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Barbarization?
#1
The theory that the late Roman army was significantly 'barbarized' (ie transformed in a major way, culturally or ethnically or in terms of loyalty or efficiency, by the influx of men of 'barbarian' origin) in the 4th-5th century appears to have become quite unpopular lately.

A quick search on RAT reveals that reports of a drastic barbarization of the legions in the West are pure exaggerations, that barbarization wasn't all that common, that we should not rely on outdated notions of Barbarization, that the barbarization of the roman army is a myth. At least until the 2nd half of the 4th century, and even that the concept of "Barbarization" is completely false and has been thoroughly disproven since the 60's.

However, I wonder if we are going too far in dismissing this idea completely? Just because the changes in the army did not lead directly to military failure or the empire's fall, does not mean that they did not happen...

I was looking through some letters by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and found a couple of interesting details relating to the situation in the 380s:

Letter 20 (Easter AD385) describes the seizure of the basilica by soldiers. "Some Gothic tribunes were present," Ambrose writes, "whom I accosted, and said, Have you received the gift of Roman rights in order to make yourselves disturbers of the public peace?"

The following day the basilica was again surrounded by soldiers: "the Goths came, and men of different nations; they came with weapons and surrounded and occupied the Basilica."

Note that Ambrose here makes no distinction between 'soldiers' and 'Goths and men of different nations' (ie barbarians), and they are commanded by Gothic tribunes. Perhaps he is making this connection to underline the Arian (ie treacherous and 'foreign') sympathies of the troops? Or perhaps the soldiers are Scholae from the palace, who had long beeen recruited from Germanic peoples?

In Letter 10, meanwhile (AD381), Ambrose describes the actions of Julianus Valens, formerly bishop of Poetovio: "a man, who, polluted with the impiety of the Goths, presumed, as is asserted, to go forth in the sight of a Roman army, wearing like a Pagan a collar and bracelet: which is unquestionably a sacrilege not only in a Bishop, but also in any Christian whatever: for it is alien to the Roman customs. It may be that the idolatrous priests of the Goths commonly go forth in such guise."

Valens had fled Poetovio, which suggests that this event happened at Milan (where he was later residing), and that the 'Roman army' in question was the imperial field army based at that city. So why did Valens appear before the troops dressed (apparently) as a Gothic priest? The implication, I think, is that the army contained large numbers of Arian Goths! However, they were still 'a Roman army'...

Hugh Elton is often cited in evidence against 'barbarization', and particularly his analysis of recorded names of Roman soldiers in the 4th-5th century. But we know that men with 'Roman' names could easily have 'barbarian' origin, and some (perhaps most?) non-Roman recruits were given new names on enlistment - and citizenship too, if Ambrose's letter above is proof for the army as a whole. Without further information, a man's name tells us nothing much about his origin.

So what other evidence might there be to support the idea that the post-Adrianople Roman army was still largely recruited from Roman citizens? During the Gothic invasion crisis of AD406, the Roman state was forced to enlist freed slaves into the ranks (CTh 7.13.16), which suggests that normal avenues of recruitment were no longer available.

Conversely, could we say that by c.AD400, the majority of men serving in the Roman army at all levels, from new recruits to the most senior commanders, were of non-Roman or barbarian origin, or would that be going too far?

Meanwhile, I like this discussion of the subject by Vedran Bileta, which takes a middle course: The Last Legions: The “barbarization” of military identity in the Late Roman West.
Nathan Ross
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#2
The point that Elton makes is that there is no hard proof for any large-scale number of non-Romans in the army. Although the observations of Ambrose are interesting, they are local and may not be typical for any other unit of the army. Of course there were plenty of non-Romans in the Roman army. There were volunteers - palatine troops were perhaps more drawn from warlike barbarians, and of course foederati settled within the Empire were supposed to supply men to the army as well. And of course the bulk of non-Romans were those hired on a short-term basis for campaigns - Goths figured highly among those, and it was one the things Alaric meant to end.

However the bulk of the troops were conscripts and volunteers from the citizens themselves, at least in theory, and so far I've seen no evidence that contradicts that. To the contrary, two major incidents seem to prove this: the 'Germanic purges' of the army after the downfall of Stilicho resp. Gainas seem to indicate perfectly that the bulk of the army (at least of the field army) was Roman. Such incidents would not have been possible if by c.AD400, the majority of men serving in the Roman army at all levels, from new recruits to the most senior commanders, were of non-Roman or barbarian origin.

I know the discussion about barbarians with Roman names, but we should not turn this evidence around. There are enough high-ranking Roman officials with non-Roman names (such as Stilicho), as well as many barbarian high-ranking officials with non-Roman names (such as Aspar) to speak against any notion that barbarians felt somehow obliged to change their given names into Roman ones at this period of Roman history

If we compare that to those instances in which we really can compare Roman names and non-Roman names (such as the late Roman cemetary of Concordia, dated c. 394 I think), it strengthens the conclusion made by Elton earlier that sufficient evidence of a 'barbarization of the army' is lacking.

In my opinion the search for such a barbarization is not new, you find it in Zosimus and Gibbon, but related to the lack of answers about the enigma of the Fall of the western Roman Empire.
Robert Vermaat
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#3
(10-08-2018, 12:53 PM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: the bulk of the troops were conscripts and volunteers from the citizens themselves, at least in theory, and so far I've seen no evidence that contradicts that.

Yes, you could well be right. I was wondering where these Roman recruits would be coming from, with so much of the old Balkan recruiting areas either devastated or lost to the barbarians, and Italy covered with big estates farmed by coloni, who were tied to the land...

But looking through the later entries in the Theodosian Code there are repeated references to recruits that appear to come from within the empire, and in some cases are clearly conscripted from among the tenants of landowners. Although it's also clear that these landowners were very loath to surrender their men, and in many cases it might have been easier to rely on settled barbarian laeti or even more recent arrivals.


(10-08-2018, 12:53 PM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: the 'Germanic purges' of the army... would not have been possible if by c.AD400, the majority of men serving in the Roman army at all levels, from new recruits to the most senior commanders, were of non-Roman or barbarian origin.

I was wondering about that too, as you might have guessed! It seems to me that the purges, or anti-Gothic pogroms in AD408, were principally directed at the families of foederati billeted in the cities of northern Italy. It isn't clear who was carrying out the massacres - it could just as easily have been the citizens of the towns in question as soldiers. We have seen all too often how readily people can turn on 'unwelcome foreigners' in their midst...

But even if the troops were largely of barbarian/Gothic origin, that doesn't mean that they were naturally allied to other groups of Goths, foederati or otherwise, or had some Gothic 'national' affinity. The British in India commonly used Indian troops to fight Indian rebels, after all, and had few problems. Presumably, once a man joined the Roman army he became a Roman soldier and his loyalty was to the emperor, his unit, and (increasingly, maybe) his commanding officer.

However, I was interested in the idea that Bileta seems to suggest in his paper, and which I've heard elsewhere recently, that there was perhaps a kind of hybridised Romano-Gothic culture developing throughout the Roman army after about AD380, that blurred the boundaries between Roman and barbarian and made the 'fall of the empire' rather more of a fade from one type of control or loyalty to another. Interesting, if perhaps impossible to prove in any way!
Nathan Ross
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#4
(10-07-2018, 12:52 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: So what other evidence might there be to support the idea that the post-Adrianople Roman army was still largely recruited from Roman citizens? During the Gothic invasion crisis of AD406, the Roman state was forced to enlist freed slaves into the ranks (CTh 7.13.16), which suggests that normal avenues of recruitment were no longer available.

Conversely, could we say that by c.AD400, the majority of men serving in the Roman army at all levels, from new recruits to the most senior commanders, were of non-Roman or barbarian origin, or would that be going too far?

I would say that we don't have evidences for both points. Part of the recruitment problem was for sure in the social reforms that had been put in place (see The Social History of Rome, Géza Alföldy, and the birth of serfdom), but even considering the reforms, it is absolutely hard to explain why there were so many problems. The defeat of Adrianople caused the death of thousands of men, but this was not the first defeat of a similar entity, and after decades it is not explicable that there were so many recruitment problems for that defeat. 

In my opinion, the only way to explain what happened is to consider the power that Stilicho took, and his interest in maintaining this power. A "Roman Army" would have been faithful to the empire, or to a Roman official. Nothing of interesting for Stilicho, that instead preferred barbarian troops, faithful to him.

We should also ask where the Rhenish troops ended. It is said that Roman troops were withdrawn from the Rhine to defend Italy from Alaric, but Italy was invaded by another barbarian. So, where that roman troops where? Dismissed and replaced with other barbarians?
- CaesarAugustus
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#5
I disagree, that comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Child-emperor system operated. Stilicho was a necessary part of it who was supported by the bureaucracy (until he ticked them off). Stilicho may have been a Vandal but he was also considered a Roman, and he considered himself Vandal. His identity had no impact on army recruitment.

In fact it seems recruitment wasn't even a major problem. The last conscription in the Theodosian Code is in 428, but that could be a reflection on the declining size of the army too.

Quote:We should also ask where the Rhenish troops ended. It is said that Roman troops were withdrawn from the Rhine to defend Italy from Alaric, but Italy was invaded by another barbarian. So, where that roman troops where? Dismissed and replaced with other barbarians?

They weren't, we have evidence of Roman soldiers in the Rhenian garrisons until the 450's. See Drinkwater, "The Alamanni and Rome", page 327. I wanted to write an AW magazine on this for the next issue but I guess Jasper picked someone else.
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#6
No doubt that there were some troops later, and even in the meanwhile of the withdrow of troops from the Rhine under Stilicho time, but our sources tell us quite clearly that troops were withdrawn and the Germans, "strangely also vandals", took the opportunity to break through the limes.
- CaesarAugustus
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(Marco Parente)
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#7
(10-09-2018, 06:44 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: we have evidence of Roman soldiers in the Rhenian garrisons until the 450's. See Drinkwater, "The Alamanni and Rome", page 327.

I've heard the Rhine defences mentioned on RAT before in connection to this point, but as far as I know the only evidence offered has been some coins - which don't tell us anything about who was manning the defences, just that somebody was presumably being paid to do it!

Drinkwater appears to be making the opposite point on the page you cited, i.e. that it was the Alamanni themselves occupying the Rhine forts, not Roman soldiers:

   

Burns, in Barbarians Inside the Gates... makes the same point for many of the forts along the Danube: they too apparently had 'barbarian' garrisons from the 380s onward.
Nathan Ross
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#8
Claudian, De bello gothico, 422-432:

agmina quin etiam flavis obiecta Sygambris quaeque domant Chattos inmansuetosque Cheruscos, huc omnes vertere minas tutumque remotis excubiis Rhenum solo terrore relinquunt. ullane posteritas credet? Germania quondam illa ferox populis, quae vis instantibus olim
principibus tota poterat cum mole teneri, iam sese placidam praebet Stilichonis habenis, ut nec praesidiis nudato limite temptet expositum calcare solum nec transeat amnem, incustoditam metuens attingere ripam

My translation:
Even the armies that faced the Sygambres, and those that controlled Chatti and Cherusci, left the Rhine they controlled, which was defended only by one thing, the fear of Rome. Who could believe to this story? That Germany, once land of fierce people that previous emperors where only able to keep under control with the weight of the armies, now is so willing to follow Stilicho's hand and does not attempt any invasion of lands exposed by the withdraw of the armies and they do not cross the river, too much fearful to approach an undefended shore.

This has been written in the 402-403. In the 406, the undefended Rhine was broken down.
- CaesarAugustus
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(Marco Parente)
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#9
(10-09-2018, 08:00 PM)CaesarAugustus Wrote: In the 406, the undefended Rhine was broken down.

Quite possibly, yes. Although I think it more likely that the defense of the Rhine frontier had been consigned some time before that to settled Frankish and Alamannic groups, as Drinkwater suggests, and the remaining Roman troops pulled back to fortified cities in the hinterland of the limes. A similar sort of thing seems to have been happening on the Danube since the 370s, with the riverine forts and cities being abandoned or turned over to Gothic or other barbarian groups, and 'interior' cities being fortified and garrisoned instead.

So Stilicho may have withdrawn the garrison troops from northern Gallic cities, together with the field army and anything that remained of the troops on the Rhine frontier itself. Those troops that remained in Gaul after that perhaps stayed in their fortified garrisons during the invasion of 406, as the Italian field army troops appear to have done in 408-10.

Later, according to Orosius, what remained of the Roman army in Gaul was sent into Spain by Constantine III, from where it was apparently moved to Africa and then back to Italy.
Nathan Ross
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#10
Claudian is also embellishing like hell.

Quote:No doubt that there were some troops later, and even in the meanwhile of the withdrow of troops from the Rhine under Stilicho time, but our sources tell us quite clearly that troops were withdrawn and the Germans, "strangely also vandals", took the opportunity to break through the limes.

Nope. Every single garrison along the Rhine from the Sambre-Meuse Limes south to the origin of the Rhine was garrisoned until 450. Destruction layers suggest Hunnic annihilation in 451, but they continued to be occupied afterwards as well. Extremely hard to get rid of a 400 year old institution like that.

Quote:Drinkwater appears to be making the opposite point on the page you cited, i.e. that it was the Alamanni themselves occupying the Rhine forts, not Roman soldiers:

He argues it was a mix of local Roman and Franco-Alamannic recruits based on the militaria found in the forts. Basically the standard: Alamanni being recruited into normal military regiments until about 450-455ish.

"It is tempting to suppose that this indicates local service, in other words that, even before 400, local Alamannic males were being recruited to serve in the Roman fort, and were accompanied by their dependants. Generally, it now appears that there was some sort of imperial military presence along the length of the Rhine until around 455, after which the forts concerned fell under independent local Germanic leaders."
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#11
(10-09-2018, 09:36 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Every single garrison along the Rhine from the Sambre-Meuse Limes south to the origin of the Rhine was garrisoned until 450.

That seems a rather bold claim! While you might be able to show evidence of occupation at some (or all?) fort sites in the 5th century, that does not tell us who was doing the occupying.

The Notitia gives no military garrisons for the lower or upper Rhine, and only a clutch of milites units on the middle Rhine around Mainz, and we don't know when that information dates from (although we do know that the Romans were still building river galleys at Mainz in the 380s).

The grave evidence that does exist from military sites appears to show as much Elbe-Germanic as 'Roman' influence - but, as you know, it's impossible to determine ethnicity from the material record. It's also impossible to determine whether or not somebody was a regular Roman soldier.

Drinkwater himself mentions that it was Burgundi and Alans who acclaimed Jovinus in AD411 - and that was in Mainz, supposedly the centre of the Roman Rhine defences; both Jovinus and Constantine III before him seem to have relied largely on barbarian troops. Not a mention of a 'Roman' soldier anywhere!



(10-09-2018, 09:36 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Extremely hard to get rid of a 400 year old institution like that.

I know you're paraphrasing Drinkwater here, but it strikes me that the 'institution' was partially 'got rid of' on at least two occasions - the 260s and 350s - and seems in fact to have been rather fragile, relying on supply infrastructure, and food supplies from either Britain or the Gallic hinterland to a large degree. Keeping up Rhine navigation might have been an incentive, but for how long was that possible?


(10-09-2018, 09:36 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Basically the standard: Alamanni being recruited into normal military regiments until about 450-455ish... there was some sort of imperial military presence along the length of the Rhine until around 455...

I'm still not convinced, I'm afraid! Drinkwater's idea of 'an anomalous projection of Roman military power from northern Italy to the North Sea' (p.329) doesn't seem terrifically supportable - or at least, the available evidence seems to support the idea of an allied Germanic occupation of the Rhine area far better. I don't think we need dismiss Claudian quite as easily either - inventing a withdrawal from the Rhine would not make Stilicho look good, but he had to mention it in order to excuse it somehow.
Nathan Ross
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#12
(10-09-2018, 08:44 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: Quite possibly, yes. Although I think it more likely that the defense of the Rhine frontier had been consigned some time before that to settled Frankish and Alamannic groups, as Drinkwater suggests, and the remaining Roman troops pulled back to fortified cities in the hinterland of the limes. A similar sort of thing seems to have been happening on the Danube since the 370s, with the riverine forts and cities being abandoned or turned over to Gothic or other barbarian groups, and 'interior' cities being fortified and garrisoned instead.

So Stilicho may have withdrawn the garrison troops from northern Gallic cities, together with the field army and anything that remained of the troops on the Rhine frontier itself. Those troops that remained in Gaul after that perhaps stayed in their fortified garrisons during the invasion of 406, as the Italian field army troops appear to have done in 408-10.

Later, according to Orosius, what remained of the Roman army in Gaul was sent into Spain by Constantine III, from where it was apparently moved to Africa and then back to Italy.

Honestly I don't think that the defense of the frontier had been consigned. Claudian could have done some embellishing, but he is clear that the border was previously guarded by Roman troops. It is possible that several fortresses were guarded by auxiliary troops, but this was not a novelty. 
For the Danube, it is quite clear that until the defeat of Adrianoplis, the main defense line was organized around roman troops. After Adrianopolis... well, there was the chaos.

For the troops that remained in the fortified garrison... if this is what happened, there is only an explanation: they were few, really few. How is it possible that up to few years before they were able to guard the Rhine, and from one day to another they were neither able to exit from some fortified places, without trying to engage battle? Or even trying to operate logistic warfare?
Simply, this cannot be explained. Unless we read Claudian that replies to our questions. The troops were removed. Sent to Italy? Italy would have been full of men, and it wasn't. So, the idea that some troops were dismissed can not be excluded. And it is also possible that the renewal of the roman troops has been slowed down, further weakening the Roman troops to the advantage of the recruitment of barbaric contingents.
- CaesarAugustus
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#13
(10-10-2018, 06:14 PM)CaesarAugustus Wrote: For the Danube, it is quite clear that until the defeat of Adrianoplis, the main defense line was organized around roman troops.

I wouldn't say it's that clear... Ammianus Marcellinus, writing about Valentinian's last visit to Pannonia in AD375, says that Carnuntum was 'deserted and in ruins' - and this was supposedly the main base of a legion! We don't know if he meant then or at the time he was writing, but the Danube defences appear to have been long neglected in favour of a second line of fortified cities; when the emperor needed a secure winter camp he was obliged to fall back on one of these. Then we have the massive new fortification at Keszthely Fenékpusztát on Lake Balaton - big enough to house 4000-6000 men, but not even mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum. This suggests that the ND's Pannonia list may have been obsolete before the end of the 4th century, and the situation on the Danube frontier already quite transformed.



(10-10-2018, 06:14 PM)CaesarAugustus Wrote: The troops were removed. Sent to Italy? Italy would have been full of men, and it wasn't.

Helpfully, we have the figure of 30 numeri for the force that Stilicho managed to gather at Pavia. That would be about 18-30,000 men by most estimates, and appears to have included the entire field army of Italy plus whatever troops he had drawn from Gaul, Britain and elsewhere. Clearly the army was a shadow of the force listed in the ND, although whether this was a temporary situation or a more lasting one we cannot say.
Nathan Ross
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#14
Quote:For the Danube, it is quite clear that until the defeat of Adrianoplis, the main defense line was organized around roman troops. After Adrianopolis... well, there was the chaos.

No there wasn't. The Danubian limes were basically fine until 441-447. In 444 Theodosius II devoted a ton of funding to upgrading them. Destruction layers for most of the Danubian Limes date to Attila's invasions in 441-447.

Quote:I'm still not convinced, I'm afraid! Drinkwater's idea of 'an anomalous projection of Roman military power from northern Italy to the North Sea' (p.329) doesn't seem terrifically supportable - or at least, the available evidence seems to support the idea of an allied Germanic occupation of the Rhine area far better.

The presence of Type-6 Crossbow fibulae at many of these sites I'd say suggests otherwise.
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#15
Wink 
(10-10-2018, 09:38 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: The Danubian limes were basically fine until 441-447.

That would depend which part of the Danube we're talking about!

Theodosius II would only be investing in the lower Danube in Moesia and Scythia.

As I mentioned above, large parts of the Pannonian limes appear to have passed from regular Roman occupation towards the end of the 4th century. Burns suggests that many of the forts in Noricum and Raetia were garrisoned by Germanic troops by the 380s. From what I can make out, most of the upper Danubian limes forts like Eining and Kellmunz seem to have been abandoned by c.430 at the latest.

The Life of St Severinus, which we've quoted often enough before, gives an interestingly mixed picture of the middle Danube c.450 - some forts defended by Germanic federates, others transformed into civilian settlements, apparently without garrisons, others with some residual military garrison or other. But none appear to be able to do more than defend themselves, and even that job they seem to do very poorly. There appears to be no military or even civil infrastructure beyond the individual forts or towns. Not a functioning frontier system, in other words.


(10-10-2018, 09:38 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: The presence of Type-6 Crossbow fibulae at many of these sites I'd say suggests otherwise.

Do we know that only regular Roman soldiers wore these brooches? I'm not sure that there was such a clear demarcation in use.

I have read recently (although I don't recall where!) that there was a diffusion of military brooch styles into civilian life in the early 5th century, both 'Roman' and 'barbarian'.

The presence of Roman-style military items in combination with barbarian-style artefacts or burials on the same site (and often, it seems, on the same individuals!) would seem to argue more for the 'hybidisation' theory, wouldn't it?
Nathan Ross
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