All entries for April 2006
April 23, 2006
First, as I've come to expect from Rance's work, it's well written, carefully researched, and full of some interesting and important points. Somewhat surprisingly – though perhaps it shouldn't be – there are some observations/findings of Rance that match what I've found in my work thus far. So, from a positive perspective, that means that my findings are not way out of line. But, the article focuses on one battle – though he discusses and refers to many other parts of Procopius' narrative – and includes an important discussion of Late Roman tactics, and in particular, the importance of infantry in Late Roman army. I think it's important; in part because the secondary literature that he refers to often neglects the many narrative techniques that Procopius uses in his battle descriptions. One must always bear these in mind, and that's perhaps the most important thing that I'm planning on discussing through the course of my dissertation; specifically in the context of warfare.
One thing that Rance has done is look at the battle in isolation, and treated not just the narrative, its tactics, strategic importance, and place within late Roman warfare, but he also discussed the factional and fictional elements in Procopius' narrative. I haven't yet decided whether I should look at the non-fictional elements of his battle narratives; at present I'm not discussing the battles on their own – though when I'm doing the research I do look at each independently – but rather topically. Which is better? I think it depends on the context. I may yet decide in my disseration to look at the battles individually, though I'm not sure how'd I'd fit them into my current research plan.
I highlighted the importance of re- and close reading in my title. No matter how many times I go back over the parts of Procopius' narrative that I'm looking at now, I always seem to find something new. Significantly, re-reading articles and books can also be important in this regard. I'm re-reading an article – and this blog entry represents a break from that reading while I listen to the NHL playoffs – on narratology in Thucydides and in it Hornblower has noted some things that I need to look for in Procopius: I think I had had them in mind at first, but when you're reading so much, it's not hard to lose thoughts/ideas in the shuffle. I guess that's one main reason why it's important to make notes of all thoughts, and to try and keep them separate or categorized, and organized. Yeah. I guess that makes sense.
So, now I need to go back through Procopius' battles and think more about anachrony and linearization. Because of the structure of the 'Wars', it's hard to classify his work as either linear or otherwise. It's divided like Appian's (writing in the 2nd century AD) 'History' of the republican wars, though there are fewer wars and they are treated in more detail. Anyway, back to the article…
April 20, 2006
Follow-up to Semeia, Vexilla, and Roman/Byzantine Military Standards from Conor's blogI've done some more checking this evening about the mysterious bandon and standards. They existed, and are mentioned, in the 6th century (at least at the very end when the treatise of Maurice is supposed to have been writing). In Maurice's treatise a bandon is both a standard, and a unit from 200 – 400 men. It continued in use well into the 10th century and beyond, though by that time it had shrunk to about 50 men. Now, even though after some cursory reading I did come across some more information about the bandon (particularly in the works of Haldon, Syvanne, and Treadgold), none of them really discuss its creation: it's just basically there and from Maurice to Leo it changed. So, the question still remains, how did it come into being? There are lots of questions that still need answering about the organization of the Late Roman army; whether or they can be answered is another problem altogether. Regardless, I'll see what I can uncover about this latest mystery…
April 19, 2006
So, this is another research blog to remind me of some interesting things that I need to come back to at some point. The topic, is the standard.
Keeping in line with this topic of morale is the standard. The standard had been an important part of the Roman military for a while; in fact, since the days of the Republic. When commanders, or units, lost their standards in combat, there was usually a desparate attempt to get it back. If it didn't work out in that very battle, then they would endeavour to do so in the future. When Augustus' great feats was to win back – albeit through negotiations and diplomatic finagling – the standards lost by Crassus at Carrhae. One last point about standards in combat: during the course of battle another interesting – or, rather, pertinent – point in this regard was the falling of the standard. Just as the sight of a general falling in the heat of battle may cause soldiers to panic and flee, so might the falling of the standard. There were important things, and they remained an integral means of maintaing, or bolstering morale through the Byzantine period.
In Late Antiquity, even with the advent of Christianity and its proliferation in the army, the standard was still important. Both Maurice and Procopius mention the standard on a number of occasions; plus, Maurice uses at least two different words for standard (early stages: he could use more and I'm not sure whether there's a distinction yet). Now, here's the 'new' interesting bit.
Vexillations were used in the 1st century AD by the army (if not earlier) and these rag-tag units got their name from the vexillum, the Roman standard (signum is also used to identify a standard, at least in Vegetius). By the 4th C the vexillationes had morphed into a new, largely cavalry-based unit. Before they could be formed from both infantry and cavalry units, and legiones and auxilia. These units were used increasingly from Marcus Aurelius and eventually they spent more and more time away from their home units. That's basically how they became separate units (and probably at some point – Gallienus? – in the 3rd C someone said, let's just make them a separate automous unit). Now, what's interesting is that some of the units that arose in the early – to – mid Byzantine period (7th – 9th centuries) also seem to have got their name in the same way that the vexillationes did. So, by perhaps the 8th C (really unsure about this) and well after the themes have been introduced – actually, in that light perhaps this wasn't until at least the 9th C – we also see the rise of smaller units (the themes seem to have been the next step in the evolution of the older mobile armies, I think the Commitatenses and Praesental armies, of Late Antiquity – 4C – 7C, and what happened when they were given permanent homes in Anatolia) called banda. So, to look for the evolution of the unit banda, we probably (if it hasn't been done yet) have to go back to actual meaning of the word banda (I know that it at least shows up in Maurice, and have no idea if it shows up in any other sixth or seventh century Greek texts and means standard – Procopius doesn't use the word, at least thus far in my work I haven't come across it – he sticks with semeion). Anyway, it just seems that the military units called banda got their name from the same process whereby the vexillationes got their name. If anything, this also (though perhaps only slightly) points towards continuity in many of the practices of the Roman army from the Principate well into the early and then mid-Byzantine period. Interesting indeed.
One last point: GO SENS GO!!!!
April 15, 2006
This is just a little research thought that I wanted to get down in a format that's easily accessible, at least for me, at some later point.
I was just at the Classical Association Conference in Newcastle and went to some interesting talks by some guys from Manchester. One was looking at the pyschology of battle; the other was looking at some of the mechanics of battle, or at least what he could make of the mechanics of battle for the Republic from a hitherto unused source: Livy. I think he made some good points; and it was an interesting paper. In general, however, the two papers raised some questions for me concerning the psychology of battle in Late Antiquity, a topic which I'm exploring at the moment, at least through the work of Procopius. I'm going to be presenting a paper in about 2 and a half months in which I'll be looking at discipline, morale, and generalship. So, I've had occasion to take a closer look at the work of Maurice – the study is focusing on Procopius and Maurice. What's the new, or at least pertinent, bit that I want to discuss now. Well, here it goes.
Maurice's work is a technical treatise that was presumably written to show the powers that be – or at least that's the stated aim in the preface – what to do in the various military encounters that they might encounter in warfare around AD 600. So, there are various training exercises, tactical formations, leadership tips, strategy, preparing for battle, and the like. Each 'book' is broken down into smaller sections. In recent years the book, or manual, has been afforded more prominence as a reliable guide to battle and warfare c. 600: I see no reason, at least not yet, to dispute this. Now, before I get to the really interesting bit – at least for what's relevant to this discussion – let me mention something else.
I'm sure that most people would think that one of the key factors in success for a unit is its cohesion. A group that works well together is likely to be more successful than one that does not. The ties that bind soldiers is a theme found in countless war movies, of which the most recent, at least of those that I've seen, is Jarhead. Thought that was a film, it was based on a set of memoirs written by an actual marine who served in the first Gulf War. It's plausible right? Besides, anyone who has an interest in, or has actually participated in, team sports would probably agree that teamwork is the cornerstone of success. Talent's one thing, but if the team doesn't work toegether, they're unlikely to finish on top – we'll find out soon enough which NHL team and which national football team has mastered that. So, you might be surprised to learn that in academia there has been a move away from the role of cohesion in the success of individual units in battle. One other factor that has moved to the front of the fray is competition: the most recent monograph concerned with the Classical World to tackle the issue is Lendon's 'Soldiers and Ghosts', a well-written, and convicing book. Despite Lendon's forceful arguments, I cannot help but think that we shouldn't toss out the cohesion theory just yet. Now, let me take you back to the sixth century.
Over the centuries different cultures have had different ways of writing about battle. What you may think is important in battle, is not necessarily what someone writing in the 16th century would have thought was important, or what someone wrting in the 5th century BC would have thought was important. That's one thing that makes recreating, and really understanding, ancient battle so tricky. But, there's still a lot that you can learn from reading ancient battle accounts. My dissertation is looking at one particular author's accounts of warfare in the middle of the sixth century, of which battle is only one solitary, but a very important, part. What's interesting about Maurice is that he looks at battle from a different perspective. Whereas Procopius' work is more literary, Maurice's is more practical. I firmly believe that he (whoever he was – Maurice, the name of a late 6th/early 7th century emperor may not be the author of the treatise) was trying to tell it like it is, and how he thought it should be. Plus, the stuff he writes isn't cooky – logically it makes sense – and is quite believable. In fact, there are even similarities between what Procopius describes in battle in his opus and what Maurice prescribes in his manual (okay, there are some other issues there, but I don't want to get into them). So, it think it should be quite clear now how important the two works are, and how tricky a thing battle can be to examine.
Getting back to cohesion, it's hard to find examples of that sort of behaviour in Procopius. When he does highlight individual elements, he usually focuses on important figures, and more often than not generals. That's understandable: the line between history and fiction was a bit fuzzier for him then, than it is for us now. What is more, I'd like to think that he had an audience to consider, and they'd be more interested in hearing about the great deeds of the figures of the day, not the exploits of Joe-foot soldier unless they were exemplary; they'd have to be more than spectacular to fit the bill. Here's where Maurice is important. I'm going to include one particular snippet from book 12 on 'Mixed Formations, Infantry, Camps, and Hunting'. This is Dennis' translation from 12.B.10 entitled 'Instructions to Be Given About Punishments':
"After the army has been organized as described above, it should be assembled in its entirety one day. If the soldiers and officers already know the regulations set down by law, simply remind them. Otherwise they should be read to the troops separately in each tagma by their own commanders, as we explained in the chapters dealing with the cavalry."
The first key bit is in the first sentence: "assembled in its entirety one day". Even if we didn't have the rest of the text, we could speculate, heck, we could even state with a fair bit of confidence that it was implying that each unit trained on its own. If there was any doubt, then the third sentence clears that up: "should be read to the troops separately in each tagma". Now, one problem that stands out at first is the size of a tagma: Syvanne gives an ideal size of 256 men for each tagma. Maurice says itís 310 men. Either way, that size is a bit too large to fit the bill for this concept of cohesion.
As it turns out though, the troops, and units, were divided even further into contubernia (the Gk is kontoubernin). In the Principate a contubernium had 8 soldiers; there were 10 contubernia in a century, and so on up the legion of about 5200 men. Now, by the end of the 6th century the units had certainly changed, but I think itís important that Maurice was still using the term contubernium, quite a small and personal size, in his description of the equipment for soldiers (this comes from book 1). He says that each contubernium should have a tent.
Anyway, this small note on some thoughts on cohesion in the late Roman army is becoming an essay and so Iíll leave it there and do some more reading before returning to it. More to followÖ
April 14, 2006
I haven't done this in quite a while and it's more than likely that I'll remain inconsistent in my blog postings. Nevertheless, there's no time like the present to 'geter done'. Well, I'm actually procrastinating a bit: I'm about to do a wee translation of Procopius for the thesis and I'm, well, hesitating. This is afterall more important right?
It's actually a pretty interesting passage and the only battle-narrative in the Vandal Wars with any rapid acceleration in narrative pace; it also happens to be pretty vivid. Interestingly, this particular scene is also outside the body of the narrative for the Vandal Wars and is actually in the proem, or introduction I guess. This is not a battle that Procopius would have been privy to (it occurred during the reign of the emperor Leo in the 5C), and is actually the only naval battle encountered thus far. But, despite the questionable authenticity of the details of this battle, I think that it's pretty significant, particularly in relation to what follows in the course of the Vandal Wars. Procopius intervenes on a few occasions and seems to be forcing us to look towards the events that will transpire when Justinian, Belisarius – and Procopius – begin the invasion in 536. Hmmm. Anyway, there's still much to do.
Um, it's Easter and the school is closed. Many things close here (the UK) on holidays, and more than I'm used to. Sure, things do close on holidays in Ontario, but not quite as often, and even during the regular operating hours, they're open later. Just a comment (and pet peave I guess).
NHL playoffs are days away! What does this mean? This means that I'll be staying up til the wee hours of the morning listening to online broadcasts of the Senators as they embark on their quest for the Cup. If I didn't have the internet, I don't know HOW I'd cope with this televised hockey deprevation.
Hopefully I'm off to visit the old country soon: The Union of Canadian Socialist Republics. Unfortunately, the summer smog by then should be settling in over southern Ontario and I expect that after the warmest winter on record (in Ontario), that it will also be a scorcher during the summer. Ah, the British summer is looking quite appealling…