers were only ever intended to restrict outsiders, and never to hinder the movements of the Roman army, instead providing them with secure bases from which to launch aggressive operations. Rome sought to dominate its neighbours, not merely to repel any invasion or raid on the provinces, but attempts at permanent occupation of new territory were rare.