The End

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In 476CE or so we are told, the last Roman emperor was removed from power by his barbarian masters and with that the Roman Empire came to an end. This is what we are told, we historians don’t like hard and fast dates, we know better. I could argue to you that Julius Nepos would continue with the title and be recognized as the western Emperor by Zeno the eastern Emperor until in 480 Nepos died.  Or I might argue that the empire fell with Constantine XI Palaiologo in 1453 with the fall of the eastern empire. Here at least we have three dates all with equal weight. And yet none are correct, by 350CE the Roman Empire was neither. Almost all the western provinces from Britain to North Africa were lost to barbarian kingdoms of one stripe or another. The Emperors no longer sat in undisturbed splendor in the palaces among the hills of Rome. Instead they either marched from one threatened area to another, or hid among the marshes and lakes of Revenna pathetically awaiting the end. All that splendor gone, and lost not to barbarians, but to the Romans themselves.

There never was a ‘good’ system for selecting the next guy on top. This lead to an ad hoc system  of ‘who ever was the strongest gets it’ law of the fittest. In the process civil war became epidemic. Emperors dare not sneeze in public for fear of one worthy or another taking it as a sign the time was right for a change of command. And what made a good contender to the throne? Only two things: Money and the Army. Time and time again the army fought itself. Killing legionnaires and progressively destroying the strength of the empire to defend it self from outside invasion. It is interesting to note that whenever the Empire was at peace with itself and barbarians invaded they were defeated.

And yet was ‘The End’ like what we all carry around in our heads? After all, we all know what happened right? The barbarians came destroying everything in sight, defeating the army, raping and pillaging; the way Hollywood does it; and one day with Sophie Lauren weeping in the foreground the empire fell….right? Weeeellllll, no. In fact the empire didn’t fall, first of all there is no ‘up’ from which a political system can fall down from, and more importantly many of the people who found themselves living in a newly settled barbarian kingdom didn’t know the Empire was gone. Barbarian kings went out of their way to present themselves as Romans or at least guardians of the Roman Empire. Of course they were neither and after awhile they dropped the whole ‘I’m as Roman and the next guy’ routine and just got on with ruling in their own name. By the time the empire was forgotten the barbarian kingdoms weren’t so barbarian and the people ruling were the locals. New languages sprung up from Latin, the new institutions took something from the empire and something from the barbarians and something form the locals and created France, Spain, England, Portugal, Italy and more. So I think it’s fairer to say the empire disintegrated in some areas and dissipated in others.

So what was The End like? Can we ever get a full and clear picture of it? No. The fall of the empire happened not on a grand scale of sweeping armies, filthy barbarian warriors, or dastardly villains out for number one regardless of the consequences.  It was personal and private, a quiet passing, a simple accepted in the hearts of each generation, each imperial citizen, even each citizen of Europe who watched the passing of Rome and entered into the new world.

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

Roman In One Da…Lifetime

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We’ve all heard the old saw ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and this is true. Of course this is true of every city ever built anywhere, but there is something massive about ancient Rome both in a literal sense and in a spiritual sense. But what is generally forgotten is that the empire was created in a lifetime. From the end of the Second Punic War through the smashing victories over the Greeks, Phillip the V, the Seleucid Empire, and others, Rome carved a bloody track that led from regional Italian power to world super power. Less than 70 years was all it took, but why?

Most empires emerge in a power vacuum, old powers become weak or cease to exists and a new comer picks up the pieces. This was how the Persian empire rose from the ashes of old empires like Assyria and Egypt. And Egypt rose where no empire had ever existed.  But the Roman empire was unique. There were powers all around the Mediterranean basin at the time of Rome’s ascendancy and Rome beat them all in direct conflict. True, Alexander beat Persia but he never smashed another empire afterward, Rome did, more than once. And after all the Greeks had struck down the power of Persia long before Alexander.

Part was the revolution in military science created by Rome. The legion was more flexible and capable over a broader range of terrain types than any other competing army.

Roman strategic thinking was in the main clear: Find, fix and defeat the enemy. This simple prescription meant that any tactical finesse by the enemy availed them nothing while Roman Legions were beating on the gates of their capital city. And Roman victories were complete. The Romans thought in terms of campaigns, let me re-emphasize this last point: Rome thought in terms of CAMPAIGNS not single battles, NEVER single battles. The Romans would bleed and suffer for years, even decades to gain the victory. No other ancient nation was as prepared to carry on war for the length of time and use whatever resources or manpower needed to win.

Manpower was another Roman ace in the hole. During the first eight months of the Second Punic War, Rome lost some 100,000 legionaries. No other nation could have sustained such loss and continued to fight on. No ancient nation could have sustained a Cannae; 60,000 causalities in ONE DAY, more causalities than the British lost in the first day of the Somme offensive in 1916; and continue. This may have been in the mind of Hannibal as he waited around Cannae for Roman peace offerings that never came. By being able to create Legions even after terrible defeats meant Rome could sustain wars until if nothing else the enemy was exhausted from winning.

Lastly the Roman character admitted no equal let alone a superior to themselves. Anyone that has traveled to Italy as I have, has noted the tone of Rome and Romans. In their hearts they are still the seat of a great empire.  This attitude meant that Romans where never intimidated by anyone. Carthaginian quinqueremes with trained rowers simply had to be imitated.   The grandeur of the Alexander the Great and his Macedonians meant nothing to the Legions as they smashed through the Phalangists, Sarissa’s or no.

If a term can be used for this mindset it is this: The Romans carried the warrior virtues at all times. And it won them an empire.

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

 

Rome and Britain

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Britain was a last minute entry into the Roman Empire. It had been ‘invaded’ by Julius Caesar twice during his Gaul Campaign, his stated reason was to carry the Aquila to the end of the world and to punish the British for giving aid to the Gauls. It’s doubtful whether the British did anything in a formal way, hardly ‘aiding the enemy’ as we understand the term. Both invasions were fiascos for Caesar and ended almost as quickly as they began. Though Caesar did manage to install a friendly King over the Trinovantes.  Caligula assembled 200,000 men (so he claimed) to invade the island then had his men collect sea shells instead. It took Claudius to bring Britain under Roman rule and he did it to prove his ability to rule the Empire during peace or war. Boudica’s revolt was the last native revolt we hear of  within Britain proper for years, but there must have been a few as a legion was always kept within the province for years after Boudica.

But from the very start Britain was a pain in the backside of every Emperor onward. So remote and hard to reach Britain became a perfect starting point for many a pretender. Hadrian and Antonius Pius both had walls built, partly to define the end of the empire, to defend the province against the northern tribes living in what today is Scotland, and to give the legions something to do besides revolting. The last may have been the most important benefit as far as the emperors could see.

And for all, that Britain was profitable to the Empire for at least two centuries.  Hadrian’s wall shows it was a magnet for trade, many a village, or town was created along it’s length by a mixing of retired legionaries and natives. Grave markers show merchants and their family migrated to the fog bound island to trade from as far away as Syria.

When the last legion left Britain to defend the Rhine against German tribes Britain was still nominally a Roman Province. Never-the-less the empire never returned. A series of petty tribal chiefs, know as ‘Kinglets’, ruled in the name of Rome. It is not easy to know when Britain finally broke free and it’s leaders rule in their own name, but surely the loss of Britain was not a great hardship to the Emperor’s. The locals however took a great deal of convincing, caches of coins treasures and goods have been found; these are thought to be hordes held for the day the legions and their Emperor returned. Some of these caches are almost 100 AFTER the empire had left.

Raven Games
Raven Games

Rome vs. Everyone

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The Roman Army had many assets as it marched to battle. So many in fact, that later writers have had a hard time trying to pin down the abilities and assets that lead to victory. Yet no army in history has ever been as successful as the Roman. For 600 years the empire smashed one threat after another. But how? That is the real question and one not easily answered. In this article I will numerate three of those vital assets. These three I feel are the more important factors during that long stretch of Pax Romana. They are not in order of priority or value, but simply a list:

1) Power vacuum: It’s easy to keep the peace if no one arises to challenge your military dominance with a realistic chance of strategic victory over you. During a 600 year span of time no civilization arose that was in anyway able to dictate terms to the Roman’s. Parthia is a frequent offering as a ‘real’ enemy to Rome. This is based on Carrhae, and the smashing nature of that defeat. Yet, Parthia never threatened Rome, in fact their infrequent invasions of Roman provinces always ended in the Parthian’s retreating back to the interior of their empire. Rome burnt Ctesiphon three and possibly five times, no similar event was ever caused by the Parthian’s to Rome. Roman expansion into Parthia was prevented by there being nothing worth conquering. The German barbarians also inflicted a devastating defeat on Varus in the Teutoburg Wald, bad enough that the Roman’s never tried to conquer the Germanic tribes again. But Teutoburg was a battle in line with the Little Big Horn, in that the victor was looking to remove a threat from their territory not to conquer the enemy’s territory. It’s doubtful even with Arminius leading them, the tribes could have retained their solidarity long enough to enter and conquer imperial holdings. As for all other enemy’s: ‘revolt’ against Roman rules was the order of the day.

2) Adaptation: The Roman army was never proud, or at least never too proud to adopt a good idea. The Romans used the best of everything they could find. From Balearic slingers to the finest siege machines from Greece and Persia, the Imperial Army took whatever worked. The Roman’s never believed in ‘silver bullets’ preferring to take a holistic approach to warfare. Rome may have been the first military in the world to study and adopt foreign ideas in such a systematized way, it could be argued that the Romans were the first professionals to take a scientific approach to warfare.

3) Discipline: Few militaries have ever maintained such a high level of discipline and training as the Roman army. This does not mean the Legions were at the peak of readiness at all times. The Legions often took a drubbing before they toughened up and starting winning.  But the average Legion needed far less time toughening up to be battle ready.

So if the army was all conquering and able to maintain it’s dominance for 600 years, what on earth beat the Romans? After all the empire did ‘fall’. In the end what ended the dominance of Roman armies was the only enemy capable of consistently defeating a Roman army: The Romans themselves.  For two centuries the Roman army fought it’s self as one Roman General after another aimed at the purple. Enough generals were successful that the attempt was worth the blood and treasure spent trying. In the second century civil war became a way of life within the Empire. Emperor after emperor tried to put a system together that kept them on top and the army too busy elsewhere to engage in civil war. It never worked, and in the end the Empire tore itself apart.

Raven Games
Raven Games