Date for End of the Roman Empire?

Mar 2011
5,047
Brazil
I see a lot of interesting, challenging and contentious ideas and even inventive concepts as to the closure date for the Western Roman Empire (WRE).

However many appear to be interesting opinions rather than a position supported by a form of academic rigour (not that I am a history academic so pot, kettle, black).

The first position is that our confectionery-loving OP requests views on the date of the Roman Empire- not the WRE. That is, the final, finish, no-coming back date for when the Roman Empire ceased to exist.

In my opinion (humble or not), a polity needs to demonstrate a continuous period of existence. It is not necessarily the area it occupies, or its capital, but the existence of a functioning 'government' of whatever hue, governing whatever territory it holds, dealing with finances, maintaining armies and relations with other polities. But if it is to be considered the same polity, it needs a continuous lifespan.

Again in my opinion (though I am by no means alone), a continuous Roman government existed from the Kings through to the fall of the Eastern Empire, albeit the seat of government changed and for a period west and east contained parallel independent courts and bureaucracy holding theoretical sovereignty over the whole empire, an arrangement called a dyarchy (or diarchy). Both WRE and ERE represented the Roman Empire theoretically, though in practice each acted as more or less autonomous after 395. When the WRE ceased, the remaining court still ruled the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire is usually held to have ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, though splinter states persisted till 1461 in Trebizond and Morea.
An alternative date is 1204, when the Fourth Crusade seized Constantinople and two splinter states persisted which reunited with the recovery of the city in 1261.

A polity cannot be held to have returned to life because later peoples wish it to be so, calling themselves something similar or claiming some form of spurious 'descent'. Hence the Holy Roman Empire and Russian Czardom are not continuations of the Roman Empire, except in their imaginations and propaganda.

Nor does the taking over of some remaining forms of organisation from the previous Authority 'count', be it courts, civil service, civil administration such as taxation systems or the cursus publicus.
Good post. The Roman Empire might have been the longest lived polity in existence.

Also, what about European countries like France? They had several revolutions and occupied militarily. So, is the French polity of today the same as in 1930 or 1780? Or does revolutions and being militarily conquered means one polity got replaced by another?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,516
Dispargum
That's just it - they didn't, at least as easily as we do today. Sure, a Caesar was there somewhere, back in Rome, powerful, wealthy, almost god-like to remote provincials in many cases, but the authority to command legions was not perceived in the HQ manner. Soldiers were always loyal in the first instance to their commander, for he was responsible for their welfare - and profit. Booty was a vital reward for men risking their lives, and if you look for it the sources, the endless number of suggestion or descriptions that men were finding booty in warfare makes this clear.


When Augustus died, the commander of the legions in Pannonia gave his men three days off, to either mourn or rejoice the death of the Princeps. In fact, although Blaesus was the man running the legion, the men were well aware that increasingly retentive personnel policies and other gripes were the result of Augustus trying to maintain force levels in an era when military service was looking less attractive compared to more lucrative civilian roles in prosperous peacetime Rome.


I can understand that, and for most cases you are right, but don't over emphasise the connections between a remote unseen Caesar and his soldiers who receive orders from someone - in all likelihood a patrician - whom they can see but yards away.


No, it would be a barbarian army with Roman legions in it.


Not necessarily. Tacitus tells us the details of the Pannonian revolt. When it all kicks off on the death of Augustus, he says something interesting. "There were no new reasons for it" He writes, suggesting that at a low level at least, disturbances with unhappy troops was far from rare.

I noticed you left out the one sentence that makes your response unnecessary:

" most soldiers were more loyal to their general than to the emperor, but the general then had to decide if he was loyal to the emperor or not. The soldiers usually went whichever way their general went."


The opinions, beliefs, sentiments, and emotions of Roman soldiers were historically irrelevent unless they translated into action, at which point it's the action or behavior that matters. Loyalty is the absense of rebellion. If an emperor could order a general to do something and if that general could motivate his men to carry out that mission, then the men were loyal to the emperor regardless of whether they even knew the emperor's name or not.

Conversely, if a general or his men refused to obey their orders then they were in a state of mutiny or rebellion. The goal of most rebellions was to put a new emperor on the throne. Either way, a Roman army functioned within a Roman system that was headed by an emperor (not necessarilythe current emperor).

To distinguish between a Roman army and a non Roman army, we must look at what this army fought for, who gave it its orders, and who benefitted from its success. A Roman army therefore does not have to consist of legions or of Roman citizens. When Aetius led an army of Hun mercenaries against the Visigoths in the late 430s, those Huns were a Roman army since they fought on behalf of Emperor Valentinian. When Aetius led Huns into Italy in 424 that was also a Roman army since they were there on behalf of the usurper John who had pretentions of being emperor.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
The nature and composition of Roman armies was always varied. My point is that the 'Roman Army' is nothing more than a collection of force acting under Roman command - even if on a rebellious side. There was no organisation called the 'Roman Army'. Legions were functionally independent of each other, mini-armies in their own right, able to prosecute warfare alone though obviously as time went by the need for more troops meant that the original two legion army, the Consular Army, was extended into a modular system where individuals with the right of Imperium Consulare were allocated legions to serve their needs (if not raised by the individual entirely. Note that Augustus was only given Imperium Praetore, which had equal rights of command but lower status, a deliberate snub by the Senate.

The 'Roman Army' is therefore not a functional system as you describe it, but that doesn't matter. If a ruling Caesar took to the field himself (and it did happen occaisionally) then he is in command. However, if he remains in Rome, he is not. That's Roman politics. Although the title of Imperator gives a nominal authority over Rome's military, it is not a formal commander-in-chief role, and given the vagaries of Roman loyalty little wonder that holders of that title preferred to bribe their men to keep them loyal rather than depend on their obedience to a supposed rank.

For instance, I have incorrectly stated previously that Didius Julianus was not Imperator. he was. But note that he had no influence whatsoever over Rome's military and when faced with insurrection tried to get the Senate to provide him with troops.

This is entirely the [problem with Roman titles. It is very easy to assume that a title meant this and conferred that, but the status of the title and its relevance are not necessarily the same in Roman eyes. There was no actual office to fill where Imperator was concerned. The word originally meant 'victorious General' and in fact remained so until the end of the Roman use of it, implying that the holder had the right to be considered a military champion and thus influence over the military in the same way that Princeps was not a formal office but implied superiority over citizens of the empire. Claudius had to seek a means to justify his grant of the title of Imperator - it wasn't enough to append his names with it - he therefore travelled to Britannia to accept the surrender of some British tribes in order to claim victory and thus his imperatorship gained lustre.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,819
Sydney
.
@ caldrail , this is very interesting ,
I would believe that the prestige and authority of the emperor would palliate some of those concern
being seen as a successful victor probably was the best protection against a pretender

what was the recruiting or replenishing system for a Legion ? did they recruted themselves or was there a central body sending them conscripts to refill the ranks ?
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
As Professor Greg Woolf has pointed out on prime time tv, Emperor was 'not a proper job'. He refers, as I do, to the role being an assemblage of various packets of rights, privileges, and powers rather than an office with described functions. Of course prestige has a lot to do with it but much depends on the individual. There were Caesars and there were Caesars. In fact, I don't like use the word 'Emperor' in connection with Roman Caesars because they were not monarchs even if they did tend to behave like kings. We call them Emperors for our convenience, and quite mistakenly, because they never called themselves that, nor were they actually entitled to rule - Either would infringe the tradition against kings or tyrannical single person rule.

Augustus got around that, having seen what happened to those who claimed full and perpetual power from the state as Julius Caesar did. Instead, he opted for social superiority and the privileges his success as Triumvir won him. But he could not dare continue as tyrant, certainly not as a sole surviving Triumvir. That again was tantamount to monarchism, and note that Augustus would face demands to admit he was really Dictator, and the voices of those who wanted him to be so. In fact, Augustus considered retiring from his quest for power, such was his own distaste for the potential of monarchy.

Quite literally, Augustus was Imperator, the Victorious General of the civil wars. Whereas that title had always been an honour bestowed by loyal troops, in this instance it became connected with Augustus' ownership of the military, and since military support was essential for the survival of an astute Caesar, thus Imperator becomes associated with military authority and is desirable as a title that sets the holder above the rest of Rome's elite. Augustus claims in his Res Gestae that he did not create anything new, so the titles he used like Imperator and Princeps were not offices, but honours. It was possible, as indeed Augustus managed successfully, to extrapolate these honours into very real influence.

Recruitment? That varied. Sometimes a centurion might lead a party to nearby settlements in the time honoured manner of impressing young lads with fine polished armour and tales of derring do. Legions might be raised in the traditional manner of calling for volunteers and selecting the better men among them, or the rather less attractive press gangs. Of course, military service was always open to volunteers thus a legionary camp would no doubt let in those wanting to try for a quick inspection and decision. Those volunteers who were sons of soldiers or who had taken the trouble to bring a letter of recommendation from a senior Roman would get preferential recruitment.

The Romans were in fact quite fussy even in times of need, not wanting men from professions regarded as soft. The idea was that the legions were going to be tough, hard fighting units, even if they didn't always meet this image, and weaklings were not wanted - the opposite of today where armies advertise for recruits on the basis that their training can make them great fighting men. A lot is claimed for Roman training, some correct, some exaggerated, but the letters written by Romans reveal that standards were extremely variable.

Slaves were not supposed to be soldiers at all - they were en par with animals in terms of status - but on rare occaisions shortages of recruits meant that slaves were freed and enlisted, but nonetheless disliked by regular and auxillary troops, forced to use non-legionary equipment and not to intermix freely. Augustus, after the Varian Disaster of ad9, did so, seeking to find troops in a hurry. He called upon senators to volunteer some of their slaves and was ignored, twice, after which he used rather harsher means of forcing Senators to give up potential recruits.

The Romans did develop recruitment agents who were responsible for finding replacements or recruits by 'hiring' men to a budget. Settlements in the late empire tended to bribe these men to go away, who then hired barbarian volunteers at a cheaper rate thus made a lucrative living on the trade.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,819
Sydney
.
Much obliged , the distinction between an office and an honor is quite telling

I've read somewhere a while ago that when a legion was raised it would usually be on a geographical basis , this would create a very strong bond between the men

If part of the recruitment when in garrison was among the local citizens
then each legion would in the course of time take a particular provincial flavor
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,659
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
Good post. The Roman Empire might have been the longest lived polity in existence.

Also, what about European countries like France? They had several revolutions and occupied militarily. So, is the French polity of today the same as in 1930 or 1780? Or does revolutions and being militarily conquered means one polity got replaced by another?
That is a matter of differing opinions, theories, and rules of interpretation. In this thread: http://historum.com/european-history/134317-can-nazi-germany-regarded-political-successor-state-second-reich.html

my post # 14 discusses the Second Reich and the Third Reich and expresses the opinion that according to different interpretations the present Federal Republic of Germany could be classified as the Second, The Third, the Fourth, The Fifth, the Sixth, The Seventh, or even The Eighth Reich.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,819
Sydney
.
What matter is how the people see themselves ,
French consciousness exist since Joanne of Arc and the reaction to the English invaders
in the early part of the one hundred years war , it was only a dynastic quarrel

German ,Spanish and Italian consciousness took a boost from Napoleon occupation
Some national feeling had pre-existed before of course ,often quite regional
but there is nothing like a common hatred to make fellow brothers
 
Mar 2014
26
Brazil
In my opinion the Roman Empire ended in the west in 751 A.D with the fall of the Exarchy of Ravenna. After that the papacy made an alliance with the Franks and became totally independent.




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