Book Review: The Emperor and the Army in the Later Roman Empire, AD 235–395


by Mark Hebblewhite

New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. xvi, 240. Illus., notes, biblio., index.. $149.95. ISBN: 1472457595

The Age of the Emperor as Warrior

J.B. Campbell’s notable 1984 book The Emperor and the Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 235, concluded with the fall of the Emperor Severus Alexander. With this well-researched work, Australian classicist Hebblewhite takes up the story of the evolution of the relationship between the emperor and the army during the subsequent eras of the “barracks emperors” (AD 235-284) and the “Dominate” (AD 284-395), through the end of the reign of Theodosius I, after which the empire – and its army – was permanently split in two.

Hebblewhite argues that during the period covered by Campbell, the emperor as warrior was but one role – albeit an important one – in his grip on power, but that role by the early Third Century had become the only notable source of imperial authority. So to gain and keep power, emperors had to be – or be perceived as – great warriors and good comrades, which could only be achieved by winning battles and treating the troops generously.

Hebblewhite addresses how emperors used various approaches to securing and retaining the troops’ confidence. Some are obvious, notably the celebration of victories and distribution of monetary rewards. Others are less obvious, such as military ceremonies, rituals, and honors, awards of privilege, including elevated social status, legal immunities, and even direct access to the Emperor.

Hebblewhite also rebuts ancient claims – often repeated by modern scholars – that the army’s discipline declined in this period, citing evidence of the infliction of harsh penalties for infractions, but also the continued effectiveness of the army, whether in beating off barbarian incursions of in civil wars.

Hebblewhite has made a major contribution to our understanding of the changing relationship between the emperors and the army during this period.

Note: The Emperor and the Army in the Later Roman Empire is also available as an e-book, $104.97, ISBN 978-1-3156-1601-8


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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