Provincial Soldiers and Imperial Stability in the Histories of Tacitus by Jonathan Master
The tendency of history to repeat itself can be comforting as well as confounding. In his monograph, Master focuses on the didactic nature of Tacitus' historiography to address this concept. According to Master, Tacitus' Histories demonstrate that the failure to integrate provincial soldiers through citizenship and appropriate rewards was one of the fundamental causes of the civil conflicts of 69 c.e. and the Batavian revolt. Tacitus uses these events to instruct his Trajanic audience that provincial soldiers need to assimilate as Romans invested in the future of the Empire in order to avoid a similar crisis.
Over the course of the first century c.e., Rome's armies were increasingly composed of provincial soldiers, who were both "vitally important" and "dangerously unstable" to the principate (60). These soldiers were viewed as barbarians or even "virtual slaves" (2), and the Batavian revolt proves that they "harbor[ed] dreams of independence" (3). Although it is difficult to make claims "from these soldiers' perspective" (72), Master argues that Tacitus presents such a point of view: these men viewed the creation of instability as a road to rewards. Tacitus' solution, according to Master, includes citizenship as well as the manipulation of the soldiers' ethnic identities "from Other to Roman" (6).
Chapter 1 uses the Batavian revolt as a model for the ways in which reliance upon provincial soldiers proved dangerous for the Romans. Tacitus' treacherous narrator, Julius Civilis, has instructive critiques of Roman provincial mismanagement. In chapter 2, Master surveys the Empire to show how the entire East was "spring-loaded" for revolt in 69 c.e. (74). Tacitus maps the Empire as a "catalog of current threats" (75), revealing structural problems in the Empire and the tenuousness of Rome's grasp. Chapter 3 turns to Tacitus' annalistic structure, which becomes more limited as the distinction between res externae and res internae grows nebulous. Chapter 4 returns to the Batavian revolt as "a sustained illustration of the inseparability of provincial from Roman" (141). Chapter 5 concludes with the lessons of the Histories.
Comparative texts often provide the strongest support for Master's discussion. For example, the first chapter considers precedents for the Batavians' arguments in Cicero's Pro Balbo, Sallust, and Quintilian. In chapter 2, Augustus' Res Gestae illustrates the role of geography and ethnography in claiming control. The annalistic format discussed in chapter 3 prompts a comparison of Livy's use of res externae to chronicle imperial growth with Tacitus, whose external affairs provide a foil to the politics of the principate. In chapter 5, the Social War provides a model for the integration of non-Romans into the Empire through citizenship.
Master's most comprehensive argument explores the Batavian revolt as representative of the mixed nature of the conflicts of 69 c.e.: the rebellion was both [End Page 139] civil and foreign (interno simul externoque bello, Hist. 2.69.1), provincial and Roman. While other scholars have noted this hybridity, Master adds that the lack of clear distinctions in ethnic identity has noteworthy implications for the management of the Empire. According to Master, the Gauls became "Romanized" (145) after moving on a "continuum toward being Roman" (145), particularly in their modes of thinking. Once integrated, there was no return to a "non-Roman identity" (142) or "pre-Roman condition" (145), as is shown by the fate of Cologne.
In addition to the Batavians, Master addresses the armies of Vitellius from the Rhineland and the Flavians from Syria. However, an earlier and more comprehensive outline of the composition of the legions in 69 c.e. would be helpful, as would further discussion of the status of the auxiliaries versus that of the legionaries, who had citizenship (2n3). Master is not always clear on the differences between these ethnic groups, including the histories of conquest of their provinces of origin, or their current legal status with Rome, each of which pertains to his overarching claims.
Master's conclusion both restates his argument and introduces a wrinkle: although ethnic groups in Histories 1–4 seem to conform, the Jewish excursus of book 5 contradicts his central claim. Master thus opens avenues for further investigation. Ethnic identity is demonstrably central to our evaluation of the legions in the Histories, and Master's analysis provides a welcome study for both Roman historians and historiographers.