IN THIS ISSUE: Attack of the Celts! - Confronting the Classical world A N C I E N T
WARFARE VOL Vl, ISSUE 6
Attack of the Celts: Confronting the Classical world With:
• Caesar’s Siege of Alesia • The Celtic sack of Delphi Also:
• Brutality and the Roman soldier • Did Caligula plan to invade Britain? And much more! www.ancient-warfare.com AW VI.6.indd 1
US/CN $9.99 € 7,10
Karwansaray Publishers 01-02-13 11:17
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A N C I E N T
WARFARE Publisher: Rolof van Hövell tot Westerflier Editor in chief: Jasper Oorthuys Editorial staff: Josho Brouwers (editor Ancient Warfare), Dirk van Gorp, Lindsay Powell (news editor) Marketing & media manager: Christianne C. Beall Contributors: Erich B. Anderson, Arnold Blumberg, Duncan B. Campbell, Joseph Hall, Chuck Lyons, Stephano Marchiaro, Patrick Meyer, Lindsay Powell, Michael Taylor, Gareth Williams. Illustrators: José Cabrera, Rocío Espín, Carlos García, Julia Lillo, José Antonio Gutierrez Lopez, Angel García Pinto, Johnny Shumate, Nikolai Zubkhov.
CONTENTS 4 NEWS AND LETTERS THEME
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ATTACK OF THE CELTS
36 DEFEAT AT DELPHI Cursed gold, divine intervention or infantry superiority
SLAUGHTER OR STRATEGY? Roman writers on the Boudican Revolt of AD 60-61
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42 LIGURIAN STONE WARRIORS
The Iron-Age stone sculptures of Lunigiana
13 FACING A ROMAN ASSAULT
44 KILLING BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELD
Brutality and the Roman soldier
The Siege of Maiden Castle, AD 44
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The Roman siege of Alesia
Attack of the Celts! Confronting the Classical world
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28 THE LAST STAND
49 CALIGULA’S CAPERS 20
IN THE SERVICE OF CARTHAGE
Hannibal’s Celtic warriors in the Second Punic War
Did Emperor Caligula plan to invate Britain
Books, games and models
26 THE REENACTOR
Celtic nobleman of 400 BC, near Trier
58 ON THE COVER
ISSN: 2211-5129 Printed in the European Union.
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Extremely rare Iron Age helmet found in Kent An anonymous metal detectorist scanning in a field near Canterbury, England, has found a helmet used in the Iron Age to hold cremated human bones. Described as ‘vanishingly rare’, the helmet, made of copper-alloy, had been turned upside down and used as vessel to contain a human cremation. A brooch found with the helmet likely once fastened a bag holding the bones. Both the helmet and brooch date from the early to mid-first century BC. The helmet is of the so-called ‘Montefortino’ style, named after the town in Italy where the first example of this type was discovered in a Celtic burial. The round bowl of the Canterbury-specimen is largely intact, save for some damage to the crown – which would have featured a raised central knob – and a split across the front brow. The lower edge shows signs of the punched ‘rope’-type decoration, commonly found on this type of protective headgear. The protruding neck guard survives, but the cheek plates are missing. To analyse the helmet and establish details of its manufacture, decoration and use, laser-scanning has been used, according to Dr Steven Willis, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Kent, Canterbury. He also said that a helmet found in Belgium had been similarly used as a container for a cremation burial. “This is a very rare find”, said Julia Farley, Iron Age curator at the British Museum, London. “No other cremation has ever been found in Kent accompanied by a helmet and only a handful of Iron-Age helmets are known from Britain. Therefore we think this example was probably made on the Continent and it is fascinating to speculate how it came to be in a grave in Kent.” In the middle of the first century BC, Julius Caesar was engaged in his war of conquest in Gaul (modern France). Mercenaries are known to have travelled from Britain to join the fighting. One theory is that the person who owned this helmet might have fought in Gaul, against the Romans or even alongside them, eventually returning to Britain with the helmet. Alternatively, it may have been taken from a Roman soldier as a trophy. In 55 and 54 BC, Caesar landed on the Kent coast not far from where the helmet was found. At this time, Montefortino-design helmets were worn by both Gallic and Roman troops. The find spot on farmland was subsequently excavated by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The helmet has been registered as treasure with the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and will remain with the British Museum for the time being.
Trojan War survivors looked west for a new start In the aftermath of war, the survivors of the fall of Troy looked to the west to rebuild their prosperity. This is the conclusion of a study of pottery found at the battle site at Hisarlik in Anatolia in Northwest Turkey. Scientists examined Bronze Age pottery shards from the level of human habitation called Troy VIIa – widely believed to be the city destroyed in the war memorialised by Homer – and the level immediately above it. The study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science (volume 40, 2013) presents compelling statistics-based evidence that the chemical composition of the clay used to make pots before and after the Trojan War were the same. Rather than abandoning the site, it seems the survivors stayed on and continued to use local materials to produce pottery. Before the war, which ended in around 1250 BC, the Trojans had traded with their Hittite neighbours to the east. The Hittites had to abandon the land they controlled along the Aegean Sea around 1210 BC and their own Empire collapsed around 1180 BC. The Trojans had to quickly find a new export markets. They found them in the Balkans. The story told in the Aeneid by Roman poet Vergil has the survivors fleeing west to build a new home, finally establishing one in Italy.
Themes and deadlines
© Brendan Keeley
The following are the themes for the next upcoming issues: - VII.1 Egypt under pressure - VII.2 Wars in Sicily - VII.3 The Early Roman Republic (February 20th) - VII.4 Logistics and the army train (April 20th) - VII.5 The March of the Ten Thousand (June 20th) If you have a proposal that fits our themes, we’d be interested to hear from you to discuss the possibility of publishing an article. Send your proposal – including the angle you propose to take, ideas for illustrations and artwork, and your qualifications – to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do make sure you send them before the proposal deadlines mentioned above.
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Vindolanda produces yet more intriguing finds Leather tent panels, fragments of writing tablets and an inscription to a previously unknown Tungrian water goddess were among the valuable finds from the latest excavations of Roman Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall. According to the 42nd Annual Report just published, the excavations of 2012 were primarily focused on the remains of the third-century extramural settlement in an area between the third-century bathhouse and a Romano-Celtic temple to the west of the fort. They linked the site of this temple to the west wall of the baths, some 65m (213ft) to the east. The dig by staff and volunteers revisited the course of an aqueduct, which provided the bathhouse with fresh water from a natural fissure in the local bedrock. The pottery from many of its channels proved to be pre-Hadrianic in date. Below them were the remains of at least one extramural pre-Hadrianic timber building. This structure had been built in wattle and daub with foundations set into the natural boulder clay, a style of construction used widely within the timber forts at Vindolanda. A small trench produced many perfectly preserved items from within the laminated carpet layers on the floor of the building. These included over sixty items of footwear, leather tent panels, and fragments of three different stylus tablets. A final area of exploration to the south of the Romano-Celtic temple and water tank uncovered third-century roads and cobbled areas as well as the northern defensive ditch from the Period IV Vindolanda fort dated to ca. AD 105–120, before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Artefacts from this area included pottery lamps, wine amphorae and face pots. An inscription carved in stone came from one of the Vindolanda pre-Hadrianic garrisons, Cohors I Tungrorum recruited originally from men of the Tungri tribe resident in Gallia Belgica, in modern Belgium. The inscription was dedicated to a female deity named as ‘AHVARDVA’, a previously unknown water goddess sacred to the Tungri. A headless stone statue of the goddess Fortuna was also discovered close by during the excavations. Despite some of the worst rain in years, staff assisted by students of the University of Western Ontario persevered with their dig of the adjacent ‘North Field’ site. In one of the multiple ditches they explored, five human long bones were found among animal remains. Archaeologists speculate that these may come from a conflict event between the Roman garrison and the native British population. “However, confirmation of this will have to await the results of post excavation analysis”, Andrew Birley, Director of Excavations, The Vindolanda Trust, told Ancient Warfare. In April 2013, the Vindolanda Trust will embark on its most challenging research projects since its inception in the early 1970s. Code-named ‘Frontiers in Transition’, the plan of work encompasses three crucial areas of the site, and aims to build a comprehensive picture of life at Vindolanda from the pre-conquest to post-Roman periods. Establishing the earliest date and route of the Stanegate road in the field to the north of Vindolanda and locating the pre-Hadrianic headquarters buildings and granaries below the Severan barracks, are key objectives of the project. The excavations will take place over five years. The Trust will post progress updates online at http://vindolanda.blogspot.co.uk
Fifth-millennium pogrom ended Europe’s first ‘civilization’ What may have been Europe’s first ‘civilisation’ was destroyed by fire in a brutal attack by invaders. The evidence has been found at Yunatsite near Pazardzhik in the Upper Thracian Lowland of Southern Bulgaria. Yunatsite is a Tell, a mound containing archaeological remains created by twenty or more levels of human occupation and later abandoned. It measures about 110m (360ft) in diameter and 12m (39ft) in height. The Tell contains remains of an urbanized settlement dated at its earliest to the early fifth millenium BC. Excavators at the ‘prototown’ have unearthed artefacts such as weapons, Spondylus jewels, decorated fine ware pottery and shards marked by characters or pictograms. Evidence of structures dated to 4900 BC, include fortifications and a recently discovered wooden platform that was likely the floor of a building, which showed signs of having been destroyed by fire. Yavor Boyadzhiev, Dig Director of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museums, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences said, “The Copper-Age settlement was destroyed by invaders around 4200–4100 BC.” Among the ruins of the latest Chalcolithic period occupation, the skeletons of its last living inhabitants – mainly children, elderly men and women – were found. Boyadzhiev describes it as “a testimony of a cruel massacre”. Some survivors apparently returned and reoccupied the devastated settlement but not long after they quit. Tell Yunatsite was abandoned for more than a thousand years. In 2013 archaeologists hope to explore the Early–Middle Copper Age structures and the earliest prehistoric fortification wall of the settlement. To apply for a place on the excavation team, contact the Balkan Heritage Field School online at http://www.bhfieldschool.org/bh2013yunatsite.html
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THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
Attack of the Celts! In 106 BC, a Roman army captured the Gallic stronghold of Tolosa and appropriated a vast treasure hoard. It was soon claimed that they had recaptured the spoils that a band of marauding Gauls had originally looted from the Greek sanctuary at Delphi in 279 BC. The claim, while dubious at best, nonetheless illustrates the ancient tendency to lump Celtic peoples together, treating separate raids by distinct peoples as part of a single menace. In the ancient retelling, both Rome and Greece were sacked by a chieftain named Brennus (albeit in different centuries), a neat onomastic coincidence that is likely too good to be true. By Michael Taylor
The Celts did not identify themselves as a single people or culture in the same way that the Greeks did. There was no pan-Celtic identity, although some tribes did form local alliances and regional confederacies. Indeed, the Celts were in some ways constructed twice: first through the crude lens of ancient ethnography, and again through the modern enthusiasms of nationalist historians who emphasized the Celtic heritage of modern nations and peoples. Although the term ‘Celt’ (Galli/ Galatai, Celtae/Keltoi) will always be in need of deconstruction, this does not necessarily prevent generalizations about the Celtic peoples of the ancient world. They spoke an Indo-European language descended from Proto-Celtic and possessed certain shared cultural characteristics, including – with some exceptions – a broad geographic band of material culture referred to by archaeologists as “La Tène.” The origins of the Celts are obscure, although archaeologists and linguists today favor the notion that ‘Celtic’ spread more through linguistic and cultural osmosis, rather than through violent migration and invasion. Despite linguistic and cultural similarities, Celtic Europe was characterized 6
by vast diversity. In the military sphere, for example, warriors in Britain still fought mounted on chariots into the first century AD. Chariots were common in early Iron-Age graves, and Celtic tribesmen in Northern Italy fought with chariots in the early 200s BC; by the time Caesar invaded Britain, most other Celtic peoples had abandoned chariots, and were renowned for their prowess as cavalrymen. Such diversity extended to cultural institutions as well. The enigmatic druidic priesthood existed in Britain and Transalpine Gaul (and most likely parts of Scotland and Ireland as well), but is unattested among the Celtic peoples living in Northern Italy, Central Europe, and Anatolia. While historical linguistics can piece together the morphological relations of surviving Celtic languages, many of these variants would have been virtually foreign languages to a large proportion of Celtic speakers. For example, a speaker of a ‘P-Celtic’ dialect would call his horse an epos (thus, the horse goddess Epona), while a cavalryman speaking ‘Q-Celtic’ would have called his mount an equos (cf. Latin equus). Celtic tribes did, on occasion, join forces together, a process assisted by linguistic similarities and cultural affinities. In the 220s BC, for example, the Insubres of Northern Italy recruited a large number of Gallic warriors from
across the Alps to aid them in their fight against Rome. In the same fight, however, the Romans were aided by the Cenomani, another North-Italian Celtic group, who viewed the Insubres and their Transalpine muscle as a threat. Ancient observers were often not exactly sure who counted as a Celt. As late as the Augustan era, most Roman authors classified the Cimbri, a migrating group defeated by Gaius Marius, as Celts. A century later, Tacitus, in his own work of ethnographic classification, rebranded them Germanii. Ancient commentators also accepted that various Celtic peoples had their own special features and derived their identity from neighboring peoples: for example, the Celtiberii (Iberian Celts or Celtiberians) in Spain and Gallograeci (Greek-Gauls or Galatians) in Anatolia. Livy (21.38.5) describes the Taurini of the Alps as “half-Gallic” (Semigalli). Tacitus suspected that the Silures of Wales were derived from Iberian stock, and reported that the Caledonians of Scotland claimed Germanic origins, even if he admitted that on the whole the British seemed to be descended from Gauls (Agricola 11.2–3).
The Celt as nemesis Above all, the Greeks and Romans of the Hellenistic world viewed Celtic peoples as terrifying barbarian opponents. Two historical events lay at the heart of Mediterranean fears. The most dramatic one was the Celtic invasion of Greece in 279 BC. Caused by a major migration of Celtic peoples, these invaders defeated and killed the king of Macedonia, Ptolemy Ceraunus, and inflicted significant destruction before crossing the Hellespont and settling in central Anatolia (some three hundred years later, these were the Romanized Galatians proselytized by Paul). For the Romans, the Gallic threat struck earlier, in 387 BC, when a band of Senones destroyed the Roman army at the River Allia and sacked Rome itself,
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THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
Greece in 279 BC. Here, they attack a Thessalian tribe:
“They slaughtered all the males of that people, equally the old men and the babes at the breast. Carving up the most milk-fattened babies, the Gauls drank their blood and gnawed on their flesh. The women and pubescent virgins – those who maintained their pride – killed themselves as soon as the city was taken. The survivors endured the most brutal outrage
and compulsion, as the Gauls were as devoid of mercy as they were of love. Whatever woman chanced upon a Gallic sword killed herself with her own hand; it did not take long for the remaining women to perish from hunger or sleeplessness, raped by a succession of cruel barbarians. They raped those about to die, and those who were already dead.” Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.22.3–5
© José Antonio Gutierrez Lopez
leaving only after extorting a substantial ransom. This was a serious setback, as evidenced by the impressive fortifications erected in the aftermath of the debacle. But the Romans came to view the Gallic sack as such a fundamental and far-reaching catastrophe that Livy hypothesized – incorrectly – that Gauls had destroyed all early Roman historical records, and even blamed the crookedness of Rome’s streets as the by-product of a hasty rebuilding effort in the wake of barbarian arsonists. Perhaps the most devastating description of Celtic peoples on the warpath comes from Pausanias (ca. AD 150), describing the Celts who invaded
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© Jean Christophe Benoist (via Wikimedia Commons)
THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
from the Aeduii, during his conquest of Transalpine Gaul.
The Celt as victim
The so-called ‘Dying Gaul’, a Hellenistic sculpture actually depicting a dying Galatian warrior. The nudity of the figure may or may not have been intended to be heroic; note the torc around his neck and the combed-back hair.
Pausanias’ shrill prose overlooks the fact that almost every ancient people considered murder and rape to be a normal part of sacking a city. Pausanias’ hyperbole aside, it is doubtful the Celts were any more brutal than the Athenians at Melos or the Romans at Carthage. Nonetheless, the passage is indicative of the special fear reserved for Celtic peoples, whose atrocities were portrayed as preternaturally savage. In some instances, Celtic peoples displayed certain cultural attributes that provided fodder for the worst classical stereotypes. Archaeology can confirm examples of the headhunting and human sacrifice similar to the kinds reported by ancient eyewitnesses such as Posidonius and Caesar.
The Celt as mercenary The primary modality of Celtic warfare in the Mediterranean came not in the form of invasion or raiding, but through mercenary service for the more politically and economically advanced states to the south. Celtic warriors provided Mediterranean states with a ready reserve of military manpower and served in the armies of nearly every major Mediterranean power. Yet Celtic mercenaries gained the reputation for being untrustworthy employees. Polybius relates the dubious saga of a brigade of three thousand Gallic mercenaries across the Mediterranean: expelled from their homeland, they entered into Carthaginian service during the First Punic War (2.5–7). Tasked with garrisoning Agrigentum in Sicily, they sacked the city during a gen8
eral mutiny. Relocated to the Eryx, they deserted to the Romans, who subsequently tasked them with guarding the temple of Venus of the Eryx, which they promptly looted. Dishonourably discharged by the Romans, eight hundred were subsequently hired to garrison the city of Phoenice, which they eventually betrayed to Illyrian raiders. The riff reflects not only Polybius’ dim view of mercenaries but also the common construct of the fickle and untrustworthy Gaul. Other employers also faced problems with Celtic mercenary bands. Ptolemy II annihilated a band of four thousand Galatian mercenaries who revolted and took refuge on a Nile island, and then celebrated their destruction as a victory over the Galatian menace. Unpaid Celtic mercenaries formed the core of the rebellion against Carthage following a botched demobilization at the conclusion of the First Punic war. Attalus I of Pergamon recruited a large force of Celtic Aegosagae, who subsequently mutinied during a lunar eclipse and refused to continue their march. Attalus considered massacring the mutineers along with their families, but decided it was more prudent and honourable to settle them on the Hellespont, retaining them for future use. Despite these incidents, ancient states continued to avidly recruit Celtic manpower. Four thousand Celtiberian mercenaries fought to the death for Carthage at the battle of Campus Magnus in 204 BC, even as Carthaginian citizens turned and fled. Caesar was heavily reliant on Gallic cavalry, particularly
While stereotyped as vicious warriors, Celtic people often found themselves the victims of horrifying depredations. Roman military efforts in Northern Italy, while initially rooted in defensive concerns against Gallic raids, quickly turned into vicious land-grabs in the fertile Po River Valley. First the Senones and then the Boii were forcibly expelled in operations that today might be classified as ethnic cleansing. Caesar’s supposed claim that he killed a million Gauls and enslaved another million is gross exaggeration, but hints at the brutal ferocity of Roman conquest. When Caesar captured the hill fort of Uxellodunum, he ordered the hands of every rebel amputated, a gruesome mutilation that turned the captured warriors into helpless cripples, a burden on their society and a savage warning to others. Grim admiration of Gallic suffering is on display in perhaps the most famous Hellenistic sculpture of the dying Gaul, in which a mortally wounded, nude Galatian warrior lies supine, stoically waiting for death to overtake him. Its companion piece, the so-called Ludovisi Gaul, depicts a defeated Galatian stabbing himself with great bravado, having already slain his wife; he chooses a noble death before enslavement. Both statues are believed to have been commissioned by Attalus I to celebrate a Galatian victory, but the sculptor chose to highlight the patient suffering of the Celtic victim over the barbarism and terror of the Gallic menace. •
Michael Taylor is a regular contributor. Further reading - Barry Cunliffe, The Celts: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2003). - Greg Woolf, Tales of the Barbarians (Cambridge MA 2011). - Miranda Green (ed.), The Celtic World (London 1995). - J.H.C. Williams, Beyond the Rubicon: Romans and Gauls in Republican Italy (Oxford 2001).
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Roman writers on the Boudican Revolt of AD 60–61
Slaughter or strategy? Many view the Celts as being both reckless and fervid in their military affairs. One example given is Boudica of the Iceni. As a consequence of the alleged mistreatment of her family she is reported as wreaking a devastating revenge upon the Romans. Some claim this malicious attack was the result of a woman scorned: an impulsive and destructive reaction. But was it? Is there evidence for planning and strategy in the original sources? Can we dispel the notion of the continually erratic, temperamental Celt? By Gareth Williams
What were the origins of this rebellion? Tacitus’ Annals inform us that, before his death, “Prasutagus, King of the Iceni (…) had made the emperor co-heir with his own two daughters. Prasutagus hoped by this submissiveness to preserve his kingdom and household from attack. But it turned out otherwise” (14.31.1– 2). The Icenian kingdom was plundered, his widow Boudica was flogged, and his daughters’ raped; Icenian nobles were deprived of their hereditary estates. Cassius Dio also reveals economic difficulties. The Romans, having lent large sums of money to the tribal nobility, were now demanding repayment (Roman History 62.2). Tacitus exposes Romans indulging in “greed and riotous living”; they were “stealing their [the Britons’] homes, abducting their children, demanding levies from them” (Agricola 15).
Preparation for rebellion Boudica, rather than react emotionally, constructed a strategy for revenge. Harnessing the dissatisfaction of the Celtic nobility she essayed a coalition of tribes through clandestine ‘councils’ (consilia, singular consilium) where disgruntled debates had already existed (Agricola 15). Did Boudica now become the sole leader or the figurehead of an aristocratic alliance? With a literary flourish, Tacitus states that “they
flew to arms, and incited to rebellion the Trinovantes and others”, determined to retain an independent status (Annals 14.31.3). Is it possible to identify these “others”? Besides the Iceni and the Trinovantes, also situated north of the River Thames, there were the Catuvellauni, a tribe with a past history of opposition to Rome. The fact that Boudica selected to attack the towns of Camulodunum (in the territory of the Trinovantes) and Verulamium (in the territory of the Catuvellauni) may have served to either consolidate or secure an alliance. Stretching from the Midlands northwards were the Coritani, who, although acceding to Roman rule, contained powerful dissident factions. If these could be convinced, they would constitute powerful collaborators. It was inadvisable to send agents south of the Thames to request support. Here were the Cantiaci (Kent) whom Caesar described as “the most civilised” (Gallic Wars 5.14), and the Regni. Concerning the latter, Tacitus states that their king, Cogidumnus, “remained continuously loyal down to our own times” (Agricola 14). Such tribes generally benefitted from Roman rule. Therefore, rather than ‘flying’ into battle, reinforcing the image of the ‘emotional’ Celt, the massing and arming of tribal contingents would take time. Boudica, it is reported, mustered an army of 120,000. This was no reckless reaction.
Why put their trust in Boudica? Dio explains:
“The person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Boudica, a Briton woman possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch.” Roman History 62.2 While we cannot completely verify the accuracy of Dio’s description, some aspects can be affirmed. A high-born Celtic woman’s hair was long and well groomed; the golden torc is thoroughly established as is the apparel of divers colours – possibly alluding to colourful Celtic ‘tartans’. For Romans, this woman was shocking, contravening the acceptable mores of civilised Roman society; Boudica was portrayed as a loud, offensive Barbarian. Did Druids endorse her crusade? They were certainly under duress from Roman forces as Paulinus, the governor of Britain, was campaigning against them in their heartland of Mona, North Wales. What better than to encourage a distraction; to lure the Romans away? Besides their religious prominence, they secured a pre-eminent role in political decisions. Caesar writes: “it is they who decide in almost all disputes, public and private.” (Gallic Wars 6.3). Ancient Warfare VI-6
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the vexillation. Tacitus emphasizes the “rashness” (temeritas) of Cerialis: had he failed to reconnoitre the road ahead and marched his vexillation into a trap? There certainly seems to be an element of strategy in the Celtic responses to Roman determinations. Boudica now marched toward Londinium (London).
© Gareth Williams
Meanwhile, having suppressed his enemies, Paulinus acted immediately:
Viroconium (Wroxeter) became the fourth largest city in Roman Britain. The buildings shown here are from the second century AD. A legionary fortress was established c. AD 58, possibly constructed by cohorts of Legion XIV Gemina. Members of this legion had been gathered here from throughout the Midlands, including the fort at Mancetter. The Roman city was built after the soldiers moved further north to Deva (Chester).
The Druids possibly influenced the religious aspect of Boudica’s political harangue as noted by Dio: “When she had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure” (Roman History 62.6). The hare was considered sacred to Andraste, the goddess of victory, supplying a divine sign to spur the Britons to action and begin the campaign. This manufactured augury was perhaps evidence of both Boudica’s intelligence and a consequence of Druidic manipulation.
The campaign begins Rather than a sudden outburst of bloodletting, Boudica chose an appropriate target: Camulodunum (Colchester), once the capital of the Trinovantes, but now a Roman colony. The re-settled Roman veterans had dispossessed the inhabitants, but – foolishly – they had neglected to fortify the town’s defences. When news arrived concerning an attack, the colonists requested help from the procurator, Decianus, who tragically sent them “two hundred men, without their proper weapons” (Annals 14.32.1). That Decianus was contacted 10
and able to assign a skeleton force further reveals the passing of time before Boudica attacked Camulodunum. Although the defenders determined to dig a ditch and erect ramparts, their intentions were counteracted by “covert adherents of the rebellion who interfered with their plans”; these same undercover agents also took steps to prevent any non-combatants being evacuated, thus compounding the slaughter to follow (Annals 14.31.3–14.32.1). The implication of forward planning by Boudica is plain to see. Her first attack overwhelmed the combatants, and the whole colony was pillaged and set alight. Retreating to the temple of the deified Claudius, the troops withstood two days of siege before the building was stormed and the defenders killed. Meantime, Cerialis, a legate of the vexillation of Legion IX Hispana, was marching his soldiers to intercept the enemy. Boudica would surely have appointed scouts to monitor their movements, and, aware of their approach, she departed Camulodunum to face them: “Turning to meet Petillius Cerialis, commander of the Ninth Legion, who was arriving to the rescue, the victorious Britons routed the legion and slaughtered the infantry to a man” (Annals 14.32.2). This planned ambush shattered
“Suetonius, on the other hand, with remarkable firmness, marched straight through the midst of the enemy upon London (…) Once there, he felt some doubt whether to choose it as a base of operations; but, on considering the fewness of his troops and the sufficiently severe lesson which had been read to the rashness of Petillius, he determined to save the country as a whole at the cost of one town.” Tacitus, Annals 14.33.1 Paulinus recognized the futility of defending another unwalled conurbation. He abandoned the town and began a trek north along Watling Street to rejoin his marching forces. As feared by the inhabitants, Boudica’s army later attacked and laid waste the town. But why consume precious time over the trading centre of Londinium? Certainly, Boudica desired to appease the Celts’ greed for booty and supplies. Nevertheless, the bridge at Londinium was situated at a convergence of important roads and its destruction would retard Roman reinforcements from the southeast of Britain. Eliminating this link meant delaying the time when Boudica would have to fight on both fronts. Even if the Romans landed ships at Londinium, the complete destruction of the town denied these soldiers necessary basic provisions; further evidence of a strategy over indiscriminate slaughter. Boudica, moving north from Londinium, then attacked – but did not completely destroy – Verulamium (St.
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Albans); again, perhaps a strategy to induce another tribe, the Catuvellauni, to fully support her by ‘returning’ the town to them. Some have suggested that this attack on Verulamium was to appease Boudica’s allies, the Trinovantes, erstwhile enemies of the Catevallauni. But would it make sense to antagonise the Catevallauni, making the coming battle with Paulinus even more hazardous by creating enemies behind as well as before her? Tacitus informs us that some “seventy thousand Roman citizens and allies fell in the places mentioned” (Annals 14.33.1). Boudica’s army was now growing, perhaps becoming difficult to control. What opposing force would she encounter? Paulinus possessed “the Fourteenth Legion [XIV Gemina], with a detachment of the Twentieth [later, XX Valeria Victrix] and auxiliaries from the nearest stations, altogether some ten thousand armed men” (Annals 14.34.1). There had been some setbacks for Paulinus: “Poenius Postumus, camp prefect of the Second Legion [II Augusta] (…) had violated the rules of the service by ignoring the orders of his commander” and refused to merge his legion with Paulinus’s Roman forces (Annals 14.37.1). Such a damning statement could prove unjust. Archaeology has uncovered evidence that unrest might have been breaking out in Poenius’ jurisdiction (Exeter, south west Britain) at roughly the time that Boudica’s rebellion was gaining momentum. Possibly, in order to contain such an outbreak, Poenius thought it unwise to commit men to support Paulinus. His ‘honourable’ suicide after the Roman victory speaks volumes about his character. However, according to Dio, Boudica “was at the head of an army of about two hundred and thirty thousand men” (Roman History 62.8). How seriously should we take this figure? It is of interest to note the description of Britain by Julius Caesar: “The population is innumerable; the farm buildings are found very close together” (Gallic Wars 5.12). Tacitus confirms that the Celtic army consisted of “unprecedented numbers” (Annals 14.34.1). Though these numbers cannot be verified, we can confidently accept that the Romans were heavily outnum-
bered. In fact, Dio insightfully adds that Paulinus was “not willing to risk a conflict with the barbarians immediately, as he feared their numbers (…) but was inclined to postpone battle to a more convenient season” (Roman History 62.8). Tacitus, on the other hand, presents a more resolute Paulinus and notifies us that the Romans were “prepared to abandon delay and contest a pitched battle” (Annals 14.34.1). Boudica needed another victory to secure more allies.
The deciding battle The exact whereabouts of the final, decisive battle is open to debate. Tacitus’ description reports a “position approached by a narrow defile [fauces, i.e. a pass, narrow channel or chasm] and secured in the rear by a wood” that was searched to ensure that no enemies lay hidden. Paulinus would not fall victim to an ambush as Cerialis did (Annals 14.34.1). His caution reveals his acknowledgement of the intelligence of his foe. The generally accepted site of the battle is a gorge close to the vexillation fortress at Mancetter. There are topographical problems: the existence of marshy ground and the River Anker running through the plain, neither being mentioned by our sources. Also, the proposed defile would create such a crowded area that the Roman forces would be unable to manoeuvre although Tacitus does describe “serried [frequens, crowded] ranks, the light armed troops on either side (…) the cavalry massed on the extreme wings” (Annals 14.34.1). In contrast, Dio confides that Paulinus did not “dare join battle in a single compact force, for fear of being surrounded and cut to pieces. He therefore separated his army into three divisions” (Roman History 62.8). What of Boudica’s forces?
“They were in unprecedented numbers, and confidence ran so high that they brought even their wives to witness the victory and installed them in waggons, which they had stationed just over the extreme fringe of the plain.” Tacitus, Annals 14.34.1
Both Dio’s and Tacitus’ brief account of the battle helps us to discern certain phases. The Britons attacked, throwing waves of screaming infantry and chariots at the Roman line. As they approached, Paulinus gave the order and trumpets signalled the first row – probably of Legion XIV – to let loose their pila from behind their shields. The legionnaires moved forwards in “wedge-like formations” using their gladii “to devastating effect.” The British lines began breaking up under this onslaught. Later, “the [Roman] auxiliaries charged in the same style; and the cavalry, with lances extended, broke a way through any parties of resolute men whom they encountered” (Annals 14.37.1). The Britons sought escape, but their own waggons barred their way. Giving no quarter, the Romans indiscriminately slaughtered them. Tacitus claims that 80,000 Britons and 400 Romans lost their lives. Boudica survived, but later died either through suicide (according to Tacitus) or disease (according to Dio). By examining the sources, it can be demonstrated that the Celts were perfectly able to compose a sound strategy in their attempt to throw off the Roman yoke. However, despite effective tactics, it was the very nature of Celtic society, based on individual honour and glory, which defeated them. As Boudica’s army grew it weakened, individuals looked to benefit themselves rather than pursue a national freedom. In contrast, Paulinus’ smaller Roman contingent exuded power and acted together to benefit Roman interests. •
Gareth Williams is a regular contributor.
Further reading - John Waite, Boudica’s Last Stand (Charleston 2011). - Stephen Allen, Lords of Battle (Oxford 2007). - Nic Fields, Boudicca’s Rebellion AD 60–61 (Oxford 2011). - John Peddie, Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain (Gloucestershire 1997).
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The Siege of Maiden Castle, AD 44
How Iron-Age Britons faced a Roman assault Britain, summer of AD 44. On the wide, chalky arable plain of the South West of England, a confederacy of once successful craftsmen and traders anxiously prepared for the arrival of an army of Rome. Their neighbours had already fallen to the invader’s bal-
lista bolt and gladius. Retreating behind the great hill of swerving ditches and steep earth ramparts begun by their ancestors over six hundred years before, the people called Durotriges gathered to make their last stand at Maiden Castle. By Lindsay Powell
Maiden Castle rises imposingly from the gently undulating Dorset Downs in the southern part of territory once ruled by an Iron-Age nation of British Celts known by the name Durotriges. Various translations of the tribal name have been offered, ranging from the plain ‘Fort Dwellers’ (based on the understanding that duno means ‘fort’ and trig means ‘dweller’ in Brythonic, the language of the ancient Britons) or ‘Dwellers by the Water’ (from the similarity of duro to the Welsh dŵr) to the evocative ‘Water-Rat Kings’ (from rigon meaning ‘king’). They are first mentioned by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) of Alexandria in his Geography. He writes, “toward the west and south of these” – referring to the Dobunni and Belgae nations – “are the Durotriges whose town is Dunium” and gives the co-ordinates “18°00, 52°40”, which places it on the south coast of “Albion” (Ptolemy, Geography 2.3). Some have speculated that Dunium refers to Maiden Castle, and others that the modern place name derives from Mai Dun meaning ‘Great Hill’. The Durotriges were a confederacy of clans centred on what is now the modern county of Dorset, once known
by the Saxon name Wessex. The rivers Avon and Wylye, as well as the New Forest, separated them from their eastern neighbours, the Atrebates and Belgae. To the west, they shared a border along the Yeo and Parrett Rivers with the Dumnonii. To the north the Brue River formed a border with the Dobunni. The Durotriges leveraged their prime location to its best advantage as middlemen in long-distance trade. They were connected via the Stour River to the Mendips, and by the Parrett River and Bristol Channel to South Wales. These routes gave them access to tradable commodities: metals – copper, iron, lead, silver and tin – as well as hides, shale, salt and wheat, and perhaps slaves too. Having control of the Solent and the natural harbours at Hengistbury Head, Christchurch and Poole, the Durotriges made a living by trading across the English Channel with the Gallic people in Armorica and their entrepôt at St. Malo, Brittany. The appetite of the local British aristocracies for fine Continental imports is confirmed by finds at Hengistbury of black cordoned pottery dated to the first century BC and coins from the Coriosolites, as well as yellow glass, dried figs and raw purple. These domestic and overseas connections made the Durotriges wealthy between 100– 60 BC.
The ultimate British hill-fort? The antecedents of these first-century entrepreneurs had made their living by farming, and in ancient Wessex that meant cultivating wheat. Late-BronzeAge and Early-Iron-Age communities typically stored and guarded their agricultural surpluses in pits dug into the ground. They protected them with earthworks formed by digging ditches and heaping up earth behind them in banks to form an enclosed space, usually with a single entrance. The British countryside is dotted with hundreds of these so-called ‘hill-forts’. The county of Dorset alone has 31. Rather than constructed as defensive positions against assault, archaeologists posit that the earliest hill-forts performed social functions as places for the community to come together and settle, and the economic purpose of storing its sources of wealth. In this context ‘hillfort’ is a misnomer. In southern Britain, these structures were often territorial boundary markers – on the escarpment edge of the chalk Downs or overlooking river valleys – next to areas of fertile land. Maiden Castle began in around 600 BC, when its first builders cleared the trees on a ridge of the South Winterbourne valley, rising 40m (131ft) above the surrounding forested countryside, and dug a single V-shaped ditch 8.4m (28ft) deep around it to enclose an area of 6.4 hectares (16 acres). Entrances pierced the circumvallation, one on the west side and two on the east. Around 450 BC, populations across the region went through dramatic social and economic change, perhaps because of war between neighbours over territory or power struggles between aristocrats. Small hill-forts were abandoned, while the larger ones were augmented in both the scale and complexity of their defences. Ancient Warfare VI-6
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© Rocío Espín
THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
This view of Maiden Castle from the southeast shows the elaborate arrangement of ramparts, ditches and berms of the hill-fort which were carved out of the South Dorset Ridgeway. While not the biggest multivallate earthwork in Europe, it is certainly one of the most iconic. By AD 44, the western end was largely unoccupied, but the eastern end was dotted with workshops for metal working and grain processing.
The wealth of the Durotriges came from grain. Large volumes of spelt wheat were brought to the hill-fort for processing – threshing, cleaning and grinding – into flour. Postholes for platforms, which are believed to have been granaries, have been found around the inner edge of the site. Such rich stores of valuable resources would need to be well defended. At Maiden Castle, the adjoining Hog Hill was annexed and the existing ditches and banks were remodelled to incorporate it. New ditches and banks were added to in front of the gates. Now encompassing 19 hectares (47 acres) the builders heightened the inner rampart by another 3.5m (11ft) with chalk rubble and stones, overlaid with soil and topped it with a palisade. Round houses were erected in orderly rows along streets on the interior 14
space. A few may have been homes, but some were workshops. Metals acquired through trade were reworked into pins, jewellery and rivets on the site. Pottery finds reveal the inhabitants preferred wares made in the area around Poole on the coast, rather than locally produced items. In the Mid-Late Iron Age, the community at Maiden Castle may have formed alliances with their neighbours, reducing the threat of conflict. People felt comfortable enough to relocate to farmsteads in the surrounding countryside. By 100 BC, the western half of the Castle seems to have been abandoned. At the eastern end of the hill-fort new buildings were erected, but located randomly and without the rigid order of streets characteristic of the previous development phase.
During this period, Maiden Castle became an important production site serving southern Britain. The discovery of 62kg (140lbs) of iron slag during excavations of an area just 30 square metres (323 square feet) indicates the people who worked here used local marcasite nodules or imported ore from the Weald and Southwest England to produce as much as 200kg (441lbs) of iron from it. Spear blades, sword hilts, kitchen knives, awls, chisels, suspension rings for bronze buckets, as well as bridle bits, all attest to the flexible capabilities of the on-site ironsmiths. Bronze was also reworked into brooches and needles. Pottery vessels, from storage jars to small bowls, were also made, some of it to a very high standard of design and finish. However, grain continued to be the main source of the Durotriges’ wealth. Pulses and beans, as well as leafy greens and root vegetables, were grown. Excavated bones hint at a diet rich in animal protein – cows, sheep, pigs, as well as dogs (two are known to have been skinned and butchered for
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meat). Cows also provided milk, and sheep wool. Remains of horses have been found, which is to be expected of a ‘Celtic’ society. Some historians see a breakdown of communal ownership and a greater diffusion of power and wealth in Late-Iron-Age society to individuals. The site’s defences underwent changes: some of the ditches around the eastern gateway were filled in, and settlement spilled out beyond the entrance and into the flat spaces between the banks or ditched enclosures nearby. War was now very far from the preoccupations of the inhabitants of Maiden Castle. The supersized Iron-Age ‘industrial estate’ – for it was never a town – may even have been partly abandoned at the western end and become a community cemetery.
Beyond the British King’s realm Over the next century, the fortunes of the Durotriges waned. Part of the change was likely connected with the fall of their Armorican trading partners in 56 BC to Julius Caesar during the Gallic War. The degrading of Durotrigan coinage eloquently attests to the rapid decline in their economic fortunes. In the 60s BC, yellow gold coins were hoarded as a form of wealth, while debased white gold coins were minted for domestic circulation, but these disappear entirely once the war in Gaul ended. Silver coins took their place, but became increasingly rare until ca. 30 BC, when they were replaced by bronze. The profits of international trade now shifted eastwards to the Atrebates (‘Settlers’) who enjoyed good relations with the Roman authorities and their merchants. Only fourteen sherds of amphorae have been found at Maiden Castle, suggesting that Roman material culture so beloved of barbarian peoples was not penetrating deep into the South Downs. Domestic British politics also impacted the Durotriges. Before Julius Caesar arrived on the island’s shores he first sent Commius of the Gallic Atrebates – presumably related to the nation of the same name in Britain – ahead as an emissary to persuade the Britons not to resist him. Instead, they arrested the foreigner and held him captive. They handed him back to Caesar when he landed in 55 BC. On the sec-
ond visit in 54 BC, Commius returned with Caesar and brokered the surrender of Cassivellaunus of the Catuvellauni. He remained loyal to the general during the Gallic revolt of 54 BC, but ultimately turned against him and, being pursued by the Romans, he escaped to Britain. By ca. 30 BC, he was king of the British Atrebates and had established a dynasty at Calleva (modern Silchester), which succeeded him. Not distracted by foreign invaders, by 10 BC one powerful British king, Commius’ neighbour and rival Cunobelinus (‘Hound of Belenus’) – perhaps a great grandson of Cassivellaunus – dominated Central and Southeastern England. Suetonius calls Cunobelinus Britannorum rex, “King of the Britons” (Suetonius, Caligula 44.2). From his capitals at Camulodunum (modern Colchester) and Verulamium (St Albans), he wielded power directly over the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni. Through his son, Amminus, he indirectly ruled the Cantii (or Cantiaci) in Kent. Around AD 25, Cunobelinus’ brother, Epaticcus, marched on Calleva and seized the capital of the Atrebates, until then still an independent nation living by international trade as the find of an olive stone during excavations by the University of Reading in 2012 has shown. Its ousted ruler was rex Verica, son of Commius, as his coins boasted, and an ally of the Romans. After Epaticcus’ death in ca. AD 35, Verica reclaimed some of his lost realm, but
five or so years later he was “driven out of the island as a result of an uprising” (assuming he is the same “Berikos” of Cassius Dio’s Roman History 60.19.1) and sought the assistance of the emperor in Rome. If he needed one, Claudius now had his casus belli for the invasion of Britannia. Meantime, Epaticcus was succeeded by another of Cunobelinus’ sons, Caratacus. The kings of the Durotriges continued to live independently, trading with their neighbours, but perhaps with the ever-present threat of annexation by the Hound of Belenos or his ally, rigon Boduoc (‘Battle Crow’) of the Dobunni to their north. The coins of the Durotriges are mostly found within Dorset, but not far beyond the county line. Their abstract designs of crescents and dots omit the names of their leaders. As a result not a single one of their rulers is known to us. The growing insecurity of their borderlands is reflected at Maiden Castle where there is evidence of a new discipline in the management of the site. The open storage pits were filled in. The defences were bolstered. The inner rampart was raised to stand over 5.5m (18ft) and reinforced with a thick layer of earth, and substantial posts were installed at the rear of it to support a fence on top with a continuous walkway. Excavations under Niall M. Sharples in 1986 found thousands of round pebbles. They were identified as having been collected from Chesil
The Great Hill Maiden Castle is one of the best surviving examples of a multivallate hill-fort in Britain. The structure visible today largely dates from the Middle Iron Age, beginning around 450 BC. Four ramparts were built on the south side separated by three deep ditches. As the north side of the site was much steeper, only two ditches were needed there; they were also arranged closer together than on the opposite side. The entrances were remodelled several times. Replacing the simple double openings in the single rampart built during the Early Iron Age (ca. 600 BC), the straight access routes were extended to accommodate for the addition of the Middle-Iron-Age ditches and banks. The defences in front of the gates were later radically redesigned by interleaving the ramparts with berms to create narrow, winding approach ways. These enabled defenders to strike at invaders from a variety of angles. In the Late Iron Age, beginning ca. 100 BC, only the inner rampart was strengthened by heightening the structure and adding timber posts to secure it in place.
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Beach 16km (10 miles) away and had been carefully piled up in caches near the eastern entrance ready to be used as ammunition by slingers and stone throwers against an invader.
The Romans are coming! The anticipated enemy did not come not from Britain, but from across the Channel. In the spring of AD 43, a massive invasion force led by A. Plautius and Cn. Sentius Saturninus landed in Britain intent on outright conquest. In charge of the western army group, comprising Legion II Augusta and auxiliaries, was T. Flavius Vespasianus. Suetonius remarks that
“he fought thirty battles with the enemy. He reduced to subjection two powerful nations, more than twenty oppida, and the island of Vectis, near Britain. Suetonius, Vespasian 4.1
a barrage of missiles down upon the Britons. Excavations have revealed that one house in particular was the prime target. Study of it remains and of a neighbouring building produced eleven iron tipped bolts fired by ballistae or catapults located outside the southeast corner of the hill-fort. Still in situ when discovered, these were the only traces of the Roman attack. Did the house belong to a chieftain who, witnessing the precision missile attack, quickly decided to surrender? No human or animal bones were ever found to reveal their side of the story. Hod Hill was evacuated and a garrison of Roman troops was billeted in a small fort erected in the northwest corner soon after. Just 32km (20 miles) to the southwest of Hod Hill the inhabitants of the area around Maiden Castle had to make a choice: to fight or to surrender. These were people more accustomed to peace than war. Graves show they used ear scoops and wore fine jewellery, flaunting necklaces of glass beads, armlets of iron or shale, and iron fingerrings. Unusually for Britons at least one wore a bronze toe-ring. Yet, some chose to defend their way of life. No written account survives of the siege,
© Jim Champion (via Wikimedia Commons)
The reference to insula Vectis, the Isle of Wight, confirms that Vespasian was on the south coast. The identity of the “two
powerful nations” is obscure and could be any pairing of the Atrebates, Belgae, Dumnonii or Durotriges. Togidubnus, king of the Regni (‘Stiff Ones’), had already sided with the Romans and provided them with a place to build an army supply dump at Fishbourne. Maiden Castle is almost certainly one of the oppida Suetonius refers to. By AD 44 or 45, Vespasian had probably reached the territorial border of the Durotriges’ homeland. The hillforts in East Dorset – such as Badbury Hill, Bindon Hill, Chalbury, Hambledon Hill and Winklebury – fell to the invaders. The defenders at Hod Hill found themselves besieged by the Roman army. The 3 hectare (7 acre) site at Blackmore Vale on the Dorset chalk uplands near Blandford Forum was surrounded by a single rampart and deep ditch. Excavations suggest the inhabitants were expecting an attack and had increased the size of the rampart and packed the walkway with flint paving. They were unable to complete other reinforcements before Vespasian’s army arrived. It was a textbook direct assault. Artillery was brought close to the rampart and their legionary gunners rained
A view of the south side of Maiden Castle, Dorset today. In AD 44, the outer ditches were deeper, while the inner rampart stood 5.5m (18ft) high and was topped with a wooden palisade.
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© Nikolai Zubkhov
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Men of the Durotriges defend the eastern gateways of Maiden Castle. Iron Age British warriors were famous for fighting naked with just their blue woad markings for protection. While iron spear heads and sword hilt guards have been found, caches of tens of thousands of beach pebbles suggest stone throwing was the weapon of choice at this hill-fort.
but archaeology provides clues as to the course of events. Grabbing pebbles from their caches, stone throwers urgently scrambled onto the ramparts ready for action. Equipped with slings of braided flax, hemp or wool, each about 61–100cm (2–3.3ft) in length, a practiced warrior could throw a stone over a distance of 400m (1,312ft). A flying stone striking the head can kill a man. The Roman legate critically assessed the situation. Faced with a potential rainstorm of deadly slingshot, he decided to keep his distance and deployed his artillery pieces and units of archers with their composite bows. Roman tension and torsion weapons could shoot sharps and arrows over hundreds of metres, depending on size. A small catapult launching a 91.5cm (36in) bolt could even hit a target some 370m (1,213ft) away.
If both sides could match each other for distance, the Britons had the advantage of volume of projectiles, but the Romans gained in accuracy of fire. Almost a dozen iron arrowheads, either with a pyramidal point – proof of a bombardment by Roman legionary artillery – or the simpler flat-bladed type with turn-over socket, were discovered scattered around the eastern entrance. This was Iron-Age surface-to-surface missile warfare! Located directly in front of the twin portals of the eastern entrance was a row of huts, perhaps for sentries. The thick layer of ash associated with the postholes suggested to R.E. Mortimer Wheeler, a veteran of World War I who first excavated Maiden Castle scientifically in the late 1930s and early 1940s, that they were deliberately set alight. He imagined a screen of thick, acrid smoke curling upwards from the raging
fires as Roman troops advanced along the twisting approach road towards the gates, perhaps with shields up in testudo formation. From the tops of the interleaved ramparts, the British resisted, lobbing missiles at the enemy from all sides, but they could not defeat the invaders against whose armour pebbles simply bounced off. The defenders on the forward ramparts, now cut off from the main fort, were picked off one by one. In a glass case in the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, are the bones of an Iron Age Briton laid on his back with a Roman arrowhead embedded in a vertebra. The small, flat leaf-shaped blade – possibly fired by an archer’s bow rather than a catapult – sealed the fate of this individual. The men atop the walls guarding the portals did not even have time to exhaust their cache of beach pebbles when the Romans burst through the gates. The defenders raced to engage them in close combat using any weapons to hand. “Confusion and massacre dominated the scene,” writes Wheeler in his report, “men and women, young and old, were Ancient Warfare VI-6
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savagely cut down, before the legionaries were called to heel and the work of systematic destruction began” (p. 62). Despite its deep ditches and high ramparts, the Mai Dun fell.
The fog of wartime archaeology In the darkness of that dreadful night, Wheeler imagined the beaten Durotriges digging graves for their dead. His excavation exposed skeletons of men and women of all ages in the berm before the eastern gateways in what he emotively called a “war cemetery”:
“sometimes two persons were huddled together in the same grave. In ten cases extensive cuts were present on the skull, some on the top, some on the front, some on the back. In another case, one of the arrowheads already described was found actually embedded in the vertebra, having entered the body from the front below the heart. The victim had been finished off with a cut on the head. Yet another skull had been pierced by an implement of square section, probably a ballista bolt. The last two and some of the sword-cuts were doubtless battle wounds; but one skull, which had received no less than nine savage cuts, suggests the fury of massacre rather than the tumult of battle – a man does not stay to kill his enemy eight or nine times in the melee; and the neck of another skeleton had been dislocated, probably by hanging.” Mortimer Wheeler, p. 63 The question is, was Wheeler’s vivid account written in 1942–43 accurate, or was his view coloured by two World Wars, during which he himself served? A subsequent biometric examination in 2010–11 did confirm that the condition of the bones “conformed to a catastrophic proﬁle, as greater numbers of young adult males had been buried dur18
ing this phase of occupation,” and that the findings suggest “that individuals had died during an episode of warfare” (Redferna and Chamberlain, p. 68). However, another, quite different narrative is possible. Sharples has pointed out that only fourteen of the 52 bodies excavated – there were likely twice as many in the original cemetery – showed signs of trauma. Some of the arrows may actually date from a time before the Romans arrived. He also believes that the famous arrowhead in the back of a Briton may actually be the head of a spear! Did the Durotriges at Maiden Castle, in fact, muster just a token resistance – as now seems was the case at Hod Hill – before surrendering to the inevitable? Seen this way, Vespasian’s victory over a few dozen ironworkers, jewellers and millers armed with pebbles, and whose unprotected heads were split open by his professional, battle-hardened soldiers, seems less than glorious. In truth, based on the current evidence, the scale and intensity of the Roman siege and of the British defence at Maiden Castle cannot yet be accurately characterised. Wheeler argued that, once in their possession, Roman engineers set to work to “systematically” modify the place for occupation by their own troops; the timbers, which revetted the fighting-platform on the summit of the main rampart, were uprooted; the high stone walls, which flanked the two portals, were demolished, and the approach road was compacted with stones to withstand wear by hobnailboot wearing Roman soldiers. But again a reinterpretation of the archaeology suggests the stone walls may have collapsed through later neglect; and the ash from those so-called ‘sentry huts’ might be from peacetime ironworking, not war damage. In fact, capturing Maiden Castle unharmed must have been a key objective of the Roman commander. Its extensive stores of grain would have been a windfall for the army of the invader on campaign. While other Roman units hunted down Caratacus – now leader of the national resistance in Wales – legion II Augusta headed southwest, leaving a small garrison encamped on the eastern knoll of the hill-fort for the remainder of the campaign. The Durotriges
seem to have lived at the Castle beside the Roman military, or in settlements in the surrounding area at Poundbury and Whitcombe, apparently without incident. Around AD 70, army surveyors laid out the street grid for a new city located 2.5km (1.6 miles) to the northeast. In sight of the old hill-fort, Durnovaria became the capital of the Durotrigan nation and the old hill-fort was abandoned. Today Maiden Castle is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is maintained for modern Britons by English Heritage.•
Welsh-born Lindsay Powell is news editor of Ancient Warfare and author of Eager for Glory. His latest book, Germanicus, will be published by Pen & Sword Books in the Spring of 2013. Further reading - John Creighton, Coins and Power in Late Iron Age Britain (Cambridge 2000). - Barry Cunliffe, Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest (4th ed., London 2004). - Martin Papworth, The Search for the Durotriges: Dorset and the West Country in the Late Iron Age (Stroud 2011). - Andrew Payne, Mark Corney and Barry Cunliffe, The Wessex Hillforts Project: Extensive Survey of Hill-forts in Central Southern England (London 2006). - Rebecca C. Redferna, Andrew T. Chamberlain, ‘A demographic analysis of Maiden Castle hillfort: Evidence for conflict in the late Iron Age and early Roman period’, International Journal of Paleopathology 1.1 (2011), pp. 68–73. - Niall M. Sharples, The English Heritage Book of Maiden Castle (London 1991). - R. E. Mortimer Wheeler, Maiden Castle, Dorset. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London (London 1943).
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Hannibal’s Celtic warriors in the Second Punic War
In the service of Carthage When Alexander the Great asked an envoy of Celtic warriors what they feared most, he expected them to say “You, my Lord.” Instead, they replied: “We fear only that the sky fall and crush us, or the earth open and swallow us, or the sea rise and overwhelm us.” The Macedonian king was not only taken aback by the answer, but furious as well that an insignificant barbarian tribe feared the fantastic more than his realistic military might. In the early fourth century BC, this same confident people initiated an avalanche of devastating incursions into Italy, Eastern Europe, France, Denmark, and the British Isles. In 279 BC, they devastated Alexander’s homeland of Macedonia. The residue of these raids created a ready pool of Celtic warriors ready and able to fight as mercenaries for the highest bidder. One of the foremost of the latter was Carthage, with her deep pockets and thirst for revenge against her old enemy: Rome.
By Arnold Blumberg
We are told by ancient writers that the Celts were fierce fighters. But, above everything else, they were horse-warriors, superb horse warriors. According to the Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo, writing in the first century BC, the Celts “are better as cavalry than as infantry; and the best mercenary cavalry the Romans ever employed.” (Strabo 4.4.2) So renowned they were for their equestrian skills that they were employed by all the major powers (Greek, Carthage and Rome) throughout antiquity.
Hannibal’s Celtic cavalry During the Second Punic War (218–202 BC), the great Carthaginian commander, Hannibal Barca, invaded Italy at the head of a multi-ethnic army which contained small contingents of Celtiberians. These people hailed from the north 20
and northeastern portion of the Iberian Peninsula from the southern margins of the Ebro River valley to the Eastern Meseta. Since they did not inhabit that area of Iberia directly controlled by Carthage (that is, most of the southern half of the peninsula), their status in Hannibal’s army was of a mercenary nature, not allies. According to the Roman historian Livy, writing in the first century BC, elements of Celtiberians were raiding the north of Italy in 218 BC in support of Hannibal’s invasion of that year (Livy 21.57). These horsemen were armed with javelins, swords, and small round shields. For body protection they wore mail shirts and round metal helmets. After the Battle of Vadimo in 283 BC, which ended a series of revolts against them by the Etruscans and their Gallic allies, the Romans relentless pushed the Gauls north until the latter were confined to the reaches of Cisalpine Gaul, the area south and east of the Alps.
Eager to repay the Romans for their aggression, the Celts welcomed the arrival of Hannibal and his army in 218 BC, joining his host in great numbers. Estimates are that perhaps forty per cent of the Carthaginian force that Hannibal led into Italy that year consisted of Celts. Some of the first Celtic warriors to offer their services as mercenaries to Hannibal, once he crossed the Alps and entered Northern Italy, were tribal nobles from the various clans along the Carthaginians’ route descending from the mountains in to the Italian boot. These highly rated Gallic mounted soldiers were a welcome addition to his army since the arduous trek over the Alps had reduced his initial 90,000 manpower to 20,000 infantry and only 6,000 cavalry. The typical Celtic trooper was, like most of the Gauls during the period, taller than their Roman opponent. His face would be adorned by a droopy moustache, and shaven chin. Hair would be worn long. Many wore tartan cloaks, the patterns of which were a matter of individual choice, rather than the member’s tribe. These could be striped, scarlet, blue or black. Long-sleeved tunics with round necks – many dyed bright yellow with saffron – were common. Knee-length breeches were favored by Gauls from the south, whereas northern tribes were partial to long trousers gathered at the ankles. Favoured colours for these garments included purple, scarlet, yellow and brown. Chieftains, as well as very rich nobles, wore heavy gold torc around their necks to show their authority and wealth. Celtic cavalrymen were well protected, wearing mail armour (possibly even invented by the Celts around 300 BC), overhanging shoulder protection, and round bronze or iron metal
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helmets. However, at the start of the Second Punic War much of the Celtic cavalry may have been without mail body armour. This deficiency was made good a short period after the war commenced by the capture of Roman body protection as a result of Hannibal’s early victories. Use of round or oval shields was the norm. Among their weapons could be counted a long thrusting spear, also suitable for throwing, one or more javelins, and their primary fighting tool, the distinctive 30in (75cm) double-edged heavy broadsword with rounded point, designed for slashing. During the time before the introduction of stirrups, the Celts made it easier to wield weapons while mounted on horseback by the use of an innovative four-horned saddle which helped lock the rider in place while on his horse. In addition to short prick spurs used to spur on their mounts, flexible iron horse-bits were employed to exert greater control over their steeds. According to Pausanias, the Greek geographer and chronicler of the second century AD, only the nobles fought on horseback, although each aristocratic equestrian would be actively assisted before and during a battle by one or two grooms from his retinue, who were also expert riders. They would stay close to the action in order to provide their master with a fresh horse and weapons during any lulls in the action. If their master was killed in combat these servants would assume his place in the fight thus keeping up the initial strength of the Celtic force throughout the engagement. Evacuating their superior if he were wounded in combat, and subsequently caring for him was also a prime responsibility of theirs. The grooms would also be mounted for travel, but usually fought on foot with an infantry-type spear and ubiquitous Gallic long broadsword if the situation required it. Pausanias’ statement about the Celtic mounted arm clearly demonstrates a sophisticated use of cavalry. It shows that Celtic horsemen possessed a high social and economic status like that of a medieval knight in relation to his squire and attendants. If Hannibal’s fleet of foot Numidian cavalry were his mounted battle win-
ners, his Gallic horse were considered no less useful in combat. Although they were thought of as heavier cavalry contingents, they too were used more as skirmishers and flying columns, not classic shock troops. In one revealing aside, and his remarks apply equally to the Romans, Livy observed how rare it was for cavalry to meet head-on in close combat. Speaking of an incident at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC), he states:
“Soon the Gallic and Spanish horse on the Carthaginian left were engaged with the Roman right. Lack of space made it an unusual cavalry encounter: the antagonists compelled to charge head-on, front to front; there was no room for outflanking manoeuvres, as the river on one side and the massed infantry on the other pinned them in, leaving them no option but to go straight ahead. The horses soon found themselves brought to a halt, jammed close together in the inadequate space, and the riders set about dragging their opponents from the saddle, turning the contest more or less in to an infantry battle. It was fierce while it lasted, but that was not for long; the Romans were forced to yield and hurriedly withdrew.” Livy, History of Rome 12.46 During this period cavalry rarely charged flat-out against an enemy, be it mounted or on foot, but limited themselves with attempting to break up the opposing battle line by constantly moving in and out of range and delivering a hail of missiles as they did so. Even when they did find themselves involved in handto-hand combat, there was no question of having built up sufficient impetus to smash through the opponent. Instead, both sides became locked in a confused melee in which it was often easier to abandon one’s horse completely and fight on foot.
© Luis García (via Wikimedia Commons)
THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
A Celtiberian fbula dated to the third or second century BC. Beneath the horse’s head there is what looks like a severed human head, no doubt taken from a defeated enemy. Currently in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid.
Polybius’ description of the Roman cavalry of the third century BC and before applies equally to their Gallic counterpart in Hannibal’s army, at least for the early campaigns, in which the horse was a convenience rather than a weapon itself: “In old times they had no cuirasses but fought in light garments, the result of which was that they were able to dismount and mount again at once with great dexterity and facility, but were exposed to great danger in close combat, as they were nearly naked” (Polybius 6.25). Organizationally, Celtic cavalry had no known standard tactical unit, although the presence of servants attached to each aristocratic rider suggests that Celtic horsemen might have fought in small military units similar to the medieval ‘lance’, in which a heavily armed mounted warrior was supported by lighter cavalrymen who were his grooms and or squires. Regardless, Celtic cavalry – in small tactical units just described or in larger ad hoc formations – would manoeuvre in swarms, moving toward and then away from an enemy in order to shoot their projectiles. Once close action was determined to be the next step, ideally against an antagonist who was disordered, in retreat or about to withdraw, the horsemen would bunch together to deliver the charge, usually at a fast trot or canter. But even in this situation, the character of the Celtic cavalryman (that is, nobleman), brave as they were, made for undisciplined attackers. The demand to prove his individual worth in battle, Ancient Warfare VI-6
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© Angel García Pinto
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and receive the honours and glory due a great warrior, would cause the Celts to seek to engage in single combat with an enemy no matter what the current state of the ongoing battle was. One such encounter ended a battle before it even began when, in 200 BC, the leader of the Insubres, Virdomarus, challenged the commander of the opposing Roman army, M. Claudius Marcellus, to single combat. Both men charged the other on horseback, throwing spears which missed their mark. As each side cheered their respective leader on, the duel came to a sudden end. A Roman sword slit the Celtic throat and his bent golden torc fell to the ground. Instantly the Gallic army melted away in flight. As a result, there would invariably be little or no direction of the attack, thus diluting the strength of the initial charge, leading to extended melees instead of quick breakthroughs and routs of the enemy. All this would be compounded by the practice of a successful mounted warrior, after defeating a foe, to pause from the battle to cut his dead enemy’s head off and hang it around his horse’s neck as a victory trophy. Rarely was a mounted reserve set aside to exploit success or ward off adversity. Once the enemy was broken, the pursuit would be carried on at the gallop with little or no control of the chase attempted by the victors. This meant that the winning cavalry would
Celtic mercenaries served as a major force in Hannibal’s army during the Second Punic War. The mounted figure sports a round shield, usually reserved for cavalrymen and light troops. Like the figure on foot next to him, he wears typical Celtic armour composed of a layer of metal scales sewn onto linen, which in turn was sewn onto chainmail, forming an effective multilayer protection. Helmets were typically only worn by the nobles. The typical Celtic foot soldier, wielding his long iron sword and carrying a long square or oval shield, was used as a heavy infantryman. The combatant holding the spear or long javelin would be armed with a sword as well. Although many fighters entered combat bare-chested – or even naked – most wore woollen trousers (socalled braccae) and a light cloak.
run off the battlefield and play little if any part during the rest of the engagement. Of course, there were exceptions to this last point, Cannae being prominent among them, where Hannibal was able – through his expert and very capable cavalry commanders – to rally and return his cavalry wings to the infantry battle in his centre, thus sealing a complete victory. Unlike the German cavalry described in Caesar’s Commentaries, the Celtic horse soldiers in Hannibal’s army and later, did not employ horse runners who accompanied friendly mounted troops into battle and were used, almost as infantry support, to try to disable enemy steeds by stabbing at the horses’ underbellies as their riders fought opposing mounted men. Perhaps the Gallic ability to fight dismounted made the use of horse runners redundant in the minds of the Celtic cavalry. But regardless of the way cavalry fought during the Second Punic War, the effectiveness of Hannibal’s mounted arm, his Gauls included, and shown especially at Cannae, revealed just how dangerous the Roman reliance on a predominantly infantry force could be.
Hannibal’s Celtic infantry For fifteen years, Hannibal and his army terrorized the Italian mainland, and during that time half of his usually victorious force was composed of Celts, most of that number being foot soldiers. Unlike his cavalry counterpart, Celtic infantrymen were drawn from the Celtic middle and lower classes. Under Hannibal, they fought in large numbers and at all the key battles. For example, at Cannae there were 14,000 in the Carthaginian ranks with a further 8,000 in reserve. The mass of these mercenaries were made up of humble infantrymen recruited through diplomatic treaties between their tribal leaders and Hannibal. The two primary types of Gallic infantry were heavy and light, the former relying mainly on a long iron broadsword, as was used by his mounted comrades and a thrusting spear as secondary armament. This warrior also carried a wooden shield that was a little over a yard (about one metre) long and was in Latin called a scutum. The shield was so narrow that it afforded its carrier
little protection. Furthermore, he might have acquired, as the war progressed, a mail shirt and a bronze helmet taken from the Roman dead, especially after the battles of the Trebia (218 BC) and Lake Trasimene (217 BC). The light infantry Celtic warrior could carry a round wicker shield and a pair of javelins-some as long as 8ft (2.4m). He would have substituted a dagger for a sword. He would be dressed or undressed, as his heavy infantry partner. In battle, the average Celtic ground pounder wore only trousers and went in to battle bare-chested, although some did wear long cloaks. Many preferred to fight naked. Hair was worn long. The Celts were generally denigrated by Roman and Greek authors for their lack of endurance, tendency to panic if their initial attacks failed, absence of military discipline, as well as their alleged habitual drunkenness. However, it was recognized by both friend and foe alike that they could nevertheless be a very effective fighting force. The intimidating mixture of their wild appearance, blood-curling battle cries and ferocious charges made them tough opponents. The normal, and ad hoc, tactical unit of the infantry would be composed of 250 men of the same tribe led by a proven combat leader. Fighting closely packed, the best equipped and bravest – usually the tribe’s head noblemen – lead the charge, making the Celtic assaults a challenge for even the most disciplined opponent. A Celtic infantry charge was a terrifying sight to be seen; its prelude consisting of some time spent slashing the air with their long swords, pouring verbal abuse on their enemy, banging their weapons and shields and tossing their war standards to the harsh braying of trumpets; finally, the masses of swordsmen would rush upon the foe. Within 30 yards (ca. 30m) of the enemy line, they would throw javelins and, seconds later, physical contact was made with their opponents in an attempt to crack the latter’s formation with sheer brute force. If this first assault did not work, a whole series of similar attacks would be mounted, separated by brief periods of rest. These charges would be repeated over and over again until the enemy Ancient Warfare VI-6
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was battered and defeated, or the Gauls became exhausted and retired, or just stood their ground in defiance.
Celtic troops in Hannibal’s army
Down the centuries, the Celts have been portrayed as untrustworthy and deceitful, with even Hannibal suspicious of them. In 203 BC, the Carthaginian’s fears were proven right when his eight to ten thousand Celtic troops mutinied against him. It was with difficulty that his African and Iberian soldiers, always the nucleus of his army, put down the threat. Almost all the Celts in Hannibal’s army were hired mercenaries and so their fidelity may only have gone as far as their next paycheck. This might also explain why Hannibal used them so recklessly. All ancient armies required a large number of troops that were expendable. For the Carthaginians, it was the Celts, whose lands Hannibal had to pass through on his way to Italy, that provided the necessary cannon fodder. Whereas the Carthaginian general had strong bonds of loyalty with his most steadfast infantry – the Libyans and Spanish, who he used in battle sparingly only when their experience and discipline was needed – he did not hesitate to employ the Celts mainly as a force to soften up the enemy. After the Celts engaged the Romans and thinned their ranks, weakening the Roman battle line and losing many men themselves, Hannibal would send in his crack African and Spanish infantry to clinch the victory.
Bronze Celtiberian votive figurine of a virtually naked warrior equipped with sword and a small round shield. Dated to the fourth or third century BC. Currently in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid.
Celtic swords In the ancient world, Celts were thought of primarily as fighting with swords. Consequently, they were most often employed as shock troops. The Celts began making iron swords between 650 and 500 BC. Iron swords were not only tougher than earlier bronze swords, but could also be given a much sharper edge, making them more effective in combat. As iron was seen as a gift from the gods, iron swords also attained a mystical aura. Early Celtic iron swords were of excellent quality and usually followed the style of Late-Bronze-Age types: a graceful, elongated leafshaped blade, 32–35in (80–90cm) long, tapering to an acute point. They were lighter and flatter than the bronze predecessors. The swords were carried in bronze or iron scabbards, usually suspended from the right hip from a sword belt of leather or a chain of linked iron rings. The scabbard was attached to the belt or chain by means of a metal loop on the back. To make it easier for mounted Celtic warriors to draw their blades while carrying a shield, large projecting chapes were fitted to the scabbard. Celtic iron swords were primarily designed for cutting. The sword blades were made by heating an iron bar, then fashioning the tang, blade, its edges and the tip in a number of phases. Edges were further improved by grinding them. Finally, it was heated for a long time in a bed of hot embers before being removed and immersed in cold water to temper the blade and make it harder. Polybius describes the iron sword carried by Hannibal’s Celtic mercenaries as those that “could only give one downward cut with any affect, but after this the edges got so turned and the blade so bent that unless they had time to straighten them with their foot against the ground, they could not deliver a second blow” (Polybius 93.33). However, extant examples of Celtic swords cast doubt on the Greek historian’s assessment of the quality of Celtic blades. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that a savvy general such as Hannibal would employ troops he used constantly in the first line of battle against the Romans who sported weapons of such inferiority as described by Polybius.
The Celtic leaders were not unaware of this sacrificial tactic Hannibal habitually employed to their detriment, but the Celtic hate for Rome was overwhelming. As recently as 222 BC, the climax of the Roman conquest of the Cisalpine Gauls, which commenced in 238 BC, the Roman consul, Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, commanded an army which took the cities of Acerrae and Mediolanum from the Insubrian Gauls, killing many Celts in the process. With this brutal clash of arms fresh in their minds, they were eager to rally to Hannibal once he crossed the Alps and entered northern Italy in 218 BC. Also, the honour of being put in the first line of battle – the true and only station for all great warriors according to the
Celtic warrior ethos – allowed them to accept without complaint the results of Hannibal’s callous – but effective – tactic. Furthermore, Hannibal showed great prescience, and got the most he could out of his Celtic mercenaries, when he allowed the Celts to have their military organization in his army to conform to their civic patriarchal hierarchy. This allowed him to turn a Gallic tribe, with all its tendencies for individual versus collective action, into some semblance of an ordered military formation which would, at least at the start of an action, be relied upon to follow the general battle plan. Celtic armed units in Hannibal’s army were always officered by the tribe’s
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chief, akin to a modern regimental colonel. Under him, the chief’s brother or uncle would be named as second-incommand-majors, if you will. Wealthy non-nobles and middle-class members of the tribe would be placed as tactical unit leader, similar to company captains. The members of each company would consist of those peasants who lived on the captain’s land, and would be known to him, and him to them. With this order in place, familiarity with one’s leaders was assured, resulting in more confidence in the common Celtic soldier as he went into battle.
Conclusion That the Celts were an important element of Hannibal’s army in his Italian campaigns cannot be disputed, if not just for their military prowess, than for their sheer numbers. At the Battle of the Trebia (218 BC), historian Konrad Lehmann, in 1905, claimed the presence of 7,000 Celtic cavalry and at least that many – albeit untrained – Celtic infantry. More recently, Hans Delbruck, in his History of the Art of War I: Warfare in Antiquity (p. 361), places the number at a more conservative figure of 2,000 Celtic mercenary infantry men and an indeterminate number of mounted troopers. He goes on to aver that only after that battle did Hannibal consent to organize large numbers of Celtic mercenary foot to aid him in offensive moves in to the Apennine peninsula. At Cannae, the general consensus is that about 14,000 Celtic mercenaries helped Hannibal achieve one of the greatest battlefield victories ever recorded in military history. After his victories at the Trebia and Lake Trasimene, Hannibal countered the new Roman strategy, as personified by Fabius Cunctator, of avoiding pitched battles and wearing down the enemy, with a new strategy of his own aimed at weakening Rome by laying waste to her territory and prying her Latin allies away from her, thus forcing the Republic to come to terms favourable to Carthage. To do this, Hannibal founded this strategy on the basis of the dissimilarity between the Roman army (based mostly on heavy infantry) and his own Carthaginian force: a cavalry that allowed him a great deal of tactical manoeuvrability that granted
The wild boar was a common symbol of strength used by the Celts. Reproduction currently on display in the Römisches-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz.
him the advantage in large-scale battles on open terrain. This ultimately led to his spectacular victory at the Battle of Cannae, where his Iberian and Celtic cavalry – about half the total ten thousand cavalry Hannibal brought to the battle – stationed on his left flank, dispersed its Roman horse opponents; along with their Numidian comrades on the opposite Carthaginian flank, they then assaulted from behind the stalled mass of Roman infantry at the centre of their battle line, thus assuring its eventual defeat and subsequent slaughter. Under the inspired leadership of Hannibal, the Celts were able to wage their most successful military operations against Rome since their forbearers in 390 BC, in the form of the Senones under Brennus, marched into and sacked Rome. But the humiliation of the Romans at the hands of Hannibal, with the help of the Celts, proved to be short lived. The final results of the Second Punic War saw the independent Celtiberian realms in Spain pass from Carthaginian influence to Roman control after generations of a long drawn out conflict between the two termed the ‘Fiery War’. After the Second Punic War, the Celts in northern Italy, largely ignored during that conflict between Rome and Carthage, rebelled. After ten years of punishing warfare directed against them, they were finally placed under the Roman yoke.
At last, the military might and independence of the Gauls of modern day France fell before the brilliant campaigns of Julius Caesar in the mid-first century BC. Rome would, as she had for centuries, continue to employ Celtic fighters as auxiliaries in her armies. As a result, long after the Celts lost their political independence, they were still able to exercise their legendary martial prowess in the service of the greatest empire yet seen on earth. Nothing better could have satisfied their warrior spirit.•
Arnold Blumberg is an attorney from Baltimore, Marlyand, USA. He is a Visiting Scholar at the History and Classics Departments at the Johns Hopkins University. He has written numerous articles on military history, including several for Ancient and Medieval Warfare. Further reading - Stephen Allen, Lords of Battle (London 2007). - Hans Delbruck, History of the Art of War I: Warfare in Antiquity (Lincoln 1990). - Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars (London 2001). - Konrad Lehmann, Die Angriffe der drei Barkiden auf Italien (Leipzig 1905).
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Celtic nobleman of 400 BC, near Trier
Thanks to research into Iron-Age material from all over Central Europe, it is possible to reconstruct the amour and clothes of a Celtic nobleman from Southwest Germany, from the helmet down to the shoes, as he would have looked around 400 BC. By Patrick Meyer
© Patrick Meyer
With the beginning of the La Tène culture in the middle of the fifth century BC, a big change took place in middle Europe. The old Hallstatt castles or centres, the so called Fürstensitze, disappeared and other regions became more and more important during the Early La Tène period. Inspired by southern arts, the Celts developed a new style and adopted, already during the Hallstatt period, a Mediterranean lifestyle and also southern fashion. They became famous for their weapons and raids into Italy, or served as mercenaries. The warrior shown here represents a rich member of high class, maybe a nobleman, with weapons and armour mostly constructed after finds from Southwest Germany. He wears a long-
These two warriors represent the ten percent of the Celtic elite possessing swords; the proportion is based on an analysis of approximately one thousand burials dated to around 400 BC. The helmet, the Greekstyle linothorax and the shields with metal parts presumably underscored their status in society.
sleeved tunic, with a pattern based on fragments found in a Celtic salt mine at Hallstatt. The colours of the clothing are after textile fragments found near Pellingen in Southwest Germany. The trousers, braccae, are designed according to a picture on the famous Celtic metal scabbard from Hallstatt grave 944. His main offensive weapon is the lance, not the sword. Modern wood analysis from the princes’ tombs from the Glauberg in Germany has shown that spear and lance shafts were made of ash. Warriors who did not come from such a rich social class had one to two spears and a wooden oval shield covered with rawhide, perhaps adopted during the sixth century BC from Italy. Shields were made from oak, limewood or alder-wood, which was found in some iron shield edges, such as the nearly complete examples from Latenium, Switzerland. The size varies from 120cm down to very small shields about 70cm tall. Iron shield parts are not so common for the La Tène A period (ca. 450–370 BC). Some big iron umbos from Austria and Germany in the shape of a butterfly suggest that these were not so common, apart from the wooden umbos or spinae. New research and finds suggest some warriors wore body-amour similar to the Greek linothorax. The famous stone statues from Roquepertus, Vix and the Glauberg provide good evidence for this type of body-armour. However, it is still not clear if they were woven, quilted or glued. Ninety per cent of the helmets for this period were found in the Marne region or at the Dürrnberg. Two main types can be distinguished: round helmets, sometimes with a small knob, and
high pointed helmets. Both were made from iron or bronze. All examples are without cheek pieces, but were sometimes decorated with red coral and fine engraving. The example worn by the reenactor is a simple round helmet after a find from Böckweiler in Southwest Germany, now in the Museum für Vorund Frühgeschichte in Saarbrücken, Saarland. The finest weapon was the sword. Swords in this period were masterpieces of Celtic armourers. The scabbard was made from two thin metal sheets in iron or bronze. Swords had a decorated sword shank in bronze with coral inlays. The anthropomorphic or X-shaped grip gave a good handling for slashing, but could also be used to stab. The sword was carried on the right side, although the rings found near the sword were hollow butted rings or decorated and were not part of the sword system. With or without linothorax or helmet, the Celtic warriors were flexible fighters which allowed them to overrun the young city of Rome and sack it in 390 BC. •
Patrick Meyer studied History and German at the University at Saarbrücken, Germany. At the moment he is teacher at a school in Southwest Germany. He has been engaged in Celtic living history and reenactment since 2002 and is founder and member of the group Projekt Latène, www.projekt-latene. de. Further reading - P. Bichler, K. Grömer, A. Kern, A., et al., Hallstatt Textiles. Technical Analysis, Scientific Investigation and Experiment on Iron Age Textiles, BAR International Series 1351 (Michigan 2005). - J.-L. Brunaux, B. Lambot, Guerre et armement chez les Gaulois, 450–52 avant J.-C. (Paris 1987). - M. Egg, M. Hauschild, M. Schönfelder, ‘Zum frühlatènezeitlichen Grab 994 mit figural verzierter Schwertscheide von Hallstatt (Oberösterreich)’, Jahrbuch RGZM 53 (2008), pp. 175–216.
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The Roman siege of Alesia
The last stand of Vercingetorix In 58 BC, Julius Caesar came to Gaul. Then forty years old, Caesar, a member of Rome’s minor nobility, had escaped Sulla’s purges © Karwansaray Publishers
by fleeing the city. After the dictator’s death, he returned to Rome, where he practiced law and plunged into politics serving as questor in Spain, where he campaigned against native tribes. He then rose to be consul in 59 BC. While serving in that office, he arranged his own appointment as proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul (the region between the Alps, the Apennines, and the Adriatic Sea) and Transalpine Gaul (present day Switzerland and Alpine France), with an unusual five-year term that was later increased to ten years. Northern Gaul stretched to the Atlantic and the English Channel and was then still ruled by native tribes. Caesar vowed to
Portrait bust of Julius Caesar, currently at the Altes Museum, Berlin.
By Chuck Lyons
Caesar defeated the Helvetii at Bibracte, pacified the Suebi, a Germanic tribe, and in 57 BC marched with a force that had grown to eight legions against the Belgae, defeating them at the River Sabis (the current Sambre). He followed up on that victory with a series of raids against the tribes along the Atlantic coast. He fought a combined land and sea campaign against the Veneti, repelled invading Germanic tribes, and crossed the English Channel to Britain 55 BC, where he advanced as far the River Thames. Then in 52 BC, Vercingetorix of the Arverni fomented a rebellion that shattered the quiet of a pacified Gaul like a stone tossed into a still pool. The uprising, based on a loose collation of native Celtic tribes, threatened all Caesar had achieved and posed the most formidable threat yet to Roman power in the region. Through the summer and early autumn, the two forces 28
struggled, with Caesar finally laying siege to Vercingetorix and his forces at the hill top town of Alesia. Caesar was outnumbered and attacked on two sides, by Vercingetorix coming from the town and by a Gallic army sent to end the siege. Here, he faced the end of his Gallic conquests, his future plans and perhaps also his life. “Both sides knew only too well,” Caesar writes in his Commentarii de bello gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic Wars), “this was the moment when a supreme effort was called for. The Gauls knew they had no hope of surviving unless they broke through our lines of defence; we knew all our hardships would be over if only we could hold out” (7.85). The Battle of Alesia was to be a pivot point for Caesar – and for Rome. The Arverni were a large and powerful tribe that lived on lands just north of the mountainous Massif Central in the south central part of Gaul. They had fought the Romans a century earlier but had since then been quiet and cooperative. Vercingetorix, a nobleman of the tribe, had served in a troop of
cavalry under Caesar, and the Roman general was certainly acquainted with him personally. Some commentators have even suggested the two men were friends. (Linguists have translated the name Vercingetorix as ‘Great King of a Hundred Battles’ and ‘High King Who Marches against the Foe’. It was in effect a nickname while, in the traditional Gallic manner, his actual name was kept secret.) However, in the winter of 52 BC, Vercingetorix broke with the more conservative leaders of his tribe and harkened to the siren call of rebellion. He was exiled from the Arveni for his views, but being unwilling to give up his dreams of revolution, he gathered together other tribal outcasts and created from them an army that deposed the leaders of the tribe – the men who had exiled him – and seized the reins of tribal authority. He then moved outward, gathering under his banner warriors from tribes throughout Gaul, men who hailed Vercingetorix as their king. Until then, Caesar had pacified and defeated the Gallic tribes through a
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Rebellion rises in Gaul The actual fighting began when the Carnutes, a centrally-located Gallic tribe, attacked and killed Roman merchants in the town of Cenabum on the River Allier south of today’s Paris. Caesar, in Rome at the time, hurried back to Gaul, but Vercingetorix had developed a plan that has been considered worthy of Caesar himself. Aware that the bulk of Caesar’s legions were in winter quarters in the country of the Belgae to the north, he sent his chief lieutenant Lucretius south to stir up an outbreak among the long-pacified tribes of the Mediterranean coast. This southern disruption compelled Caesar to turn his attention in that direction and also trapped him on the wrong side of the Massif Central, which was clogged with up to six feet of snow. In typical fashion, Caesar attacked the problem head on. In his chronicle, he writes:
“The Romans opened up a path through the mountains with the greatest of difficulty and reached the border of the Arverni. The Gauls were caught totally unprepared as they believed these peaks guarded them like a wall. Not a
single traveler had ever crossed them in winter.” Gallic Wars 7.8 Coming out of the mountains, he linked up with two of his legions that were stationed in the lands of the Lingones just north of the mountains, called his other legions to him, and with eight legions began sacking rebellious towns, a move that provided supplies – and hostages – but also demoralized the Gallic resisters. When he reached Cenabum, where the rebellion had begun, he slaughtered the entire population of the town, gave everything of value there to his troops, and burned what was left. Caesar had earlier taken another step that would later pay dividends. In his own words:
“I was aware that the Gauls were superior in cavalry, and that if they blocked all the roads, I had no chance of getting reinforcements (…) I therefore sent across the Rhine to the German tribes I had subdued in previous years, asking them to send cavalry and the light-armed infantry who regularly went into battle with them.”
“If these sacrifices should appear heavy or galling, they ought to consider it much more distressing that their wives and children should be dragged off to slavery, and themselves slain; the evils which must necessarily befall the conquered.” Gallic Wars 7.14 Meanwhile Caesar laid siege to and destroyed the town of Avaricum (modern Bourges in Central France) and captured enough grain and supplies to provision his starving army for a few weeks. He then marched north towards Gergovia, Vercingetorix’s home town and the Arvenian capital, manoeuvring the Gauls to the south while his engineers – on whom Caesar relied heavily – secretly rebuilt a bridge over the swollen Allier River. He then proceeded to the town, where Vercingetorix had by this time withdrawn with his force. Caesar paused briefly to put down a revolt among nearby Aeduan soldiers who had once been loyal to him, and then returned to Gergovia. He unsuccessfully attacked the town, losing about seven hundred men, including
Gallic Wars 7.65 The German tribes readily complied with Caesar’s request, and this German cavalry was to play a major role in the unfolding war. Vercingetorix responded to Caesar’s moves by continuing the scorched earth policy be had instituted at the beginning of the fighting. His troops burned towns, farms and barns anywhere near Caesar or in his path in an attempt to starve the Romans out of the area. Vercingetorix also believed correctly that such a move would require Caesar to send out small foraging parties that could be easily picked off by Gallic cavalry units. Caesar quotes Vercingetorix as saying to those who complained:
© Jona Lendering
carefully worked out divide-and-conquer strategy that took advantage of the traditional factionalism of the tribes. But now, Caesar was faced with something new. For the first time in their history, the tribes of Gaul had united against a common enemy. Vercingetorix had also learned from his former masters. He understood the importance of logistics and supply as the Romans practiced them, and he assessed each tribe that joined his army a number of horses or weapons or a certain quantity of grain. He had also learned the need for discipline, and his discipline was fierce. Soldiers committing even minor offenses were expelled from the army and sent home in shame with their ears cut off or their eyes gouged out. Those committing serious infractions were burned at the stake. Caesar wrote of Vercingetorix that “to the utmost vigilance he add[ed] the utmost rigour of authority” (7.4).
Reconstruction at the Archéodrome de Beaune of the fortifications used by the Romans during the Siege of Alesia. Ancient Warfare VI-6
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Gallic forces attack the fortifications Caesar had built pinning them inside the hilltop town of Alesia, visible in the background. The cavalry of Vercingetorix is trying to disrupt the Roman works and defences, while also trying to coordinate with the relief force beyond the Roman-controlled zone. The stream was the focal point for some of the attacks by the Gauls. The attacks of the Celts, both cavalry and infantry, often hitting multiple places at once, were to prove futile, however. By the end of the fighting, seventy-four captured war standards were carried to Caesar, and Vercingetorix surrendered himself. He was taken to Rome, paraded in one of Caesarâ€™s triumph, and publicly strangled. Note the use of various types of helmets (Monteforino, Port and Agen).
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46 centurions. Vercingetorix had won a victory over the supposedly unbeatable Roman legions. As word of the victory spread, previously uncommitted chieftains rushed to join with Vercingetorix until almost all of central Gaul was with him. Among them were the Aedui, a tribe Caesar had saved from German deprecation. At Noviodunum, the Aedui killed whatever Romans they could find, stole the Romans’ horses and other supplies, and liberated the Gallic hostages Caesar had collected there. They then burned whatever they could not carry and joined Vercingetorix. With this large supply depot destroyed and facing the inability to feed his troops, Caesar was at the lowest point of his military fortunes. But rather then fall back to the Mediterranean coast as his enemies expected, Caesar marched north and crossed the Loire River, which like the southern mountains, the Gauls had considered impassable at that time of year. Somewhere in the valley of the Vingeanne, Vercingetorix’s cavalry fell on the Romans as they marched. The legions quickly formed squares and repelled the attack.
Caesar lays siege Vercingetorix suffered serious losses. Unnerved by the defeat of his cavalry, he sought refuge in the nearby hilltop-town of Alesia (most probably the modern site of Mont-Auxois about thirty miles northwest of Dijon), home of the Mandubi. It was to prove a fatal mistake. The town sat on a roughly 1500ft (450m) high, all but impregnable, plateau surrounded on three sides by river valleys. To the west was a three-mile wide plain. Vercingetorix positioned most of his force in four camps leading up the steep slope and fortified his position with a ditch and a man-high wall. The remainder of his men was stationed inside the town. Arriving at the site in September 52 BC, with ten legions and several thousand cavalry, Caesar knew immediately that the town was immune to a direct attack because of the two rivers, the Ose and the Oserian, and the cliffs that surrounded it – as well as its looming walls. But Caesar also knew there was no way for the Gauls to retreat if he could trap 32
them in the town. The Roman general was a master of the siege, and historians consider the siege that followed one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements as well as a classic example of siege warfare and investment. Caesar immediately ordered eight infantry and cavalry camps constructed in the hills and on the plain surrounding the town. Relying on his engineers, as he so often did, Caesar then had an encircling set of fortifications, called a circumvallation, built around Alesia. In three weeks of intense labour, his men were able to construct eleven miles of twelve-foot-high rampart and palisade and dug a fifteen-foot-deep, eight-feetwide ditch on the side facing Alesia. Guard towers were erected every eighty feet. During the construction, Vercingetorix tried to disrupt Caesar’s construction work with several cavalry raids, and at one point a brief cavalry battle took place on the plain to the west, which Caesar first met with Gallic cavalry and with the legions deployed in front of their camps, but it was not until he released his German horsemen and mustered some of the legionaries in support that he was able to repulse the Gauls:
“The Germans pursued them fiercely right up to their fortifications [and] after killing many of the fugitives and capturing large numbers of horses, the Germans withdrew.” Gallic Wars 7.70 With only about a month’s food available, Vercingetorix sent his cavalry through a gap in the Roman fortifications a few nights later, after telling each man to go to his own tribe and seek help. He then pulled all his men into the city to wait for those reinforcements to appear. Finding out from prisoners what was happening and what was being planned, Caesar had a second line of trenches dug on the plain. He had the trench nearest the palisade filled with water from the surrounding rivers. What Caesar called “large forked branches”
were embedded where the trench met the wall to foil climbers. Sharpened tree trunks, which the legionnaires called “tombstones”, were planted in the trenches. Pits gradually sloping downward were also dug and sharpened firehardened stakes, supposedly as thick as a man’s thigh, were implanted in the bottoms with no more than 4in (10cm) above ground. The traps were then disguised with earth and loose brush. Wooden blocks with iron hooks attached were also buried to serve as further traps. Caesar then ordered the construction of a second line of fortifications, the contravallation, to protect the Romans from attacks from outside the city. This set of fortifications, about thirteen miles (ca. 21km) long, faced outward and enclosed the Roman infantry and artillery between it and the circumvallation. However, the four cavalry camps remained outside the contravallation and near sources of water. Inside Alesia, Vercingetorix realized he was trapped. He knew a relief army was being raised outside the wall, but stuck in the town he had no way of knowing when that army was coming to his aid or how large a force it was. He also would be unable to communicate with it. Within Alesia, conditions were quickly deteriorating as food became scarce. Hoping to alleviate the crisis and to conserve what little food he had, he expelled at least some of the woman, children, and elderly residents of the town, forcing them to appeal to the Romans for mercy. He was perhaps also hoping Caesar would open his lines to allow the civilians to leave creating a breach that could be exploited and through which the army could escape. But these woman, children, and elderly found neither mercy nor escape. Caesar turned them back, and, some sources say, Vercingetorix refused to admit them back into Alesia leaving them trapped between the Gauls and the Romans to starve there.
Relief army assembles Meanwhile the relief riders had reached even distant Gallic tribes, and thousands of men had begun gathering at Bibracte, forming what would be the largest Gallic army ever put into the
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field: an army that represented forty-three Gallic tribes. Caesar placed it at 240,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry and numbered his own force at 80,000 men. (Numbers given as to the size of forces and battle casualties in ancient conflicts are always suspect, however, and Napoleon among others later suggested the Roman and Gallic forces at Alesia may have been more equal than earlier supposed.) Four Gallic commanders were chosen including Commius, a former Caesar ally, and Vercassivellaunus, either a cousin of Vercingetorix or his son-in-law, and in late September or early October the army arrived at Alesia and camped on high ground a mile or so west the town. Caesar wrote:
“They all set out for Alesia, eager and full of confidence. Every single one of them believed that the mere sight of such an enormous force would be too much for us.” Gallic Wars 7.76 The following day they massed before the city with cavalry, which contained archers and some light infantry, in the forefront “and filled all of that plain.” Infantry was massed behind on higher ground. Caesar in turn manned both of his walls and sent his own cavalry out to face the relief army. Vercingetorix led his forces out of the town, and they filled the nearest of the Roman ditches with brush and earth. What developed, however, was a cavalry fight that lasted much of the afternoon as Roman legionnaires watched from the top of the out-facing palisade.
“It was impossible for any brave deed or act of cowardice to escape notice. Men on both sides were spurred on to acts of valor by their desire for glory and their fear of disgrace.” Gallic Wars 7.81
© Julia Lillo
THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
In the beginning it appeared that the Guals were getting the better of the fight, mainly because of their greater number, but Caesar was able to form his German cavalry to one side of the field and free it in a charge that drove the Gallic cavalry back to their camps. The Gallic archers and light infantry that had been among them were surrounded and killed. Vercingetorix’s men scattered back into the town, and the day ended without a clear winner or loser. At midnight of the following day, the relief army attacked in force, raising a great shout to the Gauls in the town urging them to also attack. They threw bundles of brush into the outer trenches and attacked the Romans on the rampart with arrows and slings. They got enough men across to attack the palisade with grappling hooks and ladders while Roman catapultae and ballistae fired boulders and other missiles; legionnaires rained down spears. Hearing the commotion, Vercingetorix threw an attack from the city against the inner Roman fortification, but was halted by the ditches, water and sharpened stakes that Caesar had assembled there. Meanwhile, the relief army was gaining ground, but as the Gallic fighters got closer to the Roman fortifications they fell afoul of Caesar’s traps, being impaled on the buried stakes and falling into the pits that had been dug. Meanwhile, the legionnaires continued to bombard them with javelins. Caesar, standing out in his crimson cape, personally rode along the perimeter urging on his men and raising their morale. Commius was able to briefly breach the Roman lines, but the gap he created was soon closed by Roman cavalry led by Mark Antony and Gaius Trebonius.
The hilltop location of Alesia and the fortifications Caesar built around it, as shown on this map, are crucial to an understanding of the battle, which has been called a classic example of siege warfare and investment.
After considerable fighting and as dawn approached, Caesar was able to launch a counterattack to push back Vercingetorix’s men while thirteen of his cavalry cohorts – about six thousand men – attacked the relief army hitting it from beyond the contravallation and pushing it back, ending the day’s fight.
The final attack is launched Realizing coordinated attacks from both sides of Caesar’s fortifications were failing, Commius and the other chieftains changed tactics. Under cover of darkness, they moved a large part of their force, as many as 60,000 men under Vercassivellaunus, on a night march around the hills to a weak spot on the northern side of the Roman fortifications, an area where a rock ridge had prevented the complete construction of the circumvallation palisade. The Gauls had learned about the area by talking to local people. Two Roman legions were camped at the spot. Vercassivellaunus kept the men out of sight on the far side of the hill from the Romans until noon when they marched on the camp of the two legions. At the same time, cavalry and infantry units from the relief army surged across Ancient Warfare VI-6
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© Jona Lendering
A small bronze figurine of a fallen Gaul, dated to the second century AD. From Alesia, now at the Musée des Antiquités nationales, St-Germainen-Laye.
the plain and hit Caesar’s fortifications while Vercingetorix and his men poured out of the town and hit the inner Roman fortifications in numerous places. Because of the number of attacks, the Roman legionnaires were spread thinly on the walls and, Caesar wrote, “they were greatly unsettled by the noise of shouting they could hear behind them as they fought (…) people are always more unnerved by dangers they cannot see” (Gallic Wars 7.84). To the north, Vercassivellaunus appeared close to breaking through as the Gauls advanced down hill throwing their spears and holding their shields high. They threw earth against the sharpened stakes on the palisade and filled in the pits and other traps as they advanced. Caesar quickly brought up his reserves and sent six cohorts under Labienus to the north wall while Caesar personally rode out to rally his troops. Repulsed from where they had initially attacked, Vercassivellaunus and his men shifted to a different spot and were able to break through and using grappling hooks pulled down one of Roman towers and part of the palisade. Again Caesar sent cohorts under Decimus Brutus and Gaius Fabius against them and then joined the melee personally. The Gauls were driven back, and Caesar hurried with four cohorts to the area where Labienus was holding out against Vercassivellaunus. Fearing that his fortifications and his stretchedout line could not hold indefinitely, Caesar also took a few cavalry squad-
rons with him and sent others around outside the palisade to circle and hit Vercassivellaunus’s flank. As the fighting progressed, the Gauls could see – by his crimson cloak – that Caesar had joined the fighting with reinforcements and they also spotted the Roman cavalry bearing down on their flank. Realizing they were caught between the two forces, they tried to flee. “Our troops threw their pila and got to work with their swords,” Caesar wrote (Gallic Wars 7.88). The panic spread among the other attackers, and the assault faltered and then broke with men fleeing the area in all directions while Vercingetorix drew back as many men as he could into the town. The relief army, hearing about what had happened, fled their camp. If his men were not already exhausted, Caesar wrote, “the Gauls’ entire army could have been wiped out” (Gallic Wars 7.88). The Roman cavalry did catch up with the relief army’s rear guard and killed a number of them. The day’s fighting and the battle of Alesia were over.
Aftermath Seventy-four captured war standards were carried to Caesar, and Vercassivellaunus was paraded as a captive. As with most ancient battles, casualty figures are sketchy at best. Historians have nonetheless estimated that Romans losses were around 12,800 killed and wounded, while the Gauls may have suffered as may as 250,000 casualties as well as 40,000 captured, though such losses seem hard to believe. The fighting was over, but more than that, the heart had been taken out of Vercingetorix’s rebellion. Huddled in Alesia, the hungry Gauls realized they were beaten and the relief army they had been counting on to save them had itself been defeated three times. The following day, with the morale of his men at a low point, Vercingetorix realized he had no choice but to surrender. All the weapons from the city were taken to Caesar’s camp and given up, and then Vercingetorix rode out of the city and fell to his knees before Caesar who was seated on a platform he had had erected for that purpose. The Gallic defenders in the city and the survivors of the relief force were
taken prisoner and were sold into slavery or were given as booty to Caesar’s legionnaires. Members of the Aedui and Averni tribes were excluded and were released and pardoned to help secure the alliance of these tribes with Rome, a familiar tactic of Caesar’s. Vercingetorix himself was taken to Rome where he was held captive for six years before being displayed in Caesar’s triumph and then publicly strangled. Gallic resistance to Roman rule continued in the north and the far south. The northern resistance was put down in the months that followed and even the crestfallen Commius surrendered to Mark Anthony after being promised his life. In the south, when the resistance of the Uxellodunum was finally stopped, Caesar spared the lives of those who had opposed him. But he also ordered that all of them were to have their two hands cut off. As Philip Freeman has written, “The war in Gaul was now over, but for the rest of their days the mutilated men of the Uxellodunum would serve as a living warning that Caesar’s mercy had its limits” (p. 227). Back in Rome, the Senate declared a twenty-day public thanksgiving to celebrate Caesar’s victory at Alesia, but refused him a triumphal parade through Rome, thereby agitating political tensions already existing between Caesar and the Roman Senate. Those tensions would boil over in 48 BC when Caesar crossed the Rubicon into Italy and effectively declared war on the Roman Republic. He would win that war and eventually become Rome’s dictator before being assassinated in 44 BC.•
Chuck Lyons is a retired newspaper editor and a freelance writer who has written extensively on historical subjects. His work has appeared in national and international periodicals, and he has won several writing awards. Further reading - Richard A. Billows, Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome (London & New York 2009). - Phillip Freeman, Julius Caesar (New York 2009).
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Cursed gold, divine intervention or infantry superiority?
Celtic defeat at Delphi There was a Roman legend that when the Celts sacked Delphi in 278 BC, the gold stolen from the sanctuary was cursed. The tale of the curse served as an explanation for the Romans as to why the Celts were forced to flee from Greece after invading and pillaging Delphi. Up to that point, the invasion army of the Celts was still very large, but by the time they left Greece and Macedonia their numbers had dwindled significantly. The Celtic retreat came at a time when they seemed nearly unstoppable to both the Romans and the Hellenistic states.
By Erich B. Anderson
ÂŠ Jona Lendering
For over a hundred years, the Celts had raided, invaded and even conquered several regions bordering the Mediterranean civilizations. In 390 BC, the Celts even managed to sack Rome, and then began to settle in large numbers throughout Illyria and the Danube valley. The Latin states of the Italian Peninsula felt so threatened by the Celts that they gave up their independence to Rome for protection in 350 BC. The Roman Republic and the Hellenistic world dreaded invasion as they watched
Celts steadily increase in number on their borders for several decades. Then in 279 BC, Celts invaded Thrace and an army of Celts defeated a Hellenistic army in Macedonia. The following year, right before they sacked Delphi, they even defeated an allied Greek force at the famous pass of Thermopylae. Similarly to the Romans, the Greeks also had a supernatural explanation for the Celtic retreat. The Greeks believed that an even higher form of divine intervention had occurred, in which the god Apollo actually attacked the Celts using earthquakes, blizzards and falling boulders from the mountains above to pun-
View from Delphi. The area here is very mountainous, forcing combatants to use skirmishing tactics rather than engage in pitched battles.
ish them for sacking Delphi. But was it really divine intervention that struck down the Celts, or was it just that they greatly underestimated the Greeks? It is very likely that natural disasters played a role in the Celtic retreat from Delphi, but the effect must have been much more psychological than physical; very few deaths resulted from these disasters. When the Celtic army was struck by falling rocks and horrible weather, it only added fuel to the fire made by the Greeks who warned everyone of the divine retribution that would occur if the sanctuary had been pillaged. Therefore, it is very possible that the main reason that the Greeks managed to force the Celts to flee from Delphi was the superiority of their infantry, including the variability and quality of their arms and armour, their training and discipline.
Invasion of Macedonia and Greece Alexander the Great created the largest empire the ancient world had ever known. When he died in 323 BC and left no heir to his massive empire, his generals carved up pieces for themselves and then fought each other for decades to increase their holdings. By the third century BC, the various wars fought between the Hellenistic kingdoms appeared to have weakened the Macedonian armies considerably. Or at least, that is how several Celtic tribes may have regarded the situation. One attempted invasion, led by the war-leader Cimbaules, had been made by the Celts to test the strength of Macedonia, but was repulsed by the local populace. Then, in 281 BC, another war-chief known as Bolgius invaded and fought against a Macedonian army under the leadership of Ptolemy Ceraunus. Ptolemy had gained control of Macedonia after he assassinated Seleucus I Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Empire. After the Celts defeated Ptolemyâ€™s army, they placed his head on a spear for display.
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Another war-leader known as Brennus was so inspired by Bolgius’ success that he desired to lead an army even deeper into the Hellenistic world and invade Greece. Brennus gathered an enormous army comprised of several different tribes. As he led his warriors into Macedonia, a local soldier of modest means named Sosthenes gathered a small army and successfully resisted the Celts using guerrilla-style tactics to keep the massive Celtic army at bay. Yet even after their initial victories, the Macedonians could not stop the Celts forever. Eventually, Brennus broke through, leading most of his army into Greece. Brennus did, however, leave a portion of his forces behind in Macedonia to guard his rear, because he assumed that he would be leaving both Greece and Macedonia shortly after invading. Brennus and his warriors had one main goal, and it was not conquest. It is possible that if the Macedonians and the Greeks were weak enough, the Celts would have taken their lands as well. However, what they were really after was loot. The wealth of the sanctuary at Delphi was legendary, even outside of the Hellenistic world. Brennus and his warriors knew that if they wanted treasure, Delphi was were they needed to go.
The Second Battle of Thermopylae Once the Celtic army had invaded Greece, an alliance was made between several Hellenistic states to repel the invaders, which included Athenians, Aetolians, Phocians, and many others, led by the Athenian commander Callippus. While most historians agree that Pausanias’ account of there being over 152,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry in the Celtic army is an exaggeration, it is agreed by many that the Celts still greatly outnumbered the Greeks. The combined forces of the Greeks probably numbered around 40,000 troops, mostly infantry. The first attempt of the allied Greek army to halt the advance of the Celts was at the Spercheius River, directly north of the famous pass of Thermopylae where the Greeks had attempted to stop the invasion of the Achaemenid Persian Empire two hundred years before. A small Greek force was sent to destroy
all of the bridges crossing the river, and then wait on the banks to assault any Celts who managed to cross. The rest of the Greek army stayed at Thermopylae to confront the Celts if they were able to cross the Spercheius. However, Brennus was a skilled general with a high level of initiative. He managed to send thousands of his tallest warriors to ford the river and assault the small Greek force stationed on the other side before they could complete the destruction of all of the bridges. The Greeks were forced to retreat to their main army, while Brennus forced the local inhabitants to repair the bridges. It was not long before the entire Celtic army had crossed the river and then advanced to meet the main force of the allied Greek army. The Celtic horde smashed against the front lines of the Greeks at Thermopylae, but was repulsed. Again and again the Celts attacked, but every time the Greeks managed to beat them back. The number slain on the Celtic side steadily rose, so Brennus was forced to act or else suffer a terrible defeat in the narrow pass. Therefore, his first act was to send his cavalry to Aetolia, led by his secondin-command, Achichorius, in order to raid the region. He did this because his cavalry was practically useless within the narrow confines of Thermopylae, but also he wanted to divide the allied Greek army, which consisted of many Aetolian soldiers who would then be forced to leave and protect their homeland. Brennus also focused much of his attention on finding the same ‘secret’ pass used by the Persians back in 480 BC to move around the Greek army and surround them. He was successful in both endeavours. After the Aetolians had left, Brennus led a large force through the mountain pass. The Greeks had stationed a force of Phocians to guard the pass, but a thick mist occurred that day which shrouded the advance of the Celtic army. Once they realized that the Celts were approaching, it was too late to make any resistance, so the Phocians retreated to warn the remainder of the Greek army. Unimpeded, the Celts moved to surround the Greeks just as the Persians had done centuries before to the Spartans. Yet since the Phocians had alarmed the army, the Greek forces, which included
many Athenians, did not share the same fate as their rival city-state. Instead, the Athenian navy traversed through the Gulf of Malia and evacuated the Greek army before they were completely enveloped by the Celts. The Greeks were saved but no longer put up any major resistance to the advance of the Celtic army. Brennus exploited that fact and quickly led his warriors south to Delphi. He did not wait for the remainder of his army on the other side of the pass or even bury his dead before moving on, which deeply disturbed the Greeks.
Sack of Delphi As Brennus approached Delphi, his army was so large that there was no way the Greeks could stop them. The mountainous terrain of the region meant that there were no proper battlefields for the Greeks to assault the Celts using their conventional phalanx tactics. Instead, the Greeks were forced to fight as skirmishers, using guerrilla tactics to raid the enemy and then hide. Luckily for the Greeks, there were many Phocians in their ranks who were native to the area and knew the countryside very well. Even though the Greeks could not stop the Celts, the missiles the skirmishers fired at them were very effective at picking them off since most of the Celts wore no armour and only had shields for protection. Yet without meeting any heavy resistance, the Celtic horde pressed forward. Since the Greeks were very religious, many of the city-states left large amounts of wealth at Delphi; confident of its safety due to the punishment anyone would receive from the gods for disturbing such a holy place. This meant that the sanctuary was left virtually defenceless. Thus, when the Celts reached Delphi, they quickly took their loot and then moved out. No one is really sure what happened next. Many of the ancient Greek accounts claim that Apollo used earthquakes, blizzards and falling boulders to attack the Celts for sacking his sanctuary. According to Pausanias:
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shapes as armed warriors haunted the foreigners.â€?
They then state that the divine retribution of Apollo was so devastating that it forced to Celts to retreat and make the long journey home out of Greece and Macedonia. While it is probably true that some sort of natural disaster struck the Celts, it is unlikely that many lives were lost and that those disasters were the main reason for the Celts retreat from Delphi. The Greeks had continued their constant harassment of the large Celtic force, and had even begun to starve the Celtic army. Whenever the Celts attempted to forage in the surrounding countryside, the Phocians were especially effective at preventing them for finding anything and forcing them to return to their camp emptyhanded. The fact that the allied Greek army could first repel the Celts using their phalanx tactics at Thermopylae, but then quickly adapt to the new guerrillastyle warfare in the mountainous terrain surrounding Delphi, was a perfect example of the superiority in training and martial skills of the Greeks over the Celts. The Celts had the numbers, and were incredibly brave and ferocious in battle, but were no match when compared to the variability of weaponry and armour, and the overall discipline of the Greek troops. The Greeks were masters of infantry warfare on pitched battlefields, but at Delphi they showed that they could also fight in the maraudertype warfare of raiding and lightningfast strikes famously utilized by the Celts.
The long retreat from Greece In one struggle with the Greek skirmishers, Brennus was seriously wounded. This was the last straw for the Celts. Most of the Celtic warriors were aware of the superstitions of the Greeks about Delphi and knew the repercussions for their acts. Therefore, many Celts began to believe that the natural world had seemingly attacked them, and then having their leader injured shortly after only increased their fears. Terror spread
ÂŠ Jona Lendering
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.4.4
A view of the current ruins of Delphi with the remains of the sanctuary of Athena Pronaea. The columns belong to the circular tholos. This area is located at the beginning of the complex at Delphi.
throughout the camp like a plague. The fear increased dramatically one night when confusion arose due to different parts of the army speaking different dialects or even languages. Some believed that the Greeks had infiltrated the camp so the Celts began to slay each other in panic. In the chaos that ensued, many warriors within the Celtic force perished. Shortly after, the Athenians and Boeotians rejoined with the Greek forces and continued to wear down the Celtic army. The situation became so dire that Brennus decided to relieve himself from command of the army, handing the reins to Achichorius, who had just returned with his forces from the lands of the Aetolians. Regardless of the reunited Celtic army, Brennus then committed suicide, either by consuming large amounts of undiluted wine or by stabbing himself with a
sword. Achichorius also inadvertently brought back with him the Aetolian troops who had pursued him as he retreated from their devastated homeland. The Aetolians added their strength to the allied Greek army. Under constant harassment, the Celts managed to cross back over the Spercheius River, but were soon met by even more Greek forces of Thessalians and Malians who waited to ambush the Celts on the other side. Meanwhile, Antigonus Gonatas had made a peace treaty with Antiochus I, son of Seleucus and ruler of the Seleucid Empire, allowing him to claim the throne of Macedonia. When Antigonus returned to Macedonia, he was confronted by the Celts that Brennus had left behind before he invaded Greece. In a very successful ruse, Antigonus managed to tempt the Celts to raid his camp at night and steal his massive Ancient Warfare VI-6
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ÂŠ Johnny Shumate ÂŠ Johnny Shumate
According to ancient Greek sources, the god Apollo himself unleashed terrible vengeance on the invading Celts at Delphi. Earthquakes, blizzards and falling boulders forced the Celts to retreat.
THEME: ATTACK OF THE CELTS!
amount of treasure. When the Celts reached the camp, they found it empty and were quickly ambushed; many were slaughtered. However, not all of them were killed. Antigonus hired the Celts who survived the ambush to fight for him as mercenaries. Therefore, when the Celts led by Achichorius in Greece reached Macedonia, they no longer had an army there to help them retreat. Most Greek accounts claim that barely any Celts managed to flee Greece and Macedonia, when compared to the size their entire army was when they had initially invaded.
Galatians, mercenaries and legends Even before Brennus led the invasion into Greece, a large part of his enormous force had broken off and headed for Asia Minor. Led by two men named Leonorius and Lutarius, only half of the group were warriors while the rest were their wives, children and elders. Nicomedes of Bithynia even invited them to the region and set aside land for them to settle on in 278 BC. These Celts who settled in Asia Minor were known as Galatians to the Hellenistic world. Over time, Nicomedes, along with several other Hellenistic monarchs, greatly benefited from having the Galatians nearby because they were an abundant source of mercenary troops. The tradition of using Celts as mercenaries in the wars of the Hellenistic world did not begin after the Celtic invasion of Greece; it was already a common practice. Around the same time as the invasion, Ptolemy Philadelphus used Celtic mercenaries in the war against Magas of Cyrene. However, after the Galatians settled in Asia Minor, Celts were hired for their mercenary skills at an increasing rate. Nicomedes hired Celtic mercenaries in his struggle with his brother, Zipoetes, and against the new ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus. As mentioned early, Antigonus began using Celts as mercenaries after defeating them when he took the throne of Macedonia. He continued to use Celtic mercenaries for the rest of his 32-year reign. Antiochus suffered the most from these new Galatian warriors in Asia Minor. First, the northern region of Phrygia was seized and became part of Galatia. Then, the northwestern part of Lydia was taken from him. Antiochus
managed to defeat the Galatians in 275 BC, but was then killed by them later in 261 BC in a battle near Ephesus. There is no doubt that much of Brennus’ army perished, but there were also several groups who survived and settled elsewhere. A large number of survivors made their new home very close to Macedonia in Thrace and established the short-lived Kingdom of Tylis. For several decades, Tylis collected tribute from the nearby city of Byzantium until an army of Thracians defeated the Celts and completely destroyed the kingdom in 200 BC. Another tribe, the Scordisci, founded Singidunum in Yugoslavia. The Romans believed that some of the Celts who made it out of Macedonia brought some of their plunder all the way to Gaul. A Gallic tribe known as the Tectosages was supposedly a part of the Celtic army that sacked Delphi and had placed much of their loot into the sacred lakes of Tolosa, where they eventually settled. However, in Strabo’s account of the Tectosages and their supposed treasure from Delphi, he states that:
“Neither is it reasonable to suppose that they reached their homeland in safety, since they fared wretchedly after their retreat from Delphi and, because of their dissensions, were scattered, some in one direction, others in another.” Strabo, Geography 4.1.13 Posidonius also doubted the accuracy of the Roman legend. He believed that most of the Delphic treasures were already gone by the time of the invasion, used by the Phocians to fund the Third Sacred War from 356 to 354 BC. Regardless of how true the legend of the cursed gold from Delphi really was, it is important to note the mark that the sack of Delphi made on the psyche of the Greeks, Macedonians and Romans. Stories of the sack of Delphi spread throughout Greece for decades afterwards in hymns, poems and in many other literary forms; including several epic poems known as Galatika, which have only survived as fragments inside
other writers’ texts. One of these epic poems was called Galatea and composed by Callimachus (310/305–240 BC). Eventually, nearly every single hymn to Apollo included a reference to his victory over the Celts at Delphi. After Antigonus defeated the part of Brennus’ army that was left in Macedonia, a hymn to Pan was written by Aratus in order to commemorate the victory. Also, a festival known as the Soteria, the ‘Salvation Festival’, became an annual celebration to commemorate the Celtic retreat from Greece. Originally, the festival was instituted and supervised by the Amphictiones. However, the Aetolians took the festival from the control of the Pan-Hellenic religious assembly in 243 BC and reorganized it. The Aetolians had suffered the most from the invasion and they felt that they had played the most vital role in the defence of Greece, even though most of the credit had traditionally gone to the Phocians. Given the overall cultural impact the Celtic invasion made on the Greeks, it is safe to assume that the Greeks fully understood the danger they faced. But in the end, the Greeks had proved once again that they were among the best infantry fighters of the ancient world. •
Erich B. Anderson is a graduate from Northern Illinois University with a degree in History and Anthropology. He has written several articles on ancient and medieval history. Further reading - Stephen Allen, Celtic Warrior 300 BC–AD 100 (Oxford 2001). - Barry Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts (London 1999). - Peter Berresford Ellis, The Celtic Empire: The First Millennium of Celtic History, 1000 BC–AD 51 (New York 2001). - John Haywood, The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age (Harlow 2004). - Arnaldo Momigliano, Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenization (Cambridge 1990). - Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Celts: A History (Woodbridge 2003). - David Rankin, Celts and the Classical World (London 1996).
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The Iron-Age stone sculptures of Lunigiana
Ligurian stone warriors The stelae and the statues from the early part of the European Iron Age are a majestic, but – at the same time – difficult source of information. The Eastern Liguria in Northern Italy, between Etruscan and Hallstattian Celts, provides an impressive group of this monumental expression, an echo of a tradition originally much more widespread.
© Edizioni Giacché, SBAT
By Stefano Marchiaro
Statue-stela named ‘Sorano V’ (height 178cm). The figure is armed with an axe, a pair of javelins and an antenna short sword thrust through the belt on the right side. A barely readable engraving on his chest reads ‘(…)vem(…)’. Now in the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana, Florence.
One of the most spectacular figurative expressions of the Ligurians is a set of monumentalized stone figures. At present, there are about sixteen known specimens, including fragments made in local sandstone; all are dated to the Italian Iron Age. These monuments, probably created for funerary purpose, are known in the archaeological literature as the ‘statue-stelae’ of Lunigiana, a territory that covers an area from the Apennines to the Magra river, between Pisa and Genua. Their precise function remains largely unknown; they are usually discovered by accident and sometimes reused in mediaeval and modern buildings. Without a precise archaeological context, their dating and interpretation is based on the analysis of the depicted weapons and the palaeography of onomastic inscriptions engraved in a Celtic language on five specimens, using letters that derive from the Etruscan alphabet of Chiusi. These stelae, which have been dated to between the end of the seventh and the fifth centuries BC, were not new in Lunigiana. From the third millennium BC, we have a larger set of anthropomorphic stelae from this region that are typologically divided in Group A and Group B. At least six of these examples from the Copper Age were re-cut and re-engraved in the Iron Age to serve as funerary monuments. This type of reuse has lead to a debate about the visibility of the Eneolithic stelae over the centuries and the role they played in later communities, who were probably ignorant of their original function. The Iron-Age statue-stelae (or Group
C), unlike the earlier ones, were worked on all four sides, creating a threedimensional statue. In the course of time, the rendition of human anatomical features became increasingly more accurate. Some features, such as facial features, are better detailed. In the oldest specimens of Group C, the body was still based on a rectangular slab and the results are quite two-dimensional and flat. In the younger examples, which were always made ex novo, the human figure is represented as a full-relief sculpture. Independently from the type, the subjects of the statue-stelae are always males, equipped with a great variety of weapons, in order to emphasize their status as warriors and members of the aristocratic elite.
Carrying the Celtic sword The older Iron Age statue-stelae show a wide variety of offensive weapons: in the stelae called ‘Filetto I’, ‘Sorano V’ and ‘Filetto II’, the figure holds in one hand a battle-axe (winged flanged or socketed) with quadrangular head and a short right-angled haft, and in the other a pair of javelins. A typical Hallstatt antenna short sword is thrust through the belt, or, in more recent ‘Filetto II’, hanging at the belt with a scabbard suspension system. However, in all three cases the weapon always appears on the right side of the warrior in a vertical position: the traditional Celtic way of carrying a sword. In one case we observe the two javelins, associated with the sword or the axe, now related to a single pole weapon, perhaps a thrusting spear. In the warriors of the following phase, now real statues, the swords and ranged weapons disappear and – apart from one controversial example armed only with a war-knife – the axe remains the only weapon. The axe is also considered as a political power symbol with religious purposes. The often debated example of Reusa represents an innovation when compared with the past because of the
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appearance of some components of armour: a hemispheric helmet (?) and a small circular shield. Unique is the stela of ‘Lerici’, which is a reworking of an older Copper Age statue-stela (Group A) and features a bas relief of a warrior in an attacking stance; the whole panoply of weapons (throwing spear, pole weapon, antennae sword) and armour (helmet, shield, and possibly greaves) are visible. The helmet has a simple rounded cap shape, without decorations, similar to the Celtic helmets à calotte hémisphérique of the first phase of the La Tène culture, or to the bronze skullcap helmets worn by northerly Etruscan infantry during the fifth century BC. The shield was too small for an archaic aspis. It was also too small to be a “long shield, worked in the Gallic fashion” (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica 5.39.7), characteristic of the Ligurians from the second part of the Iron Age (from ca. 500 BC to the Roman Conquest). However, it was similar to the parma used in the fifth century BC by Italic cavalry and light infantry, or perhaps to the round wooden shields used in Spain during the Iron Age. Influences from Southwest France are clear from the depiction of short antennae swords, which were probably grossly oversized. This type of sword, also known from the Iberian Peninsula from the later decades of the sixth century BC, eventually developed into to the short atrophied-antenna swords, typical of the Celtiberians of the following centuries. The scabbard in the relief is carried at an angle, unattested in the previous monuments and conforming more to the ‘Mediterranean’ way of carrying a sword, namely via a baldric passing over the shoulder and attached to mobile rings connected to the scabbard.
Under the Etruscans’ shadow With the beginning of the seventh century BC, Northern Italy was affected by remarkable changes in the field of weaponry and perhaps also with regards to modes of fighting. Iron weapons were now systematically produced, with a much shorter type of sword and singleedged war-knives replacing the long bronze cutting sword. Furthermore, elements of the Greek hoplite panoply
© Edizioni Giacché, SBAL
Funerary stela from Lerici (height 177cm). The warrior is depicted advancing to the right in attack position, wearing a complete panoply. He stands on a thick line that separates the scene from the portion that was to be fixed in the ground. Now at the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Liguria (SBAL), Genoa.
begin to find their way into the Northern Italian territories as prestige items. Even if phalanx tactics probably did not develop simultaneously, the spear became the more common offensive weapon, used frequently in pairs – perhaps one for thrusting and one for throwing? – as demonstrated by the archaeological and iconographical evidence. Between the mid-seventh century and mid-sixth century BC, northeastern infantrymen, well represented in situla art, acted and fought in co-ordinated groups and were often equipped with a shield, a bronze pot-helmet, one or two iron spears, a long war-knife and, rarely, an axe. However, the equipment and appearance of western warriors remained less well-defined. A few signs of the aforementioned transformation can be found in these territories (Liguria included), which could still be characterized by village-based societies with tribal structures dominated by aristocracies.
Consequently, even the lightly armed warriors of the statue-stelae recall an ‘archaic’ and much fluid style of combat between individuals or small groups of combatants, armed with javelins (or throwing-spears) for long-distance offence and axes and/or short iron swords for close-quarters fighting. In this scenario, the Lunigiana stone warriors are the complex result of contacts between a few individuals of the Ligurian’s warrior elite and their powerful and ‘more civilized’ neighbours of northern Etruria. This act of cultural and social self-affirmation combines the Etruscan model of the inscribed stelae with the Celtic and local traditions and gives a lively impression of IronAge aristocratic warriors in this rugged region of Italy. •
Stefano Marchiaro has a graduate degree in Prehistoric Archaeology from the University of Florence and is currently working on his PhD at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. Further reading - R. Chenorkian, Les armes métalliques dans l’art protohistorique de l’Occident méditerranéen (Paris 1988). - R.C. De Marinis and G. Spadea (eds), I Liguri. Un antico popolo europeo tra Alpi e Mediterraneo, Catalogo della mostra (GenevaMilan 2004). - S. Paltineri, ‘Tra il mare e la via dell’Appennino: le statue stele dell’età del Ferro in Lunigiana’, in: Tra protostoria e storia. Studi in onore di Loredana Capuis, Antenor Quaderni 20 (Rome 2011), pp. 143−158. - E. Paribeni, Guerrieri dell’età del Ferro in Lunigiana (La Spezia 2007). - M. Ratti (ed.), Antenati di pietra. Statue stele della Lunigiana e archeologia del territorio, Catalogo della mostra (Genoa 1994). - P.F. Stary, Zur eisenzeitlichen Bewaffnung und Kampfesweise in Mittelitalien, Marburger Studien zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte 3 (Mainz 1981).
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Brutality and the Roman soldier
Killing beyond the battlefield During battle the Roman soldiery could commit acts of extreme violence and brutality against their enemies. Be they the ferocious warriors of Northwest Europe, the Greek phalanxes well-drilled and bristling with spear-points, eastern horse-archers, or their own countrymen during civil wars, the Roman soldier could and did brutally suppress all enemies placed in front of him. What is less often mentioned, however, is their willingness to extend such violence to whole cities of unarmed civilians. By Joseph Hall
Violence in battle is both an expected and necessary part of warfare, but what could bring about such brutality against already defeated or captive peoples, and how could violence on such a scale be so commonplace as to merit only passing reference in the ancient sources? When committing their own history to paper, Roman authors recorded incidents such as the sacking of cities and the massacre of civilians simply by the statement of their occurrence. Occasionally however, the authors reveal glimpses of a world in which force was king, and the license of the soldier to do as he pleased without repercussion almost infinite. At the sack of New Carthage, Polybius recounts that the legionaries’ were ordered to:
“Exterminate every form of life they encountered, sparing none (…) so when cities are taken by the Romans you may often see not only corpses of human beings but dogs cut in half and the dismembered limbs of other animals.” Polybius, The Histories 5.15 44
In order to understand how such brutality could be unleashed with so little regard for its victims we must first understand something of the mindset of those men who so willingly took fire and the sword to unarmed men, women, and children; the soldiers of Rome.
Life before the army Prior to recruitment into the army, soldiers were predominantly members of the poorest levels of society. Aside from those raised on tales of great battles and thus eager to emulate such martial glories, for a young man with any prospects at all in civilian life a military career would hold very little incentive. It follows that those who found themselves drawn into the army would be the very people whose lives were hardest; marked by desperation, traumatic events, and most certainly violence. Such experiences in the formative years of their lives can offer a good insight into the mentality subsequently carried over into soldier’s military career. All over the Roman world, exposure to the sights of death and dying would have been constant, where the poor lived akin to many developing world inhabitants, and millions lived below subsistence level. The colder months could decimate demographics such as the very young and the elderly
in both urban and rural areas, with the hot months also being particularly lethal as diseases such as typhoid and malaria ran rampant. The poet Horace described poorly interred corpses of the destitute in the open mass burial pits of the Esquiline graveyard (Satires 1.8). Those with no family to bury them would lie where they fell, often in the streets or thrown onto mounds of refuse. Dogs and carrion birds would also have played their parts in the disposal, and dispersal, of corpses. Suetonius describes how a stray dog from the street arrived at Vespasian’s table and dropped a human hand at the breakfasting emperor’s feet (Vespasian 5). As well as providing horrific sights, the city was a dangerous place, and the satirist Juvenal highlights the dangers of the densely packed streets, where crushes were not uncommon. Of a marble cart on a crowded street he speculates on how easily an accident could see the cartload of stone avalanche down upon the crowd behind;
“For if that axle with its load of Ligurian marble breaks down, and pours an overturned mountain on to the crowd, what is left of their bodies? Who can identify the limbs, who the bones? The poor man’s crushed corpse wholly disappears, just like his soul” Juvenal, Satires 3.232 Even staying out of the crowd death was never far away. Careless workmanship along with inadequate building regulations and enforcement made buildings prone to collapse. Such densely packed and poorly built accommodation, often constructed from timber and faced with
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wattle, were, as the architect Vitruvius himself laments, akin to torches in the event of fire (On Architecture 2.8.20). Indeed, the jurist Ulpian declared that anyone found lighting a brazier in a low status abode could legally be flogged for contravening public safety (Digest 1.15.4). Concern for the safety of the individual, however, was somewhat lacking. Funerary inscriptions on headstones include such details as death by animal attack, drowning at the baths, falling from buildings, the crush of a crowd, during surgery, and even of children at play. Violent death also is attested on many headstones, such as the epitaphs of Julia Restuta, murdered for her jewellery (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum III.2399), and Marcus Valerius, who was “murdered by robbers” (CIL III.14587). Juvenal warns against walking the streets after dark, as criminals would often attack with impunity anyone travelling alone and unguarded (Satires 3. 299).The possibility of endemic domestic violence can also not lightly be discounted, and is evidenced by the epitaph of Julia Maiana; killed by her husband after 28 years of marriage (CIL XIII.2182). When victim to crime and violence, plebs had to resort to friends and neighbours to exact reparation as no real law enforcement existed. Those higher in the social scale could rally their numerous clients into vigilante bands, and rural landowners even hired armed gangs for protection. Many impoverished young men doubtless found themselves drawn into these gangs, and into situations which required them to participate in acts of violence. Such hardened individuals – if not deserters from the legions themselves – could eventually end up serving in the army, and were perhaps regular and valued recruitment material for the legions.
Institutionalized violence That such repeated exposure to death and violence could result in desensitization is highly probable, but the influence of the state and in particular the implicit and explicit examples it set regarding the role of violence within society also played their part in shaping the mentality of its future soldiers. Officially sanctioned violence was
© Jona Lendering
This scene from the Column of Marcus Aurelius shows the sack of a Germanic village, with men, women and children being put to the sword. Other scenes from the column portray the execution of captives and the enslaving of civilians.
well embedded within Roman society. Domestically, householders were legally authorised to kill burglars, and the pater familias able to mete out violent justice to any who dishonoured the family name. Such was the acceptance, and expectance, of institutional violence that Caesar had no reason to play down or sanitize his genocide of the Gauls, and instead could revel in the glory it brought him (Pliny, Natural History 7.92). The effects of juridical violence would also have undoubtedly affected
the outlook of the would-be soldier. Punishments which today would violate all human rights were often meted out, from floggings to strangulation to crucifixion. The transformation of punishment into spectacle acted to further desensitize the viewing public, with the aspect of deterrence increasingly seen as of secondary importance to the spectacular theatre such acts provided. Strabo mentions a Sicilian rebel he personally saw torn to pieces in a quasi-theAncient Warfare VI-6
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© Picture by anonymous creator, now in the public domain
desensitization was reached; with such explicit brutality being condoned on the pragmatic grounds that it conditioned the audience to scorn wounds and death (Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus 33).
From civilian to soldier
Scenes from the Zliten Mosaic, Libya, showing gladiators pitted against one another and criminals savaged by beasts for the crowd’s entertainment.
atrical performance in the forum (On Geography 6.2.6), and the poet Martial too witnessed a notorious criminal’s spectacular death:
“(…) Laureolus, suspended on no feigned cross, offered his defenceless entrails to a Caledonian bear. His mangled limbs quivered, every part dripping with gore (…) This criminal had surpassed the crimes of ancient story, and what had been fabulous, was in his case a real punishment” On the Public Shows of Domitian 7 The many amphitheatres were themselves hugely popular throughout the Empire, showcasing gladiators and wild beasts, as well as creative judicial executions, in an orgy of death and violence. At the other end of the scale, when the Colosseum was finally completed in AD 80, the citizens of Rome had a focal point for such brutalizing entertainment. With eighty-thousand seats, and celebratory games often lasting for over a hundred days, the pinnacle of mass 46
Once signed into the legions, individuals would find themselves stripped of their old identity and conferred with a new, more valuable, social status. The soldiers themselves formed an ‘imagined community’, to which their welldefined and widely recognised identity was integral. Such communities naturally wished to emphasize their distinctiveness from civilian society, and expressed this through such media as dress, display, and their use of space; all attested archaeologically. However, the transformation from civilian to soldier also brought with it other changes. The philosopher Epictetus advised against attempting to stop a soldier taking your belongings, reasoning that either way you would lose them, but to resist would also ensure a beating (Discourses 4.1). Similarly, Juvenal complains at length about the difficulties of gaining any kind of justice if the crime was committed by a soldier (Satires 16), and indeed an actual complaint to a provincial governor by a merchant survives on a wooden tablet from Vindolanda. It records that he, a self-proclaimed “innocent man”, had had his produce destroyed and was then “bloodied by rods as if I had committed some crime” (Tablet 344). The exact nature of the incident is unknowable; it could have been that the merchant had set up stall in the wrong place, was cheating his customers in some way, or simply that the passing centurion didn’t much like the look of him. In any case, the soldiery had almost free reign to act as they pleased when applying the law, as oftentimes they were the law. The fact that the merchant’s complaint was found in a barrack room within the fort suggests that it never went beyond those who received it; perhaps finding its way to the nearest refuse pit faster than the time it had taken to write. As a privileged group, soldiers were often seen as being beyond the normal reaches of the law due to their political
power. Such power and status within a distinct military community could lead soldiers to the belief that they were superior to other groups within society; recognized today as a necessity for legitimizing subsequent violence. In addition to this, the world of the Roman male also revolved around honour and the maintaining of ideals; in particular the ideal of virtus, which encompassed Roman manliness, courage, strength, honour, and military prowess. The playwright Plautus has a Roman wife sing:
“Virtus is the very best gift of all; virtus stands before everything, (…) It is what maintains and preserves our liberty, safety, life, (…) homes and parents, our country and children. Virtus comprises all things: a man with virtus has every blessing.” Amphitryon 2.2 Riding on the back of such glorification of the soldier was the implicit legitimization of his actions: violence, brutality, and killing. Triumphal processions following military victories would also have impressed upon watching audiences the power attendant on martial success, and such power would naturally have been associated with the soldiers marching in fine military dress, surrounded by the spoils of war. Civilians viewing such monuments as the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, along with various other imperially commissioned military representations, would be encouraged to more ideological interpretations of warfare and violence. This, contrasted with the dirty and inglorious violence found in his own life, could have been a major attraction to the future recruit. Similarly, in seeing such power and status bound up in the identity of the soldier, he would naturally see such a position as preferable to his current situation of destitution and social impotence. A military life would have seemed a suitable – and given his life experience also – a completely natural progression. Similarly, the Roman army also laid
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great emphasis on fervent competition for honour within the ranks. The desire to outshine others in service, bravery, and feats of arms was so pervasive that soldiers marked on their headstones such information as time served, notable exploits, and especially any prestigious military decorations.
The ‘end result’ The almost untouchable status of the soldiery, alongside a thirst for gaining recognition for their martial abilities, led to numerous instances which today would be abhorred as atrocities. When the Sicilian town of Henna entertained a change of allegiance to Carthage, the Roman garrison spent a tense and vigilant night awaiting the next day’s public debate. The meeting was a trap, and the soldiers fell upon the assembly:
“Nothing was anywhere to be seen but flight and bloodshed, as though the city had been captured, for the rage of the soldiery was no less excited in putting to the sword an unarmed rabble, than it would have been had the heat of battle and an equality of danger stimulated it.” Livy, History of Rome 24.39 Such actions evidence the cathartic nature which went with the act of killing; in this instance, the soldiers were able to release their fears and tensions in an outpouring of sanctioned brutality. This is especially true in the sacking of cities, where free rein was often given to the soldiers to rape, pillage, destroy, and murder as a reward for the hardships of the siege. Archaeology can also attest to these actions. One victim of the Roman sack of Valencia was bound with his arms behind his back before receiving a Roman pilum in his rectum; his body then being mutilated. A severed arm was found in the destruction layer of the sack of Jerusalem, and at Maiden Castle the skulls of seriously injured captives were repeatedly hacked by the Romans. When such incidents as these are recalled it must not be forgotten that the instincts of fear, survival, and revenge
also contended in the legionaries’ mind with the gaining of virtus, which would ensure the soldier’s worth both as an individual and within his fraternal military community. In eagerness for such an experience, the lines between gaining virtus and perpetrating brutality could easily be blurred. The competitive nature of the legions also played its part, with whole units and individuals striving to outshine all others in ability, competence, and virtus, often resulting in an unstoppable escalation of violence and brutality. It cannot be asserted that such brutality was confined only to the desire or whim of the individual soldier however; doubtless higher military command found it expedient to brutally sack enemy cities in order to coax a reluctant army to the open field where Rome held the advantage. In these instances the soldiery often preferred that a town refuse surrender than give in immediately, as after the ram touched the gates the soldiers were allowed to do as they pleased with the inhabitants. At the siege of Cremona in AD 69 fortythousand soldiers stormed the city after a siege:
“Without any respect for age or for authority they added rape to murder and murder to rape. Aged men and decrepit old women, who were worthless as booty, were hustled off to make sport for them. If some grown girl or a handsome youth fell into their clutches, they would be torn to pieces in the struggle for possession, while the plunderers were left to cut each other’s throats (…) Some, disdaining easy finds, hunted for hidden hoards, and dug out buried treasure, flogging and torturing the householders. They held torches in their hands and, having once secured their prize, would fling them wantonly into an empty house or some dismantled temple. Composed as the army was of citizens, allies, and
foreign troops, differing widely in language and customs, the objects of the soldiers’ greed differed also. But while their views of what was right might vary, they all agreed in thinking nothing wrong. Cremona lasted them four days.” Tacitus, Histories 3.33 Cremona itself was a Roman city in Italy, full of Roman citizens, yet when the rest of Italy refused to buy as slaves former Roman citizens, the soldiery, instead of realising the error of their actions, simply killed those they could not sell. Another factor which could instigate brutality against civilians was necessity. At the end of the Punic wars the city of Carthage was stormed by Scipio and his troops for six cataclysmic days and nights. After Scipio ordered that the houses should be lit aflame, the soldiery set to work:
“So the crashing grew louder, and many corpses fell with the stones into the midst. Others were seen still living, especially old men, women, and young children who had hidden in the inmost nooks of the houses, some of them wounded, some more or less burned, and uttering piteous cries. Still others, thrust out and falling from such a height with the stones, timbers, and fire, were torn asunder in all shapes of horror, crushed and mangled.” Appian, History of Rome 129 Debris from the collapsing buildings blocked the streets and hampered the movement of troops, thus Scipio set soldiers to work in hastily clearing them:
“(…) the soldiers who were removing the debris with axes, mattocks, and forks, and making the roads Ancient Warfare VI-6
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Macedon: a prototype for Roman brutality? In 342 BC, the Athenian statesman Demosthenes delivered a powerful call to arms against the encroaching threat of King Philip II of Macedon. He railed against what he saw as a distortion of the nature of Greek warfare from the ‘civilized’ Classical practices to the more pragmatic and brutal style indicative of Hellenistic war (Demosthenes, Philippic 3.9.48). Before Philip II and Alexander, he argued, Greek armies fought on the battlefield until one side conceded defeat, terms could then be agreed and prisoners exchanged. With the rise of Macedon however, such formalities were irrelevant, coming as it did from the periphery of the Greek world; its armies consisting of mercenaries and Macedonians whom ‘true’ Greeks shunned. This new style of ‘total war’ is evidenced in the story of the unarmed Branchidae, who were butchered by the Macedonian troops despite surrendering their city to Alexander (Curtius, The History of Alexander 7.5.33). The main difference between the eastern armies which went on to emulate the examples of Macedon, and the armies of the rising power of Rome to the west, was that war – although pervasive in the Hellenistic world – did not dominate it. The same cannot be said for Rome.
passable, tossed with these tools the dead and the living together into holes in the ground, dragging them along like sticks and stones and turning them over with their iron tools. Trenches were filled with men. Some who were thrown in head foremost, with their legs sticking out of the ground, writhed a long time. Others fell with their feet downward and their heads above ground. Horses ran over them, crushing their faces and skulls, not purposely on the part of the riders, but in their headlong haste. Nor did the street clearers do these things on purpose; but the tug of war, the glory of approaching victory, the rush of the soldiery, the orders of the officers, the blast of the trumpets, tribunes and centurions marching their cohorts hither and thither – all together made everybody frantic and heedless of the spectacles under their eyes.” Appian, History of Rome 129 In the Roman mind as well, the other cheek could very rarely be turned, with long standing inter-group hostilities per48
petuated by the recounting of in-group ‘memories’ to new members. Thus we see one legion, a proportion of whom were doubtless replacements and new recruits, able to slaughter “without distinction, those who resisted and those who fled, the armed and unarmed, freemen and slaves, young and old, men and cattle”, after taking a Samnite camp (Livy 9.14). So committed to killing were the soldiers that the command to disengage had to be backed up by threats, and afterwards a speech had to be given to the troops to calm their anger at being “interrupted in the gratification of their vengeance” (ibid.); the original insult being the legion’s defeat by Samnite forces at the Caudine forks. Similarly, a legion with Titus during the Judean campaign was said to still feel the shame of a defeat over six years previous, and as a result advanced all the more boldly for a chance of vengeance (Josephus, The Jewish War 5.41).
Roman brutality in context When viewed in context the brutality evidenced by the Roman soldier was no more so than that evidenced by their neighbours. In cultures contemporary with Rome’s there are also numerous instances of atrocities being perpetrated by soldiers against the unarmed captives. For example, when Germanicus detoured his forces to the site of the Varian disaster in order to pay his respects six years after the event, he found the severed heads of legionary captives nailed to trees, and the altars
where tribunes and centurions were sacrificed. The dubious reputation gained by the Roman army for such brutality is arguably more a result of the success of the organizational structure which ensured its continuance, and the wider public exposure this achieved. A higher tolerance to death and suffering was inculcated by bitter life experience, and the craving for military glory also played its part. On top of this was the facilitating influence of legitimate officialdom; simultaneously sanctioning and demanding lethal violence. All of which was played out within the coercive confines associated with community conformity. Combined, these mutually supporting factors can be seen as a major causal agent in the enabling of brutality against both unarmed civilians and armed opponents. To the average soldier of Rome, atrocity was simply par for the course. •
Joseph Hall is an independent researcher with a particular interest in the social and psychological effects of Classical-era combat.
Further reading - T.W. Africa, ‘Urban violence in imperial Rome’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2.1 (1971), pp. 3–21. - S. James, Rome and the Sword: How Warriors and Weapons Shaped Roman History (London 2011). - D. G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (London 1998). - A. Lintott, Violence in Republican Rome (2nd ed., New York 1999). - A. Ribera i Lacomba and M. Calvo Galvez, ‘La primera evidencia arqueológica de la destrucción de Valentia por Pompeyo’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 8 (1995), pp. 19–40. - A. Ziolkowski, ‘Urbs direpta, or how the Romans sacked cities’, in: J. Rich and G. Shipley (eds), War and society in the Roman World (London & New York 1999), pp. 69–91.
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Did Emperor Caligula plan to invade Britain?
Caligula’s capers on the North Sea coast Amongst the many curious episodes from Emperor Caligula’s short reign, one of the strangest must be his parading of the Rhine legions on the Dutch coast and his alleged command for them to pick up shells. Over the years, there have been many attempts – some of them ingenious, some of them bizarre – to explain the emperor’s odd behaviour and divine his intentions. One of the most intriguing theories asks us to consider whether Emperor Claudius’ successful invasion of Britain in AD 43 might simply have been following a blueprint already laid down by Caligula.
By Duncan B. Campbell
Emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, popularly known – particularly amongst the legions – as Caligula (after the ‘little military boots’ that he had worn as a child), has been treated badly by ancient biographers and chroniclers. Modern scholars are chiefly dependent upon the Life of Gaius Caligula, written by the imperial secretary Suetonius around eighty years after the emperor’s death, along with the Byzantine abridgement of the lost Book 59 of Cassius Dio’s Roman History, originally composed around AD 220. Both accounts present an unremittingly negative impression of the young emperor. The Annals of Tacitus, the other major source for the period of the Early Empire, might be expected to have presented a more balanced picture, but Books 7–10 chronicling the years AD 37–47 (and hence the entire reign of Caligula) are wholly lost. It is sometimes claimed that Orosius, the fifth-century writer of the Histories against the Pagans, drew upon Tacitus, but his debt to Suetonius is far clearer, and he is useless as an independent source.
The young Emperor In March AD 37, the old Emperor Tiberius died, and Caligula, still only 24 years of age, found that he had become the most powerful man in the world. Less than four years later, his increasingly tyrannical behaviour had led to his assassination by members of his own Praetorian Guard. During his short reign, many of his more bizarre actions were (and still are) interpreted as evidence of genuine psychopathy. The description of the diseased mind given by his contemporary, Seneca the younger – “when cruelty has changed into pleasure and killing a man now causes delight” (On mercy 1.25.2) – is commonly thought to refer specifically to Caligula (though Seneca does not mention anyone by name). On the other hand, many of the same peculiar actions (when viewed dispassionately) can be seen to betray a sardonic wit. Certainly, Seneca observed that Caligula was one of those people who are “most eager to dish out insults, but intolerant of receiving them” (On the firmness of the wise man 18.4). It is understandable that his wit might be lost on his terrified victims, preoccupied with the knowledge that the shorttempered Emperor’s displeasure all too often manifested itself in violence. We
should be wary, then, of simply assuming that Caligula’s actions can, in every case, be explained as illogical and attributed to mental instability.
An unexpected journey In AD 39, Caligula set out for the Rhineland. He was still in Rome on 2 September, because he had just marked the anniversary of the Battle of Actium. Apparently, the celebrations – and those marking his own birthday, two days before – had displeased the volatile Emperor, and he summarily dismissed the consuls, who had been responsible for planning the event. He probably left Rome soon after. Suetonius represents his journey north as the result of a whim:
“He came in contact with military affairs and warfare only once, and not intentionally; for, having gone to Mevania to visit the River Clitumnus and its sacred grove, he was reminded about the recruitment of the unit of Batavians that he customarily had around him, and suddenly had the idea for a German expedition. Without delay, he called up legions and auxiliaries from all around, conducted the harshest levies, and brought together supplies of every sort in quantities never before seen.” Suetonius, Life of Caligula 43.1 Caligula’s levies may have included the creation of two new legions, as the XV Primigenia and XXII Primigenia legions are commonly presumed to have been Ancient Warfare VI-6
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men, the historian Cassius Dio continues:
© Matthias Kabel (via Wikimedia Commons)
© Attributed to ‘Prioryman’ (via Wikimedia Commons)
Left, an original Roman caliga, found at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt and dated to the century before or after AD 1; currently in the British Museum. Right, a modern reconstruction.
raised at this time. Although the argument is not conclusive, it is attractive. The goddess Fortuna Primigenia was particularly favoured by Germanicus, Caligula’s father (and Claudius’ brother). If Caligula planned to emulate his father’s German campaigns, what could be a more fitting tribute than to dedicate two new legions to his protecting deity? From Mevania (modern Bevagna in northern Italy), Caligula probably made for Mogontiacum (modern Mainz in Germany), a distance of about 700 miles (1100km). The Praetorian Guard marching on foot must have taken more than a month, although Caligula is said to have moved swiftly (for most of the journey):
“Beginning his journey, he travelled so hurriedly and rapidly that the Praetorian cohorts, contrary to their usual practice, were forced to load their military standards onto pack animals and follow in this way. Sometimes, on the other hand, he was so lazy and delicate that he was carried in a litter by eight bearers, and demanded that the common folk in neighbouring towns swept the road for him and sprinkled water wherever there was dust.” Suetonius, Life of Caligula 43.2 Mogontiacum lay at the heart of the Upper Rhine military district (which did not become the province of Upper 50
Germany until much later). The double fortress here was the springboard for campaigns across the river into the lands of the warlike Chatti. It seems to have been occupied by the XIV Gemina and XVI Gallica legions. As soon as the XV Primigenia was raised, it probably lay nearby, and, if a campaign was in the offing, reinforcements could be drawn from the other two legions further up the Rhine (the II Augusta and the XIII Gemina). Ten years before, Caligula’s predecessor Tiberius had assigned the command of this powerful army to Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, a position that he still held under Caligula. Lentulus sprang from an old patrician family; his agnomen Gaetulicus (‘conqueror of the Gaetulians’) commemorated his father’s successes against the Gaetulian tribe of North Africa in AD 6, for which he had won ‘triumphal ornaments’ – the highest accolade for a senator, now that the emperors restricted full-scale triumphs to themselves. A powerful and well-connected man like Lentulus might covet the position of emperor for himself – or so it might seem to a paranoid young man like Caligula. At any rate, Lentulus was implicated in a major conspiracy and removed. If this was one of Caligula’s goals in journeying to the Rhineland, he had accomplished it by 27 October AD 39. On that day, sacrifices were offered at Rome “on account of the uncovering of the nefarious plot against Gaius Germanicus by Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus” (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI.32346). Lentulus was evidently executed, for, after claiming that Caligula murdered many prominent
“On the one hand, he put to death Lentulus Gaetulicus – who, besides being of high reputation, had governed Germany for ten years – because he was loved by the soldiers. On the other hand, he slew Lepidus, the man who was his lover and beloved, the husband of Drusilla [Caligula’s sister] (…) After this, he gave the soldiers money, just as if he had defeated some enemy (…)” Cassius Dio, Roman History 59.22.5-7 Adventures across the Rhine Having removed Lentulus, Caligula’s first priority was to install an effective replacement. This was Servius Sulpicius Galba, whose draconian discipline – how could he act otherwise, under the eyes of the Emperor? – allegedly gave rise to the soldiers’ chant, “Hey, soldier! Learn to be a soldier, for this is Galba, now; not Gaetulicus!” (Suetonius, Life of Galba 6.2). Such a man was ideal, if Caligula’s intention was to mount a campaign across the Rhine.
“Galba conditioned both the veteran soldiers and the new recruits with constant work, quickly cut off the barbarians who had been continually invading into Gaul, and he and his army made such a good impression when Gaius was present that, out of the innumerable forces assembled from all the provinces, none received greater commendation or reward; and Galba was particularly remarkable, directing the field exercises, and even jogged along beside the emperor’s chariot for twenty miles.” Suetonius, Life of Galba 6.3
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Galba’s strictness was necessary, with so many new recruits to train and preparations to be made for Caligula’s German expedition. However, commentators ancient and modern have treated the idea of a serious campaign with derision. In his early work On Germany, the historian Tacitus gave a single-line verdict: “soon, the enormous threats of Gaius Caesar were turned into farce” (On Germany 37.5). We are handicapped by the lack of evidence and the ancient writers’ wilful misrepresentation of Caligula’s actions, but Suetonius (in the passage from the Life of Galba, quoted above) hints at massive forces drawn from “all the provinces”. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that, when Claudius came to the throne in January AD 41, he was soon able to take a much-needed imperatorial acclamation on account of the successes of Galba and his Lower Rhine counterpart, Publius Gabinius Secundus, campaigning beyond the river. Such successes cannot have been instant, but must have built on preparations made under Caligula. Unfortunately, Suetonius (our main source for these preparations) simply relates a farrago of tall tales, conveying the impression that the young Emperor had staged a mock campaign with the intention of fraudulently claiming a German victory:
“Finding no opportunity for war, he presently commanded a few of the Germans in his bodyguard to cross the Rhine and hide, and arranged for the arrival of the enemy to be reported to him after lunch, as noisily as possible. When this was done, he rushed into a nearby forest with his companions and some of the Praetorian cavalry, and, having cut back some trees and decorated them as trophies, he returned by lamp-light. He accused those who had not followed him of timidity and cowardice, but presented his companions and the participants in his victory with crowns of a new sort, adorned with images of the sun, moon and
stars, and called by a new name, ‘Exploratorius’.” Suetonius, Life of Caligula 45.1 Taken alone, this passage could easily be construed as a description of some kind of military exercises. The only ambiguity concerns the “Germans in his bodyguard”, as Suetonius’ Latin could equally be rendered “Germans who were in custody”, but commentators have generally avoided this alternative translation. After this passage, Suetonius continues:
“Then again, after some ‘hostages’ were taken from their elementary school and secretly sent ahead, he suddenly left a banquet and pursued them with the cavalry, as if they were fugitives; when he caught them, he brought them back in chains. In this farce, he acted no less moderately. Returning to dinner, when it was reported that the army was assembled, he made them recline at the table, still in their armour.” Suetonius, Life of Caligula45.2 To the Romans, ‘hostages’ were representatives of allied or tributary nations, willingly surrendered to the emperor as a pledge of loyalty and usually accommodated at Rome, where they could be educated in the Roman style. Augustus himself had boasted that “Phraates, son of Orodes, King of the Parthians, sent all his sons and grandsons to me in Italy, although he was not conquered in war” (Achievements of the Deified Augustus 32.2). Such hostages might eventually be summoned home (with Roman consent, of course) to rule their country, though the outcome was not always a happy one: when one of Phraates’ sons returned to take the Parthian throne, he was expelled, apparently for being too Roman. It may be that Caligula had summoned some of those hostages from Rome, specifically those supplied by
friendly German tribes. However, it seems more likely that this is another instance of Suetonius placing as negative a slant as possible on one of Caligula’s actions. In fact, the story is remarkably similar to the previous one, except that the role of the hostages is there taken by “a few of the Germans in his bodyguard”. (Of course, if these were really “Germans who were in custody”, then perhaps Caligula had really employed his ‘hostages’ in this way all along.) At any rate, the rest of the story could easily describe another of the Emperor’s military exercises, with troops taking their meal in full battle kit. A little later in his Life of Caligula, Suetonius reports another story that seems to belong with the Emperor’s transrhenane adventures:
“Although he was full of threats against the barbarians, when he was across the Rhine and travelling in a chariot through a narrow defile, and it was remarked that there would be no minor alarm if the enemy appeared from anywhere, he instantly mounted a horse and speedily returned to the bridges. When he found them crowded with camp followers and baggage, unable to bear the delay, he had himself passed by hand over the heads of the men.” Suetonius, Life of Caligula 51.2 The mention of the emperor’s chariot reminds us of the story about Galba (quoted previously) and how he jogged for twenty miles during the military exercises. However, the remainder of the story seems to wilfully misrepresent some event during these exercises. It has been suggested, for example, that Caligula – who was notoriously addicted to horse-racing, to such an extent that he had a race course constructed for his personal use at Rome – had literally challenged his companions to a race back to Roman territory, and employed every expedient to ensure that he was first to cross the bridge. However, here again, Suetonius has Ancient Warfare VI-6
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done much too good a job of concealing the truth behind a scurrilous retelling of the story.
A British connection Having dismissed Caligula’s actions on the Rhine, Suetonius preserves an interesting snippet about a British prince named Adminius (probably more correctly known as Amminus, the name that is found on silver coins of the period from southeast Britain):
“Yet he accomplished nothing more glorious than receiving the surrender of Adminius, son of Cunobelinus, King of the Britons, who had been banished by his father and had fled with a small company. He sent grand letters to Rome, as if the entire island had surrendered, instructing the speculators [messengers] to continue by carriage right into the forum and up to the senate house, and not to deliver the letters to anyone but the consuls in the Temple of Mars, with the senate assembled.” Suetonius, Life of Caligula 44.2 Nothing further is heard of Adminius – we might hope that he did not suffer the alleged maltreatment of Caligula’s German ‘hostages’ – but he wasn’t the first British prince to seek asylum at Rome (and he wouldn’t be the last, either). More than ninety years had passed since Julius Caesar claimed to have taken hostages from the tribes of south-eastern Britain; and, just as Augustus had boasted of his Parthian guests, he appears to have had British visitors, as well. In his self-dictated Achievements of the Deified Augustus, he refers to two British princes who fled to Rome, and the geographer Strabo certainly saw young Britons on the Capitol. It is at least possible that Adminius’ arrival had encouraged Caligula to think of invading Britain, perhaps hoping to secure Cunobelinus’ throne for himself. Orosius certainly seems to have thought 52
so, for, in his version, it was only when Caligula “stopped on the Ocean’s coast, within sight of Britannia, having travelled through Germany and Gaul”, that he received Adminius. However, Orosius appears simply to have cobbled together elements of Suetonius’ account, carelessly or in an order that he found pleasing. He rounds the story off by claiming that Caligula then returned to Rome, “finding no opportunity for war” (Histories against the Pagans 7.5.5), a phrase that Suetonius uses to introduce his account of the military exercises (which are entirely absent from Orosius’ account). In Suetonius’ version, the military exercises came first, and ended with the following peculiar event:
“At length, as if intending to wage war, he drew up a battle-line on the Ocean’s shore and set up ballistas and machines; nobody knew or guessed what he was about to do. Suddenly, he ordered them to gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds in their clothes, calling them ‘spoils of the Ocean owed to the Capitol and Palatine’. As a mark of victory, he erected a very tall tower, from which fires would shine forth at night to direct ships, like the Pharos [at Alexandria]. Promising the soldiers a bounty of 100 denarii per man, as if having exceeded all previous examples of generosity, he cried: ‘Depart joyful! Depart wealthy!’” Suetonius, Life of Caligula 46 Pick up shells! Cassius Dio’s Roman History (or, at any rate, the Byzantine abridgement that we have) relates the same story in slightly different terms, with specific mention of Britain:
“Arriving at the Ocean as if to launch a campaign in Britain, and drawing up all of the soldiers on the beach, he embarked on a
trireme and, having sailed a short distance from land, sailed back again. After this, he took a seat on a high platform and gave the signal to the soldiers to commence battle, and to the trumpeters to urge them on. Then, suddenly, he ordered them to gather up the shells. Having received this plunder (for conspicuous spoils are required for the victory procession), he was in high spirits, as if he had enslaved the Ocean itself, and he rewarded the soldiers greatly. He brought the shells back to Rome, so that he could show off the spoils to the people there.” Cassius Dio, Roman History 59.25.2-3. There have been many ingenious attempts to make sense of this comical scene. The Oxford scholar J.P.V.D. (‘Dacre’) Balsdon, who wrote a classic book on The Emperor Gaius (Caligula) (1934), wondered whether, if Caligula’s invasion had been thwarted by the soldiers, who were fearful of venturing onto the Ocean, he might have shown his disappointment by forcing them to collect sea-shells as a punishment. Balsdon also noted that British pearls were known as far back as Julius Caesar, who had dedicated a pearl-encrusted cuirass in the Temple of Venus at Rome, and wondered whether Caligula might have harboured hopes of gathering a similar haul of pearls. Another of Balsdon’s ingenious suggestions was again connected with the theory that an invasion attempt had been aborted. He noted that, according to Suetonius’ version, “ballistas and machines” had, at one stage, been deployed on the shore, so the troops must have been ordered to pick them up again. “Did they include musculi?” he asked, rhetorically. Musculus (literally, ‘little mouse’) was a term used to indicate a wooden shelter of the sort employed during siegecraft; its purpose was to protect men who were working near enemy fortifications, attempting
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military exercises here, just as he had previously done across the Rhine. He pointed out that, because of unreliable weather conditions, a Channel crossing would never have been attempted so early in the year (for, at the latest, it could only have been March – Caligula was back in Rome by May AD 40), and there is no mention of the fleet of transports that would have been required. However, Davies’ explanation of the sea-shells episode as the gathering of non-lethal ammunition – he was aware of the fact that, during military exercises, the troops used blunted spears and clods of earth in place of real weapons – seems far-fetched. Davies’ theory did not win universal support. For example, Peter Bicknell rightly pointed out that the sea-shells were expressly described as plunder, and specifically “spoils of the Ocean owed to the Capitol and Palatine”, not ammunition (although his objection that “few shells would make suitable missiles” is disproved by the medical text of Paul of Aegina).
Marble bust of Caligula, now in the Louvre, Paris.
© Jona Lendering
either to undermine the enemy wall or to fill in the defensive ditch. As such, its usefulness on a North Sea beach is not immediately apparent. Nevertheless, Balsdon’s basic point was that, if a non-technical writer like Suetonius came across this military term, he might naturally misconstrue the meaning, for musculus, used in a maritime context, indicates the mollusc known as the sea-mussel, a clear example of a sea-shell. Yet no source, when describing this episode, actually uses the word musculus. Mindful of this, David Woods took Balsdon’s basic theory one step further. He suggested that, just as musculus has alternative meanings, conchae (the word used for “seashells” by Suetonius) might also have stood for something else; in his opinion, they might originally have been small native boats (so-called “cockle-shells”), which Suetonius misrepresented as seashells in order to mock Caligula. However, it must be admitted that small native boats cannot be gathered in soldiers’ helmets and in the folds of their clothing. Nor can they easily be interpreted as “spoils of the Ocean”. Consequently, Woods’ theory seems rather unlikely, as it relies on an unattested meaning of a word, deliberately misused in a context that has, in turn, been twisted beyond recognition by a hostile writer. Each of these theories presupposes that Caligula intended to invade Britain, but Cassius Dio claims only that Caligula drew up his army “as if to launch a campaign in Britain”. Moreover, it seems that the reception of the British prince Adminius had been portrayed by Caligula in his despatches “as if the entire island had surrendered”. Consequently, there was surely no need of an invasion. It is not even clear that the events took place on the Channel coast opposite Britain, for everything else in the story occurred in the Rhineland, and it would be most natural to assume that Caligula had moved downstream to the Dutch coast. However, the question still remains: why were his troops on a beach on the North Sea coast? The Durham scholar Roy Davies, whose life’s work centred on the Roman army’s peacetime manoeuvres, offered another suggestion: perhaps Caligula had mounted
Either way, the sea-shells still present a baffling problem. Finally, it is interesting to note that Tacitus (usually considered to be a trustworthy source) believed that Caligula meant to invade Britain: “it is well known that Gaius Caesar spoke of invading Britain, but his impulsive character quickly thought better of it, and his grandiose efforts against Germany were in vain” (Life of Agricola 13.4). It is unfortunate that the historian’s lengthier treatment in the Annals has not survived, for, without it, we cannot say for sure whether Caligula really intended to invade Britain. •
Duncan B. Campbell is a regular contributor.
A symbolic victory? Most recently, Simon Malloch has urged us to take the accounts at face value, as evidence that Caligula really believed that he had triumphed over the Ocean. Cassius Dio records that he sailed out a short distance – according to Malloch, this symbolized the fact that he had exerted authority over the Ocean – before ordering his men to gather up sea-shells – tangible proof of his victory, says Malloch. Of course, such a theory tacitly admits that Caligula was mentally unstable, after all, and that he was prone to act in bizarre ways. Others continue to prefer Balsdon’s theory that a mutiny had thwarted an invasion attempt, despite the absence of evidence for either element in this scenario. However, if a genuine military operation had been planned, it would surely be more logical to see its target as the northern Germans, rather than the Britons. It is interesting to note that Aurelius Victor, another late writer, believed that Caligula “assembled all his legions together, hoping to cross over into Germany, and ordered them to gather mussels and cockles on the Ocean’s shore” (On the Caesars 3.11).
Further reading - J.P.V.D. Balsdon, ‘Notes concerning the Principate of Gaius’, in: Journal of Roman Studies 24 (1934), pp. 13–24. - P. Bicknell, ‘The Emperor Gaius’ military activities in AD 40’, Historia 17 (1968), pp. 496–505. - R.W. Davies, ‘The “abortive invasion” of Britain by Gaius’, Historia 15 (1966), pp. 124–128. - J.G.F. Hind, ‘Caligula and the Spoils of Ocean’, Britannia 34 (2003), pp. 272–274. - S.J.V. Malloch, ‘Gaius on the Channel coast’, Classical Quarterly 51 (2001), pp. 551– 556. - E.J. Phillips, ‘The Emperor Gaius’ abortive invasion of Britain’, Historia 19 (1970), pp. 369–374. - D. Woods, ‘Caligula’s seashells’, Greece & Rome 47 (2000), pp. 80–87. - D. Woods, ‘Seven notes on the reign of Caligula’, Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 16 (2012), pp. 437–471.
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Pompey Pompey was a figure of tremendous importance to the history of the later Republic, and yet I had previously encountered him only as the foil of Julius Caesar, who has undeniably received, as they say today, far more press. I decided that I would consider this book as an introduction to Pompey, and judge it on how it conveyed the military man that he was. Author Nic Fields has written a splendid monograph on Pompey as a commander, and his work is not merely informative, but possesses a literary quality that is a rarity in much other military historical literature. This he does ably in a mere 64 pages, several of which consist of full-colour plates. Pompey has had the misfortune to be described to posterity largely by his great enemy, and Fields writes that he “deserves something better.” Pompey was “one of those fascinating figures upon whom a period of history pivots, but whom history subsequently ignores.” It is Fields’ goal to “develop the great Pompey as a principal character, not as the second fiddle to the more wordy Caesar.” A biographical sketch of Pompey demands this, for in his prime, he was second to none. Pompey held a remarkable succession of commands. He was, for the most part, wildly successful, especially during his extraordinary war against the Mediterranean pirates who had the audacity in 68 BC to strike at Ostia, Rome’s port town just a few miles away from the capital, and burn the fleet there at anchor. In 67 BC, the Senate passed the lex Gabinia, effective for an unprecedented three years, which granted Pompey imperium pro consulare, placing him even above the presiding consuls. He was entrusted with 120,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, and 500 warships. The geographic scope of the command was the entirety of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and extended inland from the whole of the coastline to a distance of approximately eighty kilometers. The Mediterranean was divided into thirteen zones, each with an assigned fleet. Pompey himself headed a roving fleet of sixty warships, moving from zone to zone. The pirates in each were attacked at the same time to prevent them from gathering together. In a mere forty days, Pompey scoured the western Mediterranean of pirates, and then in another fifty, rid the eastern portion of the buccaneers. His forces captured 71 ships in battle and 306 others which surrendered. Some 90 of them were genuine warships equipped with rams. To prevent recidivism, 20,000 captives were settled on agricultural land elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. When Pompey returned to Rome for his third triumph, the festivities lasted for two whole days. After his successful war against the pirates, Pompey rolled up Rome’s old foe, Mithridates, and his campaign in Asia Minor shows a distinctive, and I think intelligent, mode of warfare. Pompey, granted command of the war by the lex Manilia, possessed, in Cicero’s words “military knowledge, courage, authority and good luck.” Mithridates was trounced in the first year of campaigning, and eventually fled to the Crimea. Pompey subsequently subdued Armenia, Syria, and the rest of the eastern Mediterranean, bringing them under Rome’s political dominion. Mithridates was still at large, and 54
ISBN: 9781849085724 Author: Nic Fields Pages: 64 Publisher: Osprey Publishing Address of publisher: www.ospreypublishing.com Reviewer: Marc G. De Santis
Pompey recognized that depriving the eastern king of allies would end his ability to resist Roman arms. Fields notes that Pompey “crops up now and then in academic tomes, while at other times his appearances seem shockingly brief only to return to shimmering in the background.” This, I think, is the point. Pompey never marched on Rome to make himself the indisputable “first man”, as had Sulla before him, and as Caesar would in time. When, in 61 BC, Pompey returned to Italy from his eastern campaigns to celebrate his third triumph, he arrived at the head of a mighty army. He had defeated “14 nations and taken 900 cities, 800 ships, and 1,000 pirate strongholds.” Yet Pompey did not seize ultimate power in Rome, and this is the crucial difference between Pompey and Caesar. Pompey wished to be the first man in Rome, and could not tolerate anyone else being his superior, or even his equal. He did not, however, wish to subvert the entire governing edifice of the Republic. Pompey’s mind was too conservative to encompass that design. Caesar, on the other hand (and perhaps we see this only with the clarity of hindsight) recognized that the days of a world-empire governed by the insufficient political machinery of a city-state were long over, and thus he had no qualms of making himself the effective ruler of Rome. In discussing Pompey’s merit as a military commander, Fields writes that Pompey’s greatness “belonged to what modern military theorists call the strategic level of war, for it lay in his clear discernment of the problem and in the admirable rapidity and boldness of the measures that he took to solve it.” It was at this same level that Napoleon operated, and Pompey grasped the nature of war-making very well. His campaign against Mithridates was impressive for its rationale that the surest way to defeat the Pontic monarch lay in divesting him of allies. Pompey’s squalid end in Egypt was hardly fitting for a man who was honoured with three triumphs during the course of his lifetime. Rome owed him a greater debt than is commonly acknowledged. He was hardly a ‘good’ man, though. After all, he was a product of the vicious political infighting among the city’s leading citizens, men who would help to bring down the Republic through a combination of greed and overwhelming military victories that had expanded the empire beyond all reasonable bounds. Quintus Sertorious,
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the capable Roman opponent who faced the young Pompey in Spain in the 70’s BC, named him ‘Sulla’s pupil,’ a derogatory appellation alluding to his cruel and bloody service on behalf of the dictator. But Pompey was not too different, in
his lust for power, than any other aristocrat of the last century of the Republic. He was simply more successful, with the sole exception of Caesar, who would eventually supplant him as first man in Rome, at least for a time.
The Ancient Warrior 3000 BC – AD 450 As a reader of Ancient Warfare you are unlikely to be a buyer of this book. But what if you have a brother or friend who has expressed interest in soldiers and battles of the Ancient World and needs an introduction to this engrossing subject? In The Ancient Warrior 3000 BC – AD 450 Martin J. Dougherty offers a sweeping summary of human conflict. The author covers five geographies with time periods. Each section is richly illustrated with black and white line drawings of soldiers of each time period, colour photographs of archaeological artefacts or modern reconstruction paintings, and explanatory battle maps. In the chapter ‘Mesopotamia: Birthplace of the Warrior’, Dougherty explains the origins of conflict and the military capability of ancient civilizations. The stories of Ur, Sargon the Great and the Akkadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Hurrians and Assyrians are described in terms of tactics and equipment. The Waters of Merom (c.1400 BC) and Siege of Lachish (701 BC) are examined along with other battles at Judah, Jerusalem, Palestine and Syria. The chapter ‘Warriors of Egypt and Palestine’ covers the civilizations along the Nile and eastern Mediterranean. The Battles of Kadesh (1285 BC) and Meggido (1157 BC) are discussed in detail, while quick summaries of Michmash and the Siege of Samaria are also offered. Among the topics, the author examines chariot warfare as fought by the Canaanites, Non-Judaeans and the so-called Sea People. The chapter ‘Warriors of Ancient Greece’ begins with Minoans and Myceneans, continues with the rise of the city states, the Persian War, sea warfare, and the Peloponnesian War and concludes with the rise of Macedon. Blink your eye and you may miss the cursory reference to the Trojan War on page 100. The author explains the training and tactics of hoplite soldiers, focusing on the phalanx, noting the use of pushing and shoving in the formation. The campaigns of Alexander the Great take up a third of the chapter, with attention given to his use of siege machines, artillery weapons, and the Seleucid’s use of elephants. The Battle of Salamis (480 BC) is the featured conflict of the section. For Marathon, Syracuse, Leutra, Tyre, Gaugamela and Hydaspes, Dougherty provides summarries. In the penultimate chapter, Dougherty discusses the ‘Warriors of Rome’. He explains the soldier’s arms and equipment of the early Republic, covering 360 years in barely a page, while the Punic Wars and Hannibal’s ultimately failed struggle gets five pages. Then, he breathlessly proceeds with the Macedonian War, reforms of Marius, the campaigns against Mithradates, Julius Caesar’s Gallic War (a little over four pages), the ensuing Civil Wars, the early Principate, the ‘zenith of the Empire – AD 101 to 117 – and the ‘beginnings of decline’, concluding with the ‘fall of the western Roman
Empire’. Disappointing is the coverage of the changes in arms, equipment and tactics from the Late Republic through the Early and Late Empire. The illustrations are decidedly Early Empire. For example, opposite the ‘fall of the western Roman Empire’ segment covering c. AD 350-533 is a picture of a ‘Legionary, Second Century AD’, which seems very out of place. There is no featured battle in this chapter but illustrated summaries of Trebia, Cannae, Cynoscephalae, Pydna, Aquae Sextiae, Alesia, Actium and the siege of Jerusalem by Titus are given. The book concludes with ‘Warriors of the Post-Roman Era’. The chapter is a jumble of ‘barbarian’ peoples from five centuries: Goths, Franks, Vandals, Huns, Parthians and Sassanids, but no Dacians, Saxons or Arabs. A bare-chested, trouser wearing first century British warrior, does, however, grace page 198. Barbarian infantry and cavalry warfare are explained with particular emphasis on horse archer tactics. The battles of Adrianople, Ad Decimum, Carrhae, Catalaunian Field are summarized. As “an accessible introduction to Ancient warfare” – as the dust jacket promotes it – the book succeeds, but while the ‘general reader’ might be satisfied, the ‘enthusiast’ will not. In look and feel it is like one of the acclaimed Osprey books, but without the technical detail. For a beginner this is a big appeal. An enthusiast could be forgiven for confusing this with a Dummies Guide. Covering three and a half thousand years in 224 pages means generalizations must be made, usually at the cost of accuracy and certainly of nuance. If the newbie is looking for a work spanning this vast time period, then The Ancient Warrior 3000 BC – AD 450 for £19.99 is good enough. For anyone specifically interested in the arms and warfare of Greece and Rome there are better books which are just as accessible. In particular, Peter Connolly’s 1981 classic Greece and Rome at War – now available from Frontline Books – has yet to be bettered, and despite the higher price (£36.00), it remains this reviewer’s pick. ISBN: 9781906626600 Author: Martin J. Dougherty Pages: 224 Publisher: Amber Books Address of publisher: www.amberbooks.co.uk Reviewer: Lindsay Powell Ancient Warfare VI-6
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The Early Roman Warrior 753–321 BC The Early Roman Warrior overflows with photographs of early Italian military artifacts, from Villanovan equipment of the eighth century BC to Etruscan hoplite panoply of the fifth and fourth centuries. The challenge of any work on early Rome is how to meld the material evidence from across Italy onto the literary evidence produced from an exclusively Roman point of view, often times little more than a mix of folklore and patriotic bombast, populated with both purely mythical characters, such as Romulus and Numa, along with a colorful cast of (semi-)historical figures such as Servius Tullius and Furius Camillus, real people assigned legendary resumes. Trying to find elusive kernels of truth within Roman myth history is invariably a thankless task. For example, the book contains a full-page illustration of early Roman raiders in Villanovan kit enslaving a hapless band of weeping Sabine women. Such an illustrative reconstruction implies that the famous myth in Livy Book 1 is rooted in historical womanstealing raids. While women, along with cattle, were indeed often the target of primitive raiders, the myth could equally be interpreted as celebrating the peaceful synoikism (union) of Latin and Sabine settlements, or justifying the institution of connubium (intermarriage) between Rome and certain allied communities. Nic Fields traces the progression of Rome from a small village to an increasingly sophisticated city-state. The evolution was gradual, with older forms of private raiding existing alongside more complex state sponsored warfare. Literary sources suggest that clan-based rustling persisted into the fifth century BC (the doomed raid of the Fabii), even if an organized hoplite levy was already instituted back in the late seventh century BC (the so-called Servian system). Loyalty to the new city state was tenuous. It has been suggested that many early Roman ‘colonies’ were in fact separatist schisms, as disgruntled groups simply picked up and left town. Italian elites also swapped loyalties with ease. The Sabine Atta Clausus (Attius Claudius) might become a Roman, while the Roman Marcius Coriolanus might decide to try his luck as a Volscian. Military adventurers such as the murky persona of Mastarna and the more concrete figure Lars Porsenna might pounce upon a community with well-organized armed bands. In this chaotic environment of condottiere, retainers, raiders and rustlers, the early Roman state grew in sophistication, and was eventually able to tame the warrior impulses of the elite and muster the human resources of its peasantry. Historians from Jon Lendon to Stephen Oakley to Ancient Warfare’s own Ross Cowan have emphasized the prevalence of personal combat in the mid-Republic, a vestige of Rome’s warrior roots. However, despite their warrior background, Roman aristocrats by the mid-Republic did not wear arms and armor in public, fight personal duels, nor engage in inter-generational blood feuds (a far cry from the European warrior elites of the Middle Ages). Somehow, the emerging Roman state managed to refocus the violent impulses of its elite away from individualistic self-aggrandizement and towards organized militarism. 56
ISBN: 9781849084994 Author: Nic Fields Pages: 64 pages Publisher: Osprey Publishing Address of publisher: www.ospreypublishing.com Reviewer: Michael J. Taylor
The Roman state was not a formidable military force during the period Fields covers. Rome was captured by Lars Porsenna in the 500s, and saved only thanks to the Latin victory at Aricia in 504 BC. It was constantly vulnerable to the depredations of local hill tribes, particularly the Volsci and Aequi. Almost no territorial expansion occurred prior to the fourth century BC, as the embattled Romans barely held the line against enemy raiders. In the 390s, Rome struggled to carry out long-term military operations against the city of Veii, a mere 12 miles away. The eventual conquest of Veii was overshadowed by disaster when a band of Gauls massacred the Roman militia at the River Allia and subsequently sacked the city itself. Even as the Romans rebounded from this misfortune, they faced a series of internal social problems that hindered their military capacity, much of it related to vast economic inequality. While the title implies that the book will cover the period to 321 BC, the book effectively ends at 390 BC, save for a
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single illustration depicting the humiliated Romans passing under the yoke after Caudine Forks. In my opinion, the book should have ended with Allia, because between 390 and 321 BC major changes took place in Roman military organization, equipment, and tactics. Social reforms expanded the number of peasants able to serve. New equipment was adopted form Gallic and Oscan opponents, including chain mail, the Montefortino helmet and the ovular scutum. The new kit was more affordable than the traditional hoplite panoply, perfect for poorer peasants from the lower classes. The phalanx gave way to maniples, both to accommodate the new-style shield and to facilitate maneuver in Italy’s rugged terrain. The reforms worked. The military stagnation in c. 500-350 BC gave way to the swift conquest of Italy during the next century. (Fields covers this next stage in a previously
published Osprey, Roman Battle Tactics, 390-110 BC). The illustrations are excellent, including eight full-page illustrations by Sean O’Brogain. The Battle of Lake Regillus, River Allia, and Caudine Forks are given colorful graphic reconstructions. The photographs, many from Fields’ extensive personal collection, represent a wide array of important early Italian art and artifacts. Fields’ prose is decent, but he sometimes has an unfortunate knack towards flamboyant erudition. Allusions to Nietzsche and Tolstoy demonstrate that the author is well read, but feel forced and out of place in a discussion of early Roman warfare. Nonetheless, Fields is a knowledgeable and competent author with excellent academic credentials and a long track record of popular writing. The reader who enjoyed Ancient Warfare IV-1 (Before rome ruled Italy) will find this Osprey worthwhile.
Tribunus of a legio Adiutrix, Danube Fleet This fine white-metal kit includes 13 separate castings, three of which make up the base – a representation of part of the deck and bulwark of a ship. All the parts are crisply cast with only the finest of mould part-lines. Fit of the parts is excellent, with no filler required between the joints. Animation of the figure is first class; you really do get the impression that this senior officer is stepping ashore and calling on his men to follow him into battle. The sculpted details on the figure are of an astonishingly high order. The facial features are full of character and you can even see the bared teeth. The officer wears a full set of phalerae on his chest. His helmet is usually regarded as being a cavalry type (the original is in the British Museum), but there seems no reason to assume that it could not have been worn by an officer. It is the shield, however, that strikes the viewer immediately. One might quarrel with the fact that the design is raised (did the Romans really hammer nails through their shields to attach this sort of thing?). The design is one seen on a damaged shield with a different shape to this one – on the column of Marcus Aurelius – and the dolphin/trident motif is assumed to mean that the unit concerned had naval connections. The most obvious units for this would be one of the two Adiutrix legions, both of which were raised from the fleet marines. It may be a step too far to assume that these two legions had any connection with naval matters by the middle of the second century AD – although both were based on the upper Danube in this period. Be that as it may, the sculpting of the devices here is first rate. This is a superb example of the model sculptor’s art and I cannot recommend it too highly.
Manufacturer: Soldiers Order code: SR-67 Scale/Size: 54mm Address of Manufacturer: www.soldiers.it Designer: Adriano Laruccia Reviewer: Mike D. Thomas Ancient Warfare VI-6
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ON THE COVER
A warrior queen charges into battle The brutal treatment by the Romans of the subjugated Britons triggered a major revolt in AD 60–61 that was led by Boudica, the queen of the Iceni. This issue’s cover by Johnny Shumate shows an enraged Boudica in her chariot, presumably charging toward the Romans that she had every reason to hate. But as Gareth Williams simply a woman scorned, but a strategist who amassed a great deal of local support before launching her assault.
© Karwansaray Publishers
The Celts used horses and were expert cavalryman, even developing a type of four-horned saddle that – in the age before stirrups – gave the rider a firmer seat and allowed him more easily to attack from horseback. This saddle was so effective that it was eventually also adopted by the Romans. In his contribution to this issue, Arnold Blumberg highlights the reputation that Celtic people enjoyed in the Classical world as expert horseman. Aside from its military use, the horse was always a creature both symbolizing and reaffirming the high status of its owner, invariably a member of the aristocracy. The horse formed part of a societal package or lifestyle that distinguished noblemen from commoners. Other elements include the consump-
tion of alcohol, especially as part of a gathering (feast) with social peers, and the use of body ornamentation, such as the famous torcs. (A cache of beautiful gold torcs has been unearthed at Ipswich and are currently on display in the British Museum.) Iron-Age Britons could also sport blue tattoos. The nobles were further distinguished from the bulk of Celtic society by their better weapons. Whereas a regular farmer might be equipped with a spear, a Celtic nobleman would (also) be equipped with a long sword. Those members of Celtic society that ranked high even among the aristocracy – in some regions and during some periods – could highlight their exalted status by using chariots. After all, a chariot required a team of horses rather than a single horse, and was therefore be even more expensive to maintain. Interestingly, the Celts were among the last people in the ancient world to still use the chariot in combat; in fact, Boudica’s use of the chariot marked the end of an era. We know from the ancient sources that the Celts used their chariots as ‘battlefield-taxis’, to transport the warriors to and from the battlefield, where they would dismount and fight on foot.
In the cover illustration, the chariot is inspired by depictions on coins. Boudica herself wears a type of peplos-like gown, girt at the waist using a belt; a typical form of dress for a Celtic British woman of noble birth. Her iron sword is more than a metre long and known from archaeological finds. A beautiful example of a similar sword has been found in the grave of a Celtic man unearthed in Kirkburn, East Yorkshire. The iron helmet of the charioteer is of a simple conical variety with cheek pieces. Boudica’s shield is inspired by representations of shields in art, such as figurines, and bronze fitting unearthed in excavations; a good reconstruction using fittings is on display in the British Museum. The shield had single grip, marked by the shield boss, and was typcally made of thin planks of limewood or oak covered with leather. The shield could be a metre or more in length, as shown by examples found in La Tène. •
a i -
© Karwansaray Publishers
has pointed out in his contribution to this issue, Boudica was not
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Attack of the Celts: Confronting the Classical world