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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Civil War in the Roman Empire Reply to topic
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David GaŠl




Location: Hungary
Joined: 26 Mar 2011

Posts: 104

PostPosted: Sun 17 Jun, 2012 3:02 am    Post subject: Civil War in the Roman Empire         Reply with quote

Hello

I'm reading Oman, C., Sir Chadwick, W.- A history of the art of war; the Middle Ages from the fourth to the fourteenth century and got to a part which made me concerned:

"From the day of the murder of Alexander Severus (235 A.D.) to the moment at which Diocletian put down the last surviving rebel Caesar in the remotest corner of the West (297) the empire was subjected without a moment's respite to the double scourge of civil war and foreign invasion. In the space of sixty years no less than sixteen emperors and more than thirty would-be emperors fell by sword or dagger."

What was the background of so many and such intensive civil wars? Who were those people who wanted to be Caesars?

" But Diocletian not only raised the Comitatenses and gave them precedence over the old legions. He was the first to raise a huge Imperial guard, which stood as much above the Comitatenses as the latter did above the limitary troops. These were the Palatini, who practically superseded the old Praetorians, a body which Diocletian rightly distrusted, as having for the last century been far too much given to the making and unmaking of emperors."

Who were this Praetorians and who could belong to them? And how did they get so much power to "make and unmake" emperors?

I can read here many types of army units: cunei, alae, vexillatioines. Can someone tell to which troops could one disassemble the Roman army? This book as in the title written starts really from the fourth century so this is not explained but I want to know it.

Have anyone read this book before? What are your opinions?
Could you advise me books which write from the birth to the fall of Rome and describes its social structure and its changes its political changes and military development?
And some books about the Celts with the same theme?


Thanks,
DŠvid
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,302

PostPosted: Sun 17 Jun, 2012 7:14 am    Post subject: Re: Civil War in the Roman Empire         Reply with quote

David GaŠl wrote:
What was the background of so many and such intensive civil wars?


Very basically, the problem was that the way to become emperor was to get the army to agree that you were emperor! If some high-ranking officer or official had enough friends among the Praetorian guard and was lucky enough to slide a dagger into the emperor, he could take over without any real fighting. I don't know the 3rd century very well, but I suspect a lot of those successions did not include much warfare at all. BUT if you are a general and your army wants to put you on the big chair, and on the way to Rome you run into another army with their own candidate, that's definitely a civil war! The concept of Rome as its own nebulous entity was very powerful and made Romans very proud and arrogant, but loyalties were still very much personal things. So powerful men were willing to risk a lot of warfare and destruction on their own behalf, or for the sake of whomever they supported, in the name of the greatness of Rome.

Quote:
Who were this Praetorians and who could belong to them? And how did they get so much power to "make and unmake" emperors?


The Praetorian Guard was actually not a single unit but a collection of Praetorian Cohorts. In the mid-first century AD there were 9 or 10 of these, about the same number as a legion, but they were all "double-strength", each having 5 centuries of 160 men instead of 6 centuries of 80 men. So you're talking nearly 2 legions of troops, based in the heart of Rome in their own permanent fortress. Some of the men were transferred legionaries, but a lot were local recruits, generally Italian men of "good birth", meaning not just the unemployed lower class guys that mostly filled the legions. There were changes now and then as a new emperor might want to fill the ranks with his own supporters, which could of course cause trouble if the current Praetorians did not WANT to be replaced!

There were also Urban Cohorts, responsible for basic police duties around Rome as well as guarding Imperial mints in 2 other cities. Plus several other Guard units, including one of Germans and a cavalry force made of picked men from auxiliary cavalry alae.

An excellent book on all this is the Osprey book on the Praetorians, by Boris Rankov.

But anyway, just being in Rome made the Praetorians very powerful. If they emperor didn't keep them happy, they could easily dispose of him and put their own candidate on the throne, before any army from the provinces could hope to intervene. As I recall, by the third century the emperor was not always based in Rome, so it was easier for a powerful general to declare himself to be the guy in charge and try to rule from somewhere else. This made for a few overlapping reigns, plus a patchwork of other guys who called themselves emperor but didn't make it onto the official list!


Quote:
I can read here many types of army units: cunei, alae, vexillatioines. Can someone tell to which troops could one disassemble the Roman army?


Unfortunately I don't know much about later units. In the first and second centuries AD, legions and praetorians were all made of Roman citizens, while auxiliary units (infantry cohorts and cavalry alae of about 500 men) were usually non-citizens recruited from the provinces. Vexillations were simply detachments of larger units--it became very common to have 2 or 4 cohorts of a legion sent off on detached duty. So by the 3rd or 4th century, legions had shrunk to about 1000 men, while many auxiliary units had grown to about the same size. It was just a convenient strength for any unit. In 212 AD, everyone in the Empire was granted citizenship, so the last distinction between legion and auxiliary was removed. Then you see new units appearing with different names which often denoted superior or elite status. Many of these were considered "mobile", sent where needed, while the legions basically became local militia units with hereditary membership. It's complicated!

But ANY general or powerful man with enough troops to support him could make an attempt for the throne, potentially igniting a new civil war or series of civil wars.

Quote:
Could you advise me books which write from the birth to the fall of Rome and describes its social structure and its changes its political changes and military development?
And some books about the Celts with the same theme?


WOW. Um, I think you're just going to have to read everything! You won't find nearly as many decent books about the Celts, I suspect, simply because we know less about them but modern authors are more willing to push their own theories, some very wacky ones. Good luck, though!

Matthew
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David GaŠl




Location: Hungary
Joined: 26 Mar 2011

Posts: 104

PostPosted: Sun 17 Jun, 2012 8:42 am    Post subject: Re: Civil War in the Roman Empire         Reply with quote

Dear Matthew,

Thanks for your quick reply.

Matthew Amt wrote:
As I recall, by the third century the emperor was not always based in Rome, so it was easier for a powerful general to declare himself to be the guy in charge and try to rule from somewhere else. This made for a few overlapping reigns, plus a patchwork of other guys who called themselves emperor but didn't make it onto the official list!


Now it has sense why I have read many times that in the late roman times the capital was merely Mediolanum -or as its called later Milan- rather than Rome.

Quote:
Many of these were considered "mobile", sent where needed, while the legions basically became local militia units with hereditary membership.


This was the Comitatenses or movable imperial army which could be connected to Diocletian and raised to really huge numbers by Constantine as in written in this book.

Quote:
WOW. Um, I think you're just going to have to read everything! You won't find nearly as many decent books about the Celts, I suspect, simply because we know less about them but modern authors are more willing to push their own theories, some very wacky ones. Good luck, though!


I would like to read good quality books. Now I have this book from which the questions I raised although its old but seems to be good.
I have the book Empires and Barbarians from Peter Heather http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Heather and I want to buy from him his works about barbarians.
And I have seen that Edward James [url] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_James_(historian) [/url] has good books too about germanic tribes in the migration period which I would like to buy.
Now I want to develop this future library with books about Rome to understand more the changes and development from roman side too in the migration period.
The Celts are close to my heart as well as Germani.
All in all I want to have books from professors, from people who are really in the theme and aren't teaching radical things. Peter Heather really convinced with his work as he is explaining the old radical nationalist thinking about Germanic migrations and the thoughts of nowadays and he is not saying that it was so but bringing up many possibilities and explain what could be the most rational and brings up reasons why that it is and says out about what we do know nothing or little and could only conclude.
And I like reading it develops my English, as you can see I'm not a native speaker. At first it was hard but now goes faster.

Thanks again and waiting for more replies,
DŠvid
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Kurt Scholz





Joined: 09 Dec 2008

Posts: 390

PostPosted: Sun 17 Jun, 2012 3:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The soldiers liked new emperors because each emperor had to pay them a donativum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donativum
Having as many of these guys as possible in short succession was a way to use the status of being the only trained men under arms for exploitation of the state for maximum personal profit. The risks in comparison to the gains for simple soldiers were much reduced with issues settled via daggers and military democracy.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Sat 30 Jun, 2012 4:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you don't mind doing A TON of reading, you could try GIbbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which has been digitised and made available online in several places (archive.org and Project Gutenberg both have the full range of volumes). Of course, you'll have to supplement it with more up-to-date research from newer books and articles, which makes for even more reading....
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