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Roman Army "General Staff"?
Hello all,

I'm looking for recommendations for readily available books / articles around the "administration" of the Roman Military in the early Imperial period - up through the time of Emperor Hadrian.  I've never seen any extensive discussion of how army-wide policies, standards, and practices were determined, distributed, and inspected for conformance.  For example, the Roman military had --looking at Trajan's column -- a fairly standard distribution of armor, weapons, etc., rather than a "bring-your-own" approach to out-fitting soldiers.  So....who / how was it decided that shields were curved oblongs?  Was there in the palatium in Rome some bureaus staffed with retired military / freedmen / greedy contractors....who decided on "advanced" weaponry?   After Trajan's Dacian wars the helmet changed to avoid legionaries get their heads crushed by Dacian faix(s).  Who did the design  / made prototypes / field tests?  Was there some embryonic "general staff" 1800 years before the Prussians?

thanks for any help here!!
I think it's difficult to identify any standing 'general staff' prior to the tetrarchy, when such things became a lot more formalised. There were ministers in the imperial government concerned with military matters - the ab epistulis apparently handled officers' commissions and promotions - but the actual running of the army seems to have been in the hands of the (mainly senatorial) general officers. When the emperor took the field he would accompanied by a staff of ministers and secretaries, and a number of comites or 'companions' - usually senatorial legati - who could presumably be delegated to any tasks that needed doing.

One role that might be important is the praefectus fabrum, who seems to have been a sort of controller of works/logistics in the later Republican and early imperial army, although the exact duties of the role are unclear, and the prestige apparently decreased in later years.

At the level of the individual legions, it's possible that the praefectus castrorum might have had oversight on maintenance and supply of the troops in camp. The tribunes also had a small official staff of clerks and secretaries, headed by a cornicularius and assisted by a number of beneficiarii selected from the ranks. Any 'general staff meetings' would presumably include the legate and tribunes, the primus pilus, praefectus and perhaps also the primi ordines among the centurions, depending who was available at the time.

As far as we know, I think, there wasn't any centralised control of army equipment or weaponry. Military units made their own arrangements for supply - although we only have evidence for clothing requests, not armour or weapons (most of which was probably produced in the legion's own armoury). Most changes were probably made in a rather ad hoc way, responding to particular demands - the helmet strengthening that you mentioned might be a good example of this - although the 'Dacian falx' theory might not be accurate. It used to be thought that the manica arm protection was also intended as a defence against the falx, until an example turned up in Britain that predated the Dacian wars by several decades.

Under the tetrarchy, the imperial administration became far more elaborate and bureaucratic, and we see various levels of administrative hierarchy and central control, from imperial arms factories (fabricae), each with their official staff, to multiple Praetorian Prefects and provincial governors who controlled military supply and logistics.

You might like to take a look at Jonathan Roth's The Logistics of the Roman Army at War (1999), which has a useful chapter on military administration. Austin & Rankov's Exploratio, while mainly about military intelligence, has some discussion on the command hierarchy that would have used such intelligence. Fergus Millar's The Emperor in the Roman World is mostly concerned with the figure of the emperor himself and the ways that imperial orders and responses were passed down through the chain of command - it's a dense read, but worthwhile. Most books about the Roman army will cover the question of command, supply and decision-making to some extent - Adrian Goldsworthy's The Roman Army at War might be a good place to start.
Many thanks to Nathan Ross for his detailed - and excellent - reply.  A pity that our more modern practice of keeping diaries and producing memoirs was not common in these times; nor their results preserved!  Certainly the reflections of a camp prefect upon his time in the service would be invaluable.   I suppose that I should not be surprised that the person-centric approach applied to the Roman military rather than the process-centric approach common to modern organizations.  This also suggests that - at a point in time - some legions were well-equipped, and forward-looking to their needs; while others with poorer leadership were not.
(07-14-2017, 01:49 PM)Mikeh55 Wrote: Certainly the reflections of a camp prefect upon his time in the service would be invaluable.

Absolutely. A few of the letters of the younger Pliny make reference to his spell as military tribune of III Gallica in c.AD81, but they provide little detail. At one point (7.31) he says that he was 'ordered by the consular legate to audit the accounts of the cohorts and alae; in several cases I found a great deal of shocking rapacity and deliberate inaccuracy...' Aside from that rather inglorious anecdote, we have little idea of the internal administrative workings of the army.

I do suspect that, if we could somehow get a glimpse of the Roman legions, we might be surprised at the variety in arms and equipment between, and even within, the various units. Our general conception of a homogeneity in overall appearance is probably more the effect of imperial monuments than reality on the ground!
I think it was John Peddie in his book on the invasion of Britain who postulated a ‘general staff’ function to coordinate the three legions who did invade Britain in 43, but there is no hard evidence for it.
Richard Campbell
Legio XX - Alexandria, Virginia
RAT member #6?

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