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Does anyone have a theory on when the custom of acclaiming an emperor by raising him on a shield became Roman practice?

The obvious answer would be AD360, when Julian was acclaimed Augustus in Paris - Ammianus describes the troops (including Germanic soldiers of the Petulantes and Celtae) raising him on an infantry shield and crowning him with a torque for want of a diadem. That it was originally a Germanic practice seems clear - Tacitus mentions a king of the Cannenafates (I think) proclaimed in this way.

But would the soldiers do this, if it wasn't already an established Roman custom? Ammianus apparently didn't see anything unusual about it, and surely would have mentioned if this was something the 'barbarian' soldiers themselves had invented.

When Constantius died at York in AD306, his son Constantine was acclaimed Augustus by the soldiers. Aurelius Victor (De Caesaribus, 29.41) mentions 'Crocus, King of the Alamanni, who had accompanied Constantius for the sake of support' taking a leading role in 'urging' the acclamation. Speidel thinks that Crocus was actually named Hroc, or Hrocus, and it's possible that the king was leading a contingent of allied Alamannic warriors as part of Constantius' comitatus.

Anyway, if this is the case, might it be possible that Crocus/Hrocus and his Alamanni 'urged' the acclamation of Constantine by raising him on a shield, Germanic-style, and the practice was therefore adopted by the Constantinian house (of which Julian was a member)?
Side note: Hungarian mythology has the same symbol. It can't be purely germanic, or else we would have to rethink the european migrations Smile
Brinno, the leader of the Cananefates during the Batavian Revolt, was also raised on the shield (Tacitus, Histories, 4.15.1).
Good question.I was thinking similarly about this topic.Personally I am willing to believe that this kind of barbaric ritual could by used by the Roman emperors for the first time maybe even sooner, perhaps during chaotic 3rd century when many new foreign elements infiltrated whole Roman state?
But not only the time mystery of its exact adoption by the romans is something to think about,also how this whole ceremony was performed is very uncertain in terms of details.

I recommend this to explore: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/pre..._33_1_2028
Quote:Hungarian mythology has the same symbol.

But could it not have entered Hungarian mythology from late Roman practice? I confess I don't know enough about ancient Hungarian history to know how plausible this is!

Then again, it could be that many different peoples did it - it is, after all, just a way of making a temporary podium out of a roundish flattish object... (and we know the indomitable Gauls did it too...)
Wink



Quote:I recommend this to explore: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/pre..._33_1_2028

Yes, I had a look at that. There's an interesting point in it - "Ensslin set out to disprove the contention of Andreas Alfoldi that the ceremony was already in use in the Roman empire before Julian". Since the source listed is in German, and so presumably is the original 'contention', I'm not sure what Alfoldi's argument was - does anyone know?
Thanks Nathan! This is is a very fascinating question. Germanocentric interpretations are to be used with caution, as Tacitus’ Brinno is the only such act before Julian in the European context. And unfortunately, Ammianus describing that act mirrors Tacitus quite a bit.

If we take a look at the non-Roman examples of rulers raised on a shield we find Goths and Franks, the former not being considered Germanic by their contemporaries (and no one does today anymore, unless in language). Both have long tradition as federate armies of the Romans, their kings donning Roman titles and offices. The raising on a shield started only in the 6th century but Vitiges claims it was a mos maiorum - a statement we cannot prove.
This however postdates Roman cases such as Leo, whose example probably even impinged on the Ostrogothic case as the Goths were federates on the Balkans in this time.

It should be noted a ruler was raised on a shield especially when his legitimacy was in doubt: Julian, Leo, Clovis, Hypatius, Vitiges, Sigibert, Gundowald, Germanus, Phocas etc. Actually, few in the list could rightfully claim legitimacy like Valentinian.
Especially when an usurper failed I would expect writers to condemn his barbarian ways, if it really was a barbarian act, but they usually did not. By the fifth century at the latest it was perceived a Roman military ritual. In fact, even Libanius writing on Julian, who notes the novelty of the act unlike Ammianus, does not relate it to barbarians!

Another argument against a Germanic tradition is the fact that the soldier who crowned Julian did not have a Germanic name, he was called Maurus. And the members of the Petulantes who performed the whole show were not Germanic, but Gallic. Julian’s Herulian and Batavian forces had no part in this play.

Lastly: is it coincidence that there are no cases of raising the ruler on the shield in Europe after the Eastern Roman Emperors abandoned that practice in the 7th century? (The one case against it could be Pippin in 751, but it is not really supported by the evidence).

Arpad in 890 is an odd occurrence for it is too late to be Byzantine influenced, unless our sources omit the continuation of ritual in Byzantium, which is however rather unlikely. Perhaps it came from a different tradition.


Bottom-line: if one looks for Germanic roots of this ritual one could easily be led astray. Even the key witness for such a line of thought, Tacitus, fails to report the act in his Germania. Moreover one would have to rely on rather outdated notions of Barbarization. That is not to say I exclude the possibility entirely, but the Roman military element is prevalent imo, present even in Tacitus’ Brinno (Batavian revolt led by Roman auxiliary forces!). It is my best guess.
Quote:Libanius writing on Julian... notes the novelty of the act

Ah, interesting! I'd heard that Libanius noted this, but couldn't find the source (the only text I could find, the funeral oration, doesn't seem to mention the shield bit - or does it?). Do you have a reference?


Quote:Another argument against a Germanic tradition is the fact that the soldier who crowned Julian did not have a Germanic name, he was called Maurus. And the members of the Petulantes who performed the whole show were not Germanic, but Gallic. Julian’s Herulian and Batavian forces had no part in this play.

But this is tricky in itself! At a time when you have an Alamannic king called Serapio, and a Sarmatian called Victor, names in themselves surely can't be taken as evidence of ethnic origin? Maurus could have come from anywhere.

And were the 'Gallic' auxilia soldiers not recruited at least in part from 'Germanic' peoples who had been settled as laeti in Gaul and Belgica? Ammianus refers to them as Gauls, but the term had become rather mutable by this point, I'd thought.
Might I suggest that raising an 'Emperor' on a shield was possibly only performed on those who were taking the purple by means other than legitimate succession, and with the implicite support of the army?
Was it way the army showed the usurper that they supported him by offering him 'protection', the shield being symbolic of this?
@Nathan,

The Libanius work you are looking is his Oration 13, 33-34, if my excerpt is correct.

And I agree, the ethnicity of the Petulantes is a vexed question. It gets even more tricky considering ethnicity was not static but highly fluid, which is why I would generally avoid regarding 'Germanic' or 'Gallic' as prefixed boxes in which an individual is stuck forever. We cannot tell definitely the Petulantes’ ethnicity, and frankly I for one do not care much about it, because for their identity their being as late Roman soldiers in the late Roman military culture is far more important.
And within this framework, the ritual of raising someone on the shield makes a lot more sense than to look for Germanic roots or other ethnic explanations. (I know this a flawed comparison, but think about the modern military salute. There is no way of tracing it to a certain nation or people, and imo, no need to do it).

Maurus is a little less ambiguous. This name is not a generic Romano-Christian name Barbarians sometimes had, it is a very specific ethnic term as well ('Moor'). In the military this was not totally uncommon. But there is only one non-military with that name, who – not coincidentally – was a black rhetor. Of course there is no certainly and other options are perfectly possible, but I would be skeptic of a Germanic soldier named 'the Moor'.


Quote:Might I suggest that raising an 'Emperor' on a shield was possibly only performed on those who were taking the purple by means other than legitimate succession, and with the implicite support of the army?

The lack of legitimacy of many of the pretenders raised on a shield has been noted already. It is not a rule though, as some were legal and clear in the line to become Emperor (as clear as it could get, that is): Valentinian, Anastasius, Justin I and II e.g.
There may be a developement though, as the ritual seems to have become a regular part of imperial inaugurations by the 5th century.
Quote:Oration 13, 33-34, if my excerpt is correct.

Good - thanks! The passage in question reads (in Loeb translation):

Oh holy night, inspired discontent of the soldiery and tumult more joyous than any triumph! Ah, blessed shield, that received the ritual of proclamation more fittingly for you than any usual dias!

So the use of the shield was not necessarily an innovation, just 'unusual'. I think we could draw from this that it might have been done before in the context of a military rather than civil acclamation (when a dias would have been more appropriate). Since the army tended to promote usurpers, this would make sense.

And since Constantine's acclamation was in effect a military usurpation, it might follow that the shield was used then as well - which may have served to legitimise the practice, perhaps...



Quote:I know this a flawed comparison, but think about the modern military salute. There is no way of tracing it to a certain nation or people...

Ha, well - I know what you mean, but just as a (very) off-topic point the current British army salute was apparently only introduced in the 1870s, and was originally known as the 'German salute'

:grin:

(prior to this the British army saluted with the flat hand, as the Americans and Royal Navy still do today...)


Quote:Maurus... is a very specific ethnic term as well ('Moor')... I would be skeptic of a Germanic soldier named 'the Moor'.

I didn't know it was that specific! Thanks - that makes things clearer.
Of course, one would have to look at the Greek original of that Libanius text before coming to such a conclusion but in general you are on the right track imho.
However I am pretty sure it must have been something rather recent then anyway. After all, it was not usual for the Empire to have pretenders from the military with little or no legitimacy, but it seems most of them were not raised on the shield, if anyone at all.

It might be helpful to have a look at the non-European examples of raising a ruler on the shield. I have read somewhere that there are Asian examples predating the European ones. Maybe the 'steppe-highway' brought this ritual to Europe??
Very interesting topic.

Another possibility could be that prominent usurper generals were acclaimed on shields because this was the practice of their "barbarian" body guard unit.

However, it does call into question the composition/prominence of the forces Constantine/Julian used in their campaigns. I seem to remember reading something that Constantine used a sizable contingent of Franks who were happy that he let them start engagements by throwing their axes. (I can't seem to recall where I read that) Perhaps the practice of shield acclamation was not so much a matter of "institutionalizing" it, but keeping your allies happy.
Quote:Maurus is a little less ambiguous. This name is not a generic Romano-Christian name Barbarians sometimes had, it is a very specific ethnic term as well ('Moor'). In the military this was not totally uncommon. But there is only one non-military with that name, who – not coincidentally – was a black rhetor. Of course there is no certainly and other options are perfectly possible, but I would be skeptic of a Germanic soldier named 'the Moor'.

If this was to be a Germanic soldier who had been given a "Roman" name rather than chosen one maybe, as in modern armies, the name was ironic, was he so far removed from being a Moor that he was called that?

How many Loftys are there who are the shortest man in the regiment?
Quote:Constantine used a sizable contingent of Franks who were happy that he let them start engagements by throwing their axes. (I can't seem to recall where I read that)

He certainly had a large contingent of Franks in his last campaign against Licinius, leg by a king called Bonitus (whose son went on to be magister militum and attempted to seize power in Gaul...)

I don't think the Frankish throwing axe was in use this early though - more of the 5th-6th century thing, but I don't know if there's firm evidence either way.

Constantius almost certainly had Franks and other 'Germanics' in his force though, and probably took detachments of them to Britain in 305. There was one group, probably Franks, who were taken into Roman service en masse as dediticii in c.300, after they'd become marooned on an island while trying to cross the Rhine and raid Gaul!


Quote:maybe, as in modern armies, the name was ironic, was he so far removed from being a Moor that he was called that?

Maybe. I had a quick look through the inscriptions that mention Maurus as a name though, and the vast majority of them come from North Africa, Numidia and Hispania Baetica, with a few in Rome that look like freed slaves.

Interestingly, Ammianus mentions several men called Maurus, and David Woods (in this essay) believes they're all the same person - the draconarius of 360 raised to tribune in the Persian expedition, Dux Phoenicis and then comes rei militaris in the Adrianople campaign. Interesting career if so!

The Maurus in Persia had a brother called Machamaeus - any clues where that name comes from?
As this Maurus was later Dux Phoenices after 363 and the Persian campaign, which perhaps strengthens his North African ties, I wonder if his brother, Machamaeus, bears a name related to another Romanised name of a North African commander: the later Mascezel or Mascedelus, brother of Gildo? Just a thought! This would point to a strong tribal ethnic name, perhaps, now Latinized.

EDIT: Having just read that article, I must say I remain unconvinced by his reasoning that Ammianus us hiding the fact that they are the same person!
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