Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus
, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius
, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....
. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what he tells us in his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris
(also referred to as De Re Militari
De Re Militari , also Epitoma Rei Militaris, is a treatise by the late Latin writer Vegetius about Roman warfare and military principles as a presentation of methods and practices in use during the height of Rome's power, and responsible for that power...
), and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae
, a guide to veterinary medicine
Veterinary Medicine is the branch of science that deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, disorder and injury in non-human animals...
The latest event alluded to in his Epitoma rei militaris
is the death of the Emperor Gratian
Gratian was Roman Emperor from 375 to 383.The eldest son of Valentinian I, during his youth Gratian accompanied his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian's brother Valentinian II was declared emperor by his father's soldiers...
(383); the earliest attestation of this work is a subscriptio
by one Flavius Eutropius, writing in Constantinople in the year 450, which appears in one of two families of manuscripts, suggesting that a bifurcation of the manuscript tradition had already occurred. Despite Eutropius' location in Constantinople, the scholarly consensus is that Vegetius wrote in the Western Empire. Vegetius dedicates his work to the reigning emperor, who is identified as Theodosius, ad Theodosium imperatorem
, in the manuscript family that was not edited in 450; the identity is disputed: some scholars identify him with Theodosius the Great
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...
, while others follow Otto Seeck
Otto Seeck was a German classical historian who is perhaps best known for his work on the decline of the ancient world. He was born in Riga....
and identify him with the later Valentinian III
-Family:Valentinian was born in the western capital of Ravenna, the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. The former was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, and the latter was at the time Patrician and the power behind the throne....
, dating the work 430-35.
Epitoma rei militaris
Vegetius' epitome mainly focuses on military organization and how to react to certain occasions in war. Vegetius explains how one should fortify and organize a camp, how to train troops, how to handle undisciplined troops, how to handle a battle engagement, how to march, formation gauge, and many other useful methods of promoting organization and valour in the legion.
As G. R. Watson observes, Vegetius' Epitoma
"is the only ancient manual of Roman military institutions to have survived intact." Despite this, Watson is dubious of its value, for he "was neither a historian nor a soldier: his work is a compilation carelessly constructed from material of all ages, a congeries of inconsistencies." These antiquarian sources, according to his own statement, were Cato the Elder
Marcus Porcius Cato was a Roman statesman, commonly referred to as Censorius , Sapiens , Priscus , or Major, Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor, to distinguish him from his great-grandson, Cato the Younger.He came of an ancient Plebeian family who all were noted for some...
, Cornelius Celsus, Frontinus, Paternus
Saint Paternus of Avranches in Normandy was born around the year 482, although the exact year is unknown, in Poitiers, Poitou. He was born into a Christian family. His father Patranus went to Ireland to spend his days as a hermit in holy solitude. Because of this, Paternus embraced religious life....
and the imperial constitutions of Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...
Trajan , was Roman Emperor from 98 to 117 AD. Born into a non-patrician family in the province of Hispania Baetica, in Spain Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian. Serving as a legatus legionis in Hispania Tarraconensis, in Spain, in 89 Trajan supported the emperor against...
, and Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...
The first book is a plea for army reform; it vividly portrays the military decadence of the Late Roman Empire. Vegetius also describes in detail the organisation training and equipment of the army of the early Empire. The third contains a series of military maxims, which were (rightly enough, considering the similarity in the military conditions of the two ages) the foundation of military learning for every European commander from William the Silent
William I, Prince of Orange , also widely known as William the Silent , or simply William of Orange , was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648. He was born in the House of...
to Frederick the Great.
His book on siegecraft contains the best description of Late Empire and Medieval siege machines. Among other things, it shows details of the siege engine called the onager
The onager was a Roman siege engine, which derived its name from the kicking action of the machine, similar to that of an onager , it was created as a simpler, cheaper version of the ballista. The Onager is a type of catapult that uses torsional pressure, generally from twisted rope, to store...
, which afterwards played a great part in sieges, until the development of modern cannonry. The fifth book is an account of the materiel and personnel of the Roman navy.
The author of the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica
article states that "In manuscript, Vegetius' work had a great vogue from its first advent. Its rules of siegecraft were much studied in the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...
." N.P. Milner observes that it was "one of the most popular Latin technical works from Antiquity, rivalling the elder Pliny
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...
's Natural History
in the number of surviving copies dating from before AD 1300." It was translated into English, French (by Jean de Meun
Jean de Meun was a French author best known for his continuation of the Roman de la Rose.-Life:...
and others), Italian (by the Florentine judge Bono Giamboni and others), Catalan, Spanish, Czech, and Yiddish before the invention of printing. The first printed editions are ascribed to Utrecht (1473), Cologne (1476), Paris (1478), Rome (in Veteres de re mil. scriptores
, 1487), and Pisa (1488). A German translation by Ludwig Hohenwang appeared at Ulm in 1475.
However, from that point Vegetius' position as the premier military authority began to decline, as ancient historians such as Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...
became available. Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...
attempted to address Vegetius' defects in his L'arte della Guerra
(Florence, 1521), with heavy use of Polybius, Frontinus and Livy, but Justus Lipsius
Justus Lipsius was a Southern-Netherlandish philologist and humanist. Lipsius wrote a series of works designed to revive ancient Stoicism in a form that would be compatible with Christianity. The most famous of these is De Constantia...
' accusation that he confused the institutions of diverse periods of the Roman Empire and G. Stewechius' opinion that the survival of Vegetius' work led to the loss of his named sources were more typical of the late Renaissance. While as late as the 18th century a soldier such as Marshal Puysegur based his own works on this acknowledged model, in Milner's words, Vegetius' work suffered "a long period of deepening neglect".
Vegetius is keen to stress the shortcomings of the Roman Army in his lifetime. In order to do this he eulogises the Army of the early Empire. In particular he stresses the high standard of the legionaries and the excellence of the training and the officer corps. In reality, Vegetius probably describes an ideal rather than the reality. The Army of the early Empire was a formidable fighting force but it probably was not in its entirety quite as good as Vegetius describes. In particular, the five foot ten inches minimum height limit identified by Vegetius would have excluded the majority of the men in Roman times ( the Roman foot was less than the English foot, at 11.65 inches; hence, 5'10" Roman is 5' 7.5" in modern terms, which is just above average height of Roman (Italian) men of the time from skeletal evidence from Herculaneum in 79 A.D.). The emperor Valentinian (364-375) lowered the height limit to 5' 7" Roman which equals 5.5 inches. Despite the romanticism extolling the idealized virtues of the Roman Legion of an earlier time, Vegetius' De Re Militari remains a reliable and useful insight into the success of the early Roman Empire.
Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae
N.P. Milner notes, "that it was the same Vegetius who wrote both works was proved through close verbal and stylistic parallels by C. Schoener, and is generally accepted."
The eminent Sir William Smith
Sir William Smith Kt. was a noted English lexicographer.-Early life:Born at Enfield in 1813 of Nonconformist parents, he was originally destined for a theological career, but instead was articled to a solicitor. In his spare time he taught himself classics, and when he entered University College...
took the opposite view in his dictionary (17th edition, 1881), where he says "his [author of D.A.M.] date is uncertain, but was long subsequent to that of [our author].". The Lewis & Short dictionary
A Latin Dictionary is a popular English-language lexicographical work of the Latin language, completed in 1879, published by Oxford University Press, and still widely used by classical scholars and Latinists.-History:...
expresses the same view, giving the D.A.M author's date as about 420.
- An English translation of Vegetius, with introduction, was recently published by Liverpool University Press:
- Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. Trans. N.P. Milner. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993 and 1996.
- A translation in Dutch was published by Fik Meijer, entitled: Vegetius, 'Het Romeinse leger' ('The Roman Army' (Polak/Van gennep Publishers, Amsterdam, 2004)
The complete Latin text of De Re Militari
is available online:
An English translation of De Re Militari
by Lieutenant John Clarke (1767) is available online