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Diplomacy in potential hostile regions

I wonder can anyone help?

Does anyone know the correct etiquette when a small Roman army detachment meets a potentially hostile force who they wish to trade with and not fight? Trading would've have taken place in this region before, but the political climate has changed and the Romans are wary of the local Kings motives. How would they indicate to the locals that they have come in peace, despite the fact they are armed? The time frame is late 4th century as Rome's hold on Britain fractures and the area becomes less stable and harder to govern, hence the uncertainty. The setting would be the coast of Ireland as we know the Romans traded with Ireland in the period. 
Any tips would be more than welcome, thanks
I have to ask...

Why would an armed/army detachment be constituted to even consider trade?

'A' trader, perhaps even up to several, but more likely just one - with, maybe, a few slaves and a couple of guards - along with a few mules, or a couple of wagons (or, given your scenario, just the trader, his crew, and a single merchant ship) would be set up to offer trade; and, most importantly, not appear even remotely threatening.

If an armed force has been gathered it would be in response to a threat (as opposed to a smaller group who is just scouting/patrolling) and thus, given your scenario, perhaps to oppose an Irish/Viking raid.

I have to query the idea that 'trade' would be even remotely considered?

PS - having re-read the question again I see that you actually mean in Ireland itself!  (I read the 'coast near Ireland')  For, firstly, I know of no real evidence that the Romans ever took a force to Ireland - but, if they ever did with your scenario, it would be for a punative raid I am sure.  Otherwise it would just be the Trader idea...
(04-15-2019, 04:12 PM)Holly70 Wrote: The time frame is late 4th century... The setting would be the coast of Ireland

Relations between Roman Britain and Ireland are pretty vague at the best of times. There was a new coastal fort built at Lancaster, probably in the late 3rd or early 4th century and perhaps garrisoned by the numerus barcariorum whose praepositus (commander) Sabinus dedicated an altar to Mars at nearby Halton. These would have been naval troops ('boatmen'), presumably intended to intercept seaborne raiders from Ireland - Scotti - or Picts from further north.

So there must have been some traffic across the Irish Sea, and it probably wasn't entirely hostile all the time... Most likely traders operating in those waters would have known about the local chiefs or kings on the Irish side, as you suggest, and the Romans may have had treaties with them or paid some of them subsidies (or bribes) to keep the peace or provide slaves or perhaps even military recruits. This would surely have involved some sort of diplomatic visits across the sea, although who was doing it and when is a mystery.

There probably wasn't much of a link between traders and soldiers though - unless the soldiers were doing a bit of speculation on the side!

(04-15-2019, 04:12 PM)Holly70 Wrote: How would they indicate to the locals that they have come in peace, despite the fact they are armed?

One suggestion I've come across a few times is the use of a leafy green branch as a sign of peace - I actually have no idea where this comes from, or whether it has any basis in fact or is entirely apocryphal, but it seems a good enough guess! Of course, anyone coming across the sea would have to bring it with them...
Nathan Ross
The primary occasion where soldiers had anything to do with trade was at inspection and customs stations - such as a gate on Hadrian's wall. Civilians conducted trade expeditions, not soldiers. Even the army used civilian contractors to procure supplies. As Nathan suggested, there would be individual soldiers doing some speculation on the side, trying to set up private deals.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
Hi all, thank you very much for your replies and the excellent info therein. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough with the details of the scenario I am trying to envisage, I apologise for that. Your insights into the separation between civilian trade and the army are appreciated, as made clear by Dan Howard. You all clearly know much more about this than I do!! It is one thing to research these issues, but to actually imagine these trading links happening, in reality, is a different matter.

We know that Ireland traded with the Romans as there are Roman artefacts in Ireland and also apparently the evidence of Roman burials as early as 1st century AD. Though we also know the Irish Irish raided Britain so some of the hoards of gold & silver found in Ireland could be the result of Irish raids on BR coast. However, Jane Stevenson in her treatise ‘The Beginnings of Literacy in Ireland’ states that Tacitus, writing in the 1st century AD, of Ireland having strong trading links with the Romanised Celts of the Continent, particularly in wine and other luxuries. She claims that he was a good witness as he was the son in law of Agricola and he makes it quite clear that trade with Ireland was already flourishing to such an extent that Roman negotiators knew all the major approaches and harbours of the island.

They would have traded in such as copper, gold, slaves, hides, cattle & wolfhounds, as well as other luxuries (broaches, offerings to local deity's etc) and this contact would have led to cultural and linguistic ties and would have been a tool in the spread of Christianity, and some have argued, in the establishment of the Ogam script. 

So in relation to Mark Hygate's post: In the scenario I am envisaging a wealthy Roman merchant is picking up trade with Ireland that has been dormant for 1 or 2 years, and in that period the local chieftain/King has changed from a familiar ally to an unfamiliar one who is known to be leading raids on the British coast. I had assumed that in this rather uncertain situation the merchant would be accompanied by some sort of armed force, albeit a private one, maybe naval troops as suggested by Nathan Ross?

So could the sailors who crewed the merchant's ship double up as an armed unit of sorts? Or am I completely misreading this and the merchant in my scenario would simply have headed off to the Irish coast without any military protection, dodgy situation or not?

Thank you for your input Nathan in relation to the traffic across the Irish Sea and the probabilities of treaties etc, very interesting. However, I am trying to envisage what would happen when there are no such treaties and custom and practice in place at a particular time. I had a very good conversation with someone recently who has written extensively on the Roman merchant navy and he admitted that very little is known about the specifics of trade with Ireland.

Sorry if my questions are a bit all over the place, but as I have said this information just isn't really available so I guess  it seems prudent to apply known theory from elsewhere regarding the minutiae of trade between the Romans and Ireland i.e. what was practical elsewhere must, in theory, apply to the coastal access points of Ireland. 

Thanks for your time on this matter
You're entirely welcome (and repeat apologies for the first mis-read),

There is a nice 'aside' in one of Simon Scarrow's earlier Eagle series books where a Greek trader is involved and comment is made that, wherever the Legions subsequently went, the Greek traders had been before. This is entirely believable. Your scenario, later on, where a wealthy (and perhaps, dare I say it, unscrupulous...) merchant is seeking to re-establish a trade link given the circumstances is plausible. Indeed, if the Irish King has been raiding, then he may even have 'gold' to trade into more useful things.

In 'normal' circumstances I would not expect regular troops to go with the Trader - partially becuase this may look like a reprisal. I would more expect the trader to be accompanied my a small retinue, perhaps to both keep an eye on the slave rowers (if present), sail the ship itself and then act as a modest deterrent to general theft and guard the trade goods or subsequent money. In this scenario I would not expect the trader to invest too much (he may even send a more junior factor to take the risk), but merely some goods as both gifts and sample wares.

That said, it might be that the trader has subborned some poorly paid and perhaps even 'abandoned' troops if he actually wants them. But overall I would not think that taking a military force is what's wanted for the mission at hand.

We believe that, a bit later, Norse ships didn't mount their 'beastheads' if they came to trade (and in small numbers). Certainly a 'branch' as Nathan suggests is perfectly likely - it's where indeed the idea of an 'Olive Branch' comes. Something leafy attached to the prow.
Hi Mark, thank you very much for your reply. I appreciate your insights, I understand that the differentiation between navy and merchant ships was in large part due to the merchant owner being cost conscious so sail was more economically attractive, rather than slave rowers. The merchant ship would probably be towing a tender, which would be used as transport from the ship to shore because as far as we know there were no known harbours in this period in Ireland. So I can rule out an official military presence, and perhaps we go with a small, private unit to protect the merchant in case things go wrong. So that also rules out the likelihood of the trader and his band setting up a military-style camp complete with earthen ditch and palisades. More likely he would play down his military presence so as not to inflame tension, provide the king with a few baubles as gifts and get on with his trading.

Well at least I am making some progress on this difficult to research topic, and once again I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Finally, if the Roman trader is meeting the local chieftain for the first time do you know if there was any protocol involved? As I said in my first posting how would the locals know if the Romans came in peace if they had already landed and set up some sort of temporary camp?
(04-22-2019, 01:35 PM)Holly70 Wrote: I understand that the differentiation between navy and merchant ships was in large part due to the merchant owner being cost conscious so sail was more economically attractive, rather than slave rowers.

Galley slaves is a late Medieval/Renaissance practice, due to manpower problems, while in Antiquity, rowers were freemen: citizens in ancient Athens and military personnel in the Roman Empire.
aka T*O*N*G*A*R
(04-22-2019, 01:35 PM)Holly70 Wrote: perhaps we go with a small, private unit to protect the merchant in case things go wrong.

Hmm, this is getting interesting! I'd agree with Mark that turning up with a regular military detachment would seem a bit overly hostile. For a 'private unit' (considering this is late Roman Britain and things might be getting a little rough around the edges...) the following could be possible, I'd say:

1. Unofficial soldiers. With the difficulties in paying and provisioning soldiers in the provinces, it might have possible for an enterprising merchant to cut a deal with the commander of a frontier or coastal garrison (or even, if the merchant was very wealthy or well-connected, with the governor or military commander of the province) to 'lend' him a few men for back-up, in return for a cut of the proceeds... The soldiers would perhaps have kept their weapons and military equipment out of sight unless it was needed... Could make for some unusual dynamics in the command hierarchy!

2. Armed slaves. Any merchant would have a retinue of slaves to act as porters, bearers, rowers (see below) etc, and in the late empire we do hear of landowners and others arming their slaves as (in some cases) private armies. No reason why a trader to Ireland would not have done this.

3. Hired barbarians. Alternatively, he may have hired some 'military contractors' from abroad... We don't really know how and when various barbarian groups arrived in Britain, but warriors from mainland Europe (Franks, Frisii, perhaps Saxons) were used by the usurper Allectus in the AD290s, and quite possibly other groups may have been around later, either as irregular troops, ex-soldiers or just mercenaries. Several villa sites in western Britain have 'Germanic' brooches and military gear from the 4th-5th centuries, so local landowners may have been hiring their own barbarian bodyguards as central control slipped away...

4. Rival Irish. Tacitus's Agricola mentions that the Romans knew all about 1st century Ireland from rebels and exiles who had crossed to Britain, and there's no reason why this shouldn't have happened later too. A trader with links to Ireland may have decided to take some Irish migrants back with him, both as interpreters and as protection. Of course, that might have led to problems with the 'new' king as his people, if they had issues with the migrants... but perhaps that just makes things more interesting?

Depending on which option the merchant went for, and how many men he had with him of course, there may have been difficulties with the official Roman authorities and/or army as he tried to leave and reenter the province: he wouldn't want to be mistaken for a raiding party or a pirate expedition, on whichever side of the Irish Sea!

(04-23-2019, 01:38 PM)Condottiero Magno Wrote: Galley slaves is a late Medieval/Renaissance practice... in Antiquity, rowers were freemen

Much as it galls me to say so (as I've spent years arguing against the 'galley slaves' cliche!) in the case of private merchant ships (rather than the navy) the oarsmen possibly would have been slaves... although Synesius of Cyrene claims his ship's crew were partly "a collection of peasants who even as late as last year had never gripped an oar"...!
Nathan Ross
Hi all, been a bit hectic so I haven't had time to look at this for a while. You have all been extremely helpful and your final post, Nathan, was brilliant. In the events of late 4th century Western Europe that I am envisioning the merchant sails from Portus across the Mare Nostrum to Burdigila and eventually on to Ireland. So perhaps whilst he is at Burdigala he can enlist some sort of armed guard, either lent or paid for, which can complement his retinue of slaves who have travelled with him from Portus. 

Many thanks again.
Quote:Much as it galls me to say so (as I've spent years arguing against the 'galley slaves' cliche!) in the case of private merchant ships (rather than the navy) the oarsmen possibly would have been slaves...

But were those slaves dedicated oarsmen or just general crewmen who had to row when the occasion required it?
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
(05-07-2019, 12:57 PM)Dan Howard Wrote: were those slaves dedicated oarsmen or just general crewmen who had to row when the occasion required it?

There were probably few if any merchant ships driven by oars alone - most, I think, would have used oars only in calms or when entering and leaving harbour etc. They wouldn't have needed the sort of highly trained remiges that a multi-banked warship demanded either; the Synesius letter above suggests that it was easy enough to train a man to pull an oar when required. General crewmen would have done it, I expect.

Casson's Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World contains one very brief section about the use of slaves aboard merchant ships, although rowers are not specifically mentioned in the sources he cites.
Nathan Ross
My point is that the cliche about the galley slave is still just a cliche and never really existed in Roman society - not even on merchant ships.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
(05-07-2019, 11:14 PM)Dan Howard Wrote: My point is that the cliche about the galley slave is still just a cliche and never really existed in Roman society - not even on merchant ships.

I'd certainly agree it's a cliche - but my point is that, although the majority of merchant ships used sails most or all of the time, some did use oars; and since we know that slaves were used as crewmen aboard merchant ships (as referenced in the Theodosian Code and elsewhere) it's quite likely that at least some of these oarsmen would have been slaves too.

So we should perhaps not be too dogmatic about this or that thing having 'never really existed' (although I know we've been here before! [Image: smile.png] )

Nathan Ross
The point is, surely, that these slaves are not to be identified with the clichéd image of the galley slave, chained to his oar and labouring under the lash, but slaves simply because they were owned by the merchant. As Casson remarks in the book cited by Nathan, even the shipmaster could be a slave.
Michael King Macdona

And do as adversaries do in law, -
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
(The Taming of the Shrew: Act 1, Scene 2)

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