Academic journal article Akroterion

On the Withdrawal of the Roman Troops from the Dodecaschoenos in AD 298: Many Questions and Few Answers-The Problems in Perspective

Academic journal article Akroterion

On the Withdrawal of the Roman Troops from the Dodecaschoenos in AD 298: Many Questions and Few Answers-The Problems in Perspective

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In AD 298 Diocletian withdrew the Roman troops from the Dodecaschoenos--according to Procopius (De bellis 1.19.27-37) making a treaty with the Nobadai and the Blemmyes. (1) His testimonium can be supplemented by that of Olympiadoros (AD 423) and a number of inscriptions and graffiti, most of them to be found in the Fontes (1998). The theme has attracted much attention and produced a variety of proposed and supposed solutions.

Procopius gives the following reasons for the withdrawal of the Romans from the Dodecaschoenus: (a) the arable land was extremely narrow, there were rocks everywhere and the tribute coming from the region was not valuable, (b) the maintenance of Roman garrisons was very expensive, and (c) the Nobadai were plundering all places in the region. Therefore, the emperor persuaded the Nobadai to migrate and settle on both sides of the Nile, in the hope that they would drive out the Blemmyes from there. Then Diocletian decreed to pay every year an amount of gold to both the Blemmyes and Nobadai so that they would stop plundering Roman-Egyptian territory. However, both groups continued their incursions although they received their subsidy every year, even up to Procopius's time.

The Dodecaschoenos was a region between Egypt and Nubia (also named Meroe and Aithiopia) extending 12 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (= 120 stadia, i.e. 18 geographical miles [Ptol. 4.5.74; Hdt. 2.29]). The northern frontier was at Philae, and the southern one at Pscelcis (Dakka) or--in the late Roman period--at Hiera-Sycaminos. In the Roman times the Dodecaschoenos was attached to Roman Egypt and was viewed as a buffer state between the Roman Empire and the Meroitic Kingdom after the victory of Cornelius Gallus leading to the latter's trilingual inscription at Philae in 29 BC (OGIS II, no. 654, pp. 360-65; Hendrickx 1991:55-61; Hoffmann, Minas-Nerpal & Pfeiffer 2009) and the so-called treaty of Samos in 21 BC (Strabo XVII, 54).

Procopius's presentation of events has in general been followed by the older generation of modern scholars. Thus historians, writing on the Roman Empire in general and even specialists on the Egyptian limes (or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) region reflect directly or indirectly Procopius's viewpoint, such as, among many others, Milne (1924:80), Ensslin (1943:31, 55), Jones (1964:611), Boak & Sinnigen (1965:427), Papadopoullos (1966:8), Adams (1977:389), Barnes (1981:17-18), Bowman (1986:45) and Vantini (1981:24-26).

2. An overview and analysis of the scholarly theories and interpretations

2.1 L P Kirwan is arguably the scholar who has contributed most--during the second and third quarters of the 20th century--to the study of Roman-Nubian history. While east of the Nile, the Beja (Blemmyes) were roaming in the deserts, west of this river numerous tribes, known in Antiquity as 'Ethiopians' or 'Nubians', 'whose wanderings and groupings are hard to disentangle' were present or on the move (Kirwan, 1957:15). A 'great migration of peoples called Noba' in the south-west, now known as Kordofan, took place in eastward and northward directions; together with the invasion of the Axumites (2) this led to the final fall of Meroe by the middle of the 4th century. On the other hand, the attacks of the Blemmyes-Beja on Egypt led to Diocletian's withdrawal (Kirwan 1957:15). The pax romana along the Nile River continued until the 4th century and Meroe had been a Roman entrepot for Roman trade with Central Africa, but the Noba invasions and then the Axumite attack led to economic decline of Meroe, which had become an easy target for invasions (Kirwan 1972:458, 460-464). Kirwan has also accepted Procopius's argument that the impoverishment of Meroe was one of the reasons for Rome's withdrawal from the Dodecaschoenos and this withdrawal may have encouraged the Axumite attack on Meroe, while the northwards-moving Noba then became known as 'Nobades' (Kirwan 1963:263, 270-271; 1957b:37-41 and 1958:69-73). …

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