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Greatest Expansion of the Roman Empire - When?
#1
Being Roman military history fans, we RATs all know that the common wisdom that the Roman Empire reached its greatest expansion under Trajan is incorrect; he never pacified the three provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, and Hadrian gave them up, fourteen months or so after Trajan had claimed he had been victorious.

Our sources are quite clear about it, and our sources are also very clear about later acquisitions: Lucius Verus' conquest of Mesopotamia and the annexation of that part by Septimius Severus; Severus' conquests in Scotland; his conquests in Libya are, admittedly, only vaguely referred to, but in, say, 1700 any scholar could correctly have written that the Empire reached its greatest expansion under Septimius Severus.

So, where does the idea come from that it was under Trajan?

For a while, I was tempted to think that it had something to do with anti-Semitism; but the idea is already present in Montesquieu's Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence.
Jona Lendering
Relevance is the enemy of history
My website
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#2
A while ago I did a bit of desperate research about the territorial extension of the Roman Empire, because I just could not find any statistics on it. I had the impression nobody gives a damn about its exact size.
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#3
I suspect there is genuine confusion about what the person asking really means. Greatest conqueror vs. greatest expansion. Then someone throws in a qualifier like "permanent" conquests, which changes the answer.

If we take out that "permanent" qualifier, then, yes, I think Trajan did expand the empire to it's greatest limits. (I for one don't believe Trajan would have allowed his new provinces to break away had he lived another five or ten years, but that's another tangent). But even if we include that qualifier Trajan is still the greatest conqueror of the imperial period, AFAIK, and not Severus. Hence confusion ensues.

If your question is merely about the greatest, permanent territorial limits of the empire then, yes, Severus was the one who acheived it as you say. I think it all depends on how percise one phrases the question. Best not to mention any emperors, IMO. Just ask when the empire reached its farthest, permanent limits to avoid confusion would be my advice.

~Theo
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#4
I agree with Theo.

The 'popular view' of Trajan is biased. Severus is often associated with the 'third century crisis' which is of course nonsense, he lived before that. But it is tainting his legacy nonetheless. Schoolbooks etc. have always favoured 'the second century' as the heyday of the Roman Empire.
Isn’t that view confirmed by Hollywood and other aspects of popular culture, which show ‘the Roman soldier’ in fact as the legionary in the days of Trajan or Hadrian?
(I’ve always battled against that view, I even feel sorry for 22nd-c. auxiliaries – they also get to be left out).
The equipment of the Several legionary is already regarded as ‘alien’, even though in my view his armed forces were probably (arguably) the most efficient of the Roman period.
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Robert Vermaat
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#5
Quote:I agree with Theo.

The 'popular view' of Trajan is biased. Severus is often associated with the 'third century crisis' which is of course nonsense, he lived before that. But it is tainting his legacy nonetheless. Schoolbooks etc. have always favoured 'the second century' as the heyday of the Roman Empire.
Yep, but why did historians allow this popular view to exist? Anyone could have challenged it, easily; no one did. Why?
Jona Lendering
Relevance is the enemy of history
My website
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#6
I think maybe you're confusing two questions.

Question 1: During whose reign did the Roman Empire reach its greatest extent?

Answer 1: Must be Septimius Severus. After all, only by relinquishing territory could he have done otherwise! But remember that he was building on the expansionist successes of Antoninus Pius (territory in Upper Germany and Britain), Hadrian (territory in Upper Germany and Britain), Trajan (new provinces in Dacia and Arabia, but retrenchment in Britain), Domitian (territory in Upper Germany, but ultimate retrenchment in Britain), Vespasian (Commagene), Nero (territory in Britain), Claudius (new provinces in Britain and Thrace), Tiberius (Cappadocia) and Augustus (phew -- where to begin?).

Question 2: Who was responsible for adding the most territory to the Roman empire?
Answer 2: Probably Augustus! But Trajan did a sterling self-publicity job. And although Severus advertised himself as the propagator imperii, it is debateable whether he personally added more to the empire (i.e. Mesopotamia and Tripolitania) than Trajan. (I have no intention of calculating the respective areas!!)

Don't you think ..?
posted by Duncan B Campbell
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#7
Quote:Question 2: Who was responsible for adding the most territory to the Roman empire?
Answer 2: Probably Augustus!

Another misconception you brought up there: Caear is conventionally viewed as the conqueror, while Augustus figures as the consolidator, although in fact, as you pointed out, Rome was most expansionist under the latter's reign.

I think even sober historians cannot free themselves entirely from images: Trajan is perceived as the great conqueror, because he portraited himself as such, as on the Trajan's column - which is perhaps the most publiziced single Roman artifact...
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#8
Maybe it's down to the British view on thingss, with Hadrian symbolising the End of Conquest, and therefore Trajan as the Great Expansionist coming before him. And Hadrian's Wall symbolising it very neatly. All nice for the historybooks.

Jona, historians do that (for schoolbooks and simple bookss about ''the Romans' mind you!!) because they 9or the publicists) like to think in simple periods.
You have your beginnings, you have your rise to world domination (Caesar), you have your summit (Trajan), you have your crisis (Third century) and you have your End (Goths sack Rome in 410).

But of course it's nonsense, but how many of us have not beeen confronted with 'the Roman Empire' being that very concept, and 'the Fall of Romee' being the end? No 476, no Byzantium, etc. People like to keep it simple. Trajan is part of that view.
_________________________________
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR: Forum rules
FECTIO Late Roman Society
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
[Image: artgroepbutton.jpg]
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#9
This is the interesting point I am often faced with when trying to explain certain things here.

When I first arrived in UK many years ago, the school taught 'the Romans never made it past Hadrians wall, '.....that was all you got from them.

Not untill I took up my interest again did I discover the truth! :roll:

I personally feel cheated for having my childhood interests brushed aside
by the 'experts', who follow that 'simplistic' mentality.

Hopefully that sort of drivel will no longer be pawned off on children here any more.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#10
Quote:When I first arrived in UK many years ago, the school taught 'the Romans never made it past Hadrians wall, '.....that was all you got from them.

Indeed, and another popular misconception is that the Caledonian tribes were too fierce for the Romans to subjugate. Something even as a child I found puzzling, given that the entire population of Northern Scotland and the isles could not have been more than about ten thousand. It seems that the idea of Scotland being too sparsely populated to be economically viable is too complex for schoolchildren in the views of some.
R. Cornelius hadrianus, Guvnor of Homunculum, the 15mm scale Colonia. Proof that size does not matter.

R. Neil Harrison
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#11
That leads to the question of Tacitus figure for Agricolas battle at Mons Graupius then..30000.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#12
Quote:the entire population of Northern Scotland and the isles could not have been more than about ten thousand. It seems that the idea of Scotland being too sparsely populated to be economically viable is too complex for schoolchildren in the views of some.

Very interesting Neil - do you have sources for that? That would help me with my analysis of barbarian manpower resources alot.
Jens Wucherpfennig
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#13
Unfortunately I can provide no direct references for my assertion, hence my statement that the 'entire population of Northern Scotland and the isles could not have been more than about ten thousand'. By Northern Scotland I refer to the part of scotland north of the Antonine Wall/Gask ridge. The entire population of Roman Britain was 3 million at best. we are talking here about 8% of that total area. Under ideal conditions we could suggest a population of, say, 250'000. Conditions which would include farm land on a par with the South East and Midlands, a thriving town and villa economy, and the presence of military garrisons to further swell the economy and population. But there was none of that. The conditions were far from ideal - almost all the land was marginal at best. In addition, most of the area consists of the Grampians, Monadhliath mountains, Rannoch Moor and the Glencoe/Ben Nevis ranges. A brief look at the Ordnance Survey maps of ancient and Roman Britain (indirect references, but the best I have to hand) shows a distinct lack of human settlement in almost all these areas. Whilst my estimate of a 10'000 strong population for the entire region may be somewhat conservative, I certainly believe that Tacitus' figure of 30'000 for the Caledonian force is preposterous. This would be on a par with the super-tribes of Alemanni, Frank and Goth in the 5th century. The area could no more support an army like this (and its families) than it could support an occupying force, which is probably the real reason why the Romans did not occupy it. Lack of available food and supporting population ended the Roman conquest of Caledonia, not a fiendish, unbeatable, numerous and highly menacing foe.
R. Cornelius hadrianus, Guvnor of Homunculum, the 15mm scale Colonia. Proof that size does not matter.

R. Neil Harrison
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#14
I think it is possible that if the entire population was gathered to meet the
crisis, this figure is plausible(ish).

There was actually a fairly advanced culture in caledonia, if not exactly on par with the mediterranean civlisations. Farming and herders, the hillforts,
etc.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#15
Quote:I think it is possible that if the entire population was gathered to meet the
crisis, this figure is plausible(ish).

There was actually a fairly advanced culture in caledonia, if not exactly on par with the mediterranean civlisations. Farming and herders, the hillforts,
etc.

Hmm, and I remember tacitus saying that thousands were killed with only a couple of hundred Roman casualties. This would suggest that the 30'000 was made up of boys, elderly and infirm etc as well as the prime warriors. It would also explain why the area was no use to the Romans immediatly afterwards - the result must have been a huge drop in population, which would have taken a couple of generations to put right. About the same time, indeed, between the battles of Mons Graupius and Antoninus finding it neccesary to build his wall! I still err on the side of conservatism, though, with respect to Tacitus' figures and the population of the area.
R. Cornelius hadrianus, Guvnor of Homunculum, the 15mm scale Colonia. Proof that size does not matter.

R. Neil Harrison
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