Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire

Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire

Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire

Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire

Synopsis

In this work, Fred Drogula studies the development of Roman provincial command using the terms and concepts of the Romans themselves as reference points. Beginning in the earliest years of the republic, Drogula argues, provincial command was not a uniform concept fixed in positive law but rather a dynamic set of ideas shaped by traditional practice. Therefore, as the Roman state grew, concepts of authority, control over territory, and military power underwent continual transformation. This adaptability was a tremendous resource for the Romans since it enabled them to respond to new military challenges in effective ways. But it was also a source of conflict over the roles and definitions of power. The rise of popular politics in the late republic enabled men like Pompey and Caesar to use their considerable influence to manipulate the flexible traditions of military command for their own advantage. Later, Augustus used nominal provincial commands to appease the senate even as he concentrated military and governing power under his own control by claiming supreme rule. In doing so, he laid the groundwork for the early empire's rules of command.

Excerpt

The history of the Roman Republic is, to a large extent, the history of its military commanders and the campaigns they led. This is partially the result of poor records, since the first ancient historians to write about Rome’s early history had little more than lists of consuls, campaigns, and triumphs at their disposal, which they fleshed out with folklore and family traditions that celebrated the military glory won by their ancestors. At the same time, the Romans were a famously militaristic people who cherished and publicly displayed their military decorations, and whose very calendar was organized around military festivals and the cycle of war. While the Greeks tore down sections of their walls for Olympic athletes, the greatest celebrations in Rome were the military triumphs, when victorious generals marched their armies through the streets of the city, hauling their plunder and captives with them. To become a noble in early Rome, a man first had to serve in the army for ten years, and if he acquired a reputation for bravery, he might win election to the praetorship and be given a small military command. Only if he distinguished himself in that campaign might he win election to the consulship and a large command, which would be considered the pinnacle of his career, especially if he won the hoped-for honor of a triumph. Nobility, status, honor, and public office all depended upon one’s performance as a soldier and commander. the most important men in the Roman senate had commanded Rome’s legions in battle, so commanders and ex-commanders formed the leadership of the state. To the Romans, therefore, their history was indeed the long story of bloody conquests, at first near the city, then throughout Italy, and finally across the seas in every land around the Mediterranean. the story of provincial command was the story of Rome.

This book seeks to contribute to modern discussions on the Roman Republic and early empire by studying the nature and development of provincial command. This topic is difficult because its origins lay in the republic’s legendary beginnings, for which we have little reliable evidence. in the earliest days of Rome, provincial command was simply military command. It was one of . . .

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