Marius Part I

Gaius Marius, born of an obscure family near Arpinum, in BC 157. Marius distinguished himself in BC 134 for valor at the siege of Numantia in Spain.

Popular Politics

In many ways Marius’ spectacular career was to provide a model for the great warlords of the last decades of the Republic. He was born in Cereatae into a family of the domi nobiles, that is, part of the local aristocracy that had considerable influence and power in nearby Arpinum (Arpino), a small, central Italian hill-town a three-day journey from Rome. The inhabitants of Arpinum had achieved full Roman citizenship only thirty-one years before Marius’ birth. In 107 BC, just shy of his 50th birthday, Marius became consul for the first time; in all, he was to hold the position seven times, more than any man before. It was not simply the number that was unprecedented, but the nature, for he held five consulships in consecutive years between 104 BC and 100 BC, while the seventh he was to seize, as he had taken Rome itself, by armed force in 86 BC.

To modern eyes there is a clear-cut division between politics and warfare, even going so far as to discard war as a pivotal factor within our understanding of society. But war defined ancient Rome, so much so that no social or political aspect was divorced from events on the battlefield. Rome’s expansion in the third and second centuries BC from an Italian city-state to the superpower of the Mediterranean world had been under its traditional form of government. Yet the overseas conquests led to a change in mentality among the ruling élite.

In the ancient world, wars of conquest usually showed a handsome profit for the victor. The immense wealth brought into Rome by its conquests and the opportunities and temptations offered by its empire put intolerable strains on the political and social system that had been adequate for a small city-state. As a result senatorial solidarity, which had made Rome a superpower, gave way to individualism. Increasingly generals who had achieved stunning military successes began to act on the basis of self-interest, keen as they were to acquire great personal power. The repercussions of this are not hard to guess. Internal rivalries began to emerge, leading to a power struggle that was fought out during the first century BC. As we shall discover, Sulla and Marius, Pompey and Caesar, Marcus Antonius and Octavianus were to be the leading players in the civil wars of the dying Republic.

Since the birth of the Republic the leadership of the government was firmly in the hands of the Senate, a governing body in which 300 members of the most prominent families served. Theoretically the Senate had no constitutional powers and its decrees, each known as a senatus consultum and passed on a majority vote, were not legally binding but merely advisory. It functioned, therefore, as a consilium or advisory council, advising the magistrates from its own ranks, with two annually elected consuls as the highest public officials who had equal power or imperium. Lesser magistrates were also appointed annually and in pairs, an expedient to allow them to veto each other and thereby prevent the concentration of power in one man’s hands and preserve Rome from the ambitions of would-be tyrants. This principle of collegiality was basic to the Roman constitution.

Yet the power of the Senate was grounded in its permanence (membership was for life) and since the consuls were exclusively chosen from the senatorial families, the position of the Senate was strongly entrenched. Besides, it was a brave (or foolhardy) consul who chose to ignore the Senate’s decrees. Indeed, the consulships were almost exclusively held by an even smaller group within the senatorial order, namely the nobilitas, the consulate not merely conferring power upon its holder and dignity for life, but also ennobling his family forever. Little wonder, therefore, that the individual Roman aristocrat was under constant pressure, both of family duty and personal ambition, to emulate his ancestors by pursuing a public career and striving for the consulship.

Instruments of Power

Although not all citizens could even dream of climbing up the slippery pole of a senatorial career, let alone actually attempt to do so, all citizens could cast their votes in three popular assemblies, the comitia tributa, or tribal assembly, the concilium plebis, or assembly of the plebs, and the comitia centuriata, or assembly of centuries. The democratic character of the three assemblies differed significantly. In the first two assemblies, voting was done by tribes, a fabulously ancient division founded not on kinship groups but on a regional basis. It was an electoral-college ‘one tribe, one vote’ system in which the vote of every citizen, rich or poor, counted equally. It was here that the junior magistrates were elected: the quaestors (supervisors of the state’s finances and records) and the aediles (responsible for public works and games). However, these assemblies were not entirely independent, since people’s voting habits were regularly influenced by patronage ties and senatorial intimidation.

In the comitia centuriata the population was divided into five classes based on wealth. The wealthier citizens were in the first class and furnished the majority of the votes. In such a plutocratic system the election of praetors (responsible for the administration of justice and authorised to lead armies) and consuls (entrusted with general civil and military authority) was a matter for wealthy and well-descended Romans. In Rome’s distinctive polity of ‘mass’ and ‘élite’, it was the poor inhabitants of the ‘other Rome’ who formed the overwhelming majority, who played no role in this assembly and were thus deprived of any real political power.

Optimates and populares alike were oligarchs drawn from the same exclusive group of wealthy and well-descended Romans, but they differed in the ways in which they played the complicated political system of the Republic. They were never organised into parties of a modern and parliamentary character; these are imaginary entities in the competitive arena of Roman politics. On the other hand, there was a tangible division of political approaches within the senatorial aristocracy, a partition that polarised their political methods and professed aims.

The Romans were careful to build checks and balances into their unwritten constitution. With the establishment of the Republic, the kings had been replaced not by a single officer but by a pair of annually elected consuls, co-equal in power and authority. Tyranny was avoided because one consul could block the other. In a like manner, when the commons had wrested from the senatorial aristocracy the right to officers for their own protection, they grew in number until there were ten. Elected in the concilium plebis, the ten tribunes of the people (tribuni plebis) were sacrosanct (sacer) and had the right to veto (intercessio) the actions of other magistrates, including their fellow tribunes. They were even entitled to bring legislation directly before the people, without reference to the Senate, in the concilium plebis. A popularis, therefore, was an aristocratic populist who tended to bypass the Senate by enlisting the support of the tribunes and through them of the people at large.

The optimates were the more ‘traditional’ senators, self-styled ‘good men’, the ‘best’, which is the strict meaning of the term optimates. They were explicitly hostile to change, to challenges to the Senate’s pre-eminence, to notions that matters of finance or senatorial privilege (and much else) could be taken directly to the popular assemblies and turned into legislation without any consultation, and prior approval, of the senators. In other words, these men were the defenders of the entrenched power of the Senate, and sticklers for the rules designed to uphold their dignity as senators and, most importantly, to ensure their conquering generals were prevented from using their armies to seize personal power. As our story unfolds it will become apparent that Pompey and Caesar were the penultimate pair in a succession of warlords who mobilised the Roman people as a means of winning and perpetuating political office.

Yet in the struggle for power in the closing years of the Republic, it was Caesar who took risks that his political rivals, Pompey included, were afraid to take, and that was what made him so dangerous to them. The orator and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero, a contemporary of Caesar who will loom large later in this story, reckoned ‘there are two skills that can raise men to the highest level of dignitas [honour]: one is that of general, the second that of a good orator’. Yet it was service in the army rather than a career in the courts, Cicero continues, which conferred the greatest personal status. Cicero, a man not known for his military inclinations, appreciated the harsh reality that there was more glory to be won by extending the empire than by administering it. Moreover, succeeding in the arena of political life was an expensive business, but a foreign war offered unparalleled opportunities for winning glory and for enriching self and state, that is to say, the Roman people, at one and the same time.

A New Man

One of the bonds that held Roman society together was the relationship between client (cliens) and patron (patronus). This relationship came in a wide variety of forms and guises, but was always based on the mutual exchange of favours and benefits. Roman society was thus vertically structured in terms of obligation-relationships, called clientèle (clientela). At its crudest, a patronus offered protection to his clientes, who attended him and offered support and services in return. As the cliens of a privileged man might himself be the patronus of still less important men, clientelae could be mobilised as effective voting-machines. It takes little effort, therefore, for us to appreciate how much the patronus-cliens relationship could affect the workings of the Roman state. If a patronus were elected to political office his clientela could look forward to gaining some lucrative state contracts. The Romans saw nothing wrong or corrupt in a politician handing out state contracts to his clientes. It was simply how their political system worked.

Marius belonged to the clientela of the patrician Caecilii Metelli, one of the most prestigious families in Rome at this time, whom some, most notably Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus (cos. 147 BC, cos. II 134 BC), called stupid. Having risen past the Scipiones, who had held this position since the war with Hannibal, the Metelli had ‘prevailed by their mass and their numbers’. As early as 123 BC, when Marius became quaestor, this powerful family had taken a keen interest in his career, and it was the Metelli who helped him to gain a tribunate in 119 BC, when he was 38 years old. But he soon demonstrated that he was no flunky, successfully passing a plebiscite that allowed for the narrowing of the pons, the gangway across which each voter passed to fill in and deposit his ballot tablet. To vote in the comitia a man mounted one of several bridges and walked along it to a platform, where he dropped his vote in an urn. The voters, of course, were viewed by everyone – in particular the aristocrats – and Marius was concerned about their methods of persuasion.

Little wonder, therefore, that the Metelli blocked his election to the aedileship, an office mainly concerned with public life at street level, two years later. The family intervened again when he stood for urban praetor for 115 BC, but this time they were unable to keep him out. Marius scraped in with the lowest number of votes possible, and as a consequence there were allegations of electoral bribery (ambitus). Whether this was a politically motivated prosecution, or one brought on merit, he prevailed at the trial, but only by the thinnest of margins. The number of votes for his guilt and innocence were equal, and he had to be given the benefit of the doubt.

In 114 BC Marius went as propraetor to Iberia, where he served as governor of Hispania Ulterior for the next two years. There he proved his competence, campaigning successfully against bandits while adding to his personal fortune by establishing the Iberian silver mines on a sound footing. On returning to Rome he married Iulia, the aunt of Caesar, which was a real political coup as the Iulii were a patrician family of the highest order.

The Ambitious Soldier

At a very early stage of his political career Marius had shown himself to be an independent man, who gained a great deal of popularity for his challenges to the nobilitas. However, it would be his reputation as a soldier that would make his name. Marius was by nature a soldier, as much in his later life would show, and he began his long military career as a cavalry officer, serving with distinction under Scipio Aemilianus, the greatest Roman of his generation, in the Numantine War (134–132 BC). Oddly, a young African prince called Iugurtha was also serving under Scipio Aemilianus as the leader of a Numidian contingent, made up of horsemen mostly, always the strength of that nation, and the same troops who had done such useful service for Hannibal in Italy two generations earlier. Iugurtha was an illegitimate grandson of Masinissa, who, after coming over to Rome’s side during the closing stages of the war with Hannibal, had been awarded a kingdom. It was during the siege of Numantia that Iugurtha had earned Scipio Aemilianus’ approval for his soldierly qualities, but it also encouraged a Roman belief that their most dangerous opponents were men whom they themselves had taught how to fight. Anyhow, the two young cavalry commanders were probably well acquainted and, like the Numidian prince, Marius was to enhance his reputation there when he killed an enemy warrior in single combat – and in full view of Scipio Aemilianus. For a man of relatively humble origins it must have looked as if the future belonged to him, unless his rivals devoured him first.

Marius went to Numidia in 109 BC as the senior legate under his patronus, the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus, in the war against Iugurtha. This was the age of the Caecilii Metelli, who had held seven consulships in the last fifteen years. Obviously Marius had set himself right with the epoch-making house of the Metelli, whose sons became consuls by prerogative and were on the whole intransigent optimates, in the years following his provocative programme as a tribune.

The political geography of north Africa at this time was essentially quadripartite. In 146 BC, following the destruction of Carthage by Scipio Aemilianus, Rome had annexed the Carthaginian territories, creating the province of Africa (provincia Africa, roughly co-extensive to eastern and central Tunisia). This left to the Numidian king Micipsa much of the land his father Masinissa had appropriated from the Carthaginians, as well as his own kingdom (western Tunisia and eastern Algeria). To the west, in Mauretania (western Algeria and northern Morocco), was found the kingdom of Bocchus. In a long band along the pre-desert lived the Gaetuli, a group of tribes who lay outside the two kingdoms of Numidia and Mauretania and resisted any attempts to tax or control them. In 118 BC Micipsa bequeathed his kingdom to his two legitimate sons Hiempsal and Adherbal, and also, following up an earlier recommendation of Scipio Aemilianus, to Iugurtha, the illegitimate son of his younger brother.

Ambitious and unscrupulous, Iugurtha was to put to death first one then the other of his cousins, by which he made himself master of Numidia. A senatorial commission, headed by a disreputable gentleman by the name of Lucius Opimius (cos. 121 BC), had been sent to settle Numidian affairs after the murder of Hiempsal. The Roman historian Sallust, who was keen to illustrate the moral decline of Rome, implies the delegation fell under the spell of Iugurtha and thus prudently recommended that the kingdom be divided between him and Adherbal. Apparently Iugurtha had discovered in Iberia the venality of many of the Romans.

Notwithstanding this settlement, four years later Iugurtha captured and sacked Adherbal’s royal capital, the hill-top fortress of Cirta (Constantine, Algeria). After he had treacherously murdered both his rival and the Italian traders who had shared the defence of Cirta, the Senate as a matter of course decided on war. In spite, according to Sallust, of Iugurtha’s lavish use of bribery, the senators were bent on punishing the Numidian king, and after two unsuccessful campaigns (111–110 BC) they dispatched the quixotic but capable Metellus against him. Metellus repeatedly defeated him, but found it impossible to bring Iugurtha to heel. Now holed up in the Tell Atlas, Iugurtha would only skirmish with the Roman forces or fight them on his own terms. Though military incompetence was partly to blame, Sallust saw the constant failure to overcome Iugurtha as primarily down to the corruption of the senatorial aristocracy. It is interesting to note that he portrays the slippery Iugurtha both as the ‘noble savage’, immune against the corruption of Roman civilisation, and as the ‘ignoble barbarian’, a paradigm of ‘Punic’ perfidy.


Marius Part II

War with Iugurtha

For our story one of the most important aspects of the war with Iugurtha was the extraordinary rise of Marius. Metellus had failed to bring the war to a swift conclusion, and seemed to be unable to physically capture Iugurtha. He therefore resorted to bribery, coupled with a policy of reducing the urban communities in Numidia, so as to deprive the king logistically. Marius was to employ the same strategy against Iugurtha, so we should be wary of any criticism of Metellus’ conduct in this war. For instance, Sallust records the total massacre of the Roman garrison at Vaga (Beja, Tunisia), all bar its commander Titus Turpilius Silanus, after the town’s betrayal to Iugurtha. When Metellus retook Vaga he promptly put its inhabitants to the sword, and Turpilius himself was arrested and put to death. Sallust claims Turpilius was civis ex Latio, a Roman citizen of Latin origin, and thus could not be executed without a proper trial. Yet it seems that Turpilius was only a first-generation Roman citizen and Metellus conveniently ignored his status and treated him as a non-Roman, and a treacherous one at that. Marius was to use this episode against Metellus in his campaign for the consulship.

Sallust describes how Metellus, when Marius asked permission to return to Rome to seek a consulship, exhibited the characteristic haughty arrogance of the proud, traditional, Roman nobility. Sallust, who, after all, had been a partisan of Caesar before turning his hand to penmanship, suggests that Metellus was absolutely mortified that a man of Marius’ background and social standing could even think of such a thing. Whatever his exact view of the matter, he flatly denied Marius’ request. Sallust continues the story:

When Marius kept on renewing his petition, he [Metellus] is alleged to have told him not to be in such a hurry to be off. ‘It will be time enough’, he added, ‘for you to stand for the consulship in the same year as my son.’

The patrician general’s response was certainly spiteful, as his son was a lad only in his early twenties and currently serving on his father’s staff. In other words, Marius could stand when he would be about 70 years of age. Marius could hardly have taken the jab with equanimity. Realising he could expect no support from his patronus, Marius started to look elsewhere. To this end he exploited the prevailing political atmosphere in Rome, thereupon making contacts of his own, particularly among the equestrians engaged in business in Africa, and building up his own reputation by claiming that he could bring Iugurtha to bay and end the war. Although elected on the equestrian and popular vote, Marius is best seen as an opportunist and not as a popularis. He was simply exploiting popular feeling with regards to the apparent lack of swift action against Iugurtha – the war had dragged on and the expected Roman victory was not forthcoming – and thus cannot be regarded as ‘anti-senatorial’. For four years Iugurtha had defied the might of Rome and many leading senators were believed to have accepted his bribes, and even some of the generals who had conducted the first campaigns against him were suspected of treason. In any event, they had been incompetent.

None the less Metellus’ partisans in the Senate did not designate Numidia as a consular province, thus ensuring his continuing command there as a proconsul. It was a reasonable step on the Senate’s part; the plodding but honest Metellus had done much better than his incompetent predecessors, even if his progress was slower than the people had hoped for, and he was familiar with the enemy and the army, an army hardened to campaigning in the hot wastes of Numidia. All in all he was the best choice to finish off the war and restore some of the old senatorial lustre. But it was not to be.

A tribune, Titus Manlius Mancinus, went before the people and called upon them to decide who was to take charge of the war in Numidia. And so a plebiscite was passed and the new consul Marius duly received what he wanted: the African command. There was no clear precedent for this, although it is extremely difficult to argue that his appointment was unconstitutional. In 205 BC, for example, Publius Cornelius Scipio was on the point of invading Africa when the Senate hesitated on giving him the green light. Livy records that Scipio was quite prepared to go to the people if the Senate did not give him Africa as his province.

Despite being bitter, Metellus accepted the change in command – in 88 BC Sulla would not – and on his return to Rome he acquired the cognomen Numidicus for his endeavours against Iugurtha. As a matter of fact, Marius did not bring with him any new ideas on how to conduct or even win the war, but he did at least realise that to combat Iugurtha’s guerrilla activities he would need more troops on the ground. Rome, however, was suffering a longstanding manpower shortage. To this end, therefore, Marius took the decision to invite the capite censi to serve in the legions and, in the doom-laden words of Plutarch, ‘contrary to law and custom he enrolled in his army poor men with no property qualifications’. Volunteers flocked to join the legions and the Senate raised no protest. The fundamental nature of the Roman army was changed, transforming it from the traditional citizen-militia composed of a cross-section of the propertied classes into a semi-professional force recruited from the poorest elements of society. From now on legionaries saw the army as a career and a means of escaping poverty, rather than a duty that came as an interruption to normal life. Marius thus created, without realising it, a type of client army, bound to its general as its patronus.

Most of the men recruited by Marius undoubtedly were, or had been, members of the rural population, and an ex-peasant’s idea of riches was his own smallholding. At the conclusion of the African campaign they would look to their wonder-general for rewards in the shape of plots of land. There is no evidence that Marius actually promised his proletariat recruits land when he enlisted them, but as consul in 103 BC he set about providing it. So, while he was training his new army for the approaching showdown with the Cimbri and Teutones, he proposed an agrarian bill seeking land in Africa for the veterans of the war with Iugurtha.

His legislation would be pushed through by the unscrupulous and brilliant tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, a demagogue who frequently resorted to mob violence, and even – it was rumoured – assassination. We can, of course, argue that from now on the legions turned to their generals and not to the Senate for recompense, a case in point being when Sulla got his troops to march on Rome in 88 BC. However, such a view is far too pessimistic as not all soldiers would follow their general come what may. They would fight loyally in the defence of Rome when it was under threat, and were bound by oath to follow their appointed commanders, but they had no commitment to a political system that did little for them.

While helping the veterans was Marius’ goal, it ought to have been a goal of the Senate too. Traditionally, the Senate had made no provision for discharged soldiers, letting them drift back home after their service, often to sink into poverty. But periods of service had lengthened, and it could not be ruled out that soldiers might be mobilised for years on end. Moreover, wars of conquest took armies far afield, and being uprooted in this way certainly hampered their chances of being reabsorbed into civilian society. Marius fought to see that this would not happen to the veterans of his campaigns. But ultimately it was the Senate that shirked this duty. It failed to recognise the new semi-professional army for what it was: an organisation with interests and concerns.

It is probably true that throughout Rome’s history soldiers exhibited more loyalty towards a charismatic and competent commander. Therefore what we actually witness with Marius is not a change in the attitude of the soldiers but a change in the attitude of the generals. Judge for yourself. In 202 BC after Zama, if he had held revolutionary ideas, Scipio could have easily marched on Rome at the head of his victorious army. If we return to Sulla and his march on Rome, his officers were so appalled at his plan that all except one resigned on the spot, while his soldiers, though eagerly anticipating a lucrative campaign out east, followed him only after he had convinced them that he had right on his side. When envoys met Sulla on the road to Rome and asked him why he was marching on his native country, according to Appian he replied, ‘To free her from tyrants’. As for Marius, well, it probably never even crossed his mind at the time that Sulla would do the unthinkable. After all, a Roman army was not the private militia of the general who commanded it, but the embodiment of the Republic at war.

But let us return to our war in Africa with which we started this particular section. On assuming command there Marius soon found that it was not as easy to end the conflict as he had claimed back in Rome. Events now took an ugly turn with Marius adopting a deliberate policy of plunder and terrorism, torching fields, villages and towns and butchering the locals. Moreover, he came very close to losing the war in a major battle not far from the river Muluccha (now the Moulouya, which forms the western boundary of Algeria), and Sallust hints that it was Marius’ quaestor, Sulla, who saved the day. We can be fairly certain that Sulla wrote this up in his commentarii. They are lost, but Sallust read them and made use of them in writing his account of the war. In the end Sulla befriended Bocchus, the king of the Moors and father-in-law of Iugurtha, and what follows was Sulla’s dramatic desert crossing, which culminated in Iugurtha’s betrayal and capture. This bit of family treachery thus terminated a war full of betrayals, skirmishes and sieges. Sulla had the incident engraved on his signet-ring, provoking Marius’ jealousy. Nevertheless, Marius was the hero of the hour. On 1 January 104 BC he triumphed on the same day he entered his second consulship.

The war with Iugurtha had been a rather pointless, dirty affair. The king was publicly executed, but the Senate did not annexe Numidia, giving instead the western half of the kingdom to Bocchus as the reward for his treachery, and the eastern half to Gauda, Iugurtha’s weak-minded half-brother. Yet it had made Marius’ reputation and begun Sulla’s career. More than that, it saw Marius and Sulla fall out over who was responsible for the successful conclusion to the war, a quarrel that was to cast a long sanguinary shadow on Rome.

War with the Northern Tribes

While Rome had been busy chasing Iugurtha, the Cimbri and Teutones, who were most probably Germanic peoples originally from what is now Jutland, moved south and inflicted a series of spectacular defeats upon the Roman armies. They now became Marius’ next concern. Rome had always been obsessed with tribal invasions, more so in 113 BC after the consul Cnaeus Papirius Carbo was routed by the Cimbri at Noreia (Neumarkt, near Ljubljana). The Senate had dispatched Carbo to keep them out of Italy. These Germanic tribes knew something of Roman power even if they were strangers to Rome, and they agreed to pull back from the peninsula. Carbo unwisely attacked them anyway, in the hope of an easy victory over the northerners. It did not turn out that way. Iulius Obsequens, diligently recording his prodigies for that year, recounts that the ‘Cimbri and Teutones crossed the Alps and made an awful slaughter of the Romans and their allies’.

Following Carbo’s defeat another tribe, the Celtic Tigurini (one of the tribal groupings of the Helvetii), joined themselves to the Cimbri-Teutonic alliance and ventured into Gaul with them. In 109 BC the three tribes circled back from their jaunt in Gaul. Near the frontier of Gallia Transalpina, the new Roman province, they came up against an army led by the consul Marcus Iunius Silanus. Doubting the outcome of a battle they offered to serve Rome in return for land. The Senate declined the offer, and the Tigurini then cut to pieces Silanus’ army but, as with the case of Carbo four years earlier, the Celts did not follow up their advantage. The Cimbri and Teutones continued west through Gaul, while the Tigurini broke off to raid Gallia Transalpina.

In 107 BC Marius’ colleague in the consulship, Lucius Cassius Longinus, advanced to recover the situation; he followed the Tigurini toward the Iberian frontier where he was defeated and killed in an ambush. The survivors were permitted to withdraw after passing under the yoke. This was a complete and utter humiliation as the yoke was made of two spears fixed upright, with a third fastened horizontally between them at such a height that the defeated soldiers filing under it were obliged to stoop in token of submission. It must have been doubly galling that the Tigurini had chosen this gesture since it was an ancient Italian custom.

Although Rome’s fortunes recovered somewhat in 106 BC the worst was still to come, for the following year was to witness the rout and destruction of two consular armies under Quintus Servilius Caepio (cos. 106 BC), now proconsul after the expiration of his consulship, and Cnaeus Mallius Maximus, one of the current consuls, at Arausio (Orange) in Gallia Transalpina. With allegedly 80,000 casualties, this was the biggest disaster to befall Roman arms since Cannae, and bickering between the two commanders was said to have been a major contributory factor here. Instead of turning east to cross the Alps, the Cimbri and Teutones moved south into Iberia and remained there for the next three years. Italy had been spared what would no doubt have been a major invasion akin to that mounted by the Gauls in 390 BC when they briefly occupied and sacked Rome itself, all save the Capitol.

In the autumn of 105 BC a pro-Marian lobby secured for Marius a second consulship, which broke all the constitutional rules since he was not even in Rome for the election but still in Africa. Yet it does appear that Marius had the backing of the Senate as Gallia Transalpina was given to him as his consular province. Fifty years later Cicero would pose the following rhetorical question in the Senate:

Who had more personal enemies than Caius Marius? Lucius Crassus and Marcus Scaurus dislike him, all the Metelli hated him. Yet so far from voting against the grant of the province of Gallia Transalpina to their enemy, these men supported the extraordinary command of that province to him so that he might command in the war against the Gauls [i.e. Cimbri and Teutones].

Marius was to be elected consul a further four times (103–100 BC, cos. III–VI), thus giving him six consulships to date. Actually these other consulships were more like generalships. There are other examples of Roman generals retaining command of an army during a period of tumult, Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator during the initial years of the war with Hannibal, for instance. The vital difference, however, lies in the fact that when the year of their consulship ended these commanders were given proconsular rank. There was no precedent for Marius’ string of back-to-back consulships, an offence to the idea of limited tenure of office.

The last four consulships can be seen as a popular measure, the people asserting that Marius was the man they wanted in command and that he should remain so for as long as they desired. Naturally Marius neatly exploited popular politics to achieve this unprecedented career because he could have had his command continued after his second consulship as a proconsul. But that meant he would only remain in command at the whim of the Senate. What is more, as was glaringly illustrated by Caepio, a nobilis, and Mallius, a novus homo, the working relationship between proconsul and consul could be fraught with danger. As a consul, Marius was firmly in charge and thus unassailable. As a matter of fact, apart from the rout of the army of his consular colleague Catulus early in the campaign, Marius was extremely successful, defeating the Teutones and their Celtic allies, the Ambrones, at Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) in 102 BC and, with Catulus, whose powers had been extended as proconsul, the Cimbri one year later at Vercellae (Vercelli) on the dusty plains of northern Italy.

The day was an extremely hot one, it being shortly after the summer solstice, and the adroit Marius had his soldiers advance through the dust and haze. To the consternation of the Cimbri, the Romans suddenly charged upon them from the east, with their helmets seeming to be ablaze from the shining of the sun’s rays. In a ferocious struggle the Cimbri were cut to pieces, and it is reported that no fewer than 120,000 of their warriors were killed and 60,000 were captured. The war leader of the Cimbri heroically fell in this battle, fighting furiously and slaying many of his opponents.

Although he consented to celebrate a joint triumph with Catulus, Marius claimed the whole credit for the victory at Vercellae. Likewise, in popular thinking all the credit went to Marius. Catulus and Sulla, on the other hand, gave very different accounts of the battle in their memoirs. The patrician Sulla, who had joined Marius and Catulus for the northern war, naturally took the latter’s side. This was not only out of a personal dislike of Marius but also because of a natural bias toward the senatorial aristocracy, whose dangerous and bloody champion he would be.

With six consulships and two triumphs, Marius had created an extraordinary precedent. He was now a man above the system, a forerunner of Pompey and Caesar. However, at the time Marius’ unconstitutional position did have a certain amount of logic to it as he was no revolutionary and the system had worked to his advantage. The other extraordinary aspect was the temporary nature of Marius’ influence.

Political Wilderness

There is an old Latin expression gladius cedet togae, ‘the sword gives way to the toga’. If a man would be great, he must be great at home too. After his defeat of the northern tribes, Marius was hailed by the people as the third founder of Rome, a worthy successor to Romulus himself and Camillus – the old saviour from the war with Brennos the Gaul, the sacker of Rome. However, the year 100 BC, the year of his sixth and penultimate consulship, saw the great general fail disastrously as a politician. Marius would desert the tribune who had aided him, Saturninus, and stand by as an angry mob lynched him and his supporters.

The firebrand Saturninus had been re-elected as one of the tribunes for the coming year, proposing yet more radical bills, but the Senate, who saw the spectre of tribunician government raise its ugly head again, called on Marius to protect the state. Having restored public order under the terms of a senatus consultum ultimum, both literally and efficaciously ‘the ultimate decree of the Senate’, the veteran general subsequently saw his popular support slip away. The nineties BC were to be a decade of political infighting of the most extreme sort, and one of its first victims, according to Plutarch, was Marius. Yet his actions in 100 BC can be seen as a bungling attempt to announce his arrival to the nobility of Rome. Of interest here are Sallust’s remarks concerning the monopoly of the nobilitas on the consulship:

For at that time, although citizens of low birth had access to other magistracies, the consulship was still reserved by custom for the nobilitas, who contrived to pass it from one to another of their number. A novus homo, however distinguished he might be or however admirable his achievements, was invariably considered unworthy of that honour, almost as if he were unclean.

Sadly for Marius, to the nobilitas he would always be, despite his unprecedented six consulships and two triumphs, a novus homo. Despised by the inner élite and shunned by the equestrians and the people, Marius was now cast into the political wilderness. In early 98 BC Metellus Numidicus was recalled from exile – Saturninus had orchestrated this for Marius two years previously – and Marius, having tried to delay the return of his one-time patronus, admitted defeat and scuttled off to Asia ‘ostensibly to make sacrifices, which he promised to the Mother of the Gods’. The following year he did not stand, as was expected, for the censorship, a clear sign that he was not in the political spotlight.

Marius wanted to beat the nobilitas at their own political game, substituting self-made support for their inherited connections. Showing little flair for politics, it did not occur to him – as it would have done to Sulla and Caesar – that the rules of the game could not be changed. Though connected to the equestrians by birth and interests, and favouring the welfare of soldiers (including Italians, whom he truly valued as allies), he had no positive policies or solutions for the social problems of the day. As an individual he was superstitious and overwhelmingly ambitious, but, because he failed to force the aristocracy to accept him, despite his great military success, he suffered from an inferiority complex that may help explain his jealousy and, later, his vindictive cruelty. Yet he marks an important stage in the decline of the Republic: creating a client army, which Sulla would teach his old commander how to use, he was the first to show the possibilities of an alliance between a war leader, demagogues and a noble faction. His noble opponents, on the other hand, in their die-hard attitude both to him and later Sulla, revealed their lack of political principle and loss of power and cohesion.



Roman Army at Adrianople.

Following Valens’s defeat and death, the empire’s government of the East, closely identified with the person of the emperor, ceased to exist. The ministers and the insignia of power and even the imperial treasury had traveled with Valens wherever he went, and all those people and riches were scattered, fleeing through the Balkan Mountains. No authority in Constantinople was capable of assuming power, even if only provisionally, and for once no general decided to take advantage of the situation by usurping the throne.

Only in the West were there an emperor and a government. In fact, there were two emperors: Gratian, who was a young man of nineteen, and his little brother Valentinian II. As soon as Gratian learned of the enormity of the Roman defeat and the death of his uncle, he and his army retraced their steps in great haste and took up positions in lllyricum, resolved to defend the empire should the barbarians come their way. It was up to Gratian and his ministers to choose a new emperor of the eastern empire, and they needed a few months to find the right candidate, but in January 379, Theodosius, one of Gratian’s generals, was, with the consent of the army, proclaimed emperor of the East.

Much the same process had occurred when Valens was nominated: First the army of the West acclaimed Valentinian, and only afterward did he decide to appoint his younger brother to govern in the East. From a political point of view, the East was indeed the younger brother of the West, for several reasons: The empire had been born in the West, Rome was in the West, the richest senators wrere those from the West; the western units of the army traditionally contained the most seasoned warriors, and they were also the ones that most easily succeeded in imposing their candidates for the imperial throne. Moreover, the West was synonymous with Latin, and Latin was still the language of the army and the law. But Easterners were starting to reject this status of political minority; for some time, they had known that theirs was the most populous, wealthiest, and most civilized part of the empire. Constantine had simply recognized that fact when he transferred the capital to the shores of the Bosporus. In the dissatisfaction that the Greek East felt at the political and military hegemony of the Latin West lay the seeds of competition—if not hostility—between the two parts of the Roman Empire; those seeds would not fail to produce fruit, and soon.


Theodosius is the last great protagonist of this story: the man who, in the years after Adrianople, worked harder than anyone else to fill the breach and redress the situation as far as possible.

Like almost all emperors, Theodosius was a career army officer; he came from the Far West, from Spain, and he was only thirty-two years old, but he already had experience to spare. His father, Theodosius the Elder, had been Rome’s most famous general in the days of Valentinian and had fought in half the world, from Britain to Africa. His son had grown up accompanying him on his various campaigns until, at a very early age—twenty-six or twenty-seven—he was appointed governor of one of the frontier provinces. At the time, Theodosius, a young man with all the right connections, seemed destined for swift promotion and a brilliant career; but in the Roman Empire, careers sometimes ended suddenly and badly. Valentinian started to mistrust Theodosius the Elder, who was too popular with his soldiers, exactly the type of general who might attempt a coup d’etat, and so the emperor relieved him of his command and subjected him to a political trial. Then Valentinian died, but his sons, likewise unwilling to keep so awkward a man as Theodosius the Elder on their hands, had him condemned to death and executed. His son was spared on condition that he retire to private life, and he had gone to live on his estates in Spain.

All this had happened in 376. Two years later, Gratian found himself obliged to choose a candidate to rule the eastern empire, one with shoulders broad enough to bear up under a frightful load. Moreover, the emperor’s choice had to be popular with the army, otherwise, Gratian’s own throne might begin to wobble. His selection of Theodosius, who met these requirements, quickly proved to be an astute move. Theodosius was cruel when necessary, but he had a political sensibility; he knew how to accept compromise when it was inevitable, but he also knew how to solve a problem at its root when he thought the situation required it. For example, he brutally simplified the religious question. When named emperor, he was not yet even a Christian, but he quickly got himself baptized and lined up with the Catholics, not the Arians. As Arianism was almost unknown in the West, this was probably an obligatory choice for a Westerner, but Theodosius drew political conclusions from it. The new emperor would put an end once and for all to the religious disputes which sowed discord among his subjects and which, in Valens’s time, had weakened the very authority of the emperor; he would no longer allow these theological arguments, so typical of Greek intellectuals, to split the East. One year after taking power, Theodosius published an edict three lines long, in which he decreed that his subjects were bound to follow the only true religion, namely Catholicism. All other Christian sects were stripped of their authority; they could no longer possess religious buildings or practice their faith in public, and should anyone object, not only would God punish him in the next life, but the state would see to his punishment in this one as well.

The edict in which Theodosius imposed Nicene Catholicism as the state religion of the empire was issued at Thessalonica in 380, and it was emblematic of the new emperor’s summary way of working and of his capacity for drastically simplifying problems. The Arians were the edict’s primary targets, and in practice it condemned their church to death by slow strangulation.

With the pagans, Theodosius was at first a bit more cautious, but when he felt strong enough to do so, he took drastic measures against them, too. Sacrifices had long been forbidden, but in 391 the emperor definitively suppressed all pagan cults, closed their temples, and forbade under penalty of death any form of polytheistic worship; the following year, he extended the prohibition to the private worship of the Lares and Penates, the Roman household gods.


Unable to use so unilateral an approach in handling the crisis with the Goths, Theodosius showed himself capable of much greater flexibility. Obviously, the war was not over, and therefore his first goal was to reconstitute the army and resume operations against the Goths. The barbarians had to be made to understand that, despite their great victory at Adrianople, the Roman Empire was not yet defeated. Without losing any time, Theodosius promulgated some extremely harsh laws: Enlistment officials were required to sign up all conscripts at once, without allowing themselves to be swayed by exemptions or bribes; all proprietors of great estates had to furnish their quota of men, taking them from among the peasants who worked their land; all deserters, and all those who were obligated by law to perform military service but had so far, one way or another, managed to avoid it, had to report to their units or face a death sentence. The enlistment officials were authorized to draft, without any formalities, all soldiers’ sons, all vagrants, all unemployed men without a permanent residence, and also all immigrants capable of bearing arms. The emperor threatened death by burning as the punishment for any administrator of a large estate who concealed the presence of an immigrant among his workers; all immigrants were to be reported and consigned to the enlistment officials.

With these drastic measures, Theodosius succeeded, for better or worse, in putting the army back on its feet; at the same time, he was hiring Hunnish and even Gothic mercenaries. Although the Goths had entered the empire in different groups and merged into a single army under Fritigern’s command, they continued to be an aggregation of tribes, some of them with no connections at all to one another; many of those tribes had remained on the other side of the Danube, withdrawing to mountainous regions where they were able to keep the Huns at bay. Theodosius did not hesitate to open negotiations with their leaders, offering advantageous terms to any of them willing to furnish him with mercenaries to fight against the other Goths, and some of the leaders accepted the deal. One in particular, Athanaric, had once been very popular among the Goths, had fought against the Romans, and then had been more or less shoved aside, not least because he was old. Theodosius invited him to Constantinople, received him with all honors, and had his statue erected in the Hippodrome, next to those of Roman politicians; and although Athanaric died shortly afterward, many warriors had accompanied him to Constantinople, and they agreed to serve in the Roman army.


The army as rebuilt by Theodosius was not necessarily capable of succeeding where Valens’s army had failed. The veterans who fell at Adrianople were not easy to replace, and the quality of the new units surely did not reach the level of those that had been destroyed. But Theodosius used the army not so much to defeat the Goths as to force them to negotiate and to accept a reasonable compromise. Even though Adrianople had been a crushing victory, the victors were still in a precarious situation. The Gothic leaders’ strategic abilities were of little use if their men could not manage to take any cities; without fortified cities to serve as bases and winter quarters, the barbarians could be masters of Thrace, they could advance to the suburbs of Constantinople, but they could not say they had conquered the country. However well armed they might have been, they were still just vagabond marauders, and what was worse, the authority that Fritigern had won for himself in the moment of danger had partly dissolved the morning after the victory, when it seemed that anything was possible, and many chieftains had decided to strike out on their own.

Theodosius and Gratian conducted their operations prudently, reoccupying lost territory a little at a time, guaranteeing the security of Constantinople, and trying to show the Goths that the empire was still able to make them pay a heavy price. It was half a bluff, but in the end it was successful. One after another, the leaders of the various groups let themselves be persuaded to make peace, in exchange for the same concessions, more or less, that Valens had promised in the beginning and then taken back. Some of the leaders received cultivable land, enough for the families of their men to settle on, in the same territories they themselves had laid waste during years of pillage and atrocities; other chieftains received officers’ appointments and stipends in the army, and their men were persuaded to enlist. At last, in 382, Theodosius scored a coup by convincing Fritigern, who was still in command of the largest Gothic band, that he should agree to talks.

The envoy sent to negotiate with Fritigern was Saturninus, who had directed operations against the Goths the year before Adrianople and was one of the generals who escaped the massacre by a whisker. Saturninus negotiated a treaty that at least in appearance satisfied everyone, and he was received in triumph upon returning to Constantinople. The following year, in recompense, the emperor appointed him consul.

The rhetorician Themistius, who a few years earlier had publicly congratulated Valens for making peace with the Goths, was charged with delivering an encomium in honor of Saturninus. In this oration, humanitarian rhetoric encountered before can be heard to vibrate anew, as if nothing had changed. Themistius lauded the government for having found a political solution to the problem, for receiving the Goths in peace instead of trying to annihilate them: “Philanthropy has prevailed over destruction. Would it perhaps have been better to fill Thrace with corpses instead of farmers? The barbarians are already transforming their weapons into hoes and sickles and cultivating the fields.” This was the ideology of the “melting pot,” viewing the barbarians as destined to be integrated into the empire as so many had been admitted in the past. Their descendants, Themistius said, “can’t be called barbarians; for all intents and purposes, they’re Romans. They pay the same taxes we do, they serve with us in the army, they’re governed in the same way and subject to the same laws. And before long, the same thing will happen with the Goths.”

In practice, Theodosius’s solution to the Gothic problem had been in the air for a long time and more than once had been on the point of implementation before going awry. Valens had let the Goths into the empire with the idea of enlisting them in the army, and although the inefficiency and corruption that characterized the military authorities’ treatment of the refugees had driven them to rebellion, Valens had always remained open to the prospect of a negotiated peace; indeed, just a few hours before being killed at Adrianople, the emperor had been involved in discussions with Fritigern’s envoys, trying to find a solution. In 382, Theodosius did exactly what could have been done six years before, though he could not easily cancel out everything that had happened in the interval—the years of pillaging and atrocities, the destruction of an army, the death of an emperor, and the siege of the imperial capital. After Adrianople, enrolling Gothic warriors in the imperial army was much more difficult, as was explaining to the civilian population that the Goths were really just refugees, people who should receive humane treatment, a useful workforce.

And yet the ruling classes of the empire gave this a try, and one can either admire their goodwill or be astonished by their cynicism. To the politicians who collaborated with Theodosius, the acceptance of the Goths, despite everything that had happened, posed no problem at all; official speeches and the verses of the court poets all harped on the same string. A Gaulish rhetorician, Pacatus, enthused over all the new Roman soldiers, barbarians, yes, but so willing to learn: “O wonderful and memorable! Those who once had been enemies of Rome, now marching under Roman commanders and Roman banners, following the standards they used to fight against, filling as soldiers the cities they had formerly emptied and devastated as enemies. The Goth, the Hun, and the Alan, learning to express themselves according to the rules and taking their turn on guard duty and fearful of being criticized in their officers’ reports.” The tale of the barbarian who throws away his animal skins and learns to dress like a civilized person and obey orders and observe discipline was told again and again by the authors of Theodosius’s time, and the implication was clear: Exchanging those bestial clothes for garb befitting a citizen and learning to live according to the rules made one a Roman. All the rhetoric about the universality of the empire, about its capacity for assimilation, was trotted out to demonstrate that Theodosius had made the right choice. And, to be clear, it wasn’t all empty rhetoric; to a certain degree, that capacity for assimilation genuinely existed. The empire really was absorbing the barbarians, even though, as it did so, it inevitably changed.

The most striking example of how the Roman army absorbed and integrated the Goths is given by a group of gravestones found in the latter half of the nineteenth century in a paleochristian cemetery near Portogruaro, in the Veneto, where once stood a Roman city with a name of good augury, Concordia. A considerable number of these gravestones, almost forty, are dedicated to soldiers in Theodosius’s army, soldiers from many different regiments—so many that people at first wondered why they had all been buried in this one particular place. Later research suggested that toward the end of his reign, in 394, Theodosius had fought a great battle more or less in that area against one of the usual usurpers, and part of his army probably remained encamped near Concordia for a long time, so we may conclude that the gravestones go back to that period. Since they come from a Christian cemetery, all the gravestones presumably memorialize soldiers who were Christians. Many regimental names are of the fanciful variety typical in the late empire—the Bracchiati, the Armigeri—and many have the names of barbarian tribes: The Heruli seniores, for example, or the Batavians, the unit held in reserve at the battle of Adrianople, whose troops had saved their skins by running away in time.

If you read the inscriptions on all these gravestones, they give the impression that the army was a very compact society, where everyone was linked to everyone else by ties of camaraderie or kinship, and also by religious bonds. In many cases, the inscription states that the dead man’s gravestone has been paid for by his comrades-in-arms or by fellow villagers or countrymen serving in the same regiment; the frequent mention of wives demonstrates that the military was a real microcosm, in which men lived with their families. Moreover, the tone of these inscriptions is decorous and devout, and they offer many dedications and regards “to the best of colleagues,” “to the holy church of the city of Concordia.” But a close look at the names of the soldiers reveals that they were almost all barbarians. They all have Flavius as a first name, because it had been the name of the imperial family since the reign of Constantine, and every immigrant who was granted citizenship received that name; following Flavius, almost every soldier has a Germanic and in many cases even a Gothic name, such as Flavius Andila, a noncommissioned officer in the Bracchiati, or Flavius Sindila, who served in the Herulian regiment.

This was the positive face of integration, the proof that Theodosius’s policy could succeed: The Goth became a Roman soldier, swore loyalty to the empire, learned to comply with military discipline and to appreciate his stipend and his pension; and the army, which was a community, seemed like the perfect machine for handling this integration process. It absorbed barbarians, ground them down, and transformed them into Roman veterans, into the men whom emperors in their public discourses addressed as “comrades in arms” and who constituted the real pillar of the empire.


The Rise of Diocletianus

Army of Diocletian by JohnnyShumate

With Sasanian King Shapur’s death, the Zoroastrian priesthood seized its chance to stifle what it saw as a potent threat to its social and religious dominance. The minorities of Varahran I (273–6) and Varahran II (276–93) seem to have been dominated by the Mazdean priesthood on the one hand and the Persian nobility on the other. It is during these reigns that we find the otherwise unknown phenomenon of a non-royal figure (Kardir again) inscribing his exploits in a public and royal context. It was also now that Mani was arrested and left to die in prison, perhaps in 276. Then, in the 280s, there was a civil war between supporters of Varahran II and those of his cousin Ohrmazd. The latter relied upon nomadic Sakas and levies from the Kushanshahr for support, minted his own coinage and may have even taken the title of Kushanshah. The war between the cousins also divided the empire’s upper nobility, and the great families of both Persian and Parthian background now began to demonstrate an attitude they would maintain right until the collapse of the Sasanian dynasty: while the right of the Sasanian family to rule went unchallenged, the nobility reserved their right to choose among potential royal claimants, and depose one Sasanian in favour of another should that seem necessary. For the first, but not last, time in the history of the two empires, a combination of internal religious ferment and external distraction on Persia’s eastern frontiers made the 270s and 280s a period during which Rome had little to fear from the armies of its imperial rival.

Perhaps realising this – though with the caveat that Roman military intelligence on Persian affairs was never very comprehensive – Carus marched into Mesopotamia in the summer of 283, straight down the Euphrates to the capital at Ctesiphon. The campaign went so well that word was put about that Ctesiphon had actually fallen to the emperor, and one strand of sources preserves that story. But Seleucia-on-Tigris, by then a suburb of Ctesiphon, was indeed sacked, as attested by Ammianus Marcellinus, a good fourth-century source, who had inspected the ruins with his own eyes when serving on the emperor Julian’s Persian campaign.

Carus’s military success was not rewarded by his army’s loyalty: he was murdered, like so many of his predecessors, though there is also a story, surely legendary, that his tent was struck by lightning. His murder left the army stranded deep inside Persia, and the first order of business was to extricate it. Whoever was responsible for Carus’s death, no one claimed his title, which passed to his sons Carinus and Numerian, the latter a young boy who had accompanied his father’s campaign army into Persia. Carus’s brother-in-law Aper, who had succeeded him as praetorian prefect, probably took de facto control of affairs until the army was back in Syria. Disarray among the Persians had helped them to extract the army intact and largely unscathed – Aper and his officers were lucky that no new Shapur emerged to harass them on their retreat.

The Roman forces reached Emesa in Syria by March 284, and Cyzicus and Nicomedia in Bithynia later in the year. There, in November, Aper announced the death of Numerian. Although the boy had been ill, his death was almost certainly murder. There was now just one emperor, Carinus back in the west, but Carus’s campaign army was not likely to accept its subordination to a western rival. As Carus’s brother-in-law, Aper believed he should succeed to the throne, but the army did not concur. Instead, its choice landed on a relatively junior officer, C. Valerius Diocles, a man of about forty who was the comes domesticorum, commander of the main guard unit which travelled with the emperor. Diocles accepted his acclamation, and renamed himself Diocletianus, a more Latinate-sounding name than his obviously Greek (and low-born) original. At a meeting of the whole army, he personally executed Aper in full public view, claiming thereby to avenge the murder of Numerian. He then proclaimed himself consul prior, along with L. Caesonius Bassus, a member of the Roman senatorial aristocracy. The truth of what happened can never be known. Numerian may have died naturally, with both Aper and Diocletian seeking to profit by his death, or one of them may have killed him. (We do not need to believe the story that, for some time after his murder, his corpse had been carried alongside the army in a litter in order to disguise it, word being put about about that he was suffering from a disease of the eyes.) A child emperor with no protector was a victim awaiting the slaughter, his death a foregone conclusion, but Diocletian’s acclamation at Nicomedia necessarily meant civil war. Carus’s remaining son, the emperor Carinus, could not be expected to acquiesce in the eastern army’s presumption and, by taking the consular title for himself and appointing a colleague, Diocletian effectively declared war on Carinus.

Diocletian overwintered in Asia, before crossing into the Balkans, with an eye on attacking Carinus. The latter marched east from Rome, knowing that he would need to face Diocletian in the Balkans, but he had none of the personal authority his father Carus had commanded, and he had no dynastic prospects as his son Nigrinianus had died. The praetorian prefect Sabinus Iulianus, left behind by Carus to watch over his son, now revolted, presumably viewing him as unlikely to survive a war with the seasoned army of Diocletian. This revolt was put down at Verona, but then the corrector Venetiae, Marcus Aurelius Julianus, revolted in Pannonia, striking coins at Siscia before being defeated by Carinus early in 285 as he marched to the Balkans. There, at the Margus river, his army faced its more formidable rival, and Carinus’s newly appointed praetorian prefect, Tiberius Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus, promptly betrayed him as well. So too did M. Flavius Constantius, who was then serving in an extended military command over Dalmatia and the Balkan interior. Constantius had probably previously served as a tribune of the domestici under Diocletian; he would go on to be a major prop of the latter’s new regime. As we have seen many times, third-century soldiers were quick to desert a commander whose prospects looked dim, so Carinus was promptly assassinated by his own men. He and his wife Magnia Urbica suffered damnatio memoriae, as did Carus and Numerian, their names being chiselled from inscriptions.

The battle of the Margus ended in a relatively easy victory for Diocletian, but the past decades had shown that initial success counted for very little without persistent labour. Diocletian marched his army into northern Italy and took up residence at Mediolanum. There he made another general of no great pedigree his colleague as caesar, on 25 July 285. This general was Marcus Aurelius Maximianus, the son of a shopkeeper from very near Sirmium whose family had gained citizenship only with the edict of Caracalla. Diocletian and Maximian had come up through the ranks together and both had been present on Carus’s Persian campaign. Neither man troubled to go to Rome at this point – there were too many problems on the northern frontiers. By the autumn of 285, Maximian was campaigning in Gaul, where the death of Carinus had prompted a revolt by a man named Amandus, who proclaimed himself augustus. Carus was from Narbonensis and Amandus may have been a relative; later sources also name one Aelianus as a part of the revolt, but he remains a mystery, as no authentic coins in his name have survived, only modern fakes. Maximian seems to have suppressed the revolt fairly efficiently, and later tradition reinvented Amandus and Aelianus as rustic brigands rather than the provincial notables they were. Still, their uprising prompted the usual uncertainty on the frontier, and Maximian also fought against Franci or Alamanni from across the Rhine. Diocletian, at the same time, was fighting against Sarmatians on the Danube bend, now a perpetual sore point trapped between the empire and what we infer was Gothic power expanding up the Danube and in the former province of Dacia. We do not know where Diocletian overwintered in 285–6, but he was back in Asia Minor in March of 286. Gaul was far too unsettled for Maximian to leave it.

The expedient of having an augustus in one place and a caesar of similar age and experience in another was a novelty. No one, least of all his soldiers, could have expected Maximian to remain in a subordinate role for ever. On 1 April 286, he was duly proclaimed augustus, without Diocletian being present, but with his full, stated approval. The cynical interpretation would be that Diocletian gave his old comrade something he would obviously have wanted before he took it for himself and thereby sparked a civil war; the loftier and more noble reading would have Diocletian and Maximian embarking on a bold experiment in power-sharing, the better for each to hang on to the imperial thrones they had won. What is certain is that they, or Diocletian, now began to concoct an elaborate ideological system to explain what everyone could see was an unprecedented relationship. Diocletian began to style himself as the child or companion of that most Roman of gods, Jupiter, the chief of the Capitoline triad, and thus the greatest god in the Roman pantheon. Maximian, for his part, was to be Hercules, Jupiter’s son and loyal subordinate. Both emperors were equally augusti, both augusti were equally divine, but Diocletian was the senior, as Jupiter was senior to Hercules. This articulated a traditional Roman paternalism but injected the issue of divine election into the question of who could be emperor. Here we can see how far things had changed since the Antonine age: a hundred years before Diocletian, Commodus had been mercilessly ridiculed for his self-assimilation to Hercules; fifty years earlier, Elagabalus’s belief in his own divine incarnation led directly to his assassination. By contrast, when Aurelian advertised his personal relationship with the unconquered sun it was accepted as perfectly reasonable, as, so it seems, was Diocletian and Maximian’s identification with Jupiter and Hercules.

It remained to be seen whether this bold experiment in power-sharing between two men with no dynastic connection would work, especially because Maximian had a son on the threshold of adulthood, while Diocletian had only daughters. The presence of a presumptive heir to the junior augustus must have complicated expectations about both the present and the future balance of power. In the moment, though, both men had plenty of work to do.

In 286, a general named Carausius revolted in Britain, declared himself augustus and began minting coins. A Menapian by birth, from the territory between the Rhine and Scheldt, he had been the commander of the Channel fleet, protecting the coastline from Saxon and Frankish pirates. His revolt was a serious concern: not only the armies of Britain, but also many stationed in Gaul itself took his side, and he began striking coins at Rotomagus (modern Rouen) as well. Maximian was too busy fighting on the frontiers of eastern Gaul throughout the later 280s to do anything about this revolt, which is surprising given that usurpations almost axiomatically trumped barbarian incursions on the scale of imperial threats. The fact that Maximian divided his time among the main cities of the Rhineland – Trier, Moguntiacum and Colonia Agrippina – may suggest that he doubted his ability to challenge the usurper successfully, and it may be that a wide tranche of western Gaul recognised Carausius rather than the new regime of Diocletian and Maximian. Rather than face the usurpation outright, Maximian launched a police action on the frontier to shore up his authority, crossing the Rhine, sowing terror among the barbarians and installing a king named Gennobaudes among some of the Franci there. The victory emboldened him and, in 288, he led an army against Carausius, winning a battle at Rotomagus and regaining control over north-western Gaul. He then began to construct a fleet, taking the better part of a year to do so, only to see it destroyed in a North Sea gale before he could launch an invasion. Carausius promptly retook the Gallic towns he had recently lost to Maximian. It must have seemed like the fatal rhythm of the mid third century was returning.

While Maximian was in Gaul, Diocletian was fighting in the Balkans, with journeys to Syria in 286 and 287 to observe developments in Persia, which had been ignored for more than a decade apart from the brief campaign of Carus. Aurelian’s destruction of rebellious Palmyra had destabilised politics on the Syrian frontier, for in 289–90 we find Diocletian at the old caravan city fighting the desert tribes and also visiting the important Severan site of Emesa. Further north, Shapur’s weak successors had lost control of Armenia, and Diocletian was able to install as king the Arsacid Tiridates III, who had fled to the Romans as a child decades earlier.

On the whole, Diocletian had been having much greater success in his sphere of activity than Maximian in his. In 290, Diocletian inspected the field armies in the Balkans, en route to northern Italy, where he met Maximian in the winter of 290–91. Whatever else it may have been – and there was no love lost between the two augusti, however much they might need one another – the meeting at Mediolanum was a show of unity. The two received embassies from the cities of the west and from the senate at Rome. This reaffirmed the tradition by which earlier soldier emperors had coopted the support of the imperial capital’s aristocracy, although neither Diocletian nor Maximian showed the slightest inclination to go there. Despite the symbolic power that Rome and its senate still commanded, sometime in the quarter century between Gallienus and Diocletian, the traditional link between emperor and eternal city had been comprehensively broken. In fact, there was no longer really an imperial capital, just a series of residences of greater or lesser importance: Trier, Mediolanum, Nicomedia and Sirmium were the most important at this stage in Diocletian and Maximian’s joint reign, but there would be others. The outlines of the old, high imperial world were growing very blurred, and we – with the full benefit of hindsight – can see a new late imperial order beginning to take shape.

Shortly after the meeting in Milan, Maximian resigned the command against Carausius. It was taken over by a subordinate general, the same Flavius Constantius whose timely betrayal of Carinus eased Diocletian’s path to power in 284 – and who had already been rewarded by marriage to Maximian’s daughter Theodora in 289. The events of later 291 and all of 292 are obscure in the extreme, almost as opaque to the historian as the reign of Probus, but when the sources resume in 293, it is with a series of momentous, indeed unprecedented, reforms. Perhaps these were agreed upon at Mediolanum in 291; perhaps Diocletian spent the intervening years working out how he might shore up a regime that remained shaky even with two cooperative joint rulers at its head. What emerged at the start of 293 was nothing short of extraordinary – having discovered that even two emperors were not enough to secure a stable regime, and having quite unaccountably survived longer than any emperor since Gallienus, Diocletian and his colleague overhauled the shape of imperial government – from the currency to the army, to the administration of the provinces and even to the imperial office itself. On 1 March 293, two new caesars were appointed, and the shared emperorship of Diocletian and Maximian became an imperial college of four members, two senior augusti and two junior caesars. With the creation of this tetrarchy, a new stage in Roman history begins, one that reinvented the very nature of the empire.

The Italians in Roman armies

South Italic warriors, c. 400BCE, art by Giuseppe Rava

Semper populum Romanum alienis rebus arbitrio alieno usum; et principium et finem in potesta tem ipsorum, qui ope sua velint adiutos Romanos, esse.

The Roman people had always employed the property of other peoples with their consent; the decision to provide assistance, both the beginning and the end, was under the control of those who wished the Roman people to enjoy their aid. (Livy 32.8.14)

The Romans relied heavily on the resources of their Italian allies, as the Senate informed Attalus II of Pergamum in 198 BCE in the passage above (all dates BCE unless otherwise noted). Of course there was a significant difference between the façade of willing, even eager, assistance the Romans promoted and the reality of allied support. In the centuries in which Rome rose from one among many Italian communities to hegemon of the peninsula, the story of the peoples of Italy in Roman armies is one of gradual integration and subordination. Roman armies in the fourth century and earlier resembled other Italian armies of the day. An important aspect of early Italian warfare was military cooperation, facilitated by overlapping bonds of formal and informal relationships between communities and individuals. Over the third century and culminating in the Second Punic War, the Romans organized their Italian allies into large conglomerate units that were placed under Roman officers. At the same time, the Romans generally took more direct control of the military resources of their allies as the idea of military obligation developed. The integration and subordination of the Italians under increasing Roman domination fundamentally altered their relationships. By the late second century, the Italians were vestiges of past traditions that no longer fitted into a changing world, resulting in growing feelings of discontent and eventually outright rebellion. Italian military resources were key to the growth of the Roman empire, but over time the balance of power changed the fundamental military relationship of the Romans with the other peoples of Italy.

Early Italian warfare

Italy prior to the Roman conquest, ending ca. 265, was a land divided amongst hundreds of communities constantly in conflict, often at war, with one another. The narrative of early Roman history is dominated by annual wars with neighbors, while the great men of Rome were nearly all warriors. The evidence that survives in the literary record is naturally one sided, focusing on the supposedly inevitable rise of Rome to hegemon of Italy. Where Italians come into the narrative is secondary, as opponents or supporting characters in a Roman tale. Despite the limitations of the sources, what survives reveals the Italian foundations of the Roman army’s reliance on allied soldiers. While warfare was common there was also an important aspect of cooperation, which is important when looking at the nature of military interaction in Italy. Both the contentiousness and cooperation shaped how the Italians fit into Roman armies and the eventual growth of empire.

The fluid and chaotic nature of community interactions is clearly demonstrated in the events from 343 to 338, the First Samnite War and the great Latin War (Livy 7.32?8.14; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.307?311). Around the year 343, the Samnites launched attacks from the central Apennines on the Sidicini in northern Campania, who in turn called upon the nearby people of Capua for help. After suffering defeat at the hands of the Samnites, the people of Capua persuaded the Romans to abandon a previous treaty with the Samnites and enter the war on their side. The Romans brought their Latin allies with them. After three years of fighting, the Romans and Samnites concluded peace to the dismay of the Latins, Campanians, and Sidicini who jointly decided to continue the fight against the Samnites (and supposedly attack Rome afterwards). In response, the Romans and Samnites, so recently enemies, joined forces and together defeated the forces of the Romans’ former allies in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius (Livy 8.8.19?11.2; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.7.3). After two more years of fighting, the Latins were put down and “given” full Roman citizenship, the Campanians became Roman allies with civitas sine suffragio, and the Sidicini became Samnite allies. These developments occurred over about five years. It is hard not to be impressed by the ease with which the Italians of the central Apennines created and abandoned their alliances when deemed profitable or useful. Such a chaotic environment made alliances and military cooperation of significant importance for the survival of Italian communities. By pooling military resources together, smaller communities were able to protect themselves and larger communities could project their influence abroad.

The communities of Italy were tied together in a complex web that facilitated military cooperation. In the plains cities were common, while in the mountains looser tribal organizations existed. Trade routes linked the peninsula, with goods flowing across community boundaries. While a number of different languages existed in Italy prior to the Roman conquest (such as Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, Etruscan) linguistic and material evidence suggests close interaction of peoples regardless of linguistic differences (Adams 2003, 112?183). Many Italian communities throughout the peninsula worshipped at common shrines, which formed the basis for religious associations called nomina (Cornell 1995, 294?299; Bradley 2000, 62?77; Isayev 2007, 31? 41; Alföldi 1965, 119). On an individual level the elites of Italian communities intermarried and maintained ties of hospitality such as the Fabii in Caere (Holloway 1994, 71?72; Livy 9.36). The various communities of Italy were a diverse group in many ways. Nevertheless, they were able to cooperate effectively with each other militarily through the connections that existed.

In particular, cooperation relied heavily on the generally similar militaristic societies of Italy. Roman militarism is well understood and quite obvious in their historical accounts (Harris 1984). However, the Romans were hardly unique in their bellicosity in the peninsula (Eckstein 2006, 118?147). Fortifications blanket Italy (city walls and hill forts). Artwork commonly depicted warfare as a motif, while ritualistic burials included military goods. Indeed, an individual’s position in society relied heavily on military accomplishments. A stark example of this comes from the story of P. Horatius Cocles, who single-handedly defended the only bridge over the Tiber from enemy invaders, earning praise from his fellow citizens. However, despite the reputation he achieved, a severe hip wound taken during the fight left him lame, which ended his ability to participate in war and thus precluded any future military commands or political offices (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 5.25.3). The story of Horatius, although undoubtedly embellished, is a stark example of the importance of warfare in Roman society. While we lack such stories from the traditions of any other Italian people, the material record (burial goods, burial frescoes, pottery) and the historical record of constant warfare suggest a similar outlook.

Formal and informal relations between communities and individuals made cooperation possible. Formal treaties (foedera) existed between communities that included mutual defense clauses in addition to various legal clauses. The foedus Cassianum stated “let [the Romans and Latins] assist each other with all their forces when either is attacked,” and forbade assisting foreign enemies (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 6.95.2; Cornell 1997, 299?301). Less formal agreements existed as well, including indutiae (truces that were mostly used in Etruria), sponsiones (personal guarantees), and the religious ties of nomina, although the military implications of these relationships is unclear. These less formal arrangements could become formal treaties under the right circumstances (Crawford 1973, 1?7). In addition, personal social relations were important especially in terms of military cooperation. Within communities, prominent individuals could maintain personal bands of warriors such as those described in the Lapis Satricanus (Stibbe 1980; Smith 1996, 235?237), the Fabii at the Cremera (Livy 2.48.8?10; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 9.15; Richard 1988, 526? 553, contra Welwei 1993, 60?76), and Numerius Decimius in the Second Punic War (Livy 22.24.12). These warbands could be led to the support of foreign individuals or communities with whom their leaders had personal relations. In 327 Samnite military assistance to Neapolis was described as “some individuals with private ties of friendship (?d??? e?? a) . and friends of the Neapolitans who are helping that city by their own choice” (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 15.8.4). Likewise, Etruscan assistance to Veii, which was being attacked by the Romans, was limited to young men with personal ties to the Veientes without any official support or condemnation from their home cities (Livy 5.17.9). Military cooperation among the Italians relied on the complex web of formal and informal relationships that linked communities together in diverse ways.

Cooperation in tactical situations was also made possible by a similar panoply of arms and armor as well as approach to warfare. Italian arms and armor showed a good deal of local variation, but generally indicate a similar style and approach to warfare. From the fifth century onwards, Italian armor suggests an emphasis on individual combat in battle. Helmets came in a variety of styles variously inspired by Celtic influence in the north and Greek influence in the south (Paddock 1993). Despite local variations, these helmets shared an open face and uncovered ears that did not hinder the wearer’s sight or hearing, indicating the importance of situational awareness. Body armor consisted of heart-protectors, triple-disc breastplates, and chainmail depending on the region, while shields were generally oval in shape and somewhat smaller than their Greek equivalents (Stary 1981). These forms of armor allowed freedom of movement, relying on personal mobility for protection rather than Greece’s heavy bronze that provided superior protection but inhibited movement. Mobility and space trumped heavy armor and dense formations. Weaponry likewise suggests an importance on individual combatants. The peoples of Italy seem to have preferred a certain kind of weapon (e. g. swords in Latium, spears in Samnium), but many regions also indicate variation of weapons within a single population (different types of spears, swords, axes) (Stary 1981). Ultimately, weapon choice was likely personal. Polybius confirms this disparity of arms and armor, albeit within larger age groups of Roman armies (Polyb. 6.22?23; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.703? 706). Where the individual is emphasized over the group, personal variations had less of an impact. Common arms and armor, as well as approaches to warfare, facilitated the military cooperation of the peoples of Italy.

Military cooperation was made possible by a common military culture in Italy and served an important function in the survival and expansion of communities. Domination of the peninsula ultimately came down to who could best utilize allied military resources through formal and informal relationships. The fourth and early third centuries witnessed a brutal series of wars that engulfed the peninsula in a constantly shifting set of alliances among communities. Although Rome’s wars naturally dominate the narrative, there were many others, many of which did not involve the Romans. Throughout these conflicts, exploitation of military alliances proved vital but alliances were often fleeting. An important aspect of Roman success in the wars of Italy was their attempts to solidify control over their allies’ military resources, by incorporating many allies as full or partial citizens into Rome’s military structure (Livy 8.14.1?12; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.538?571). By the middle of the third century the Romans managed to solidify their hegemony through warfare, colonization, citizenship extensions, land seizures, aristocratic relationships, and treaties. At its heart, though, Roman domination of Italy was built on preexisting military and political systems of the peninsula. The Italians remained autonomous Roman allies who continued to provide military assistance through the ancient systems of cooperation that had long been in place. Roman hegemony, however, fundamentally altered the balance of power in Italy and would, in time, result in a subordination and integration of the Italians into a Roman military and political system.

The Italians in the Roman military system

There was an inherent similarity of Italian styles of warfare in the peninsula, which facilitated the cooperation of Romans and their Italian allies. In time, this cohesiveness allowed the development of a more sophisticated organization of Rome’s allies into larger units (alae) under Roman officers (prefects). Better incorporation and control of their allies allowed the Romans to use them very effectively in conquering and maintaining an empire.

Although the command structure used by the Romans with regard to their Italian allies is difficult to determine due to a general poor survival of evidence, there is clear evidence of greater levels of control in the third and second centuries. Before the Punic Wars, there is little indication of well-defined command structures over allied forces in Roman armies. Livy twice mentions prefects of the allies in the mid-third century, but only as part of stock phrases (Livy 8.36.5; 10.35.5; Oakley 1997? 2005, 2.749?750). That is not to say that Roman commanders were never placed over units of Italian allies (e. g. Sp. Nautius in 293, Livy 10.40.8; Frontin. Str. 2.4.1), only that there is no evidence of a regular position. With the domination of Italy by the Romans, however, a new Roman command structure developed. The exact timeline of this development is hazy, but by the Second Punic War Roman officers known as prefects of the allies (praefecti sociorum) are to be found commanding groups of Italians. These officers represent a level of command and control for Roman generals, making tactical control more effective, as well as representing the growing formalization of Roman domination of their allies. Italian commanders were apparently subordinated below these officers and appear less often in the sources. Polybius indicates that the prefects were a fully integrated part of the Roman command structure (6.26?40; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709?723). They were appointed at the discretion of Roman generals. Twelve men were appointed to this position, six per ala (legion-like units of allies), which corresponded to the number of military tribunes in citizen legions (Ilari 1974, 128). Prefects of the allies could be used as special commanders of small detachments of allied forces, a few infantry cohorts or cavalry turmae (Livy 24.20.1; 27.41.7; 40.31.3?6; Sall. Iug. 77.4). However, in those instances where alae functioned as independent operational units similar to legions, they did so under legates as opposed to prefects.

Sometime in the third century Roman generals began organizing the allied forces drawn from other Italian communities into larger units, alae. There are some indications of groupings of allied groups in Roman armies before the Punic Wars (Livy 10.43.3; Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 20.1.5). However, it was not until the Second Punic War (218?201) that they are firmly attested and appear regularly thereafter. The close timing with the appearance of prefects of the allies is likely not a coincidence, as both the officers and units were closely intertwined. However, it is difficult to push this interpretation too far as sources for the early third century are quite poor and generally preserve little specific information regarding Italians in Roman armies. The alae comprised smaller cohorts drawn from allied communities and were commanded by local leaders. As a whole, the alae were similar in size to legions and could serve a similar tactical function (e. g. Livy 25.21.6; 27.1.8?13; 31.21.1?7; 35.5). In fact, in his description of the Battle of Magnesia Livy refers to the alae as legions (37.39.7; Briscoe 1981, 347). Together, the prefects and alae created a more effective system for the Romans to exploit the military potential of their allies.

The most detailed description of the Roman Republican army, including weapons, armor, command structure, castrametation, and, most relevantly here, an overview of the Italian allies as they served in Roman armies, comes from Polybius (6.19? 42). The army was divided into three lines of heavy infantry (the triplex acies) divided into age groups plus smaller numbers of cavalry and light infantry. The Italians, who had shared a common panoply prior to the Roman conquest, were organized similarly, and Livy says that at the Battle of Mt. Vesuvius in 340 the Latins fought in the same triple line (8.8; Oakley 1997?2005, 2.475?476). While no doubt anachronistic, the description is consistent with the similarities of warfare in early Italy and at the later battle at Magnesia in 189 where the Italians were organized along the same lines as the Romans (Livy 37.39.7?8). Each line was further divided into smaller subunits. For Roman infantry, these units were the maniples made up of about 160 men, three of which were grouped as a cohort. Italian infantry seem to have been organized solely in cohorts of about 500 men, or at least only cohorts are in evidence. Polybius says that the number of allied infantry coincided with the Roman infantry with three times the number of cavalry (6.27.6?9; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709; cf. Vell. Pat. 2.15.1?2).

It seems that the two alae were typically deployed on the flanks of the two legions in a consular army (Polyb. 6.26.9; Livy 37.39.7?8). The alae, however, were not always placed on the wings, but could be deployed as needed. The Italian allies no longer formed cooperative groups, but fully formed tactical units that could undertake a variety of roles. In 181 the propraetor Q. Fulvius Flaccus in Spain deployed the left ala into an ambush position against a force of Celtiberians (Livy 40.31; cf. Frontin. Str. 2.5.8). Here not only was the ala acting completely separately from the main Roman force, but it also functioned as the core to which 6,000 Spanish auxiliaries could be attached much as the Roman legions had done for allied Italian forces. Of course, not all, or even most, Roman generals used alae so creatively, but the integration of the Italian allies was an important development in Roman warfare that created a potentially more efficient fighting force.

Beyond the alae, the allies were also grouped into a unit called the extraordinarii. Before the alae were organized, the extraordinarii were chosen by the prefects of the allies from the best men of the Italian soldiers, about 2,000 infantry and 600 cavalry (Polyb. 6.26.7?9; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709). They were then subdivided into four cohorts of infantry and ten turmae of cavalry. While Roman armies were on the march, Polybius (6.40.8) says that the extraordinarii were either deployed in the van or the rear depending on where attacks were expected. They seem to have had no regular position in the battle-line, being deployed as needed and providing a flexible force of good soldiers (Pfeilschifter 2007, 34; Livy 40.31.3; Polyb. 10.39.1).

The Italians had become fully integrated into the Roman military system by the end of the third century. They were incorporated into the camps that Roman armies regularly constructed, although the exact details are difficult to ascertain (Polyb. 6.27? 32; Walbank 1957?1971, 1.709?716; Dobson 2008; cf. Rosenstein 2012, 93?100). The extraordinarii occupied a place of distinction near the general’s tent. Non-Italian allies camped separately. With regards to rations, Polybius (6.39.15) says that the allied infantry received the same rations as the Roman infantry, and the cavalry about onethird less than the Roman cavalry, which were given as a gift. The provision of rations can be associated with the growing disparity in relative power between the Romans and their Italian allies. In Roman eyes, it was the duty of their allies to march alongside Roman citizens across the Mediterranean, but at the same time, as with any good master, it was the duty of the Romans to care for their subordinate allies while on campaign.

The many campaigns in which the Italians participated alongside the Romans also had an impact on the complex process of cultural interchange. To be sure, units were apparently separated by ethnic groups into units and in camps (Pfeilschifter 2007; Rosenstein 2012). While fluency may have been rare, there is no reason to think that this segregation prevented passing knowledge of Latin among allied soldiers. Certainly, in those instances of discontent among soldiers, Roman citizens and Italian allies showed solidarity and cooperation (Livy 28.24.13; 40.35?36). Nevertheless, many regions in Italy show at least familiarity with Latin that must have been supported by military interaction. The Abruzzi tribes of the central Apennines were among the most common allies in Roman armies, among them the Marsi who claimed that no Roman army had ever achieved a triumph over them or without them (App. B Civ. 1.46). The earliest example of Latin used outside of Latium (in this case influenced by local Oscan), dated to the third century, comes from this area (ILLRP 7). On the other hand, the Paeligni, another Abruzzi people commonly referenced in Roman armies, show little influence from Latin in the inscriptional evidence as early as their neighbors (Bispham 2007, 5). The impact of Latin on the various languages of Italy in general reflects the same complexity of influence, adaptation, and resistance (Bispham 2007, 4?5; Benelli 2001, 7?16; Mouritsen 1998, 77?81). While other factors were at play, common military service based on centuries-old traditions of military cooperation made cultural exchange among the peoples of Italy possible.

The Low Point of the Third Century Roman Empire and Reforms of Gallienus

Roman infantry during the crisis of the third century. They wear late pattern Niederbieber helmets.

The prestige of Roman arms was at an all-time low and the situation was made even worse by the fact that the power-hungry Roman generals everywhere rose in revolt against Gallienus (253–268), the son and co-emperor of Valerian. With prestige low and civil wars being fought, the enemies of Rome seized their opportunity and broke through the frontiers everywhere. In Gaul Postumus created a separatist Gallic Empire, which weakened Gallienus’ position even further and led to the development of separate military organizations in the different parts of the Empire. And this was not the only revolt Gallienus was facing. It was symptomatic of the situation that Gallienus had to grant Odaenathus, the Arab prince of Palmyra, the command of all loyal Roman forces in the east with the title Corrector Totius Orientis against the Roman forces of the usurping family of the Macriani in Asia, while his own forces engaged their main army.

Gallienus could not trust any native Roman with the command of an army against Roman usurpers, but his emergency measure led to further troubles. Its by-product was the short-lived Palmyran Empire, and one can say with very good reason that the father of the Palmyran Empire was Gallienus. Odaenathus’ role in the defeat of Shapur I in 260 and in subsequent events has been overstated. Odaenathus had merely raided Shapur’s personal retinue in 260 while the divisions of Shapur’s army were actually defeated by the Roman forces which consisted of those sent by Gallienus (the fleet under Ballista) and those who had survived the fall of Valerian. It was this army that the Macriani then turned against Gallienus.

In the West, the Dunkirk II marine transgression beginning in c.230 had led to the abandonment of the forts at the mouth of the Rhine, which the Franks had exploited by beginning to conduct piratical raids alongside their land operations. In 260 the Franks penetrated all the way to Spain before being defeated by Postumus, who then duly usurped power. The earliest recorded piratical raid of the Saxons occurred slightly later in the 280s, but it is possible that they too had started this activity earlier because a new set of fortifications was built on both sides of the Channel between c.250–285 that we today know with the name of the Saxon shore. The Roman coastal defences and fleets had proved incapable of protecting the coasts of Britain, Gaul and Spain.

Elsewhere, the Alamanni had been able to march into Italy before being defeated by Gallienus; the Goths and Heruls had ravaged Asia Minor, the Balkans and even the Mediterranean before being defeated through the combined efforts of three successive emperors – Gallienus, Claudius II and Aurelian; the Persians had ravaged Asia Minor and Syria; and the Berbers had raided Mauritania Tingitana. Similarly, further east other Berbers (Quinquegentanei, Bavares and Faraxen/Frexes) had ravaged the North-East of Mauritania Caesariensis and the North-West of Numidia from 254 to 259.

During Claudius II’s reign the Blemmyes had ravaged Egypt and the Marmaridae had ravaged Cyrenaica, and the Palmyran Arabs and their Roman auxiliaries had been able to conquer most of the east. Even the Isaurians had revolted and started raiding.

Gallienus did not only fight these enemies, but concluded treaties with the Franks, Marcomanni and Heruls. He was desperately short of manpower, and was therefore ready to use a combination of force and diplomacy. This policy allowed him to pacify whole sectors of the frontier and it also gave him access to a pool of auxiliaries and Foederati that he could employ against other foreign or domestic enemies. It was highly symptomatic of the situation that foreigners were needed for the fighting of civil wars.

However, eventually after many years of fighting, Gallienus managed to stabilize the situation partly thanks to the many reforms he made, partly thanks to his own superb generalship, partly thanks to the efforts of others (Postumus, Odaenathus, generals), partly by treaties, and partly thanks to the temporary abandonment of terrain to the enemy. Gallienus was faced with an unenviable situation, and therefore instituted many changes and reforms to save the situation: for example, he granted religious freedom to the Christians to gain their support, especially in the east.

It should be stressed, however, that the reforms of Gallienus concerned only that part of the empire which was ruled by him. For example, in the Gallic Empire the usurper Postumus had to bolster his military strength by employing a great number of auxiliary troops consisting of ‘Celts’ (Germans or Gauls?) and Franks (SHA Gall. 7), who may have been the precursors of the Late Roman auxilia. In contrast, Gallienus created a personal field army comitatus consisting of a mix of new recruits and existing units and their detachments. The core of this army was based on cavalry that Gallienus grouped together. Foreigners did play a role in his army too, but mainly as allied forces.

The most famous of Gallienus’ reforms was the creation of the first separate mobile cavalry army, the Tagmata, in Milan as a rapid reaction force against threats from Gaul, Raetia and Illyria. The evacuation of the Agri Decumantes by Postumus opened Italy to invasions through Raetia. What was novel about the Tagmata was that the legionary cavalry forces had been separated from their mother units and joined together with the auxiliary cavalry units to form the first truly separate and permanent cavalry army (that is, it was not a temporary grouping) under its own commander. This army consisted of cavalry units/legions about 6,000 strong, the equivalent of infantry legions. But this was not the whole extent of the reform. Gallienus also separated the infantry units and detachments into their own separate 6,000-man ‘legions’. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that John Lydus (De magistratibus 1.46, p.70.3–4) also refers to the existence of separate 6,000-man infantry legions, and 6,000-man cavalry legions (i.e. the equivalent of later mere/meros) in the past, the practice of which I date to Gallienus’ reign.

According to the sixth-century author Lydus (De Magistr. 1.46), the professional Roman army consisted of units (speirai) of 300 aspidoforoi (shield-bearers185) called cohorts; cavalry alae (ilai) of 600 horsemen; vexillationes of 500 horsemen; turmae of 500 horsemen and legions of 6,000 footmen and the same numbers of horsemen. On the basis of the fact that this list fails to mention the limitanei or comitatenses and includes the praetoriani, it is clear that the names must predate the reign of Constantine. However, Lydus’ referral to the cohorts of 300 aspidoforoi should be seen as a referral to the use of the legions as phalanxes consisting of 320-man units. It is of course possible that this is a mistake resulting from his misunderstanding of the structure of the republican era manipular legion of principes, hastati, and triarii, which Marius had changed to include the light-armed velites for a total of 480 men. If Lydus is correct then the ‘cohort’ in question could be a second- to third-century detachment that consisted of only the four centuries of shield-bearers (à 80) for a total of 320 men (depth four to eight men), in addition to which came the light-armed (lanciarii, sagittarii, verutarii, funditores, ferentarii for a total of 160 men, deployed two to four deep). That is, with the inclusion of the light-armed this cohort retained the old strength of 480, but it was still smaller than the ‘old cohort’, because it had included in addition to the 480 legionaries 240 light-armed troops. This alternative receives support from the fact that the units would not have marched to war in their entirety, which would have made necessary the use of the abovementioned smaller cohorts. The other alternative is that we should identify the 300-man cohorts with the 256-man tagmata of the former legions mentioned by the Strategikon (12.B.8.1) so that each detachment (1024 men) consisted of four such and 256 light-armed men grouped separately. However, this seems to refer to the situation after the reforms of Constantine.

The creation of a separate independent cavalry Tagmata and commander (Aureolus in Zonaras 12.25: ‘archôn tês hippou’) can be seen as a precursor for the later division of the armed forces under a Magister Equitum and a Magister Peditum, as the title ‘Commander of the Cavalry’ also implies that there must have been a separate commander for Gallienus’ infantry forces. In fact, it is obvious that Gallienus’ infantry detachments, drawn from all over the Empire – including the areas under Postumus – required a new administrative system at the head of which must have been some commander for the infantry. It should be kept in mind, however, that on the basis of a papyrus dating from 302 the cavalry was not yet regarded as fully independent. That is, each legionary cavalry unit retained its connection with their infantry unit for administrative purposes until the reign of Diocletian (Parker, 1933, 188–9), but it is also possible that one of Gallienus’ successors reattached the cavalry back to the legions. Unfortunately, we do not know the title of the infantry commander that is likely to have existed for the infantry detachments. He may have been Comes or Magister Peditum, or Comes Domesticorum Peditum, or Praefectus Praetorio.

It is suggested that the Tribunus et Magister Officiorum was actually the overall commander of all Protectores, because according to Aurelius Victor 33, Claudius II, who was the most important man right after Gallienus in 268, had only the title of tribunus in 368. This would equate with the title of Tribunus et Magister Officiorum (note also SHA Elagab. 20.2). Gallienus was quite prepared to create large military commands for his trusted men. Of note is Gallienus’ creation of regional commands in the same manner as Philip the Arab had done. For example, the former ‘Hipparchos’ Aureolus served as Dux per Raetias in 267–268 with command of all of the forces facing Postumus and Alamanni in Italy and Raetia. The largest command was granted to Odaenathus who held the position of Corrector Totius Orientis, with the powers to command all of the forces of the East, but in this case Gallienus probably had little choice. It should be noted, however, that for the creation of the supreme command of the eastern armies there were also precedents, for example from the reign of Philip the Arab and even before that from the early Principate.

One of Gallienus’ more important reforms was the exclusion of senators from positions of military leadership (tribuni, duces, legati) in order to limit their possibility for usurpation. Obviously this did not concern every senator, only those who did not have Gallienus’ trust. Gallienus’ favourite senators still continued to hold on to and to receive new military appointments. Similarly, this exclusion did not concern the position of governorship. Gallienus’ reform meant that henceforth Roman generals would consist of duces (dukes), comites (counts) and praefecti (prefects), all appointed by the emperor, and no longer of the senatorial legates as before. Unsurprisingly, it was during this period that the senatorial legati stopped being commanders of legions. Henceforth the legions were commanded by professional military men of equestrian rank who had risen to higher commands through service in the ranks.

The dux (leader, duke) was originally a temporary command, but thanks to the fact that temporarily-created forces like Gallienus’ Comitatus and Tagmata were constantly operating together, the position became a regular one. Besides his command duties, the dux was also in charge of recruiting, training, and supply. The comes (companion, count) was originally a member of the emperor’s entourage, which now became a permanent title for a great variety of offices. Militarily the most important offices were the Comes Domesticorum (commander of the Protectores Domestici) and Comes rei Militaris (general). The inscription (PLRE 1 Marcianus 2) AE 1965, 114 Philippolis (Thrace) confirms the existence of comes or magister as military commander for the reign of Gallienus. It runs as follows: “ho diasêmotatos, protector tou aneikêtou despotou hêmôn Galliênou Se(bastou), tribounos praetôrianôn kai doux kai stratêlatês”. Dux and stratelates (comes or magister) are clearly two separate posts. The closeness of the comites to the emperor ensured better chances of promotion, just like with the protectores (see below). The importance of the temporary position of praepositus also increased and became semipermanent in many cases. The significance of the tribune also increased, the highest ranking of them being in charge of the units of bodyguards and the lesser in charge of the cavalry vexillations, legions and auxiliary cohorts.

Further, Gallienus increased the importance of the institutions of Protectores/Protectores Domestici (protectors/protectors at home/court), which may have been created by him or by Caracalla, and the Frumentarii (postmen/spies/assassins) as instruments of imperial security.

The exact status of the protectores/domestici is not known. There were also three or four types of protectores: those who had been posted in the provinces and whose origin probably lay in the governors’ bodyguards (equites and pedites singulares); those who stayed with the emperor and came to be called Protectores Domestici or Domestici (these latter were also later sent on missions as deputati); and those who had received the honour of simply being given the title. According to one view the protector was originally an honorary title that was then extended to men who acted as the emperor’s bodyguards/staff college from which the men received appointments to other higher positions, and/or the title was given to all officers who had reached a certain rank to make them more loyal to the emperor. According to this view the protectores were not really a military bodyguard unit, but simply men with the officers’ rank that acted simultaneously as the emperor’s bodyguards and staff-college and from which they could be seconded to special missions or for duty in the generals’ staffs.

According to another view there were two separate entities of protectores, the first of which was the staff-college/military intelligence staff and the second of which was an actual imperial bodyguard unit. According to this version, the latter protectores were formerly called either speculatores (300 ‘scouts’ stationed in the same camp as the Praetorians) or they consisted of the former equites singularis Augusti (c.2000 horsemen).

The suggestion is that there were ‘three’ bodyguard units of protectores/domestici: 1) the former speculatores who performed simultaneously the functions of bodyguards, military intelligence gathering, acted as sort of political commissars who kept their superiors in check, and acted as a staff-college for the emperor who could then use these officers for special missions; 2) military units like the equites singulares Augusti and Scholae/Aulici commanded by these protectores and which were also collectively called protectores; and 3) the former bodyguards of the governors and were now only renamed as protectores.

There are several reasons for this conclusion. The protectores were later used as commanders and officers of (for example) the Scholae of Constantine, which points to the likelihood that the protectores probably commanded different units under each different emperor. Many of these units would also have consisted of barbarians or other ethnic groups, just like the case with the equites singulares Augusti or Caracalla’s Leones. Consequently, during Gallienus’ reign the cavalry protectores probably consisted of the Equites Singulares Augusti, Scholae, Equites Dalmatae (and possibly also of the Comites, Equites Promoti and some other units) while its infantry counterparts would probably have been some palatine units like those later known as the Ioviani and Herculiani. Notably, the Equites Dalmatae formed Gallienus’ retinue at the time of his murder.

It is further important to note that besides being bodyguards, just like the praetorians and all those garrisoned at castra peregrinorum in Rome, the protectores were also used as spies and imperial assassins, and it is also known that Gallienus sometimes even spied upon people in person in disguise at night. As Frank has pointed out it is probable that the protectores also served as the military equivalent of the civilian agentes in rebus (successors of the Frumentarii) in the staffs of the period commanders. That is, the protectores performed military intelligence gathering missions which included spying on superiors and on foreigners. The messenger/inspector Frumentarii were by no means the only imperial special agents. It is not known whether Gallienus also used priests, astrologers and fortune tellers as informers just like the earlier emperors, but one may make the educated guess that such practices were also continued alongside the other systems.

Among the greatest successes of Gallienus can be counted that in his own portion of the Roman Empire he created and trained a highly efficient and mobile army commanded by equally gifted men of lowly Illyrian origin all of whom had risen through the ranks. It was this army and its leaders that breathed new life into the Roman Empire. It is true that the final mopping up of the Gothic and Herulian invading forces was left for Claudius and Aurelian (Aurelianus) to complete during the years 269–271, but it was still primarily thanks to the valiant efforts of Gallienus in 267–268 that the terrible migration/invasion of the Eastern Germans was stopped. The destruction of the Gothic and Herulian fleets, together with a sizable portion of their manpower and population, caused a temporary collapse of Gothic power in the Black Sea region with the result that, for example, the Sarmatians were able to regain control of the Bosporan kingdom. The same victory also secured to the Romans the control of the allied Greek cities of the North Black Sea such as Olbia and Chersonesus, the latter of which proved instrumental in warfare against the Bosporans. It is of course possible that the Romans never lost the control of these cities, but the crushing defeat of the Goths in 267–271 certainly secured these for the Romans. It is also probable that it was then at the latest that the ‘Huns’ moved westward to occupy lands north of the Caucasus previously under the control of the Goths, unless of course the reason for the Gothic invasions/migrations had not been their attack to begin with rather than the arrival of the plague with the lure of easy booty – additional details are included later in the narrative.

Despite all the frantic efforts of Gallienus, at the time when he was murdered by his own officers the Roman Empire was still effectively divided into three parts: 1) the Gallic Empire under the usurper/emperor Postumus; 2) the Roman Empire under the legitimate emperor Gallienus; and 3) the Palmyran Empire, still nominally ruled by Gallienus but already in practice by Zenobia, the widow of the murdered Odaenathus. The revolt of Aureolus and the murder of Gallienus had also meant that the mopping up of the Gothic invaders had been left unfinished, as a result of which Claudius’ short reign was entirely spent on dealing with the Goths, while the Palmyrenes rose in revolt against him. The Palmyrene takeover of the East and Egypt caused serious but not permanent damage to the classes Syriaca/Seleuca and Alexandriana both of which, however, appear to have managed to survive by fleeing to Roman territory. The end result of this was the resurgence of the problem of Isaurian piracy. The fleets as such survived and took part in the reconquest of the East during the reign of Aurelian.

Thanks to the fact that Gallienus’ almost only available recruiting area was Illyricum, he had brought the Illyrians to the dominant position among the military. The Illyrians were tough soldiers but only semi-civilized in Roman eyes. It was largely thanks to this that, after the murder of Gallienus by Illyrian officers, the Empire was effectively ruled by the ‘Illyrian Mafia’, at least until the downfall of the Constantinian Dynasty.