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Sometimes, the easiest questions are the ones you ignore. When did the limes originate? I mean, when did the Roman start to think about a defensive strategy?

To summarize how I see things now: during the last years of Augustus, Tiberius decided that the Rhine, Danube, Euphrates, and Sahara were to be the empire's boundaries - but he did not give up the idea of controling the land beyond it (e.g, the German lead and gold mines somehow continued to be exploited by Romans). The legions' bases along the rivers were still made of wood, more or less intended to be temporary. Tiberius envisaged an empire surrounded by vassal states, which would one day become Roman. The Empire had been like that during the Republic and Augustus, and for the traditionalist Tiberius was, that was fine.

Attempts to convert vassal states into provinces were never abandoned. Suetonius may present Caligula's German wars as a joke, but the fort at Wiesbaden and several tombstones in Mainz prove that there was serious fighting. I also think that Caligula was preparing an invasion of Britain, a plan that Claudius finally executed. Nero still believed in conquests in the east - or was the campaign to the Caspian Gates just a punitive action?

When Vespasian was emperor, the idea of a defensive strategy seems to have been there: conquering the Black Forest and shortening the frontier, is a defensive measure. If the way the Historia Augusta describes Hadrian's Wall reflects Hadrian's actual thinking, there was a clear distinction between civilization within the Empire's frontier, and barbarism outside.

Of course there would always be additions to the Empire - Domitian, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Septimius Severus are all credited with conqiests. But at some stage, a defensive strategy had be designed. But when?

I think the answer can be found when we look at two things:
(a) Watchtowers
(b) Stone foundations in forts

The oldest watchtower I know of, was excavated at Leidse Rijn, west of Utrecht (NL); it dates back to about the forties. (This place used to be called Vleuten and De Meern; it's all the same archaeological site.) I have no idea about stone foundation in forts, not even from Nijmegen.

My conclusion would be that at least along the Rhine, the creation of the limes dates back to the reign of Claudius; it may have been part of the Claudian army reforms. The defensive system of forts and watchtowers was later used in other provinces.

Anyone any thoughts?
I am not an expert on this but there has recently been much discussion on the group of watchtowers in Switzerland called the Walenseetürme which date to the earlier parts of Augustus' reign (approx. 15 BC) and appear to be related to the fortification in Dangstetten. They appear to guard a strategically important route rather than a "frontier" but the concept appears to be very similar to later "frontier" towers. An English abstract of a recent publication can be found here:

[url:k1zlcs1g]http://www.dainst.org/medien/de/Germania_83_1.pdf[/url]

and a German summary here:

[url:k1zlcs1g]http://www.hvg.ch/hvg_pdf/ruth_schindler.pdf[/url].
And I read, just this weekend, something that may casst another light again, Wheeler, 'Methodological limits and the mirage of Roman Strategy II' JMH 57.2(1993), 224 points to the Tabula Siarensis, dated to AD 19, which apparently refers to the Rhine as the border of Roman territory!

Wheeler apparently refers to this section of the text ([url:234rccj3]http://www.umich.edu/~classics/programs/class/cc/372/sibyl/db/H006.html[/url])
Quote:A third arch should be erected either at [the winter camp of the army of the Roman people or next to the tumulus] which [the mourning army began] for Drusus, the brother of Tiberius Caesar Augustus [our princeps], and then [completed] with the permission of the divine Augustus, [and on top of that arch a statue of Germanicus Cae]ar should be placed, receiving [the standards recovered from the Germans, and the Ga]uls and Germans who [live] on this side of the Rhine, [the same states who were instructed by the Divine] Augustus [to make] sacrifice at the tumulus [of Drusus should be ordered to make a similar] sacrifice [at public expense in the same place] to the gods of the underworld [every year on the day that Germanicus Caesar died] and when [an army of the Roman people] should be in that region [it should offer sacrifice on that day, or on the birthday] of Germanicus Caesar [and it should march through the arch that is erected in accordance with this decree of the senate].

I'd say you can deduce a sense of 'this side' and 'that side', but a border?
Quote:When did the limes originate? I mean, when did the Roman start to think about a defensive strategy?
This is a huge question, Jona! Big Grin Besides the fact that it presupposes a "Roman" strategy, rather than the personal inclinations of successive emperors, it also begs the question that Romans could differentiate between a "defensive" strategy and an "offensive" one.

Of course, the empire must have had a "limit" at any given time, but the real question is whether the Romans ever acknowledged that the limit was permanent. Hadrian is usually cited, because the erection of stone frontier walls seems to suggest this acknowledgement of a permanent limit; but remember, there were still Roman "outposts" beyond the walls. And, in any case, Antoninus Pius promptly extended the frontiers, as if to point out that Hadrian's limits were not his.

Another "given" is usually the Euphrates. But the case is far from clear-cut. The Parthians were usually keen on ensuring that the Romans did not overstep the mark, but the Romans, from Trajan's time anyway, were equally keen on showing that the Euphrates could be overstepped at will. Nevertheless, successive emperors seem to have been perfectly content to respect the status quo, provided Rome did not suffer any loss of face.

I'm not so sure that either watchtowers or stone foundations hold the key, though. Watchtowers were occasionally erected along roadways, so they cannot be used as proof of a frontier. (No, not even on the Gask Ridge, which is just another roadway.) And stone-built forts may indicate that their founder envisaged no further movement, only to be superceded by a successor who decided that there should be further movement. I'm also less than sure of geographical arguments based on whether one line is a "more scientific" frontier than another line, given the shockingly basic maps used by the Romans!

A huge question, and a fascinating one. Thanks for bringing it up, Jona! Big Grin
Again, I am impressed by the answers. At 9:39 I post a message, about four hours later, I have received three valuable replies that sound plausible and challenge my reconstruction. I knew the question would be interesting; let's continue and see what happens.
I'm way out of my league here, but when I saw the title, I immediately thought, "At about the same time as the lemon." 8)
Quote:... when I saw the title, I immediately thought, "At about the same time as the lemon."
It is a peculiar word that seems to have happily entered the German vocabulary, but no one else's!
Quote:I knew the question would be interesting; let's continue and see what happens.
I was originally invited to write the chapter on "The army and the limes in the west" for the Blackwell Companion to the Roman Army, but declined on the grounds that it was much too complex a topic to cover in the allotted space and with only 5 footnotes. (I see many of the contributors ignored this stipulation.) The rather simplistic treatment which subsequently appeared in that book confirmed my fears.
Ave Fratres,

There is another aspect that I didn't see anyone touch on. Some folks posit that the Limes were originally more about controlling trade and exacting the empires fair measure of revenue than a political boundary or even a military boundary. From my experience as a younger man hiking along the Limes in the Taunus, the line pretty much follows the military crest of the mountains but are extremely straight once you move out of the mountains and down into the cultivated valleys. Ive always wondered , " Why here? , the boundary could have been moved multiple kms to obtain a better defensive position" so maybe there is some weight to the economic theory?

Regards from a pleasant early fall day in the Balkans,

Arminius Primus aka Al
Quote:Besides the fact that it presupposes a "Roman" strategy, rather than the personal inclinations of successive emperors, it also begs the question that Romans could differentiate between a "defensive" strategy and an "offensive" one.
I assume you disagree Duncan? Care to elucidate your position?
Quote:
D B Campbell:14ndsjo7 Wrote:
Jona Lendering:14ndsjo7 Wrote:When did the Romans start to think about a defensive strategy?
Besides the fact that it presupposes a "Roman" strategy, rather than the personal inclinations of successive emperors, it also begs the question that Romans could differentiate between a "defensive" strategy and an "offensive" one.
I assume you disagree Duncan? Care to elucidate your position?
Well, how would we recognise a "defensive" strategy? You may argue that Hadrian had a "defensive" mindset, based on the facts that (a) he evacuated Trajan's eastern acquisitions, (b) he "remodelled" Dacia into a smaller (more easily "defensible"? :wink: ) province, and © he built that famous wall in northern England. But would a "defensive" wall have had eighty gateways along it? And many of the forts are sited rather agressively astride (rather than behind) the wall, to maximise access to the north. Finally, the wall was not the limit of Roman involvement, as there were forts to the north, as well.

But even if we decide that Hadrian's reign saw the beginning of a "defensive" strategy, how does that fit in with the actions of Antoninus Pius? Apparently, he knew that foreign policy should include the building of barriers, but it should also include the acquisition of new territory, so he combined the two in Britain and in Germany! Have we swung from a defensive strategy to an offensive one? Or was it the same strategy all along?

What about Marcus Aurelius? Does he have a "defensive" mindset, or an "offensive" one? On the one hand, he evacuated his predecessor's British acquisitions (at least, it seems to have been him -- unlikely to have been the aged Pius himself who did so), but on the other hand, he evidently had plans for trans-Danubian conquest.

I wonder if, amid all this to-ing and fro-ing, any Roman would have discerned either a "defensive" phase or an "offensive" phase, or would he simply have seen "business as usual". Just thinking out loud ...
(Just following the notorious Wheeler again, who does have useful points) Defensive thinking might be inferred when it's actually mentioned. Wheeler points to Dio 52.27 and 31, which call for strong frontier defenses, and Strabo 6.4.2 and 17.3.25. A perceived necessity to control an area - via fortifications, patrols (see Hadrian's wall?) - might certainly indicate defensive preparations, no? Wheeler also states that the Augustus biography of Nicolaus (FrGrHist 2A.391) ephasizes defense. Other quotes: Herodian 2.11.5 and Dio 75.3.2 which calls Mesopotamia a probolos, bulwark.
I am reading all this without coming to a decision.

Perhaps it is relevant to refer here to Chris Thomas' "Claudius and the Roman Army Reforms" (in Historia 53/4 [2004] 424-452), who mentions that the first buildings with stone foundations can be dated to the forties (Xanten, hospital). He also points at the transfer of troops to the Danube in Raetia. That answers my initial questions, but the problem is of course more complex.
Quote:(Just following the notorious Wheeler again, who does have useful points)
I must dig out Everett's papers again -- they are always insightful and interesting.
Quote:Defensive thinking might be inferred when it's actually mentioned.
The only problem is ... is it actually mentioned?!

I'm not sure what relevance Dio 52.27 and 52.31 have. They don't seem to "call for strong frontier defenses". Similarly, Strabo 6.4.2 and 17.3.25. They all relate to the Augustan empire, which is, by general consensus, aggressively expansionist. I'd be surprised if they can be used to support a defensive strategy. Have I missed something? :?

Quote:A perceived necessity to control an area - via fortifications, patrols (see Hadrian's wall?) - might certainly indicate defensive preparations, no?
I suppose it's a matter of interpretation. I would argue that the control of an area does not necessarily imply defensive thinking. Or am I missing something?

Quote:Other quotes: Herodian 2.11.5 and Dio 75.3.2 which calls Mesopotamia a probolos, bulwark.
Dio 75.3.2 says quite the opposite to me. The context is Severus' expansion of the empire in the east, so I'm not sure that he can be used to illustrate a "defensive" strategy. You're quite right, that he allegedly excused his expansion as the need to ensure the defence of the Syrian heartland. But (imho) the expansion of the empire cannot be an indicator of a defensive strategy.

Finally, Herodian 2.11.5 is an interesting one, as an overt (if late) expression of a defensive mindset. Finally! But he has clearly misunderstood Augutus' strategy, which (as I said above) was unmistakeably expansionist.

Apologies are due, as I seem to have diverted Jona's original question. Let's get back to the limes!

[size=85:2l37b2db]P.S. We really ought to thank Bill and Jona again, for making these sources available on-line. What would we do without them? [/size] Smile
Quote:... the first buildings with stone foundations can be dated to the forties (Xanten, hospital).
Of course, we now know that Augustan legionaries were building in stone at Waldgirmes. That simply means that Augustus meant to stay in Germany. So I suppose Claudian legionaries building in stone at Xanten means that they meant to stay at Xanten. (Xanten is, of course, one of the jumping-off points for invasion in Germany, though.)

I see your reasoning, Jona. Why did Claudius' legionaries decide to rebuild in stone, after fifty years of timber building on the site. I don't know the answer to that question. In combination with the anecdote that Claudius was not happy with Corbulo campaigning across the Rhine might help to build a case for Claudian conservatism. But this was the man who invaded Britain!

Is it perhaps a case of holding back in one area in order to concentrate on another? This, after all, was Augustus' technique -- keep the Parthians happy in order to concentrate on expansion in the west. Or Trajan's -- retrenchment in Britain in order to concentrate on expansion in Dacia and the east. In that case, I would say that it's Hadrian who stands apart.
Quote:Is it perhaps a case of holding back in one area in order to concentrate on another? This, after all, was Augustus' technique -- keep the Parthians happy in order to concentrate on expansion in the west.
The difference is that this time, a line of watchtowers was added. The one at Utrecht is not there to control a road or another strategic location, but a "classical" limes watchtower, to send signals from one castellum to the next. Or, to be more precise: given the location, I am unable to see another reason.

I have no idea what will be my conclusion, nevertheless. But I tend to think that at least along the Rhine and Upper Danube, a more defensive approach was accepted during the reign of Claudius, and Vespasian added the Ager Decumates, as an improvement of this system.
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