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Late roman military recruitment crisis

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  Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Late roman military recruitment crisis
    Posted: 27-Oct-2007 at 21:39
We all know that during the late Roman Empire, that is from diocletian onwards, the army faced a recruitment crisis as military service had become so unpopular that potential recruits mulitated themselves to avoid enlistment.
 
Sometimes I wonder what is the chief reason behind this phenomenon,  because at least on paper, the service conditions of the late Roman army was not any harsher than during the principate. Soldiers were allowed to marry and could even live outside the fort with their families. There was land grant on discharge, and the food rations given appeared to have been generous. Discipline, in fact, was far more relaxed.
However, from the Marian reforms to the time of Septimus Severus, the legions did not appear to have faced any problems in seeking recruits and even employed high physical standards to select the most adequate candidates. (that is except during emergencies such as the Rhine and Panonian disasters)
 
So what happened between the time of Septimus Severus to the time of Diocletian that the army transformed from an "elite corp" that had the pick and choose of its candidates, to an abandoned institution employing desperate measures such as heredatary enlistment, press ganging, and the enlistment of barbarians to fill its empty ranks?
 
Here I list the most likely explanations:
 
1. the population of the empire had dwindled considerably due to plagues and civil wards, and Diocletian's army was much larger in size than the army of the principate, demanding a large number of recruits.
 
2. the creation of the "Field Army" and the "Static Army" made service unpopular (why should they?)
 
3. following the crisis of the 3rd century, inflation and bankruptcy had reduced the real value of military pay, making the career unattractive.
 
What do you thinks is the most likely explanation?
 
Nevertheless, by the 6th century, the Justinian code made no mention of hereditary enlistment or conscription, implying that the army had once again become a voluntary institution who had the pick and choose of its candidates.
 
 
 
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  Quote Justinian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Oct-2007 at 22:43
Number 3 is the one I would go with.  Though the economy had been in decline since the reign of Commodus.  Also there was very little chance of booty, considering the army was defending territory not going on offensive campaigns anymore.
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  Quote dexippus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Oct-2007 at 09:49

Several things change in the Late Empire that make military recruitment more difficult.

 
Firstly, the Army gets bigger, as you point out.. The Army of Augustus had about 150,000 legionarries and another 150,000 auxillaries; the army of Diocletian was closer to half a million, which meant more recruits had to be mustered.
 
Next, there is an increased emphasis on calvary. Augustus' army needed static infantry to man the frontier defenses; after the 3rd centur crisis, heavy calvary was needed to produce mobile armies capable of moving quickly to stopm out multiple threats as the emerged, in particular to fight the civil wars that became so common. Cavalry is harder to recruit than infantry, as any peasant can be transformed into cannon fodder, but it takes years of equestrian training to make a successful cavalryman. Barbian warrior aristocrats had time for this training, while the average Gallic peasant did not.
 
It does not seem that financial problems reduced the pay incentive, on the contrary, the empire introduced a new coin, the solidus (a solid bit, military slang) to ensure its ability to keep soldier's well paid despite ongoing inflation. Indeed, under the principate, the military career remained lucrative, and was still the easiest path to social mobility--including for some soldiers, to the Imperial purple.
 
 
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  Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Oct-2007 at 13:09
The solidus was merely a debasement of aureus (AFAIK there was no intention for it to be reserved for paying the soldiers, I guess the etymological connection is viceversa) and both had a characteristic in weight and purity, and both varied in time for both type of coins (e.g. the solidi of Magnentius were lighter than the solidi of Constantine or the gold purity decreased in gold coinage from the time of tetrarchy to the time of Constantine's successors).
There was such a reform in 360s (in the dual empire of Valentinian I and Valens), to restore the solidus to its former weight and purity probably to make a consistent coinage to pay the barbarian mercenaries (which appreciated quality gold), however several decades after the economy collapsed for good, and so did the gold coinage.
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  Quote Justinian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 02:16
Another interesting theory is the majority of the empires citizens had become civilized and unwarlike.  Making it harder to find soldiers that were capable of fighting the warlike barbarians.  This being the reason the mountaineous balkans were fought over by the western and eastern empire; supply of quality soldiers.  Reading through the 3rd century and on, you do come across a lot of emperors (specifically soldier emperors) from the balkans area.  I don't know whether I agree with that assessment but I think it definitely played a part in the manpower problems of the empire.  I mean the empire should have been able to raise millions of soldiers, (modern states will have about 10% of the male population under arms, the ancients didn't have to worry about munitions/industries etc. as much as we do and therefore could put a much higher proportion of its population under arms; think of the romans during the second punic war) and yet it never got beyond 1 million.  Even with the economic situation under consideration.
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  Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 07:42
Originally posted by Justinian

Another interesting theory is the majority of the empires citizens had become civilized and unwarlike.  Making it harder to find soldiers that were capable of fighting the warlike barbarians.  This being the reason the mountaineous balkans were fought over by the western and eastern empire; supply of quality soldiers.  Reading through the 3rd century and on, you do come across a lot of emperors (specifically soldier emperors) from the balkans area.  I don't know whether I agree with that assessment but I think it definitely played a part in the manpower problems of the empire.  I mean the empire should have been able to raise millions of soldiers, (modern states will have about 10% of the male population under arms, the ancients didn't have to worry about munitions/industries etc. as much as we do and therefore could put a much higher proportion of its population under arms; think of the romans during the second punic war) and yet it never got beyond 1 million.  Even with the economic situation under consideration.
 
This is a popular theory, yet it does not convince me so much.
 
THe late Roman citizens were more "civilized" than during the Pax Romana? I very much doubt it.
Throughout the 3rd century civil wars and barbarian invasions had ravaged through the empire and few provinces remained unaffected. City dwellers fled from the urban centres and repopulated the remote countryside. Many cities lost a significant portion of their population, including Rome itself.
 
The 3rd-century Roman should be much more familiar with war, disease, and famine than his ancestors during the Pax Romana period... these qualities would naturally make him more warlike.
 
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  Quote Patch Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 11:03

On the first of your thoeries, population decline, latest archolgical evidence appears to show that the Empire's population was expanding in the 4th century rather than contracting so recruitment problems were not due to an overall manpower shortage.

Ref Peter Heather's Fall of the Roman Empire

As has been mentioned the army was much larger in the 4th century than before the 3rd century crisis, barbarians had always served in the army e.g. Caeser's Gallic cavalry so babarian recruitment in itself was not a symptom of decline.

 

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  Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 11:28
In my opinion the real problem the Late Empire is facing is lack of control, increasing taxation (to compensate for the former) and consequently the increasing tendencies of decentralization and rebellion of the local populations. This has severe consequences in military recruitment, but also in economy or the social issues. Many people lost any interest to struggle for Rome, so they chose to struggle for their own interest, which sometimes happened to be under a local rebellious authority or even a barbarian chief.
 
 
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  Quote dexippus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 17:22
When we speak of Late Imperial officials recruiting barbarians, we should not imagine that this was necessarily a last ditch effort, and that they would have preferred to put Roman citizens in the legions. On the contrary, the Roman empire was practically putting barbarians in school buses to bring them into the empire to serve as troops. Recall the deliberations to bring the Visigoths across the Danube: Valens advisors encourage him to transport them in to plus up the army, that way Roman citizens can be kept productive peasants and taxed, while the Goths serve as cannon fodder.  It might not be unsafe to say that by the 4th century many Romans prefer an army staffed by  barbarians. The 5th century poet Claudian even congratulates Stilcho on using barbarian mercenaries against the Goths, to avoid Roman casualties (Tacitus has the same praise for his father in law's use of Batavian auxillaries).
In many ways, barbarian aristocrats made better recruits than Roman peasants. The barbarian elite trained from birth for war, including superlative equestrian skills,  unlike brow-beated Roman agricultural peasants, who were becoming increasingly domesticated by Roman landowners. As the Germanic warrior classes ate large amounts of meat (Tacitus indicates their warrior class was fueled by cattle raids), and thus were better nourished and better built than Roman peasants (hence the Roman stereotype of the huge barbarian).  Even better, barbarians were largely apolitical, which made them perfect recruits to fight in civil wars. Roman emperors thus actively recruited barbarians--preferrable to press-ganging peasants off the land, even issuing special coinage to encourage barbarian warriors to cross the river to enlist. While barbarians were technically "enemies," they were largely seen by Roman official as an untamed human resource pool, who could be drafted when needed to serve the needs of Empire.

Edited by dexippus - 29-Oct-2007 at 17:23
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  Quote Justinian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 22:21
^^ An excellent point Dexippus.
 
Originally posted by Chilbudios

Many people lost any interest to struggle for Rome
That is the key, I can't tell you how many scholarly books I have read that bring up this very thing.  The empire was doomed the moment the average citizen decided they didn't need the empire; when barbarians were able to set up states and PROTECT those living within their borders more effectively, then the roman empire was no longer needed.
 
A lot of good points have been made, and I agree with Patch that it would seem the empire's population was actually increasing during the reign of Constantine.  (beginning of the 4th century)  It decreased considerably from barbarian invasions and the plague from the end of the 2nd century (marcus aurelius' reign) up to the reign of diocletian, after that it started recovering until the time of the western empire's fall.


Edited by Justinian - 30-Oct-2007 at 01:36
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  Quote Patch Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 22:42
Originally posted by dexippus

When we speak of Late Imperial officials recruiting barbarians, we should not imagine that this was necessarily a last ditch effort, and that they would have preferred to put Roman citizens in the legions. On the contrary, the Roman empire was practically putting barbarians in school buses to bring them into the empire to serve as troops. Recall the deliberations to bring the Visigoths across the Danube: Valens advisors encourage him to transport them in to plus up the army, that way Roman citizens can be kept productive peasants and taxed, while the Goths serve as cannon fodder.  It might not be unsafe to say that by the 4th century many Romans prefer an army staffed by  barbarians. The 5th century poet Claudian even congratulates Stilcho on using barbarian mercenaries against the Goths, to avoid Roman casualties (Tacitus has the same praise for his father in law's use of Batavian auxillaries).
In many ways, barbarian aristocrats made better recruits than Roman peasants. The barbarian elite trained from birth for war, including superlative equestrian skills,  unlike brow-beated Roman agricultural peasants, who were becoming increasingly domesticated by Roman landowners. As the Germanic warrior classes ate large amounts of meat (Tacitus indicates their warrior class was fueled by cattle raids), and thus were better nourished and better built than Roman peasants (hence the Roman stereotype of the huge barbarian).  Even better, barbarians were largely apolitical, which made them perfect recruits to fight in civil wars. Roman emperors thus actively recruited barbarians--preferrable to press-ganging peasants off the land, even issuing special coinage to encourage barbarian warriors to cross the river to enlist. While barbarians were technically "enemies," they were largely seen by Roman official as an untamed human resource pool, who could be drafted when needed to serve the needs of Empire.
 
Wasn't the main reason that Valens let the Goths accross the Danube that most of the Eastern army was in the east fighting the Sassanids thus when the Goths approached he had to stall for time.  He did not have enough troops to fight until they could be transferred from the east.
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  Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Oct-2007 at 23:33
Originally posted by dexippus

When we speak of Late Imperial officials recruiting barbarians, we should not imagine that this was necessarily a last ditch effort, and that they would have preferred to put Roman citizens in the legions. [...]
It might not be unsafe to say that by the 4th century many Romans prefer an army staffed by  barbarians. The 5th century poet Claudian even congratulates Stilcho on using barbarian mercenaries against the Goths, to avoid Roman casualties (Tacitus has the same praise for his father in law's use of Batavian auxillaries).
While I agree the Empire found a solution in hiring the barbarians to protect it I think it's a longer path to what "many Romans prefer". On the other side, around 400 AD Synesius issued a complaint (De regno) to Arcadius where he noted that Roman Empire is protected by armies of the same nation with its slaves and warned about the dangers associated with this fact (and we know now the role the barbarization of the army had in the fall of Western Empire) and he called upon the re-Romanization of the army. Roman army was not just seen by many (perhaps except some pragmatical/cynical leaders) just some expendable asset, it was a part of the Roman society, it was one of the garrants the Roman society was properly working.
 
Even better, barbarians were largely apolitical, which made them perfect recruits to fight in civil wars.
 Once the prestige, the wealth and the future of Rome was bleaked by the events from the 5th century, the military units which were essential "apolitical" barbarian became occupation troops and thus a large part of the Roman army joined the migrations from outside in dismembering the Empire.
 
Originally posted by Justinian

A lot of good points have been made, and I agree with Patch that it would seem the empire was actually increasing during the reign of Constantine.  (beginning of the 4th century)  It decreased considerably from barbarian invasions and the plague from the end of the 2nd century (marcus aurelius' reign) up to the reign of diocletian, after that it started recovering until the time of the western empire's fall.
I don't think the 3rd century crisis was really recovered. The cities isolated from their hinterland and the country-side and thus undermined the economy, from the 3rd to the 5th century the general trend is loss of territories not conquest, the birocracy, the army, generally the Empire cost too much and with no conquests and no solid economy the only way to bring a consistent income is a high taxation and so on, so forth, a lot of factors piled up making the Western half fall.


Edited by Chilbudios - 29-Oct-2007 at 23:46
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  Quote Justinian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2007 at 01:43

Whoops, I had mean't to say the empire's population was increasing.  That post has been edited to say as much.

Originally posted by Patch

Wasn't the main reason that Valens let the Goths accross the Danube that most of the Eastern army was in the east fighting the Sassanids thus when the Goths approached he had to stall for time.  He did not have enough troops to fight until they could be transferred from the east.
For the most part, yes, that was the reason.  The boost in manpower was another.
 
Has anyone else here besides red clay read Edward Luttwaks, "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire?"  He discusses this very issue and has some interesting things to say.


Edited by Justinian - 30-Oct-2007 at 02:06
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  Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2007 at 07:58
Accordding to the book "The Late Roman Infantryman" by Osprey Military, the origins of Barbarian recruitment were the following:
 
Barbarians had indeed served in the Roman army since the Republican days, but never making up the bulk of the army, less to say of the officer corps.
What happened was that after Diocletian's military and economic reforms, the military career was so unpopular that the army took desperate measures to fill its ranks. Special bonuses were set up to attract volunteers, and sons of soldiers were obliged to serve in the forces, making soldiering a hereditary profession.
However, military service was so unpopular that hereditary enlistment and volunteering were still insufficient to fill the ranks, making an annual conscription necessary.
 
Potential recruits were usually serfs supplied by their landowners, whose reluctance to serve led many to cut their thumbs off. Others with more economic means paid of the recruiters to hire substitutes: most of which came from outside the empire.
 
Authrorities soon realised that the quality of Roman conscripts and hereditary soldiers were far less desirable than of German or Samartian "substitutes", while at the same time they had an endless queue of volunteers from barbarian nations who were willing to fight for little pay.
What was the most effective decision? HIRE THESE BARBARIANS
 
Initially, most of these foreign enlistees adapted to Roman military norms. They had to speak Latin (or Greek) and fight in Roman formation. If any of them made it to the officer ranks, they would have been sufficiently Romanized by the time after years of service. The quality of the army did not necessarily "decline" because of this, although discipline was definitely considerably more relaxed compared to Augustan times. contemporary sources described Roman soldiers engaging in civilian trades and neglecting drill, especially in the "static army" forces. 
 
Going back to the original point, the reluctance of Romans to serve could be attributed to Diocletian's land reforms, which tied peasants to their land, converting them into serfs.
During the principate, most recruits were either urban proletariat or unemployed free peasants with little ties to their origins, and therefore would be more willing to serve in the legions.
 
When the levy was imposed on the late-Roman farming estates, the powerful landlords usually retained the most adequate fighting material to serve as their own "paramilitary" forces, while ceding their worst serfs to the imperial army.
 
Do you reckon that this was the main reason?
 
 
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  Quote Patch Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2007 at 09:02
Originally posted by Justinian

^^ An excellent point Dexippus.
 
Originally posted by Chilbudios

Many people lost any interest to struggle for Rome
That is the key, I can't tell you how many scholarly books I have read that bring up this very thing.  The empire was doomed the moment the average citizen decided they didn't need the empire; when barbarians were able to set up states and PROTECT those living within their borders more effectively, then the roman empire was no longer needed.
 
 
Isn't the reverse the case - the citizens didn't look to the barbarian states to protect them until the Empire was doomed.  Given that there were no more Roman troops to protect them they had to come to an accomadation with their new barbarian rulers or die.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2007 at 09:11
Just beacuse the size of an army increases, dose not mean it is becoming more effective. In fact increase in military expenditure is one of the symptoms of a nation in trouble. Also the Roman crisis was similiar to the ones that the other nations have faced as well, volunteer armies are difficult to build up and train. Especially when a country is at nearly ceaseless war, the supply of volunteers dries up, while in "peacetime" the army is seen as a good secure occupation, and expediations are anticipated by the average soldier who has trained his entire adult life for this.
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  Quote Justinian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2007 at 22:24
Originally posted by calvo

Accordding to the book "The Late Roman Infantryman" by Osprey Military, the origins of Barbarian recruitment were the following:
 
Barbarians had indeed served in the Roman army since the Republican days, but never making up the bulk of the army, less to say of the officer corps.
What happened was that after Diocletian's military and economic reforms, the military career was so unpopular that the army took desperate measures to fill its ranks. Special bonuses were set up to attract volunteers, and sons of soldiers were obliged to serve in the forces, making soldiering a hereditary profession.
However, military service was so unpopular that hereditary enlistment and volunteering were still insufficient to fill the ranks, making an annual conscription necessary.
 
Potential recruits were usually serfs supplied by their landowners, whose reluctance to serve led many to cut their thumbs off. Others with more economic means paid of the recruiters to hire substitutes: most of which came from outside the empire.
 
Authrorities soon realised that the quality of Roman conscripts and hereditary soldiers were far less desirable than of German or Samartian "substitutes", while at the same time they had an endless queue of volunteers from barbarian nations who were willing to fight for little pay.
What was the most effective decision? HIRE THESE BARBARIANS
 
Initially, most of these foreign enlistees adapted to Roman military norms. They had to speak Latin (or Greek) and fight in Roman formation. If any of them made it to the officer ranks, they would have been sufficiently Romanized by the time after years of service. The quality of the army did not necessarily "decline" because of this, although discipline was definitely considerably more relaxed compared to Augustan times. contemporary sources described Roman soldiers engaging in civilian trades and neglecting drill, especially in the "static army" forces. 
 
Going back to the original point, the reluctance of Romans to serve could be attributed to Diocletian's land reforms, which tied peasants to their land, converting them into serfs.
During the principate, most recruits were either urban proletariat or unemployed free peasants with little ties to their origins, and therefore would be more willing to serve in the legions.
 
When the levy was imposed on the late-Roman farming estates, the powerful landlords usually retained the most adequate fighting material to serve as their own "paramilitary" forces, while ceding their worst serfs to the imperial army.
 
Do you reckon that this was the main reason?
 
 
Yes, I have heard of this theory before.  Its hard to say, it is such a complicated issue.  I would say this could certainly have been a major factor.  Especially important would be the evolution of agriculture; individual farmers in the beginning to latifundia and serfs towards the end.
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  Quote Justinian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2007 at 22:37
Originally posted by Patch

Originally posted by Justinian

^^ An excellent point Dexippus.
 
Originally posted by Chilbudios

Many people lost any interest to struggle for Rome
That is the key, I can't tell you how many scholarly books I have read that bring up this very thing.  The empire was doomed the moment the average citizen decided they didn't need the empire; when barbarians were able to set up states and PROTECT those living within their borders more effectively, then the roman empire was no longer needed.
 
 
Isn't the reverse the case - the citizens didn't look to the barbarian states to protect them until the Empire was doomed.  Given that there were no more Roman troops to protect them they had to come to an accomadation with their new barbarian rulers or die.
Well, yes, you could phrase it that way.  It was an overlapping; when is the empire no longer able to protect the common man and when are the barbarians "civilized" enough to take the empires place. 
 
Though it is a common misconception that when the western empire well there were no more legions.  Actually the army was still substantial, it was simply the nature of deployment and usage that makes it seem that way.  Towards the end the roman army was redeployed from a static defence on the frontiers to minimal defence on the frontiers with better fortifications and strong points with the best troops stationed far to the rear as a mobile army, or comitatus.  The limitanei being the troops stationed on the frontier/limes with the sole purpose of slowing down the invaders and defending their "castles", harassing the barbarians communications and rear.  Also forcing the barbarians to leave forces to contain these fortified threats.  With the field armies meeting the barbarian threat and pushing them back across the frontier.  Luttwaks book is a great resource in explaining this.
 
I could go into more detail but I figure that would be a bit much.Embarrassed


Edited by Justinian - 30-Oct-2007 at 22:38
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  Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Oct-2007 at 08:32
While it is clear that the Western Empire faced a recruitment crisis, did the same happen in the East?
 
Did the East maintain the traditional system of recruitment in the 4th and 5th centuries, or did they also hire barbarians en masse?
 
Obviously by the time of Justinian, military recruitment seemed to be centralized, and according to Justianian law; mostly voluntary with no penalties for evading draft or hereditary enlistment.
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  Quote dexippus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Oct-2007 at 09:44

The Eastern Empire also relied heavily on barbarian troops recruited from the outside. In 400, a band of renegade Gothic mercenaries lead by a Goth with the Roman name of Gaius even occupied Constantinople, although they were eventually massacred by the city's inhabitants. Theodric the Ostrogoth was sent with an Army of 10,000 Goths to reclaim Italy from Odoacer; Theodric succeeded, but decided to be king of Italy himself. Justinian reconquered much of the Mediterranean with a crack army of Hunnish mounted archers, while 8th century Emperors held the line in Southern Anatolia against the Arabs primarily using Viking mercenaries. Peasants recruited from Anatolia and the Balkans continues to form an important part of the East Roman Army, but there remained a heavy dependence on "barbarian" troops.

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