RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: question about Roman military writers
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Why did Roman empire did not produced any great general and great military writer, compared with generals and military writers of Roman Republic and ancient Greece?
Some may have been lost. Augustus wrote memoirs, about which we know little. Claudius wrote histories of the Etruscans and Carthaginians. I think even Germanicus tried his hand at writing, but from what I remember one work was about astronomy. Although on the surface these works may not have been overly militaristic in nature, but how do we know all of the lost contents?

Edit: By the way, here's just a suggestion: you might consider having a more descriptive thread title. Someone with a good answer to this question might be browsing the forum and not bother to click on it to see what the topic is about.
A lot has indeed been lost - Trajan's journal of the Dacian War, for a start, and Tacitus's account of the Dacian wars of Domitian: that's just once field of campaigning. I believe there was also an account of Hadrian's Jewish War, which would be a fascinating counterpart to Josephus if it survived.

But a lot remains too - Tacitus, of course, in both the Agricola and the Annals/Histories, gives a detailed description of first century military affairs. Josephus (a Jewish General!) provides, in his Jewish War, one of the best eyewitness accounts of the Roman army on campaign. Cassius Dio is more sketchy, and epitomised, but contains a lot of military-related stuff. Appian was a first/second century writer, although most of his surviving work deals with the civil wars of Caesar etc. Then, in later centuries, there's Ammianus Marcellinus on the siege of Amida.

As for 'general' writing - Pliny, the biographies of Suetonius and the 'Historia Augusta' authors, Seneca, a great deal of philosophy and religious writing, the novels of Apuleius and Petronius... Plenty of material, once you start looking!

- Nathan
But Roman empire did not produced any great military writer compared with Xenophon, Thucydides and Caesar. Arrian
is rather poor in comparison with them.
Perhaps I am sketchy on what you mean by 'military writer'. Someone like Arrian would be classified as a military writer far sooner than Thucydides ever would. Xenophon is a military writer mainly by the virtue of the Anabasis, his History being far less filled with military details or accurate.
Until someone digs up the entire corpus of what was written within the sphere of Roman influence during the period you are interested in and examines it, we will never know what was written and what was not. In saying that a significant military writer did not emerge during this period, I think you are assuming that we are aware of everything which was written, which we are certainly not. For instance, in all likelihood every general/legate would have been expected to write a detailed report on his activities during his period of office, which would have included details of any military activity. How many of these have survived? Apart from Caesar's commentaries (which may well have started out as reports of this sort) we have none, which means we are missing an AWFUL lot of probably very informative writings. And this is just one category. We know that people wrote proposals for military reform, but apart from Vegetius, how many do we have? Internal evidence within Vegetius' Epitome Re Militaria shows that there were a reasonable number of works dealing with military matters which he was able to consult but which no longer survive. We also know of various works of history which have not survived or which have survived only as fragments. Much of Dio Cassius' work is missing, as is much of Livy's. Tacitus' 'Annales' have not survived intact and neither have his 'Histories'. What was contained within those missing books which we might have found fascinating? We do not know. We also know of historical works which were popular and well regarded in their own time, such as the history of Rome written by Magnus Maximus, which have not survived at all apart from in name. What gems did they contain? We may never know. In addition to that, for every work of history we know of there may well have been a hundred other informative works which existed but which we will never even know of. Take the example of Tacitus. If a single damaged manuscript of his works had not appeared in the middle of the sixteenth century, allowing it to be copied and preserved, we would know virtually nothing of him or his works.
A further category of potentially informative works is that of personal letters. We know that important and informed people were constantly writing letters to one another yet little of this correspondence has survived. We have most of Cicero's letters but few of the letters he was responding to or which were responses to his letters. We also have many of the younger Pliny's letters and some of the letters he received from the Emperor Trajan. What else do we have though? Very little.
No ancient author survives in his own hand, meaning that even if a work might have survived all the opportunities for its destruction which rose in antiquity, if no-one was interested in taking the time and effort to copy it in the middle ages or renaissance (when there were, of course, no photocopiers, fax machines or scanners to make things simple or quick for the copyist), it would not have survived for us to be able to evaluate its merits for our purposes. Papyrus does not last indefinitely except under very dry conditions such as are found in Egypt but certainly not in Britain or northern Europe. What has survived is only a fraction of what was written and what we know existed is only a slightly larger fraction of what existed. What has survived has survived as a matter of luck in most places. A graphic example of this is the Villa of the Papayri in Herculaneum. A library's worth of books was uncovered and much has been examined, but most of it consists of works of philosophy and poetic works, many of them previously unknown. However, for several years years during its excavation in the eighteenth century workmen routinely threw what they took to be lumps of coal into the sea. It was only after several years of this that someone realised that far from being lumps of coal these were actually carbonised books which were capable of being read. How many illuminating works were simply tossed into the sea because those who found them thought they were nothing but coal? Maybe thousands. We will never know.

Thus we can never say that no-one wrote about something we are interested in. They may well have done - we just don't know it. All we can really say is that right now we are not aware of anything which comprehensively answers many of the questions we have.

Crispvs
Quote:No ancient author survives in his own hand, meaning that even if a work might have survived all the opportunities for its destruction which rose in antiquity, if no-one was interested in taking the time and effort to copy it in the middle ages or renaissance (when there were, of course, no photocopiers, fax machines or scanners to make things simple or quick for the copyist), it would not have survived for us to be able to evaluate its merits for our purposes.
Which hits the nail on the head. The corpus of writing from Antiquity that survives today does not tell us anything about what was written or about what was not written. If anything, it tells us something about the tatses of those who came after, and why they chose to have something copied for posterity.
Quote:But Roman empire did not produced any great military writer compared with Xenophon, Thucydides and Caesar. Arrian
is rather poor in comparison with them.
Are you sure? Something like 1% (and definitely no more than 10%) of ancient literature survives. What we have is concentrated in some places and times which stayed in fashion for later centuries, so people kept copying them out. It isn't really representative.

Also, there is a lot of technical material on warfare from the Roman empire, like the three Macedonian tactical manuals, Arrian's Array Against the Alans, or Vegetius. There aren't so many memoirs or histories, but there are other genres.
This doesn't exactly pertain to the question, but I thought it was interesting enough to share. While looking for something unrelated, I stumbled across some letters between the Emperor Lucius Verus and Fronto. Fronto was writing a history of the Parthian war and was listing all the things he wanted from Lucius. These included:

1) Dispatches from commanders to Lucius
2) Memoranda from two generals
3) Speeches sent to the Senate
4) Harangues to the army
5) Written parleys between the Romans and Parthians
(Letters of Fronto, Ambr. 436, or page 195 in Loeb Fronto II)

In other words, it looks like in this case Fronto as a military writer used practically every method available to him.