Antonius and Parthia


Parthian Cavalry charge.


Campaign against the Parthians Mark Antony, 36 BC. Oppius Statianus (legate Mark Antony) guarding the Roman baggage and siege equipment,


To his core, Antonius was a soldier – and a proud one. It was said he believed that there would be no better death for him than that by battle. As governor general in the East he sought to settle an old score. He conceived a military campaign against Rome’s nemesis Parthia. It was motivated by a desire to restore national honour after Crassus’ humiliating defeat at Carrhae in 53 BCE by Orodes II, and the Parthian incursions led by the quisling Q. Labienus on behalf of King Pacorus I in 40 BCE. After two years Antonius had assembled an army of his own troops supplemented by men and materiel from client kings and allies. At the start of his campaign he had 60,000 Roman infantry, together with 10,000 Celtiberian cavalry, and 30,000 assorted soldiers counting alike horsemen and light-armed troops from allies. Yet he complained that he was still short of the troops he had been promised by Caesar in return for the ships he had provided for the Sicilan War against Sex. Pompeius. Antonius would have to bolster his numbers by calling on Rome’s sole ally in the region. North of the Parthian province of Mesopotamia lay the great state of Armenia ruled by Artavasdes II, son of Tigranes the Great. Artavasdes II had been an ally of the Romans, but when they were defeated at Carrhae, he was forced to switch sides. Seeing an opportunity to free himself of Parthian obligations, he now switched sides again, this time allying himself with Antonius. On the advice of Artavasdes II of Armenia, Antonius planned to invade Parthia from the north – not from the west – by invading the Parthian client kingdom to the east of Armenia called Media Atropatene. Bordering on the Caspian Sea, it was ruled by Artavasdes I – no relation to the Armenian – and the loyal ally of the Parthian king, Phraates IV. Antonius’ decision was fateful. His advance with thirteen legions reached Phraaspa, the strongly fortified capital of Media Atropatene. According to Plutarch, the siege engines, which required 300 wagons to transport them, as well as a giant battering ram he would need to capture walled cities, he decided to leave behind – according to Velleius Paterculus, he lost two legions and their siege equipment to the Parthians. There his campaign halted. Unable to take Phraaspa, Antonius now found himself exposed on the plain outside the city. The Parthians soon came to the aid of Artavsades holed up in his city. They attacked Antonius’ supply train and, when rations were cut, his own soldiers mutinied. His fair-weather ally, Artavasdes I of Armenia, deserted him. Undaunted, in October that year Antonius demanded that the Parthians return the eagle standards and the Roman prisoners they had taken. The Parthians refused and replied that they would only permit him to leave the region unmolested. Without leverage, Antonius could do no more than accept the terms and ordered his army to head back to Syria. Before departing, he received a tip-off that he should expect an ambush and to avoid it he decided to take a route over the mountains. He was pursued by the Parthians and through twenty-five brutally harsh days Antonius struggled to lead his men to safety – Livy says he covered 450km (300 miles) in just twenty-one days. After withering attacks he finally reached Antiocheia on the Orontes in Syria. The failed campaign had come at terrible cost: 20,000 of the infantry and 4,000 of the cavalry had perished, not all at the hands of the enemy, but more than half by disease. They had, indeed, marched twenty-seven days from Phraaspa, and had defeated the Parthians in eighteen battles, but their victories were not complete or lasting because the missions they had pursued were ineffectual and short-term in outlook.

The following year Octavia brought from Italy several cohorts of cavalry to Greece to assist her husband, but at Athens she was told to proceed no further and remain there. Octavia understood completely what was afoot, and despite the personal hurt it caused her, nevertheless wrote to Antonius asking which of the many things she had with her should she bring to him. Anticipating her husband’s needs she was bringing clothing for his soldiers, pack animals, money and gifts for the officers and his friends, and in addition, 2,000 hand-picked, fully equipped men of the Praetorian Cohorts. Antonius’ political and romantic interests, however, now lay in Alexandria. A key financial backer of his wars was Queen Kleopatra of Egypt. He had met her for the first time in 47 BCE when Iulius Caesar backed her claim and, after the Alexandrine War, put the then 22-year-old woman on the throne. Caesar was famously seduced by her sensual charms and sharp intellect and she bore him a son she named Caesarion. In 41 BCE Antonius had summoned the queen to be with him at Tarsus. ‘And when she arrived,’ writes Plutarch, ‘he made her a present of no slight or insignificant addition to her dominions, namely, Phoenicia, Coele Syria, Cyprus, and a large part of Cilicia; and still further, the balsam-producing part of Iudaea, and all that part of Arabia Nabataea which slopes toward the outer sea’. He joined her in Egypt later that year. The two eloped and a romance blossomed between the couple – and soon there were children. Despite being married to Caesar’s own sister Octavia, Antonius proceeded to marry Kleopatra in 36 BCE. His reason for doing so was to legitimize his children by the queen, the twins Alexander Helios and Kleopatra Selene; but it seemed to some observers that he was creating a new, rival empire to Rome’s, encompassing Egypt, Asia, Greece and the Near East.

Unfazed by his military setback, Antonius raised a new army. Failing to find willing Italian-born citizen recruits, he changed the enrollment rules, offering citizenship to any male willing to serve in his ranks and succeeded in creating five new legions. Antonius was elected consul with L. Scribonius Libo for 34 BCE, resigning it on the same day. He headed north and re-invaded Armenia as revenge for what he saw as Artavasdes’ treachery. Under the pretence of marching to war against Parthia, he arrived at the Armenian capital Artaxata and deposed the king. The Armenians resisted and elected the king’s son Artaxes. Antonius refused to accept the choice of new regent, arrested him and installed Artaxias, his half-brother, under the control of Canidius Cassius’ and a large contingent of Roman troops. Elated by his success, Antonius headed back to Alexandria where he celebrated a triumphal parade. It was the first to be held outside Rome and was seen by many at home as both against the laws of Romans and of Jove. Artavasdes and his family were among the trophies exhibited in the lavish spectacle in which Antonius dressed as Dionysos, wearing an ivy wreath upon his head, a gaudy saffron robe of gold and clasping a thyrsus (the sacred wand of the god) while Kleopatra accompanied him in the guise of Isis.

Hamilcar Barca (c. 275–228 BC

Hamilcar Barca (c. 275–228 BC) – Leader of the Barcid family and father of Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. He was father-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair. Barca means ‘thunderbolt’.

In 247 BC, in an effort to break the deadlock, a new commander was sent from Carthage to take over the troops in Sicily. Hamilcar would live up to his nickname, ‘Barca’, which appears to have meant ‘Lightning’ or ‘Flash’. The situation that faced him was grim. Carthage was confined to just two strongholds, while the remainder of the island was controlled by Rome and its allies. What was more, Hamilcar had few troops and no money to hire any fresh mercenaries. As one historian has recently put it, ‘Realistically then, his [Hamilcar’s] task was not so much to win the war as to avoid losing it.’

After first bringing his mutinous troops into line by executing the ringleaders, Hamilcar was ready to make his presence felt. After a first attack on an island close to Drepana was easily rebuffed, he wisely switched to softer targets with which to boast his own prestige and his troops’ morale. He launched a naval raid on the southern toe of the Italian peninsula, where there were no Roman forces. But Hamilcar Barca’s real genius lay not on the battlefield, where he appears to have been a proficient but not exceptional tactician, but in knowing how to generate an appropriate public image for himself. Faced with the overwhelming military superiority of the enemy, a hit-and-run strategy was to some extent forced upon him, but that strategy nevertheless suited a man who appears to have appreciated profoundly the symbolic capital which could accrue through a series of eye-catching, if strategically pointless, raids.

On the way back from the successful but ineffectual Italian expedition, he seized the height of Heircte, which most scholars now think was the mountain range centred around Monte Castellacio to the west of the Roman-held city of Panormus. From this easily defended point, which had access to fresh water, pasturage and the sea, Hamilcar planned a series of lightning strikes against enemy-held territory. His initial raid on the Italian mainland delivered morale-boosting booty and prisoners; thereafter things settled down to a ‘cat-andmouse’ war of attrition with the local Roman forces. By launching swift raids from his mountain refuge, Hamilcar was able to disrupt Roman supply lines and tie down a large number of Roman soldiers who could have been well used elsewhere. However, this strategy also tied down much-needed Carthaginian troops too. Thus, under Hamilcar, the Carthaginians came no closer to re-establishing their control of their old possessions on the island, let alone capturing new territory. Recognizing this, Hamilcar withdrew from Heircte in 244 BC and planned an even bolder venture: the recapture of Eryx.

Sailing in under the cover of night, Hamilcar led his army up to the town and massacred the Roman garrison there. The civilian population was deported to nearby Drepana, one of Carthage’s last outposts, but curiously Hamilcar seems to have made no initial attempt to capture a further Roman garrison stationed on the summit of Mount Eryx. The town, which lay just inland from Drepana, certainly had strategic advantages, for, at over 600 metres, it provided an incomparable view over the coastal plain and the sea. Yet taking it was a odd choice, since it left Hamilcar and his force perched halfway up a mountainside between Roman forces at the top and at Panormus. The one route to his anchorage, following a narrow twisting path, only added to his problems.

In terms of military strategy, Eryx would prove as fruitless as the heights of Heircte had done. Although Hamilcar continually harried the Roman forces who were besieging Drepana, his own side suffered as many losses as his opponents. Once again Hamilcar’s military strategy yielded a high profile for the dashing leader, but mixed results. At one point he was even forced to ask his Roman opposite number for a truce so that he could bury his dead. This was followed by a thousand-strong group of Gallic mercenaries in his army, fed up with the unrewarding war of attrition in which they were involved, attempting to betray Eryx and the Carthaginian army to the Romans. What Eryx lacked in strategic advantage, however, it more than made up for with its strong association with those halcyon days when the Carthaginians had been the dominant force on the island, rather than a defeated contender desperately clinging on to its last few enclaves. What could be better for the burgeoning reputation of a young ambitious general than seizing back a town which the Carthaginians had held for so long and in which they had such emotional investment? Eryx was the holy site where the goddess Astarte had for centuries held sway under the protection of her divine companion Melqart.

In fact matters were soon taken out of Hamilcar’s hands. In Rome, it had been decided that the only way of breaking the deadlock was to rebuild the fleet. As treasury funds were low, much of the money for this ship-construction programme had to be borrowed from private individuals. The result was a fleet of 200 quinqueremes modelled on the superior design of Hannibal the Rhodian’s ship. In a conscious attempt to create a confrontation, the blockade of Lilybaeum and Drepana was tightened, thereby forcing the Carthaginians to act. It took the Carthaginians nine months to assemble a fleet of 250 ships. Although they outnumbered the Romans, the ships were poorly prepared and the crews lacked training. Furthermore, the admiral, Hanno, hardly had a distinguished record against the Romans, having presided over previous defeats at Acragas and Ecnomus. The plan was to drop off supplies for the army in Sicily before taking on troops to serve as marines.

In 241 the fleet crossed over to the Aegates Islands, just to the west of Sicily, and waited for a favourable wind to carry them to Sicily itself. But the Roman fleet, already aware of their location, caught up with the Carthaginians as they were preparing to cross. For the first time, the Roman fleet had no need of the corvi, as it was superior in all areas of seamanship and naval warfare. The Carthaginian crews–poorly trained, with too few marines, and burdened down with supplies– stood no chance. The Romans sank 50 Carthaginian ships and captured 70 before the remainder managed to escape.

The disaster broke the Carthaginians’ resolve, and they sued for peace. The terms agreed in 241 were harsh, but not unexpected. The Carthaginians were to evacuate the whole of Sicily, to free all Roman prisoners of war, and to pay a ransom for their own. Lilybaeum, which had held out to the bitter end, was surrendered to the Romans. A huge indemnity of 2,200 talents was to be paid to Rome over a period of twenty years. Lastly, neither Carthage nor Rome was to interfere in the affairs of the other’s allies nor recruit soldiers nor raise money for public buildings on the other’s territory. When the treaty was put before the Roman Popular Assembly to be ratified, the terms were made even stiffer. The indemnity was raised to 3,200 talents, with 1,000 due immediately and the remainder within ten years. Carthage was also to evacuate all the islands between Sicily and North Africa, but was allowed to hold on to Sardinia. Faced with ruin if the war continued, the Carthaginians had little option but to accept.

Armies of Sumer

The almost constant warfare among the Sumerian city-states for 2,000 years spurred the development of military technology and technique far beyond any similar development found elsewhere in the Near East at that time. The first Sumerian war for which there is detailed evidence occurred between the states of Lagash and Umma in 2525 b. c. e. In this conflict Eannatum of Lagash defeated the king of Umma. The importance of this war to the military historian lies in a commemorative stele that Eannatum erected to celebrate his victory. This stele is called the “Stele of Vultures” for its portrayal of birds of prey and lions tearing at the flesh of the corpses as they lay on the desert plain. The stele represents the first important pictorial portrayal of war in the Sumerian period and portrays the king of Lagash leading an infantry phalanx of armored, helmeted warriors, armed with spears as they trample their enemies.

It is now clear that Sumerian cultural and political colonisation of the Near East in late prehistory was considerable, extending to Anatolia, Egypt, the Gulf, Syria, the Persian highlands and the Transcaucasus. However, by the start of our period most of the colonies had been abandoned and inter-city warfare was endemic. Some Sumerian armies were alliances of several city-states, hence the ally generals. Archaic proto-cuneiform texts of the late 4th millenium seem to list large bodies of archers under military officers, possibly the first regular army. By 2800 BC, the bulk of a Sumerian army was close order foot with long spears held in both hands. Initially these lacked shields, relying instead on a leather or thick felt cape, studded with copper discs and probably dyed red or green if leather, left buff or off-white if felt. Spearmen equipped thus are above. From about 2500 BC, large body shields were carried by separate shieldbearers armed only with a light axe, leaving the spearmen’s hands free. Such shields were in use until the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur, when they were replaced by lighter, more manageable Amorite shields. In the “Vulture Stela” six rows of spearheads project in front of the shieldwall. In battle the spearmen were preceded by skirmishers with bows, slings and javelins. The long dominant northern state of Kish used heavier broader-headed axes. Umma and Apishal used substantial numbers of Martu mercenaries after 2500 BC. Four-wheeled battle cars, drawn by four onager-donkey crosses, came into use around 2800 BC, and were probably intended for shock effect, while the lighter platform-cars and straddle-cars may have been used as command and courier vehicles and for scouting. Recent research indicates that riding was more common in this early period than previously thought, though we assume that draught animals for battle-cars would have priority, with only a limited provision for mounted scouts. Riding techniques were primitive and asses, even expensive sterile onager-donkey crosses, are vastly inferior mounts to horses. Battle-car crews can always dismount. Nomadic levies are temporarily resident and subject semi-nomadic pastoralists from the western steppe fringes, such as the Amorite Martu, or Lullubi, Guti or Hurrian highlanders from the eastern and northeastern Zagros mountains. The “Great Revolt” against Akkad immediately entered into Near Eastern mythology following Naram-Suen’s astounding victory after 9 epic battles in a single year.


Sophisticated weaponry and tactics require some form of larger social organization and impetus to give them shape and direction if they are to be effective in war. We know very little about the military organization of Sumer in the third millennium b. c. e. We can judge from the Tablets of Shuruppak that the typical Sumerian city-state of this period comprised about 1,800 square miles in area, including its lands and fields. This area could sustain a population of between 30,000 and 35,000 people. The tablets record a force of between 600 and 700 soldiers serving as the king’s bodyguard, the corps of a professional army, but a population of this size could easily support an army of regular and reserve forces of between 4,000 and 5,000 men at full mobilization. It is highly likely that some form of military conscription existed, at least during times of emergency.

Two hundred years after Eannatum’s death, King Lugalzagasi of Umma succeeded in establishing his influence over all Sumer, although there is no evidence that he introduced any significant changes. Twenty-four years later, the empire of Lugalzagasi was destroyed by the armies of a Semitic prince from the northern city of Akkad, Sargon the Great (2325-? b. c. e.) All Sumer was now united under the control of the Akkadian king. Sargon bequeathed to the world the prototype of the military dictatorship. By force of arms Sargon conquered all the Sumerian city-states and the entire Tigris-Euphrates valley, bringing into being an empire that stretched from the Taurus Mountains to the Persian Gulf and, perhaps, even to the Mediterranean. In his fifty-year reign Sargon fought no fewer than thirty-four wars. One account suggests that his army numbered 5,400 men, soldiers called gurush in Akkadian. If that account is correct, Sargon’s army would have been the largest standing army of the period.

That Sargon’s army would have been composed of professionals seems obvious in light of the almost constant state of war that characterized his reign. As in Sumer, military units appear to have been organized on the sexagesimal system. Sargon’s army comprised nine battalions of 600 men, each commanded by a gir.nita, or “colonel.” Other ranks of officer included the pa. pa/sha khattim, literally, “he of two staff s of office,” a title which indicated that this officer commanded two or more units of sixty. Below this rank were the nu.banda and ugala, ranks unchanged since Sumerian times. Even if they had begun as conscripts, within a short time Sargon’s soldiers would have become battle-experienced veterans. Equipping an army of this size required a high degree of military organization to run the weapons and logistics functions, to say nothing of the routine administration that was characteristic of a literate people who kept prodigious records. We know nothing definitive about these arrangements.

An Akkadian innovation introduced by Sargon was the niskum, a class of soldiers probably equivalent to the old aga-ush lugai, or “royal soldiers.” The niskum held plots of land by favor of the king and received allotments of fish and salt every three months. The idea was to create a corps of loyal military professionals along the later model of Republican Rome. Thutmose I of Egypt, too, introduced a similar system as a way of producing a caste of families who held their land as long as they continued to provide a son for the officer corps. The Akkadian system worked to provide significant numbers of loyal, trained soldiers who could be used in war or to suppress local revolts. Along with the professionals, militia, and these royal soldiers, the army of Sargon contained light troops or skirmishers called nim soldiers. Nim literally means “flies,” a name which suggests the employment of these troops in spread formation accompanied by rapid movement.

During the Sargon period the Sumerians/Akkadians contributed yet another major innovation in weaponry: the composite bow. The introduction of this lethal and revolutionary weapon may have occurred during the reign of Naram Sin (2254-2218 b. c. e.), Sargon’s grandson. Like his grandfather, Naram Sin fought continuous wars of conquest against foreign enemies. His victory over Lullubi is commemorated in a rock sculpture that shows Naram Sin armed with a composite bow. This sculpture marks the first appearance of the composite bow in history and strongly suggests that it was of Sumerian/Akkadian origin. The fact that the bow appears in the hand of the warrior king himself suggests that it was a major weapon of the time, even though there is no surviving evidence that the Sumerian army had previously used even the simple bow.

The composite bow was a major military innovation. While the simple bow could kill at ranges from 50 to 100 yards, it would not penetrate even simple leather armor at these ranges. The composite bow, with a pull of at least twice that of the simple bow, could easily penetrate leather armor and, perhaps, even the early prototypes of bronze armor that were emerging at this time. In the hands of even untrained peasant militia the composite bow could bring the enemy under a hail of arrows from twice the distance of the simple bow. So important was this weapon that it became a basic implement of war of all armies of the Near East for the next 1,500 years.

The use of battle cars seems to have declined considerably during the Akkadian period. Any number of reasons suggest themselves. Such vehicles were very expensive. In Sumer a powerful king could commandeer the cars of his vassals, which they maintained at their expense. But with the centralization of political authority under Sargon these vassals disappeared, making the cost of these cars a royal expense. The professionalization of the army resulted in an infantry-heavy force which under most circumstances would have required few battle cars beyond those needed to transport the king and his generals. Finally, the Akkadian kings fought wars far from home in the mountains of Elam and against the Guti farther north. These were lightly armed, highly mobile enemies fighting in mountains and heavily wooded glens. The chariot had come into being to fight wars between rival city-states on relatively even terrain. Their use in rough terrain at considerable distances from home probably revealed the battle car’s obvious deficiencies under these conditions, leading to a decline in its military usefulness. They seem to have remained in use by couriers and messengers at least within the imperial borders, where they traveled regular routes known as chariot roads.

Twenty-Fifth Dynasty: The Kushite Egyptian I

Kushite Egyptian Army

Nubia was lost to Egypt about 1080 B.C. after a civil war between its viceroy (titled “The King’s Son of Kush”) and the Libyan-connected High Priest of Amun at Thebes. The later partly-Egyptianised Kings of Kush adopted many of the trappings of Egyptian kingship and were fanatically devoted to the Egyptian religion. When the Libyan Pharaoh Tefnakht attempted to extend his control to southern Egypt, till then ruled by the priests of Amun as vassals of Kush, the Kushite King Piye retaliated by sending a crusading army down the Nile in 730 B.C. to restore the decadent northerners to godliness, defeated their combined armies and became Pharaoh of Egypt as far north as Thebes. His successor Shabaka finished them off in 712 and extended the dynasty’s rule to the whole of Egypt. A series of wars with Assyria for control of Syria followed, with eventual defeat for the Kushites, who were driven right out of Egypt in 664 B.C., but continued to rule in the Sudan, moving their capital south to Meroe circa 593 B.C. to found the Kingdom of Meroe. Assyrian depictions of Kushite troops show charioteers, archers, and infantry with pairs of javelins and smallish round shields. The few armoured infantry are probably officers. Nubian royal monuments show large numbers of ridden horses. The change to 4-horse 3-crew chariots was complete by 673 B.C..

In Nubia, following the end of Egyptian rule there in the late Twentieth Dynasty, there must also have been military activities. Again these are not documented for some time, the first indication of a civil war being found in the extremely difficult inscription of Karimala carved in the temple at Semna at the Second Cataract. Military actions must have played a significant role in the formation of the new Kushite state that had come into existence by about 750 B.C.. Under the rule of Kashta (c. 750-736 B.C.), the Kushite army had become sufficiently large and well-armed to invade Egypt and take control of Thebes and leave a garrison there. Again, military activities within Egypt itself are implicit, but the response of Kashta’s successor, Piye (c. 736-712 B.C.), to the southward expansion of the Libyan dynast, Tefnakht, is detailed in the text of a very long inscription, known as the “Victory Stela.” Although couched in the language of a conventional Egyptian royal inscription, this document does detail the progress of Piye’s campaign against the coalition of northern rulers led by Tefnakht. There are references to conflict on the river, to sieges, and to siege engines, scaling towers, and ladders.

The fundamental basis of Kushite rule was military power. Close links between the king and his army are apparent throughout the 25th Dynasty. The devotion of Piy’s troops to their master is constantly stressed in the text of his triumphal stele, and physical prowess and military training were held to be of importance both to the rulers them- selves and to their soldiers. Hence the young Taharqo was present in person at the battle of Eltekeh (701 BC), while a stele from Dahshur recounts details of a gruelling military exercise organized by the same king in the desert between Memphis and the Faiyum. However, in spite of the strength of their armed forces, the Kushite kings perhaps felt unequal to the task of controlling both their native land and a unified Egypt. This may have influenced their toleration of a decentral- ized administration within Egypt, since the principalities that had enjoyed near-autonomy under the Libyan pharaohs retained their indi- viduality throughout the rule of the Kushites.

The evidence of the “Victory Stela” of Piye implies a style of campaign typical of the Late Bronze Age, but in western Asia there were now changes in army, weaponry, and warfare, introduced by the principal power, Assyria. The Assyrians had iron weapons, although at this stage they might not been the decisive factor in their victories. More significant may have been the larger types of horse that had been introduced and bred, leading to a far greater use of cavalry and reduction in chariotry. The Assyrians used a heavy chariot, rather than the fast light- framed vehicle of the Late Bronze Age. They also had sophisticated siege engines and scaling towers that they used with great effect, and which are depicted in the scenes of their campaigns in Palestine.

Established as the major power holders in Egypt, the Kushites under Piye’s successors, Shabaqo, Shebitqo, and Taharqo, began to offer support to the rulers of Palestine and the Levant in their bids for independence from the Assyrians. The first major conflict came at the battle of Eltekeh (701 B.C.), in which the Egyptian-Kushite army was forced to retreat. Later activities were apparently more successful, but led to Assyrian invasions of Egypt. The Kushite position was made more difficult by the political machinations of the Libyan dynasts, one of whom, Psamtik, eventually succeeded in reuniting the whole of Egypt under his rule, forcing the last Kushite pharaoh, Tanwetamani, to abandon Thebes and Upper Egypt (656 B.C.).

ELTEKEH. Battle in 701 BC between the Egyptian-Kushite and Assyrian armies. It is documented by the Annals of Sennacherib and the biblical record of 2 Kings 20. Eltekeh (Assyrian: Altaqu) is probably to be identified with Tell esh-Shallaf, 15 kilometers south of Joppa. The Assyrian army was marching south toward Ekron, having captured Joppa, when they encountered the Egyptian army sent by Shabaqo advancing from Gaza. The biblical record states that Taharqo led the Egyptian army, although he was not reigning as pharaoh and was probably too young to have participated. The Egyptians were defeated and withdrew to Gaza to recoup. The battle was one engagement during the campaign of Sennacherib against Judah, which also included the sieges of Lachish and Jerusalem.

ISHKHUPRI (671 BC). Site of a battle between the invading armies of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, and the Egyptian-Kushite forces under Taharqo. It is recorded only in the Assyrian records, where its location appears to be somewhere in the Eastern Delta or on the Ways of Horus. It might perhaps be identified with a place on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, near Faqus.

Piankhi (1) (Piye) (d. 712 B.C.) Second ruler of the Nubian Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

 He reigned over Egypt and Nubia (modern Sudan) from 750 B.C. until his death. He was the son of the Nubian ruler KASHTA and Queen PEBATMA. Piankhi entered Egypt in response to pleas from people suffering under the reign of TEFNAKHTE of SAIS in the Twenty-fourth Dynasty (r. 724-717 B.C.). Piankhi claimed that his military campaign was justified by his desire to restore the faith of the people in the god AMUN. The great temple of Amun at NAPATA maintained the traditional tenets and rituals of the cult, but the Egyptians appeared to have become lax in their devotion. Piankhi sent an army into Egypt to rectify that lapse in Amunite fervor. A stela of victory at the temple of Amun in Napata, reproduced at other major Egyptian sites, recounts the military campaigns conducted in his name. His army faced a coalition of Egyptian forces led by Tefnakhte of Sais. Other rulers allied with Tefnakhte were OSORKON IV of TANIS, PEFTJAU’ABAST of HERAKLEOPOLIS, NIMLOT (4) of HERMOPOLIS, and IUPUT (4) of LEONTOPOLIS. They marched to Herakleopolis and were defeated in a confrontation with Piankhi. Tefnakhte fled but was taken prisoner when the Nubians moved northward. Piankhi conducted two naval battles to defeat Tefnakhte in the Delta, and all of the local rulers surrendered. Piankhi returned to Thebes soon after to celebrate the Amunite Feast of OPET. He stayed several months and then returned to Napata. Piankhi had married PEKASSATER, the daughter of Nubian king ALARA. While in Thebes, he had his sister, AMENIRDIS (1), adopted by SHEPENWEPET (1) as the GOD’S WIFE OF AMUN, or Divine Adoratrice of Amun. The Nubians ruled almost all of Egypt at the end of Piankhi’s stay. His dynasty would bring about a renaissance of the arts in Egypt and would maintain a vigorous defense of the nation. Piankhi died at Napata and was buried in the royal necropolis at El-Kurru. Burial chambers for his favorite horses were erected around his tomb. Piankhi was succeeded by his brother SHABAKA.

Shabaka Shabaka (reigned ca. 712-ca. 696 B.C.) was a Nubian king who established the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in Lower Egypt and thus became the first of the “Ethiopian” pharaohs.

Shabaka succeeded his brother Piankhi as ruler of the Nubian kingdom of Kush in what is now northern Sudan. At this time the people of the Mediterranean world called all black people south of Egypt “Ethiopian,” so this name became associated with the Egyptian dynasty of Nubian kings. Shabaka and his successors, however, had nothing to do with the modern country called Ethiopia.

Piankhi had subdued Lower Egypt 10 years before Shabaka came to power but had failed to leave a permanent administration there. Thus Shabaka had to undertake the task of reconquering Lower Egypt completely anew. Despite the fact that Shabaka, unlike Piankhi, established an effective administration over all of Egypt, Piankhi received more attention in the histories because he left much more detailed written descriptions of his activities.

During Shabaka’s reign Egypt experienced the prelude to the Assyrian conquest. Shabaka appreciated the serious danger of the growing power of the Assyrians to the north-east of Egypt, and he tried to get Syria and Palestine to revolt in order to create buffer states. This attempt failed when the Assyrians put down the revolts, and Assyria and Egypt approached a major confrontation. It is, however, unclear whether any battle actually took place at this time. Shabaka is often identified with the “So” of the Old Testament who fought the Assyrians, but this identification is highly tenuous.

The remainder of Shabaka’s reign seems to have been peaceful. He established his capital at Thebes in Middle Egypt and fostered the priesthood and religious architecture. He restored the ancient temple at Thebes and completed much repair work on temples throughout Upper and Lower Egypt. According to Herodotus, he abolished capital punishment in Egypt.

About 696 he was succeeded by his nephew Shabataka (Shebitku). The threat of Assyrian attack still hung over the kingdom, so Shabataka also placed his younger brother Taharqa on the throne as coregent, as had been commonly done throughout Egyptian history in order to assure the development of strong leadership.

After Shabataka died 5 years later, Taharqa became the sole ruler, but he was eventually driven out of Lower Egypt by the Assyrians and the Twenty-fifth Dynasty came to an end. Shabaka’s descendants did, however, continue to rule in Kush for another thousand years, while Egypt continued in its decline under a succession of foreign conquerors.

Taharqa (Taharqo, Tarku, Tirhaka) (d. 664 B.C.) Ruler of the Nubian Twenty-fifth Dynasty He reigned from 690 B.C. until forced to abandon Egypt. He was the son of PIANKHI and the cousin of SHEBITKU, whom he succeeded. His mother, ABAR, came from NUBIA(modern Sudan) to visit and to bless his marriage to Queen AMUN-DYEK’HET. They had two sons, Nesishutef- nut, who was made the second prophet of Amun, and USHANAHURU, who was ill-fated. Taharqa’s daughter, AMENIRDIS (2), was adopted by SHEPENWEPET (2) and installed as a GOD’S WIFE OF AMUN at THEBES.

In 674 B.C., Taharqa met the Assyrian king ESSARHADDON and his army at Ashkelon, defeating the enemy and raising a STELA to celebrate the victory. He also built extensively, making additions to the temples of AMUN and MONTU at KARNAK and to MEDINET HABU and MEMPHIS. One of his structures at Karnak was erected between a SACRED LAKE and the outer wall. He built two colossal uraei at Luxor as well and a small shrine of Amun at the third cataract of the Nile. In 680 B.C., Essarhaddon once again attacked Egypt and took the capital of Memphis and the royal court. Taharqa fled south, leaving Queen Amun-dyek’het and Prince Ushanahuru to face the enemy. They were taken prisoner by Essarhaddon and sent to Nineveh, Assyria, as slaves. Two years later, Taharqa marched with an army to retake Egypt, and Essarhaddon died before they met. Taharqa massacred the Assyrian garrison in Egypt when he returned. ASSURBANIPAL, Essarhaddon’s successor, defeated Taharqa.

Taharqa’s position in Egypt was made difficult by the self-interest of the Libyan dynasts of the Delta, who constantly changed their allegiance. The principal anti-Kushite and pro-Assyrian ruler was Nekau I of Sau, although even he joined with other dynasts in the rebellion against Ashurbanipal. The details of the conflict between Taharqa and the Assyrians are documented in official Assyrian inscriptions, including a rock-cut stela at the Nahr el-Kelb and records of omens responding to requests to the sun god Shamash. Although it is generally thought that the Assyrian fighting machine was better equipped and trained than that of Egypt, Taharqa showed remarkable ability in assembling new forces and some success in open battle. The internal political intrigues of the rulers of the Delta and western Asia played a significant role in the successes and failures of both sides.

TANUTAMUN, Taharqa’s cousin, was installed as coregent and successor and Taharqa returned to Nubia. He was buried at Nuri in Nubia. His pyramidal tomb was small but designed with three chambers.

Twenty-Fifth Dynasty: The Kushite Egyptian II

The Assyrians Return

A half-century later in the mid-eighth century B.C. the Assyrians returned, but to a very different world. In addition to their old enemy Urartu, which had taken advantage of Assyrian weakness to extend its influence deep into northern Syria, formidable new powers had appeared. To the east, the Medes, Indo- European immigrants from central Asia, had built a loosely organized kingdom that incorporated many of the other Iranian tribes living on the Iranian plateau and threatened Assyria’s eastern frontier. To the northwest in central and western Anatolia the kingdoms of Phrygia and Lydia occupied the core areas of the second millennium B.C. Hittite Empire and could provide aid to potential rebels among Assyria’s southern Anatolian subjects. The most formidable threat to Assyrian interest in western Asia, however, was the reappearance of Egypt as a major power.

The resurgence of Egypt was the work of the Nubian kings of the twenty-fifth dynasty. Supported by the priesthood of the god Amun at Thebes, they reunited Egypt, suppressing the Libyan chieftains, who had ruled Egypt for over two centuries, and joining Egypt and the kingdom of Kush into a single state. The result was the virtual recreation of the great empire of the New Kingdom, a kingdom that extended for over a thousand miles from near modern Khartoum in the south to the Mediterranean in the north. Within Egypt, the twenty- fifth dynasty marked a period of political and cultural revival in Egypt. Local dynasts were subordinated to royal authority and the military was strengthened. Temple construction and royal art revived. So did funerary and theological literature, all of which were characterized by emulation of archaic Egyptian styles and high-quality workmanship.

Eventually the campaigning of the Kushite (Twenty-fifth Dynasty pharaohs in Syria-Palestine led to direct conflict with a new imperial power: the Assyrians. In 674 BC Taharqa (ruled 690-664 BC) was able temporarily to deter the invading forces of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon ruled 680-669 BC), but in the ensuing decade the Assyrians made repeated successful incursions into the heart of Egypt, and only the periodic rebellions of the Meeks and Scythians – at the other end of the Assyrian empire – prevented them from gaining a more permanent grip on the Nile valley. In 671 Be Esarhaddon captured Memphis describing the event with relish in an inscription at Senjirli:

‘I laid siege to Memphis, Taharqas royal residence, and conquered it in half a day by means of mines, breaches and assault ladders; I destroyed it, tore down its walls and burnt it down. His ‘queen’, the women of his palace, Ushanahuru, his heir apparent, his other children, his possessions, horses, large and small cattle beyond counting, I carried away as booty to Assyria. All Ethiopians I deported from Egypt – leaving not even one to do homage to me. Everywhere in Egypt, I appointed new local kings, governors, officers (saknu), harbour overseers, officials and ad- ministration personnel’ (Pritchard, 1969: 293).

Three years later Taharqa had succeeded in briefly reasserting the Kushite hegemony over Egypt, while the Assyrians were distracted by problems elsewhere. But by 667 B.C. Esarhaddons successor Ashurbanipal (ruled 668-627 B.C.) had penetrated beyond the Delta into Upper Egypt, where he must have severely damaged morale by pillaging Thebes, the spiritual home of the Egyptians.

A fascinating insight into the campaigns of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal in Egypt has been provided by the survival of a fragment of relief from Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh which shows the Assyrian army laying siege to an Egyptian city. The details of this scene, such as the depiction of an Assyrian soldier undermining the city walls and others climbing ladders to the battlements, bear strong similarities with Egyptian siege representations described above, showing that ancient siege warfare from North Africa to Mesopotamia used similar tactics and weaponry. The rows of captive soldiers being marched out of the city appear to be mainly foreign mercenaries. In the bottom right-hand corner of the scene a group of native Egyptian civilians are shown clustered together with their children and possessions. The inscriptions of both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal show that the usual Assyrian practice of deportation was employed, with Egyptian physicians, diviners, singers, bakers, clerks and scribes (as well as prisoners of war and members of the ruling families) being resettled in the Assyrian heartland.

TANWETAMANI (reigned 664-656 BC). Last pharaoh of the Kushite 25th dynasty. His name can be rendered as Tanutamun or Tantamani. After the death of Taharqo and his accession, Tanwetamani led his army to Egypt. The coalition of Delta rulers fled to their hometowns and Tanwetamani regained control of Memphis. He supposedly defeated Nekau I of Sau in battle. Ashurbanipal mustered his army, and in 663 BC marched to Egypt, accompanied by Nekau’s son, Psamtik I, who hoped to be installed in his father’s place. Ashurbanipal appears to have received little opposition, and he pursued Tanwetamani from Memphis to Thebes, which was sacked. Ashurbanipal withdrew, but the Thebans still acknowledged Tanwetamani as pharaoh. In the north, Psamtik I ascended the throne in Sau, and Egypt was divided between the two powers. Ashurbanipal now faced problems in other parts of the Assyrian Empire, and Psamtik began to consolidate his position. His successes ended with a Kushite withdrawal from Upper Egypt, achieved through diplomatic means in the year 9 of both pharaohs.


Twenty-Fifth Dynasty c. 750-656 B.C.

Kashta c. 750-736 B.C.

Piye (Piankhy) c.  736-712 B.C.

Shabaka c.  711-695 B.C.

Shebitqo c.  695-690 B.C.

Taharqo 690-664 B.C.

Tanwetamani 664-656 B.C.

The Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 B.C.) was a time when Egypt broke into smaller quarrelling kingdoms or succumbed to foreign invaders. Technically Egypt remained united under the Twenty-first Dynasty (1069–945 B.C.) with its capital at Tanis in the Delta. In reality, the priests of Amun-Ra in Thebes and various local rulers exercised independent control over Upper Egypt. During the latter part of the New Kingdom, many Libyans settled in the Delta and large numbers of Nubians moved into Upper Egypt. The previous ethnic homogeneity of Egyptian society ended even though the newcomers tended to assimilate themselves into the predominant Egyptian culture. Some of the Libyans in the Delta assimilated so well that they took control of Egypt from the Twenty-first Dynasty in 945 B.C.. The new Libyan king, Sheshonq I (945–924 B.C.), began the Twenty-second Dynasty (945–715 B.C.) and continued to use Tanis as his capital. Under Sheshonq I, the fortunes of Egypt briefly revived. The priests at Thebes found that their independence was curtailed. Even more dramatically, Sheshonq I invaded Palestine and restored Egyptian control over the region by defeating the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He was, in all probability, the Shishak of 1 Kings 14:25–8 and 2 Chronicles 12:1–12, who carried away treasure from Jerusalem during the reign of King Rehoboam of Judah. In popular culture, this would also make him the Shishak of the Indiana Jones adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), who supposedly carried off the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to his capital at Tanis (but who almost certainly did no such thing). Unfortunately for Egypt, the successors of Sheshonq I were nowhere near as capable. By 818 B.C. a rival Twenty-third Dynasty had arisen in a section of the Delta, along with eventually a very brief Twenty-fourth Dynasty and other regional rulers. Political authority had become so badly fragmented by 750 B.C. that Egypt was exceptionally vulnerable to foreign invasion.

The foreign invaders who established the Twenty-fifth Dynasty over Egypt were the kings of Kush in Nubia. King Piye of Kush (747–716 B.C.) invaded Egypt in about 728 B.C., and reached as far north as Heliopolis but then withdrew without establishing permanent control. Shabaqo [Shabaka] (716–702 B.C.) succeeded his brother Piye as king of Kush and proceeded to invade Egypt and make it part of his kingdom. The Nubian Twenty-fifth Dynasty was undoubtedly black. It made Memphis its Egyptian capital and, although they never completely stamped out all locally autonomous rulers in Egypt, the Nubian pharaohs attempted to extend Egypt’s control into Palestine and Syria as Sheshonq I had done. This action brought the Nubians into conflict with the Assyrian Empire at the height of its power. In 701 B.C. Shabitqo (702–690 B.C.), the nephew and successor of Shabaqo, attempted to thwart Sennacherib of Assyria’s invasion of Judah. He was defeated, and furthermore he managed to draw Assyrian attention to Egypt. A series of Assyrian attacks on Egypt began in 674 B.C. in which control of the country see-sawed back and forth between the Nubians and the Assyrians. Finally in 663 B.C. Ashurbanipal of Assyria invaded Egypt and sacked Thebes, ending Nubian authority in Egypt for good.

The Kushite state was originally centered around their capital of Napata in what is today the central Sudan, south of what is known as Nubia. In the late 8th c. B.C. the Kushite King Piye, fed up with the degeneracy he claimed was rampant in Egypt proper, led his army north against the disunited Egyptian princes. After several sieges (including amphibious operations) and battles he was able to take control of all of Egypt, founding the 25th dynasty. The Kushite state, especially under King Taharqa, intervened against Assyrian interests in the Levant. This led to several battles in the area of southern Israel. Eventually Taharqa’s forces were driven back into Egypt, and were eventually expelled from Egypt completely when Assyrian armies captured Thebes in 663 B.C. The kingdom of Kush was famous for its horses at this time.

Inevitably, however, the ambitions of the kings of the twenty-fifth dynasty to reassert Egyptian influence in Syria- Palestine also raised the risk of a disastrous collision with the Assyrians.

Beginning in the mid-eighth century B.C., the Assyrians reacted to the new situation with a whirlwind of military campaigns that lasted or almost a century. In rapid succession they defeated their principal enemies: Babylon, Elam, Urartu, and the Neo- Hittite kingdoms of Syria and southern Anatolia. When the peoples of southern Syria and Palestine turned to Egypt for support, the Assyrians crushed Egypt also, driving the twenty-fifth dynasty kings back into Nubia, where their successors became the rulers of the first great empire in the African interior. At the peak of their power during the reign of the king Assurbanipal in the mid-seventh century B.C. the Assyrians ruled the greatest Near Eastern empire up to that time, including western Iran, all of Mesopotamia, southern Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, and Egypt.

c. 750–656 B.C. 25th Dynasty

c. 750–736 B.C. Kashta. Kushite power acknowledged in Thebes and Upper Egypt.

c. 736–712 B.C. Piye (Piankhy) Tefnakht ruler of Sau expanded power and took control of Memphis. A coalition of Libyan dynasts led by Tefnakht marched into Middle Egypt. Nimlot of Khmunu, a Kushite vassal, joined Tefnakht. Piye sent the Kushite army based in Thebes against Tefnakht. Despite several confrontations, the Kushite army failed to defeat the coalition. Piye led second army to Egypt and besieged Nimlot in Khmunu. A part of the army was sent north and relieved the Kushite ally, Peftjauawybast, who had been besieged within Herakleopolis. Khmunu yielded, and Piye led his army north. Tefnakht fled back to Sau. The Kushites captured Memphis and Piye received the submission of the Libyan dynasts at Athribis; Tefnakht swore his oath of fealty at Sau.

720 B.C. Battle of Qarqar. Sargon II of Assyria defeated Yau’bidi, ruler of Hamath, then marched south, recapturing Damascus and Samaria. The Assyrian army defeated an Egyptian force at the battle of Raphia, and captured the Egyptian vassal ruler of Gaza. The Assyrians were left in control of the Egyptian border at Brook-of–Egypt.

c. 711–695 B.C. Shabaqo

710 B.C. Year 2. Shabaqo and the Kushite army marched into Egypt, defeating the Saite pharaoh Bakenranef in battle.

701 B.C. A joint Egyptian-Kushite army marched to support Hezekiah of Judah in his rebellion against Assyria. The army of Sennacherib defeated them at the Battle of Eltekeh.

c. 695–690 B.C. Shebitqo

690–664 B.C .Taharqo

679 B.C. Esarhaddon led the Assyrian army to Brook-of-Egypt.

678 B.C. Taharqo might have been active in the Levant while Esarhaddon confronted problems in Babylonia.

677 B.C. Esarhaddon attacked Sidon, Taharqo’s ally.

674 B.C. The Assyrian army marched to Egypt but was defeated in battle.

671 B.C. The Assyrians invaded Egypt again. The Egyptian-Kushite army marched to meet them, and there were two battles between Gaza and Memphis. There was a third battle on 11 July 671, at Memphis, which was captured andsacked. Taharqo fled.

669 B.C. Taharqo regained control of Memphis and Lower Egypt and the Assyrian army returned to oust him, but Esarhaddon died en route and the campaign was abandoned.

667 B.C. The new Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, marched his army to Egypt and defeated Taharqo, capturing Memphis. Taharqo fled. There was a rebellion against the Assyrian army by the Libyan dynasts. In response the Assyrians attacked Sau and other Delta cities, massacring the population.

664–656 B.C. Tanwetamani

664 B.C. Tanwetamani led a Kushite army to Memphis, where he defeated and killed the Assyrian vassal, Nekau I of Sau. Nekau was succeeded by Psamtik I.

663 B.C. Ashurbanipal led his army to Egypt and pursued Tanwetamani from Memphis to Thebes, which was sacked. Tanwetamani fled to Napata. The Assyrians withdrew, leaving Psamtik I as their vassal ruler in Lower Egypt.

Taharqa Taharqa (reigned ca. 688-ca. 663 B.C.) was a Nubian pharaoh of Egypt. He was the last ruler of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, the so-called Ethiopian Dynasty, and was driven out of Lower Egypt by the Assyrians as they began to conquer Egypt.

When Shabaka conquered Lower Egypt and thus asserted Nubian rule, he was accompanied by his nephew Taharqa, who was about age 20. Later, during Shabaka’s reign as pharaoh, Egypt confronted the growing might of Assyria on the battlefield. Taharqa was at the head of the Egyptian army, but it is not clear whether the two forces actually fought. Taharqa’s brother Shabataka succeeded Shabaka, and he made Taharqa his coregent in order to assure his succession. About 688 B.C., approximately 23 years after Nubian rule had been imposed over Egypt, Taharqa assumed the throne in his own right.

The next few years were peaceful, and Taharqa moved his capital to Tanis in the Delta so that he could stay well informed about events in the neighboring Asian countries. By 671 B.C. Egypt and Assyria again approached a confrontation, so Taharqa prepared to fight for the continued survival of Egypt. But the Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, crossed the Sinai Desert and defeated Taharqa’s army on the frontier. In 2 weeks he was besieging Memphis. The Egyptian army crumbled under the attack of the better-disciplined Assyrian army, which was armed with iron weapons.

Taharqa fled to Upper Egypt, leaving Esarhaddon to take control of Lower Egypt. Two years later Taharqa re- turned with a fresh army and managed to recover control of the Delta, but this success was short-lived, and Esarhaddon’s successor, Ashurbanipal, drove Taharqa south again. After this final defeat he never again tried to campaign in the north. Egypt then entered into a long era of successive foreign rulers.

During his period of Egyptian rule Taharqa had encouraged many architectural projects, as had his Nubian predecessors. He erected monuments at Karnak, Thebes, and Tanis in Lower Egypt, and he built a number of important temples in Cush, as the Upper Egyptian Nubian state was then known. During the last 8 years of his life in Kush, he continued to foster his architectural interests. In 663 B.C. Taharqa accepted as a coregent Tanutamon, whose precise relationship to him is not clear. The next year Taharqa died and was buried in a pyramid in Nuri. Tanutamon had immediately invaded Lower Egypt himself when he was named coregent, and he managed to gain control of it for almost a decade, only to be driven out by the Assyrians, as Taharqa had been. Although the Nubians had managed to rule Egypt for only about 75 years, their kingdom of Kush in the northern Sudan survived for almost a millennium.

Siege of Massilia, (49 BCE)

Battles of the Great Roman Civil War, 49-45 BC

The prosperous and influential ancient city of Massilia stood against Julius Caesar during his Civil War with Pompey the Great. By way of a prolonged siege, Caesar’s forces reduced the town’s resistance and secured his complete control of Gaul (modern France).

The modern city of Marseilles on the coast of southern France began as the Greek colonial settlement of Massalia (referred to as Massilia in Roman texts) in the late seventh century BCE. Greek merchants had been sailing along that coast for generations and the colonists, sent out by the city-state of Phocaea in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), negotiated with the local Ligurian tribe (the Segobriges) to acquire the site, a promontory surrounded by water on three sides and approached, with difficulty, from the land on the fourth side. The location and situation provided natural protection to the colony from pirates and marauding Gallic warriors, while its proximity to the Rhone River valley opened up access to trade with the Gallic tribes further inland; in exchange for wine, olive oil, and pottery, the Massiliotes received tin, grain, and amber from the Gauls. The harbor of Massilia was ideal for maritime commerce and opened the way for stiff competition with the Carthaginian merchants who were expanding their markets northeast- ward from their bases in Spain; this led to military confrontations as early as the fifth century BCE, which saw the Massiliotes come out on top. As noted earlier in the entry on Gallia Comata, the continued commercial rivalry between Massilia and Carthage was one of the major causes of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, the Romans claiming to defend Massiliote interests in the Western Mediterranean. From then on, the city remained one of Rome’s firmest allies in southern France.

When Civil War began between Pompey and Caesar in 49 BCE, one of Pompey’s firmest allies and Caesar’s inveterate enemies, L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, intended to assume command of the provinces of Gaul; the senators in support of Pompey had agreed to this, while Caesar continued to consider himself the rightful governor. Domitius delayed his departure for Gaul until after his defeat (and despite his release) by Caesar at the Siege of Corfinium. In the meantime, young noblemen from the allied city of Massilia, who had visited with Pompey before his retreat from Rome, arrived home to encourage their fellow townspeople to support Pompey against Caesar. Having chased Pompey out of Italy and taken control of Rome, Caesar did not want to have a hostile Massilia, with great wealth and a powerful fleet, in his rear, perhaps working with Domitius; so, Caesar soon left Rome for southern Gaul, arriving in April 49 BCE.

When he arrived, Caesar discovered the gates of Massilia locked against him and intelligence reports indicated that the Massiliotes had collected large stores of grain and other necessary supplies, were beefing up their fortifications and ships, and had also arranged for the aid of local Gallic tribes- men against Caesar. Massilia possessed a strong oligarchic government, a council of 600 lifetime legislators presided over by a committee of fifteen executives chosen from among them. Caesar demanded a conference with the Fifteen, in which he warned them not to stand against him and instead to take the posture of the towns of Italy, most of which had quickly agreed to avoid hostilities by accepting Caesar’s authority. After conferring with the Council of 600, the Fifteen replied that their government could not decide between Caesar and Pompey; while they acknowledged that during his tenure as governor of Gaul, Caesar’s relations with them had been quite positive, they also insisted that from Pompey as well they had received equal benefits in the past (referring to Gallic territories that had been handed over to Massilia by Pompey). The city offered to remain neutral in the Civil War by cutting itself off from both belligerents.

The duplicity of such statements became clear when Domitius arrived and the Massiliotes admitted him into their city and gave him command of its defense against Caesar. Domitius ordered their ships to scour the area for stores of grain and to confiscate all civilian vessels they came across to bolster Massilia’s fleet and increase its material resources. In response to these actions and the now-hostile posture of the city, Caesar placed it under siege by three of his veteran legions. While Caesar himself proceeded to Spain against Pompey’s legates there, he left the siege operations under the command of Trebonius, with Decimus Brutus in charge of the blockading fleet of twelve warships.

The Massiliotes mustered their vessels under Domitius’s authority, who placed archers, Gallic warriors, and many poor (but desperate) Romans that he brought with him from Italy onboard as marines. Brutus commanded fewer ships but onboard were some of the very best soldiers from Caesar’s legions; they were prepared to fight hard with their weapons, but they also had all the apparatus necessary for seizing and boarding the enemy warships.

When the two fleets engaged, a bitter struggle commenced. The Massiliote ships made great speed and possessed clever helmsmen and skilled oarsmen, who attempted to make use of these advantages by ganging up on individual vessels of Brutus’s or slamming through their banks of oars or keeping their distance to encircle the Caesarians. The latter did not possess such advantages, since their ships were heavier and slower and their crews green, but they sought every chance to grapple the enemy ships and send their marines into hand-to-hand combat with the enemy crews. In the end, this proved good enough, as the Massiliote fleet gave up the fight after having lost nine vessels captured or destroyed.

The Massiliotes, who had not lost heart or courage, turned to repairing damaged ships and preparing further ones from all their supplies. Indeed, the entire population of the city had apparently come to believe that their next naval battle with the Caesarians would mean either decisive victory (and safety) for themselves or total destruction; as a result, every able-bodied man in Massilia had been called up to serve, and especially the members of the aristocracy had “volunteered” to man the fleet as marines. Domitius, meanwhile, received reinforcement warships under Nasidius, sent by Pompey himself all the way from Greece. Women, children, and the elderly prayed to the gods in their temples and watched hopefully and dreadfully from the walls of Massilia as their fleet and that of Nasidius joined up along the coast to the east of the city.

Decimus Brutus hurried his vessels to engage them. As in the first confrontation at sea, this one also was difficult and fierce. Indeed, Brutus’s flagship was almost smashed between two Massiliote vessels; like a scene in a modern movie, his crew managed to make speed just in time to get out of the way, the enemy ships collided with one another, causing severe damage, and other Roman vessels came in for the kill by surrounding and sinking the attackers. In the meantime, Nasidius’s crews proved unreliable; having no true personal or patriotic stake in saving Massilia from capture, they were unwilling to really risk their lives in the battle. They soon withdrew from action on various pretexts and sailed off to Spain. The Massiliotes having fought so bravely and skillfully, nonetheless, suffered sufficient losses to persuade them to retreat into port. The further defense of grief-stricken Massilia would have to rely on resisting the Roman siege.

All the while the naval battles had been in progress, Caesar’s land forces under Trebonius had been constructing their siege works. They had summoned workers and supplies, especially of timber, from all across the Roman province of Narbonensis (roughly Provence today) to accomplish the massive, and slow, task. A siege-ramp sixty feet wide and eighty feet high, made of earth shored up by a considerable amount of timber, was necessary to reach the top of Massilia’s walls on the landward side of the city. As the Romans erected this, the Massiliotes used artillery devices, like their massive tormenta (giant-size crossbows) and catapults, to bombard the workers and soldiers outside. According to Caesar’s own account, such devices hurled large missiles, twelve feet long, with such force that they penetrated the usual protective screens employed by the Caesarians. To counteract this, the latter designed covered passageways of thick timber and a large mobile hut (tortoise) of the same material to shield themselves as they built up the ramp. Of course, the Massiliotes did not let this stop them; they ordered their Gallic allies to rush out of the city from protected spots and regularly harass the Roman troops and disrupt their work with firebrands.

In response, Caesar’s men decided to build, about sixty feet from the ramparts of Massilia, a brick fort, thirty feet square with walls five feet thick, as a place of refuge and regrouping. Over time, they very ingeniously in- creased the height of this fort, turning it into a stationary siege tower, virtually impervious to artillery missiles and fire. From its base, they threw out a covered passageway in the direction of Massilia’s walls, not just made of thick timbers but also covered on top with brick, clay, animal hide, and wet quilts, to protect it from fire, as they had done with the roof of the siege-tower fort.

The defenders of Massilia dropped large chunks of stone and fiery barrels of pitch onto the siege passageway, to no effect, and were attacked themselves by volleys of javelins and other missiles from the Roman siege-tower fort. From inside the protection of the passageway, the Roman sappers had dug under the wall of Massilia and brought a portion of it to collapse. Crowds of civilians rushed out of the opening in the wall, begging for Roman mercy and asking for a cessation of hostilities until the return of Caesar from his victory in Spain. Trebonius agreed to this, knowing that Caesar did not at all wish his enraged troops to take the city by force.

The truce was uneasy. From both sides came raids against the other, especially a night raid in which the Romans were beaten back from their attempt to penetrate the city, and a midday raid by the Massiliotes, who successfully destroyed by fire almost all the siege works of the Romans, including their siege fort. Not surprisingly, Caesar, in his official account, placed all the blame for the violation of the truce on the Massiliotes, whom he accused of the basest treachery.

His men had few timber resources left to them to construct new siege works, so they attempted to build a ramp flanked by thick walls of brick, topped with what wood they had left, and covered over in clay to guard against fire. The Romans advanced this structure toward the walls of Massilia, again with the plan to undermine them and invade the city. The extraordinary efforts of the exhausted, but never-more-determined, forces of Caesar caused the Massiliotes now to pause and critically examine their position. After all, Caesar’s fleet had the city blocked off by sea and his ground troops had cut off any escape by land; they seemed resolute in doing over and over again anything needed to hold and take the city. On their side, the people of Massilia were suffering from illness and dwindling supplies of fresh food after nearly six months of siege. So, the Massiliote government requested another truce and offered to surrender in good faith.

Caesar arrived in late October to accept this surrender. He ordered the Massiliotes to hand over all their weapons and ships, as well as all the money in their treasury; to guarantee their continued cooperation, he stationed two Roman legions in the city. Otherwise, Caesar decided to take no further punitive action against the Massiliotes, out of respect, he said, for their ancient alliance with Rome. With Massilia secure, Caesar had no further need to worry over the Gallic territories for the remainder of the Civil War nor, indeed, for the rest of his lifetime.

Further Reading Carter, J. 1997. Caesar: The Civil War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. De Angelis, F. 1994. The Archaeology of Greek Colonisation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology. Rivet, A. L. F. 1988. Gallia Narbonensis. London: Batsford.

Rome’s Regal Armies I

CITIZEN-SOLDIER, CLASS I Servian class I citizen-soldiers fought essentially with hoplite panoply, each citizen equipping himself with helmet, two-piece corselet and greaves, all of bronze (though later linen and composite corselets would be usual). He also carried the clipeus, a bowl-shaped shield, approximately 90cm in diameter and clamped to the left arm. There is a superb example of a clipeus in the Museo Gregoriano at the Vatican. This shield, which probably comes from an Etruscan t o m b of the 4th century BC, has survived sufficiently intact to permit a complete reconstruction with a good deal of confidence (Connolly 1998: p. 53). Built on a wooden core, this shield was faced with an extremely thin layer of stressed bronze and backed by a leather lining. The core was usually crafted from flexible wood such as poplar or willow. Because of its great weight the shield was carried by an arrangement of t w o handles, with an armband in the centre, through which the left arm was passed up to the elbow and the handgrip at the rim (1). The rim itself was offset, which could rest on the shoulder to help with the weight, especially when at rest. Held across the chest, it covered the citizen from chin to knee. However, being clamped to the left arm, it only offered protection to his left-hand side, though it did protect the exposed right-hand side of the comrade to his immediate left. As in all military history, technology responded to the conflicts of the day and dictated what forms future battle would take, and with this new style of spear-and-shield warfare the weapon par excellence of our wealthy citizen was the long thrusting spear (Greek doru, Latin hasta). Our citizen also packs a sword. The introduction of the phalanx undermined the previous prestige of this weapon. Besides, in the crush and squeeze of a phalanx, a shorter weapon was preferable as it could be more easily handled. It may have required special skills to handle an antennae-type sword, but with a slashing-type sword it was almost impossible to miss in the cut and thrust of the tightly packed phalanx. One type was the Greek kopis (2), a strong, curved one-edged blade designed for slashing with an overhand stroke, not thrusting. The cutting edge was on the inside, like a Gurkha kukri, while the broad back of the blade curved forward in such a way to weight the weapon towards its tip, making it ‘point-heavy’. Whatever the pattern, Greek or Italic, the sword was now very much a secondary arm – a far cry from its former predominance in the epoch of clan warfare – to be used only when a warrior’s spear has failed him. It is worn suspended from a long baldric from right shoulder to left hip, the scabbard being fashioned of wood covered with leather, with the tip strengthened by a small metal cap, a chape, usually moulded to the scabbard.

The study of the Roman army during the Regal period is largely an exercise in frustration. This is not because of a lack of evidence or ancient literature on the subject, as is the case with the Greek ‘Dark Ages’, as we have a number of detailed explanations of Rome’s early military development preserved in the works of Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch and others. Nor is this frustration due to conflicts between these sources; indeed far from it as they are all generally in agreement on almost all of the major points. The primary issue which one faces when looking at the Roman army during this early period is that the ancient authors, who worked so laboriously to explain the structure of the early army, most likely had very little idea what they were talking about. This all relates back to the nature of Rome’s historical tradition.

Rome was traditionally thought to have been founded in the middle of the eighth century BC and seems to have grown gradually during its early years until, benefiting from its key location on the major trade routes running through Central Italy (and particularly those between Etruria in the north and the Greek colonies in Magna Graecia in the south), it blossomed in the late seventh and sixth centuries BC into a major trading hub and urban centre. Despite its burgeoning wealth and population, the city seems to have maintained a local focus and outlook and it was not until the middle of the fourth century BC that the city had come to dominate all of Central Italy. From this point on, however, a ‘critical mass’ seems to have been reached and Rome’s expansion picked up speed rapidly. By the early third century BC the city had defeated the army of Pyrrhus, showing that it was a major player in Mediterranean politics and warfare, and controlled almost the entire Italian peninsula. By the end of the third century BC Rome had defeated her greatest rival, Carthage, in the Second Punic War and found herself as the only real power left in the western Mediterranean. It was only at this point that the Romans decided to sit down and write the history of their city – more than 500 years after Rome’s traditional founding and after the city had become one of the most dominant powers in the known world – and this very late start for Roman historiography created quite a few problems.

The first Roman historians seem to have been driven by a desire, very similar to that expressed by the great Greek historian Polybius a generation or two later, to explain Rome’s rise to power – both to themselves and to their new subjects. As a result, when they looked back on the history of their city they did so with a reasonable amount of hindsight bias. They knew how the story ended, they knew what Rome would become, but they wanted to explain the journey – the keys to the city’s success. The main problem which these historians seem to have faced, however, is that the information and evidence with which they had to work was wholly inadequate for the task. The most important sources available to these first historians seem to have been a series of annalistic accounts, the most famous of which was that kept by the Pontifex Maximums or chief priest in Rome, which recorded important events in the life of the city each year. These annales were composed of entries which were initially written on tablets posted outside the house of the pontifex and, in the case of the records kept by the pontifex maximus, were later stored and traditionally compiled into a single volume by P. Mucius Scaevola in the late second century BC. However, the information which was contained in the Annales Maximi (as these particular records were known), and the other yearly records (for instance those kept by other priesthoods and sources like the consular and triumphal fasti) was not written down with a grand history in mind. Leaving aside basic issues of accuracy (and scholars still debate these rigorously), these annalistic sources would have provided at best a basic skeleton of events – including who held office, eclipses, famines, wars, etc. – but would not have included any narrative elements or the structural details of Rome’s early development. The bulk of this material must have come from Rome’s enigmatic and problematic oral tradition.

Rome’s oral tradition can best be described as ‘multifaceted’. Cato, writing in the second century BC, said that some aspects of early Roman history had been preserved in songs sung at banquets, although these seem to have fallen out of fashion by the late Republic. We also know that there were plays being performed from at least the fourth century BC which were set in early Rome, called fabulae, and likely focused on early Roman myths. Additionally, there were the oft-maligned family histories (which Cicero and other writers claimed were largely fabricated), which became most strongly associated with Roman funerary orations, where the deeds of ancestors were recalled each time a member of the family passed away. And there were likely a range of stories and myths which had been passed down through the generations through simple storytelling and ‘collective memory’. The reliability of this oral information, however, is highly suspect. As modern research on oral traditions has shown, while a surprising amount of information can be transmitted through the generations, it is usually adapted for each audience. As a result, while certain overarching themes and narratives from Rome’s early history were likely preserved, the oral tradition is not the best mechanism for preserving the detailed structural information which historians of early Rome (and particularly the early Roman army) crave. So when Rome’s first historians sat down to write histories of their city, working in a genre which had, by that point, a very long history in the Greek-speaking world with well-established rules, they were decidedly ill-equipped in terms of evidence. Rome’s first native historian, the aristocrat Fabius Pictor writing c. 200 BC, is likely to have had access to his own family history and those of a few other families, probably knew the main myths/stories about Rome’s early history (Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf, the Battle of the Champions, Brutus and Tarquin, etc.), and may have been able to go through some of the priestly records. But it is also likely he had to flesh the narrative out quite a bit using some common-sense and his own understanding of Roman society – and even so, his history of the early periods seems to have been rather short. Unfortunately Fabius Pictor’s history does not survive today, nor do the attempts of his contemporaries, although we can say that they all seemed to have been brief accounts. Cato the Elder’s history of Rome, for instance, consisted of seven books in total with the first three devoted to the origins and early history of Rome and the cities of Italy.

Once Fabius Pictor wrote his history, however, historical writing picked up very quickly in Rome and he was followed by a line of other writers who all wanted to add their own spin to the story. During the course of the second century BC, historical writing flourished in Rome and a number of new histories were written by authors who are now known as the Latin annalists, because of their progression through Roman history in a year-by-year fashion. Perhaps surprisingly though, despite the fact that these historians did not seem to have access to any more original evidence from early Rome than Fabius Pictor or the other early writers did, these new histories often included much more material for the earlier periods than those written before. The historian Cn. Gellius for instance, writing in the second half of the second century BC, did not reach the year 386 BC until book fifteen of his history, and he did not get to the year 216 BC until either book thirty or thirty-three. Although Cn. Gellius likely represents an extreme example, it has been argued that there was an overall ‘expansion’ in the history of early Rome during this period as each writer added his own details and explanations to the cryptic core of evidence. Indeed, it is likely that historians stopped consulting the original evidence altogether and often worked simply from the works of previous historians, adding their own extrapolations and interpretations to the inventions of those who came before.

The annalistic tradition came to an end in the late first century BC with Livy and his great work Ab Urbe Condita (‘From the Foundation of the City’), a 142-volume history of Rome from its earliest days down to the reign of Augustus – of which the first ten books are devoted to Rome’s history up to the year 292 BC. Livy’s work was so successful, and accomplished its goals so conclusively, that he effectively ended the annalistic movement and the creation of grand histories of Rome – although part of this may have also related to the change in political climate under Augustus and the later emperors. Writers like Tacitus continued to write histories under the Empire, but no one attempted the same all-encompassing history of Rome that Livy had written and indeed his work was so popular that it supplanted, and resulted in the loss of, those histories which came before. However, Livy’s account of early Rome, despite its success and the ten books he devoted to the subject, was still limited by the nature of the evidence which had been transmitted to the late Republic from the Archaic period – the authentic material in his history could not exceed that which was passed down from the Archaic period. As a result, although obviously engaging, well-written and very likely well-researched, there seems to have been no way for Livy to have known for sure many of the details he included. Unless there existed another resource or depository of information available to Livy or his predecessors which we know nothing about, much of Livy’s history must represent an historical invention/elaboration on his part, or on the part of one of his predecessors, which would place it’s origin at the earliest in the late third century BC. This is not to say that Livy, Fabius Pictor or the later Latin annalists were being deceitful and ‘fabricating history’ – something which a modern historian would likely be accused of if they tried something similar. Rather, it must be understood that ‘history’, as it existed in antiquity, was not so much about the ‘facts’ as it was about ‘teaching a lesson’. Recording true details, although seen as important, came second to the pedagogical and rhetorical aim of a work. As a result, while ancient historians clearly attempted to record, as accurately as possible, events from the past if they were known, where there were gaps or lacuna in the evidence, or where the evidence was mythic or a bit malleable, they had no qualms about adding to the narrative to make their point. This is a practice perhaps best seen in historical speeches which, apart from a few exceptions where we know they were written down and preserved, often represented an opportunity for the historian to present what he felt would have been said in a given situation.

When one looks at the history of early Rome then, if the reader will forgive an indulgent analogy, the situation resembles interpreting the night sky. Looking up on a clear night we are confronted with a few bright stars, which we can understand as the evidence from the annales and perhaps aspects of the oral tradition which were likely transmitted, one way or another, from the Archaic period. These bold, bright structural points have then been interpreted by ancient writers into constellations, or the sweeping and detailed narratives presented in their histories. Often these histories have but a passing relationship to the evidence, just as constellations often do to their constituent stars, but they link them together in a fashion which makes sense to the observer and helps to give order to the cosmos. However, different people looking at a collection of stars will often come up with different constellations – and the same is true with early Rome. As modern historians, we must see through the preconstructed constellations, the detailed narratives presented by Livy and others based on their view of how events occurred, and go back to the basic evidence which was likely transmitted and analyse it ourselves. We must identify the key bits of evidence used by the ancient authors in constructing their narratives, look a bit more closely and perhaps identify some other structural aspects which they included in the narrative but did not recognize the importance of, and ultimately construct our own interpretation based on our modern understanding of how societies work and develop. This is, perhaps, one of the great advantages which modern historians have over their ancient counterparts. Although Livy and Fabius Pictor may have had a better understanding of their own culture as it existed in the late Republic, they lacked the myriad comparative societies which we have at our disposal today to help fill in the gaps in the evidence.

But first, we must begin with what the Romans thought things looked like in the Regal period.

The Traditional Model

The traditional model of Roman military development (which can be found in the ‘standard textbooks’ on Roman history, available in most bookstores) is largely based on a few asides within the larger narratives of our surviving sources, where the author stops his story to explain a detailed structure or development. It begins, of course, with Rome’s founder – the quasi-mythical figure of Romulus – and his organization of Roman society into three tribes (the Ramnes, Tities and Luceres) and thirty curiae. The story goes, as relayed by Livy and Dionysius, that Romulus founded the city with a mixed group of followers which ranged from powerful clans to runaway slaves and asylum-seekers. In order to bring these disparate groups together into a single state and, perhaps more importantly, a single army, he created the two sets of divisions – the tribes and the curiae – which both seem to have had social, political, religious and military aspects. The relationship between the tribes and curiae, and indeed their fundamental character and make-up, are still a matter of some debate in modern scholarship (as will be discussed later). The ancient sources, however, are generally consistent on the matter, with Dionysius of Halicarnassus offering the most explicit account of their creation where he describes the curiae as mere subdivisions of the tribes, following the Greek model.

He [Romulus] divided all the people into three groups, and set over each as leader its most distinguished man. Then he subdivided each of these three groups into ten others, and appointed as many of the bravest men to be the leaders of these also. The larger divisions he called tribes and the smaller curiae, as they are still termed even in our day…. These curiae were again divided by him into ten parts, each commanded by its own leader, who was called decurio in the native language.

This system of tribes and curiae formed the basis for at least one political body, the curiate assembly, and offered a rough hierarchy for the army, although there are only vague hints given in either Livy or Dionysius regarding the details of the army during this period.

The standard size of the Roman legion (or levy, from whence the word is derived) during this period is often assumed to have been 3,000 infantry and 300 cavalry, based on both the structure of the tribes and curiae and assertions by both Livy and Dionysius about the initial contribution of each of the curiae (given as 100 infantry and ten cavalry). This figure is corroborated by the late Republican antiquarian Varro, who claimed that the early legion contained 3,000 men, with 1,000 coming from each tribe, and the historian Plutarch, who gives the same number in his life of Romulus, although he adds 300 cavalry. However, both Livy and Dionysius also seem to imply that this figure represented a minimum or a starting point, as opposed to a standard legion size, as Dionysius noted that when Romulus died Rome’s forces far outnumbered this – although it is possible that the thousands mentioned by Dionysius merely reflected Rome’s manpower reserves.

By these and other like measures he [Romulus] made the colony great from a small beginning, as the actual results showed; for the number of those who joined with him in founding Rome did not amount to more than three thousand foot nor quite to three hundred horse, whereas he left behind him when he disappeared from among men forty-six thousand foot and about a thousand horse.

As far as equipment and tactics are concerned, the literary sources offer us very little until the sixth century BC and the reforms of Rome’s sixth king Servius Tullius. The battle descriptions from the life of Romulus and the other early reges, if they can be considered even remotely factual, suggest that both massed combat and duels were common and support the idea that Rome’s army contained both infantry and cavalry. Unfortunately, military equipment finds from Rome itself are incredibly scarce for the Regal and early Republican periods, but what does exist for the eighth and seventh centuries BC – largely from graves in the forum Romanum – shows a mixture of swords and spears, along with a few pieces of bronze armour, which is generally supportive of this picture of mixed combat. This limited archaeological evidence is often bolstered with contemporary finds from elsewhere in Central Italy. Graves from other Latin sites dating to the eighth and seventh centuries BC have contained very similar finds to the graves in Rome, with swords, axes and spear points predominating, along with the occasional bronze helmet or breastplate. Graves from Etruria in the north, along with finds from Umbria and the Ager Faliscus, have contributed to the archaeological picture for this period as well with quite a few more helmets and elaborate circular shields – although whether these should be considered indicative of Roman equipment is still uncertain. Generally though, a very heroic and arguably Homeric style of combat comes through quite strongly in the available evidence.

After the army’s creation in the eighth century BC, the traditional narrative holds that the sixth century BC was the next real period of change – a period which also coincides with significant growth and urbanization within the community and the emergence of the so-called ‘Grand Rome of the Tarquins’. At the beginning of the sixth century BC, Rome’s cavalry was expanded by the Roman rex Tarquinius Priscus (trad. c. 615–580 BC), but the most significant change occurred under Servius Tullius (trad. c. 580–530 BC) who transformed the army, and indeed all of Roman society, via a wide-ranging series of reforms often dubbed ‘The Servian Constitution’ or the ‘Centuriate Reforms’. According to the narrative, Servius Tullius conducted Rome’s first official census and reformed Rome’s Archaic system of tribes by separating them from the curiae and basing them entirely on geography. These new tribes included four urban tribes and seventeen rural tribes – a number which was gradually expanded during the Republic to reach a total of thirty-one by 241 BC. This new tribal structure formed the basis of Rome’s new Tribal Assembly, which represented Rome’s burgeoning population and included both the urban inhabitants and an increasing number of powerful rural clans. Rome’s army, however, was separated from this structure and was recruited instead from a new set of socio-economic divisions based on the census. The entirety of Rome’s population was subdivided into seven socio-economic classes, each with a minimum level of wealth required for entry. At the top of this new system were the equites, which required 100,000 bronze asses (bronze coins weighing one Roman pound) along with a certain social position for entry, followed by the first class which required only the 100,000 asses, the second class 75,000 assess, etc. down though the fifth class and finally the capite censi, or ‘head count’ which was made up of the poor and did not contribute to the army. Each class was then further subdivided into centuries, with the equites containing eighteen, the first class eighty-two, the second class twenty, the third class twenty, the fourth class twenty, the fifth class thirty-two and the capite censi one.

The centuries of the Servian Constitution are incredibly problematic and have often been misinterpreted. One of the most glaring misunderstandings is that each century contained 100 men or was responsible for contributing 100 men to the army – neither of which seems to be the case. Dionysius in particular explicitly states that the centuries were merely administrative/recruiting units and did not contain 100 men each.

For instance, whenever [Servius Tullius] had occasion to raise ten thousand men, or, if it should so happen, twenty thousand, he would divide that number among the hundred and ninety-three centuries and then order each century to furnish the number of men that fell to its share.

Instead the name ‘century’ may have been derived from the number of divisions in the original census (the eighteen centuries of the equites plus the eighty-two of the first class together equalling 100), with the later classes/centuries being added later. Indeed, according to a passage attributed to Cato the Elder, as late as the second century BC the first class of the Servian system along with the equites were together known simply as the classis, with the lower classes carrying the designation infra classem. The centuries themselves seem to have had no tactical function and were largely administrative in nature as they formed the basis for Rome’s new Centuriate Assembly as well as representing the means by which Rome’s army was levied. Each class was also associated with a particular military panoply or set of equipment, which members would have been expected to supply themselves as part of being in the civic militia. The equites naturally constituted the cavalry while the first class was equipped with a helmet, round shield, greaves, mail, sword and spear. The second class was equipped with a helmet, oblong shield, greaves, sword and spear. The third class was equipped with only a helmet, oblong shield, sword and spear. The fourth class, according to Livy, was composed of light infantry equipped with a spear and javelin, while Dionysius suggests that this group also carried oblong shields and swords. The fifth class carried nothing but missile weapons, and the capite censi did not contribute to the army at all, presumably as they did not have enough wealth to equip themselves with the appropriate weaponry.

The standard interpretation of the Servian Constitution is that it represented a shift from an old family-based, tribal system of government to a new state-centred democratic/oligarchic system similar to that present in Greece at this time. On the military side of things, this shift is typically seen to represent the transition from a highly individual, heroic style of warfare to something resembling a community-based hoplite phalanx. And indeed the Romans themselves seem to have thought that they once fought in a hoplite phalanx, a tactic which they claimed that they acquired from the Etruscans at some point during the Archaic period. Although this can be seen in both Livy and Dionysius’ account, the best evidence can be found in the so-called Ineditum Vaticanum, which purports to give a speech by a Roman named Caeso (probably Caeso Fabius) to a Carthaginian envoy before the First Punic War, detailing Roman military development to that point and showing why they would be victorious in a war despite being woefully inexperienced at naval combat.

This is what we Romans are like … with those who make war on us we agree to fight on their terms, and when it comes to foreign practices we surpass those who have long used them. For the Tyrrhenians used to make war on us with bronze shields and fighting in phalanx formation, not in maniples; and we, changing our armament and replacing it with theirs, organized our forces against them, and contending thus against men who had long been accustomed to phalanx battles we were victorious. Similarly, the Samnite shield was not part of our national equipment, nor did we have javelins, but fought with round shields and spears; nor were we strong in cavalry, but all or nearly all of Rome’s strength lay in infantry. But when we found ourselves at war with the Samnites we armed ourselves with their oblong shields and javelins, and fought against them on horseback, and by copying foreign arms we became masters of those who thought so highly of themselves. Nor were we familiar, Carthaginians, with the art of siege craft; but we learned from the Greeks who were highly experienced in the field, and proved superior in siege craft to that accomplished race, and indeed to all mankind. Do not force the Romans to engage in affairs of the sea; for if we have need of naval forces we shall, in short time, equip more and better ships than you, and shall prove more effective in naval battles than people who have long practised seafaring.

More importantly than the question of whether or not the Servian reforms ushered in an era of hoplite warfare in Rome, the new constitution very clearly represented the shift to an entirely state-centred military force. While the previous tribal army seems to have been controlled by the state and was led by the Roman rex, the basic units and recruitment of the army were still based on a series of pre-existing family and clan-based connections, which presumably gave those entities a fair amount of power. The new Servian tribes and system of classes broke down these old connections and created new ones dictated entirely by the relationship to the community. According to the literary narrative then, the army which emerged from the Regal period was very different from the one created by Romulus. The army of Servius Tullius arguably represented the first truly ‘Roman’ army and could be viewed as the ancestor of Rome’s late Republican legions.

Rome’s Regal Armies II

CITIZEN-SOLDIER, CLASS III As each citizen was obliged to buy his own equipment, it seems clearly logical to assume that not all hoplites were identically equipped. The less well-off citizen would have had nothing so elaborate as the bronze or linen corselet that wealthier citizens wore, yet doubtless many of those members of this class w h o had the means actually supplied themselves with a small bronze breastplate, the old Italic round or rectangular models being still very much in circulation (1). The importance of armour to those w h o fight at close quarters can hardly be overstated. Apart from the obvious protection it offers, armour lends confidence to the wearer, and confidence in combat is always extremely important. Where metallic armour was not available or affordable, citizens probably made use of cuirbouilli or padded protection, and we can be certain that the individual citizen-soldier sought to protect himself with at least some form of body armour. The private provision of (expensive) war gear could accordingly reflect individual preference for different forms and styles (Greek, Graeco-Etruscan or Italic). For the most part, however, to compensate for any lack of body armour classes II and III used the oval scutum instead of the round clipeus. The scutum offered better protection to the torso and legs, it being the body shield c o m m o n in Italy and already known in Rome as it had been widely employed in its early days by its clan warriors. In shape and form, whatever may have been true of the period of the clan-based warband, the scutum would by this period have been very much like the thureos (‘door-like’) common to the soldiers called thureophoroi in later Hellenistic armies. With the scutum a soldier could be both defensive and offensive, parrying enemy blows with its board or rim and punching with its metallic boss-plate. The scutum, unlike the clipeus, was a relatively cheap piece of equipment.


Although a neat, tidy and internally consistent model, this traditional account, based on the explicit testimony of our two main literary sources, has always faced a bit of criticism – and particularly the Servian reforms of the mid-sixth century BC. From a very early date scholars have wondered whether a system as complex as the Servian Constitution could have been introduced in Rome in the sixth century BC. It was suggested that the political aspects of the reforms, and specifically the creation of two new assemblies, made no sense in a Rome which was still ruled by a rex. Indeed, neither of the Servian Constitution’s two new assemblies, the Tribal Assembly and the Centuriate Assembly, are recorded as performing any functions or duties until at least the fifth century BC. All of Rome’s political power seems to have remained with the rex, the senate and the old curiate assembly which continued to pass the law granting/confirming imperium. Additionally, questions have been raised about whether Rome would have needed (or even would have been able to field) the elaborate military system laid out in the reforms during this period, with the wide variety of troop types described (including engineers and trumpeters). One possible solution to this issue is that the Servian Constitution, as preserved in the accounts of Livy and Dionysius, represents the final version of something which was only started in the sixth century BC. As noted above, given the passages from Cato, Festus and others, it seems likely that only the first class and equites were really thought of as the classis.

Not all of those in the five classes are called the classici, but only the men of the first class whose census rating was 125,000 asses or more. Those who are called infra classem are the men who belonged to the second class as well as all the other classes, whose census ratings were below that of the first.

The term infra classem refers to those whose census rating is less than 120,000 asses.

These references, and others like them, have suggested to scholars that the Servian system of classes actually developed slowly over time, with the first class and equites being introduced first, and the later classes being slowly introduced at later dates – possibly as late as the fourth or third centuries BC. So the Servian constitution of the sixth century BC may have simply been a rationalization and reorganization of the existing tribal army based on economic and geographic criteria.

This still does not, however, explain the entire situation. Perhaps the most damning criticism of the Servian Constitution and the traditional model of Roman military development has come from increasingly careful analyses of the literary narrative itself. Outside of a few ‘structural passages’ in the literary tradition (essentially where the narrative stops and a bit of detailed information is given by the author on various aspects of early Roman military and political development), the literary narrative for early Rome seems to describe the Romans fighting wars and engaging in battles using a system which does not align with the precepts of the Servian model at all. Instead of fighting wars over land and control of territory, which would suit a community-based hoplite phalanx, during the late sixth and fifth centuries BC the Romans and their opponents seem to engage almost entirely in raiding for individual glory and wealth – a style of warfare for which a phalanx is decidedly ill-suited. Additionally, the few direct references to the Romans using a phalanx in an actual battle situation are surprisingly problematic. For instance, Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes the Roman army fighting against the Sabines in a phalanx.

For their foes, despising them because their troops were new recruits, encamped over against them, and placing ambushes on the roads, cut off the provisions that were being brought to them and attacked them when they went out for forage; and whenever cavalry clashed with cavalry, infantry with infantry, and phalanx against phalanx, the Sabines always came off superior to the Romans, not a few of whom voluntarily played the coward in their encounters and not only disobeyed their officers but refused to come to grips with the foe.

However, he also describes the tribal Sabine people as fighting in a phalanx and the entire passage is placed in a context of irregular warfare. As a result, it could be argued that Dionysius is using the word ‘phalanx’ to simply mean a group of infantry. This type of interpretation is supported by passages like this one, from a later battle narrative.

Against the troops who were fighting in the middle of the phalanx, which was widely spaced and lax, those who were stationed here charged in a body and drove them from their position.

Additionally, as noted above, although Roman society was supposedly reformed with military and political power being handed to the Centuriate and Tribal assemblies, neither of these assemblies seems to be active until the middle of the fifth century BC at the earliest. Instead, Rome’s military and political systems seem to be dominated by a collection of powerful clans and individuals who seem to have had a fairly limited connection to the community. During the Regal period, the city of Rome and her citizen population often seems like more of a bystander than a major player in much of the warfare taking place. So, where did this standard model come from? Why did the Romans think they fought in a hoplite phalanx, if they did not? The answer may lie in the historical tradition itself. Intriguingly, the Roman army which the literary sources describe emerging from the Regal period mirrors, almost exactly, the military situation which Greek and Roman historians seem to have envisioned for Greece at the end of the sixth century BC – and particularly the emergence of the classic hoplite phalanx and the reforms of Cleisthenes in Athens. Whether the ancient Greeks were correct in their view of their own history, and particularly their military development, is still quite a contentious issue in modern scholarship – with scholars like Han van Wees challenging the traditional models and suggesting that the classic hoplite phalanx and hoplite warfare which the sources seem to describe may have represented an idealized version of what was fundamentally a more often individual style of combat. However, the emergence of heavily armoured infantry in the sixth century BC, coupled with social and political reforms, would have made sense to someone familiar with this model. And when the Greeks started to write their histories of the Romans in the third century BC (it should be remembered that the first histories to mention Rome and discuss her origins were written by Greeks), after Rome’s emergence onto the Mediterranean stage with the war against Pyrrhus, and when the Romans settled down to write their own histories a couple generations later at the turn of the second century BC, they naturally looked at the strong historical precedent set in Greece and may have, either consciously or unconsciously, modelled their own narratives upon it.

Revised Literary Approach

Unfortunately, when it comes to looking outside the passages that form the basis for the traditional interpretation of the early Roman army, there is little solid evidence with which to work to create an alternative model. As a result, any attempts to assign concrete numbers, divisions or attributes to the early army will always represent guesswork (although perhaps educated guesswork) at best. The ideal complement of 3,300 men which the literary sources give for the curiate army of Romulus undoubtedly represents a rough estimate, based on what must have been a very muddled tradition, and it is clear that Romans did not envisage Rome’s later Regal army, as organized by the Servian Constitution, as ever having a set size. So it is probably best to consider Rome’s armed forces during this period as being flexible and reactionary, mobilized based on need and not necessarily on a set system or quota as in later periods. The rough proportion of infantry to cavalry in both the army of Romulus and Servius Tullius, effectively ten to one, may represent something like reality – as warfare would have been limited to those rich enough to afford their own equipment and the very rich (possibly the top ten per cent of the army) may very well have utilized horses, as we know these were present in the region. However, given the heavily forested nature of Latium during this period, in contrast to modern day Central Italy, it is questionable how effective cavalry would have been in actual combat – at least as anything resembling a unified force. So it is probably best to consider the number of various troop types and the distribution and use of equipment in the army of this period to be haphazard and largely based on personal choice and preference.

When considering how the army behaved in battle, although there are a number of battle descriptions preserved in the narrative, the vast majority are either so general or so mythologized and full of clearly anachronistic detail that it would be unwise to take them at anything resembling face value. Indeed, most scholars writing about the Roman army during the Regal period have, justifiably, often steered clear of using the more narrative passages in their analyses for these sorts of reasons. However, looking a little more closely, some broad themes do emerge which may shed some light on the situation. Perhaps the most obvious and consistent aspects of early Roman warfare seen in the literature are its open character and individual aspect. Warriors are regularly described engaging in duels and individual combat as part of a fluid battle where movement around the battlefield seems to be both possible and easy. This type of individual combat could (and often did) take the form of a formal duel, as seen with the ‘Battle of the Champions’ between the Horatii and Curiatii in the reign of Tullus Hostilius.

There happened to be in each of the armies a triplet of brothers, fairly matched in years and strength. It is generally agreed that they were called Horatii and Curiatii. Few incidents in antiquity have been more widely celebrated, yet in spite of its celebrity there is a discrepancy in the accounts as to which nation each belonged. There are authorities on both sides, but I find that the majority give the name of Horatii to the Romans, and my sympathies lead me to follow them. The kings suggested to them that they should each fight on behalf of their country, and where victory rested, there should be the sovereignty. They raised no objection; so the time and place were fixed. But before they engaged a treaty was concluded between the Romans and the Albans, providing that the nation whose representatives proved victorious should receive the peaceable submission of the other. This is the earliest treaty recorded, and as all treaties, however different the conditions they contain, are concluded with the same forms, I will describe the forms with which this one was concluded as handed down by tradition.

Alternatively, and far more commonly, there are numerous references to heroes confronting each other on the battlefield. Most notably there is Romulus defeating the king of the Caenina and winning the spolia opima for the first time.

Whilst they were scattered far and wide, pillaging and destroying, Romulus came upon them with an army, and after a brief encounter taught them that anger is futile without strength. He put them to a hasty flight, and following them up, killed their king and despoiled his body; then after slaying their leader took their city at the first assault.

Additionally, there are countless other instances where key figures in the narrative find themselves engaged in combat, as with Mettius Curtius and Hostius Hostilius in the war against the Sabines, or the combat between Brutus and Arruns Tarquin following the removal of Tarquinius Superbus.

Similarly the enemy’s cavalry was in front of his main body, Arruns Tarquin, the king’s son, in command; the king himself followed with the legionaries. Whilst still at a distance Arruns distinguished the consul by his escort of lictors; as they drew nearer he clearly recognised Brutus by his features, and in a transport of rage exclaimed, ‘That is the man who drove us from our country; see him proudly advancing, adorned with our insignia! Ye gods, avengers of kings, aid me!’ With these words, he dug spurs into his horse and rode straight at the consul. Brutus saw that he was making for him. It was a point of honour in those days for the leaders to engage in single combat, so he eagerly accepted the challenge, and they charged with such fury, neither of them thinking of protecting himself, if only he could wound his foe, that each drove his spear at the same moment through the other’s shield, and they fell dying from their horses, with the spears sticking in them.

Although these types of duels likely contain a strong mythic element, scholars (most notably Stephen Oakley) have convincingly argued, based on continued evidence for duelling throughout the Republic, that this type of single combat represented a regular aspect of war within the Roman military system and should not be discounted so quickly. The long tradition of the spolia opima in particular, which involves the Roman commander successfully defeating the enemy commander in single combat, hints that this type of interaction was not unheard of.

Another intriguing aspect which emerges is the importance of families and clans in warfare. This is something which will be discussed in the next chapter in detail, but it is important to recognize here that families and clans seem to play a much larger role in warfare than the state during this period. On the battlefield, family members are often depicted fighting alongside one another and family structures seem to have formed a viable mechanism for military recruitment, even after the traditional date for the Servian Constitution, as seen through Brutus’ recruitment of clan-based forces following the rape of Lucretia or, of course, the famous instance of the private war between the Fabii and Veii in the early Republic and various other similar instances.

Arguably the most interesting and noteworthy difference between the more structural descriptions of the army and the evidence which can be gleaned from the rest of the narrative, is that the bulk of Roman military activity during the Regal period was evidently not centred on state goals or conquest of land, but rather seems to have been largely concerned with raiding for portable wealth. Although all of Rome’s reges are described as expanding Roman territory militarily and conquering numerous settlements, and indeed the sources suggest that this type of activity was the usual goal of Roman military action, there is no evidence to suggest that any of these ‘conquests’ resulted in control of settlements or their territory. For instance, Rome’s famous victory over Alba Longa under Tullus Hostilius did not result in long-term Roman control over the region, or indeed the land in between the settlements. This ‘conquest’, like other victories after it during the Regal period, clearly had an immediate impact on the community in terms of loss of life and property but did not seem to result in the attestable creation of an extensive Roman ‘kingdom’ or ‘dominion’ over Latium.

This changing understanding of Roman warfare and the increasing absence of a grand strategic vision behind Roman military activity has also led scholars to challenge the literary sources’ interpretation of colonization. E.T. Salmon in his great work on the subject, Roman Colonization Under the Republic, published in 1970, followed the line of reasoning presented in Livy that Roman colonies planted during the Regal and early Republican periods were strategic in nature, used to secure territorial gains by the state. This approach has increasingly come under fire, however, in recent years as scholars have noted that Rome’s Regal colonies were actually never founded following victories and did not seem to maintain a strong political or military link to Rome – and indeed they often went into ‘revolt’. All this suggests that Regal colonization should probably not be interpreted as ‘Roman expansion’, as with the creation of citizen and veteran colonies in later periods, but rather as independent elite initiatives established for a range of other reasons.

Overall then, the narrative for early Roman warfare outside of the various authorial asides, which were likely added during the second and first centuries BC during the expansion of the historical narrative, paints a slightly different picture. Instead of having a grand strategy during this early period, Roman warfare seems to have been directed for shortterm gains by powerful warlords who relied heavily on the city’s (and region’s) clans for manpower. Battles themselves seem to have been a mixture of ambushes, raids and the occasional large scale engagements, but were generally open affairs with a significant amount of duelling and individual combat between aristocrats. The nature of warfare is therefore still extremely tribal and heroic where the state and community concerns seem to play a minimal role.

In many ways this situation actually mirrors what Livy and Dionysius suggest existed with Rome’s tribal army under Romulus, although they naturally seem to have envisaged a bit more state control following their expectations based on Rome’s late Republican system. Intriguingly though, there is no evidence in the narrative for any changes which might have resulted from the introduction of the Servian Constitution. During the reign of Servius Tullius and the final Tarquin we do not find the expected shift towards large group engagements or formations, state-centred military goals, the emergence of a hoplite ethos in battle, etc. The sources, despite the fact that they clearly envisaged Rome as a conquest-driven city-state, still describe a mode of warfare which was decidedly aristocratic in nature and driven by raiding/booty. Tarquinius Superbus, for instance, is reported as engaging in raiding against Ardea explicitly in order to acquire booty. The same can also be said of the actions of the young Sextus Tarquinius at Gabii and the vast majority of military actions in the early Republic.

Archaeology of Warfare in Archaic Rome

The archaeology for warfare in Latium during the Regal period is unfortunately limited and subject to a range of interpretations, but still provides an interesting parallel to the revised interpretation of the literature. The military equipment discovered in Central Italy dating to the period, largely from Etruria but also found near rich Latin communities like Praeneste, often seems to corroborate the picture of military development presented by Livy and Dionysius. Initial finds of swords, spears, axes and the occasional bits of bronze armour slowly seem to have given way to more complete bronze panoplies in the seventh and sixth centuries BC, often including large circular bronze shields and what appear to be hoplons. This sequence was clearly visible in Etruria, where identifiable hoplons – complete with the central porpax and antilabe grips, and in some instances with the wooden backing preserved – have been found. Despite the absence of similar evidence from Rome, it was often thought something similar must have been present there, given the strong Etruscan influence on the city during the sixth century BC under the Tarquins.

The key factor in the use of the archaeology to support the literary model was the interpretation of the hoplon and, albeit to a lesser extent, the heavy bronze armour. The mere presence of the Greek-style hoplon was often thought to necessitate densely-packed formations of heavy infantry, simply by virtue of its design. The large circular shield was believed to be too unwieldy for individual combat, while the use of the central porpax (a central metal band meant to carry the weight of the shield on the forearm) would have supposedly created an overlap to the left of the bearer which would have been ideally suited to a dense formation. Additionally, the heavy bronze armour which usually accompanied the shields, and particularly the ‘closed’ bronze helmet, was thought to have limited the sight and movement of a warrior to such a degree that the only practical means of fighting was as part of a dense formation where one only needed to see straight ahead and where movement was limited to a shoving match.

This interpretation of the hoplon and the associated heavy bronze armour has, however, undergone a massive revision in recent years. Led by Hans van Wees and his seminal work, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, a growing number of scholars have challenged the traditional view and pointed out that in Greece the hoplon and heavy bronze equipment actually grew out of a very individual form of combat prevalent in the Greek ‘Dark Ages’ (c. 1100–800 BC). Indeed, the closed helmet and full body armour would have arguably been redundant in a dense formation, where the formation itself would have provided the vast majority of the protection. This is something which can be seen during the Classical period of Greek warfare as various pieces of equipment are slowly dropped from the standard panoply until only the shield, spear and helmet are deemed essential in the Athenian phalanx by the mid-fourth century BC, with the minimal armour worn by the soldiers of the sarissa phalanx of Philip II and Alexander of Macedon possibly representing the culmination of development. This argument, although by no means universally accepted, would actually turn the interpretation of hoplon and bronze armour finds on its head, as it might suggest the presence of this equipment in fact indicates an individual approach to combat. It naturally does not rule out the use of a phalanx formation as well, but it suggests that the formation may have developed despite the heavy equipment instead of because of it, likely driven by social forces and not technological determinism.

The development of these models for early Greek warfare has naturally muddied the water quite a bit for early Roman warfare, as it has removed the most obvious reading of the limited finds we have and opened up an entire range of alternative interpretations. Thankfully though, it has also stopped the glossing-over of finds and evidence which did not fit neatly into a mode of warfare which utilized hoplite phalanxes. Most notably this included evidence for a range of different weapons, and particularly the widespread use of axes in military contexts, as axe heads have been found in the vast majority of graves containing other identifiable military equipment and reliefs featuring warriors from Central Italy. There are also a number of bronze shields which were interpreted as hoplons because of their circular shape, but which were clearly never meant to be used in combat as they lacked the wooden backing which provides the ultimate strength – instead the small central handle was attached directly to the bronze sheet which formed the front, creating a beautiful, but ultimately entirely decorative, piece of equipment.

Added to this diverse range of equipment finds are a series of artistic depictions of warriors, again (and unfortunately) almost always found in either burial or explicitly religious contexts, which may shed some additional light on the matter. These include the ubiquitous warrior figurines found in graves throughout Central Italy, tomb and sarcophagus paintings (largely found in Etruria), temple sculptures and vase paintings. All of these types of art defy a clear and detailed interpretation for a number of reasons. First, the artist who created the item may not have been attempting to depict local practice, or indeed anything practical, when creating the work. Archaeologists must assume that the finished piece had some sort of cultural resonance with the local community which ultimately incorporated it into their funerary or religious practice, but what that resonance was is uncertain. For instance, a figurine or vase painting may have depicted a local warrior, a mythic or heroic figure, a god, a Greek warrior, an interpretation of what a Greek warrior looked like, etc. Or it may have merely represented ‘wealth’. There are a few constants running through the artistic and iconographic corpus for Central Italy, however, which are consistent enough, and also align with the more concrete military equipment finds, which may be indicative of local norms. These include the regular use of heavy armour on the torso, including both bronze and linen cuirasses, an overall preference for more open helmets and the use of a wide range of weapons, including swords, spears and axes.

There also seems to have been a very strong connection between both military equipment and warrior depictions and elite status. This represents a very early trend in Archaic Central Italy, as seen in the finds from Osteria dell’Osa where weapon deposits in particular have been shown to align with high-status male graves. Although initially the depositions could be argued to represent merely ‘wealth’, based on the amount of metal and craftsmanship which went into each object (this may help to explain the military equipment found in a few female graves), the increasingly miniaturized and symbolic nature of the finds does suggest that warfare and military equipment had a direct connection to social and political authority. This correlation can also be seen in other graves from around Central Italy, most notably from Castel di Decima and Praeneste in Latium, and many sites, like Tarquinia, in southern Etruria. Warrior figurines and military equipment finds drop off substantially in Latium during the sixth century BC, but the few finds which have been excavated from the sixth and fifth centuries BC – for instance the famous Lanuvium warrior burial, dated to c. 500 BC – suggest a general continuation of practice.

Finally, when looking at the physical remains for warfare in Central Italy, one must also consider fortifications and city defences. For Central Italy, this evidence is puzzling as many communities, including Rome, did invest in fortifications during the seventh and sixth centuries BC, but they were usually simple affairs which only protected the easiest access routes. In Rome, some scholars have suggested that stone blocks found near the Palatine may represent the Archaic ‘Wall of Romulus’, although this is anything but certain. The first clearly identifiable fortifications at Rome are the agger and fossa (rampart and ditch) which cut across the Esquiline plateau, often dated to the sixth century BC based on pottery finds within the fill. Very similar to contemporary fortifications at other Latin sites, this agger and fossa took advantage of the natural topography of the community and protected the easiest route into the area from the east. The fortifications were extremely limited though and left large areas unprotected. This has led many scholars to suggest that these defences were designed to guard against raids and not as protection from sieges or major assaults. The first walls which were built at Rome which seem to have completely surrounded the city, the so-called ‘Servian Walls’, were only built in the fourth century BC.

So the final picture we have from the archaeological and artistic evidence for warfare during the Regal period seems to be one of aristocratic dominance. Military equipment and warrior iconography are only found associated with high status graves and adorn temples and tombs which were built by the aristocracy. This does not rule out participation in warfare by members of the lower class as well – but there is no evidence for it either. Additionally, there seemed to be something about military equipment and warrior iconography which resonated with the region’s elite as they, or in the case of a burial their family, chose these items and images to identify themselves with.

Conclusions and the power of the rex

The evidence for the Roman army during the Regal period is, ultimately then, contradictory. On the one hand we have the explicit testimony of the ancient sources which present a clear and coherent sequence of military development in a series of detailed asides, which envisaged a state-centred tribal army being created under Romulus and transformed into something resembling a civic militia, possibly based on a Greek-style hoplite phalanx, during the reign of Servius Tullius in the sixth century BC. Despite the change in the army’s structure and equipment during the sixth century BC, both armies seem to have functioned as an extension of the state’s (and rex’s) will, in much the same way as the Roman armies of the later Republic. Indeed, Rome’s Regal army, at least in these passages, is very clearly depicted as the point of origin and obvious ancestor for the later army and was seen to exhibit many of its key characteristics.

Outside of these few explanatory asides however, the literary evidence paints a picture of an army and a style of warfare that was much more aristocratic and heroic in nature. Far from being based on state-centred aims, warfare was conducted for booty and glory and short-term goals. Armies functioned not as an extension of the state and state policy, but as an extension of a powerful leader’s will. Military equipment was, and would remain, personal property and the type of equipment used in Archaic Central Italy is increasingly interpreted as being best suited for individual, and not group, action. Even the construction of fortifications is unlikely to have involved and included the full community.

The key issue, then, is the connection between the powerful clan leader, the army and the community – a power that the Roman’s associated with the grant of imperium.

The power of imperium is what bound a powerful clan leader, or warlord, to the community of Rome and to the army. Although we naturally have extremely limited and problematic information for this power in the Archaic period, as all of our evidence comes from later periods when imperium may have changed and evolved, it seems to have given an external leader the power to control, command and effectively integrate the members of the community into his own clan-based military model. A rex, via imperium, represented a powerful father figure to those in his army, with all of the power that a Roman paterfamilias would have wielded – including the power of life or death and the ability to judge those under his control.

This relationship clearly had power both ways, as the inclusion of community members in the army and retinue of a warlord would have changed the character of the power dynamic within. Additionally, the fact that imperium was granted by the community, with the comitia curiata effectively putting themselves under the warlord’s command and power, also suggests that they retained a certain amount of power and control in the relationship and could possibly remove themselves from it if needed. Fundamentally though, Rome’s army in the Regal period seems to have represented the result of an integration with a previously existing mode of aristocratic, clan-based warfare and military model, which actually continued to exist alongside the city’s armies well into the Republican period.

The Roman Army of the 5th Century BC

The Roman army of the fifth century BC obviously reflected the social and political changes occurring in Rome, although the development was evidently subtle. From an outsider’s perspective, very little would have changed in how the Roman army looked or was equipped from the Regal armies of the sixth century BC to the armies of the early Republic. Although military equipment disappears almost entirely from the archaeological record for the fifth century BC in Latium, what little evidence we do have (most notably the Lanuvium warrior burial, dated to c. 500 BC, some problematic sculptures from temple pediments and possible comparative evidence from Etruria) all suggests continuity rather than change. Roman and Latin warriors still seem to have equipped themselves in heavy bronze armour when they could, although there is some evidence for increased use of cheaper variations like the linen cuirass (linothorax). There are also gradual developments in helmet type, generally favouring cheaper options, although largely maintaining the previously existing style and function. This continuity makes sense as, for the most part, the soldiers making up the army seem to have been coming from the same groups as before and were likely using inherited equipment – although there are some hints that the pool for soldiers was gradually expanding during this period to include new members of the ‘upper middle class’ within the community (it is probably these new additions which favoured the cheaper options). The core of the army, however, remained the traditional forces of the gentes and they seem to have continued to use predominantly thrusting spears and the occasional sword in combat, which still seems to have been focused largely on individual duelling in close combat.

The real differences in the army, as discussed above, were in organization – although this would ultimately have a significant impact on how the army would have behaved in the field. The gradual transition from a fundamentally gentilicial or clan-based military structure, to one based on the community, seems to have resulted in a certain level of disorder in the ranks – as in the second half of the fifth century BC there are suddenly references to armies acting in a mutinous or disobedient fashion. Although this may represent a later literary embellishment, this type of behaviour does make some sense if the command structure, power dynamic and indeed the ultimate goals and aims of the army were changing – not to mention the inclusion of an increasing number of ‘new’ troops from the urban community of Rome. No longer were the goals and command structure necessarily aligned along long-standing and traditional clan-based lines, where the word and power of a paterfamilias reigned supreme – and again, this seems to have been the case even in Rome’s previous armies controlled via imperium – but instead everything was passing through the new (and still quite fluid) matrix of the community. Although this new system seems to have resulted in the possibility of slightly larger armies, it did not always result in more effective armies – and particularly not for the powerful, clan-based elite.