social, military, and logisticalaspects of the Roman army’s provincialdistribution during the early principate
M. C. Bishop
Policemen are soldiers who act alone; soldiers are policemen who act in unison.
(1851) 3.21.8It has long been assumed that, except under unusual circumstances, legions lived in legionaryfortresses, auxiliary units in forts,
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
How did the practice of garrisoning evolve? Once Rome’s field army effectively became astanding army during the Republican period,
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.
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.
Ancient yield figures,derived from experimental work at Butser ancient farm, might be 2 tonnes per hectare.
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
during theBatavian uprising (Tac.,
4.21–36). Be that as it may, I feel no qualms in translating
asgarrison (Lewis and Short 1879, 1429
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
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
., appendix 1.6 Reynolds 1979, 61.111