The Roman Siege of Carthage: The Third Punic War, 149–146 BC

The conflict is traditionally called the Third Punic War but the siege of Carthage might be a more accurate name, since there was only one military operation, the siege of the Punic capital. The Romans had started the war with Perseus having made him believe that war could be avoided through negotiations but in fact they were already proceeding in Greece. This strategy was repeated with Carthage. The Romans began making demands. The consuls that had arrived in Sicily in 149 with 80,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, 50 quinqueremes and 100 hemiolia – fast, two-banked galleys – delivered the declaration of war in Carthage by messenger. The Carthaginians sent an envoy to Rome to settle the difficulty by any terms they could. The senate stated that the freedom and autonomy of Carthage should be preserved and Carthage would retain its lands in Africa if it handed over to the consuls in Lilybaeum 300 children from the leading families as hostages. The captives were sent and taken to Rome in a sixteen. Yet the consuls sailed to Utica, which had defected to them, and set the camp on the Castra Cornelia; the fleet stayed in the harbour at Utica. The following meetings took place at Utica. Now the consuls demanded that the Carthaginian arsenal was handed over. It included complete armour for 200,000 men, innumerable javelins and darts and 2,000 catapults for throwing pointed missiles and stones. The demand included Carthaginian ships. When this had been fulfilled, lastly, the Romans demanded that the Carthaginians must evacuate the city and the citizens settle in countryside about 20 kilometres inland. Free access to temples and tombs was granted but the rest of the city was going to be destroyed. The Carthaginians were not allowed to send an embassy to Rome but the envoys returned to Carthage to discuss the demands at the senate. Appian’s account tells about the anger and frustration of the people; envoys were lynched and so were the senators who had spoken for accepting the Roman demands for hostages and arms. Some Italians who happened to be in Carthage were also maltreated. The senate declared war on Rome. Preparations began, as Appian states:

All the sacred places, the temples, and every other unoccupied space, were turned into workshops, where men and women worked together day and night without pause, taking their food by turns on a fixed schedule. Each day they made 100 shields, 300 swords, 1000 missiles for catapults, 500 darts and javelins, and as many catapults as they could. For strings to bend them the women cut off their hair for want of other fibres.

The Carthaginians had two armies defending their city: one outside at Nepheris, 25 kilometres south of Carthage, led by the Hasdrubal who had been defeated by Masinissa, and one in the city, led by another commander called Hasdrubal. The army outside also arranged for supplies to be sent from the countryside to Carthage. The consuls began the siege of Carthage but because of vigorous Carthaginian defence the Romans did not achieve much in 149 or 148. They were defeated in their attempts to overcome the army at Nepheris and to take Hippo Acra. They attacked Aspis by land and sea and were repulsed. They made a failed attempt to besiege the city of Hippagreta, located between Carthage and Utica, because it intercepted the Roman supply ships. In 147, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus was elected consul although he was only 38 years old – the minimum age for consulship was 42 – and sent to continue operations in Africa. He started by returning discipline to the army. The problems reported by Appian – the idleness and greed of the soldiers resulting in unauthorized plundering expeditions and quarrels about how the booty should be shared – were basically the same issues of an idle army that the Romans had to deal with in the war with Perseus.

Carthage was mostly depending on supplies coming from land but some supplies by sea also got through because the blockade of the Roman fleet stationed outside Carthage was not complete. In his depiction of the situation, Appian describes all the typical difficulties of a sea blockade: the Romans were not able to keep their positions as they had no shelter and the sea was full of reefs; they were not able to anchor near the city itself, with the Carthaginians standing on the walls and the sea pounding on the rocks there. Some merchants, watching for a strong and favourable wind, spread their sails and ran the blockade with the Roman galleys unable to pursue them as they sailed before the wind. Scipio made the soldiers carry out works that would cut Carthage off from supplies coming from Africa. This caused a shortage of food in Carthage. He also installed a mole to prevent the entry to the two harbours that Appian describes as follows:

The harbours had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea seventy feet wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels, and here were collected all kinds of ships’ tackle. Within the second port was an island which, together with the port itself, was enclosed by high embankments. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. Above them were magazines for their tackle and furniture.

Archaeological excavations have proved the description to be substantially correct. The Carthaginians began a carefully-hidden operation from inside the harbour to excavate another entrance at another part of the harbour in mid-sea. The women and children helped in the digging. At the same time they built triremes and quinqueremes from old material and launched fifty triremes and smaller ships from the new entrance. These were defeated, however, by the Romans in two sea battles outside the harbour, so their last attempt to take charge of the situation failed. Finally, the Roman troops stormed the city and started to take it in stages in street fights, starting from the lower city and ending in the upper. After a week of horror that would be recognizable in any modern footage covering street fights in the middle of a civilian population, the surviving citizens were sold for slavery and the city was razed to the ground. Scipio gave the soldiers a certain number of days for plunder, preserving the gold, silver and temple gifts. The Romans declared that the city of Carthage should be left uninhabited and gave the territory of Carthage to the Uticans as a reward. Scipio celebrated a triumph splendid with gold and overflowing with the statues and votive offerings that the Carthaginians had gathered from all parts of the world over many eras; the fruits of their countless victories. In the following year the Romans celebrated the triumph of Lucius Mummius from Achaea and Corinth, another helpless city that had been sacked.

The naval rivalry between Rome and Carthage that started in the fourth century BC had ceased in 201. Rome had challenged – and beaten – the Carthaginians, Macedonians and Seleucids in a shipbuilding arms race. In this competition Carthage fared best, while the Macedonian and Seleucid resources turned out to be very limited. All these states would have had a chance of gaining supremacy in the Mediterranean if the Romans had not been involved. Rome’s success can be explained by good planning, determination to succeed and a large pool of resources in Italy, including finance, manpower and timber. Allies played important roles in the conflict. The Romans could not have taken and kept Sicily without support from Syracuse; the Massilian fleet helped the Romans on the Spanish coast; and, in the eastern Mediterranean, the Romans benefited from assistance given by the Aetolians and by Pergamum and Rhodes, gaining access to ports and advice on the local conditions. None of Rome’s opponents had similar support from its allies and none of them could draw on resources of the same scale. As a result, Rome overcame all its enemies in the Mediterranean, in the west and in the east, and was master of the sea.



During the reign of Emperor Wu, he sent out Zhang Qian as his envoy to distant lands in the west, he brought back important information in regards to the Kushans, the Sogdians, and the Bactrians, as well as Parthia. Though the Xiongnu still operated fiercely in the area during his travels (100BC- contemporaneous to the Civil Wars of the Roman Republic,) his journey would pave the ways for formal relations to be established between China and the various polities along the vast trade network, eventually leading to the creation of the Silk Road.

Eastern Han Heavy Cavalry

Western Han Ge Cavalry

Western Han Armor-Spear Cavalry


The anarchy that followed the fall of the Ch’in was complete. The various provinces fell to the army commanders, as a “free-for-all” threw the unified Empire back into chaos.

Liu Pang, an adventurer of sorts, while serving as a police official in Kiangsu province, carved out a personal kingdom in a rather novel way. Finding himself as the escort for a body of condemned prisoners, he decided to remove their chains and form a regiment of brigands. Naturally, they were delighted at the prospect, and eagerly followed their new-found ” condottiere ” captain, Liu Pang. Liu Pang then anointed the drums with his blood, and adopted blood red as the color for his standards. At the head of his “brigand band” he proceeded to carve out a kingdom in Kiangsu. In 207 B. C., he marched on Shensi and took it by popularity, not force-a kind of “Anschluss”. For five years, Liu Pang fought his rival, Hsiang Yu, and finally defeated him in 202 B. C. This commoner’s son, the leader of an army of convicts, was now the unchallenged Emperor of China. This Empire , the Han (named after the Han River and Liu Pang’s Imperial name, Han Kao-tzu) was to last until 220 A. D., and leave such a mark on China and her history that even today the Chinese refer to themselves as The Sons of Han.


The Han were masters at administration and this is reflected in their army organizations. Michael Loewe’s work on the Chu-yen bamboo strips has brought to light much detail on the Han chain of command and unit organization.

Field army commanders, the Shang Chin or Ta Chun, were at the head of the army organization, responsible only to the Emperor . They might also command the military regions or provinces

At the head of a particular army was the commanding officer, the Chiang Chin, or general. The army was then brigaded into physical areas and commanded by generals of lower rank. The front or vanguard, commanded by the Ch’ien Chun, was supported by the left wing, commanded by the Tso Chin, and the right wing, commanded by the Yu Chin. The rear was brought up by the Hou Chun. These were aided in administrative duties by the Lieh Chun , or general staff . Colonels (Hsiao wei) were not included in a normal chain of command as we know today, but rather seem to have been administrative officials and not necessarily military commanders.

According to the Chu-yen strips, three Tu-wei-fus or battalions, were allocated to a Chun, or army.

The Tu-wei-fu was the basic unit in the Han organization. This unit was composed of local troops assisted by a Ch’eng and a Ssu-ma. This Tu-wei-fu would consist of any number of Hou-kuan , or (provincial units), local cavalry , but mainly of conscripted infantry . It was commanded by a Tu-w companies, each of which was commanded by a Hou. In turn, each Hou-kuan was composed of from four to six platoons, or Hou. Each platoon was commanded by a Hou-chang, and consisted of six to seven squads or Sui. These squads were commanded by a Sui-chang, and usually consisted of up to eleven men.

Within the army, the best fighter of every Sui was transferred to a special unit, the shock or elite troops. This theoretically would be ten percent, or one in ten. Mainly held as a reserve, in Han times they were called the “Gallants from the Three Rivers.”

Cavalry were detached directly from army headquarters to Tu-wei-fu, Hou-kuan, or Hou headquarters.

They may have followed standard army organization, but this is not known for sure. A document unit of unknown type had 182 men. The Han made much use of allied auxiliary cavalry units-the majority of which were usually border tribes of the Hsiung-nu.

Prisoners and convicts were frequently used in the army, in two capacities. The common labor troops were convicts merely serving out a prison sentence. They performed the menial tasks around the camps, dug ditches and latrines, built fortifications and the like, and much to their chagrin, served as “cannon fodder” in battle. However the Ch’ih-hsing were amnestied convicts, serving out their sentence in the combat arm of the army. These frequently were very fierce fighters, not hampered with too much military training

Pioneers were not engineers or the like, as we might call them today. They were the static garrisons that manned the Chinese limes and the Great Wall. These troops were mainly armed farmers and actually cultivated the areas around their posts when not on duty, much like their 4th and 5th century Roman counterparts.

In addition to the above, there were several specialized units in the Han Army, brought to light by Chao Chung-huo’s campaign against the rebellious Western Ch’iang in 61 B. C.. It is here that we first hear of the “Volunteer Expert Marksmen”, who distinguished themselves by their uncanny marksmanship. These operated as a Jager or Rifle Brigade-type in battle, but as to whether they were armed with a bow or crossbow the histories do not tell us. The “Winged Forest Orphans” were an elite body of armored infantry, all of whom were orphaned as a direct result of their fathers’ dying in battle. The “Liang Chia-tzu” were elite noble-born cavalrymen, and more than likely armored. Finally, the “Yung-kan” archers are mentioned but not elaborated upon.

The Han were noted for their use of artillery and long-ranged crossbows. These weapons clearly gave them an advantage as they generally outranged any weapons their enemies possessed.

Han Dynasty likely phased out stone-throwers because their main adversary was nomadic Xiongnu. Heavy siege equipment will slow down the army, making them vulnerable to ambush and raids, there isn’t many trees lying in the desert and grasslands to build one on the spot, Xiongnu being nomadic meaning very few permanent settlements for them to lay siege, and in the rare instance when the Han army DID lay siege on Xiongnu, they burned everything down and took the fortified city in two days with overwhelming numbers, without resorting to siege engine.

Towards the end of Han Dynasty (Three Kingdoms period), the Chinese were warring among themselves again, and siege warfare become necessary once more. Thus the resurgence of stone-thrower and other siege engine.


As is evident in the battle narratives of the Han period, not much in the way of stratagems and innovations were ignored by Han generals. They learned much from Sun-tzu and applied his principles.

Basically, much attention was focused on the missile weapon as the main arm, and the crossbow simply outclassed any opponent’s weapon. On repeated occasions (Battle of Sogdiana, 38 B. C., Li Ling, 90 B. C., for examples) the crossbows were formed up in ranks protected by the armored infantry who carried large shields and long spears. Even the armored cavalry at times were equipped with these crossbows, forming a kind of “self-propelled artillery.”

The chariots were used for the final blow, after the bows had done the real work. Cavalry was used for the shock assault if the ground wasn’t suitable for the chariots. Generally, the cavalry arm was used in two ways–one, as a reconnaissance and pursuit force, and two, if a highly mobile force such as the Hsiung-nu were involved as an enemy in battle, the Han cavalry attempted to pin the enemy cavalry, allowing the infantry and chariots to close.


In this category, the Han Army was far superior to any previous Chinese Army and most of her enemies.

During the early Han, all males between the ages of 23 and 56 were conscripted for two years active service. During the years 155-74 B. C. the age was reduced to 20 for conscription. At the age of 56, all low-ranking infantry and marines were classed as ” elderly and decrepit ” and were “made civilians.”

Training was not left in boot camp either. Every year, on the eighth month, the entire army, no ranks or arms excepted, was involved in a General Inspection and testing program. All units were graded on performance, and woe to the unit commander whose unit was not up to par! Thus, training and combat proficiency were a constant and ongoing operation during the Han period.

Approximate Composition of the Han Dynasty Army

Maximum percentages of types within the total force employed:

Armored cavalry = 50%

Unarmored or lightly armored cavalry = 50%

Tribal auxiliary unarmored cavalry = 50%

Labor troops =10%

Convict Combat troops =10%

Armored infantry = 50%

Unarmored infantry = 50%

Of the last two categories, 30 % could be armed with the crossbow.

Artillerists =10%

Charioteers = 5 % scout, 5% war chariots


By this time, Pan Ch’ao seemed to demonstrate that he was invincible Ansi (the Arsacid Parthian Empire) was defeated. Now Han China stood, the greatest land-owning empire possibly only second to Rome.

Pan Ch’ao ordered his second in command, Kan Ying, to set forth across newly conquered Ansi, to “Ta-ts’in” the Chinese name for the Roman Empire.

As Pan Ch’ao only allocated a portion of the army to subdue this “additional Kingdom”. it is obvious that to call this a “planned invasion” is stretching things a bit.

Kan Ying advanced across the middle-eastern expanses towards Antioch thought to be the capitol of the Roman Empire. Kan Ying was anxious to know of his enemy, so the Parthians began to tell him of the might and expanse of the Roman Empire. Upon gaining this new intelligence information, Kan Ying decided that his force was not sufficient for the task, so he turned around and rejoined Pan Ch’ao.

In 116 A. D., Trajan’s advances into Parthia to Ctesiphon would be within one day’s march of Han Chinese border garrisons. As a side note, 97 A. D. was the first year of the Emperor Trajan’s reign. It is quite interesting to speculate on the consequences had Kan Ying pursued his objective and attacked Roman Antioch.

The Asiatic War of Tutankhamun

A painted wood box from Tut’s tomb shows him vanquishing Nubians and Syrians. (Araldo De Luca)

Akhenaten died soon after his attack on Kadesh, but the question of what to do about the area of Kadesh did not go away. The Hittite counterattack into the Egyptian territory of Amki breached the Egyptian-Hittite treaty of the time, but was probably no more than a retaliatory raid; as far as the sources indicate, Suppiluliuma did not follow with a major Hittite offensive. Major events in Syria-Palestine for most of the reign of Tutankhamun remain unknown, since Tutankhamun’s abandonment of Akhet-aten brought the Amarna archive to an immediate halt; wherever Tutankhamun’s diplomatic correspondence was stored-Thebes or more likely Memphis-the record lies as yet undiscovered. No Egyptian or Hittite historical texts unequivocally record any battles in Syria-Palestine prior to the final year of Tutankhamun’s reign, but at about the time of the death of Tutankhamun, another Egyptian campaign was launched against Kadesh; details do not survive, but the timing of the Egyptian attack might have been intended to coincide with a Mittani counteroffensive. The renewed attacks of the weakened but still existent state of Mittani precipitated the Second Syrian War, also known as the Six-Year Hurrian War, which culminated in the defeat of Carchemish and the complete destruction of the Mittanian state. Tutankhamun’s strike on Kadesh triggered a Hittite counterattack on Amki, the same reaction Akhenaten’s attack on Kadesh had elicited. Both Akhenaten and Tutankhamun probably sought to force some conclusion to the Kadesh problem, for with the last vestige of the Hurrian state expunged, Hatti might decide to use Kadesh and the corridor east of Amurru.

The images of Tutankhamun’s Asiatic campaign are fragmentary and provide few details about the location of the battle or the tactics involved. Despite these problems, the lively carvings indicate that a chariot battle and an assault on fortifications were elements of the campaign. In one scene, an Asiatic warrior, with a typical bobbed hairstyle and kilt, is transfixed by the spear of an Egyptian charioteer. The ancient artist heightened the drama of the combat by showing the dead Asiatic draped across the legs of Egyptian chariot horses. Another block from this same tableau depicts an Asiatic tangled in the reins of his own chariot. In addition to the chariot battle, Tutankhamun’s reliefs also depict an attack against fortifications. On one block, an Egyptian soldier armed with a spear, his shield slung across his back, ascends a ladder propped against a crenellated wall. The figure of a bearded Asiatic falling headlong from the fortress suggests the success of the Egyptian assault.

Two blocks from battle scenes of Tutankhamun’s Asiatic campaign. (top) A charioteer, with the horse’s reins tied behind his back, spears an Asiatic enemy, whose body falls across the legs of the horses. The shield-bearer wears a heart. shaped sporran and stands in front of a full quiver of arrows. After Johnson, Asiatic Battle Scene, 156, no. 10. (bottom) A soldier, armed with a spear and a shield, climbs a ladder resting against the battlements of an Asiatic stronghold, while an enemy defender falls to the ground. After Johnson, Asiatic Barrie Scene, 157. no. 12.

The Asiatic War scenes of Tutankhamun portray two different types of enemies, suggesting that the Egyptians fought a coalition of forces from throughout Syria-Palestine. The southern, Canaanite type have a short beard, a bobbed hairstyle tied with a fillet, and wear kilts. The northern Syrian or Mitannian type have short hair, a long beard, and wear long cloaks. The Tutankhamun battle scenes also provide a small but significant bit of information about the chariots of the “boy-king’s” enemies. A poorly preserved block from the Tutankhamun Asiatic battle scene appears to depict a three-man crew in an Asiatic chariot. The Asiatics against whom Tutankhamun fights are depicted as standard Canaanite types, not as Hittites, The Syro-Palestinians, as they appear in scenes of foreign tribute in the tomb of the vizier Rekhmire, in the heraldic image of Asiatic combat on the chariot of Thutmose IV, and the Hittites in the later war tableaux of Seti I, routinely appear with chariots virtually identical to those of the ancient Egyptians, and like the Egyptians, the Asiatics appear to have assigned two men to a chariot.

The image of three Asiatic men in a chariot from the Tutankhamun monument recalls the later three-man chariots of the Hittites in the scenes of the Battle of Kadesh under Ramesses II. At Karnak, when Seti I depicted his encounter with the Hittites, he shows the Hittites fighting and dying with chariots manned by two men, similar to the Egyptian chariots. When Seti’s successor Ramesses II depicts the chariotry swarms of his own Hittite enemies, those Hittite chariots have three-man crews. Were it not for the Tutankhamun block, one might suggest that the Hittites simply adopted a new style of chariot, perhaps as a result of their loss to the forces of Seti I. The Tutankhamun scene reveals that some sort of experimentation with a different type of chariot crew, and almost certainly with a different sort of chariot, was already occurring during the reign of Tutankhamun.

Why would the Syro-Palestinian enemies of Tutankhamun or the Hittite opponents of Ramesses II add an extra man to the chariot crew? The added weight forced the Hittites to make their vehicles heavier, sacrificing both speed and maneuverability. The Hittite chariotry that attacked Ramesses II also appear to have shifted away from the use of chariots to carry archers; instead, the Hittite chariot crews consist of a driver, a shield-bearer, and a warrior armed with a spear or a lance, both weapons with ranges much shorter than that of the composite bow. While the Egyptian chariot was still suited for high-speed engagement as a platform for mounted archers, the makers of the Hittite chariots had sacrificed the potential for abrupt turns at speed, and seem uninterested in the vehicle’s properties of maneuver. The Hittite chariot warriors of the Kadesh battle scenes appear to have become mounted infantry, the chariot transforming into a type of battle taxi; the apparent three-man chariot in the Tutankhamun battle scene suggests that experimentation with the chariot as battle taxi could well go back at least as far as the Amarna Period. The impetus for this apparent shift in chariot tactics, from mobile archery platform to battle taxi, remains to be explored.

The inscriptions accompanying the scenes of the Battle of Kadesh indicate that the Hittites secured soldiers from throughout their empire, including the western marches. From the western edge of the Hittite realm may have come the chief impetus for the three-man chariot. The groups who harassed the western borders of Hatti fought as massed infantry, appear as the Ahhiyawa in the Hittite record, and are one of the groups the Egyptians included among the Sea Peoples. The chariot forces of the day, armed primarily with bows, had difficulty defeating the Ahhiyawa and other Sea People groups who wore armor and wielded close-combat weapons. The placement of Hittite infantry soldiers within the new three-man chariots was probably intended to make the chariotry more effective against the new Sea People foes. Considering the pressures on the Hittites in the west, and taking into account particular facets of the subsequent invasions of Egypt from the west and the north, the three-man chariot from the Tutankhamun battle scene is the swallow that heralds the dawn of the rise of massed infantry.

Fragments of relief from the mortuary temple of Horemhab contain further images of an Asiatic campaign. Since Horemhab was responsible for the actual military command and Tutankhamun may have even died while the campaign was in progress, Horemhab probably felt no compunction about taking credit for the victory, as he had for the Nubian War he also led for Tutankhamun. Without further evidence, the warfare in Syria-Palestine depicted on the monuments of Horemhab most probably took place entirely during the reign of Tutankhamun.

Images of the battle on blocks reused from Horemhab’s mortuary temple include the royal chariot (only the names of the horses survive) and Egyptian charioteers shooting arrows and surrounded by slain Asiatic foes. At least two of the Asiatics have only a single hand-the stumps of their right arms indicate that their hands have already been severed to provide an accurate count of the enemy dead. Another block depicting part of the battlements of a city labeled “Fortress which his Majesty captured in the land of Kad[esh]” provides the setting for this Asiatic battle.

Other reliefs from Tutankhamun’s Theban memorial chapel show the triumphal return of the Egyptian military by sea. The royal flagship, with dozens of rowers and a large two-level cabin decorated with a frieze of uraeus serpents, also carries an important piece of cargo: an Asiatic captive. This Asiatic appears in a cage hanging from the yardarm of the ship, a secure prison that allows Tutankhamun to display his military success. Unfortunately, no text accompanies this scene, and one can only speculate about the identity of the unfortunate captive. Earlier, Amunhotep III had Abdiashirta, the unruly Amorite leader, brought back to Egypt, and Tutankhamun may have copied this feat with the ruler of Kadesh, which would make the man in the cage Aitakama. In this case, while Akhenaten was not militarily successful, Tutankhamun’s attack on Kadesh would have achieved at least one major objective.

Block (rom the mortuary temple of Horemhab. An Egyptian chariot team rides into battle against Asiatic foes. While the helmeted charioteer shoots his bow, the shield-bearer holds aloft a round-topped shield. The chariot is equipped with a bow case (the limp flap indicates that it is now empty) and has a six·spoked wheel and hand, hold on the body. Fallen Asiatics and charioteers’ helmets litter the scene. The right portion of the block was recarved at a later date. After Johnson, Asiatic Battle Scene, 170, no. 50.

Tutankhamun also commemorated the results of the Syro-Palestinian war on the eastern bank at the temple of Karnak. In a relief in the court between the Ninth and Tenth pylons, Tutankhamun presents the spoils of victory to the Theban triad. Stacked before the king are elaborate metal vessels and other products from western Asia. Behind Tutankhamun are Asiatic prisoners, all bound by ropes that the king holds in his hand. The dress and coiffure of the captives indicate their diverse origins-some are from inland Syria-Palestine, while at least one is probably an Aegean islander or nautical type of the eastern Mediterranean. In a parallel scene, Tutankhamun presents tribute from Punt, accompanied by the high chiefs of the Puntites. However, the chiefs of Punt are not bound, but stride freely, presenting the produce of their country. The differences between the representations of the Asiatics and the Puntites demonstrate their contrasting relationships with Egypt. While the inhabitants of Syria-Palestine represent chaotic forces that must be subdued, the Puntites, who inhabited a land far southeast of Egypt, peacefully traded with the Nile Valley. Although some of the Asiatics led bound behind the pharaoh lived closer to Egypt than the distant land of Punt, they were ideologically much farther from the ordered world that was Egypt.

The tomb that Horemhab commissioned while a general provides further depictions of the results of Tutankhamun’s Asiatic War. Rows of bound Asiatic prisoners appear alongside Nubians and Libyans on the east wall of the second courtyard; the only accompanying text speaks of General Horemhab’s victories in all foreign lands: “His reputation is in the [land] of the Hittites(?), after he trave led northward.” The questionable mention of the Hittites in this text finds further support in two images from Horemhab’s tomb that represent the first depictions of Hittites from their Anatolian homeland, otherwise known from the battle reliefs of Seti I. The south wall of that same courtyard contains exquisitely carved reliefs of more Asiatic prisoners; the manacles-some of them elaborately carved to resemble rampant lions-and ropes binding the men advertise their status as prisoners of war, and the emotion-filled expressions of the men indicate their reactions to their new status. Horemhab, who is called “one in attendance on his lord upon the battlefield on this day of smiting the Asiatics,” leads these prisoners before the enthroned royal couple, Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun.

In addition to the scenes of Asiatic prisoners, the tomb of Horemhab also contains images of other foreigners from all corners of the world- Libyans, Nubians, and Asiatics. In these scenes, the different ethnicities are juxtaposed, and none of the foreigners is bound. These two types of scenes reflect two separate historical events. The reliefs of the unbound foreigners allude to a durbarlike event, such as that depicted in two of the tombs at Amarna and in the tomb of Huy, and the incorporation of foreign captives into the Egyptian military. The gathering of foreigners appearing in vivid detail in the tomb of Horemhab may even represent the same northern and southern durbars as appear in the tomb of the viceroy Huy. On the other hand, the scenes of bound Asiatics correspond to a specific military event. Unfortunately, the general lack of toponyms in the tomb prevents a precise determination of the origin of the Asiatic prisoners, but one may reasonably suggest that they were captured during Tutankhamun’s attack on Kadesh.

Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars


AD 69 (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The power struggle between Marcus Salvius Otho, the former governor of Lusitania, and Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), was the latest chapter in the Roman civil war which followed the death of the Julio-Claudian Emperor Nero in the summer of AD 68. The assassination of his immediate successor, Galba, the following January signalled the beginning of a months-long internecine struggle between these two men. The contest between Otho and Vitellius was decided in the Padus (Po) Valley in northern Italy. The first significant clash came at Placentia (Piacenza). Here, the legions of Vitellius’ lieutenant, Caecina, besieged the city in an attempt to force the capitulation of the resident Othonian forces led by Vestricius Spurinna. Once his army was across the Padus River, Caecina’s legions attacked the community, but were unsuccessful in breaching its walls and suffered heavy losses by the end of the day’s action. His army resumed the investment the next morning, this time with the aid of siege-works – fascines, manlets and sheds to mine the walls – but still failed to make progress against the defenders. Unable to overcome the city’s defences by storm, Caecina ultimately abandoned the assault, re-crossed the river and marched against Cremona some 20 miles (32km) away.

Locus Castorum

AD 69 (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The death of Roman Emperor Nero in the summer of AD 68 proved the catalyst for a violent power struggle in the Empire that eventually pitted various Roman legions against one another in open civil war. Following the demise of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Servius Sulpicius Galba briefly served as emperor from June of AD 68 until the following January, before his assassination again plunged the Empire into chaos. Two other contenders now openly sought the emperorship: Marcus Salvius Otho, the former governor of Lusitania, and Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany). The contest between these two pretenders was ultimately decided in the Po Valley of northern Italy. The first clash occurred at Locus Castorum, a location some 12 miles (19.3km) from the town of Cremona. Vitellian forces encountered an Othonian army led by the general Suetonius Paulinus. With the approach of Otho’s troops, the legatus Aulus Caecina Alienus prepared an ambuscade for the enemy. Deploying auxiliary troops in some woods near the road, he sent his cavalry with instructions to provoke an engagement and then feign retreat in order to draw the Othonians into the trap. The opposing generals soon learned of the intended ambush and approached the location with caution, though still intent on pursuing battle. Paulinus immediately assumed command of the infantry, while Marius Celsus led the cavalry. Before reaching the location of Caecina, Otho’s commanders assembled their army into battle formation. On the left flank, they positioned a vexillation of the Legio XIII Gemina, four cohorts of auxiliary infantry and 500 auxiliary cavalry. Opposite these troops, on the right flank, were arrayed the Legio I Adiutrix, a pair of auxiliary infantry cohorts and 500 horse. In the centre, spanning the road, were three praetorian cohorts. To the rear, Paulinus stationed a reserve of 1,000 Praetorian and auxiliary cavalry. As the Othonians advanced, a portion of the Vitellian line broke and fled. Celsus suspected a trick, and in turn initiated a feigned withdrawal which lured some of the enemy from cover. Caecina’s troops gave chase and quickly found themselves constrained by legionary cohorts to their front and auxiliary infantry on the flanks. Before they could properly react, the prompt arrival of Celsus’ cavalry closed any avenue of retreat toward Cremona. While the two sides faced one another, Paulinus paused long enough to redress his line and formulate a plan of attack. The delay offered Caecina’s men opportunity to seek the relative safety of nearby vineyards and a small grove of woods. When the Othonian army was properly arrayed, Paulinus ordered his battle line to charge. The attack proved irresistible. Even with the piecemeal arrival of reinforcements, the auxiliary cohorts of Caecina were flushed from the tangle of vines and tree cover and completely routed. The defeated remnants of the army thereafter retreated to Cremona.

Forum Julii

AD 69 (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – During the Roman civil war between Emperor Otho and Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), envoys from Gallia Narbonensis appealed to the Vitellian general, Fabius Valens, for protection in the province from a marauding Othonian fleet. In response, he dispatched a force of auxilia, both infantry and cavalry, to secure the region, which had earlier declared its allegiance for Vitellius. A portion of these troops bivouacked at the port of Forum Julii (Frejus) to help secure the unprotected coast from indiscriminate raiding by the enemy. Upon the approach of an Othonian army, the Vitellians prepared for battle. They deployed twelve turmae of cavalry, including Trevirian horsemen, and a select detachment of infantry. These were reinforced by local auxiliaries, 500 Pannonian recruits not yet formally enrolled into service and one Ligurian cohort. Once the two armies began assembling for battle, the Vitellians, who were strongest in cavalry, formed two lines; the mounted squadrons in front, followed by the infantry in close ranks. The Ligurian auxiliaries were located on adjacent high ground. Opposing the Vitellians was a numerically superior army that included several cohorts of Praetorian infantry and a mixed contingent of marines and local militia. These were deployed over a level area extending inland from the coast. Nearby, the Othonian fleet was anchored close to shore, its ships facing the battlefield in order to better provide support for the army. The Trevirian cavalry opened the contest with an imprudent charge against the Praetorians, which not only failed to disrupt the formation of veteran infantry, but needlessly exposed their flank to the fire of slingers. While both armies were fully engaged in the struggle, the Othonian fleet attacked the enemy’s rear. The action trapped the Vitellians, who were only able to avoid complete destruction with the onset of nightfall. The Othonians returned to camp following this victory, unaware that the enemy, though defeated, was prepared to regroup for a second battle. After receiving fresh reinforcements, including two cohorts of Tungarian auxilia, the Vitellians launched a surprise assault that penetrated their opponents’ encampment and forced the Othonians to abandon their defences and rally on a nearby hill. The resulting struggle was long and stubbornly contested, and both sides accrued heavy casualties. The battle finally ended when intense missile fire overwhelmed the determined resistance of the Tungrian infantry and put the Vitellians to flight once again. An effort by the Othonians to underscore their victory with a vigorous chase was abruptly stopped when the enemy horse wheeled around and briefly surrounded their pursuers. Both armies thereafter withdrew, the Vitellians to nearby Antipolis (Antibes) and the emperor’s forces further up the coast to Albingaunum (Albenga) in Liguria.


AD 69, 14 April (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The death of Emperor Nero in early June of AD 68 resulted in open civil war throughout the Roman Empire. Following the assassination of the hastily chosen Emperor Galba, the armies of his successor, Marcus Salvius Otho, clashed with those of Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), near the northern Italian communities of Cremona and Bedriacum (Calvatone). In a preliminary contest outside the village of Locus Castorum, an Othonian army led by the general Suetonius Paulinus defeated an inferior rival force commanded by Aulus Caecina Alienus. The defeated Vitellian troops fled to Cremona, where they were soon joined by an army under Fabius Valens. As the two sides prepared for the coming engagement, Otho’s principal commander – his brother, Titianus, and the prefectus, Proculus – rejected the counsel of Paulinus and the legatus Marius Celsus to await reinforcements and instead elected to immediately force a major action outside of Cremona. The emperor withdrew to the safety of Brixellum (Brescello), accompanied by a strong force of his bodyguards, cavalry and Praetorian Guardsmen. The two armies arrayed for battle near Cremona. The forces of Vitellius possessed the advantage of both strength and numbers, and their greater morale permitted the legions to quickly form into orderly ranks, while confusion slowed the development of the Othonian line. The fighting concentrated along the raised causeway of the Via Postumia, a road situated on the left bank of the Padus (Po) River. In an open plain bounded by the river and road, intense fighting erupted between Vitellius’ veteran Legio XXI Rapax from Germania Superior (Upper Germany) and the less experienced Legio I Adiutrix. The First Legion, consisting of marines levied from the fleet at Ravenna, inflicted heavy casualties on the leading ranks of the Twenty-first and temporarily captured its eagle before a ferocious counter-attack drove back the Legio I with heavy losses, including its legate, Orfidius Benignus. At the same time, Vitellius’ Legio V Alaudae from Germania Inferior (Lower Germany) routed the Legio XIII Gemina based in Pannonia. On another part of the battlefield, the Vitellians attacked Otho’s XIV Gemina after successfully isolating the legion with superior forces. The general struggle remained undecided for some time until Caecina and Valens reinforced their legions by the application of reserves. The Vitellian effort was further strengthened with the arrival of Batavian auxilia under Varus Alfenus. Fresh from their victory over Othonian forces at the Padus, the Batavians immediately launched a concentrated assault against the enemy’s flank. This attack, together with continued pressure brought against the opposing ranks by the Vitellian legions, caused Otho’s centre to collapse. The loss of this central formation triggered a total rout. Both victors and vanquished were temporarily slowed by the carnage on the Via Postumia as each departed the field in the direction of Bedriacum, approximately 15 miles (24km) away. As the army of Vitellius reached the town’s fifth milestone, Caecina and Valens ended the pursuit. Total Roman dead amounted to over 40,000.


AD 69, 24 October (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The Roman civil war that followed the Emperor Nero’s death in early summer of AD 68 resulted in the rapid manifestation of four claim- ants to the imperial purple by the spring of the following year. The power struggle eventually led to the assassination of Emperor Galba in January AD 69 after only seven months in power; the suicide of his successor Otho following his army’s defeat at Cremona in April; and the emergence of a violent contest between Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), and Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the general appointed by Nero to crush an ongoing revolt in Judaea. Near the town of Bedriacum (Calvatone) in northern Italy, legions loyal to Vitellius and Vespasian joined in a violent battle to determine the future of the Empire. Following a sharp but largely inconclusive engagement on the first day, both armies prepared for a major battle that night. Shortly after dusk, the Flavian commander Marcus Antonius Primus drew up his army across the Via Postumia, an elevated roadway which extended between the towns of Cremona and Bedriacum, and generally followed the left bank of the Padus (Po) River. He positioned the Legio XIII Gemina on the causeway, and on the left flank in an open plain he deployed the Legio VII Galbiana and the Legio VII Claudia. To the right, Antonius stationed the Legio VIII Augusta on a secondary road. It was joined by the Legio III Gallica, which found itself hampered on the far right by its placement among dense thickets. A detachment of praetorians was then drawn up next to the Third Legion and auxiliary cohorts were posted on each wing. The Flavian cavalry, numbering some 4,000, secured the flanks and rear of the entire formation. Lastly, ahead of the legions ranged a select force of Suebian tribesmen.

Opposite Antonius’ front line, the darkness heavily obscured a formidable Vitellian battle formation. The approaching army was presently leaderless, as its general, Aulus Caecina Alienus, was in irons after plotting to defect to the Flavians. The absence of their senior commander, combined with the dark of night, served to create some initial confusion within the ranks of the Vitellians. On the extreme right, the Legio IIII Macedonica advanced in the company of the Fifth and Fifteenth legions, which were stationed in the centre along with vexillations of the Legio IX Hispana, Legio II Augusta and the Legio XX Valeria Victrix. On the left, the Sixteenth and First legions were joined by the Legio XXII Primigenia. Within the ranks of each was included a liberal distribution of soldiers from the depleted cohorts of the Legio XXI Rapax and Legio I Italica. Completing the arrangement was the army’s cavalry and auxilia, which were arrayed around the main body of heavy infantry. Some distance from Bedriacium, the contending armies met in a decisive confrontation. The battle lasted throughout the night, and proved to be a savage, confusing struggle whose outcome remained uncertain until dawn when the men of the Legio III Gallica, imbued with a certain Syrian custom after many years of service in the orient, turned and saluted the rising sun. The Vitellians misunderstood the gesture, and concluded that the Third Legion was acknowledging the arrival of reinforcements. Using the dissemination of this misinformation to best advantage, the Flavian cohorts vigorously advanced as if supported by fresh divisions. The ruse worked to further demoralize an enemy already weakened by a lack of leadership, and Antonius seized the opportunity to launch an assault against the opposing line. The forceful attack broke the Vitellian formation, and a subsequent attempt to reform proved futile because the oppressed cohorts were driven back among their own supply wagons and artillery. Unable to recover, Vitellius’ forces dissolved into headlong retreat toward Cremona, pursued by the victorious troops of Vespasian.

Via Salaria

AD 69, 20-21 December (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – In preparation for marching his legions into Rome, Flavian general Marcus Antonius Primus sent an advance column of 1,000 cavalry along the Salarian Way with orders to enter the north-eastern part of the city and secure the Colline Gate. As the detachment of horsemen led by Quintus Petilius Cerialis approached their destination, they encountered a Vitellian force, consisting of both infantry and cavalry, blocking the Via Salaria. The resulting battle occurred in a developed area outside the city walls where the maze of buildings, gardens and winding streets proved a liability for Cerialis’ troops. At the same time, the familiar surroundings permitted the Vitellians to exploit the situation to best tactical advantage and eventually put the enemy to ?ight. The subsequent pursuit by the victors lasted only as far as the town of Fidenae, some 5 miles (8km) north of Rome on the same highway.


AD 69, 20-21 December (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The Roman civil war that followed the death of Nero in the early summer of AD 68 climaxed eighteen months later in the autumn of 69 with an intense struggle between the armies of Emperor Aelius Vitellius and his challenger, the veteran legatus, Titus Flavius Vespasianus. Following the victory of Flavian legions at Bedriacum (Calvatone) in northern Italy, Vespasian’s lieutenant, Marcus Antonius Primus, marched south toward Rome with the intention of finishing the conflict. Advancing along the Via Flaminia, Antonius’ army arrived in late evening at Saxa Rubra, a village located some 6 miles (9.6km) north of the capital. Here he learned that a 1,000-man cavalry detachment, dispatched by him earlier under the com- mand of Quintus Petilius Cerialis, had been defeated on the Via Salaria near Rome. Further, it appeared the preponderance of popular support in the city was for Vitellius. While the army halted temporarily on the far side of the river, a senatorial delegation arrived with a peace proposal for Antonius, soon followed by Vestals bearing letters from Vitellius requesting the Flavians delay their march until the next day. The general was inclined to accede to the request and camp near the Milvian Bridge, but the legions refused to stop their advance and demanded Antonius continue on despite the late hour. Once the Flavians resumed their march, they divided into three columns: one force continuing along the Flaminian Way, a second to the right of the highway following the banks of the Tiber and a third approaching the Colline Gate on the north-eastern side of the city. The Vitellians countered by deploying troops ahead of each of these columns. As a result, widespread fighting occurred near the northern and north-eastern walls of the city, on the Campus Martius and in the Sixth, or Alta Semita, Region of the city. In addition, Antonius’ legions encountered particularly stiff resistance at the Castra Praetoria, which only ended after the complete destruction of the veteran praetorian cohorts of the emperor. After hours of combat, the Flavian divisions finally gained control of the city in late afternoon. By that time Vitellius was dead, murdered by soldiers earlier in the day.

The End of the Roman Empire I


The boy Romulus Augustulus is commonly said to have been the last Roman emperor in the West. He was deposed and superseded in AD 476 by a German officer called Odoacer, who had served under various Roman commanders. Odoacer was content to rule as king of Italy, recognizing the suzerainty of the eastern emperor in Constantinople, and unconcerned to claim the traditional imperial titles and honours for himself. Romulus, in any case, had been a usurper, raised to power by his father’s coup d’ état, and he was not recognized by the eastern emperor. However, the abandonment of the imperial title has a symbolic significance and provides historians of ancient Rome with a pretext for closing their account.

There is no obvious valedictory date for Roman history. Any event identified as terminal must in reality be a symbolic ending. For Graeco-Roman civilization did not collapse or explode. It was simply transmuted, by a gradual process, out of recognition; in many ways its institutions, assumptions and attitudes are still with us, having survived and revived in disguised and undisguised forms during the passage of the centuries. However, it is increasingly difficult, as time advances, for any history to be a world history, and our sense of form decrees that every story should have a beginning, middle and end. Apart from Romulus Augustulus, there are various possible stopping places for the historian of ancient civilization.

In 395, the great if somewhat bigoted Christian Emperor Theodosius died, bequeathing the Roman world to his two ineffectual sons Arcadius and Honorius, the first of whom exercised imperial power in the East, the second in the West: a situation which perpetuated discord between the two halves of the Empire. The administrative distinction foreshadowed in Diocletian’s arrangements gave political expression to the pre-existing cultural and linguistic difference between the Greek East and the Latin West. The difference has left its mark on ecclesiastical history. Perhaps, therefore, we might assign “the end of the Roman Empire” to the point at which it ceased to be a unity: ie, the death of Theodosius the Great.

On the other hand, the dignity and power of the Roman Empire were astonishingly restored by the conquests of the inspired eastern Emperor Justinian, who reigned as Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus, assuming the title of “Augustus” at his coronation in 527. Justinian extended his authority into Africa, Italy and Spain, where his armies prevailed against the Vandal and Gothic invaders. He also maintained alternating war and diplomatic relations with the Persians on his eastern frontier. Justinian’s services to the arts of peace were also outstanding. He initiated many works of architecture and civil engineering; his most magnificent achievement in this respect was, of course, the building of Constantinople’s great cathedral Santa Sophia (“The Holy Wisdom”). Justinian has also been immortalized by his contribution to the legal faculty. His codification of Roman Law was at least as monumental a work as the building of Santa Sophia. Unfortunately, his reign, like that of many Byzantine emperors, was troubled by theological disputes which obsessed not only the clergy but the population at large. As often in history, religious differences provided rallying points for political ambitions and aspirations. In Constantinople, opinions became war-cries, indicative of allegiance. If you backed the green charioteer in the circus, you believed certain things about the relationship of the Father to the Son and at the same time favoured one branch of the imperial family rather than another. Allegiances, on analysis, are always “package deals”, but Constantinople produced a reductio ad absurdum of the incorrigible human tendency to faction.

After Justinian’s death in 565, his far-flung Empire soon collapsed, and for a time Constantinople was well content only to defend its own walls. But again, great emperors like Heraclius (610–641) and Leo the Isaurian (717–740) saved civilization. The last of the western provinces to survive was the “exarchate” of Ravenna. This finally fell to the Lombards (Longobards), a Germanic people who had for long occupied the north Italian territory which still bears their name. Perhaps the fall of Ravenna in 751 is another suitable terminus for Roman history. It is, of course, equally possible to propose a much earlier date, and as such, the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410 suggests itself. But this again must be regarded as a purely symbolic event. Rome at this time was not even the capital of a prefecture or its subdivision, a diocese, as the civil departments of Diocletian’s and Constantine’s Empire had been termed. It was certainly not a city of any military consequence. It was simply, as ancient Athens had long ago become, a venerated tourist centre, almost a kind of museum.

The Eastern Front

Justinian was one of many emperors who would have been glad to live on terms of peaceful coexistence with the Persians – even if he had to pay for the privilege. But the Persians were not so minded. They well understood the manpower difficulties of their old adversaries, and while the eastern and western Empires were assailed by a multitude of barbarians on other frontiers, the Sassanid rulers saw fit to take their opportunity.

Since the defeat of Valerian and the retribution exacted in the name of Rome by Odenatus, the tide of war on the Euphrates frontier had ebbed and flowed recurrently. Galerius, Diocletian’s faithful “Caesar”, had at first suffered defeat (near Carrhae again) at the hands of the Persian king Narses. However, he amply avenged the disaster, and in the following year (AD 298) Rome’s eastern frontier was pushed still farther eastward, across Mesopotamia as far as the Tigris.

In the year 359, Shapur II, bent on restoring Persian fortunes, led his armies into Mesopotamia and captured several Roman frontier fortresses. Reacting to the eastern emergency, Constantius II was obliged to recall troops from Gaul, and the resentful army there proclaimed Julian, his “Caesar” on the western front, as “Augustus”. But frontier pressures being what they were, before the imperial rivals could find leisure to fight each other, Constantius died, and Julian was left as sole emperor to vindicate Roman power and prestige in the East. He led his army along the Euphrates, assisted by river transport, and at a point some 50 miles (80km) from Babylon, taking advantage of an ancient canal, conveyed his ships across to the Tigris. Here, however, instead of investing the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, he was lured into a further eastern march, in which lengthening lines of communication produced horrible privations for his troops. Even where the country was fertile, the enemy had devastated it. The Persians harassed him as the Parthians had harassed Roman armies in earlier times. In this campaign, Julian died of a wound, and the Persians soon recovered Mesopotamia from the inadequate officer whom his bereaved troops acclaimed as an imperial successor. Perhaps in this long story of border warfare, the Romans – or at any rate their Byzantine representatives – may he regarded as having the last word. For the Emperor Heraclius, after a protracted series of campaigns, overcoming a formidable alliance between the Persians and the barbarian Avars north of the Black Sea (626), finally destroyed the army of the Persian king Khusru (Chosroes II) in a battle near Nineveh.

The Persian Empire was by this time thoroughly weakened and already confronted by other enemies than Rome. In 454, the Persians had to meet an invasion of the White Huns, a branch of the Central Asiatic horde which already menaced a great part of the Eurasian continent. Perhaps if the Sassanids had not squandered their energies in futile wars with Rome for very limited gains, they would have been better able to resist the Arabs who, early in the seventh century, fired by the message of their Prophet, defied Persian Zoroastrianism with a fanaticism greater than its own.

Yet while it is possible to regard the wars of Romans and Persians as having a merely exhausting effect on both sides, these wars provided a training ground and were the source of many military lessons. The Romans conducted their frontier defence in the East with great sophistication, and the small fortress garrisons of the Euphrates frontier on more than one occasion showed their heroism. The Romans also learned much from Persian methods of fighting. Chain-mailed and plate-armoured horsemen, at the time when the Notitia Dignitatum was compiled, formed a regular part of the Roman army, a development which had started with Trajan. There seems to have been even an attempt to evolve a hybrid from the light mounted bowman and heavily armed lancer. For we learn of armoured archers on horseback (equites sagittarii clibanarii). There is, however, no record of their successful application in action.

Hostile and Friendly Goths

Of all the barbarian peoples who penetrated the Roman Empire in the later centuries of its history, the Goths made the deepest impression. They were a Germanic people of Scandinavian origin, who had begun their southward migration about the beginning of the Christian era. Evicted by Claudius “Gothicus” in the third century AD, they again exerted pressure in the fourth. Aurelian had allowed the West Goths (Visigoths) to settle north of the Danube in what had previously been the Roman province of Dacia. The East Goths (Ostrogoths), who had formed another group, had occupied the region of the Ukraine.

At the end of the fourth century, the Goths were under heavy pressure from the migratory movements of east European and Asiatic peoples, and sought the right to settle within Roman territory. The Roman Emperor Valens, then occupied in war against Persia, strove to ensure, through his commanders on the Balkan front, that the Goths should be disarmed before they were admitted as settlers, but he was unable to enforce this precaution. The unrelenting eastern pressures were driving successive waves of barbarian tribes across the Danube and the Rhine, and Valens was eventually obliged to return from the East in order to take command himself. In a violent battle near Adrianople (378) he was defeated by the immigrants and killed. His body was never recovered. Imperial prestige suffered badly. The Emperor’s cavalry had fled and his infantry been annihilated.

Even after this great Roman disaster, however, the Goths did not overrun the Empire. In the first place, they were unable to capture Roman fortified points, lacking both the skill and the equipment requisite for assault on fortifications. Secondly, the Romans were saved, as often in the past, by a great general who rallied their armies when the situation seemed desperate. The saviour on this occasion was Theodosius, a gifted officer raised to the imperial power by the surviving “Augustus”, Flavius Gratianus (Gratian), in order to cope with the emergency. Theodosius solved the manpower problem by enrolling friendly Christian Goths, already settled within the Empire, to resist the invaders. A treaty was at last made with the immigrants, according to which they were allowed to settle within the Empire, south of the lower Danube, as a confederate people under their own rulers, but serving under Roman officers in time of war. This was very much what they had wanted in the first place.

For Theodosius’ policy of absorbing the barbarians whom he could not evict, there was an ample precedent. Such absorption was in the essence of Roman political instinct; it can be instanced in the earliest days of the Republic and in the later recognition of client kingdoms. Faced with everlengthening numerical odds, caused not only by migratory pressure but also by expanding barbarian populations, the Roman Emperor could hardly have done better. It was indeed an imaginative solution. However, the point had been reached when absorption of barbarians could more appropriately be described as dilution of Romans among barbarians.

This situation, like the Persian Wars, led increasingly to the adoption of alien arms and armour by the imperial forces. In the time of Theodosius, the legionary, with his characteristic crested helmet and cuirass, was still a recognizable Roman type. But at the same time, legions were beginning to use exotic weapons such as the spatha – a long broadsword – which had in Tacitus’ day been employed only by foreign auxiliaries in the Roman army. Instead of the pilum, some infantry units were now armed with the lancea, a lighter javelin, to which extra precision and impetus could be given by the use of an attached sling strap. The terms spiculum and vericulum also indicate new types of missile weapons. The general tendency was towards lighter kinds of throwing spears.

Goths in Revolt

In AD 388, with the help of a German general, Theodosius had suppressed the rebellion of Magnus Maximus, a military pretender based on Britain, who had extended his power to Gaul and Spain and finally invaded the central provinces of the Empire. Theodosius’ German general then turned against him and supported another pretender in Rome, but the Emperor promptly marched from Constantinople into Italy and extinguished both the Roman rival and his German supporter. Events took this course because Theodosius was a strong emperor, able to fight his own wars. Under weak or pusillanimous emperors, the real power lay with their commanders-in-chief, and these commanders-in-chief were frequently of Germanic barbarian origin.

The Goths whom Theodosius had settled south of the Danube remained loyal to him during his lifetime. But their chief, Alaric, who had commanded a Gothic contingent during the Italian campaign, aspired to a higher appointment, and after Theodosius’ death he led his people in revolt. Under Alaric’s leadership, the Goths from the Danube settlement (Lower Moesia), after briefly threatening the walls of Constantinople, marched southward through Thrace and ravaged Macedonia and north Greece. They were checked, however, by the very able Western commander-in-chief, Stilicho, the only officer who was able to cope with Alaric. As a result of political intrigue, the Emperor Arcadius at Constantinople ordered Stilicho off Eastern territory. Stilicho obeyed, and Alaric was then free to continue his march southwards.

Athens paid the Goths to go away, but they invaded the Peloponnese. Arcadius, having had time to think again, appealed to Stilicho to come back – and Stilicho came. He reached Corinth with his army by sea, outmanoeuvred the Goths in the Peloponnese and forced Alaric to make peace. By a new treaty, the Goths received land to the east of the Adriatic, and Alaric was proclaimed king of Illyria. It was not a solution which was expected to last, and it did not.

Alaric’s attitude seems to have been in some ways ambiguous. He had at first been ambitious for promotion in the Roman army, but when disappointed had eagerly espoused the cause of nationalistic Gothic independence, which enjoyed a considerable vogue among the Balkan Visigoths over whom he ruled. The agreement which he reached with Stilicho seems temporarily to have satisfied both his Roman and his Gothic aspirations, for while recognized as king by the Gothic population, he was also granted the title of Master of the Armed Forces in Illyricum – a top Roman appointment.

“Master of the Armed Forces” was a title which had become important under Theodosius. In the time of Constantine the Great, the Master of the Horse (Magister Equitum) and Master of Foot (Magister Peditum) had been separate appointments. But Theodosius combined the two into a single command (Magister utrius quo militiae). Officers so ranking might be attached to the emperor’s staff or given authority over specified regions, as Alaric was in Illyricum. In the West, the divided command of horse and foot persisted until a later date, but under an emperor like Theodosius’ son Honorius, who was no soldier himself, the need for a unified command became imperative, and the commander-in-chief, who automatically received patrician social status on appointment, came to be known, curiously, as the Patrician. The old term patricius, originally applied to aristocratic members of the early Republic, had been revived by Constantine as an honorary title, but in the fifth century AD it was often held by successful barbarian officers and indicated supreme military command.

The Vandals

Stilicho, like Alaric, was an officer of barbarian origin. He differed in being not a Goth, but a Vandal. In the fifth century AD, the Vandals were a very active Germanic people, but in comparison with other barbarian nations, they were not numerous. Their earliest recorded homeland was in south Scandinavia but, migrating southwards, by the end of the second century AD they had become the restless western neighbours of Gothic settlements north of the Danube. A further migration was made as a result of pressure from the Huns, and in 406 the Vandals crossed the Rhine, ravaged and plundered Gaul, then made their way into Spain. In these wanderings, they were accompanied by the Alans from south Russia, but the Visigoths in Spain, acting under Roman influence, attacked them fiercely and virtually exterminated one section of their community.

In 429, under the most celebrated of their kings, Gaiseric, the Vandals, with their Alan associates, crossed into Africa. Their entire population is reported at this time to have been only 80,000 strong. Probably, not more than 30,000 of these will have been fighting men. The number is small when one remembers Ammianus Marcellinus’ instance of a single German tribe which in the course of 60 years had increased its population from 6,000 to 59,000. Gaiseric soon exerted full control over north Africa. Like other Germanic nations, the Vandals had made contact with Christianity before they entered Roman imperial territory. Like many other Germans, also, they had been converted to an heretical form of Christianity (Arianism). Gaiseric was an ardent Arian and persecuted the Catholic Christians of north Africa with fanatical zeal.

The Vandals were notable as a seagoing nation. Perhaps the experience of the African immigration opened their eyes to the further possibilities of water transport. Gaiseric acquired a fleet and used it for the purpose of widespread piracy, against which the western Mediterranean, by the end of the fifth century, had absolutely no protection. It may seem surprising that a nation with a long history of overland migration should have developed in this way, but the Goths, who had similarly reached the Mediterranean in the third century, had quickly adapted themselves to maritime conditions and launched sea-borne raids on the Black Sea and further south into the Aegean.

Certainly, the seafaring habit seems to have taken deep root among the Vandals and it perhaps antedates even the Vandal occupation of Africa. At the end of the fourth century, Stilicho, adhering to the traditional methods of his compatriots, transported his army to Corinth by sea. After he had come to terms with Alaric in 397, he dispatched another sea-borne force to north Africa to quell a rebellion in that province. Clearly, Rome’s great Vandal generalissimo was in undisputed command of central and western Mediterranean waters. History suggests that Stilicho and Gaiseric studied in the same strategic school.

The weakness of the Vandals, of course, lay in the paucity of their numbers, and in this they may be contrasted sharply with many other barbarian nations, who could rely on numbers to compensate for lack of military skill and sophisticated armament. For this reason, the renowned Byzantine general, Belisarius, acting on behalf of the Emperor Justinian, was able in the sixth century to cross with a fleet into Africa and crush the Vandal kingdom completely. It never revived. We should also notice, in this context, that Greek seafaring tradition in the East, given full support from Constantinople, was still able to provide a bulwark against organized piracy during centuries when the seas and shores of the West were hopelessly exposed to such attackers.

The End of the Roman Empire II

The Invasion of Italy

Stilicho, by his treaty with Alaric in Greece, had bought himself time to deal with other enemies – notably some north African rebels. Alaric, for his part, had obtained an excellent springboard for attack on Italy. In addition, Illyricum contained mines and arsenals from which his troops could be supplied. His offensive in the year AD 400 was well planned and had been preceded by negotiations with Ostrogothic settlers north of the Alps. As Alaric advanced round the Adriatic his allies descended from the mountains. But Stilicho was able to deflect this pincer movement, which was perhaps mistimed, and by prompt action compelled the northern enemies to retire before he confronted Alaric.

Like other barbarians, the Goths found difficulty in penetrating fortifications. Even so, the Emperor Honorius, placing little reliance on his fortress of Asta (Asti), abandoned the area of Milan and took up residence in Ravenna, where the marshes provided additional security. Stilicho, after a campaign of much manoeuvring and a fierce battle at Pollentia, inflicted a final defeat on Alaric near Verona in 403, thus securing the return of the Gothic commander and his army to Illyricum. In the following year, the Ostrogoths again attacked from the north, and on this occasion Stilicho defeated them decisively, sold many of the survivors into slavery and enrolled others in his own army.

In 407, another military usurper emerged from Britain, while the activities of Vandals and other barbarians in Gaul occupied Stilicho’s attention. Alaric, alive to his opportunity, supported by fresh Danubian allies, led his people round to Noricum (Austria), north of the Alps, and received from the Emperor that territory, with a substantial payment in gold, as the price of quiescence at a difficult moment. The Emperor was closely connected by marriage with Stilicho, who virtually controlled the Western Empire during these years. But the great general suddenly fell from power, and Honorius foolishly had him executed.

There was now no commander in the West capable of placing any restraint upon Alaric, who at once asked for more gold and more land. When these were refused, he invaded Italy and marched on Rome. He raised the siege of the city when the Emperor temporized, but soon renewed it when negotiations broke down. He was thus enabled to impose an emperor of his own choosing in Rome, but quickly became disappointed with his choice and impatiently deposed the puppet. Further attempts to negotiate with Honorius at Ravenna proved fruitless, and after a third siege Alaric’s men were surreptitiously admitted to Rome by some Gothic slaves within the walls. The Gothic army plundered the city for three days, but did comparatively little damage. With Stilicho gone, the sea was open to Alaric, and he aimed at North Africa. Unfortunately for his purpose, the fleet which he had assembled at Rhegium was destroyed by a storm, and he himself died soon after (410). He was buried in a river bed to ensure that his last resting place should not be disturbed.

The Gothic capture of Rome hardly amounted to a “sack”. There was certainly enough booty left to reward the efforts of Gaiseric’s Vandal raiders when they arrived by sea and captured the city in 455. Gaiseric carried away the Jewish temple treasures which Titus had appropriated four centuries earlier. Ships, as the Vandals well understood, were useful for the transport of moveables. The Vandal king also made prisoner the two daughters of the Emperor Valentinian III, one of whom he married to his son. The other, apparently not required, was sent home.

Imaginative illustrations of Rome’s barbarian invaders easily leave the impression that they swept into the Empire with irresistible verve in a series of cavalry charges. Consideration of the foregoing facts, however, suggests a different view. Stilicho and Alaric, in their wars, were extremely cautious, frequently preferring manoeuvre and negotiated peace to pitched battle and bloody victory. Alaric, like Stilicho, was one of Theodosius’ old officers, and his outlook on warfare was that of a professional soldier. Moreover, the people over whom he ruled, though they invaded Italy, as the legions of rebellious Roman generals had often done in the past, were not invaders of the Empire. They were simply a dissatisfied immigrant community, asserting what they considered their rights as members of the Roman world.

The Fate of Roman Britain

In considering these years, when chaos engulfed the centre of the Empire, we may understandably feel curiosity as to the fate of Britain, situated at the circumference. In AD 410, answering a request for military aid against barbarian invaders, Honorius advised the Roman community of Britain to arrange for its own defence. Like other parts of the Empire, Britain was under attack, and the attackers were no longer merely the Picts (Painted-men). They were Germanic tribes from Frisia and the mouth of the Rhine. The term “Saxon” at first denoted a particular tribe; later, it was applied with little discrimination to Germanic peoples who inhabited the regions around the mouth of the Rhine and the North Sea coast.

At the end of the third century, Constantius, father of Constantine the Great, after eliminating Carausius and his successor, improved a chain of forts, which Carausius and other commanders had established, to defend the “Saxon Shore” – ie, the south and east coasts of Britain and the Channel coast of Gaul. The idea of such a defence may indeed have originated with Carausius. The Saxon-shore forts were much bigger than earlier Roman forts in Britain, and they relied upon massive masonry, not merely stone-faced earthworks. Imposing ruins are still visible and nine British forts are listed in the Notitia Dignitatum. Ammianus Marcellinus mentions that these defences were placed under the command of a “Count of the Saxon Shore” (Comes litoris Saxonici), while in the north, the Wall was the responsibility of the “Duke” (dux) of Britain who had his headquarters at York. In the time of Diocletian and Constantine, dux, that general term for a leader or guide, had become the specific title of an officer in charge of frontier defence. It was later applied to the chiefs of barbarian tribal groupings too small to qualify for rule by kings. Similarly, comes, meaning literally a “companion”, had denoted membership of the emperor’s staff. Under Constantine, it became a title for high-ranking officers and officials.

In 367, Saxons, acting in collusion with Scots (who came originally from Ireland) and Picts, overran Britain. Like other barbarians, they failed to capture the strongly fortified towns, but damage done to a previously flourishing rural community was severe, and the Duke of Britain and the Count of the Saxon Shore were both killed. The situation was restored by the valiant Roman general Theodosius (father of the Emperor Theodosius the Great), who drove out the barbarians, rebuilt fortifications, and established a valuable line of signal stations on the Yorkshire coast to give advance warning of sea-borne attack.

After two imperial pretenders, Magnus Maximus (385) and the upstart Flavius Claudius Constantinus (407) had drafted troops away from the island in support of their southward adventures, Britain was again left virtually undefended, though in the intervening period (395) Stilicho had done something to reorganize garrison forces. After Honorius’ negative reaction in 410, we can rely on little but archaeological evidence for our knowledge of Roman military administration in the island.

To this obscure epoch must be assigned the exploits of the legendary King Arthur – in so far as they have any real historical basis. A Romano-British chief named Artorius perhaps resisted the Saxon invaders. Gildas, the Celtic monk, writing in Latin in the sixth century, records a great British victory in the Wessex area in about AD 500, and Nennius, a ninth-century chronicler, associates this victory with the name of Arthur, which he gives as that of a victorious general, not a king.

Aetius surveys the Catalaunian fields. Aetius was still generalissimo of the west, and as we know from Merobaudes’ second panegyric, he had been anticipating the possibility of a Hunnic assault on the west from at least 443.

The Defeat of the Huns

In AD 446, Roman Britain made its last known appeal for imperial help to Flavius Aëtius, the commander-in-chief (Patrician) of the Emperor Valentinian III, grandson of the great Theodosius. But Aëtius was already heavily engaged against other barbarians – who were soon to include the Huns. It was, of course, inevitable that the Huns, whose westward progress had precipitated the migration of other peoples, should sooner or later appear in their own persons. The reputation of the Huns is well known. Their cruelty was often without malice, and their malice was too terrible to contemplate. Nevertheless, in their early contacts with the Roman world, they had sometimes been enrolled in the imperial service, and Stilicho had been served by a very faithful Hunnish bodyguard.

The boastful menaces of Attila, who became sole king of the Huns in 445, suggest something of a buffoon but, far from that, he must have been a commander of very shrewd ability. Under his rule, the Huns dominated and terrorized wide tracts of Europe and Asia, but their power collapsed after his death. Apart from Attila’s leadership, the main strength of the Huns, as of other barbarians, lay in their immense number, swollen as it was in their case by the addition of many subject peoples. They were a Mongoloid nation of hunters and shepherds from the steppes of central Asia and, as one might expect, they extensively employed the horse and the bow for warlike as well as peaceful purposes. But the trappings of their horses were of gold and their sword hilts were inlaid with gold and precious stones. Indeed, they had an insatiable appetite for gold, and were usually willing to refrain from hostilities if offered sufficient of it. Attila had inherited from his father a royal capital “city” in Pannonia (Hungary). It was built of wood but contained a stone bath-house. From this base, Attila was able to threaten the Bosphorus. The Emperor paid him gold and ceded him territory, but though the Huns had ravaged the Eastern Empire, they could not hope to prevail against the impregnable walls of Constantinople.

Meanwhile. the Western Emperor’s sister, Honoria, who for her past sins had been relegated by pious relatives to a condition of perpetual chastity, for which she had no vocation, offered herself secretly to Attila, and he would have been willing to concede her the status of concubine in return for a dowry of half the Western Empire. But these terms were rejected and Attila unleashed an attack against Gaul and Western Europe.

Aëtius, the Patrician, as commander-in-chief, now formed an alliance with his old Visigothic enemies in Gaul, and halted Attila’s advance at Orléans, The combined Imperial and Gothic forces then inflicted a bloody defeat upon the Huns in the “Catalaunian Plain”, somewhere near Châlons. This battle has been reckoned as one of the most decisive in the world’s history, but considering its violence, it decided very little. The defeated enemy was not pursued. Attila retreated to his wooden capital in Pannonia and the next year launched a major offensive into Italy. He requisitioned siege-engines with their operators, and after a three-month investment utterly destroyed Aquileia. Some fugitives escaped to the Adriatic lagoons, where their refugee settlement eventually gave rise to the city of Venice.

Attila was now met near Lake Garda by Pope Leo (the Great) who dissuaded him from marching southward against Rome. The Huns, though not Christians, tended to regard any religion with awe, and much was due to the personality of Leo, whose deterrent influence was again successfully exercised three years later when Gaiseric’s Vandals entered Rome. At the same time, Attila exacted a promise that Honoria and the treasure which constituted the moveable portion of her dowry should be surrendered to him, failing which, hostilities would be renewed. However, before the promise could be fully carried out, he died suddenly, having burst a blood vessel on his first night with a new concubine (453). Without their leader, the Huns ceased to be a serious menace and were soon annihilated, dispersed or expelled by the combined efforts of Goths and other Germanic barbarians who opposed them.

Aëtius, who defeated Attila in Gaul, was the son of a Count (comes) of Africa. In his youth, he had been a hostage among the Huns and during his sojourn among them learnt much of their customs, establishing some friendship with them. Indeed, Aëtius originally imposed his power at Ravenna with the help of Hunnish auxiliaries, and expectation that he might again need their aid explains his reluctance to pursue them after his great victory in Gaul.

Aëtius was a colourful character. History credits him, during the confused civil strife that followed Honorius’ death, with having killed one of his professional rivals in single combat. He was eventually stabbed to death by his imperial master, Valentinian, whose jealousy recalls that of Honorius for Stilicho.

The Defences of Constantinople

Although the Goths and the Huns were able to exact ever-increasing payments in gold as an inducement to spare the territories of the Eastern Empire, both Alaric and Attila realized that they had little prospect of capturing Constantinople itself, and they did not waste time and effort in the attempt. We have already drawn attention to the ideal strategic position of the city. A plan of Constantinople will show it to be built on a roughly triangular promontory: the profile of a vulture-like beak, across the landward base of which a heavily fortified wall extends from the Sea of Marmara in the south to an arm of the Bosphorus (The Golden Horn) in the north.

The original wall of Constantine, damaged by an earthquake in AD 401, was promptly repaired by Arcadius, but during the minority of his son and successor Theodosius II, the Praetorian Prefect Anthemius demolished the old walls and built new (413). These ramparts were again ruined by an earthquake, but in the year 447 they were rebuilt in three months. Situated one mile to the west of the line traced by Constantine, Theodosius’ walls enclosed a city of double the area, and in the space between the old and the new walls the Imperial Gothic guard was stationed.

The outer face of the fortifications was protected by a broad, deep moat. An attacker who overcame this obstacle would then be confronted by a breastwork approximately equal to his own height, and some 40 feet (12m) behind this, as an inner defence, stood a chain of towers, linked by a curtain wall 26 feet (8m) high. The fourth line of defence was the main city wall itself, lying back at a further distance of 66 feet (20m), 43 feet (13m) in height, and fortified by great towers from which enfilading showers of missiles could be directed into the flanks of the assailants. Other walls of solid masonry defended the perimeter of the city where it was adjacent to the sea. These embraced the whole headland and connected with the land walls at either end. They consisted, like the land walls, of a double rampart, fortified by towers at brief intervals. The Golden Horn itself was guarded against enemy naval attack by a chain boom.

However, the walls of the capital might not have been enough to defend its inhabitants, if they had not given a high priority to naval strength. The Byzantine fleet made use mainly of light galleys (dromones in Greek), the equivalent of the liburnae used by Augustus. Clearly, with their ever-pressing need to conserve manpower, the Eastern emperors could not have afforded to develop the multireme leviathans of earlier times. The Byzantine vessels also made considerable use of sails, and they often featured several masts, which – contrary to earlier Roman and Greek practice – were not dismounted during action. From their Arab enemies of a later date, the Byzantines also adopted the triangular lateen sail.

Relying, in the tradition of Graeco-Roman civilization, on science and technique to defeat overwhelming enemy odds, the Byzantines produced a secret weapon, which for many centuries gave them a decisive advantage. This was a type of flame missile, which was used with devastating effect against enemy ships. Many combustible mixtures employed in the Middle Ages were loosely termed “Greek Fire”. The precise Byzantine compound was based on ingredients which are unknown, for it was a well-kept secret, but the characteristic of the original Greek Fire was that it ignited – or was at least not quenched – on contact with water. This suggests that quicklime was an element, and it must also be remembered that petroleum, known to the Greeks as naphtha (Persian naft), was available in surface deposits in Babylonia. The invention of Greek Fire was attributed to Callinicus, a Greek engineer from Heliopolis in Syria, who lived in the reign of the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus (668-685). Greek Fire was sometimes projected in containers in the manner of grenades, but it was also released through tubes, with which Byzantine warships were specially fitted.

Apart from the defence of Constantinople itself, the Byzantines maintained a flotilla to patrol the Danube, and behind this river frontier Justinian built a four-line system of nearly 300 fortresses and watchtowers to defend the Empire at what had for many centuries proved to be its most vulnerable point.

It should be noticed that even in Justinian’s day, when Constantinople was the focus of an expansionist strategy which emulated the era of the first Augustus and his immediate successors, war on some fronts remained defensive. While Africa was being won from the Vandals, Italy from the Ostrogoths, and southern Spain from the Visigoths, repeated military efforts in the East were necessary to hold the Sassanid Persians at bay. Inevitably, with the death of Justinian, the Byzantines, deprived of dynamic leadership, reverted to a defensive strategy, which in the centuries that followed was often barely enough to save the city itself from occupation by invading forces.

Despite Justinian’s Roman sentiments and aspirations, the army which manned his defences and fought his wars was far from being Roman in character. It was not any longer primarily an army of legionary foot soldiers, but of heavily mailed cavalry on the Persian model, and the weapons on which it chiefly relied were the lance and the bow. Even in the infantry, archers and javelin-throwers predominated. Light cavalry was supplied by Huns and Arabs. There was, of course, nothing un-Roman in using barbarian auxiliaries to combat barbarian enemies. Julius Caesar had done as much. It was simply a question of degree. Indeed, many of the gradual changes in equipment may be traced back to the second century AD.

Akkadian Military

Rear: Akkadian archer wielding a composite bow, from the time of Naram-Sin. Front: Babylonian foot-soldier from the time of Hammurabi. Ancient Warfare Magazine 2.5 by Karwansaray Publishing. Artwork by Johnny Shumate

If gods had transcendent powers, kings had armies, which they normally accompanied to the field in person. An important development in the Akkadian period was that Mesopotamian warfare was now waged much farther from the home base, whereas earlier hostilities were mostly between neighboring city-states. When Sargon listed his achievements in Enlil’s courtyard at Nippur, he singled out four: conquest, reform of administration, promotion of international trade, and the maintenance of a large, standing army. He alone, of all Mesopotamian rulers before or after him, states that he sustained 5400 fighting men every day in his service, so there was something new and important about this and the logistical support that made it possible. In the surviving art and commemorative inscriptions of the dynasty, military subjects prevail, though administrative documents dealing with military matters are rare or difficult to identify.

The armed forces consisted of several corps: archers, spearmen, and axe bearers, for distant, close, and hand-to-hand fighting respectively. Since spearmen could carry only one lance, to be thrown or thrust at close quarters, it seems likely that they also bore an axe or other hand weapon. They were backed up by soldiers bearing only axes. On his Victory Stele, Naram-Sin carries a bow, lance, and axe to symbolize the three main weapon types in his arsenal, but his men are armed more in keeping with reality. Immediately behind him march a spearman carrying an axe and two soldiers carrying a different type of axe and two standards. Next is an archer with an axe in one hand, then two men armed with what may be a throw-stick or a sling, carrying either short and long darts or a container of sling bullets. The soldiers at the head of columns are bearded, as was characteristic of the Akkadian elite; the men behind them appear to be clean-shaven.

The artist was at pains to differentiate the weapons. The Akkadian lances shown are of two types, one slightly longer than a man’s height and sometimes fitted with a knob at the butt end, the other shorter. The axes also vary: Naram-Sin’s has a narrow blade, an indented socket, and a point at the opposite end from the blade; the leading soldiers’ axes have blades more than twice as large as the king’s, set into a curved handle; other soldiers carry straight-handled axes. These distinctions perhaps represent specific contingents of the Akkadian army. The arms of the Lullubi foes are comparable, so the Akkadians were not shown as having superior weapons, unless the prominence of Naram-Sin’s bow is meant to suggest that Akkadian archery was superior. A general of archers appears among the Akkadian worthies for whom Manishtusu purchased land, and an entire team of arrow makers was maintained at Susa. The Akkadian soldiers have no body protection beyond their helmets, although in earlier depictions of soldiers they are shown wearing a heavy sash crossed over the chests. Their helmets are of two types, rounded and pointed. The former may be felt or leather, the latter copper.

The basic assault tactic may have been a triple shock: an initial barrage of arrows, darts, or sling bullets shot from a distance, then a charge of spearmen, who, once they had used their lances, wielded axes at close quarters, and finally a wave of reinforcements bearing axes. There is no evidence for the cumbersome battle wagons depicted in Sumerian art, although two and four-wheeled vehicles are known from Akkadian texts and from clay models. If in fact the Akkadian military did not rely on battle vehicles, this may account for the speed and mobility of the armed forces and their readiness to traverse rugged terrain, where no Sumerian army had ever gone. Enheduanna visualized an Akkadian assault in much the same terms:

I will aim a quivered shaft,

I will pour forth sling stones in a stream,

I will put some polish to my spear,

I will hold my shield and throw-stick ready.

Provisioning a field force of thousands in arid or mountainous territory presented a logistical challenge that the Akkadians met in two ways. First, they prepared for a campaign by acquiring detailed knowledge of the objective and its sources of water, as evidenced by a fragmentary itinerary carved on a stone monument, giving the precise marching distances between water-courses in the Khabur region. Second, they assembled adequate weaponry and food supplies, the latter in preference to foraging en route. Few records exist for this or tell where the arms were warehoused.26 A group of documents from Umma may record the provisioning of an Akkadian military force with large quantities of bread and beer, so Mesopotamian cities near troops on campaign may have been obliged to sustain them. At Girsu, 60 royal soldiers and a detachment of the “select” were issued five liters of fish and one liter of salt a month for three months, no doubt in addition to a basic food ration.

In the Umma records are a general (shakkanakkum), colonel or major (nubanda), captain (ugula), booty officer(?), the son of a governor in Syria (in training?), equerry, royal commissioner, door attendant, recruiter, courier, cupbearer, minister, quartermaster(?), šaperum with his clerk, quartermaster of garments(?), physician, porters, constable, an officer in charge of putting identification marks on (captured?) goods(? šaper ZAG.ŠUŠ), an ass herder, and an assortment of foreigners.

The Akkadian army was also accompanied by scribes, who kept the supply records (“scribe of the cupbearer”), counted the casualties, noted the names of high-ranking enemies, and perhaps sketched exotic landscapes, weaponry, military attire, and people for later commemorative purposes. A diviner consulted the gods for ongoing prognoses of tactical success or failure.

The king was supreme commander, the general the top field officer. Defeated kings and field commanders were recorded in victory inscriptions and depicted in reliefs. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, for instance, shows the enemy king in the top row, begging for mercy. Immediately below is probably his general of spearmen. Like the defeated king, he wears a special uniform, but carries a broken spear. Below him, the general of axe bearers also pleads for mercy, here from an advancing bowman.

The next command rank was the nu-banda, Akkadian laputtum, the officer in command of a battalion, likely of 600 men. At the town of Mugdan, near Kish, 90 iku of land (about 30 hectares), were set aside for a military force of unspecified size, commanded by a nu-banda. The leader of a smaller unit, such as a 60-man company or platoon, was the ugula, Akkadian waklum. The only reference to military organization is a comment by Sargon that he called up the nine “contingents” of Agade, implying that the military maintained muster lists of able-bodied men in the community who could be summoned to duty on short notice.

In the aftermath of a battle, it appears that defeated troops were stripped and executed or mutilated and enslaved. Beginning with the reign of Rimush, inscriptions specify how many enemies were killed in battle or captured. A relief, perhaps from the time of Rimush, shows the execution of unarmed, naked men begging for mercy. The enemy slain in battle were interred under a burial mound as a victory monument and a warning to the future. The Akkadian dead may have been included as well, or buried separately.36 Akkadian losses were never mentioned. A later poem about an Akkadian campaign refers to statues erected in honor of fallen warriors.

The king’s eyes and ears

If the divine warrior Shamash saw everything in the world, and all-wise Ea heard everything that was said, Akkadian kings needed the eyes and ears of others. Throughout the far-flung empire, a cadre of people loyal to the king watched over his political, economic, and strategic interests and reported on them regularly. Trusted officials traveled the realm to be shown resources, records, and livestock. When boats bound for the capital were loaded, for example, their cargoes were sometimes checked and sealed by a royal official who was not part of the local administrative hierarchy but an Akkadian notable. On one occasion a substantial stockpile of grain, silver, flour, and oil on an estate near Kish was shown to a royal inspector named GAL.ZU-sharrusin, who was likely an Akkadian notable. A royal inspector was also posted at the Akkadian center in Susa.

So important was inspection that it was sometimes carried out by a member of the royal family. Nabi-Ulmash, a son of Naram-Sin and governor of Tutub, made an inspection, as noted on a tablet from that city. An Akkadian seal may show a review of troops by a male kinsman of Manishtusu, labeled the “king’s brother,” although many other interpretations of this image have been offered. He is presumably the bearded figure in the center, with his hair dressed in the royal manner. Behind him stands the scribe Kalaki, owner of the seal, wearing a tasseled garment, while troops march by, eyes right and left. A chair-bearer accompanies the dignitaries.

There is no evidence for precisely how the king was kept informed, since no political or diplomatic archives exist from the Akkadian period comparable to the documents from Ebla. Naram-Sin states that he undertook a campaign after he heard of enemy activity, and he mentions that this enemy sent messages to “the lords of the Upper Lands,” but there is no indication as to how he learned of these matters. Letters were surely exchanged between courts, as known from the Ebla archives, but no Akkadian royal letter has survived or was copied into the later school curriculum. There are, however, later fabrications, some of humorous intent, such as a putative letter of Sargon, in which he summons an absurd array of court officials, but no soldiers, to accompany him on a campaign.

The sole extant letter addressed to a person at the highest level of authority is administrative, rather than political, in nature. Written in Sumerian, it concerns control of two parcels of land. evidently in dispute between two governors. Since an unpublished text records that Naram-Sin himself mediated a boundary dispute between two cities, this letter may have been sent to Sharkalisharri. The surviving manuscript is the file copy kept at Lagash, where the letter originated.

[Say to my lord]: This is what Puzur-Mama, governor of Lagash said: Sulum and E-apin, since the time of Sargon, belonged to the territory of Lagash. Ur-Utu, when he served as governor of Ur for Naram-Sin, paid 2 minas of gold for them. Ur-e, governor of Lagash, took them back. The consequence is that Puzur-Mama should [].

Of interest is the matter-of-fact tone. Like others of the Akkadian period, this letter offers none of the flowery salutations characteristic of later royal correspondence or even the blessings normative for private letters from the early second millennium on. Akkadian official written communication was apparently supposed to be a concise, factual, third-person statement, with a respectful request for authority or action. In rare instances, a letter of petition shifts to a more intimate second person, to add a note of urgency:

Thus says Iddin-Erra to Mesag: He has a remainder of 32, 425 liters of barley, plus 100,800 liters of barley that Ishar-beli gave him, total: 133,225 liters of barley. My barley is that very remainder, it is my barley he has. See here, my people are dying of hunger while even Gutians are receiving grain rations! My lord knows this. May he quickly do what is right. [So], my lord, do take (this matter) in hand!

But it may be that in oral communication artistry was more valued and expected. To judge from later asides to the scribes who were to read correspondence aloud, a letter such as Puzur-Mama’s may have served as an aide-mémoire for a fuller, more oratorical presentation of the message, the tablet itself proof that the speaker represented the petitioner. Support for this view may be provided by later scribal exercises in writing letters or prayers of petition. These often open with elaborate, carefully written salutations appealing to the specific aspects of the addressee’s powers that the writer wishes to call upon, and close with expressions of hope and blessing. Therefore one may wonder if Puzur-Mama’s letter was in fact presented more eloquently in oral form, with the speaker standing in a prayerful stance and embellishing the spare language of his brief in accordance with court etiquette.

In fact, the ideal spokesman for the king is described in the hymn about Nippur as a man who knows the royal will without a word being said:

His sublime courier, …, who relays his commands,

The command already spoken in his heart

He knows from it directly, he heeds it well.

He takes out with him his comprehensive will,

He seeks his blessing in reverent prayer, in solemn duty.

Transmission of commands was the task of a network of inter-city messengers, called riders or couriers, who could expect to receive food and lodging from local authorities along the way. What credentials they offered besides the documents they carried is unknown. A tablet with a seal impression or just a name on it may have served as a kind of introduction or passport; such tablets have turned up in administrative archives. On the community level criers or heralds were used.

Warships and Warfare at Sea in the Hellenistic Period

Ancient seafaring was largely dependent on weather conditions. Sailing was restricted to the annual sailing season and was only possible in good weather, and most voyages followed the coasts. This practice continued all over the world until steam engines became widely used in ships in the nineteenth century. The sailing season in the Mediterranean began in March and lasted until November; for the rest of the year the ships stayed in port unless an urgent voyage had to be made. Sailing in winter was avoided because cloud, fog and mist made navigation difficult and winter storms were dangerous. Seafarers preferred sailing close to the coast and used landmarks such as promontories and islands to locate their position. On longer voyages they would venture further out to sea but tried to ensure that the coast was always visible. They used the sun and night sky for navigation; the constellation of Ursa Minor was known in the ancient world as Stella Fenicia. The sailors were familiar with the winds and sea and land breezes and took advantage of them. Currents and tides did not generally play a significant role in Mediterranean seafaring except in narrow channels such as the Chian Strait, the Strait of Messina and the area of Syrtis Minor. Coastal routes were preferred, not only because of the protection they offered in bad weather but also because most of the ships, and especially the warships, had little room to store water and food, so easy access to the coast was essential to obtain supplies. This necessity became one of the basic elements in dictating strategy in ancient warfare at sea: warships could only operate in areas where they could reach the coast in order to take on water and food and rest their crews. As a result, the control of harbours and landing places was most important and this can be seen in the strategies adopted by Rome and Carthage during the conflicts.

Warships worked in cooperation with the army, to transport troops to attack and ravage enemy territory. Raids were intended to put political, economic and psychological pressure on the enemy. The rowers had multiple tasks to perform. As well as rowing and beaching the ships, they built siege engines when needed and fought on land. Fleets were used to escort transport vessels and to support or disrupt sieges. Sea battles resulted from situations where rival powers fought for control of territory that offered safe harbours and landing places; they were most likely to occur when one side was intent on taking over an area controlled by a rival. For example, in 260 in Mylae the Romans defeated the Punic fleet and then started to operate on the north coast of Sicily, and in 217 a Roman victory at the Ebro allowed Rome to extend its influence on the Spanish coast. During the Punic Wars there were many sea battles; in contrast, the First and Second Macedonian Wars saw no sea battles when the Roman navy established itself in Greece. This was because during these wars, Rome, with its allies, possessed overwhelming power at sea, which Philip of Macedon’s fleet was not strong enough to challenge.

The main shipbuilding materials were fir and pine. The types of warships used in the Punic Wars – the trireme, quadrireme, quinquereme and six, as well as the pentecontor and other smaller vessels – were the result of centuries of development in Mediterranean shipbuilding. Advances in naval design had been made in the eastern and western Mediterranean and they were quickly adopted by other states around the coast. There were significant differences between the fleets of the various cities as each city commissioned ships according to the fighting force it needed and could afford. Cities constructed their own versions of the main types of ships – for instance, there were several different types of trireme.

The earliest evidence that has come down to us about warships is in the Iliad. Homer describes how the Greeks used their oared warships – longships – to transport men and their equipment to the battlefield. In this period oarsmen sat on one level and each one pulled an oar. The ships were triacontors with thirty oars and pentecontors with fifty oars. At the end of the eighth century BC, however, as naval tactics changed and ramming became more important, a two-level arrangement of the oarsmen was introduced. By using the same number of oarsmen but on two levels, one above the other, the ships could be made shorter which increased the power, speed and agility that were needed when ramming. Pentecontors were used not only for war but for commerce and piracy as well. Specially constructed harbours were not needed for the ships of this period: they used natural landing places along the coasts, where they could be pulled onto shore to dry out after a voyage.

In these archaic societies, pentecontors were not built and maintained solely by the states, as in these archaic societies, pentecontors were not built and maintained solely by the states, as was the case later on with the more expensive triremes. Aristocrats owned ships and used them for various purposes. There was a horizontal social mobility of aristocratic families and individuals throughout the Mediterranean world. The Greek nobility used ships in war and diplomacy, to visit religious festivals and games, and they travelled abroad to keep up personal contacts with the leading families in other states. Similarly, the Carthaginians used ships to maintain contact with influential families in the Punic colonies as well as in Greek Sicily and Etruria, and the Etruscans were involved in trade and piracy. At the time, this activity was not regarded as dishonourable. Plundering was seen as one way to acquire wealth and status and so ships were used for piracy when the opportunity arose. The label ‘pirate’ was applied to an enemy to discredit him. Perhaps this explains why Etruscan and Tyrrhenian pirates are a common motif in Greek archaic literature and art and yet the Greeks probably behaved in a similar way at sea.

The next step in ship development was the trireme, in which oarsmen were located on three levels on each side of the ship. The new design was probably introduced at Sidon and Corinth at the end of the eighth century and the first part of the seventh century BC. The trireme was clearly a more powerful weapon than its predecessor but it was expensive to build and operate so only the wealthiest states could afford them. The pentecontor required fifty oarsmen and ten to twenty additional crew members and soldiers, while a trireme required a crew of about 210. As a result, triremes were adopted slowly and at different times by Mediterranean states. So, during the Persian Wars (490–479), while the trireme was the commonest type of ship, other types were still deployed – pentecontors continued to be operated in the sixth century BC and even later. However, by the beginning of the fifth century BC, the trireme had become the principal tool for projecting power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Carthaginians probably adopted triremes soon after they were invented and the Romans introduced them to their fleet in 311, when the offices of the duoviri navales – naval commissioners in charge of equipping and refitting the fleet – were introduced. While the wealthier states developed ever more sophisticated ships, triremes, pentecontors and triacontors continued to serve in the navies of the smaller states; for example, pentecontors were still deployed in the third century BC and triacontors in the second century BC.

The development of new types of ship had so far been concentrated in the eastern Mediterranean. In the fourth century BC, however, the focus shifted to the west, where the introduction of the quadrireme, the quinquereme and the six took place. This was the result of naval competition between Carthage and Syracuse that, together with Athens, were the major maritime cities of their time. Pliny states that, according to Aristotle, the Carthaginians invented the quadrireme. According to Diodorus, Dionysius invented the quinquereme. He probably also built sixes. These innovations in ship design and construction should be seen against the background of how the Greek colonists sought to put themselves on the map of a history shared with the old homeland. The Sicilians and especially the Syracusans sought to gain influence in the Greek world by making it clear that they were sharing the burden of fighting the barbarians. This attitude is revealed in the tendency of Greek texts to represent the battles against the barbarians in the east and west as happening in a synchronized manner: for example, Himera and Salamis in Herodotus; Pindar mentioning the battles of Salamis, Plataea and Himera as the crowing glory of the Athenians, Spartans and Syracusans respectively; and Timaeus highlighting the connection between Himera and Thermopylae. In effect, these authors were seeking to show that the west is superior to the east when it comes to fighting the barbarians. In this case, the leading role in shipbuilding and innovation in ship design had shifted to Syracuse, to the new Greek world, and these new vessels were used in their campaign against the barbarians, the Carthaginians. The new types of ship were quickly adopted by the navies in the east – quadriremes were in use at Sidon in 351 BC, and the Cypriot kings who came to support Alexander after the Battle of Issus in 333 had quinqueremes. In the fleet of the city of Tyre, which Alexander besieged, there were quadriremes and quinqueremes, and Alexander’s own fleet had both these types of ship. In Athens, quadriremes and quinqueremes are recorded in the naval lists starting from 330. According to Polybius, the Romans first introduced quadriremes, quinqueremes and sixes at the beginning of the First Punic War.

A quinquereme needed a crew of around 350. The aim with the new types of ship was to target the increasing problem of finding skilful oarsmen. In a trireme only one man sat to an oar, whereas in the ships of the higher denominations more than one man sat to an oar, thus only one skilled rower was needed for each oar-gang, the rest of the rowers being there for power. In a quadrireme, the oarsmen were probably located on two levels, with two men pulling each oar. In a quinquereme, the oarsmen were arranged on three levels, with the top and middle levels manned by two men pulling an oar.

All these warships were designed to operate using the same tactics as had been devised for triremes. They could be used to ram, in which case the agility and speed of the ship were important as the aim was to stop the enemy ship or to damage its oars so that it was immobilized and could easily be put out of action. Warships could also be used as platforms for hand-to-hand fighting and launching missiles, and soldiers, archers and javelin-throwers were included in the crews. Warships that were intended to be employed in this fashion required a more solid superstructure to accommodate the large number of fighting men and the hulls were modified to ensure greater stability. In consequence, such ships tended to be slow and less manoeuvrable.

Various ramming tactics were used. The diekplous or breakthrough was an operation in which ships were arranged in a column in front of the enemy. They then tried to break through the enemy line and, by using the ram, damage the hulls and oars of the enemy ships. The defensive tactic against a diekplous attack was to keep the ships close together, side by side, so that it was difficult for the attackers to find space between them. Alternatively, ships could be arranged in a two-line formation; the ships in the second line were positioned in order to stop any enemy ships that penetrated the first line. This method was used at the Battle of Ebro in 217 when the Romans, together with the Massilians, defeated a Punic fleet. Obviously, this tactic put the attackers at great risk as their ships might be rammed or lose their oars and become immobile, which would make them easy targets. In the manoeuvre known as periplous, attackers attempted to sail around the flank of the enemy ships so as to come at them from the rear. Diekplous and periplous tactics could only be carried out by well-trained and well-organized fleets and both types of tactic can be seen in operation in the battles of the First and Second Punic Wars.

Sails were used when possible, although rowing was considered to be faster – the average speed of a ship under oar was 7 or 8 knots. There are no surviving representations of how a trireme under sail appeared. Naval inventories, however, indicate that there were two masts on a ship. The main mast was probably located in the middle of the ship and another smaller mast at the front of the ship was probably raked and stepped forward. The sails were almost certainly rectangular. Battles always took place near a coast and, before the fighting started, all unnecessary weight, including the main mast and rigging, was removed and left on the coast so that the ships were as light and easy to manoeuvre as possible. During a battle, only oars were used. When breaking off a battle, the small sail at the front of the ship was raised on the second mast. As with battles on land, one side could refuse to engage. However, if the commanders chose to fight – or if they could not avoid it – they had to consider the speed of their fleet compared to that of the enemy and to decide whether they should adopt offensive or defensive tactics. If a slow fleet found itself in an unfavourable tactical situation, it might be forced to attack in order to avoid a certain defeat.

Several factors affected the speed of the ships. They had to be regularly hauled onto the shore or put into ship-sheds so they could dry out; if this was not done, their wooden hulls became waterlogged and they became heavy and slow. Newly-built ships were likely to be faster than the old and, of course, their speed depended on their design. The speed of the ships also depended on the strength of the oarsmen; rowing was exhausting work and rowers could be expected to do it for only a few hours a day. Sometimes actions were interrupted so that the crews could rest and the fighting then resumed the following day.

Standardized shipbuilding was used. The rival states of the Mediterranean borrowed shipbuilding designs and innovations from each other. For example, Polybius records that at the beginning of the First Punic War the Romans used as their model a Carthaginian ship that they had captured when it ran aground. The Romans were not completely unaware of how to build such a ship – Polybius exaggerates their ignorance – but they were keen to see the latest development in Carthaginian shipbuilding. The main Roman contribution to warfare at sea in this period was the corvus, the boarding-bridge, which they used to attack enemy ships in the First Punic War. This innovation is characteristic of the Hellenistic period in which the armies and navies knew their opponents well and were evenly matched. In these circumstances they were eager to come up with a new weapon or tactic that would give them an advantage. This kind of development is particularly visible in the armies and navies operated by the successors of Alexander the Great.

Alexander’s successors competed for supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean and, in the arms race that followed, built ships of even greater denomination. The names of these ships are puzzling. In the literature they are described as the ‘seven’, the ‘eight’, the ‘nine’ and so on – all the way up to the ‘forty’. We do not know how they were constructed or how the oarsmen in them were arranged but big ships were a fleet phenomenon: they were used for ramming and needed the support of smaller vessels in the navy, which protected the larger ships. A large number of armed soldiers would have been aboard. Ships of these types were not used in the Punic Wars, except for a Carthaginian seven which had been captured from Pyrrhus.

Carthaginian Naval Power

The period of Carthaginian naval power spanned the sixth to third centuries (with some minor activity in the second) bce. It was a period of technological evolution, beginning with penteconters and the developments of the trireme in the sixth century, `fours’ and `fives’ in the fourth century, and, at the end of that century, `sixes’ and `sevens’, although the Carthaginians appear to have resisted the gigantism of contemporary Hellenistic fleets, and to have not gone in much for ships larger than the `five’. Other ships were used; the Marsala wrecks might have been of hemiola (`one and a half ‘) design, or perhaps were fast transport ships. This might not preclude their temporary use as com- bat craft. Some transports could be fitted with temporary rams, as it appears the Marsala wrecks were. Our understanding of the types of craft in use is hindered by the terminology employed by our sources and our general ignorance of the concepts underlying the classification of polyremes. It is likely that our literary sources employed shorthand terms that masked the true complexity of the make-up of fleets and obscured the diversity of ships, or indeed ship-designs within such a class as the `five’ (penteres, quinquireme). However, it seems clear that fleets were often a mixture of quality, design and size. The force left by Hannibal in Spain in 218 bce (Polyb. 3.3.14) contained fifty `fives,’ two `fours’ and five `threes.’ The Carthaginian fleet during the `Truceless War’ consisted of triremes, penteconters and the largest of their skiffs (akatia) (Polyb. 1.73.2), perhaps because the potential for enemy action at sea was limited and did not warrant the launch of those `fives’ that had survived the Roman triumph at the Aegates in 241 bce, perhaps also because the cost of manning them was prohibitive for the cash-strapped repub- lic. According to Livy (30.43), 500 oar-powered ships “of all types” were towed out to sea and burned by Scipio at the end of the Second Punic war. Warships, transports and merchantmen might sail together: Diodorus (14.59.7) mentions transports (olkades) and “ships with rams” (chalkemboloi) present at the battle of Catana, while Livy (25.27) reports that Bomilcar sailed for Syracuse in 212 bce with 130 warships and 700 transports.