The Western Frontiers of Imperial Rome

By Steven K. Drummond; Lynn H. Nelson | Go to book overview
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from the Celtic frontier that they had created because those forces had themselves become Celtic, even though grants of Roman citizenship obscured that fact from the more idealistic Romans. The Roman heart- land lacked the capacity to man and maintain a native army in the interior to aid the western frontier in case of need. The Celtic frontier became the Roman frontier, because the Romans of the heartland had neither the strength nor the will to defend themselves and simply relied upon the frontier Celts to do the job for them. The universal extension of citizenship throughout the empire in 212 may have been intended in part to eliminate that anomaly. If the frontier Celts were Roman citizens, why should the inhabitants of the interior not expect them to defend the empire that was the common possession of all?

This was more rhetoric than reality, however, for the Romans of the interior continued to regard all peoples outside of Italy with greater or lesser degrees of disdain. In the opening years of the fifth century, the imperial high command began stripping the frontier of its troops to fight in a series of bloody and fruitless efforts to bar the passes into Italy to Alaric and his Visigoths. 2 The frontier that had been established to defend Celtic lands was denuded to defend Italy. Protests, delegations, and army mutinies directed against this policy were to no avail. The military and economic resources of the western frontier were systematically plundered to save Italy. The policy succeeded; a Roman emperor continued to rule for another seventy years. Meanwhile, the Celtic lands of Gaul, Spain, and Britain were inundated by the German invaders.


Notes
1.
See David Braund, Rome and the Friendly King: The Character of the Client Kingship.
2.
A series of emperors beginning with Septimius Severus and culminating with Diocletian had drawn upon the resources of the frontier and the manpower provided by barbarian immigration into the empire to establish a mobile field army in the interior. The Severan force was virtually destroyed in the civil wars of the third century. Having been restored by Diocletian in the period after 285, the western imperial field army was quickly depleted in the struggles against Alaric beginning in 406. The imperial high command quickly turned to the frontier in order to continue the fight. Remnants of the field army were posted into Italy, where, at the end of the century, they were influential in forcing the abdication of Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor in the West (476).

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