Fred K. Drogula. Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire. Chapell Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. X, 422 S. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4696-2126-5.
Reviewed by Tyler Creer (University of Virginia)
Published on H-War (October, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
According to venerable Roman tradition, the citizens of Rome, pained by their years beneath the unjust yoke of the Tarquin kings, expelled the last Tarquin monarch from the city in 509 BC and established a representative democracy called the res publica, our modern "republic." It was at this time that many earlier historians have supposed that the various magisterial offices of the Roman Republic—the consulship, praetorship, and dictatorship—were first created and that these magistracies remained basically unchanged until the republic's end with the ascension of Augustus in 27 BC. In his book Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire, Fred K. Drogula argues convincingly against this perception and seeks to map the complex and distinctive landscape that defined the structure of magisterial power in republican Rome.
At the heart of Drogula's work, then, is his effort to ascertain how various key powers given to Roman magistrates, such as potestas (civil, magisterial authority), imperium (military authority), and auspicium (religious authority), operated both at home and abroad. Although many other scholars have sought to examine how these powers were exercised at specific points in time in Roman history, Drogula, acknowledging his debt to these earlier studies, attempts to look at the evolution of various Roman magistracies, like the consulship, praetorship, and dictatorship, over a much longer span from the beginning of the republic to the early days of Augustus's empire.
To accomplish such a wide-spanning study, the book is organized chronologically, with the first three chapters devoted to disentangling the concepts and traditions of military leadership and magisterial authority in the early republic and establishing a source-supported construction of the vitally important concept of provincia, which Drogula asserts was effectively a charge assigned by the Senate to a military commander that gave focus and purpose to his imperium. With this foundation in place, the book's remaining four chapters examine these concepts and commands from the development of the classical Roman constitution in 367 BC up to the end of the republic and the dawn of the imperial era. This proves to be an effective approach to the topic, since it emphasizes well one of Drogula's primary overarching arguments—that Roman magistracies and the powers by which they exercised command were constantly evolving over time, an assertion that not only strikes against the justly eroding view that the mechanisms of the Roman political machine were held in a kind of tradition-fueled stasis, but also provides a more elegant and convincing explanation for much of the political turmoil of the late republic and the means by which Augustus was able to successfully consolidate (and maintain) his autocratic power.
Additionally, Drogula provides an alternative model of the operation and division of powers among Roman magistrates to that proposed by Theodor Mommsen (in his two-volume Römisches Staatsrecht ([1887-88]), which has enjoyed many years of widespread acceptance despite numerous legitimate criticisms. He points out that Mommsen's model claimed that a commander's imperium was divided into two different spheres: domestic (domi) and military (militiae)—a distinction that seems logical to a modern audience but has no support from the ancient sources. Drogula posits the alternative view that imperium was an indivisible, technically unbounded authority that was used strictly for military affairs outside of Rome (unless otherwise specified); its constraints were established for each commander by his respective provincia, and his authority within Rome itself (domi) rested in his potestas. No Roman magistrate, consul or praetor, technically had greater authority over another unless so directed by their provinciae. Such a lack of clear hierarchy in military and civil command seems confusing and illogical to modern readers, who are used to rigidly structured bureaucracies with well-defined checks and balances. This is probably a good sign, however, since the sources, while not offering conclusive evidence, do not contradict Drogula's model as they do Mommsen's, which likely indicates that Drogula's model is at least closer to the reality of ancient Roman practice.
Although the majority of Drogula's arguments are clear and well supported by ancient evidence, his assertions are predictably most challenged by the events of the late republic. His explanation of the evolution of provincia over the course of Rome's extra-Italian expansion, to where provincia was seen as both a task to be completed and as a territory to defend, is insightful and it provides a strong basis by which to understand how so-called great men like Marius, Sulla, Pompey, and Caesar were able to expand the effective exercise of their magisterial powers of command to previously unheard of extents. Some of his explanations for the strange changes to provincia and magisterial practice in the late republic, such as that many magistrates would remain in Rome during their year-long term and not depart for their actual geographic assignment until after the term had concluded, however, seem somewhat underdeveloped in comparison to the evidence-heavy arguments of earlier chapters. While none of these explanations appear to be contradicted by the sources, future work examining changes to provincia in the late republic in greater detail would be both helpful and of great interest. These points aside, Drogula's work stands as a lucid and well-argued examination of Roman commanders and their authority. Not only does it provide a more plausible model for the nature of magisterial authority in Roman government, but it also presents strong and welcome challenges to several basic assumptions about Roman magistrates and the concepts upon which their authority was grounded.
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Tyler Creer. Review of Drogula, Fred K., Commanders and Command in the Roman Republic and Early Empire.
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