Full Version: Roman (non-)combatants / insurgents
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NOTE: I am not responsible for the thread title, the the following post was originally an answer to a question about plural of latro. Later it all ... developed into a thread of its own.
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Latrones in the Nominative plural. However you should be careful with this term, and also with the term insurgent for that matter. Latrones can be the opposite to lawful enemy soldiers (justi hostes), but insurgents can very well be lawful. Also latro can simply mean merc.
I do not know if ancient Roman law included something like 'illegal combatants'. Please note modern law does not (that is an idea of the previous US gov). There are only combatants and civilians, who are committing crimes should they engage in combat for other reasons than self defense or helping others. Despite committing crimes they still enjoy every protection of a civilian. This is actually one of thousands of reasons why modern states have problemes coping with the current kind of warfare. (as far as I understood my lessons)
Quote:something like 'illegal combatants'. Please note modern law does not (that is an idea of the previous US gov). There are only combatants and civilians
As I understand the Geneva Convention that governs modern warfare rules (? There ain't no rules in a knife fight ?) there is a difference between uniformed enemy soldiers and those without uniforms, in the way they are treated, and what should be done when encountering them. I won't go further here, since the temptation would be to delve into Rules of Engagement in current conflicts.

In past wars, say, WW2 for example, enemies caught fighting out of uniform, regardless of their claims to recognized military service unit, were frequently simply summarily executed. The same was not typical of captured uniformed soldiers, so I would have to say that the difference is not just the "last US administration" exclusively.
David, current law including the Geneva conventions lays out what a lawful combatant needs to be and needs to have (this includes carrying the weapons openly and having identifiable insignia e.g.). Everyone not fulfilling these criteria is a civilian, who commits a crime when engaging in combat. If a soldier fails to obey the rules which identify him as combatant, he also commits a crime.
Of course, my understanding is limited and I am merely reciting the opinion of my colleagues, who research this stuff actually, and hopefully I do so correctly. But worse, there is an old German saying: Two Lawyers – Three Opinions. :twisted:

What I am interested in is the ancient idea. I am surprised enough that they knew lawful opponents, considering what they often did to their enemies when captured.
With that definition, the entire Viet Cong "civilian group" was not military. I can't see how that makes any sense at all. They didn't wear "uniforms", but just the clothing generally worn by the population, yet they trained in military tactics and operations, and engaged in military combat. Civilians? I don't think so. Whether you support them or not, they were a pretty darned good irregular army force. Ask anyone who had to fight against them.

Today, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the "civilians" (unless you consider the indigenous clothing a "uniform") likewise engage in various levels of military training, learning small unit tactics, heavy weapons, sabotage, subterfuge, etc. The crime, imho, in this and the above example, is not recognizing the combatants for what they are. Civilians do not study how to fight, then pick up weapons with their comrades and fight against the enemy, whoever that might be. Once they begin the study with intent to use the knowledge in the real world, they become military members, and should either be considered militia, paramilitary, or just military. In being an informal army, they are not subject to the rules of war, nor should those courtesies be extended by the other side. Unfortunately, we moderns keep all the restrictive rules applicable to our own troops, but do little to try to get the "insurgents" to do likewise. Just as well, as they don't feel the need to follow conventional rules anyway.

In a war, the object is not to "bring the 'criminals' to justice", it is to engage and destroy the enemy. But you're right, this is a topic more for the ancient theater than modern. And I totally agree about the lawyer/opinion statement. It's essentially the same in the US.
Neither training nor equipment have any influence on the legal status of someone in war. If you like to regard the VC as combatants violating the rules for combatants laid out by the law, or non-combatants (which would be the legally correct term) unlawfully engaging in combat ... is up to you. Wink
Lawyers actually do discuss the distinction between unlawful/unprivileged combatants and lawful/privileged a lot these days for obvious reasons, but still in the current international humanitarian law only knows the (lawful/privileged) combatants and non-combatants. That is just how it is.
That's just how it is. So you say; so be it.

Let's shift gears. When Caesar invaded Gaul with his professional soldiers, and the Gaulic people sent their farmers, herdsmen, and craftsmen to fight against him, even though they were probably not well-trained in the way that the Legions were, did they send civilians or military soldiers?
This leads actually to one of my initial concerns. I think: To make the difference between soldier and civilian fully count, a society needs to develop the armed forces as an institution whose members are clearly distinct in their legal (and social?) status from the rest of the society. Probably it even needs a state or its functional equivalent first, which of course depends a lot on how you define “state”.

It also begs the question against one is fighting. Who needs to be defeated, the state, the people? In a war of conquest like that of Caesar pretty much everyone resisting the conqueror is the enemy. Caesars men probably cannot be expected to treat these farmers differently than the nobles, since the Gallic society afaik has not made any distinction of civilian and soldier.

There is another case I had in mind. Klaus Reinhard, who was NATO Commander Joint Headquarters Centre and has a doctorate in modern history, analyzed the Jewish Revolt for a public broadcast series in 2007. He concluded the Roman success and all the bloodshed was the result of the Romans simply not recognizing any difference between soldier and civilian, thus avoiding one danger of asymmetric warfare in a rather gruesome way. Indeed Roman propaganda celebrated the victory as if it was a foreign war.

To make long stories short, in my opinion, the only period and space I can think of, where and when there was a clear distinction between military and civilian personal was the eastern border of the Roman Empire in late Antiquity. At this time, Romans and Persians had professionalized armies, with military and civilian offices clearly separated.

A last point: I don’t know if this was really important in antiquity. After all, the dangers to the “civilian” populations in war were not that big. Granted, armies forage the local crops and take the cattle, and there were always massacres, but on the grand scale commanders had little interest in committing their forces solely to slaughter potential taxpayers. With industrial warfare and all its ‘blessings’ this changed. It is no coincidence that the first international attempts for a law on and in war came in the later 19th century and did not have noteworthy success until Hague.
Also ethics and morale changed. Protecting innocent lives may not have been number 1 priority in a society making public executions to entertain the people…

Sorry, I am just letting my thoughts run wild.
Of course it is, but it does neither change the fact that I did answer the grammar question (in the section of my post you did not quote), thereby rendering further answers on that redundant, nor have I ever declared not being interested in discussion problems beyond grammar:

As stated in the first half of my post you did not quote, the Romans knew the concepts of lawful enemy combatants, who are opposed to latrones, and this imo begged the question if it has the same implications as in modern western law, especially since modern law is founded on Roman law to a large part.
Livy 40,27,10: nunc quantus pudor esset edocens ab Liguribus, latronibus verius quam hostibus iustis, Romanum exercitum obsideri.

If you do not want to discuss it, fine! But again, then I do not understand why you post after the grammar question was answered.
Apologies for prolonging the agony, but ...

Quote:I do not know if ancient Roman law included something like 'illegal combatants'.

I have never come across the concept. But then, why would Roman law make such a distinction? Like other ancient peoples, the Romans waged war against communities, not against "armies".

Quote:Klaus Reinhard ... concluded the Roman success and all the bloodshed was the result of the Romans simply not recognizing any difference between soldier and civilian, thus avoiding one danger of asymmetric warfare in a rather gruesome way. Indeed Roman propaganda celebrated the victory as if it was a foreign war.
An interesting observation. But I assumed that it was self-evident. In my opinion, the Jewish "insurgents" would have been surprised if the Romans had recognised a difference between "soldier" and "civilian". You imply that the Romans ought to have seen a difference between the Jewish War and, say, the Dacian Wars; the former was "domestic", the latter "foreign". In fact, it seems to me that the only distinction ever drawn by the Romans was between a civil war (Romans vs Romans) and every other conflict.

Quote:the Romans knew the concepts of lawful enemy combatants, who are opposed to latrones, ... Livy 40,27,10: nunc quantus pudor esset edocens ab Liguribus, latronibus verius quam hostibus iustis, Romanum exercitum obsideri.
I'm not sure that this passage of Livy can bear such a weight of responsibility! Isn't he indulging in simple hyperbole? The Romans were very good at deprecating their opponents. The watchtowers on the Danube frontier were expressly erected to combat the incursions of latrones. Either this is supreme overkill, or the Romans were belittling their trans-Danubian enemies by calling them "robbers". Either way, I'm sure the border guards treated them as "lawful enemy combatants", robbers or not.

We are now so far off-topic that I may as well mention a very interesting paper by Everett Wheeler: "The Modern Legality of Frontinus' Stratagems", Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen 44.1 (1988), pp. 7-29.
Quote:the Romans waged war against communities, not against "armies".
Indeed, Duncan. Whole cities were sometimes put to the sword, all their tangible goods taken away, and the buildings and walls razed to the ground. Sometimes that was just to make an example to the neighbors that this would be the fate of all who opposed Rome. Unless there was some other political motive to bring the Senate to try the general, I don't recall reading much negative being said to them, or accounts of their having been brought to the floor to answer for their conduct. Usually, the conquering general was given honors and rewards, and a Senatorial attaboy.
I've split this topic from the grammar question in the Civilian thread. Continue at will (within RAT boundaries).
Its all about rules IMHO. Where as now there are rules in warfare that cover just about everything, back in the day there wasn't. So combatant or non-combatant wasn't necessarily a factor.
For instance, you weren't a Gaul soldier or civilian, you were a Gaul, and as such were dealt with as an enemy of Rome.
And where do the combatants that fill the ranks come from? From non-combatants turned soldier. So kill everyone that can possibly fight, you win the war.
Again, just my opinion.
Yeah, pretty much. I don't think there was any concept of "legal" and "illegal" enemies, the only real differentiation was between allies and enemies. Sure, there was at least some distinction between "enemy army" and "bandit", but I suspect that a formal enemy would be expected to march with standards, a chain of command, authority from some governing body, etc., whereas bandits were any group just out stealing stuff. There could be a lot of gray area if locals started banding together to raid before a formal war broke out.

As usual, trying to apply modern labels and concepts to ancient cultures and warfare is basically ridiculous.


There was a legal war though... The Romans had to get religious and government sanction to march against someone at least early on. They did have rules of war... Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and instantly became an Enemy of the Senate and that was a law. Did any source from the times leave us anything on rules or laws of war?
While I am reasonable sure there was no distinction between combatantans and non-combatants in the modern sense (and I thank you for agreeing with me), the problem about the “illegal combatants” remains a bit fuzzy. This is largely because it is a modern term, one that does not even exist in modern law.

So it is useful bringing the topic to ancient terms. Indeed there was the Bellum Iustum in Roman thought, which everyone should know, and by far not every Roman combat operation was a war in the legal sense.
When there was a war, there were rules regulating it, and there were “laws that are binding in common between nations” (multa sunt iura communia) when fighting a “legitimate and declared enemy” (iustus et legitimus hostis) (Cicero De Officiis 3,108). Oaths with hostes usually had to be kept (fidesque iuris iurandi saepe cum hoste servanda).

Clearly distinct from this class is the pirate, who is an “enemy of all the world” (communis hostis omnium) (3,107). No whatsoever legal rules had to be obeyed, as opposed to when dealing with hostes. For example the ius postliminii did not apply when pirates were the captors, i.e. Roman prisoners of war losing their citizenship and then regaining it when returning home from captivity. Usually this law was to prevent the Roman doing unlawful things in captivity, but since pirate captivity had no legal quality, it did not matter – unlike when in the hands of iusti hostes. ... s/d-49.htm

Now closing the circle: Ulipian notes the same regarding the ius postliminii, and he also makes a distinction between hostes, which are in a (legal) state of war with Rome, and the rest called latrones and praedones:

Hostes sunt, quibus bellum publice populus Romanus decrevit vel ipse populo Romano: ceteri latrunculi vel praedones appellantur. Et ideo qui a latronibus captus est, servus latronum non est, nec postliminium illi necessarium est: ab hostibus autem captus, ut puta a Germanis et Parthis, et servus est hostium et postliminio statum pristinum recuperat. (Digesta 49.15.24)

You are free to reject categorizing these as legal and illegal enemy combatants, even more so calling latrones insurgents. But I think it is evident the Romans made legal distinctions between their enemies and cared enough about them to elaborate laws coping with these distinctions, thus fully acknowledging them.
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