The Defense Strategy of the Late Roman Empire – Arther Ferrill

Synopsis:

Defense strategy in the Roman Empire following the Crisis of the Third Century evolved considerably from the earlier preclusive security apparatus of Hadrian – which emphasized a synthesis of passive and active defense along mostly static lines of effort. Arther Ferrill credits the Emperor Constantine with the transition from the preclusive ideal to a novel defense-in-depth approach, which offered weakened frontier defenses in favor of large mobile field armies. This new model Roman army allowed more centralized control for the Emperor – as well as greater personal security – but with a vastly less controlled border region for the Empire.

Excerpts:

“Such obvious advantages, reflecting organization of war-making capacity far beyond that of Rome’s potential opponents, gave the Roman armies a psychological edge, a superiority in morale, often sufficient in itself to deter hostile military action. In the great days of the second century, with an army of about 300,000, the Romans defended an empire of some 50,000,000 people living in the Mediterranean basin.

“More than anything else Roman grand strategy in the High Roman Empire was based on the tactical superiority of the Roman army against all potential foes. To that extent the famous walls and fortresses can be misleading. The army, not the walls or forts, defended the frontiers.

“Roman grand strategy of the second century was predicated on political stability – preclusive security requires the presence of the legions on the frontiers. Civil war and rebellion, especially when they became endemic, diverted legions from the frontiers to the interior, creating marvelous opportunities for enemies across the border. That is what happened in the third century.

“The big change in Roman grand strategy came with Constantine the Great. As Zosimus claimed in the passage quoted above, Constantine organized a large mobile field army (probably 100,000 or more), stationed centrally, by withdrawing units from the frontiers, leaving them in a weakened condition. Zosimus saw this modification of traditional Roman grand strategy as catastrophic, an interpretation endorsed by Gibbon.

“The worst feature of the defense-in-depth is that inevitably the central mobile army will become an elite force and the frontier defenders merely second rate actors in defense policy. Troops that are not expected to defeat the enemy can hardly be blamed for wanting to avoid him altogether.

*All excerpts have been taken from Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, Thames and Hudson Inc.

The Punic Wars – Nigel Bagnall

Synopsis:

Born in India in 1927, Sir Nigel Bagnall served as Chief of the General Staff in London for the British Army in the late 1980s. In his survey of the Punic Wars between the rival city-states of Rome, and Carthage he bestows upon the reader notable erudition of the subject paired with the employment of his vast practical experience as a soldier in the British Army. The blending of his learnedness in both capacities lends to manifest an uncommon narrative of the life and death struggle among the two ancient superpowers – with Rome emerging as the ultimate victor. Bagnall likewise intercedes his own narrative with a chunk of commentary following the telling of the events of the First Punic War, and it is in this commentary that the book sets itself apart from other histories.

Excerpts:

“When comparing the constitutions of Rome and Carthage, Polybius concludes that Rome was at its zenith when the Senate was at the height of its power and that its decisions were usually sound because they were being made by the best men available. Carthage on the other hand, because its strength and prosperity had preceded that of Rome, was past its prime by the time of the Punic Wars, and the people had gained too much power. In making this assessment, Polybius, however appears to have only considered the constitution as it affected a city state and to have overlooked the wider fact that, whereas Rome had forged a confederation of states which held together even when gravely threatened, Carthage had merely created a feudal empire with no sense of corporate loyalty.

“Although there will admittedly never be any way of determining exactly why Carthage and Rome went to war, there are nevertheless two clearly identifiable factors which made such a war more probable. First, that the Romans saw an opportunity to advantage themselves, and second, that because they saw that the Carthaginians were unprepared militarily they succumbed to this temptation. Nothing appears to have changed in human nature during the last twenty centuries. Whether as individuals, or collectively, most of the human race displays an unfortunate proclivity for opportunism unless deterred by the threat of sufficiently painful consequences.

“Although the terminology is today’s, it will still be helpful at this point briefly to distinguish between the three levels of war:

Strategic Level The definition of the strategic objectives to be achieved in fulfillment of government policy.

Operational Level The planning and execution of military operations to achieve stated strategic objectives.

Tactical Level The planning and conduct of battles in pursuit of the operational aim.

In nontechnical language: having decided what you want to do, you plan how this is to be achieved and coordinate the actual battles to be fought in its fulfillment.

“The effectiveness of Hannibal’s administrative and constitutional reforms, however, is demonstrated by the continuing rise in Carthaginian prosperity even after his flight. In 191 BC, Carthage offered to pay off the whole of the war indemnity, while supplying large quantities of grain to provision the Roman armies – offers which either for reasons of hurt pride, or from a desire not to end symbols of Punic subservience, were disdainfully declined. No more than the fulfillment of her treaty obligations was expected of Carthage. But how far Carthage was prepared to go in order to placate the Romans and show her loyalty as an ally is indicated by the presence of Carthaginian contingents fighting alongside them in their wars against Philip, Antiochus and Perseus.

“Following the Second Punic War, Scipio Africanus endeavored to ensure that Rome’s attitude to Carthage was one of moderation. But he did not survive the political infighting, and with his departure came a reversion, under the leadership of Cato, to the earlier policy of vigorous confrontation with Carthage. After being threatened and having disarmed to demonstrate their willingness to placate Rome under almost any circumstances, the Carthaginians were obliterated. The lesson here is writ large and clear. It is the longterm predisposition of states which should govern our relationships with them, not the ephemeral appearances of some charismatic leader.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Punic Wars: Rome, Carthage and the Struggle for the Mediterranean, Nigel Bagnall, Pimlico.

The Civil War – Julius Caesar

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Synopsis:

Julius Caesar wrote The Civil War for the same reason he wrote about his campaigns in Gaul – i.e. to prove to the Roman people that his cause was just and that his opponents were unjust. The work was never completed, and the reason for this may be conjectured as having won the civil war – against the Pompeian faction – Caesar no longer needed to defend his actions because he was in full control of the state.

Excerpts:

“…but let me remind you it is always at the end of a war that soldiers look for the reward of their efforts, and what that end is going to be not even you can doubt.

“Is it conceivable that a side which could make no stand with all its forces intact can now do so when its cause is lost; and can you, who declared for Caesar when victory still hung in the balance, now think of siding with the vanquished, after the issue of the war is decided, and when you ought to be reaping the reward of your services?

“With what seems to be a tradition among foreign nations, the African force lay scattered about their camping-ground without any properly made lines; consequently, when our troopers dashed in upon the broken groups of heavily sleeping men, numbers were slaughtered on the spot, and a considerable body took refuge in panic-stricken flight.

“But Curio answered unhesitatingly that, having lost the army which Caesar had entrusted to his charge, he would never go back to look him in the face, and with that answer he died fighting. Only a very small proportion of the Roman cavalry escaped from the battle; but those who, as recorded above, had dropped behind in the rear for the purpose of resting their horses, on observing from their distant position that the whole army was a rout, made good their return to the camp. The infantry were all cut down to a man.

“Inside the Pompeian lines the eye fell upon the spectacle of arbors artificially constructed, of masses of silver plate laid out for present use, of tents paved with cool, fresh cut sods, and even, in the case of Lentulus and others, protected from the heat by ivy. Many other indications could likewise be discerned of extravagant luxury and of confidence in coming victory, rendering it an easy assumption that men who went so far out of their way in the pursuit of superfluous pleasures could have had no misgivings as to the issue of the day. Yet these were the men who habitually taunted the poverty-stricken, long-suffering army of Caesar with the charge of being voluptuaries; whereas in truth they had all along been in want of the barest necessaries.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Civil War, Julius Caesar, Barnes & Noble, Inc.