Monday, August 22, 2011

Centurionum Vol. VI: Autumn of Rome

Now that I've painted the whole lot of models planned and being on vacation, I'm going to draw this series to an end in the next few weeks or even days. As promised, we'll encircle the iconic image of a centurion in the 1st to 2nd century AD a bit further. However, we are getting quite close today with Titus Flavius Romanus, centurion of the 22nd legion, c. 235 AD.
Please note: I've included some external links which should enhance the text for those interested.

Unlike the other ones before, Romanus is a historical figure. His name appears on an inscription found at a small Roman fort, part of the border fortification in Germany - which is nowadays simply called 'the' Limes. There Romanus is named the commanding officer (centurio curam agens) of a gang that had just refurbished a decrepit bath nearby, somewhen in the summer of 232 AD. The gang's composition, however, is somewhat unusual: Besides an auxiliary specialist unit (the exploratores STV, their full name being unfortunately lost), which was most likely garrisoning the fort, there's a rather dubious formation of Britons. Called deditii, they had only recently submitted to Roman rule. Whether these Britons were barbarian warriors, incorporated into the Roman army as irregulars, or just civilians who had been deported to a godforsaken military outpost, is still hotly debated.

Whatever the truth, the inscription shows the army as integral part of Roman everyday life, especially in a highly militarised province like Germania Superior. With soldiers and maybe even civilians employed in building up infrastructure, all under military command. In turn, this command, at least since the late 2nd century, was given to legionaries, i.e. the most 'Romanised' people around. (Coincidentally, Titus Flavius is quite strikingly nicknamed "Romanus"!) As such, Middle Imperial centurions could become literal globetrotters - one centurion's tombstone lists no less than 13 stations after his promotion from the ranks - as well as, to a degree, 'ethnic interpreters', in particular if confronted with irregulars, foreigners and locals. Maybe that's why Romanus adapted to the fashion of wearing chequerboard pattern, which was, in fact, a common design among indigenous Celtic people throughout the Roman period and beyond.

While Romanus stayed in Germany, at least large parts of his original unit, the legio XXII Primigenia Pia Fidelis, were off campaigning with Emperor Severus Alexander in Persia. There they gained the Imperial honorary title of Alexandriana. However, a serious Germanic intrusion in 233 AD prompted the emperor to abort his Persian adventure, rushing with his troops to the Rhine. On Primigenia's return to their home town Mainz, Romanus might have rejoined his former comrades. By then at the latest he would have carried a shield bearing the legion's traditional symbol of a capricorn (which is known from the legion's brick marks). But maybe Romanus' experience in 'foreign affairs' might have gained him a commission as commander of the Eastern bowmen who had been recruited from Persian POWs and brought to Germany as well. It would have been no surprise, if he had adopted an Eastern composite armour of mail and scale as well, showing the ever increasing 'international' state of the Roman army at that time.

Despite Severus Alexander's best efforts, the army griped about him negotiating with barbarians by bribery instead of force. So, eventually, in 235 AD, he was murdered at the instigation of Maximinus Thrax, a military careerist, beloved officer and arguably the first "Barracks emperor". In order to satisfy the troops' thirst for plunder, Maximinus led an expedition deep into Germanic territory. Quite unusually, there seems to be also archaeological evidence for this campaign: Cos only a few years ago archaeologists announced the discovery of loads of Roman and Germanic equipment and weaponry, indicating the site of a battle fought somewhen in the early 3rd century AD. Situated far beyond the Limes, this battle (or rather: side show engagement) attests the actual range of Roman expeditions even after Germanicus' campaign of vengeance around 15 AD.

However, its most thrilling aspect is the intactness of the site itself, enabling archaeologists to reconstruct Roman movement and tactics. Hence, a Roman marching column, probably an advance guard, returning to Mainz in autumn 235 or 236, had to force its way through a Germanic blockade. Instead of a frontal assault, the Romans delivered kind of a 'surgical strike' on a fortified position in the enemy's flank. Under cover of archers and light artillery, the infantry struggled uphill and eventually made a breakthrough - probably followed by Romanus and his bowmen and most likely by cavalry to wrap things up. A masterly use of combined arms and small detachments which should become common practice during the 3rd century, resulting in the army reforms of Diocletian and Constantine with the permanent disposition of most former vexillationes as self-contained units. But that really is another story. ;-)

Okay, I forego my thoughts on leaf and stone colours - enough squeezed into that single miniature! Finally, only some notes on the figure: Romanus might not be the best model of the series, but that's mainly due to sufferings from several repaints. I simply couldn't get it right! The model itself, however, is a very nice, clean sculpt from Armorum & Aquila Miniatures - in my opinion one of the most underestimated manufacturers. If somewhat chunky, the models provide clear and historically accurate detail, which makes at least for an unusual looking Roman army. Surprisingly enough, given the rich and colorful background I might have hinted at, there are not many 3rd century Romans out there. Therefore, even if you're only mildly interested, give it a try - you might like this autumnal Rome!

Painted May to July 2011. Miniature by A&A Miniatures, plastic crest by Immortal Miniatures.


The Doc said...

I like it a lot! Great addition to your series! The shield is once more a true beauty!

sebastosfig said...

Excellent post! the text, the pics, the mini, the mini's cloak... you made my day!

BigRedBat said...

Lovely bit of work, and I enjoyed the story, too. Simon

Lt.Hazel said...

Best one so far!

Brummie said...

Lovely bit of weathering on the cloak. Again a really nice design on the shield

Tank Girl said...

Love your stories and the painting, thank you.



The Angry Lurker said...

Great work again plus some history, never a bad thing.

Giles said...

Astonishingly good, Sire G. A beautifully painted figure and the base-work is excellent. Wow!

Best wishes


Dalauppror said...

Realy nice mini! Like the Tartan pattern. How did you make all the nice autum leafs?

Sire Godefroy said...

Cheers to all! :)

Dalauppror, the leaves are made from birch seed (term?), it's available commercially, or you can pick it up, between painting sessions, on a walk in the forest. ;)


Dalauppror said...

Thanks for the tip, i guess I have get out in the forest...

Best regards Dalauppror


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