War and Society in Imperial Rome, 31 BC-AD 284

By Brian Campbell | Go to book overview

1

THE ORIGINS OF WAR

Warfare in the ancient world was a personal business. Decisions were taken by an individual or by a few people and were carried out by soldiers fighting face to face. Wars differed in type and intensity; in the early period war was virtually a private affair, fought between individuals and their retinues, and could even be resolved by single combat. Later, war was waged by the state against external enemies, or involved civil conflict or rebellion against occupying forces, and was settled by full-scale battles, guerrilla campaigns and sieges. There were also naval engagements, though Rome fought no specifically naval wars. War was sometimes used as a political tool, to confirm a ruler in power, or as social cement, to bind a whole people together for purposes other than fighting in the war itself, or to establish the dominance of one group. Some fought to seek revenge or with that pretence, others as an expression of religious belief or ritual enactment. However, state-sponsored wars were usually fought for imperial and economic aggrandizement and territorial expansion, the acquisition of booty, and the achievement of honour and glory for the leaders (though this, too, could often have political significance). Wars fought against powerful neighbours to ensure survival might be described as defensive, however disingenuous that was, but wars begun ostensibly for defensive purposes might in time lead to further conquest. Of course many wars arose for complex reasons, or from accidents and misunderstandings, and indeed those instigating war may have had different, even inconsistent, motives. Therefore it is useful to start with a general definition, namely, that war occurs when ‘those who decide public and military policy believe that war is in their material self-interest, considered from the perspective of their position within social and economic organization’. 1

In the Roman imperial period it is of course notoriously difficult to discover why a particular war occurred, or what the people thought about the wars fought in their name. This is because we rely mainly on literary sources that are often incomplete and ill-informed, or prejudiced by preconceptions or dislike of individual emperors. In fact historians tend to be more interested in politics, government, and even civil wars than in foreign

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War and Society in Imperial Rome, 31 BC-AD 284
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgements x
  • Abbreviations xi
  • 1 - The Origins of War 1
  • 2 - Soldiers and War 22
  • 3 - The Nature of War 47
  • 4 - War and the Community 77
  • 5 - War and Politics 106
  • 6 - War and Public Opinion 122
  • 7 - Epilogue 151
  • Brief Chronological Table 155
  • Notes 157
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 203
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