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When did the Roman army, in your opinion lose it's strength, discipline, tactics, excellent leadership, and overall superiority that had made it the effective and superior fighting force that it had been for centuries.

A lot of documentaries say that the Late Roman Empire (284-476) became more and more built from Germanic mercenaries and what have you, is this when they lost their effective superiority that had made them the army that carved out the empire of the known world?

Please feel free to give dates, evidence, ideas, opinions. I am much less familiar with the later Roman army, and am using this as a chance to understand it more, and overall the decline of the Roman Empire. Thanks
Quote: When did the Roman army, in your opinion lose it's strength, discipline, tactics, excellent leadership, and overall superiority that had made it the effective and superior fighting force that it had been for centuries.
Never. Ah well, maybe that's overstating it, but apart from that last one, I'd say until Manzikirt in 1071, after which the Roman Empire for a great deal had to rely on foreign forces.

Quote:A lot of documentaries say that the Late Roman Empire (284-476) became more and more built from Germanic mercenaries and what have you, is this when they lost their effective superiority that had made them the army that carved out the empire of the known world?
Yeah, well, that says more about those documentaries, doesn't it? Go to any period of weakness in any empire, take one aspect and blame it on that, and there you have it. So the answer would be 'no'.

This has been discussed before, you know.. Just a few I could find:
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...3743#33756
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...3419#33425
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...979#157670
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...195#223246
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...268#198268
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...936#265977
http://www.ancient-warfare.org/rat.html?...&id=216699

First of all, it's of course only the West that was lost in the period you're discussing, the East managed to hang on, re-expand etc. for centuries after the 5th c., with excellent armies.
Secondly, it's that focus on the high tide of the legions of the 2nd c. and take that force as the 'superior fighting force'. I can tell you that, as a fighting force, the Roman army of the 5th century was not different from that of Ceasar's legions, or that of Trajan. The problem is more that circumstances differed hugely. Far stronger enemies for one, or a lack of troops for another. Armies of the 2nd century could also be wiped out when circumstances were against them, only there were enough troops to make up for those losses. Especially during the 5th c. in the West, this was not the case. Economic circumstances and political mayhem in the Empoire caused the army to melt away.
I agree with Robert.

There is a general myth put about due to out of date scholdarship that the 'barbarianisation' of the Roman Army in the 4th/5th century lead to its decline and hence the collapse of the Empire.

There is little actual evidence (just the persistence of the myth) for this coupled with the fact that the Empire itself did not collapse at all - only the Western provinces eventually falling away.

There is also no evidence that the Legions of the so-called 'Classical' period were better quality troops than any other Roman period. If you read the histories of say Tacitus and Ammianus for comparison for example you will see similar tropes to do with indiscipline, corruption and venality and shows that the Roman armies remained fairly constant in terms of their underlying character, as it were.

I would argue it is not the quality of the troops or their equipment (an oft debated issue which in my mind is a false trail) that caused a decline in the army - of the west certanly - but instead the underlying logisitical and organisational structure which allows the war apparatus to operate.

Here at least is a better field of study and a more demonstrable one. We can see in the West that the losses of the underlying tax base, recruitment pool and infrastructure (roads, transport, suppplies, manufacture of arms, etc) lead to a serious cripping of the machinery of war. The Roman state in the Western provinces lost its ability to mount war as an organsational operation and thus lost its only real advanage over the tribes and cultures which bled in through the limes or frontier.

In the Eastern provinces of the Empire, this was not so and as a result there was no comparative 'decline'. I think John Haldon's book 'The Byzatnine Wars' is a good example of a focus on the underlying logisitics of war which really allowed the Roman state to gain tactical and strategic superiority in a conflict. The glorification of the Roman soldier and his 'legio' is in part an ideology which masks this crucial element. Rome operated in a theatre of war at a superior level when it came to logistics and supply in a way that the 'barbarians' - with the exception of Sassanid Persia - could not.

This is why I think a focus on weapons and armour and fighting tactics sometimes misses the point.

Don't forget that we can see a continuity of training at least at mid to high-level officer level from the 'Classical' period right through to Vegetius, Mauricius and on into the 'Byzantine' period thus demonstrating a concern with developing correct tactics and instilling them in the Army. This never ceased!
Wow, thanks guys, especially Robert, those links summed up just about every question that was churning in my mind. Thanks
Quote:We can see in the West that the losses of the underlying tax base, recruitment pool and infrastructure (roads, transport, suppplies, manufacture of arms, etc) lead to a serious cripping of the machinery of war. The Roman state in the Western provinces lost its ability to mount war as an organsational operation and thus lost its only real advanage over the tribes and cultures which bled in through the limes or frontier.

In the Eastern provinces of the Empire, this was not so and as a result there was no comparative 'decline'.

Francis - thank you for this very concise and cogent summary! About the best I've read for a long time.

We could say, then, that the late Roman army did not fail the state, but rather that the state failed the army...

There is no doubt, however, of the high quality of the later Roman army itself. Within the period 285-300, the imperial field armies of Diocletian and his colleages conducted successful campaigns against every one of Rome's external enemies: Persians, Goths, Franks, Alamanni, Carpi, Sarmatians and Mauri, besides reconquering the breakaway province of Britain and suppressing two major rebellions in Egypt. Would Trajan's army have been as effective? Wink
Quote:We could say, then, that the late Roman army did not fail the state, but rather that the state failed the army...
I agree. But this creates another interesting question: why did the state fail? I personally think that the conquest of Africa by the Vandals, which cut off the food supply of Italy, was the most important cause. Within six years, the tax department had been abolished.
Quote:But this creates another interesting question: why did the state fail? I personally think that the conquest of Africa by the Vandals, which cut off the food supply of Italy, was the most important cause. Within six years, the tax department had been abolished.
Of course we could then ask ourselves why it was no longer possible to secure food supplies from Egypt.
Myself, I think that the Roman political system was mainly to blame. With no effective way to secure the succession the system was open to abuse from nearly every general. Had the 3rd century seen a similar plight, the Dominate had devolved into a similar weakness by degrading the actual power of the emperor. Instead it was the Patrician (aka 'man behind the throne') who wielded real power if only when he dominated the emperor, which became easier end easier in the West. Until, at some point, the West was back in the situation of the 3rd century, with warlord battling warlord, using Roman as well as non-Roman troops, making it more and more difficult for the population to see the difference (and hence to secure their allegiance to ‘Rome’). Without a clear identity of the government, the military and the population easier accepted non-Roman warlords and troops, as long as these fought for ‘the good cause’. An army of Goths under Alaric could hence be style a ‘Roman’ army, instead of a barbarian invasion force. The Vandals conquering Africa were not distinguished as a barbarian horde either.. In the end, there was no real difference between Roman and non-Roman, and the empire became defunct. In the East, they managed to avoid this with a stronger imperial government and a move away from an easy integration of non-Romans into the higher echelons of government and the army. Not a total exclusion, mind you, but a different system than the West employed. The Patrician never achieved as much power as he did in the West, and the emperor remained a lot stronger.
Several good responses here, I would only add that by the 4th and 5th centuries AD, the Romans no longer had as much of a technological advantage over their enemies. The Germanic tribes were better equipped by that point than the ones that faced Marius centuries earlier.

Quote:
Nathan Ross post=294092 Wrote:We could say, then, that the late Roman army did not fail the state, but rather that the state failed the army...
I agree. But this creates another interesting question: why did the state fail? I personally think that the conquest of Africa by the Vandals, which cut off the food supply of Italy, was the most important cause. Within six years, the tax department had been abolished.

It's interesting to wonder how things might have turned out if Majorian or Basiliscus had managed to take Africa back.