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Praesidium: social, military, and logistical aspects of the Roman army's provincial distribution during the early principate

Praesidium: social, military, and logistical aspects of the Roman army's provincial distribution during the early principate

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Published by M. C. Bishop
My 1999 paper from A. Goldsworthy & I. Haynes (eds.), The Roman Army as a Community, JRA Supplementary Series 34, Portsmouth RI, 111–18 (with particular thanks to John Humphrey of the Journal of Roman Archaeology)
My 1999 paper from A. Goldsworthy & I. Haynes (eds.), The Roman Army as a Community, JRA Supplementary Series 34, Portsmouth RI, 111–18 (with particular thanks to John Humphrey of the Journal of Roman Archaeology)

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: M. C. Bishop on Jun 25, 2009
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02/03/2015

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Praesidium 
: social, military, and logistical aspects of the Romanarmy’s provincial distribution during the early principate’
by 
M. C. Bishop
from 
Released June 2009 with a Creative CommonsAttribution–Noncommercial–Noderivslicence
THE ARMATVRA PRESS
 
Praesidium:
social, military, and logisticalaspects of the Roman army’s provincialdistribution during the early principate
1
M. C. Bishop
Policemen are soldiers who act alone; soldiers are policemen who act in unison.
Herbert Spencer,
Social statistics
(1851) 3.21.8It has long been assumed that, except under unusual circumstances, legions lived in legionaryfortresses, auxiliary units in forts,
2
and that these components of frontier systems fended off potential invaders, and also enabled the Roman army to oppress, tax, and police the empire.Unfortunately, this functional interpretation of Rome’s ‘garrisoning policy’ is deeply flawed.The purpose of this paper is to call into question accepted notions of garrisoning, how it worked,why it existed, and to discuss the nature of our conceptions or misconceptions.
The origin and purpose of
praesidia
How did the practice of garrisoning evolve? Once Rome’s field army effectively became astanding army during the Republican period,
3
something had to be done with it. The dynamicsof a field army demanded that, like a shark, it not stop moving; its appetite was prodigious andthe stresses it placed upon local resources formidable. A campaigning army needed to forage orhave good lines of supply. A stationary over-wintering army retained the same need for suppliesbut could not rely on foraging to meet food and fodder requirements. This can be illustratedusing figures which, though suggested for the army of Alexander the Great, serve to clarify thescale of the problem.
4
A hypothetical field army comprising detachments from two legions andequivalent auxiliaries — some 12,000 men and 2,000 horses — with a grain ration of 1.5 kg per manper day, would require 18 tonnes of grain per day, whilst the horses would need 5 kg each of grainand fodder: a daily requirement of 20 tonnes of cereal for the animals.
5
Ancient yield figures,derived from experimental work at Butser ancient farm, might be 2 tonnes per hectare.
6
In justone day, our hypothetical army would consume the grain from 14 ha (44.5 acres) of arable land. If that same army was stationary and over-wintering for a period of 6 months (180 days) therequirement for grain would use the produce of 2,520 ha (6,227 acres;
.10 square miles). Theaccuracy of the notional ration (or even the yield) figures does not matter, for the
1When originally presented, this paper had the same title with the exception of the first word, which was‘Garrison’. Some scholars seem to have an aversion to that term, as was evident at the conference, so Ihave avoided using it in the title. So far as I can tell, this antipathy arises from the implication that aforce is intended to defend a site, whereas it is accepted orthodoxy that Roman fortifications were notmeant to be defended (curiously, given the advanced nature of many Roman defensive devices). This can becountered by pointing to the effective defence of Vetera mounted by
Legiones V 
and
 XV 
during theBatavian uprising (Tac.,
Hist.
4.21–36). Be that as it may, I feel no qualms in translating
 praesidium
asgarrison (Lewis and Short 1879, 1429
q.v. ‘praesidium’)
and can find no happy synonym orcircumlocution for the term ‘garrisoning’, so I have retained it in most instances. The English word‘garrison’ derives from the Old/Mediaeval French ‘garison’/‘guarison’, which in turn comes fromthe Old French ‘guarir’ and Mediaeval French ‘garir’, to defend (Partridge 1966, 796–97
q.v. ‘
warn’,para. 5). Partridge notes the further influence of the Mediaeval French ‘garnison’, a means of defence.2Webster 1985, 175; Luttwak 1976, 46–47.3Keppie 1984, 44.4Engels 1978.5
Ibid
., appendix 1.6 Reynolds 1979, 61.111
 
scale alone makes the point: a large standing army over-wintering exerted a thoroughlyheterodox strain on the resources of a locale.Logic dictates that a stationary army had to be broken up to reduce strain on one focal pointand to increase the efficiency of the supply distribution by reducing the overall distancerequired for transport. This is why one of the abuses corrected by Agricola – forcing
civitates
todeliver grain to distant destinations instead of to local
hibernae
 
 
would have seemed soextreme. Caesar broke up his army in Gaul in this way when over-wintering, notably at the end of campaigning in 53 B.C. in the territory of the Eburones: he split up a 10-legion army amongst theTreveri, Lingones, and Senones.
8
Fragmenting field armies in discreet winter-quarters was astrategic and logistical decision, not one dictated by a policy of conquest and subjugation. Theremay well have been ‘benefits’ to this practice, as will be discussed below, but they weresubordinate to the main purpose.Another important aspect of this relationship between garrisoning and supply is brought outin one of the few clear statements by Vegetius on the function of 
 praesidia:
Amongst the things for which it is thought a commander must make provision, whether based
in castris
or in a city, are that pasturage for the animals, the transport of grain and other things– watering, gathering of wood, and foraging – are rendered safe from attack by the enemy. Becauseotherwise, if garrisons
(praesidia)
are not distributed at appropriate points, whether theseshould be cities or walled forts
(castra murata),
our supply convoys cannot pass to and fro. If suitable places have not been fortified previously, they are strengthened; forts
(castella)
in suchplaces are quickly surrounded by large ditches. For forts
(castella)
are named from thediminutive term for camps
(castra).
The many infantry and cavalry based in these are responsiblefor maintaining a safe route for convoys. For only with difficulty does an enemy dare to approach,once he is hindered from in front and behind.
9
This passage was thought by Schenk
10
to derive directly from a now-lost work of the generaland writer Sextus lulius Frontinus (governor of Britannia 74–78), although the aside on theorigin of the term
castellum
seems typical of Vegetius himself.It is as if the supply mechanism set up to maintain the standing army had in turn come torequire that army to defend it. There were other consequences of garrisoning too, including thelocation of troops in civilian contexts –
castella
were only to be built where there were noexisting cities (hence the fondness for placing troops within cities in the eastern empire). Therewas a need to establish elaborate chains of fortifications in far-off places like Britain wheretowns were just beginning, but sites like Sheepen,
11
Hod Hill,
12
Hembury,
13
or Brandon Camp,
14
and anynumber of other pre-Roman settlement sites
15
were also used for military bases. By the 2nd c.A.D., the Romanization of the Celtic west had introduced cities and had provided ‘suitableplaces’, as Vegetius calls them, for garrisoning.
16
It is probably no accident that the distributionof forts and towns in Britain in the High Empire is largely mutually exclusive, yet
7Tac.,
 Agr.
19.8 Caes,
EG
6.44.9Vegetius,
Epit. rei milit.
3.8.10Schenk 1930, 88.11Fitzpatrick 1986.12Richmond 1968.13Todd 1984.14Frere 1987.15Todd 1985.16Cf. Deschler-Erb 1996, 133–35. Other civil sites with a military presence may well be Magdalensburg(Dolenz
et al.
1995) and Alesia (Rabeisen 1990); finds from such places could be evidence for civilproduction of arms and armour (cf. Oldenstein 1985, 89) but the outposting of military detachmentsseems just as plausible an interpretation.112

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