In Memoriam; Denis Bain Saddington (1931-2011): Praefectus De Auxiliis Historicorum

By Wheeler, Everett L. | Acta Classica, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam; Denis Bain Saddington (1931-2011): Praefectus De Auxiliis Historicorum


Wheeler, Everett L., Acta Classica


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An Appreciation

An appreciation of Professor Saddington as a military historian, which I have been asked to offer, may denote (for some) a limited field. 'Military history', however, if narrowly perceived, hardly reflects his broad scholarly interests, encompassing besides Roman army and frontier studies, Roman social history, issues of education and literacy, early Christianity and patristic studies, and late republican and early imperial Latin epigraphy. He delighted in the epigraphical congresses almost as much as in the Roman army gatherings. For Professor Saddington the study of the Roman army's auxilia units was more a matter of social and administrative history than tactical and strategic issues. Only one--and that among his last papers - addressed tactical matters. (1) Concerns for romanization and reconciliation or blending of different cultures generally underlay many of his publications, perhaps reflective of the cultural environment of his domicile. He could reflect on the meaning of 'frontier' (in a sense) from personal experience in a way totally foreign to western European or even some North American colleagues, whose notions of 'frontier', in comparison, could seem rather academic or theoretical. His commentary on Josephus' Bellum Iudaicum, in progress at his passing, deprives us of a work that would have brought many aspects of his extensive expertise in numerous fields into sharper focus. A collection of his papers in the MAVORS series of Roman army papers was also contemplated.

For this writer, an origo for Professor Saddington's interest in Roman auxilia remains obscure. Perhaps it came, or at least was strengthened, as a Rhodes Scholar at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he studied with Frank Lepper. Oxonian influence may be reflected in largely limiting his work to the period before Hadrian, since Ancient History at Oxford traditionally ended with the death of Trajan (11 August 117). In any case, he will always be remembered as his generation's leading authority in this field. Although regional studies of auxilia had appeared, (2) no comprehensive assessment had been attempted since G.L. Cheesman's improvement on the RE articles of Theodor Mommsen's student, Conrad Cichorius. (3) In 1975 a preliminary study of auxilia from Augustus to Trajan preceded his more detailed monograph of 1982 covering Caesar to Vespasian. Unfortunately, this work, published by the University of Zimbabwe, remained difficult to acquire or even to consult. (4) A republication of this work by a North American press (long negotiated) remains unclear at this writing.

If Professor Saddington occasionally devoted papers to individual units and the study of military diplomata - the latter now a 'cottage industry' with the proliferation of new discoveries of diplomata (often of unclear provenience), found through metal detectors and disseminated via the antiquities market - his unique approach was never to lose sight of the auxilia as a general phenomenon and to view the 'big picture'. He remained an historian, as opposed to a 'documents-ologist'. (5) A series of papers continued his stress on auxilia as a collective with attention to issues of integration and distinction. (6) Besides terrestrial forces, Professor Saddington also turned his attention to the relatively neglected topic of Roman fleets as an expansion of his interest in auxilia. (7) Further, the auxilia like the Roman army as a whole remained a 'work in progress'. Augustus' establishment of a professional standing army was only a first and incomplete step. Army organization and practices as historical phenomena are not static. The evolution of ranks and titles demanded investigation, which Professor Saddington's admirable expertise in the relevant epigraphical and literary sources facilitated. (8) A paper of 1980 remains one of the few attempts to study the command structure within auxilia units. (9)

Although the theme of a particular author as a 'military historian' can produce a wide variety of papers, often without attention to stringent criteria for what a 'military historian' is or what one should do, to his credit Professor Saddington produced a series of such papers on Tacitus, Velleius Paterculus and Suetonius and based his analyses not on technical aspects of tactics, strategy and command decisions, but rather on his own philological and epigraphical strengths.

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