Lawrence KEPPIE, The Making of the Roman Army. From Republic to Empire. London: Routledge, 1998. Pp. 272. Pb ISBN 0-415-15150-3.
Ronald MELLOR, The Historians of Ancient Rome. An Anthology of the Major Writings, New York: Routledge, 1998. Pp. x + 534. Pb ISBN 0-415-91268-7.
Julius Caesar as Artful Reporter. The War Commentaries as Political Instruments, ed. by Kathryn Welch and Anton Powell, Duckworth/The Classical Press of Wales, London, 1998. xii + 225 pp. Hb ISBN 0-7156-2859-3.
Review by Mark Humphries
National University of Ireland
In his account of the Roman constitution that occupies book 6 of his Histories, Polybius devoted a considerable digression to the Roman army. At various points, he compared and contrasted Roman practice with that of the Greeks, never missing a chance to show where the Romans who were, after all, barbarians had copied types of armour and weapons from the Greeks. In this, as in the rest of his work, Polybius sought to explain to his fellow Greeks how they had come to be conquered by these barbarous Romans. To modern audiences also, Rome?s military genius has been a source of endless fascination, prompting numerous books, both popular and scholarly. The three volumes considered here should satisfy this interest; in their various ways, they consider Rome?s military achievements, both on their own account and in terms of how they have been presented by ancient authors.
To begin with, it is good to see that Routledge, having taken over Batsford?s Classics list, has seen fit to reissue in paperback one of the finest books on the Roman army produced in the last twenty years. First published in 1984, Lawrence Keppie?s The Making of the Roman Army quickly established itself as a classic. As reviewers at the time noted, the book combined scholarly rigour with a lively approach that would engross the non-specialist reader. It is testimony to the book?s excellence that one young Roman historian of my acquaintance claims that it was reading Keppie that made him eager to pursue postgraduate research. The reissue of such a text nearly a decade and a half after its first publication might have seemed an opportunity for a thorough rethink and recasting in the light of new research. We do not get that; instead, a new preface and bibliographical addenda alert us to recent advances in the field. There is little cause for quibble here, since those qualities that made Keppie?s book so admirable 15 years go still make it worth reading today: its presentation of a wide range of evidence (not just literary, but also archaeological and epigraphic) and its attention to the role of the army (social and political as well as military) in the tumultuous events that saw the Roman Republic give way to the Augustan Principate. The major part of the book is given over to a lucid and engaging chronological account of the army?s development down to the first century AD; more technical matters are dealt with in a series of appendices. It is good to have such an appealing specimen of scholarship available again: long may it flourish and continue to inspire others.
Also from Routledge comes a compendium of ancient historical writings about Rome edited by Ronald Mellor. This would serve as a useful companion to the same author?s recent The Roman Historians (Routledge, 1999), although that second work is nowhere referred to in the first. The Historians of Ancient Rom, though, is provided with a brief but instructive introduction that provides guidance to the authors anthologised. There follow excerpts from Polybius, Appian?s Civil Wars, Caesar?s Gallic Wars, Livy, Tacitus? Annals and Histories, and Ammianus Marcellinus, together with complete versions of Sallust?s Catiline, Augustus? Res Gestae, Suetonius? Caligula, Tacitus? Agricola, and Hadrian from the Historia Augusta. The collection is aimed self-consciously at students (cf. Mellor?s remarks at p. ix) who cannot invest in multiple volumes of the authors in question. As such, then, it represents a growing trend to publish equivalents of the course packs that used to be provided to undergraduates in North American universities (cf. the recent and excellent Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empir, ed. by D. S. Potter and D. J. Mattingly, University of Michigan Press, 2000). Copyright restrictions mean that Mellor has been forced to pillage older translations, many of them from the nineteenth century, resulting in places in a certain quaint archaism of phrasing. The exception to this is the Res Gestae, where Mellor has provided his own translation: on the whole this is clear and accurate, though I thought that some renderings such as ?clique? for factio emasculated the potent resonance of the inscription?s language. I have a few reservations about Mellor?s presentation of his material. There is very little annotation to help students; nor is there an index. In addition, the material has generally been arranged in chronological order according to the events described, not in the sequence in which the historians wrote (thus, for example, Appian comes between Polybius and Sallust). I wonder if this might desensitise students to the development of ancient historiography?
The selection of material for any source anthology is a tricky business: an editor will usually select material used in his or her own courses; other teachers using the book will then object that this or that piece of text has been left out. Others with vaulting ambitions for their students will complain that reading extracts from larger narratives is an inferior exercise to reading the whole work. So while I might well moan that I would prefer students to read (say) the whole of Polybius sixth book and not just the extracts presented here, or that I think Ammianus? digressions on Rome ought be included rather than his account of the battle of Hadrianople, this would hardly be fair to Mellor. I sometimes despair of getting students, particularly weaker ones, to read and meditate upon any sources; if a collection like Mellor?s goads them into doing so, then so much the better.
The final volume to be considered here, Kathryn Welch and Anton Powell?s edited volume of conference papers on Julius Caesar?s Commentarii, deals with the intersection of historiographical and military matters. Now there can hardly be any more familiar ancient text than Caesar?s account of his campaigns in Gaul. Indeed, one day as I sat reading Welch and Powell in the Maynooth common room, a senior colleague from the French department, spotting the subject of the book, rattled off word perfect too, I might add the Bellum Gallicum?s very first sentence (?Gallia est omnis diuisa in partes tres? etc.). Such familiarity might lead us to believe that there is little scope to say anything new about Caesar. But Welch and Powell?s volume challenges that assumption, giving us nine splendid papers that seek to redress our imbalance in tending to see Caesar as a man of action first the supreme embodiment, perhaps, of Rome?s military genius and as a man of letters only a very poor second. The subtitle of the volume is ?The War Commentaries as Political Instruments?, and the majority of the papers are devoted to Caesar?s presentation of his campaigns to a prejudiced audience at Rome. Literary dexterity, it emerges, was as crucial to Caesar?s career as success on the field of battle.
It is Caesar?s most widely read work, the Bellum Gallicum, that dominates the discussion. Peter Wiseman begins by challenging the view, recently peddled in Christian Meier?s popular biography of Caesar, that the Bellum Gallicum was published as a unity; on the contrary, Wiseman argues that it was published year by year in the course of the 50s BC. There follow papers on Caesar?s depiction of the Gauls as worthy opponents (Barbara Levick on the Veneti; Jonathan Barlow on the Gallic nobility; and Louis Rawlings on Gallic warriors), and his account of his own leadership (Adrian Goldsworthy?s John Keeganesque reading of Caesar?s generalship; Kathryn Welch on his attribution of actions and decisions to himself and his subordinates; and Anton Powell?s analysis of how descriptions of Caesar?s cruelty and clemency in Gaul might be received at Rome). In addition to these considerations of what might be deemed the ?factual? content of Caesar?s writings, Lindsay Hall and Catherine Torigian pay careful attention to the language of the Bellum Gallicum, showing that the means by which Caesar articulated his account was as important to the success of the Commentarii as the nature of the events described in them.
The Caesar who emerges from all these papers is a skilful manipulator of public opinion. ?So what?? you might ask, ?surely we knew or had surmised that already?? The answer to such a challenge is that Caesar?s craft emerges from this volume as perhaps even more subtle than we had realised. As Hall?s paper in particular shows, the very reason why Caesar is so much in favour today as a text for students reading Latin the relative purity of his language and grammar reflects paradoxically not the simplicity of Caesar?s works, but their complexity. The language and grammar of Caesar?s Commentarii was consciously chosen, and contributed as much to conveying their political message as his presentation of himself and his enemies. This single point sums up the strengths of this volume: Welch, Powell, and all their fellow contributors have taken a subject that seems utterly familiar, and have cast it in a wholly surprising light. In an age when conference proceedings can often be uneven creatures, a volume of quality and insight such as this is cause for celebration.