Did the Roman Principate during the 2nd century field the best army in the world?

Nov 2019
15
New Jersey, USA
It would be interesting to compare the Roman army during the 2nd century CE compared to the Han dynasty of China during the same time. Emperor Wu of Han was the ruler of the Han dynasty during this century and he is described as one of the greatest emperors of Chinese history. I am not an expert on this time period. However, I am sure the military capacity of this emperor was perhaps on par with that of the emperors of the Roman Empire between Trajan to Septimus.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,319
Also, Dan Howard is referring to the fact that the empire of Diocletian was more centralized in an administrative sense. Yes there were four emperors, but the imperial administration under these four was much much bigger than it had been under Hadrian
Since Diocletian had found it impossible to engage in centralised rule - hence the Tetrarchy - Dan Howard's commentary is a curious one. Whilst it might be appropriate to see the Tetrarchy as rather more administered than in previous eras, I cannot help remembering that the system only functioned because of Diocletian's authority (which is different in Roman times from official power) and led to a paranoid arms race between the rival Caesars, almost assuring that a civil war for overall control would erupt. Is that therefore the nature of a heavier administration in the empire? A need to contain and control in the face of possible competition? The issue is cloudy and not least because by Diocletian's reign the Senate is no longer functioning in an administration role, reduced to ritual and ceremonial duties. Without the societal order than had sustained the echelons of power in imperial times the only substitute was an enlarged and empowered dynastic hierarchy - but of course, this is Rome we're talking about, and the corruption that features in their society from the emergence of wealth in a society that graded status according to that measure, had already created sinecures and posts exploited for personal profit in increasing influence. The larger administration is not necessarily indicative of increased function - rather it points to considerable inefficiency and costs (if modern politics is anything to go by :D).
 
Oct 2018
1,688
Sydney
Does the Tetrarchy's creation attest to problems of empire? Certainly. I would argue it was an attempt at a solution to succession issues and an omnipresent approach to military-supported usurpations. Did the Tetrarchy enjoy any longevity once Diocletian was no longer at the helm as the senior-ranking Augustus and man of most influence? No, although I would add that the imperial college did function remarkably well when Diocletian was emperor (The claim of Lactantius that the Tetrarchs were engaged in an arms race seems like a typically vituperative interpretation by an unreliable writer of invective who intensely hated the Tetrarchs as persecutors of the Christians. Yes, Constantius and Galerius eventually became rivals by 305/6, but scholars have pointed out that there is no reliable evidence for a fourfold increase in the army's size, as Lactantius claims, which at least demonstrates exaggeration on Lactantius' part.) Does the centralization and bureaucratization of the Tetrarchic imperial government(s), Diocletian's heavy use of large-scale edicts, and the increasingly autocratic nature of Roman emperorship, attest to the same problems? The answer is unclear, but presumably in some ways the answer is no. The nature of imperial leadership was changing in the third and fourth centuries, as was the imperial administrative apparatus, and this process transcends Diocletian's decision to appoint three co-rulers. Diocletian was an unusually pro-active ruler who made many reforms of varying success. Some were revolutionary, some evolutionary.
 
Feb 2011
1,110
Scotland
It's interesting because the Tetrarchy brought both centralisation and decentralisation.
Centralisation with much administration, including local coinages, being withdrawn from local city jurisdiction.
Decentralisation with a growth of civil service departments in the provinces, which were reduced in size and multiplied in number, with an additional level of dicoese administrative staff, reporting ultimately to centres other than Rome- one for each of the Tetrarchs.
Military administration was separated from non-military and the army being split into field armies (usually under Tetrarchic control) and border troops, with smaller units for the purpose of reducing small-scale raids.

This no doubt enabled closer administration of edicts such as that for pricing and also reduced the risk of revolt by local military leaders.

It did not avoid hostility arising between tetrachs, which ultimately destroyed the system, bringing dynastic systems back into play.
 
Oct 2018
1,688
Sydney
It's interesting because the Tetrarchy brought both centralisation and decentralisation.
Centralisation with much administration, including local coinages, being withdrawn from local city jurisdiction.
Decentralisation with a growth of civil service departments in the provinces, which were reduced in size and multiplied in number, with an additional level of dicoese administrative staff, reporting ultimately to centres other than Rome- one for each of the Tetrarchs.
Military administration was separated from non-military and the army being split into field armies (usually under Tetrarchic control) and border troops, with smaller units for the purpose of reducing small-scale raids.
I think it speaks to an interesting paradox about the nature of centralization. We go from one emperor in Rome, one or two praetorian prefects, c. 25 governors, c. 300 senior civil servants and the imperial household of 10,000 slaves and freedmen to four emperors spread out over the provinces (in Trier, Milan, Sirmium, Thessalonica, Nicomedia, Antioch, etc), 12 diocesan vicars, c. 50 governors, a multitude of duces, an imperial administration of 35,000, 6000 upper-level posts, 12 or so imperial mints (with no remaining local mints) and eventually four praetorian prefects and a variety of magistri militum. But this expansion of government, which indeed contributed to the process of regionalization and eventually led to an increasingly divided empire (starting arguably in 305 with the development of harder divisions between the different Tetrarchic realms of control), nevertheless entailed a much deeper penetration of the imperial government(s) into the administration of the provinces, something that accorded with Diocletian's desire to prevent and defeat rebellions and usurpations, to more efficiently defend the empire, and to legislate in a much more interventionist and all-encompassing manner. This process came at the expense of the traditional structures of local and regional power. Whereas the early empire, with its skeleton administration, ruled through soft power, allowing the local and regional elites to rule with some autonomy as long as they collected taxes, the sprawling imperial administrative apparati of the late empire encouraged a process whereby local elites, having had much of their power usurped, joined the imperial service in order to find new modes of power, status and profit.

This was probably an inevitable process. 1) The Constitutio Antoniniana had rendered most free-born males of the empire into citizens, with Roman law and identity available to them. 2) The rebellions of the third century and the associated increased presence of emperors in the provinces meant that provincial elites became ever more experienced in imperial administration. 3) The ideological concept of Rome had become ever more pervasive and popular as a means of expressing one's power and identity, as evidenced by the Roman forms of self-representation employed by the Gallic, British, Palmyrene and Constantinopolitan regimes, and by the fact that Caracalla had to remove a king of Edessa from power for pushing Romanization onto his subjects too vigorously.

It did not avoid hostility arising between tetrachs, which ultimately destroyed the system, bringing dynastic systems back into play.
True. There are at least three factors at play here. 1) Diocletian possessed exceptional auctoritas over his co-rulers. The imperial college ultimately required Diocleian to hold it together, although it seems clear from the succession in 305 that Diocletian was seeking to establish Galerius as the 'new Diocletian' (Leadbetter argues for this, and I support it). 2) Whatever the reasoning behind Diocletian's and Galerius' decision to ignore the hereditary claims of Maxentius and Constantine, it meant that two skillful imperial claimants were waiting in the wings for their chance at power. Diocletian clearly underestimated these two and the political capital he thought them capable of mustering. It wasn't just that they were sons of emperors, or even that they were adults (unlike Galerius' son Candidianus, Maximinus' son Maximus, Severus' son Severianus and Constantine's three half-brothers). In retrospect, it is clear that both Maxentius and Constantine were exceptional politicans, and Constantine an exceptional general as well. Any attempt at an adoptive approach to succession was unlikely to survive these two. 3) The succession in 305 was controversial from a collegial perspective. Diocletian made Maximian abdicate, despite his reluctance to do so, and persuaded or forced Maximian and Constantius to accept an arrangement of power that both excluded their sons from the succession and also enabled the more junior Galerius to become the de-facto senior-ranking emperor through the fact that his friend Severus and nephew Maximinus became the new Caesars. This event may have been accompanied by intense negotiations, and this may be reflected in the harder divisions between the different Tetrarchic realms of control that came into being after Diocletian's abdication, in which event Constantius may have insisted that Galerius have less administrative power over the empire at large than Diocletian had had.
 
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