SARDINIA – Second Punic War

In the war’s first years Sardinia had a small role to play. Its peoples had not taken kindly to Roman rule since 237 BCE. Once Roman forces went over in 235, several years of fighting and a good few consular triumphs were needed before peace more or less reigned. Even at the time, some Romans may have entertained suspicion that Carthage was behind the Sardinians’ unfriendliness to their new masters. Cato the Elder, born in 234, would later claim that several Punic treaty breaches occurred before 219 (though his details are missing); and, as noted earlier, the Gallic invasion looming in 225 sent Roman forces not only to Tarentum and Sicily but to Sardinia as well-a consular army, in fact.

After Hannibal’s opening victories in the war, it again made sense to send a legion to the island as a precaution against the Carthaginians. No doubt it helped too with enforcing the heavy payments of tribute and grain that Rome imposed on the locals. These demands naturally increased Sardinians’ discontent. After Cannae, restive chieftains led by one Hampsicora invited Carthage to aid them in a planned rebellion. As some communities stayed loyal to the Romans, based at Carales on the south coast, while the folk of the island’s mountainous interior were largely independent, and as the rebels’ main stronghold was Cornus on the west coast, the rebellion may have arisen in that region. Old Phoenician colonies there such as Cornus, Tarros, and Othoca probably kept in touch with their former hegemon more easily than others nearer Carales could. Hampsicora’s contact at Carthage was an aristocrat named Hanno, influential enough to win the city’s backing for the revolt and no doubt a Barcid supporter, though not a kinsman. He and one Mago, who was related to Hannibal, were appointed lieutenants to Hasdrubal ‘the Bald’, who with about 12,000 troops sailed for Sardinia in 215.

Everything went wrong. Their fleet was so thoroughly deranged by a storm that it fetched up in the Balearic Isles 500 kilometers away, needing repairs. Hampsicora’s rebellion could not wait, but Titus Manlius Torquatus (the first consul to campaign in annexed Sardinia, twenty years before) had already landed at Carales with reinforcements and soon inflicted a defeat on the Sardinians. When Hasdrubal finally arrived and joined them for another effort, Manlius smashed the combined armies. Hampsicora’s son Hostus was killed, all three Carthaginian leaders were taken prisoner, and with Hampsicora’s own suicide and the fall of Cornus the rebellion collapsed. The island continued to be garrisoned by Roman legions (two until 207, a single one thereafer) but caused no further alarm except in 210, when an enterprising commodore named Hamilcar raided first Olbia’s countryside on the northeast coast and then Carales’s, to sail home laden with plunder.


In Sardinia, the Roman presence was small and its control of the island was tottering. A certain local magnate, Hampsicora, was stirring up revolt and beckoning to Carthage. Hasdrubal the Bald was sent there with a force of about 12,000 foot and 1,500 horse, but the fleet was damaged and they were delayed by bad weather. On the other side, the Romans sent 5,000 foot and 400 horse under Titus Manlius Torquatus, who now controlled a total force of 22,000 foot and 1,200 horse. He marched upcountry and encamped near the position occupied by Hampsicora. Shortly afterwards Hasdrubal arrived, causing Manlius to withdraw to Carales [Cagliari], Hasdrubal joined forces with Hampsicora and together they advanced toward Carales but were met and engaged by Manlius. The action lasted for four hours during which numerous Sardinians were either killed of fled. The Carthaginians put up a stiffer resistance but eventually they too turned and started to flee, only to find that their retreat was cut off by the Roman wing which had routed the Sardinians. What followed was butchery. The enemy lost a total of 12,000 men killed and 3,700 captured. Among the prisoners were Hasdrubal himself and two other commanders, Hanno and Mago. Hampsicora, learning that his son was dead, killed himself.



Roman Frontier: The River Euphrates

The fort at Hân al-Manqoûra (Syria) from the air.


Map of the northern section of the eastern frontier in Cappadocia and Syria.

To turn from the Occident to the Orient is to enter a new world. Here, Rome took over long-established kingdoms and inherited their frontiers. Equally significantly, she faced a dangerous foe, the only other major power which bordered the empire, Parthia. Much of Rome’s relationship with her neighbour was governed by peace treaties and a wary understanding of each other’s power. The route to Parthia lay across and down the River Euphrates, and for most of the first and second centuries this river formed the boundary between the two states.

The point where the two empires were conjoined was comparatively narrow. In the time of Augustus and for the next 200 years, Rome and Parthia met for a distance of only about 260km (155 miles) along the River Euphrates from Armenia to the north to the Syrian Desert to the south. In the desert there was little room for manoeuvre so the frontier remained static, but to the north, there was a continuous tussle to control the strategically located kingdom of Armenia lying to the north of the Parthian empire and east of the Roman province of Cappadocia.

Following the conquest of the Seleucid kingdom based on Syria and later Egypt, legions were maintained in the new provinces. Troops stationed in Judaea were concerned with internal security rather than with any external threat, as in Egypt. Syria was a different matter. It was the bulwark against Parthia. Augustus based four legions, supported by auxiliary units, within the province, including at the capital Antioch, athwart the main route into – and out of – Parthia. The area between Roman Syria and the Black Sea was left to be controlled by the resident client kings who undertook the work of defence on behalf of the empire. They defended not only their section of the frontier but, on demand, supplied troops to operate with the Roman legions, as attested from Augustus to Vespasian. These client kingdoms, however, were gradually incorporated into the empire as their kings died or Roman emperors decided. By the time of Trajan the process was complete. The legions were all now on the River Euphrates, and spread more evenly than in previous years along the frontier, yet still controlling the access routes to Parthia. Two legions lay in Syria, at Zeugma/Belkis and Samosata/Samsat facing Parthia and two in Cappadocia to the north, at Melitene/Malatya and Satala/Kelkit opposite Armenia. The southern three guarded routes across the river, routes which allowed passage not only for caravans but also for armies, while the fourth lay at the southern end of the Zigana Pass leading to the Black Sea. While the Euphrates might have formed the frontier, it cut through the mountains of Cilicia and in places the resulting gorge was 3,000m (10,000ft) deep, a formidable obstacle in its own right.

There is little more that can be said about this frontier. At least fifteen auxiliary regiments are known to have been based in Cappadocia in the middle of the second century and about twice that number in Syria, but the bases of these units are generally not known.

This frontier came under significant threat from the Parthians in the second century, as will be discussed below. The Upper Euphrates from Melitene/Malatya to Satala/Kelkit and thence northwards to the Black Sea remained the frontier, but further south Rome pushed forward into the desert, and this will also be considered below. The Euphrates remained a significant line of communication and on its southern bank sat the great oasis city, and Roman garrison, of Dura-Europos. Excavations between World Wars I and II led to the identification of the military quarter in the city, the only eastern site where this arrangement has been recognized and planned.

The Antonine Wall and the abandonment of Hadrian’s Wall




The Antonine Wall runs between the Forth and Clyde in Scotland, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Hadrian’s Wall. It was built under the orders of Antoninus Pius in the early 140s, and was permanently abandoned in the 160s. His Roman biographer states that he built a turf wall in Britain once the governor, Lollius Urbicus, had defeated the ‘barbarians’. Pius may have needed to establish a reputation for himself as a firm ruler, but perhaps there were local problems like idle soldiers, the tying up of too many troops in the numerous garrison posts of Hadrian’s Wall, and difficulties with supplying the remote central sector forts. There may even have been a change of policy requiring more exact control of the area north of Hadrian’s Wall, perhaps connected with the fact that the latter cut across the tribal lands of the Brigantes, the principal tribe of northern Britain. The plan may even have been to create a kind of ‘neutral zone’ between the Walls, through which individuals and groups could pass.

The new frontier was only 37 Roman miles (59 km) long, or around half that of Hadrian’s Wall. It was modelled on its predecessor, but was built entirely of turf on a cobble base 14 Roman feet (4.1 m) wide. The new frontier had a forward ditch, about 20 to 30 Roman feet (6 to 9 m) wide, but no equivalent to the Vallum was ever dug. Unlike Hadrian’s Wall, the forts were designed to be part of the new frontier from the beginning, and even preceded the turf curtain in some cases; however, a second wave of forts seem to have been added during construction. The forts were interspersed with fortlets, but there is no positive evidence for a regular series of turrets. Their combined capacity means that the total garrison cannot have been very much less than that on Hadrian’s Wall. In military terms, this supplied twice as many men per mile of frontier than before. It was backed up by the garrisoning of forts in the land between the Walls. At High Rochester, an old Flavian fort site was utilized to create a new stone fort. At Birrens, the Hadrianic fort seems to have remained in occupation, with rebuilding work apparently undertaken by detachments of Rhine legions.

Controlled movement across Hadrian’s Wall is thought to have been abandoned: the milecastle gates were either removed or left open, and crossings were installed on the Vallum (the latter remain the clearest trace of this policy today, but are not easily datable). As far as the forts are concerned, their garrisons were probably transferred to the new Wall. Unfortunately, so few early garrisons on Hadrian’s Wall are known that this is difficult to show, but the First Cohort of Hamian archers, stationed at the Stanegate fort of Carvoran under Hadrian, was posted to Bar Hill on the Antonine Wall for a while before returning to. Even so, it is unlikely that the Hadrian’s Wall forts were abandoned. At Birdoswald there is no discernible gap in datable finds of the second century. However, some parts of the fort, unbuilt on since its construction, remained open; as these included the site of the later granaries, it has been suggested that the fort was only manned by a reduced garrison.

It’s unfortunate that we know so little about the history of later Roman Britain. Most of our detailed historical information dates to the first century, such as the accounts written by Tacitus. Thereafter, historians and archaeologists have no choice but to piece together a chronology from brief literary references to Britain, inscriptions, coins, and archaeology. Even this deteriorates because inscriptions, never common, become even scarcer after the early third century, and literary references increasingly sporadic and more unreliable. So it has proved difficult to avoid making much from little. This is far from unusual in archaeology, even for the Roman period. Britain was a backwater, a testing ground for premier military careers, but otherwise of only secondary importance to the Empire. She became useful and productive, but was always dispensable, making headline news in Rome only when war broke out. This forces a reliance on what is recovered from the ground. There is no avoiding the reality that pottery and coin evidence is far too imprecise, however carefully researched, to provide exact chronologies when historical references and inscriptions are lacking.

In the period 142-4, around the same time as the Antonine Wall was begun, coins were struck depicting Britannia, and were followed by a similar issue (which is normally only found in Britain) for the years 154-5. Such coins were usually produced at times of military success, but they do not always explicitly state this. The geographer Pausanias describes a phase of warfare during Pius’ reign which may have taken place in northern Britain, but he appears to have been mistaken, or had confused two different wars. The arrival of legionary reinforcements at Newcastle from Germany or the return of detachments temporarily sent to Germany, and rebuilding at Birrens, about this time might suggest something was afoot. Destruction and repair on the Antonine Wall may be attributable to these implicit phases of warfare.

But archaeologists have no doubt that the Antonine Wall saw two distinct phases of occupation, following careful examination of two levels of destruction and demolition debris. The problems are when and for how long, and whether the phases ended because of defeat or deliberate withdrawal. These have proved difficult to resolve.

The reoccupation of Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was recommissioned by the 160s, though repair work is testified by 158. Calpurnius Agricola was sent to govern Britain around 163. He is mentioned by the biographer of Marcus Aurelius, and his name appears on inscriptions at Carvoran and Stanwix. It seems reasonable to assume that the Antonine Wall had, by then, been given up for good. If there was any Turf Wall left in the western sector of Hadrian’s Wall, it was now replaced in stone. Some of the turrets were demolished between this period and c. 220, being reduced to their lower courses, and the Wall restored to full width over them. It is unlikely that the Walls were occupied simultaneously. So, a logical assumption would be that somewhere between the late 150s and early 170s a decision was made to give up the Antonine Wall. The forts to its rear, such as High Rochester, remained in use, showing that withdrawal did not mean that the Roman command regarded the area beyond Hadrian’s Wall as abandoned. The visible fort at South Shields seems to belong to this period, and reinforced control of the lower reaches of the river Tyne to the east of the end of the Wall at Wallsend.

The Roman army retained a precarious hold on northern Britain. Cassius Dio, describing the reign of Commodus (180-92), mentions a war in Britain which he said was the most troublesome of the reign. Damage at some forts, such as Haltonchesters, has been attributed to this event, but only on the loosest circumstantial association. Dio does not specify the Wall (though he makes clear he means just one), so we can only assume that he was referring to Hadrian’s Wall. The tribes were apparently suppressed, because in 184 coins were issued with legends stating explicitly ‘Vict[oria] Brit[annica]’.

The Western Roman Army, Mid-Fifth Century

Art by Graham Sumner

The Late Roman army has recently been the subject of much investigation. Earlier opinions that the Roman army of this period was poor in equipment, training and discipline when compared to its earlier counterparts have been overturned – or at least heavily revised. Yet there does remain one problem. Most analyses are based around Ammianus Marcellinus, the Notitia Dignitatum, and Maurice’s Strategikon.

The Roman History of Ammianus is obviously too early to be certain of its application to the mid-fifth century, and although the dating of the Notitia Dignitatum has been extended to the 420s, most historians have baulked at the idea of using it to inform their concepts about the armies used either by Aetius or his successors. In a similar manner, the later Strategikon has been used to postulate about the armies of the mid-sixth century and in the East, but rarely, if ever, earlier and usually not in the West.

This is understandable. After 420 the armies of the West were poorly documented and were the subject of disruption, attrition and reorganization. By 454 the loss of Britain, of large areas of Gaul, of the majority of Hispania, and of Africa to the Vandals, means that the army as listed in the Notitia Dignitatum no longer existed. Furthermore, the substantial differences in the composition of the armies of the fourth century and the armies of the sixth century means that it is impossible to use the Strategikon for the fifth century: the date of the changes between the two is unknown and therefore liable to interpretation. To fill the gaps in our knowledge, large amounts of speculation are required.

Yet it is difficult to analyse events from 454 to 480 without an analysis of why the Roman army failed to deal with the barbarian incursions, and it is hard for students of the earlier Empire to understand why the citizens of Italy, who had earlier conquered such a vast Empire, were unable even to hold on to one half of their previous conquests. Yet in reality the seeds for the ‘Fall of the West’ were sown in the second century BC. Even at this early date the citizens of Rome were becoming unhappy at the prospect of serving in the army. Two of the Leges Porciae (Porcian Laws), probably dating to 197 BC and 184 BC, protected Roman citizens serving in the army from ‘abuses’ and as a result it is clear that Rome was happy for the burden of war to fall on the other Italian peoples. As the Empire expanded the extension of citizen rights to the whole of Italy resulted in the burden of war passing to those peoples nearer the frontier. By the fifth century AD the peoples of Italy had been relieved of the burden of fighting for so many centuries that in many respects they were no longer suited to war.

AHM Jones in his magisterial The Later Roman Empire, 284–602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey analysed the Notitia Dignitatum and arrived at a series of figures for the strength of the Western army c. 420. It is clear that, given the numerical superiority the Romans had over invaders, the West should easily have been able to defeat the barbarians. Yet they failed. What follows is an attempt to piece together from fragmented or non-existent evidence the fate of the armies of the West and of the people that manned them. However it should be noted that attempts to analyse the composition and size of the army and its individual units are hypotheses and should not be taken as fact.

The manpower of the units within the Roman Army is not known. The figure calculated by Jones in the mid-twentieth century has since been heavily revised. For the sake of comprehension both Jones’ and later figures are given here:

According to Jones (and Nicasie):

Duncan-Jones, (1990) pp. 105–17; Elton, (1996) p. 89; Goldsworthy, (2003) p. 206; and Mattingly, (2006) p. 239.

These are estimates and modern scholars are continuously revising the figures, based, for example, on the results of archaeological excavations of Late Roman forts. As a result, these numbers should not be accepted as fact but as guidelines. Furthermore, the units’ strengths will have been greatly affected by the campaigns fought in the different regions of the Western Empire in the first half of the fifth century. For a greater analysis of these campaigns and their possible effects on the army, see below.

One interesting aspect of the above figures is that Jones’ specific numbers have now been adjusted to figures within, in some cases, quite wide boundaries. This implies that unit strengths in different regions of the Empire may have differed from each other. For example, in Gaul the expectation of major campaigns may have resulted in recruits being supplied on a regular basis in order to maintain a viable fighting force, as against Egypt, where troop numbers may have remained low as the army was simply fulfilling policing duties and so did not need regular drafts of recruits.

The army was now separated into several different types. The troops on the frontiers were labelled either limitanei (border defence, land) or riparienses (border defence, river) troops (both classed as limitanei in the tables). These troops had three main functions: to police the borders, to gather intelligence, and to stop small-scale raids. In the interior of the Empire were stationed troops known as comitatenses (companions) whose purpose was to deal with intruders who broke through the outer defences, to discourage usurpers from attempts to take the throne, and to act as an internal police force against banditry.
As time passed there grew an intermediate group known as pseudocomitatenses, formed from border troops who were promoted to the ranks of the comitatenses in order to fill gaps or take part in specific campaigns.

Above these, and theoretically with the emperor himself, was a further tier known as the palatinae (palace troops), with their own mini hierarchy. At the top were the elite bodyguard to the emperor, the scholae palatinae (schools of the palace); these units acted as informal training bodies for many of the army’s senior officers, and below them were the palatinae (of the palace), who supplied the emperor’s army with the majority of its troops, with the auxilia palatina (allied palace troops) ranking above the legiones palatina (legionary palace troops).

Finally, there were units whose status is either unclear or whose rank could differ between individual units, such as the foederati, gentiles, dediticii, tributarii, and the laeti. However, the actual status of the troops at the lower end of the scale is vague. This is mainly because the sources use a wide range of terminology which is applied almost indiscriminately to a variety of units, usually of barbarian origin, and the application of titles need not necessarily follow a set pattern.

The gentiles appear to have been composed of tribesmen, either recently settled within the Empire or recruited from tribes still living beyond the frontiers: with the sources available it is impossible to say for certain which of these was more prevalent. Their exact status is unclear but gentiles are later listed amongst the scholae of Diocletian, and in the Notitia Dignitatum they are found in the scholae attached to both the Eastern and the Western magister officiorum. Units of Sarmatian gentiles (Sarmatarum gentilium) are also attested as being stationed in Italy. Due to the context, it is possible that they were settled as farmers throughout these regions with individuals then being enrolled in regular units.

The laeti may have been different to the gentiles. They were formed from barbarians settled within the Empire who were obliged to provide troops for the army in exchange for land. The settlements were not self-governing, being administered either by a Roman military official or by the council of a local city. However, there were units combining the two titles, such as the laetorum gentilium stationed in Belgica Secunda, which suggests that any differences between the two may be coincidental and more of a reflection of modern prejudices than of ancient custom or title.

Tributarii and dediticii appear to have been obtained from external sources. As their names suggest, it is possible that they were supplied as part of a treaty by tribes who had been defeated by the Romans. However, it is impossible to be certain whether this format applied to all troops with the name, as sometimes this may be a hangover from when a unit was formed rather than later recruiting practice.

The foederati cause the greatest confusion to historians. This may be because the same title was given to troops recruited in several different ways. As with the Goths, the name may be given to non-Roman troops serving the emperor as part of a treaty but who were not a part of the regular Roman army and did not serve under Roman officers. However, it may also refer to barbarian troops recruited directly into the army to either fill the ranks of normal Roman units, or instead to form their own, distinct, tribal units within the framework of the army. Furthermore, the name was given to barbarian troops of different tribes who were attracted to serve under one leader, either Roman or barbarian, who was part of the Roman hierarchy. Due to the indeterminate nature of the foederati it is impossible to be clear on their nature and their status. As a result, each unit so designated has to be assessed solely using its own history.

There is also the problem of the emergence of the bucellarii. These men may have started as foederati serving as bodyguards to one specific commander, however they are generally accepted to have begun as troops serving under local magnates rather than under military commanders. Only slowly were they accepted as part of the military hierarchy, serving as bodyguards to Roman generals. In fact, it is possible that Stilicho (395–408) was the first Roman general to have had bucellarii serving as a bodyguard. They would become increasingly important during the course of the fifth and sixth centuries.

Command Hierarchy
After Aetius assumed sole control of the army in 433 the command hierarchy of the West becomes a little confusing, in part because modern historians are only familiar with modern, logical, strictly linear military ranks. This was not the case during the Roman era. During Aetius’ regime many men were given the title of magister militum, and this has been used by some authorities as evidence of political infighting within the top ranks of the army, due to modern conceptions of how military ranking should work. However, it is more likely that Aetius retained personal control of all of the army and gave his supporters the title of magister militum in order both to establish their military authority in their respective areas and to reward them with a high political rank within the Empire as a whole.
Below the magistri were the comes and duces. As with the magistri, the two titles were not wholly distinct, with one serving above the other. It seems likely that the designations comes and dux had been given by different emperors depending upon the circumstances surrounding individual appointments. Their use by Aetius and his successors probably followed the early Imperial trends but this cannot be proven.

The above shows that, contrary to the expectations of modern authorities whose experience is dominated by rigid hierarchies and naming conventions, neither troop designation nor the titles of commanders were linked to specific methods of recruitment or use and appear to have been dependent upon the needs or whim of the individual emperor or his magister. As a consequence, the changes must be seen as ‘organic and progressive, not wholesale or ordered’ and any attempt to impose a rigid structure that lasts throughout the course of the later Empire is doomed to failure.18 Furthermore, it is obvious from a close reading of Ammianus Marcellinus that the higher ranks owed their loyalty solely to the person that appointed them: it should not be taken for granted that a magister, comes or dux would be able to give orders to other commanders theoretically below them in rank. His area of command would need to be specified when he was first appointed.

There were three methods of recruitment in the later Empire: enrolment of volunteers, conscription, and levies from ‘barbarians’ settled either as prisoners of war or as normal ‘Roman’ farmers with a duty to provide troops for the army when a levy was demanded.
Earlier laws demonstrate that in the past the Empire had only wanted to recruit troops suitable for service in the army. Anyone found to be below these standards was not allowed to join. By the mid-fifth century it is likely that the majority of these laws had been waived. Military leaders could no longer afford to be picky about the quality of men that they enrolled. Sadly, by this time a career in the army was almost certainly unpopular. One of the main difficulties was that in the extremely uncertain times of the fifth century joining the army could mean a recruit being posted to a province far from his home. This could leave his family unprotected and so many men may have preferred to stay and defend their own homes. Furthermore, there is some evidence for citizens being disillusioned with the government and its heavy taxation, and angry at the behaviour of troops, who may by now have been billeted in citizens’ homes in cities. There is even evidence of them siding with invaders in the expectation of better treatment and booty.

In earlier times conscription would be needed to fill the gaps in the ranks only in times of war, but in times of peace emperors had different agendas. When the need for men was not urgent, provinces were allowed to pay a tax – the aurem tironicum (gold for recruits) – instead of supplying men. It is possible that as resources dwindled and emperors often found themselves to be short of money, they were tempted to pass a decree calling for conscription simply in order to commute this to the aurem tironicum to boost the treasury. In the meantime, they could spend some of the money to hire ‘barbarian’ mercenaries, who did not need to be trained or equipped by the state, so maintaining the army at a functioning level with less cost.

Whether new troops were conscripts, volunteers or mercenaries, the duces were responsible for recruitment and for the assigning of individuals to units. Unfortunately we are not given any details as to how this took place. All that can be accepted is that the system appears to have worked up until the early fifth century.
According to Zosimus, the training and discipline of the army was not as it had been in earlier centuries, and the years of almost constant warfare in many provinces of the West must have ensured that the training of recruits was kept to a minimum in order to ensure their arrival in the front line. Although the poor quality of troops in the Later Empire has long been accepted as fact, analysis of battles – especially those of Argentoratum (Strasbourg) and Adrianople – has resulted in a reappraisal. It is now accepted that, to a large degree, Roman training methods continued into the fourth century: indeed, Ammianus affirms the esprit de corps and the survival of old skills in the comitatenses, such as the building of marching camps and permanent forts. When properly led, and when training was combined with strict discipline, the Roman army was still a formidable fighting force.

At the time of Valentinian I (364–375) the limitanei still received the supplies needed for nine months of the year straight from the government. However, for the remaining three months they were paid in gold and had to locate and purchase the supplies themselves. Over the ensuing decades the system of ‘self supply’ had been extended until by 406 it included virtually all military personnel. In such a situation, it would be easy for the troops to begin taking more than their money was worth. It is hard for military men to pay full price for goods from people they are protecting: instead, they are likely to have expected a discount for any goods bought.

Barbarian Settlements
One final aspect of the fifth century is rarely analysed in detail, largely because historians writing after the event have the benefit of hindsight and realize that the Empire would fall. The Romans did not know this. It is certain that barbarian groups allowed into the Empire were not seen as the threat that they later became. This is due in part to Roman arrogance. In the preceding centuries all of the tribes and political entities that had been conquered by Rome had seen the benefits of inclusion and became members of the Empire: there was no reason why tribes such as the Goths or Franks should be any different. Allowed to settle and have the benefits of Roman rule they would lose their identity amongst the common Roman citizenry. This theory helps to explain why so many German leaders were accepted into service in the army. By serving the Empire they would gradually absorb the benefits and mentality of citizens – as had happened to the Gauls, the Britons and many other belligerent tribes.


Carthage – The final act

Carthage had scrupulously followed the terms of the peace treaty of 201 BC, which included the paying off of the massive war indemnity in the fifty year period as prescribed then by Rome. Yet its rapid recovery (together with Hannibal’s dealings with the Syrian king, Antiochos) made the Romans apprehensive, and rekindled their bitter hatred and desire for vengeance. During this half century of uneasy peace with Rome, Carthage’s Numidian neighbour, Masinissa, who, after going over to the Romans during the closing stages of the Second Punic War, had been awarded the kingdom he now ruled, tirelessly badgered Carthage.

Even though Carthage offered, and gave, the Romans assistance in their imperial ventures, the Senate in Rome regularly countenanced Masinissa’s annoying encroachments upon its remaining dominions in North Africa. The pro-Roman Numidian king was determined to turn Numidia into a modern state and in the course of doing so to expand his boundaries at the expense of Carthage. As a ‘true and loyal friend’, the king knew very well that in any dispute the Senate would always back him. In fact on seven separate occasions Carthage was forced to appeal to Rome for redress against Numidia, and though on some of these occasions the Senate did act to restrain its client king, on none of them was he forced to disgorge his ill-gotten gains. To Carthage, Masinissa seemed like a felonious bad hat on the make, a daylight robber given to the impertinent singeing of Carthaginian beards. The Carthaginians therefore began to build up military forces, but for defence against the Numidian king and not for a war with Rome. All the same, a more truculent Carthage emerged, which led to the reiterated demand of the elder Cato that the city must be destroyed. And so it was, after the Third Punic War. But that is to anticipate.

A fresh dispute arose in 153 BC and the Senate responded by despatching an embassy to Africa, headed by Cato, in order to arbitrate. Masinissa was willing for Rome to settle the issue, but Carthage obviously declared there was no need. Naturally this aroused the Senate’s suspicions, especially as Cato, veteran of the war with Hannibal, had seen signs of Carthage’s military build up. From the time of his return to Rome, Cato argued for war, which led to a long-running dispute between him and those who opposed war, the Cornelii Scipiones faction led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica. A senator of considerable weight who had already been consul twice (162 BC, 155 BC), Scipio Nasica saw all this as an unjustified act of aggression by Rome, but Cato was impressed by the Carthaginian revival and saw the latest quarrel with Masinissa as just the start of an impending war with Rome. Plutarch continues the story by relating how Cato brought back a fresh fig from Carthage, robustly declaring in the Senate that he had only picked the fruit three days before. Many scholars have taken this anecdote as positive proof of Rome’s jealousy of Carthage’s economic revival, and the call for death which he repeated henceforth in the Senate merely jealous greed voicing itself. However, the message was loud and clear; Cato was only demonstrating to his fellow members of the Senate how close he thought the potential military threat was. Clever was Cato in the art of making the white look black.

Notwithstanding Cato’s blatant manipulation of his fellow senators’ fears, Scipio Nasica put forward two arguments. First, Rome should make no rash move without justification, in other words war required a iusta causa. Second, hostilis, that is the natural fear of a strong rival, was a salutary right by which the nobility kept ready and prepared for war. Without Carthage, in other words, Rome would have no worthy opponent and, as a consequence, the nobility would slowly slide into a moral decline. In matter of fact this is the celebrated argument put forward by writers of the Principate such as Livy and Tacitus, the year 146 BC and all that is seen as the pivotal date when the rot in Rome set in.

Like a dripping tap, Cato steadily wore down his opponents. Moreover, the Carthaginians finally played right into the Senate’s hands by attacking Masinissa and war was duly declared amid the raucous cries of Punica fides, the stock charge of Punic ill faith. The words of Cato had become the policy of the Senate. According to Polybios, the Romans ‘had long ago made up their minds to act thus, but they were looking for a suitable opportunity and a pretext that would appeal to foreign nations’. Legalistic pretext seized, the tragic end result would be the utter destruction of the hated city by Scipio Africanus’ adopted grandson and Polybios’ close friend, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus who, ‘with tears in his eyes’, would carry out the brutal wishes of the Senate to root out Carthage like some old fig tree. A new Roman province, the sixth, would rise from the ashes of a once-proud metropolis: that of Africa.

It was back in 151 BC when a Carthaginian army under a hitherto-unknown Hasdrubal invaded Numidia, but was soundly beaten, and after being besieged in its camp was virtually wiped out through starvation and disease. Only Hasdrubal and a handful of survivors managed to escape back to Carthage, the remainder being butchered as soon as they laid down their arms to surrender. The attempt to check Masinissa’s encroachments had thus proved abortive; it had merely established the ambitious king in more territory and had roused the anger of Rome. Indeed, that clear breach of the peace terms (Carthage was not allowed to go to war without Rome’s permission), as well as Cato’s acerbic oratory in the Senate, convinced the Roman government military action was necessary.

In the summer of 149 BC Rome despatched a fleet and army (probably a double-consular one) to Carthage under Manius Manilius and Lucius Marcius Censorinus. When the two consuls landed on the African shore at Utica (which surrendered without a fight) they were at once met by a Carthaginian delegation begging for peace at any price. The Carthaginians were promptly told that peace could be had, but that Carthage first must give up 300 noble hostages and hand over all arms of any kind within the city. Since resistance seemed futile, Carthage agreed. The hostages were punctually given up, and apparently some 200,000 panoplies were turned over to the Romans, as well as 2,000 catapults, and a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition. Then with Carthage, as they thought, completely helpless, the consuls delivered the final blow: the citizens must quit the city. Carthage was to be utterly destroyed, but the inhabitants could build a new dwelling place wherever they liked, provided it was no less than 10 Roman miles (14.8km) from the sea.

Not for the first time, however, Rome had overplayed its hand. When the news reached the city, the people resorted to that age-old habit of peoples faced with an obstinate government: rebellion. When the populace erupted into violence, those who had counselled peace and complied with Rome’s harsh terms were lynched on the streets by an angry mob. This aggressive response by the citizens of Carthage is a classic case of how people are beaten only when they understand they have lost, and the government was now forced into attempting the defence of the city. Thus empowered, and despite the earlier surrender of war gear, the citizens went to work with such good effect that they started turning out new swords, spears, shields, and catapults at a prodigious rate. The women of the city willingly cut the tresses of their hair to serve as torsion springs for the new catapults. Within an incredibly short time Carthage was put in a state of defence and messengers sent into the hinterland to raise a relief force. Hasdrubal, who had managed to escape from certain crucifixion after his Numidian fiasco, was pardoned and soon took command of a field army of around 20,000 troops near Nepheris (Bou-Beker), some 30km southeast of Carthage.

Nevertheless, the Romans hardly anticipated any serious resistance, fully expecting to cross the walls and kill, and they were quite unprepared for the fanatical fury with which the city was defended. Not only was the expeditionary force poorly led and badly trained, it also lacked siege engines, and all direct assaults against the landward walls were beaten back with bloody loss before the armed militia that had sprouted from the streets of Carthage. Flabbergasted, the Romans withdrew to lick their wounds and settle down to a prolonged siege. Not content to watch events, the defenders made constant damaging sallies, and the Romans were also faced with a new enemy, as disease decimated their ranks in the insalubrious surroundings of the lagoon. Meanwhile, a foray across the lagoon to secure timber ran into serious opposition from Hasdrubal’s cavalry, under the very able command of one Himilco Phameas, but ultimately sufficient wood was gathered to construct two battering rams. These were brought up near a stretch of the fortifications near the lagoon, considered weaker here, and manned by one team supplied by the army and the other by the navy. Despite the competitive rivalry between the two services, spurred on by their respective officers, and two breaches being made, the defenders drove back all the assaulting parties. Worse still, under cover of darkness, a raiding party went out and managed to set fire to both of the Roman engines. As the summer heat intensified, the Roman camp was relocated away from the lagoon to the southern end of the city where the troops would benefit from the fresh sea breezes. Roman ships anchored there to provision the army, but they were almost completely destroyed by Carthaginian fire ships. The year drew to a close and Carthage remained unconquered.

The following year, only one of the new consuls went out to Africa. This was Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who brought with him Lucius Hostilius Mancinus to command the fleet. Six years earlier Piso had tasted defeat in Iberia, while Mancinus does not appear to have been any more gifted. In fact the pair made no progress, handling affairs with gross incompetence, and being saved from complete disaster only by the skilful efforts of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, who was serving as military tribune with legio IIII. Rather than press the siege it was decided to attack the stronghold near Nepheris, where Hasdrubal’s field army was ensconced. In a council of war Scipio Aemilianus advised against this operation but was overruled. When the Romans were on the verge of defeat at the hands of the Punic cavalry commander, Himilco Phameas, Scipio Aemilianus’ timely arrival with reinforcements covered the Roman retreat. He then played a key diplomatic role. Masinissa’s offer of assistance early in the siege had been brusquely rebuffed; now the Romans needed all the help they could get.

The king invited Scipio Aemilianus, as the grandson of his illustrious patron, Scipio Africanus, to join the Roman delegation visiting him. When they arrived, they found him dead (he was well into his eighties) and his three surviving legitimate sons awaiting Scipio Aemilianus, who was charged with choosing the successor. He chose all three: one to rule in the palace, one as minister of foreign affairs, one as minister of justice, each according to his talents. Scipio Aemilianus brought Gulussa, the most warlike of the three and the minister of foreign affairs, with him back to the Roman camp, along with a large cavalry force.

The arrival of Numidian reinforcements had a profound effect on Himilco Phameas, who perhaps sensed a change in the winds and defected to the Romans in exchange for a free pardon. Scipio Aemilianus, however, returned to Rome to seek office and was there nominated and elected consul by the people on account of his military record, though he was under the legal age and had not held the praetorship (he had intended to stand as a candidate for the more junior post of curule aedile). All opposition was swept aside and, as at the election of his adoptive grandfather, the constitution had to give way to the will of the people. It seemed the right thing to do, especially as his military record stood out in high relief against the recent military defeats, and intervention by one of the tribunes of the people then ensured that Scipio Aemilianus, rather than his colleague, was given Africa as his province.

With his return to Africa in the spring of 147 BC the whole aspect of affairs would be dramatically changed. Upon his arrival Scipio Aemilianus set about raising the morale and efficiency of the soldiers, expelling the swarm of prostitutes and traders and focussing the army on its task. He also ensued that from now on the soldiers were properly provisioned. In the meantime, Hasdrubal was recalled to take charge of the city’s defences, leaving one Diogenes (probably a Greek condottiere) in charge of the field army. Scipio Aemilianus pressed the siege with vigour, and an attack on the Megara quarter met with early success, but withdrew under pressure. Hasdrubal responded by concentrating his forces in the Byrsa, then for good measure tortured and mutilated his Roman prisoners on the walls. This was intended to stiffen the defenders’ resolve, but instead motivated the besiegers. Scipio Aemilianus spent the rest of the summer building a contravallation to isolate Carthage from landward approaches: a series of palisaded ditches with sharpened stakes at the bottom, an earthwork facing the city with regularly spaced watchtowers, and a four-storey tower in the centre to serve as an observation post. These siegeworks dominated the peninsula and made access to the city from the landward side out of the question.

Scipio Aemilianus next began attempts to block off Carthage’s seaward supplies. From its southern extremity the mercantile harbour was connected to the sea by a channel some 21m wide, and he began by building a mole running across its mouth. Concealed from sight behind the encircling harbour walls, the Carthaginians responded by cutting a new outlet to the sea due east from their naval harbour. They also secretly began constructing from scratch fifty triremes out of whatever material they could lay their hands on. When both fleet and outlet were complete they sailed out, but inexplicably did not attack the unmanned Roman ships. When they finally mounted an assault on the third day, the Romans were ready and drove them back. Unfortunately a bottleneck in the new outlet kept many Carthaginian ships exposed without, and the Roman ships hammered them. Scipio Aemilianus then assaulted the outer quay protecting the mercantile harbour, bringing in catapults and rams. This move suffered a setback when a night attack by the defenders destroyed most of them, but Scipio Aemilianus patiently rebuilt them and threw up defences too. Persevering with his attacks, Scipio Aemilianus eventually secured the harbour walls and took possession of the newly constructed harbour entrance. He spent the remainder of the year capturing what cities still remained loyal to Carthage, and defeated the field army near Nepheris. By the end of the year Carthage was entirely cut off from the outside world. This provoked an offer to negotiate from Hasdrubal, but he would not concede to Scipio Aemilianus’ demand that the city be razed. The final agony of Carthage was at hand.

In the spring of 146 BC Scipio Aemilianus gave the orders for the final assault. By now, the shortage of food had taken its toll in the city, and when the Romans launched a savage and slaughterous assault from the harbour area, where they had established themselves the previous autumn, a stretch of the city wall fell after brief resistance. Thence he advanced without difficulty to the agora, while the defenders fled to the Byrsa, and here the last desperate, half-starved remnant held out. Tall houses along narrow lanes proved to be individual strongholds, and the fighting was house-to-house, floor-to-floor, room-to-room, hand-to-hand for six days. The account given by Appian, which gives a graphic description of the bitter fighting, was probably taken from Polybios, whose own eyewitness record has been largely lost:

The streets leading from the agora to the Byrsa were flanked by houses of six storeys from which the defenders poured a shower of missiles onto the Romans; when the attackers got inside the buildings the struggle continued on the roofs and on the planks covering the empty spaces; many were hurled to the ground or onto weapons of those fighting in the streets. Scipio ordered all the sector to be fired and the ruins cleared away to give a better passage to his troops, and as this was done there fell with the walls the bodies of those who had hidden in the upper storey and been burned to death, and others who were still alive, wounded and badly burnt. Scipio had sections of men ready to keep the streets clear for rapid movement of his men, and dead or living were thrown together in pits, and it often happens that those who were not yet dead were crushed by the cavalry horses as they passed, not deliberately but in the heat of the battle.

Meanwhile the city below burnt and resounded to the shouts of the victors as they glutted themselves hideously upon the fruits of victory, looting, pillaging, and wiping out men, women, children, and even dogs indiscriminately. The blood lust of the Romans was such that they were still pulling victims out of the debris and butchering them as they cried in vain for quarter, hours after the streets had been won. Maybe they were just extremely brutal men. More likely they had been badly scared by the vicious street fighting, nerve-racking even for those trained in urban combat, and this was the only way to quench their fears. On the seventh day the citadel surrendered and supposedly 50,000 men and women, accompanied by their children and elderly parents, came forth to slavery.

Expecting short shrift if taken alive, 900 deserters from the Roman army made a final stand in the enclosure surrounding the temple of Eshmun. Crowning the summit of the Byrsa, it was reputed to be the most beautiful temple in the city, and, as their numbers gradually shrank, it was in the building itself, then on the roof, the renegades fought before finally immolating themselves in the temple’s blazing ruins. Here also the (unnamed) wife of Hasdrubal, with her two children, joined those who, unlike her husband, refused to give in and chose fire and death rather than captivity and slavery. The epic cycle was complete: a woman had presided over the birth of the city, and a woman witnessed its demise. For ten more days the fires of Carthage raged. The elder Pliny speaks of the ‘pitch-covered roofs’ of the tall many-storeyed houses, and therein lies the explanation for this terrible fire.

Finally, the ruins were systematically razed, a plough was symbolically drawn over the site and the salt of sterility scattered over its smoking remains, and a solemn curse was pronounced against its future rebirth, lesson and punishment from the proud conqueror. With this arcane rite the three exhausting wars between Rome and Carthage had ended in the extermination of one of the two cities. A terrible ending, which illustrates that the fight for survival, far from being just a concept, and often a metaphor, is in many cases a real and violent fact. Carthage was beyond destroyed; it was void as though it had never been.

Late-Third Century Praetorian Guard

Aurelianus and the Praetorian guard by AMELIANVS on DeviantArt

Gallienus had also been directly challenged since 260 by Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus. This flamboyant pretender was governor of Germania Superior and Inferior when he was declared emperor by the Rhine garrisons. The western provinces had been placed under the rule of Gallienus’ teenage son Saloninus and it was not entirely surprising that the north-west Rhine garrisons preferred the option of an experienced leader. Postumus ended up creating and ruling a breakaway empire from Cologne that in every formal respect emulated the legitimate Empire; this probably included creating his own praetorians but there is no evidence to substantiate this. Postumus controlled Britain, Gaul and the German provinces in a regime now known as the Gallic Empire. Postumus, murdered in 268, produced a vast amount of coinage but, unlike that of Gallienus, none of it honoured specific military units, and the same applies to his short-lived successors who finally capitulated in early 274. Unusually for emperors of the era, Claudius II had died in 270 from the plague and not as a result of violence. He was briefly succeeded by his brother Quintillus, who was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers at Aquileia, but the declaration of Claudius’ cavalry commander Aurelian as emperor by the army in the Balkans proved a more enticing prospect. Quintillus committed suicide and Aurelian proceeded unchallenged, initiating a highly successful reign cut short by yet another conspiracy.

Aurelian’s praetorian prefect was Julius Placidianus, attested in the post on an inscription from the Augustan colony of Dea Augusta Vocontiorum (Drôme) in Gallia Narbonensis; he had previously served as prefect of the vigiles under Claudius II. The presence of Placidianus in Gaul reflected the very dangerous situation on Rome’s northerly borders, caused initially by the German Juthungi tribe, the Vandals, and next by the Alamanni. The absence of the praetorian prefect from Rome was certainly not new, and had become a necessary part of the increasing need to confront threats in various parts of the Roman world, especially in the third century. The idea of the Guard as an elite body of experienced and privileged troops with a permanent base in Rome was changing. The Guard now more resembled the ad hoc units of praetorians organized by the protagonists of the civil wars up to 31 BC.

The frontier threats faced by Aurelian were successfully fought off to begin with, but only at the price of rebellions breaking out in Rome. These seem to have included one by the mint-workers, led by the rationalis (official in charge) of financial affairs, Felicissimus. Aurelian returned to crush the rebels, which involved having to execute a number of senators and confiscate their property. Aurelian also devised a scheme in which estates were to be bought up along the Via Aurelia at state expense and then operated by slaves captured on campaign so that a perpetual free dole of wine, oil, bread and pork could be made to the Roman people. This peculiar brand of slave-serviced socialism never came off, either because of Aurelian’s premature death in 275 or because Julius Placidianus dissuaded him on the grounds that if the Roman people had been given wine then there would be nothing more to give them apart from chicken and geese.

During Aurelian’s reign the Castra Praetoria underwent its most significant change since its construction 250 years earlier. Aurelian ordered a vast new circuit of walls to be built round Rome. These would reflect the huge expansion of the settled area since Republican times, and also protect the city from the very real threat it faced from barbarian incursions across the frontiers. It may also have helped to contain a potentially volatile population. Building began in 271 and continued for the next decade. The walls survive in large part today and bear witness to the colossal effort and resources involved. The Castra Praetoria’s north and east walls formed part of this new circuit, the south and west stretches now facing inwards. The work was more complicated than simply joining the new walls up to the camp and bonding them in. The camp’s walls were raised again, adding to previous periods of elevation, and a new type of tower added which served as a buttress to help support the heightened walls.

Aurelian also faced a breakaway state in the east based around the great city of Palmyra under the queen, Zenobia. In 272 the regime’s city of Emesa fell to Aurelian in an engagement that included a hand-picked selection of praetorians as well as a huge array of legions and auxiliary forces.44 Palmyra fell too but Aurelian spared the city until a rebellion in 273 led him to destroy it. Aurelian could now turn his attention to the crumbling Gallic Empire. The last of Postumus’ successors, Tetricus I, capitulated to Aurelian in early 274 and participated in a triumph in Rome with Zenobia. In 275 Aurelian had to head east once more, this time to recover Mesopotamia from the Persians. En route in Thrace he became suspicious about his secretary Eros and evidently made an allegation to which Eros took exception. Eros decided to get his revenge by circulating a fictitious list of people whom he claimed Aurelian was planning to punish, encouraging them therefore to do what was necessary to save themselves. The outcome was almost inevitable: some of the accused, including a number of praetorian officers, watched Aurelian leave the city one day. They followed the emperor and killed him. The conspiracy and assassination were the consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding but the incident proves that the Praetorian Guard was a routine part of the emperor’s field army.

Aurelian was succeeded by Marcus Claudius Tacitus, a senator of mature years. The Historia Augusta refers to an otherwise unknown praetorian prefect called Moesius Gallicanus, perhaps appointed under Aurelian, recommending Tacitus to the army on the grounds that the senate had made emperor the man the army wanted. Tacitus either replaced Gallicanus with, or appointed alongside Gallicanus, his brother Marcus Annius Florianus as praetorian prefect. Since Florianus was sent east by Tacitus to fight the Goths, we can legitimately assume that the Praetorian Guard went with him. Tacitus, however, died and Florianus seized the chance to declare himself emperor. This was not the intention of the army in Syria and Egypt, who preferred to sponsor their commander, Marcus Aurelius Equitius Probus instead. The two sides came to a potential battlefield at Tarsus but Probus avoided fighting and in the ensuing stand-off Florianus was killed by his own troops.

Prior to his accession in 276, Probus allegedly wrote to his praetorian prefect, Capito, reluctantly accepting the post of emperor. Unfortunately, Capito is otherwise unknown and the Historia Augusta for this period so unreliable in many ways that there is every possibility that ‘Capito’ and the letter to him were simply invented, unless Carus was meant. Even the hope expressed in the ‘letter’ that ‘Capito’ will stand alongside the emperor appears to have its origins in one of Cicero’s orations. However, there is perhaps a plausible basis in the context of Probus’ time where the praetorian prefect had become the emperor’s right-hand man. The reign was characterized by yet more endless frontier warfare. At Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) in Pannonia (Serbia), Probus was killed in a rebellion led by Marcus Aurelius Numerius Carus who had been appointed by Probus as praetorian prefect early in the reign. Carus’ presence and involvement in the death of the incumbent emperor replicated a scenario that was becoming all too familiar. Carus did not last long. He was found dead in his tent in July 283 on campaign in Persia. This time the culprit seems not to have been an accidental lightning strike, as reported in the Historia Augusta, but his praetorian prefect and his son Numerian’s father-in-law, Lucius Flavius Aper, who allegedly believed his own chances of power were likely to be better served if Carus was extinguished and replaced by his sons. Carus’ adult sons, Carinus and Numerian, succeeded their father seamlessly, Carinus taking the western half of the Empire, Numerian the east. It was an arrangement that was to be used extensively in the century to come. By 284 Numerian had been killed. The Historia Augusta blamed Aper, which, if true, made him the first praetorian prefect to kill two emperors in succession. Aper was apprehended by the soldiers of the eastern army who nominated the commander of the domestici, ‘household troops’, Diocles, who immediately killed Aper. By 285 Carinus was in a position to challenge Diocles but was killed by one of his own officers during the battle at Margum on the Danube.

Diocles assumed the name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. As Diocletian he embarked on a sophisticated and disciplined recovery of the Empire. To begin with, he carried over Carinus’ praetorian prefect, Titus Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus. The reorganization culminated in 293 in the creation of the Tetrarchy, a collegiate system of emperors. He and another officer divided the Empire, Diocletian taking the east and Maximian the west as the Augusti. Each was assisted by a junior emperor, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, known respectively as the Caesars. In time Diocletian and Maximian were to abdicate and hand over power to their Caesars who would then become the Augusti and appoint their own Caesars. The system was designed to avoid the appalling problems their immediate predecessors had experienced trying to govern a sprawling empire beset by endless frontier problems, internal rebellions and succession by force.

The logical inference is that each tetrarch had his personal Praetorian Guard, and this does appear to have been the case. The Guard, still referred to as the praetorian cohorts, was dispersed by Diocletian amongst each of the four tetrarchs, with only a skeleton garrison left behind in Rome to man the Castra Praetoria. In 303, during a period of Christian persecution, a church in Nicomedia was raided by the ‘prefect’ in a search for images of Christ. The attack was conducted while Diocletian and Galerius watched from the nearby palace, and was carried out by part of the Praetorian Guard in battle order suitably equipped with axes and iron weapons. They systematically destroyed the church. In the fourth century under the Tetrarchy and later the position of praetorian prefecture continued, even once the Guard itself had been disbanded.

From soon after Diocletian’s accession, Britain had been controlled by a rebellious former fleet commander called Marcus Aurelius Mauseaeus Carausius. Seizing power in 286, Carausius was a colourful usurper whose ideology of a renewed and revived Augustan Roman Empire in Britain was depicted on a highly unusual series of coins. Carausius’ power seems to have extended partly into northern Gaul since he was able to strike some of his coins at Rotomagus (Rouen), but this did not in any sense entitle him to the audacity of the military issues he had minted in Britain. These included coins which honoured some legions not based in Britain, such as the VIII legion Augusta and the XXII Primigenia, as well as those that were, such as II Augusta. Unless the coins were designated as a form of propaganda designed to entice these other legions into siding with Carausius, the only other explanation would be that detachments were then based in Britain. However, there is no other evidence to substantiate that, and so many legions are involved that the idea is implausible. It is much more likely that Carausius was simply trying to ingratiate himself with as much of the Roman army as possible. The series also included one with the legend COHR PRAET for the Praetorian Guard around four standards. The issue closely resembles one produced at Philippi in the first half of the first century AD in honour of the Praetorian Guard and was probably based on it. There are three possible explanations: Carausius had a detachment of Diocletian’s praetorians in Britain, he had his own praetorians, or he was trying to seduce the Guard into supporting him. The latter is the most likely, but there is no means of verifying this. It was the last time the Praetorian Guard was honoured on any coin issue. Clearly Carausius, who posed as a restorer of everything traditional about Rome, perceived the Praetorian Guard as an integral part of his manifesto and image.

Flavius Aetius (c.391–454)

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

Roman general, sometimes known as “the last of the Romans,” who spent most of his military career in Gaul temporarily delaying the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire. Born around 391 in Durostorum (Silistra) in Moesia in present-day northern Bulgaria, Flavius Aetius was the son of Gaudentius Aetius whowas Comes Africae and then Magister Militum per Gallias, and was Gothic. . Following the death of his father in a mutiny, young Aetius was sent  as a hostage to Alaric from 405-408, and then to Uldin and Charaton from 408 to an unknown date, but stated to be longer than his stay with Alaric, so 411 or later..

Aetius was sent to recruit Huns by Ioannes in 424, not 412, and upon his return the usurpation was over, so Aetius bargained for his (now dead) father’s posting of Magister Militum per Gallias, becoming commander of the Roman cavalry in Gaul in 425 under new western Roman emperor Valentian III (r. 425–455). Aetius defeated Visigothic king Theodoric of Toulouse at Arles in 425. He was one of three major generals – the third was Flavius Constantius Felix, who held the highest posting (Magister Utiusque Militiae) and instigated the war with Boniface from 427-429, at the end of which it was revealed that Felix had deceived Placidia and Boniface. Aetius had him hung by the army in 430 and took his posting. Named assistant commander in chief of the army in the west, he was accused of murdering his superior and was thought by some to be harboring imperial ambitions.

Refusing to accept disgrace, Aetius invaded Italy only to be defeated at Ravenna in 432 by his rival Bonifacius, who was mortally wounded. Forced to flee, Aetius, upon requesting Hunnish support in 433, did not go to Attila as Bleda and Attila are stated to have succeeded after the death of Rua, which occurred some time between 434 and 439.

One of the keys to Aetius’s success was his ability to play one group of barbarians against the other and build coalitions of forces. An uprising of the Burgundians occurred from 435-436, and the defeat of the Goths outside Narbona was performed by Litorius in 436, who had returned from campaigning against the Armoricans., an event celebrated in the epic poem Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs). In 435 and 436 he defeated Theodoric and the Visigoths twice, at Arles and at Narbonne. In 442 Aegius concluded peace with Theodoric and the next year moved the Burgundians from Worms to Savoy. Aetius then turned to the Franks, defeating them in 445.

In 451 he assembled a coalition of Romans, Franks, and Visigoths to defeat an invasion of Gaul by the Huns under Attila in battle at  at Châlons, quite possibly saving Western civilization in the process, as Attila then withdrew back across the Rhine. In 451 he assembled a coalition of Romans, Franks, and Visigoths to defeat an invasion of Gaul by the Huns under Attila in battles at  at Châlons, quite possibly saving Western civilization in the process, as Attila then withdrew back across the Rhine.

Aetius, who had at one time allied with Hun tribes for his own purposes, to the defence of Gaul. The common threat also brought the local king of the Visigoths, Theodoric, together with his eldest son Thorismund, into alliance, along with the Burgundians and Bagandae from eastern Gaul, who had already suffered at the hands of the Huns, and the Alans from the west. The allied armies numbered perhaps 30–50,000, though the exact numbers are not known. Attila’s host has been estimated at around the same size, but both figures are largely guesses. The Huns fought with their traditional cavalry armed with bows and swords and lassos, but also fought on foot with swords and axes. The Roman–Visigothic army had heavy cavalry, light cavalry, traditional Roman infantry with sword and javelin, and more lightly armed troops from the non-Roman allies. Aetius, who as a hostage with the Huns many years before had developed a shrewd understanding of their battle tactics, opted for a formation that put his weaker forces in the centre and his stronger forces on the wings. Attila adopted the contrary pattern, with his stronger veterans in the centre, but more vulnerable forces on either side.

It is thought that the battle began in the early afternoon and went on to a bloody crescendo at dusk. The combat hinged around a low ridge overlooking a sloping plain. The Roman army attacked it from the right, the Huns from the left, but the fight for the crest of the ridge fell to the Roman side, aided by a flanking attack from the Visigothic cavalry. The Huns were pushed back on their flanks and finally broke back down the slope. Attila is supposed to have admonished them to stand and fight: ‘For what is war to you but a way of life?’ They charged back up the slope but were always at a disadvantage. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting followed. The gore-soaked ground was supposed to have turned a small river running across the fields red with blood. Theodoric was killed in the mêlée. At the end of the battle Aetius was unable to find his camp, so he stayed with his Gothic allies overnight. But the clear result was the retreat of the Huns, worn down by the long battle, who returned to their camp of encircled wagons and waited to see what the following day would bring.

This was indeed a historic moment and it was achieved by a mixed army of men whose individual motives and fears explained their courageous stand against the waves of Hun cavalry and foot soldiers. They showed that the Huns were not invincible, though it had been an unfamiliar contest for Attila, who preferred weaker opponents or a battle on the run rather than one against a large, disciplined army. The memory of that victory lingered on in European folklore as the moment when Europe was saved again from the domination of Asia. In truth, Attila was followed over the centuries by waves of other nomadic invaders from the east, but nothing has stayed in the collective consciousness of the West so firmly as the turning of the tide against the Huns.

Over the days that followed the battle, the Visigoths and Romans broke camp and left, allowing Attila the opportunity to take his battered army swiftly back to Hungary. According to the best-known account, he died two years later from a nosebleed that choked him to death after a night of heavy drinking.

In 454 Aetius, confident of his own position, offended Emperor Valentinian III by demands in the course of an audience in the imperial palace in Rome. Valentinian drew his sword and stabbed Aetius, whereupon other members of the court followed suit. Once Aetius had been killed, members of his entourage in Rome were summoned to the palace and were murdered one by one. It was said that in this deed Valentinian had “cut off his left hand with his right,” for Aetius was the last great Roman imperial general. In 476 the Western Roman Empire passed under barbarian control.


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