Friday, July 27, 2012

The De Re Militari of Vegetius: The Reception, Transmission and Legacy of a Roman Text in the Middle Ages

In an age of crisis a late Roman bureaucrat offered a plan for reforming military recruitment and training to an unnamed emperor, who requested the project’s continuation. Later additions on army organization (book 2), tactics and campaign operations (book 3), and siegecraft and naval warfare (book 4) yielded a compendium of ancient military thought, the Epitoma rei militaris of Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Over 200 manuscripts and c.100 vernacular versions attest medieval interest in the work, which, still popular in the 18th century, became the most widely read western military text until Clausewitz’s Vom Kriege (1832).

If ancient historians have repeatedly mined this text for intricacies of the Roman army’s organization and tactics and to speculate on the era of Vegetius’ antiqua legio or the Realien of the Late Roman army, as well as the identity of the unnamed emperor (1), medievalists have shown somewhat more reserve when assessing Vegetius’ work as a crusader’s manual, a handbook of chivalry, or a tactical guidebook.

The full story of Vegetius in the medieval era has not been told. Thus, building on the work of Charles R. Shrader and Philippe Richardot (2), Christopher Allmand, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at University of Liverpool, an esteemed scholar of medieval militaria and especially medieval military texts, has perhaps capped his career with what is likely to be the definitive study of Vegetius in the Middle Ages for the foreseeable future.