Maximinus Thrax

The first emperor to rise from the ranks of the army was Maximinus Thrax (the Thracian) [Julius Verus Maximinus, Gaius]. Maximinus is not in fact recorded as Thrax before the Epitome de Caesaribus (written c. ad 395). As Syme observes, however, it is quite likely that he did come from one of the Thracian provinces, if not Thracia itself then Moesia Inferior. His father Micea was a Goth, his mother Ababa an Alan. He knew no Greek. He entered the army, serving in the cavalry before attracting attention because of his size, hence receiving a post in the bodyguard of Emperor Septimius Severus and positions of honor under Caracalla. Called “Thrax” because of his origins, Maximinus despised Elagabalus but served as a tribune in the government and was greeted with joy by the new emperor, Severus Alexander, who gave him command of the recruits from Pannonia serving on the Rhine.

He possessed enormous strength, but other qualities were presumably in evidence to allow him to reach officer status and go on to the command of a legion in Egypt. When Severus Alexander mounted his expedition to the Rhine in A D 235, Maximinus was in command of recruits from Pannonia. His military record ensured that when the young emperor was assassinated, the troops declared for him, but not unanimously.

Severus was quickly despatched, his memory condemned, and his council of advisers dismissed. Establishment resistance (two successive military revolts centred on the consulars C. Petronius Magnus and Titius Quartinus) was too late and too feeble. In the meantime, and certainly before the last week of March 235, the Roman senate formally recognized Maximinus. Eighteen years after the usurpation of Macrinus, the purple had once more passed to an equestrian. However, it must again be emphasized that, despite his success, Maximinus was an outsider; unlike Macrinus, he had not attained the rank of praetorian prefect. His unusual position helps explain his subsequent actions.

Some of the eastern soldiers were loyal to Severus Alexander, and some of the senatorial officers did not wish him well, but after eradicating all his immediate opponents, Maximinus remained emperor for another three years, campaigning successfully in Germany beyond the Rhine, finishing off what his predecessor had started. Preoccupied with these military necessities, Maximinus did not find time to go to Rome to strengthen his position. The Senate had confirmed him as emperor, but not with good grace, and a series of revolts and attempts at usurpation broke out.

The assassination (in March AD 235) and replacement of Severus Alexander by a tough career soldier from Thrace, Maximinus Thrax (r. AD 235-38), was a stark reminder that the empire needed emperors who knew the army. An equestrian outside the ruling clique, Maximinus had exploited the opportunities of the Severan army to gain numerous senior appointments.

However, the senatorial aristocracy could not agree to this particular appointment, and, after an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, they managed to face the army down. The subsequent run of emperors – the three Gordiani, Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Valerianus and Gallienus – was one of ‘gentlemen officers’. Yet their military misfortunes would finally destroy the prestige of the Augustan system, leaving military rule as the only alternative. Maximinus, the Thracian soldier of obscure birth and exclusively military experience, had set the trend whereby the army called the shots, putting forward their own commanders as new emperors.

Maximinus did not follow the usual practice of successful usurpers by moving to Rome, but chose to continue the German campaign. He may, of course, have simply wanted to consolidate his standing with the army. On the other hand, that he remained three full years on the northern frontier suggests that it was an acute awareness of his political vulnerability that caused him to stay away from the capital, where senatorial power and regard for the late Severan regime were strong. Maximinus crossed the Rhine south of Mainz after midsummer 235; he traversed the Agri Decumates before engaging the enemy: there was no fighting on Roman territory, and no surrender of the southern limes. Having compelled the Germans he encountered to negotiate peace, he moved south to spend the winter of 235/6 in Raetia, possibly at Regensburg. In 236, having campaigned against the Germans from Regensburg, he moved eastward to the middle Danube, where he fought against free Dacians and Sarmatians. The move necessitated the transfer of his headquarters, probably to Sirmium. In the same year, 236 (perhaps in early spring, on the anniversary of his own accession), Maximinus designated his son, C. Iulius Verus Maximus, as his Caesar and formal successor. Maximinus passed the two following winters, 236/7 and 237/8, in Sirmium. The campaigning season of 237 saw him in action once again against Sarmatians and Dacians; that of 238 was intended to be used for a major expedition against the Germans.

Though all appeared to be going well, Maximinus was by now running into serious trouble. He might even eventually have experienced problems in his chosen role of conqueror of foreign enemies. The expedition planned for 238 may have been in response to the first major Gothic attack on the Graeco-Roman world (against the Black Sea cities of Olbia and Tyras); and the Persians were again threatening the east: in 236 king Ardashir had raided Mesopotamia and taken Nisibis and Carrhae, possibly Rhesaina, and perhaps Singara. However, it was domestic unrest that proved to be Maximinus’ undoing. Maximinus lived frugally, was disinclined to pay tribute to Rome’s enemies and, while not miserly with his troops, was no spendthrift in respect of pay and donatives. On the other hand, his constant warfare led to a significant increase in state spending which had to be met from taxation. Maximinus tightened up the collection of standard taxes and demanded extraordinary payments from rich and poor alike. Money and materials were not the only things he asked for: the levying of recruits may also have occasioned resentment. Though he became unpopular, and was branded the enemy of the well-to-do, with the right support at the centre of his empire he should still have been able to survive. It was his political weakness that allowed matters to get out of hand.

Maximinus, therefore, ought still to have been able to deal with the situation without trouble. Pupienus, Balbinus and Gordian III were for the most part, like the two Gordiani, dependent on raw conscripts and local youth militias. Against these Maximinus could throw a large, battle-hardened army and, in response to the news of the defection of Rome to Gordian I, he was already on his way. However, his judgement continued to fail him. He seems to have decided on a Blitzkrieg that would take him quickly to Rome, but he did not take into account the difficulties of deploying an army towards the end of an Alpine winter, and he found it hard to cope with the guerilla tactics employed by the defenders of northern Italy. His columns came to a halt when the city of Aquileia – important not only as a major communications centre, but now also as a repository of badly needed supplies – closed its gates to him. Instead of taking a reduced force and pushing on to Rome, Maximinus allowed his anger to get the better of him, and settled down to besiege the city. This gave Pupienus the opportunity to move north to Ravenna to co-ordinate opposition. However, the outlook for Maximinus’ foes remained uncertain. Pupienus’ troops were of doubtful quality; and the potential for division between the three leaders of the newly established regime remained great: even before Pupienus had departed from Rome there was street-fighting between the mob and the praetorian troops, possibly inspired by the Gordianic faction. Maximinus should still have been able to emerge victorious, but his excessive insistence on effort and discipline caused increasing disaffection among his hungry, tired and now demoralized troops. After about four weeks, around early June 238, Maximinus’ army mutinied, slew him and his son, and went over to Pupienus, Balbinus and Gordian III.

Maximinus Thrax had Parthian cataphracts, being mercenaries, deserters, or prisoners of war conscripted into the army, and in 238 a large force of Germanic cavalry, Gothic foederati or, more accurately mercenaries obviously hired during his Danubian war, followed him to Italy. However, foreign federate forces and hired or mobilized symmarchiarii, fellow-combatants, always fought in the wars of the empire. There were many auxiliaries in his force. The irregulars were notably conspicuous amongst them. Moors, extensively used by the Roman army over the years, were there in force. They had served Rome well in the Rhine campaigns and their leader in the 2nd century ad, Lusius Quietus, whose career is noted above, had gone on to become a consul. Now they were an integral part of Maximinus’ new invasion of Italy.

Alongside these irregulars were other units, regiments whose appearance spoke of distant cultures and frontiers. There were oriental archers with reflex bows. Cataphract cavalry, of the type Roman soldiers jokingly termed clibanarii or `oven-men’ on account of their extensive armour, were seen in flesh and metal for the first time on Italian soil. 40 If the armies of the Severans had seemed alien, that of Maximinus must have seemed still more so. Yet within these forces even more revolutionary changes were taking place. These changes again testify to the Roman tendency to incorporate men and ideas from elsewhere.

As Maximinus began his invasion of Italy, events in Africa were reaching a horrific climax. The legionary legate in Numidia remained loyal to the Danubian emperor. His forces slaughtered the Senate-backed contender, Gordian, and his son at Carthage. Then they vented their fury on the civilian population, slaughtering not only the landowners who had backed Gordian but many more besides. A couple of key points emerge from this gory tale. The first is that in the richly networked world of the Roman Empire the original uprising, with its resentments against high taxes and its strong local leadership, could never simply be a regional revolt. The disturbance had profound implications, both in terms of the reason for the taxes, the financing of distant wars, and in terms of senatorial politics. The second lesson comes from the bloodletting itself. Shaw sees it as notable that an army that had been stationed in Africa for so long could turn on the civilian population in this way. 43 Even after generations of service in the provinces, the military community was still first and foremost at the service of the emperor. It might bring, through its recruitment and through its families, many provincials ever closer into the orbit of Roman power, but its relationship with local populations was always ultimately secondary to its interdependence on imperial power.

Maximinus Thrax (235-238), on his march on Rome, had made an all-out effort to take the city with his capable and ingenious Pannonian troops:

The soldiers . . . remained out of range of the arrows and took up stations around the entire circuit of the wall by cohorts and legions, each unit investing the section it was ordered to hold. . . . The soldiers kept the city under continuous siege. . . . They brought up every type of siege machinery and attacked the wall with all the power they could muster, leaving untried nothing of the art of siege warfare. . . . They launched numerous assaults virtually every day, and the entire army held the city encircled as if in a net, but the Aquileians fought back determinedly, showing real enthusiasm for war.

Before the gates of Aquileia, where travelers descending the Alps meet the via Annia and enter the network of roads that leads to Rome. There in 238 ce civil war was averted, through an exercise of economic power on the part of a city, in the face of an emperor and his army. Maximinus the Thracian had been acclaimed emperor by his army three years earlier, after he assassinated his predecessor, Severus Alexander; but the Senate did not recognize his elevation and eventually put forward its own candidates and attempted to field its own army. Maximinus marched on Italy, but without, one might say, divine foresight: he departed Sirmium in such haste that he neglected to send the customary advance notice requesting provision, and he had to gather it en route (Herodian 7.8.10-11). He encountered serious difficulty as soon as he reached Italy: the population of Emona had abandoned their city, burning whatever supplies they could not carry, and his army went hungry (Herodian 8.1.4-5). Aquileia therefore assumed even greater importance for the provisioning of his army, but its population closed their gates against him. Maximinus, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to advance without supplies, while leaving a large, hostile city as his back, undertook a siege. His army began to starve, murdered Maximinus and his son, and reconciled with the Senate and its emperor, Gordian III.

The events that encompassed the ruin of Maximinus, and the narratives by which we know them, thus subvert, even as they illustrate, those easy attempts to equate power with force, and to locate its origins in law, violence, or wealth, that lie at the heart of most construals of what Gibbon called “the system of imperial government.” For if it was not the Senate but Aquileia that undid Maximinus, and not by force but flight, as it were, that it did so, neither did Aquileia choose its ruler. That power it ceded all the time: to the army when it chose Maximinus, to the Senate when it chose Gordian, and to the imperial system, when it accepted and with its money supported government by whatsoever Roman held the throne.

Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome by Paul N. Pearson (Author)

Emperor Galba Down: Otho versus Vitellius 69AD

Praetorian Guard at the First Battle of Bedriacum or Cremona, 69 AD

Map of the Roman Empire during 69AD, the Year of the Four Emperors. Coloured areas indicate provinces loyal to one of four warring generals. The Battle of Bedriacum refers to two battles fought during the Year of the Four Emperors (69 CE) near the village of Bedriacum (now Calvatone), about 35 kilometers (22 mi) from the town of Cremona in northern Italy. The fighting in fact took place between Bedriacum and Cremona, and the battles are sometimes called “First Cremona” and “Second Cremona”.

It was a cheap and ugly death that had overtaken Galba, the emperor, to be cruelly murdered by one of his own soldiers. Perhaps he would have avoided that if he had adopted Otho instead of Piso Licinianus. If he had done that, he may have lived a little longer to enjoy the power he had usurped.

On the other hand, perhaps not.

Military revolts almost always did fail, mainly for two reasons. First, all the Iulio-Claudians bar Nero had worked hard to build links with the soldiers independent of the chain of command. Soldiers received gifts on imperial accessions and anniversaries, gifts paid in good coin that often celebrated the military achievements of the Augustan family. A ruler who depended on military support could not afford to be indifferent, and sensible emperors made sure that they and those who featured in their dynastic plans visited camps and met the men. Take for instance the military revolt of Lucius Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus. When he tried to get the soldiers to march against Claudius the eagles could not be anointed with perfumed oils and dressed with floral garlands, and the standards resisted all efforts to remove them from their turf altars. The soldiers took it as an omen and backed down. For soldiers to go against an emperor, who was virtually a living god to them, was no easy matter by a long chalk.

The second obstacle was the fragmentation of the Roman élite, the only body from which any plausible successor could emerge. Empire wide at any one time there were some twenty-five senators commanding legions, and about as many governing provinces. Then from the ordo equester there were a clutch of governors of the smaller provinces, the commanders of the main fleets, the prefect of Egypt in Alexandria along with two praefecti legionum, and a few dozen procurators here and there. In Rome there were the rest of the senators, five hundred or so, and the commanders of the Praetorian Guards and of the cohortes urbanae. Staging a coup d’état meant forging some sort of consensus among all these. It did work out for Otho in Rome, but only at first and not elsewhere.

Marcus Salvius Otho was one of Nero’s closest friends and confidants, and as a member of the emperor’s inner circle this made him a powerful figure. But influence cannot be counted on to last for long, and Otho’s imperial favour wavered when the emperor took too strong a liking to his wife, the gorgeous but notorious Poppaea Sabina who was said to bathe in the milk of 500 donkeys, and the jilted husband was ‘banished’ to the remote Atlantic province of Lusitania to serve as its governor. This he did for ten years ‘with considerable moderation and restraint’.4 Out of revenge (and in hopes of great personal gains) Otho assisted Galba to become emperor.

When the elderly Galba, whose two sons had both died at a young age, adopted as his son and successor Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinianus, a long-named but a little-known scion of old Roman nobility – he was a descendant of those republican warlords Pompey and Crassus – a firm friend was turned into a mortal enemy. Although the Iulio-Claudians had used adoption, the idea that a successor might be selected on the basis of merit and not on the basis of his familial relationship to the emperor was a novel one. The thirty-one-year-old Piso Licinianus was highly acceptable to the Senate, enjoying as he did the considerable advantage of having been one of Nero’s victims, not, like Otho, one of his favourites. However, he was entirely unknown to the army and extremely inconvenient for others in the Galban camp. The scene was now set for the horrors of AD 69.

Friendship in these dark days is ironic at best, treacherous more commonly. The coal of resentment was perhaps burning brightly now, and so Otho decided to deal with Galba the biblical way: ‘No man, no problem.’ If Galba believed in omens, as he obviously did in prophecies, then the clearest sign of his impending downfall came on 15 January, the day of his death. While he was making a sacrifice on an altar before the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, the haruspex Umbricius, on examining the entrails of the victim, warned the emperor that danger was lurking and his liquidators were close by. Otho, by contrast, who was standing just behind Galba, interpreted this warning as a favourable omen. He felt sure of success when one of his freedmen came and informed him that the architect and the contractors were waiting for him. ‘It had been arranged thus to indicate that the soldiers were assembling, and that the preparations of the conspiracy were complete.’

Having turned to the praetorians, who happily proclaimed him emperor, Otho then had them remove Galba, along with the detested Piso Licinianus, who, for a brief five days, had been officially Servius Sulpicius Galba Caesar, son of Augustus. One cannot help but wonder, with the twilight of eternity closing down over his principate, if Galba recalled his own triumphant elevation and formal recognition all those months ago. Perhaps he felt a sudden cold certainty that this was how it had been meant to end, in a short and meaningless spate of violence, a fulfilment of a prophecy of the first emperor. For Augustus had once beckoned the young Galba to him, quizzed him on personal matters and finally conjured up a one-line horoscope in Greek: ‘You too will taste a little of my power, child.’9 And a little taste it was indeed. The Senate, in indecent haste, recognized Otho on the same day.

Otho’s claim to power depended partly on his association with Nero. In age and appearance, style and taste – even taste in women, we are told – he was closest to the man whom he had helped Galba to topple. In supplanting Galba, Otho revived causes that had been Nero’s. Otho was even billed as the ‘New Nero’ and ‘Otho Nero’, a desperate attempt to find popular support for his principate, which did initially work. The legions of the Danube took the oath of fidelity to Otho, as did those in Syria, Iudaea, Egypt and Roman North Africa. Fortune did not favour the new emperor, however, because, as Tacitus points out, law and order were in the hands of the soldiers who now named their own officers and demanded reforms, such as an end to the paying of bribes to centurions so as to escape menial tasks. Still, Otho’s biggest problem was the fact that his forces were scattered and he was immediately faced with Vitellius’ powerful provincial army (the seven Rhine legions having given him the imperial salutation), which was now marching rapidly on Rome. Though he had been the prime beneficiary of the toppling of his predecessor, he realized that it could be repeated to his cost. Otho therefore proposed a system of joint rule and was even willing to marry Vitellius’ daughter, or so said Suetonius. All this to no avail as we shall see, and besides, the Rhine tide could not be turned. Otho had no diplomatic cards left to play. For the emperor there was no other solution than to face his rival’s army.

On 14 March Otho left Rome and made camp at Bedriacum (now the village of Tornato), just north of the Po. On 14 April the decisive confrontation took place, in a neighbourhood dotted with vineyards somewhere between Bedriacum and Cremona. Badly outnumbered by that of Vitellius, Otho’s army was overcome, the restlessness of the praetorians being a factor in the result too. Vitellius’ generals had delivered on his behalf in open battle the knockout blow, and he travelled to Rome at his convenience. Deserted, Otho, having put his affairs in order and burnt all letters containing disparaging remarks about Vitellius, had taken his own life. He had been emperor for a little more than three months, dying ‘in the ninety-fifth day of his reign’.

Modern commentators, amateur and professional alike, have found one major problem with Otho’s campaign in the alluvial wetlands of the Po basin, namely its timetable. Galba fell on 15 January, but Otho did not quit Rome and head north until 14 March, the battle being fought one month later on the 14 April. Why did Otho start the campaign to save his principate so late? Was this a strategic blunder on the emperor’s part? Those who argue so are indulging in the second guessing that is so simple long after the event. Moreover, not only are they making too much of the luxury of hindsight, but they are also failing to consider three significant facts.

First, the Vitellian forces were certainly not expected to be in northern Italy by mid-April, the month the main Alpine passes were thawing. Unfortunately for Otho, the winter of AD 68/9 turned out to be an unusually mild one.

Second, the Othonians themselves were expecting to engage the Vitellian forces outside Italy and, as Tacitus says, ‘within the limits of Gaul’. Events would soon show how badly mistaken they were.

Third, Otho needed time to muster his army, particularly the four legions from Dalmatia and Pannonia.

This last point is more important than many a modern commentator will readily admit, but for myself, I shall make no bones about it. All Otho’s planning was frustrated by the Vitellian generals who led the invasion forces, Aulus Caecina Alienus, legate of legio IIII Macedonica, and Fabius Valens, legate of legio I Germania. Despite their faults, which seem to be many, they were both very able men who wasted no time in traversing the trouble-free Alpine passes much earlier than expected.19 Caecina Alienus even found the time en route to pick a quarrel with the Helvetii, many of whom, ill-armed and ill-trained, were either slaughtered or sold into slavery. But why did the Othonian legions seem slow to mobilize and march to join the emperor in Italy?

According to Tacitus the four legions of Dalmatia and Pannonia, ‘from each of which a vexillatio of 2,000 were sent on in advance’, exhibited ‘a tardiness of movement proportionate to their strength and solidity’. However, he does not provide us with any details on the progress of these Danube vexillationes marching to northern Italy. We do know that the vexillatio of legio XIII Gemina took part in a skirmish action prior to First Cremona, and that the whole legion fought at the battle itself, and the vexillatio of legio XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix actually made the battle but not its main body, which was ‘a few days away’. But what of the other three legions from Dalmatia and Pannonia, especially the one commanded by Marcus Antonius Primus? Of this matter concerning this particular legatus legionis more will be said later. The one legion from Dalmatia (XI Claudia pia fidelis) arrived far too late to participate in First Cremona, while the three legions from Moesia (III Gallica, VII Claudia pia fidelis, VIII Augusta) got no further than the town of Aquileia at the head of the Adriatic.

Otho wasted no time in vain regrets for what might have been, and it is now time for us to consider the background to the council of war called by the emperor, the issue at stake being to either fight immediately or hold back and delay. Tacitus only offers one side of the argument, that is to say, the case for delaying. Plutarch, on the other hand, presents both sides of the argument, the high moral of the Othonian army after the initial skirmish with the Vitellians having prompted many senior officers to push for an immediate decision there and then, and besides, they saw no sense in waiting for the Vitellian army to be reinforced.

Among Otho’s generals was Caius Suetonius Paulinus, onetime legate governor of Britannia and nemesis of Boudica. It was he who had defeated, along with Publius Marius Celsus, Caecina Alienus during a brush at a location Tacitus calls ad Castores. This was a small wayside shrine on the Via Postumia rather less than thirteen Roman miles east of Cremona, which was dedicated to Castor and Pollux of heavenly origin, Leda’s twin boys, eternally fixed in the ephemeral stardust. However, victory gained, Suetonius Paulinus would not allow his men to follow up their advantage and was consequently accused of treachery. As Tacitus reports, ‘it was very commonly said on both sides, that Caecina and his whole army might have been destroyed, had not Suetonius Paulinus given the signal of recall’. Worse still, in the eyes of his accusers, now that Fabius Valens had joined his forces with those of Caecina Alienus, Suetonius Paulinus was very much in favour of further caution, arguing that the Vitellian generals, unlike themselves, would have no more troops to hand. Moreover, he reasoned, it was preferable to wait for the summer, by which time the Vitellians would be tightening their belts for want of supplies.

Notwithstanding, Otho overruled the very experienced Suetonius Paulinus and made the decision to fight post-haste, with no reason being given. This may seem astonishing. But we must remember, it is far easier to recognize disaster the day after, than the day before. To know and understand the motives of another person is practically impossible even when those concerned live in daily contact with each other, and to evaluate correctly the motives behind the decision made by the emperor on this occasion is well-nigh impossible. Both Tacitus and Plutarch speculate upon why the scales were tipped in favour of immediate action, the latter authority reckoning the high moral of the praetorians, champing at the bit and thirsting for victory, prompted Otho to stake all on the lottery of battle. More telling, perhaps, is the fact that there was a move afoot, initiated by the senior officers of both sides, to seek a peaceful settlement, and certainly some of these trimming gentlemen were quite prepared to jettison one or both emperors, and even contemplated offering the throne once more to Verginius Rufus.

At the time Otho made his fateful decision one does not need to be possessed of an overly vivid imagination to appreciate that the emperor was probably rather anxious about the loyalty of his soldiers, not to mention some of his senior officers, and a sustained defensive stand along the Po could possibly see his army gradually melt away. All these thoughts must have run through the emperor’s head as he made up his mind. Besides, if Plutarch is to be believed, with the enthusiasm of the praetorians at fever pitch, these stalwart Othonians would have been in no mood for a long, uneventful defensive campaign. And, like a good general, Otho decided quickly enough that the best defence is attack.

Let a general assemble his men for action and lead them on to the battlefield. He may not be prepared outwardly to admit it, but in the pit of his stomach he will probably know exactly how they may be expected to perform. He knows how well or badly they have been drilled in the use of their weapons, and how quickly they can change formation as the action demands. He knows how fast they have marched to the field. He knows if and when they were last rewarded or worse, perhaps they have been existing on promises. At his back he can hear their muttered grumbles, he can smell their fear. And being human himself he is caught up in the general feeling within his army, be it one of outright determination or abject terror. His outward calmness will have a limited effect, but will it be enough?

When his men advance into mêlée, the chips are well and truly down. The enemy, who until now are a mere faceless mass, are about to become individuals. It is kill or be killed. So we are faced with the simple truth of it, the fact that until each general puts his force to the test he has only a slight idea as to the final outcome. Sleeting missiles and cold steel are only partial battle winners. The key to victory is morale.

There does not seem to be much point in delving minutely into the meaning of the word ‘morale’, most people nowadays having a very good appreciation of what it means but, just for the record, let me quickly say that, in military terms, it is the state of mind of a single soldier in particular or of a unit in general, with special reference to his or its enthusiasm, expertise, training, faith in the immediate command element, physical state, fatigue and a host of other relevant factors. Morale, a movable factor, varies as the battle ebbs and flows, as casualties mount, as the enemy breaks and runs, as the unit standard bearer is cut down and his beloved standard is carried away in triumph by his killer. What it really boils down to is the question of whether soldiers will carry out the mission assigned to them, no matter how fraught with difficulties it may be, or whether, as a result of unwillingness – in this particular event, are they willing to fight and die for Otho’s cause or are they pressed men with little stomach for the job? – their experience, especially in regard to the battle losses they may already have suffered, or their lack of confidence or training, causes them to be incapable of obeying orders and to shrink from the perils involved in achieving the objective they have been assigned.

While, of course, it is abundantly apparent that the better the training, the greater the length of service, and the more genuine their enthusiasm for the cause for which they are fighting, the more likely it is that soldiers will obey orders that are likely to put them in the greatest danger, this yardstick of obedience and behaviour does not always hold good and, while still within the framework of the possible, the unpredictable could and did happen. Which brings us nicely back to First Cremona.

We are pretty sure that the Vitellian army included V Alaudae and XXI Rapax, and strong vexillationes from all the other five Rhine legions. There was also I Italica, which had been picked up en route at Lugdunum, the provincial capital of Gallia Lugdunensis. The Othonian army included I Adiutrix and XIII Gemina, as well as a vexillatio from XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix, the praetorians, and a force of gladiators from Rome. On the day, Otho himself remained behind with a sizeable force of praetorians at Brixellum (Brescello). Tacitus rightly sees this as a grave mistake on Otho’s part, not only because it meant the absence of those detailed to protect the emperor, ‘but the spirit of those who remained was broken, for the men suspected their generals, and Otho, who alone had the confidence of the soldiers, while he himself trusted in none but them, had left the generals’ authority on a doubtful footing’.

Leaving a strong detachment to guard their camp at Bedriacum, thereby reducing their numbers yet again, the Othonians marched towards Cremona along the Via Postumia. A short distance from that town they unexpectedly encountered the Vitellians, the Othonians evidently tired after their long march. It was now that the men of I Adiutrix, the leading Othonian legion, got it into their heads that their Vitellian opponents had decided to desert to their side. The cheers and greetings of the Othonians were answered by fierce yells and abuse from the Vitellians. This inauspicious incident was doubly unfortunate for the Othonians. It convinced the Vitellians that they had no fight in them, and the bizarre behaviour of the greenhorn I Adiutrix created the uneasy feeling amongst its fellow formations that it meant to forsake them.

One does not have to be a student of military matters to be aware that, in warfare, terrain features, whether they be woods, rivers or hills, exercise a powerful influence on the conduct of operations and that the possession of a certain piece of real estate, elevated ground for example, can be of inestimable value to a military force, operating greatly to the detriment of an enemy army. So, without further ado, we should turn to the real physical setting of these events, a flat landscape crossed by two linear features, the river Po and the Via Postumia, though visibility and movement were restricted by the water ditches, poplar trees, fields of millet and barley and vineyards. Thus, like the two opposing armies in chess, one the mirror image of the other, the Vitellians and the Othonians glared at one another across a maze of vineyards and watercourses, which made up the small deadly space between them. All that remained now was them to rush together and get to grips in the massive vulgar brawl provided by hand-to-hand combat.

Some of the heaviest fighting was where I Adiutrix, recently raised from the Misenum marines and eager to gain its first triumph, and the veteran XXI Rapax clashed head to head. Despite their initial faux pas, the former marines acquitted themselves extremely well, even managing to overrun the front ranks of their opponents and capture their eagle. The eagle, aquila, was the totem animal of the legions, so to lose it was the ultimate disgrace for a legion, and XXI Rapax gathered itself and charged the attackers in turn, which showed that the resolution of this legion was still unbroken and betokened the discipline of veteran soldiery. The fighting was obviously vicious, the legate of I Adiutrix, Orfidius Benignus, fell fighting as the Vitellians strove to retrieve their sacred eagle. This they failed to do, but they did harvest a number of standards and flags.

Much earlier we asked the question if the tall, fit and superbly disciplined men of legio I Italica could fight. In the centre of the battlefield Nero’s handpicked legionaries came face to face with the Otho’s praetorians who, as we know, had been itching for battle. The two sides, equally determined, slogged it out hand-to-hand, throwing against each other the weight of their armoured bodies and bossed shields.35 Before contact, the usual discharge of pila had been discarded, and gladii and axes were used to puncture metal and man. We will have more to say about Roman fighting techniques in a little while.

At the other end of the Othonian battle line, however, XIII Gemina and the vexillatio from XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix were roundly defeated by V Alaudae.

Tacitus’ details are rather vague at this point, but it appears that XIII Gemina turned on its heels and fled at the sight of the charging V Alaudae. This left the heavily outnumbered vexillatio of XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix in the lurch, and consequently it ‘was surrounded by a superior force’, and presumably either annihilated or the survivors given quarter.

While these events were unfolding I Adiutrix met its own fate. Reeling from the loss of its legate, and presumably many of those around him, the legion eventually gave way when the Batavi, flushed with their thumping victory over the gladiators, took them in the flank. Earlier in the day Otho had ordered Flavius Sabinus to stage a diversionary attack from the south bank of the Po, and consequently he had loaded his gladiators onto boats supplied by the classis Ravennas. Having landed on the other side and ventured a ways from the riverbank, they were suddenly pounced upon by the Batavi under Alfenus Varus. Most of them made it back to the river only to be cut down by other Batavi positioned there to block their escape. So, with the right and left now gone, we can safely speculate that the praetorians in the centre threw in the towel and called it a day. The surviving Othonians fled back to their distant camp at Bedriacum, and the next day, with some reluctance it should be said, took the oath of allegiance to Vitellius. These are the bare bones of First Cremona.

THE ROAD TO REVOLT

On the eve of the Boudican revolt in AD 60, few of the soldiers who took part in the invasion were still serving. For those that were, the previous 17 years of campaigning had taken Roman forces north, west and southwest. The tribes made and broke alliances as seemed convenient, and denied Rome a single cohesive target. Instead, she was presented with elusive enemies who flitted in and out of woodland and marshes, and avoided set-piece battles. No wonder then that Tacitus could say the only region of Britain that been controlled was ‘the nearest part’.

Meanwhile, Vespasian had led II Augusta along southern Britain, fighting 30 battles and capturing the Isle of Wight and more than 20 native towns. He can thus be linked personally to the evidence of vicious fighting at Maiden Castle (Dorset), the Claudian fort huddled in the corner of the Iron Age hillfort at Hod Hill, and the Roman military occupation of the hillforts at Ham Hill (Somerset) and Hembury (Devon). Since Vespasian must have been supported by naval forces, it is obvious that the Romans would have established various landing points along the south coast as the campaign progressed. The military activity identified at Fishbourne is as likely to have belonged to this campaign as to the initial invasion, if not both. However, recent excavations of a fort built in the mid-40s at Alchester (Oxfordshire), and the discovery there of a first-century tombstone belonging to a veteran of II Augusta, suggest that the legion may in fact have spent a significant part of this time fighting further north than previously believed.

By now the Fosse Way had been established, running from Exeter right up into Lincolnshire. As a line of communication it was obviously of enormous importance, but whether or not it was intended as a frontier is unknown. The road was not fortified, although there were some forts and fortlets scattered along it. If there was ever any plan to halt here and make a province out of the more compliant (or so it might have been thought) south, it was shelved.

The mid-first-century fortress at Exeter, founded by c. 50, was probably II Augusta’s. With its vaulted legionary bathhouse, Exeter symbolized the impact of classical culture on a place where nothing like it had ever existed before. To the north, IX Hispana had possibly already reached as far as Lincoln, a strategically vital location, much closer to the sea then than it is today. Behind it the legion left a variety of vexillation fortresses along with Ermine Street, which carried communications back to the river crossing at London. XIV Gemina was heading towards the Welsh Marches. The road network fanned out from London, provoking the spontaneous development of a trading centre which was evolving into a significant town. Linking all of these sites was the Roman navy, which controlled much of Britain’s coastal waters and provided a means of supplying bases at Exeter and Lincoln, and elsewhere.

By 47, much of southern Britain had technically capitulated, giving Rome the vital allies she needed. Amongst these must have been Togidubnus, who was awarded ‘certain cantonal areas’ to rule. An inscription from Chichester locates him in the area, and it has long been assumed that he owned the remarkable palace at nearby Fishbourne. Whether he did or not, or whether or not it was the governor’s residence, does not alter the fact that parts of central southern Britain showed astonishingly rapid Romanization in this period. We know nothing of Togidubnus’ origins, but the geographical location makes it likely that he had some connection with the Atrebates, and indeed may even have been the dynastic beneficiary of Verica’s appeal to Claudius.

Further east, resistance increased when Plautius handed over control to Publius Ostorius Scapula in 47. Ostorius moved rapidly to disarm tribes in an area ‘on this side of the Trent and Severn’, meaning much of central, eastern and southern Britain. The Iceni of East Anglia objected. Being disarmed was more than a humiliating public castration; it cut right to the very heart of their existence. Nevertheless, their revolt caught Ostorius unawares, illustrating how little initiative the Romans had in this war. The known vexillation fortresses at Longthorpe, Great Casterton, Osmanthorpe and Newton-on-Trent all lay well to the west of Iceni territory.

Ostorius suppressed the rebellion with auxiliaries. Even so, the Romans were continually abandoning the task in hand to deal with more pressing problems. In Wales, Caratacus was organizing resistance amongst the Silures. This was extremely dangerous. The Welsh tribes’ total lack of interest in Roman comforts meant they were alienated from everything that Rome stood for. Their lack of cohesion might have compromised the natural advantages their remote and difficult territory gave them, but Caratacus was unifying them.

Ostorius marched against the Deceangli in north Wales. He was almost bound to do this. Had he failed to conquer additional territory, he would have looked like a failure, and his personal reputation as a general demanded a more conspicuous result. The attractions of defeating Caratacus by cutting him off must have driven him on, and he may also have had half an eye on Anglesey. Anglesey was the Druid centre, from which the Druid priesthood helped organize resistance to the Roman conquest.

Ostorius ravaged Deceangli territory, but failed to force them to a battle. The idea was to discourage Welsh tribes from supporting resistance in southern Britain. Whether or not there was any plan to hold Wales permanently is unknown, though by 49 the Romans were smelting lead and extracting silver (a by-product of lead) in the Mendips. The invasion of Wales was not just a punitive conquest; there was also gold in those hills. But Ostorius had acted too hastily, and failed to cover his rear flank. The Brigantes of northern Britain had officially capitulated to Rome, but not all the Brigantes agreed. An armed coup erupted and Ostorius had to withdraw to put it down, before returning to Wales to deal with the Caratacus problem. Ostorius took more precautions this time. The fortress at Camulodunum was given up and made into a colony of veterans, and the legion, probably XX, was released for war.

At this time, Caratacus enjoyed matchless prestige. He retreated, but avoided selling out. He exploited the narrow valleys of south Wales to lead the Romans further in, and eventually to Ordovician territory. But he was running out of places to pull back to, and made a crucial error. Caratacus consolidated his forces for a last stand, giving the Romans exactly what they wanted: a set-piece battle. He established himself behind ramparts overlooking a river. Behind him, steep hills covered the rear flank. In Tacitus’ description, the Romans were hankering for the chance to fight. This is unlikely, despite their frustration with Caratacus. Strategically, there was no advantage. They were exposed in every direction, and they faced a highly motivated enemy. Ostorius had been initially confounded by the obstacles, heightening the tension, and had to spend time looking for a suitable place to cross the river. At this stage, sheer numbers and hardware started to tell. The Britons had little hope in close hand-to-hand fighting, and the physical structure of their ramparts was too feeble to stand up to Roman demolition work. Both auxiliaries and legionaries were used in the battle, showing how tough the fight was. Caratacus was defeated but escaped, leaving his family and brothers behind to be captured.

Now Rome’s policy of patronage paid off. Caratacus fled for protection to Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes. She handed him over and he was carted off to Rome, where in 51 he appealed to Claudius’ imperial magnanimity to spare his life. Duly reprieved, Caratacus was pensioned off in Rome and disappeared into obscurity. Claudius celebrated the climax of his conquest of Britain by erecting a triumphal arch in Rome. Part of the inscription survives, recording the ‘submission of 11 British kings’ and the first successful campaign to bring ‘barbarian tribes beyond the Ocean into the dominion of the Roman people’. It was, like most victory boasts, premature. The capture of Caratacus opened a destructive decade that climaxed in the virtual annihilation of the province.

Ostorius set out on an orgy of revenge. Stories spread amongst the Silures in south Wales that he had publicly announced they would be slaughtered or enslaved. This gave them nothing to lose. Legionary cohorts building forts in Silurian territory were quickly ambushed. The best troops were killed, along with eight centurions and their camp prefect, before help arrived. Other troops foraging for supplies with a cavalry escort were wiped out. Ostorius was forced to bring in auxiliaries and legionaries, but even then the battle only petered out as night fell. The Silures escaped with few losses, and continued to maintain a concerted guerrilla campaign. Their success began to encourage other tribes to consider rebellion. Then Ostorius suddenly died in post, and the Silures took the opportunity to rout the legion.

Aulus Didius Gallus arrived to replace Ostorius in 51 or 52. Tacitus thought Didius Gallus magnified the Welsh problem to exaggerate his own success at dealing with it, but there seems little doubt that things had quieted down. Like Ostorius, Didius Gallus found Wales had to take second place to the Brigantian problem. Cartimandua’s estranged husband, Venutius, was considered to be the finest British exponent of war. Not only did the divorce occasion a Brigantian civil war, but Venutius turned against Rome, too. Didius Gallus had to intervene to restore stability. Roman goods found at Stanwick, long thought to have been the principal Brigantian stronghold, indicate that Cartimandua welcomed Romanization, even if the price was the loss of independence. Like the client kings further south, she knew that her power depended on Roman support.

Tacitus accused the aged Didius of being content to let his legionary commanders organize the war while he rested on his laurels. The death of Claudius in 54 and the accession of Nero certainly diverted imperial attention from Britain. If Tacitus was correct, perhaps Didius Gallus was partly responsible for the disastrous events of the next few years. He left in 57, only to be replaced by Quintus Veranius Nepos, who died within the year, thereby escaping having to deliver his promise to conquer the whole of Britain within two years.

The governorship of Gaius Suetonius Paullinus (57/8–61) was probably the most decisive in the history of Roman Britain. Suetonius Paullinus, an experienced general, set out to destroy the Druid stronghold in Anglesey. It had been well known since Caesar’s time that the Druids operated apart from the tribal leaderships as a separate social caste. In an island politically fragmented by petty kingships, the Druids provided a vital cohesive force. They controlled law and order, and used excommunication to enforce their power. They were also literate, a fact that enhanced their control over an illiterate society. Anglesey’s pivotal role behind the resistance cannot have gone unnoticed, but it may have taken the work of Ostorius and Didius Gallus before a campaign could be undertaken.

Soldiers from the XIV and XX legions and auxiliaries crossed the Menai Straits to face a frenzied crowd of women and armed men, whipped up by Druids uttering strange incantations. The intention was to create intimidation and fear in a theatrical display of barbarian hysteria, and the soldiers were effectively transfixed with terror. Under pressure from Suetonius Paullinus, the soldiers recovered themselves, and the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The crowd was annihilated and the Druids’ sacred groves wiped out.

The Severans and Britain in the Third Century AD

The North of England in the late second and third century.

Dividing the province

It is one of the acknowledged ‘facts’ of Roman history, that Roman senators, who had successfully mounted a coup, attempted to ensure that the same methods could not be used against them by any would-be successors. 193 saw three Roman governors vie for the throne, all of whom used as their power bases the armies of their three legion provinces. It is thus hardly surprising to find that the victors, the Severans, are usually assumed to have been responsible for breaking up these commands into smaller, less dangerous units.

The earliest source for this division is Herodian, a historian of the late second and early third centuries, who has the advantage of being a near contemporary of the events described. Contemporaneity does not necessarily equate to being well informed, however, and Herodian can also be somewhat partial at times. He stated that one of the outcomes of the Battle of Lugdunum (197) was that Severus ‘set the affairs in Britain in order and divided the administration in the province into two commands’. There is certainly evidence that there were two British provinces later in the third century. The first was Britannia Superior (which probably refers to its greater proximity to Rome, and certainly does not imply any regional superiority) in the south, which contained the legio XX Valeria Victrix (at Chester) and legio II Adiutrix (at Caerleon), whilst Britannia Inferior, further north, held legio VI Victrix at York. Inferior was governed by a senator of praetorian rank, whilst the southern, more powerful, province remained the preserve of men who had held the Consulate. Nevertheless the early date given by Herodian for the division is contradicted by Cassius Dio, who places it in the reign of Caracalla. There are also inscriptions naming three governors of Severan Britain who all commanded a unified province, as well as one mentioning the legate of one of the southern legions operating north of Hadrian’s Wall under Severus. The latter could be explained by sending troops on detached duty to the neighbouring province, but no such convenient explanation exists for the three provincial governors.

Birley (2005, 333–336), following Dio and the epigraphic evidence, makes a good case for the division only occurring under Caracalla, after 213. It may seem surprising in view of the warfare on the northern frontier at this time that close support to Hadrian’s Wall was restricted to one legion. Indeed one might have expected Inferior to be the senior, two legion province. It is worth pointing out that the North contained the bulk of the auxiliary forces of Britain, which means that a division which put two legions and the fleet on one side, and a single legion, but with most of the auxiliaries on the other, may actually reflect a fairly even distribution of power in the island. Moreover the fact that two legions now had their bases in separate provinces does not seem to have diminished the presence of some of their members on Hadrian’s Wall. The legionary compound at Corbridge continued into the third century, while the fort at Carlisle appears to have been occupied by detachments from legiones II and XX.

Severan military activity in Britain

There is a surviving fragment of Cassius Dio (75(76), 5.4), which belongs in the immediate aftermath of Severus’ Civil War against his final rival Albinus (c. 197/198). As so often with such fragments, it lacks context, but it reads as follows:

Because the Caledonians did not keep to their promises and had prepared to aid the Maeatae, and because Severus was then devoting himself to the Parthian (or neighbouring) war, Lupus was compelled to buy peace from the Maeatae for a large sum, receiving a few captives.

The events described must have happened a substantial distance north of Hadrian’s Wall, as the Maeatae are traditionally associated with the area around Stirling, beyond the (now abandoned) Antonine Wall. This suggests that even at that point, Rome still took considerable interest in affairs in Scotland, a fact underlined by the substantial hoards of Roman coinage of the late second and early third century that have been found there (Hunter 2007, 23–32). The phrasing does, though, suggest that warfare was averted for the moment, although the presence of prisoners suggests that some sort of confrontation with Rome, and perhaps an incursion into Roman territory, had occurred earlier – albeit there is no indication of when this might have happened, or whether anything but the outpost forts north of Hadrian’s Wall would have been involved.

Virius Lupus was the first Severan governor of Britain and appears to have governed the whole province. In addition to his attested activities north of Hadrian’s Wall, he is also known from three building inscriptions, dateable to 197, from Corbridge (RIB 1163, building unspecified), Ilkley (RIB 637 mentioning the rebuilding of an unknown structure) and Bowes (RIB 730). The latter commemorates the rebuilding of a bath building, which had been destroyed by fire, and there has been a persistent tendency in archaeological literature to suggest that this fire, the rebuilding mentioned in the other inscriptions, and the burning of a barrack at Ravenglass, may be linked to the Maeatae trouble mentioned by Dio. Yet it is hard to see why a tribe from the lower reaches of the Forth, on the east coast, would be responsible for burning a fort on the west coast, and for widely distributed damage between the Stainmore Pass and the still more southerly fort of Ilkley. A bathhouse fire in the central Pennines is surely more easily explained as an accident, rather than the result of enemy action, that even with modern transport lived 4½ hours drive away, and was separated from the forts by Hadrian’s Wall.

Septimius Severus (193/211) is one of the most visible Emperors in the epigraphy and archaeology of Roman Britain. During his 14 years in power in Britain, he ordered the rebuilding (or rather finishing) of all three active legionary fortresses in stone (e.g. Ottaway 2004, 75), and substantially rebuilt or refurbished forts all over the north of England. Indeed on Hadrian’s Wall his activity was such that early Wall scholars spent considerable time debating whether it was really Severus’, rather than Hadrian’s Wall.

Much of this building was probably occasioned by the simple fact that forty years after the withdrawal from Antonine Scotland, the fort structures were likely to need ‘updating’ or, in some cases, complete rebuilding. Such was the case at Risingham, where a gate had collapsed through old age (RIB 1234), and another building inscription from Caernarvon/Segontium (RIB 430 + add), which must predate 209, shows that such activity was not just limited to the Wall. The governor most frequently mentioned in these inscriptions is Alfenius Senecio, who certainly appears on eight, and has been restored on a further three, and thus almost personified the programme. One of these inscriptions (RIB 1337 + add) is not a building inscription, but a dedication to the Victoria of the two Emperors Septimius Severus and his older son Caracalla. But Birley (2005, 191) has pointed out that this may just as likely commemorate the anniversary of the Severan Parthian campaigns, or relate to a war elsewhere, as to a victory in Britain.

There is comparatively little evidence for what was happening north of the Wall during the Severan period. Newstead appears to have been abandoned around 180, but High Rochester, Birrens, Bewcastle and Risingham remained in operation, documenting Rome’s continued interest in the area, and it would thus seem much more reasonable to assume, if any trouble was caused by the Maeatae in the aftermath of the Civil War, that it would have occurred in the Scottish Lowlands, in areas under Roman protection through the outposts, but north of Hadrian’s Wall and thus more accessible.

In addition to the refurbishments, some forts and installations were clearly new designs. At Vindolanda, the earlier stone fort was demolished and its stone frontage has been found apparently deliberately collapsed into the ditch. Its replacement was built over the Antonine vicus and surrounded on three sides by substantial ditches. The east side, facing the old fort platform, was only defended by a wall, and faced an area of roundhouses arranged in long lines, apparently covering most of the former fort (Birley & Blake 2005, 27–30). This complex is so far unique and its purpose remains debatable. Hodgson’s suggestion (2009, 32) that it provided accommodation for levees of civilians from the South, who were involved in the reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall, is one possibility, but it does not explain why the accommodation should take such an unusual form, or be deemed important enough to replace the existing stone fort. South Shields, on the Wall’s eastern flank, on the south side of the Tyne mouth, was rebuilt in this period, as a fort plan dominated by numerous granaries, turning it into one of the most striking examples of a supply base in the Roman Empire.

Further north two forts appear to have been built on the East coast: Cramond and Carpow. Carpow was a legionary vexillation fortress serving detachments of both legio VI Victrix and legio II Augusta. It was located at the apex of the Tay estuary, just below its confluence with the Earn, and close to its lowest crossing point. It is currently the only known Severan installation in the area, and its isolation is striking, but Cramond parallels its basic location, this time on the south side of the Forth estuary.

Cramond was first built as one of the coastal forts on the eastern flank of the Antonine Wall. The withdrawal from the Wall from 158 onwards does not seem to have involved the fort’s demolition and some reduced occupation appears to have continued on the site (Holmes et al. 2003, 153f.), but it was fully reactivated in the Severan period. The date of reoccupation used to be fixed at 208, with reference to the historical sources, but there has recently been a tendency to shift this date back due to the evidence of coins. For example, Holmes (et al. 2003, 155) suggests a possible start date ‘in the very early years of the third century’. Like South Shields, Cramond seems to have had a role as a support base, with a considerable provision of workshops and industrial complexes, both internally, in the praetentura, and outside the fort, which included evidence for pottery manufacture.

The situation in the south

Roman military installations south of the Pennines became rare during the course of the second century. Apart from the legions and a few large forts left in Wales (e.g. Segontium/Caernarvon), the principal sites were the Cripplegate fort in London (probably designed to house the Governor’s bodyguard and any troops passing through) and the fort at Dover. Because of its classis Britannica brick stamps, the latter is usually associated with the fleet, and this does seem more likely than the alternative: that it was only built by the navy, but was garrisoned by other troops, given that it has also produced inscriptions recording fleet commanders. It was originally constructed in the early second century and in its rebuilt form lasted to c. 210 (Philp 1981). The classis Britannica had been operating in the Channel and along the British coast from the late first century. Its largest base appears to have been on the French side at Boulogne, but in addition to building the fort at Dover, it was also active in Kent and Sussex, and was involved with iron smelting and brick making at sites such as Beaufort Park (built in the late second century and operational until the mid third). A detachment is also recorded on Hadrian’s Wall, where its construction skills, along with naval transport, may both have been useful. We know little about the detailed workings of the unit, but in analogy to other fleets, it is usually assumed that it would have served a logistical role (providing transport or at least escorts for supplies, officials and troops moving to and from Britain), as well as monitoring other maritime traffic.

By the late second and early third century, a need seems to have been felt for the military presence along the coast to be increased. The earliest new fort to be identified was at Reculver (Philp 2005, 216), where construction started in the late second century. After a hiatus of several years, it was eventually completed around 211, which matches comparable data from Caister-on-Sea in Norfolk, and our limited evidence from Brancaster. Philp would link these three with Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight (for which little dating evidence exists), and they may be the beginnings of the coastal defence system, which by the late fourth century had become the so-called ‘Saxon Shore’. In origin, though, in view of the dating evidence for Cramond and Carpow, it may be worth discussing whether the original forts were possibly designed as further elements in a supply chain reaching from the iron processing and supply harbours of Kent, to the Hadrian’s Wall complex and advanced forts in Scotland, and that they only mutated into a new coastal defence role later, once more costal forts were built over the course of the third century. Once again, more research is clearly needed.

Severus on campaign

Herodian tells us that Septimius Severus had three reasons for coming to campaign in Britain: a) to add a British victory to his other conquests in the East and North b) to get his sons (Caracalla and his younger brother Geta) away from the flesh pots of Rome and c) because the governor had requested help against the barbarians (Herodian III, 14, 1–3). A.R. Birley (2005, 191) points out that the latter is a topos, (a repeated theme that may be rooted in expectation rather than fact). To judge from similar descriptions in Herodian and elsewhere, the chain of logic would run something like this: in Roman eyes it was unjust to start a war without proper cause; this means that it was important to be able to claim that a war was fought in defence of the Empire or its allies. If the governor requested help, this showed that the Emperor was hardly likely to be just fabricating the evidence to justify military action, but was responding to a genuine emergency. In other words, this was a conscientious Emperor fighting a just war. In theory, this would balance the additional motives for waging war in Britain, even though the educational opportunity and self-aggrandizement would not usually be seen solely as acceptable reasons. Nor would a secondary reason given by Dio, that the legions were becoming restless and needed something to keep them occupied (76 (77), 11.1). Herodian, who counted Severus as one of the ‘good Emperors’, was thus able to provide suitable window dressing for a military adventure.

We have two main accounts for the campaign, as well as a number of other fragments. Cassius Dio, with his now customary disdain for geography and military detail, reports that in the first season Severus pursued the Caledonii and Maeatae, but that the enemy employed guerrilla tactics, luring the Roman army into ambushes and difficult terrain, while not allowing themselves to be engaged in set piece battles. Despite heavy losses (Dio mentions 50,000 dead, which must again be an exaggeration, as it would equate to nearly the entire garrison of Britain at the time), Severus reached the end of the island, where he took astronomical measurements on the length of day, before returning and concluding a treaty with the barbarians. In the second season, Severus responded to a revolt by ordering the soldiers to kill everybody involved. This was apparently carried out, but the Caledonii then joined the revolt of the Maeatae, and Septimius Severus died while preparing for a campaign against both. Again, the account offers little in the way of geographical detail (typical for Dio) and focused instead on the ethnographic peculiarities of the enemy, and on Caracalla’s hunger for power and supposed attempts to speed his father’s demise.

Herodian’s account agrees with Dio’s as to the major events, but says that the campaign was fought north of the fortifications that provided the defences of the Empire and adds that Caracalla commanded the second year campaigns, as his father’s health had already deteriorated. Beyond the fact of victory, most of the accounts left by the fourth and fifth century historians, Jerome, Orosius, Eutropius and Aurelius Victor, concentrate on Severus’ death in Eburacum/York, rather than on the achievements of the campaigns. Orosius (7.17) and Eutropius (8.19) also claim that ‘he defended the island with a wall’, the latter clearly a reference to the extensive work on Hadrian’s Wall conducted in the decade before the Imperial visit. These late sources thus add very little to our understanding of the military operations. Coins issued at the time show Severus riding forth, a standard issue for an Emperor on campaign, and the image of a ship (on one coin accompanied by the legend TRAIECTUM – crossing or transshipment point), which might be taken to suggest that naval operations formed part of the campaign, although it might also just reflect the fact that Britain is an island.

In the past, archaeologists have tended to define the area of operations by means of a series of marching camps, which some publications would project all the way into Moray. More recent work has significantly changed our perception of these camps, however. After extensive excavations at the Kintore example, the 110 acre group, which formed the chain leading to Moray, is now mostly considered to be Flavian, leaving only the 63 acre and 130 acres series, along with the 165 acre camps in the Lowlands, as possible contenders for the Severan campaigns (NB: the groups were defined before metrication and have become a label rather than a strict indicator of size). The 130 acre sites form a close knit series stretching from Ardoch, through most of the Strathmore, and we know that they must at least slightly postdate the 63 acre camps, thanks to Hanson’s excavations at Ardoch, where the ditches of an example of each intersect. More recent excavations at Innerpeffray, however, might suggest that the camps were built before the Roman road through the area, and so could be earlier, perhaps Antonine, especially as evidence for a more modern road on this line is currently lacking (Woolliscroft and Hoffmann 2006). Roman temporary camps have always been notoriously difficult to date and, as has been pointed out by Hanson, there has long been a tendency to try to associate them with the two best known campaigns in Scotland: the Flavian and Severan. Ye t there were several other occasions in the second, later the third and the fourth centuries where campaigning took the Roman army north of Hadrian’s Wall and, as most of the camps still lack dating evidence, it is possible that future work will change our understanding of these structures.

Withdrawal from Scotland

Cassius Dio tells us that after the death of their father, Caracalla and Geta quickly concluded peace with the Caledonians, withdrew from enemy territory and returned to Rome to make sure that their succession as Emperors passed off smoothly. This has usually led to the assumption that a number of forts (including Carpow and Cramond) must have been abandoned at this time. But a fragmentary inscription from the East Gate of the Carpow legionary fortress presents problems. Wright has suggested that it could only have been cut after Geta’s death in Rome in 212, suggesting that the base was still under construction then and so remained in use after the end of the Severan campaigns. This has led to the belief that there may have been a continued presence in Scotland, possibly into the 220s or 230s (Bidwell and Speak 1994, 29). More recently, however, John Casey has pointed out that this same inscription could be restored to refer to Commodus (180/192), giving an earlier start date for Carpow, with interesting historical implications. Moreover, Nick Holmes (2003, 156 with further references) would argue that the coin evidence for both Cramond and Carpow does not support an extended stay beyond 211, and nor have they produced evidence of sufficient post-Severan pottery to suggest continued occupation.

Interestingly the Vindolanda roundhouse settlement was abandoned at about the same time, and Stone Fort II was built on the site (Birley and Blake 2005, 31). Nevertheless some features of the Severan building programme were retained, including the now fully renovated Hadrian’s Wall, and the supply base of South Shields, which appears to have continued to function as such into the late third century. But was the abandonment of the new territories necessarily a change of policy by sons keen to abandon their father’s goals in favour of a rapid return to Rome? Collingwood and Myres (1937, 160) suggested that the fact that Severus reoccupied very few of the earlier Flavian and Antonine fort sites, despite their lying on his line of advance, implies that he never intended a permanent occupation of Scotland, but only a punitive campaign: ‘visiting the wrath of Rome on enemies of Rome outside their grasp, but not outside their reach’. They would see this as part of the same strategy that brought about the rebuilding/refurbishing of Hadrian’s Wall, and thus provided an armoured baseline from which exactly such punitive campaigns could be launched, keeping the area to the north cowed under Rome’s political control and the province itself secure. This model, sometimes referred to by Scottish medieval historians as the ‘Caracallan’ or ‘Severan’ settlement (Fraser 2009), has been seen as the foundation on which early Medieval Scottish history developed, creating, in effect, an inner/southern zone of close contact with Rome, with a number of outer/northern and western zones beyond, which had much looser connections with the Empire. It is hard to verify this model by archaeological means. Certainly there are differences in what and how much Roman material reached different areas of Scotland, but the data sets are so small, and the historical records so sparse, that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to fully prove or disprove this model. For the moment, therefore, it might be best to leave it as an interesting hypothesis in need of further testing, noting in doing so, that the site of Birnie, in Moray, which should definitely lie in the ‘outer zone’, contained Severan coin hoards. This suggests at least that the division between inner/southern and outer/northern regions should not be seen as a simple geographical Lowland/Highland issue.

Etruscan Warriors

1. EARLY VILLANOVAN CULTURE, 9th–8th CENTURIES BC.
(1) Leader with war-chariot, Tarchuna area. The early example of a war-chariot is from grave 15 at Castel di Decima, and the warrior is reconstructed partly from grave Monterozzi 3 in the Arcatelle necropolis, Tarquinia. This contained, among other objects, a crested helmet, an antennae sword, a spearhead and a fibula. His bilobate shield, of Aegean origin, is reconstructed after the fragmentary specimen from Brolio and the miniatures from grave XXI at Pratica di Mare; it lacks the typical ornamentation of the later Orientalizing Period. Chest-protecting bronze kardiophylakes are well attested. Note also the red ‘war paint’ used on the face and limbs by some Etruscans and Latins.
(2) Villanovan-Tarquinian axeman. The axeman is protected by the ‘bell-helmet’ from the Pozzo grave, Monterozzi necropolis; pairs of holes along the rim suggest the attachment of an organic-material lining, chinstrap and/or neck-guard. The oval shield is made of wood with leather covering, and has a raised wooden reinforcing rib with a central ‘boss’. The use of necklaces and bracelets was widespread, but we do not know to what degree these were associated with military or civil fashions.
(3) Sardinian mercenary, Pupluna area. This mercenary, copied from the ‘Teti archer’ statuette, wears a low-profile horned leather helmet, a bronze breastplate and greaves. His main weapon is the long composite bow, made of wood, horn and sinew. Note the leather protector worn on the left forearm.

2. VILLANOVAN ARISTOCRATIC WARS, 8th–7th CENTURIES BC.
1) Villanovan aristocratic cavalryman, Felzna area, 8th century
This cavalryman – partly reconstructed from grave 525, Askos Benacci, near Bologna – is protected by a crested helmet (from an example in Hamburg Museum), and has slung on his back a decorated bronze shield (example from Verucchio). His offensive weapons are a spear and the curved antennae ‘sabre’ from Bologna. Graves around Bologna have yielded a bronze prod for a horse, and a snaffle bit with chained and mobile elements with circular sections. The original terracotta horse showed a blue mane and tail, and red markings suggested tattoos or brands, perhaps with magical significance. These features are also found in other graves, e.g. the Tomba di Tori at Tarquinia.
(2) Proto-Etruscan leader, Narce area, 730 BC
Mainly obscured here by his cloak, the bronze armour of this senior leader, extensively decorated with repoussé work, is shaped like a ‘poncho’; it is composed of one-piece front and back plates joined by straps under the arms. According to Cowan, it was shaped for an individual with very broad shoulders and a heavily muscled chest. His helmet, of crested type over a rounded bowl, is 43cm (16.9in) high, made of two sheets of bronze fastened partly along the crest by folding one sheet over the other.
(3) Villanovan leader, Tarchuna area, second half of 8th century
Reconstruction of the ‘Corneto warrior’ in his full panoply, to which we have added from another grave a calotte or cap-helmet, with decoration perhaps suggesting a human face. The Corneto skeleton possibly had an early example of linen corselet (linothorax), fastened with bronze buttons and hooks. It was reinforced with a bronze shoulder piece, and a rectangular breastplate decorated with gold foil and ornamented with stamped patterns of swimming ducks, stylized lotus flowers and other details. The shoulder guard worn on the right (the side not covered by the shield), recalls one from an Achaean grave at Dendra in Argolis; it retains traces of padding, confirming that parts of metal armour were lined with organic materials for comfort. The earlier Etruscan warrior custom of painting the face red would be retained by the Romans for some special ceremonies, in reference to the red-painted statue of Jupiter Capitolinus in the statuarum praetextae ritual.

3. C ‘ORIENTALIZING PERIOD’, NORTHERN ETRURIA, 7th CENTURY BC
(1) Late Villanovan leader from Verucchio area
The presence of crested helmets in the Verucchio graves has led some scholars to suggest that this area was strongly colonized by Tarquinia or Veii, where such helmets were produced. The crest of this example is of painted horsehair mixed with gold threads, as attested by necropolis finds (e.g. grave Lippi 89). At this time the lords of Verucchio were armed with short iron swords in richly decorated scabbards, and ornamented axes. Leaning on his grounded spear is a shield with beautiful embossed decoration; his embossed armour is copied from the Basle Museum specimen.
(2) Rachu Kakanas, Vetulonian leader, with war-chariot
The grave of this named Rasenna-Etruscan dux of Vetulonia was one of the richest in military finds, including the remains of his two-horse chariot, reinforced with bronze disk phalerae of Orientalizing style. Leaning against the wheel, we show the interior of his circular bronze shield 84cm (33in) in diameter, probably manufactured in Tarquinia. His helmet has an extended hemispherical dome and a flared rim. His weapons included a richly ornamented dagger in an ivory scabbard, a spear, knives, and a trapezoidal axe. The plated belt is from examples such as those in drawings on page 27, and we have added a pair of greaves from a neighbouring grave. Note the sceptre, a symbol of command.
(3) Lictor, Vetulonia
The man in the lictor’s grave was probably a soldier armed with a simple sword, axe and two knifes, but bearing on his shoulder the important symbol of the fasces, so was probably a royal guard. He wears a typical padded tunic of the period, and proudly brandishes his fasces, which has a total length of 60cm (23.6in). When different armies formed war alliances, it is believed that lictors were sent to the overall commander by other leaders as a sign of their temporary subordination.

4. D ETRUSCAN EXPANSION. 6th CENTURY BC
(1) Lars Porsenna, Lucumo of Clevsin, with chariot
This is a reconstruction of the Etruscan king immortalized for generations of British schoolboys by Macaulay’s poem Horatius at the Bridge. While there would have been some variations in their equipment, it is likely that the heavily-armoured dynatotatoi would have had a complete panoply: here, a full Corinthian helmet with high lophos, a painted ‘bell-shaped’ cuirass, protections for the thighs, and greaves decorated with embossed lion-masks. His cloak and helmet-crest are in purple and gold, symbolizing his royal power. The chariot is based on a splendid example from Monteleone da Spoleto, decorated with bronze panels representing the myth of Achilles.
(2) Rasenna hoplite of the first class, Clevsin
First-class hoplites wore defences similar to the Greeks, although produced by their own armourers. This high-status warrior, copied from the Tomba della Scimmia (480 BC), has a Chalcidian helmet with Italic-style feather plumes flanking the crest. His early muscled cuirass shows red-lacquered shoulder-guards. He is otherwise protected by greaves, and by a hoplon shield decorated with a possible city blazon. His weapons are a spear and (obscured here) a curved, single-edged kopis sword.
(3) Etruscan horn-player
The simply-dressed hornist plays the precious specimen of a cornu now preserved in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Villa Giulia, Rome. This bronze horn is smaller than the later specimens of the Roman Imperial period; derived from prehistoric ox-horn instruments, it is almost circular in shape (ex aere ricurvo). The cross-brace in the middle, to help the hornist hold it steady, was not always present.

5. ETRUSCAN WARS WITH ROME, 5th CENTURY BC
(1) Roman tribunus Aulus Cossus, 437 BC
This officer is based on accounts by Livy and on the bone plaques from Praeneste showing Latin hoplites. He is armed with a spear and a two-edged xiphos sword, and carries a round clipeum shield. The crest and diadem of his Attic-type helmet are (hypothetically) shown here in the same colour. His leather muscled armour is copied from the Roman warrior depicted in the so-called ‘François Tomb’; it was probably moulded and hardened by the cuir-bouilli technique that would be used until the Middle Ages.
(2) Tolumnius, Lucumo of Veii
Livy (IV, 17-19) and Plutarch (Romulus, XVI) give us important attestations to the employment of the linothorax by an Etruscan king. Following the single combat between King Tolumnius of Veii and Aulus Cornelius Cossus in 437 BC, the former’s linen armour was dedicated at the temple of Jupiter Feretrius: ‘… Then he [Aulus] despoiled the lifeless body, and cutting off the head stuck it on his spear, and, carrying it in triumph, routed the enemy… He solemnly dedicated the spoils to Jupiter Feretrius, and hung them in his temple… Augustus Caesar …read that inscription on the linen cuirass with his own eyes.’
(3) Rasenna archer
The use of the composite recurved bow (arcus sinuosus) is attested on painted plaques of the Tarquinii period; constructed of bonded wood and horn, it would have required great strength to draw. Vergil quotes the Etruscan archers using the quiver or leves gorytus (X, 168).

6. THE LAST WARS, 4th CENTURY BC.
(1) Aristocratic Rasenna woman
This Etruscan lady is copied from the Tomba dell’Orco frescoes, and is dressed in the common fashion of ‘Magna Graecia’: a garlanded headdress, discoid earrings, a long cloak over a pleated linen tunic, and calcei repandi on her feet.
(2) Rasenna hoplite from Velzna
Reconstruction of the warrior from the Settecamini tomb near Orvieto, which yielded a Montefortino-style helmet, a shield and a muscled cuirass. Archaeological fragments of Etruscan shields from graves in Perugia and Settecamini give us clear evidence for the heavy phalanx style of fighting in the 5th–4th centuries. The central position of the porpax arm-loop shows that it passed around the arm just below the elbow (see G1), with a handgrip near the rim; this was useful only in the linear ‘shield wall’ formation typical of the hoplite phalanx.
(3) Rasenna hoplite from Tutere
One of the most spectacular statues of warriors, the nearly life-size ‘Mars of Todi’ dated to about 350 BC, shows the employment of lamellar armour. The lamellae could be in bronze or – as suggested by their white colour in many artistic representations – of white metal, or even of an organic material such as bone.

7. THE LATE ETRUSCANS, 3rd CENTURY
(1) Rasenna mercenary, Tarchuna
An inscription from Tarquinia attests to the mercenary service of one of its townsmen at Capua during the Second Punic War. This warrior is copied from the so-called ‘Amazons Sarcophagus’ from Tarquinia, on which the decoration of each corselet is individualized, reflecting real-life practice. One of the major differences between Greek and Etruscan linen corselets in the monuments is that the latter are much more often decorated with painted floral and vegetal patterns.
(2) Rasenna marine, Roman fleet, Punic Wars
Etruscan marines served in the Roman fleet during the Punic Wars. The urns from Volterra which represent sailors or marines of the 3rd–1st centuries show the use of conical felt caps (piloi) and padded or quilted garments, probably made of felt and wool (coactiles and centones). The sea-fighters often employed axes (secures) and long, complex polearms (drepana) to cut the rigging of enemy ships when they came together for boarding actions.
(3) Aristocratic eques Marcnal Tetina; Clevsin, 225–200 BC
The last period of Etruscan armour-making shows the employment of composite armours with linen, padded and scale elements. Richly elaborated ‘Hellenistic’ helmets seem to be represented, worn by warriors on Etruscan urns from Volterra dated around 200 BC. These are often of the Phrygian shape, with a forward-curling extension of the dome, decorated cheek-guards, and two feather side-plumes.

8. ETRUSCANS IN THE ROMAN ARMY, 2nd–1st CENTURIES BC
1) Lictor
Painted urns from Volterra show cornicines and lictores attending victors or magistrates; this lictor is copied from the Tomba del Convegno (Monterozzi necropolis, Tarquinia). He is wearing the toga gabina and carries an iron double-axe (bipennis).
(2) Eques
An unusual urn from Volterra, representing the myth of Eteocles and Polynices, shows the brothers dressed like Roman cavalrymen of the period, with Boeotian helmets fitted with the geminae pinnae of Mars, shields of popanum typology, leather armour (spolas), greaves, and short swords.
(3) Centurio
This Roman centurion, copied from an urn in Florence Museum, wears a pseudo-Corinthian helmet fitted with a crista transversa. His composite armour is made of leather (shoulder-guards), padded material (main corselet), and on the chest bronze scales (squamae). Note his calcei boots, and the richly varied colours of his panoply.
(4) Guardsman
Reconstructed from the Sarteana urn, this Roman miles wears a late Montefortino helmet found in Forum Novum. His body armour combines a bronze kardiophylax breastplate and a linothorax corselet. We have added a single left greave and the curved oblong legionary scutum of his time; his weapons are the hasta and the deadly gladius hispaniensis.
(5) Magistrate
The absorption of Etruria into Rome saw leading Etruscan families climbing the government hierarchy. This official, copied from the famous statue of Aule Metele, wears the toga exigua over a tunica; the latter’s purple angusticlavi, and the gold ring on his left hand, identify him as a member of the equestrian order. Hidden here, he would also be wearing high calcei boots with lingula, and fastened by corrigiae.

The Etruscans 9th–2nd Centuries BC Osprey Elite 223

Illustrator: Giuseppe Rava

Unlike later Roman conflicts for which we have more sources, the Etruscan Wars do not survive well in the ancient sources, numerous difficulties arise in assembling their course. These wars occurred so early in Roman history that extensive elements of the early narratives are shrouded in mythology and should be heavily discounted. Livy is our best surviving source for this early period, but he wrote four centuries after the events and drew on sources that were recorded at least two centuries after the events they described. Also, his account does not become more detailed until the last phase of the Etruscan conflict, and then it breaks off abruptly with events in 293. The problems in all of our sources are such that no continuous narrative of the Etruscan Wars can be reconstructed. It is, however, possible to discern at places the general course of the wars.

The Etruscan Wars began with Rome’s three wars against the city of Veii, beginning in 483 BCE. Veii was a successful Etruscan city nine miles north of Rome. Both cities were of similar size and strength and had been in competition for years. It is not clear from our sources which side struck first, but the warfare was annual, and the raiding by both sides continued alongside regular campaigns. There was a Roman battle victory in 480, but the Veiians were still able to invade and set up a camp in Roman territory on the Janiculum Hill. In response, the Fabian clan of Romans set up a fort in Veiian territory on the Cremera River. Veii destroyed this fort in 477. Finally in 474, the two sides signed a 40-year truce.

As it happened, the truce coincided with the Battle of Cumae off central Italy. The Greek tyrant Hiero I of Syracuse, allied with Aristodemus of Cumae, defeated a large Etruscan fleet in the bay of Naples. Rome played no role in the engagement, but the naval battle resulted in the end of Etruscan hegemony in central Italy and left a power vacuum into which Rome would eventually turn its energies.

The second war with Veii began in 437 when the Veiian leader Lars Tolumnius had Roman ambassadors murdered. In the ensuing warfare, Tolumnius died in single combat. In 436 or 435, Rome attacked and began to siege the Veiian city of Fidenae. Roman soldiers tunneled into the city’s citadel, capturing it. Remarkably, no other Etruscan city sent aid to Fidenae or Veii, so they had to sign a 30-year truce in 435. The final conflict with Veii began when Rome attacked it directly after the Veiians refused to pay an indemnity for the prior conflict. Rome laid siege to Veii. Livy’s report that the siege lasted 10 years and ended the same way as the siege of Fidenae are too poetic to be true. There may have been a siege, and the city did fall in circa 396 and was absorbed into Roman territory. The end of this conflict was merely the end of the first phase in the Etruscan Wars.

There was a brief war (358-351) between Rome and the Etruscan city of Tarquinii, which was later supported by the Etruscan communities of Falerii and Caere. Tarquinii soldiers raided Roman territory, and when they refused to pay reparations, the war began. As with so many Roman wars in this period, the quality of the leadership and combat was erratic, so the war dragged on. Rome won a major victory in 353, forcing Caere to sign a truce, and two years later after much pillaging, Tarquinii and Falerii signed truces also, ending the war. As with the prior conflict, most of the Etruscan communities did not send aid, though this pattern is not surprising given that the Etruscans did not maintain a federal or imperial system.

The final phase of the Etruscan Wars began in 311 when Etruscan cities, probably Volsinii, Perusia, Cortona, Arretium, and Clusium, banded together and attacked the Roman colony at Sutrium, in formerly Etruscan territory. What triggered the attack is not recorded, but it may have been connected with Roman warfare with the Samnites and Gauls. Rome responded aggressively, forcing Perusia, Cortona, and Arretium to sign treaties in 311 and forcing Volsinii to sign a treaty in 308. Even after bringing these cities to make peace, the Romans continued fighting in Etruria annually as the Samnites tried to forge a broader alliance to distract or crush Rome. This phase of the war turned more aggressive after the Battle of Sentinum against a Samnite coalition in 295. Roman commanders moved against the Etruscan cities that had allied with the Samnites, and more vigorous annual, or nearly so, campaigns into Etruria continued.

After 293 Livy’s narrative is lost for most of the third century, so there are only occasional notices. In 284 a Roman army was defeated by Gauls with Etruscan allies near Arretium, but in 283 Rome defeated a similar force at Lake Vadimon. By 280, the Etruscan communities of Vulci, Volsinii, Rusellae, Vetulonia, Populonia, Volaterrae, and Tarquinii had been forced to become allies of Rome. Caere’s conquest in 273 was the effective end of the Etruscan Wars. A last gasp occurred when Falerii revolted in 241, but the city was was razed and its population relocated as an example to other allies. Rome finally had unchallenged dominance of Etruria.

The Etruscan Wars read as if the outcome was a foregone conclusion, but it is important to recall that Rome lost numerous battles, and for a time early in the wars, part of its territory was occupied. During the later phase of the wars, Rome was distracted with wars in central Italy but still managed to bring this series of conflicts to a conclusion.

Rome benefited immensely in the long term from the war. Starting with the elimination of Veii and the seizure of its territory in 396, Rome added a great deal of territory to its public holdings. Rome also established a number of colonies that had the economic benefit of removing some of the poor from the city by giving them land elsewhere but also spreading Roman commercial interests and control over resources. Rome also gained control over Etruria, thus freeing up resources for employment to the south and adding to Rome’s pool of allied manpower reserves. This was the first war in which Rome fielded an army that included as many or more allied troops as legionaries. Rome applied the military, commercial, and colonial practices that evolved to win the Etruscan Wars to later conflicts in central and southern Italy. These wars contributed immensely to Rome’s later success.

Another consequence of these wars was internal political change in Rome. In his narrative, Livy connects the wars with a number of points in Rome’s political conflict called the Struggle of the Orders. During the wars, the Plebeians used crises to assert their demands. Thus, tribunes of the Plebeians were able to assert independent authority, the first Plebeian consul was elected, and the first Plebeian dictator was named. The Etruscan Wars were not internal conflicts in Rome, but they contributed to internal political change.

While the wars spread destruction and turmoil, over the long term they were an immense boon to Rome. They laid much of the groundwork for later Roman military and economic success. The Etruscan allies were sufficiently satisfied with the arrangement that when Hannibal invaded Italy in 218, they contributed men to Rome’s armies and remained loyal. When the Social War erupted, Rome’s allies participated but accepted the offers of citizenship and peace early. Shrouded in legend and lost sources, the Etruscan Wars were an important episode in Roman military history.

Antonius and Parthia

Parthian-Army

Parthian Cavalry charge.

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

Impero_Romano

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

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

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

Siege of Massilia, (49 BCE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military ‘What Ifs’: Another German Campaign after AD9?

Campaigns of Tiberius and Germanicus in the years 10/11-13 CE. In pink the anti-Roman Germanic coalition led by Arminius. In dark green, territories still directly held by the Romans, in yellow the Roman client states.

The Parthian war of 114–117 and Britain apart, the only significant territorial situation that could have been different under the Early Empire was if Northern Germany had been annexed. Tiberius avoided this; but what about his heir (who unexpectedly predeceased him)? Did Germanicus’ sudden death in Syria in 19 (due to poison) damage the Empire in the long term?

Germanicus had fought a difficult war in Germania after 14 and would possibly have been too ready to remember the difficulties he had faced (not least from the troublesome North Sea tides) to launch an attack as Emperor to retake the would-be province that Varus had let slip in 9. But the memory of Northern hordes slavering for Roman blood was a potent one in the capital, having a long pedigree from the Gallic sack of 390/87 BC and the long wars with the Gauls in Northern Italy, and the sources make it clear that there was panic in Rome after the destruction of Varus’ army. Destroying this threat would have been a major propaganda bonus for any Emperor, particularly a new ruler, though Germanicus or his eldest son Nero (a rash, easily-outmanoevured challenger to Sejanus in the late 20s) would have been more vulnerable to this temptation than Tiberius’ cautious son Drusus. When Germanicus campaigned successfully east of the Rhine in 15–16, Tiberius (parsimonious, cautious or jealous?) reined him in. But as Emperor, Germanicus would have had no checks on his ambition. Had he lived to succeed Tiberius in 37, he would have been 52, little older than his brother Claudius was at his real-life accession and physically tougher. His son Nero would have been around 31.

The practicalities of the campaign were such that Rome could not spare the troops for an attack in overwhelming numbers – after the Pannonian revolt of 6–9 made concentration of troops on the Danube essential. The Varus disaster – harassment and ultimately a trap in thick forests – was such that Rome could not overwhelm the enemy through force of numbers and better weaponry without risks, and the further the legions advanced from the Rhine the greater the risks of being cut off. A piecemeal occupation by a network of forts and the creation of a series of roads across the Rhine-Elbe area to speed reinforcements were essential, meaning a systematic campaign over years rather than a ‘quick fix’ of a speedy victory followed by the enemy obligingly surrendering. A long war like Caesar’s in Gaul in the 50s BC or the British campaigns of the 40s and 50sAD would have been needed, though Germanicus had the experience of the Northern frontier that would have given him the ability to decide if this commitment was practicable.

Rome was notably desperately short of men after Varus lost his legions, with Augustus having to raise emergency forces of slaves and gladiators in the capital. The limit of troops available for any Northern war would have been similar to the three legions (plus temporary detachments from others) sent to Britain in 43. Conquered territory taken from the fierce tribes would need to be held down by force for years, with the mixture of forests, mountains, and marshes meaning that even the task of building Roman roads to connect forts would be slow and expensive. It is noticeable that, in a comparable situation, even 120 years after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul parts of the North-Eastern tribes (nearest to potential allies across the Rhine as well as less urbanised) were willing to revolt and join Civilis’ Batavians in 69–70. The Germans would have been equally resistant and in need of longterm garrisons, with their tribal allies across the new frontier (the Elbe?) willing to aid them. The terrain of forests and swamps was conducive to a guerrilla war, though no more so than the Ardennes which Rome had held since Caesar’s time.

If a glory-seeking Emperor had been willing to reverse the ‘disgrace’ of 9, he would have had to raise new legions for a long-term occupation, though the late Republic had been able to sustain a far larger army until Augustus demobilised it and five or so legions could have been sustainable. The political danger of putting such a large force in the hands of one general would have been a drawback, as he would have had to be carefully selected. The new governor (of ‘Germania Ulterior’?) would have had the potential to take advantage of weakness in Rome as Vitellius did from the Rhine and Vespasian from the Jewish war in 69. Ideally, even if one general – preferably an Imperial male – was in charge of the annexation the subsequent province would need to be divided to reduce the number of legions available to a potential rebel. Alternatively, the troop-deployment East of the Rhine could be numerically matched by the force available to the governors of Lower and Upper Germany. That should dissuade the new governor from revolting in the event of a disputed succession in Rome.

The conquest of Germany: useful long-term consequences?

If Varus had defeated Arminius’ coalition in 9 problems would not have arisen to that extent, and the Empire would have avoided the shock of defeat. A better general than Varus would not have allowed himself to be led into a German trap far from the Rhine by supposedly loyal German ‘scouts’, or if he had done so he could have provided more inspiring leadership. A dogged defence of a strong position against wave after wave of Germans was capable of holding the lightly-armed tribesmen at bay until they became exhausted, even in heavy rain. The Romans had large shields, cuirasses, arm- and leg-guards, and a variety of swords and javelins plus some archers; they also had a tradition of discipline and fought in defensive squares. The Germans were lightly-armed and relied on the effect of a terrifying charge, plus individual combat. They were intimidating in the charge, but no good in a long pitched battle; the Romans would have had the advantage if they could hold out for several hours.

The prospect of a charge by thousands of savage Germanic warriors was not unusual to Roman soldiers, though it was always feared. Being outnumbered could be handled by a competent Roman general, as could unfamiliar territory. Marius, six times consul in succeeding years and Rome’s greatest commander around 100BC, had managed to win defensive battles against the equally intimidating Cimbri and Teutones when Roman legions had to tackle comparably daunting hordes. Once the enemy was forced to draw off, at worst the Roman general could have managed to withdraw slowly to the Rhine with his troops marching in fightingformation and reducing the numbers of stragglers who could be isolated and killed. It would be more difficult to win through back to the Rhine if their scouts deserted, as Varus’ did, but not impossible. The army would have been available for future punitive strikes – probably led by Germanicus around 12 – once they had received reinforcements and the temporary coalition of Germanic tribes had broke up, and would not have suffered the trauma of defeat.

But the forests, swamps, and mountains of North-West Germany were more difficult to penetrate and then hold down by a chain of forts than was equally truculent Gaul after Vercingetorix’s defeat. The barren heathlands and thick forests did not give promise of a future of self-sustaining agricultural settlements and growing towns filled with ambitious Roman traders, at least for decades. The archaeological remains indicate a poorer culture of Germanic villages than in Gaul or ‘Celtic’ Britain – and even less wealth East of the Elbe. There would have been the danger of another transtribal leader arising, and the state of military morale in Augustus’ later years and the ease with which mutinies commenced in 14 shows that the morale of the underpaid, overworked frontier troops was low at this crucial point. The situation in 14 shows that Varus’ victory would not have solved Rome’s German problem – indeed, it could have posed a new threat by reassuring Augustus that the German tribes were not that great a threat. Augustus had been using as few troops as he could get away with ever since demobilising the Triumviral armies in the 30s BC, with around thirty not fifty legions, and sought a German victory on the cheap. Varus could have defeated the tribal coalition, ravaged their villages, destroyed stocks of food, and driven the surviving warriors into hiding in the forests – reassuring Augustus that the Germans were manageable. He could then have imposed a temporary submission in 9 or 10, Augustus installed a smaller garrison than was really needed, and an outbreak of mutiny in 14 inspired the Germans to revolt. The conditions for troops in frontier-forts in the German forests would have been as bad a they were on the lower Rhine, causing grumbling veterans who had had to serve longer than their promised time in service to decide that Augustus’ death gave them an opportunity to insist that they were discharged. The mutiny of 14 would have occurred on the Elbe in that case, and probably led to evacuation of the new province.

The permanent acquisition of a new province up to the Elbe would have required a major effort over several decades before the danger of revolt abated, and still not have provided much in the way of local revenue. Timber for the fleet was the only obvious local resource. But if the frontier had been adequately defended and the local Germans not taken advantage of a change of Emperor to revolt, the impressment of tribesmen into the army would have added to Roman military manpower and denied it to potential opponents. The danger from the Rhine frontier became acute during the civil war of 69 due to the departure of many troops for Rome under Vitellius, the poor state of the remaining army, and inspiring and coordinating local rebel leadership under Civilis, but thereafter there was only one major war against the Rhineland tribes until the early third century: the campaigns under Domitian in the 80s. These tribes would have been part of the Empire and their menfolk enrolled in the legions so they would not have been a threat had Rome secured the Elbe frontier in 9 or the late 30s/40sAD, though the tribes beyond the Elbe could still have challenged the Empire at this point (e.g. if there had been a local Roman rebellion equivalent to that of Saturninus at Cologne in 88).

The concentration of legions in the new province would have provided a tempting force for ambitious generals to use against the Emperor, and in that case Vitellius could have been in charge of the troops – on the Elbe rather than the Lower Rhine – and revolted in 69. Would his departure have led to German revolt? But if Rome had come through 69–70 still holding the Elbe, it should have provided a hiatus of military activity until the 200s for Romanisation to develop and the German province to become as fully secure as Belgica and Civilis’ Batavian island were after 70. In that case, Rome would have had to face a smaller challenge from the local Germans in the third century and would have had many of the tribes facing the Rhine (including the Franks and Alemanni?) incorporated in the Empire and added to its legions. Indeed, if the conquest of the Marcomanni in Bohemia by Marcus Aurelius in the late 170s had been followed through (see below) Rome could have been defending a frontier from the Elbe to the Carpathians rather than from the Rhine to the Danube. The Empire would have had fewer opponents, though the tribes beyond the Elbe would still have been pressing against the frontier, and correspondingly less of a distraction from the wars on the lower Danube from the 230s.

Long-term results

The extra, Germanic, manpower available for these wars would have been invaluable besides enabling the Emperors and local generals to campaign more on the lower Danube and less on the Rhine. There would have been no need for Domitian’s distracting Chatti wars in the 80s – though he could have attacked other Germans to gain much-needed (in his mind) glory. Holding ‘Marcomannia’ as far as the Northern mountains of Bohemia too would have provided Rome with a more easily-defensible frontier in the North, with the enemy only able to use the gaps in the mountains – the Elbe valley, the Moravian Beskids, to either side of the Tatra, and Ruthenia – to invade the Empire. Thus there would not have been the need for huge garrisons on the upper Rhine or upper Danube, and more troops could have defended the Elbe and the gaps in the chain of Carpathian ranges. In this case, it is less likely that the Empire would have lost crucial battles such as Abrittus against the Goths in 251 – at least on account of troop-numbers, if not incompetence. The avoidance of the raids into the Empire and political ‘break-up’ of the Roman state in the 250s would have been momentous, though it should be remembered that Rome would still have lost manpower in the plague from 252. Incompetent leadership and/or the bad luck of a civil war were crucial factors that better frontiers would not have affected. There was also, of course, the perennial possibility of conquest in the Augustan/Julio-Claudian period followed by a ‘pull-back’ after 69 to save on men and money.