Leading the Roman Army – Soldiers and Emperors 31 BC-AD 235, Jonathan Eaton

Leading the Roman Army – Soldiers and Emperors 31 BC-AD 235, Jonathan Eaton

This book takes a different approach to the Roman army to most, looking at the relationship between the Emperor and his soldiers during the period of the Principate, examining how the army was actually led, how discipline was imposed, what political influence the army actually had, and the direct relationship between the Emperor and his soldiers. This relationship was key to the survivial of the Imperial system (and the failure of the Republic to create a similar link between the army and the government had led to the rise of the triumvirates and the collapse of the Republican system).

Eaton covers a wide range of topics. We start with a look at the actual influence of the garrison of Rome, and in particular the Praetorian Guard, which emerges as far less influential than is often believed. The Guard could play a role in picking between Rome based candidates, but proved ineffective against rivals who had won over the provincial armies. Next comes a look at one of the key subjects – discipline and morale – the key props that ensured that the army would actually obey orders, and be effective when it did. The officers get two chapters – one looking at the Centurionate, the next at the higher ranked officers. These both found themselves in a difficult position under the Emperors – the Centurions may well have been the backbone of the army, but they were also very likely to be the first victims of any discontent, while the higher ranked commanders, mainly from the aristocracy, had to be careful not to appear too competent or too aggressive for the tastes of their Emperor! This was a big chance from the days of the Republic, when command of a successful army was always a good thing for your career!

The last two chapters look at key elements for the long term stability of the Emperor – just how politically knowledgeable and active were the various armies, and what was the actual relationship between those armies and the Emperors. This last chapter demonstrates that all but the worst of the Emperors of this period understood that their rule depended on keeping the army on their side, and shows them increasingly associating themselves with the army.

One key element that Eaton focuses on is loyalty to the Dynasty. It is noteworthy that the most significant civil wars occurred after the existing dynasty had come to an end – the Year of the Four Emperors after the death of Nero ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the Year of the Five Emperors after the death of Commodus ended the Antonine dynasty. In this period at least, the arrangements set up by Augustus at the end of the long years of civil war clearly worked.

1 – The Political Influence of the Rome Garrison
2 – Discipline and Morale
3 – The Legionary Centurionate
4 – Commanding the Emperor’s Army
5 – Political Awareness in the Army
6 – The Emperor and his Soldiers

Author: Jonathan Eaton
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 205
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2020

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