Talk:Battle of Strasbourg

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WikiProject class rating[edit]

This article was automatically assessed because at least one article was rated and this bot brought all the other ratings up to at least that level. BetacommandBot 02:30, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

The following discussion is an archived discussion of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the proposal was Move. —Wknight94 (talk) 02:19, 12 June 2008 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

Battle of ArgentorateBattle of Strasbourg — Most common English name is Battle of Strasbourg according to the sources used for the article. —Wandalstouring (talk) 10:01, 6 June 2008 (UTC)


Feel free to state your position on the renaming proposal by beginning a new line in this section with *'''Support''' or *'''Oppose''', then sign your comment with ~~~~. Since polling is not a substitute for discussion, please explain your reasons, taking into account Wikipedia's naming conventions.
  • Support : I wrote this article, and also Late Roman army, and all the sources I used refer to the Battle of Strasbourg EraNavigator (talk) 10:11, 6 June 2008 (UTC)
  • Support. Argentoratum would be acceptable, but the current title is not. Srnec (talk) 06:28, 7 June 2008 (UTC)


Any additional comments:

Ammianus and Zosimus would use Argentorate, the name Strateburgum appeared in 6th century AD. Scholar works here are secondary sources, though Battle of Argentorate may sound a bit odd. --Brand спойт 12:00, 6 June 2008 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.


In the illustration of the re-enactor the helmet being worn is not a spangenhelm, as stated, it is a 'ridge-helmet.' The two types are quite rigorously differentiated in academic works on the subject - see Dixon or Bishop and Coulston. Urselius (talk) 08:52, 8 August 2008 (UTC)


Very nice work in the article, but German historians starting with Hans Delbrück assume only 6.000 - 10.000 Alamanni. As the calculation shows, 37.000 would have been the utter maximum they could have fielded, which is in itself unlikely. Further, a loss of that scale would have wiped them off the map. The story behind the battle and the battle account indicated that Julian attacked while he was on the safe side, implying numeric superiority. -- Zz (talk) 13:03, 8 August 2008 (UTC)

Unfortunately there were no Allamanic historians, therefore the Roman sources are all that can be used. Estimates made at a millenium and a half later cannot be given precedence over those made within decades of the event. Urselius (talk) 19:37, 9 August 2008 (UTC)
We do have sources for the medieval armies and we do have population density estimates from archaeological data. From this sources estimates can be made what was possible with that infrastructure. However, this is wikipedia, we don't judge right or wrong , but present what historians say, ancient or modern. Wandalstouring (talk) 15:22, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
Exactly my point. There are scientific numbers, and they should be presented. History as a science consists of much more than that what was written at some time. -- Zz (talk) 10:50, 14 August 2008 (UTC)

A lower estimate of 15,000 Alamanni is mentioned in the article. 6,000 - 10,000 seems implausible, given that Alamanni dead on the field alone are given as 6,000 by Ammianus - plus a large number drowned in the Rhine. Enemy dead on the field were generally counted accurately in antiquity, since the corpses were carefully collected, to be stripped of all useful items: weapons, armour, other equipment, valuables etc to share among the victors. This would imply the total annihilation of the Alamanni force. But we know from Ammianus' account of Julian's subsequent campaigns that most of the Alamanni kings survived with substantial forces intact. It is not implausible that Chnodomar might have carried out a maximum levy, as he was playing for very high stakes. EraNavigator (talk) 00:12, 31 August 2008 (UTC)

The source (Hans Delbrück, Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte, 2.Teil: Die Germanen, 2. Buch: Die Völkerwanderung, 2. Kapitel ) assumes that the majority of the Alemanni fielded were killed. After all, it seemed to be the Roman battle plan. He points out that beating 35.000 Alemanni with the cavalry broken is absurd, and the Romans were notorious for making their opponents stronger then they were. Counting deads was not universal. Have you got any source for your argument. or is it original research? --- Zz (talk) 13:00, 3 September 2008 (UTC)
Strongly agree. We would need citation for the claim that they did so, and regularly enough to affect the argument. Most of the sources I have read assume that the Romans, like all armies, regularly overestimated enemy numbers and losses. In any case, the American army did systematically count dead in Vietnam, and it did not always get accurate results. (talk) 02:22, 24 April 2009 (UTC)

Ammianus specifically states that the bodies were counted in the field (XVI.12.63): ex Alamannis sex milia corporum sunt numerata in campo.

Ammianus XVI.12.6 states that Julian was very anxious, because with the departure of Barbatio's force, he was left heavily outnumbered by the Germans. XVI.12.19 reports that the Romans learnt from an Alaman they captured before the battle that German reinforcements for Chnodomar had been so heavy that they had been crossing the Rhine continuously for 3 days and nights. Added to the fact that Chnodomar was joined by the two cantons in the South that broke their peace with Rome (XVI.12.17) and that Chnodomar also called for assistance from non-Alamanni allies, it is all consistent with an unusual concentration of forces. Even if you believe 35,000 is an exaggeration (I do actually, and think 25,000 is more plausible), the weight of the evidence is that the Romans were substantially outnumbered.

Ammianus is the sole substantial contemporary source for Strasbourg. He is also generally considered a reliable source by historians. He was himself a contemporary soldier, a senior staff officer (comes) who had operated in Gaul a few years before Strasbourg, knew Julian personally (and served on his staff both in Gaul and the East), had access to senior colleagues who had fought at Strasbourg and to any documentary material available (including Julian's own memoirs of the battle, now lost).

If you are going to contradict Ammianus and claim that it was the Germans who were outnumbered, you need hard evidence. It seems to me that your man Delbruck has no evidence at all for his 6-10,000 estimate (or rather, guess), other than his own personal opinion that Julian would not have risked a battle against superior numbers. But it could even more plausibly be argued that it was Chnodomar would not have risked a battle without a big superiority in numbers, since barbarians rarely won pitched battles with the Romans and generally avoided them. If you dismiss Ammianus without evidence, you might as well say that the Battle of Strasbourg never actually happened and that Ammianus' account was just pro-Julian propaganda. (This is of course, not impossible, but again you can't claim it without evidence). EraNavigator (talk) 01:21, 4 September 2008 (UTC)

PS: One reason enemy bodies were carefully counted derives from the requirements for a Roman triumph. The victorious general had to prove he had killed at least 5,000 barbarians (which Julian apparently achieved). EraNavigator (talk) 10:13, 5 September 2008 (UTC)

Yes, I missed that thing on counting numbers.
As for the rest, Wikipedia's task is not to spur research. It is not me contradicting Ammianus claim, and someone else has done the research already, name Delbrück. I will give his line of reasoning anyway - at all times and all command levels, people tend to overestimate the numbers of an enemy. He gives a plethora of evidence for that, starting with his own experience in the Franco-Prussian war. Secondly, third parties tend to blow up numbers additionally for both sides. There are better ways to establish numbers, starting with the account of the battle, the terrain, logistics, archeology, and so on.
In the case of the Romans, Delbrück shows that they were especially prone to exaggerate the numbers of the enemy, Cesar at Alesia is a particular telling example. But it holds for the rest, too. Even more telling, the strong point of a regular army is that it can project strength in numbers on a distance - an advantage that is very useful. So, at Strasbourg the claim is that the Romans entered a battle where they were badly outnumbered (with numbers that are highly dubious as they were the maxium strength of the tribes - the story of the aftermath does not fit either), that the battle went awry with the Roman cavalry broken, and the Romans nonetheless won. As Delbrück points out, there is no reason to believe this story.
I admit that his estimate with 6000 - 10000 is quite low, but then, I can't correct it, because that would be original research. -- Zz (talk) 12:00, 9 September 2008 (UTC)
True, you can't change Delbruck's estimate. But you don't have to accept it either. Although OR is prohibited, there is nothing wrong with rating sources in importance. To me, it's self-evident that a contemporary source who was also a senior military officer and personal friend of Julian has greater credibility than a modern German archaeologist. Having said that, it is quite likely that Ammianus' overall estimate of 35,000 is exaggerated (although, he may well have believed it himself, relying on eye-witness accounts by his fellow staff-officers). My own guess is that the Alamanni were probably around 25,000 (20,000 Alamanni and 5,000 non-Alamanni allies, on the ground that even with a full levy, it is unlikely that more than two-thirds of the maximum Alamanni warrior manpower of ca. 30,000 could actually be raised at one time). At the same time, Julian may have had around 17,000 (13,000 of his own comitatus, 2,000 under Severus and maybe 2,000 limitanei troops). Thus, the Romans were probably outnumbered in reality by 1.5 to 1 rather than 3 to 1 as Ammianus claims. But this is OR. But even if Ammianus'figure is too high, it is highly unlikely that Ammianus is wrong about the central fact, that the Romans were outnumbered. That much would have been clear to all the Roman officers, even if the exact numbers of enemy were just guesses.

Another important point is that Delbruck is wrong about the Roman cavalry: they were NOT broken. Although they fled the field initially, they regrouped and most returned to the battle, giving a good account of themselves, especially in the pursuit of the fleeing Germans. EraNavigator (talk) 19:50, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

As you say, it is original research. We have a historian here rating "eye witnesses". The historian knows from personal experience (Franco-Prussian war) that people at all command levels overestimate the number of enemy in battle. He can show that the Romans are especially prone to that (Cesars number at Alesia). According to this argument, Cesar is the eye witness, and he is right. And that is wrong.
Delbrück's systematic approach was a breakthrough, and the tendency of his work is generally accepted. I have a scientific source. Can we agree on that? -- Zz (talk) 18:24, 23 October 2008 (UTC)
I agree that Delbrück's POV is worth inclusion. However, I suggest to work on a broader basis and try to find out if there are more historians who present other views, just to avoid making the same error again by overrating a single modern historian. Wandalstouring (talk) 20:34, 23 October 2008 (UTC)
Noone seems to have noticed that the article already includes an alternative (and up-to-date) estimate, of 15,000 Alamanni, by Drinkwater (2007). I refer you to my revision to the Adversaries Compared section, which mentions that some historians regard Ammianus' figure as unrealistic. But I don't think it makes sense to throw in every estimate since the 19th century. Although Delbruck was a brilliantly original historian, like many 19th c. scholars he started with a grand theory and then looked for facts to back it up, instead of the other way round. In this case, he needs a low figure for the Alamanni to support his theory that the Romans generally won not by superior equipment, training and tactics, but simply by the ability to concentrate much greater forces in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, he does not have a shred of evidence for his estimate. Nor is his viewpoint "scientific" in the sense of being based on archaeological evidence, as in his distant day, archaeology was basically just treasure-hunting. For the purposes of Wiki articles, we should stick with the most recent works which incorporate modern archaeological data and analysis. These show that the Alamanni could probably field 30-40,000 warriors, which makes Ammianus' figure of 35,000, if one deducts the non-Alamanni allies, feasible if perhaps a little high. EraNavigator (talk) 21:48, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

Sutton Hoo helmet[edit]

I just thought I would explain my correction of the term spangenhelm as applied to the Sutton Hoo helmet.

All spangenhelms have composite skulls made from a number of elements (spangen - in German), which are riveted together. The Sutton Hoo helmet actually had a single piece skull, quite unusual for the time. It had an applied, front to back, ridge which made it look like a typical 'ridge helmet' but the ridge didn't, in fact, join a two piece skull, it seems to be a largely decorative feature (it has silver inlay).

The outside of the helmet was covered with thin plaques of tinned bronze, embossed with decoration, with edging strips of untinned bronze. This decorative scheme gives the initial impression that the skull is of composite construction but it isn't, the iron undeneath was one solid piece.Urselius (talk) 09:24, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

Thoughts on problems of "The adversaries compared" section[edit]

It is too large and, most importantly, contains information that should be put on a separate article. That is, very loosely related images and, in general, an excessive amount of information on Roman armour. I would like to hear your thoughts before embedding a cleanup tag there. Dipa1965 (talk) 11:12, 17 October 2008 (UTC)

The problem is where should this information be provided. I suggest, you propose a specific concept for that. Then we can talk about it. Wandalstouring (talk) 12:28, 17 October 2008 (UTC)
I changed the title of the section and will make a massive removal with reference to main articles throughout wikipedia in a day or two if no-one objects. SADADS (talk) 20:40, 3 June 2009 (UTC)
I still think it is a little too long, but it will suffice for now. SADADS (talk) 03:05, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

Splitting the Article up[edit]

I have made changes subject to the concepts stated on Wikipedia:Splitting and am trying to refocus the article to just the battle and not all of the extra stuff associated with it which may be cool, but should not take up the majority of the page. If it appears have have removed something crucially important to the article, or unstated in the main articles please fell free to add that at the appropriate place. SADADS (talk) 03:05, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

Before we start an edit war, present a sandbox version of the new article and mention briefly which sections you transfer and how you link to them from the new article that first appears in the sandbox. Wandalstouring (talk) 13:57, 10 June 2009 (UTC)


I'm aware that composite bows are superior to longbows, but only for flight archery and from horseback, see for example Traditional Bowyer's Bible 4. I have removed what could be taken as hyperbole (common in tertiary sources) on the wonderfulness of the composite bow. I've also used more cautious phrasing elsewhere; it seems a bit much to describe longbows as very powerful when we don't actually know if there were any at the battle, let alone what their performance might have been. I also took out the bit about Central Asian origins of the Roman bows; Coulston's "Roman Archery" describes them as the products of the Levantine tradition, and discussion of the origins of Levantine bowmaking is really beyond this article. I hope this helps. Richard Keatinge (talk) 15:37, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

Site of the Battle[edit]

There are some very definite assertions in the article that I don't think are supported by the text of Ammianus. First, Julian did not order the construction of a camp before the battle, he only proposed it, and he was talked out of it by the soldiery, who wanted to complete the march and engage in battle immediately. Second, it's not at all clear that the Romans marched the full 21 miles to the barbarian entrenchments. Julian called a halt before noon, and his arguments for making camp suggest that a long march still lay in front of them (16.12.11). However, the soldiers said the enemy was within sight (16.12.13), and indeed the battle was over in time for the Romans to make an improvised camp by nightfall (16.12.62). Skookumpete (talk) 20:50, 21 December 2009 (UTC)

Hi. I am the original author of Battle of Strasbourg. Thanks for your contribution. You are right that the Ammianus passage on the lead-up to the battle is ambiguous (most likely this isn't Ammianus' fault, but due to garbled copying by a medieval monk!). But you are wrong to dismiss my interpretation, which is the only one that makes sense.
If you look at the relevant passage (XVI.12.11-4), you will see that there is only one inconsistent phrase: where Julian says that the moon is disappearing and that therefore the Romans would likely lose their way in the darkness and risk ambush. Since immediately before this he states that it is shortly past midday (in meridiem vergit = in the early afternoon), clearly the moon-phrase is an erroneous interpolation from another speech or passage. If you disregard the moon-phrase, then everything else in the passage makes sense.
(1) The Romans marched 21 Roman miles from their last-mentioned location, Saverne. They arrived at around midday. This is evidently sound. Starting at around 0600, it would take them about 5 hours to cover the distance, arriving at ca. 1100. They were "within sight of the enemy", because now they would be within just two or three Roman miles of Strasbourg.
(2) It would have taken the Romans a couple of hours (cf. Elton) to construct their marching-camp, so it would be complete at ca. 1300, consistent with the "early afternoon" quote. Here you are dead wrong about the camp being only proposed, not built. The Ammianus quote clearly implies that the camp is already built: "we are surrounded by ditch and rampart" is in the present tense, not conditional. You are clearly unfamiliar with Roman military procedure. On campaign, fortified camps were ALWAYS built IMMEDIATELY at the end of a day's march. (A normal day's march in the Roman army was 20 miles, a forced march 25 miles). Whether the Romans decided to give battle that day or not, a camp was essential: if they decided to postpone the battle till the following day, as Julian suggested, then they would need a secure base to spend the night in. If they gave battle that same day, they would need a secure base to leave their servants, pack-animals and supplies while the battle was ongoing (in case enemy bands tried to pillage the supplies) and a refuge for their men if they were put to flight by the enemy. The Romans would NEVER give battle without first establishing a secure base for their supplies. After the disastrous Battle of Cannae, in excess of 15,000 Roman troops managed to survive by escaping to the various marching-camps they had established before the battle.
(3) Even though a decision was taken to give battle the same day, it is clearly unrealistic to start a battle immediately after your men have marched for 5 hours and then spent 2 hours toiling to construct a fortified camp - all on a hot summer's day. The men would inevitably have needed at least 3 hours rest and refreshment before proceeding to the battlefield. Thus the battle could not have commenced before 1600 hours at the earliest. This was late - but in high summer, the days are long and the light strong until ca. 2100, leaving plenty of time for a full-scale battle. You may call this speculation - but where a deduction is inescapable, I call it fact.
In view of the above, I propose to reinstate my original wording (although I shall put the info about Roman marching-camps in a footnote, which is more appropriate). But first I will give you a little time to respond. Regards EraNavigator (talk) 22:51, 30 December 2009 (UTC)

Hello, I don't do a lot of editing on Wikipedia, so I'm a little unfamiliar with this user talk thing, and why discussion on a topic should take place here rather than on the discussion page for that topic, but let me answer a couple of your points.

First, please don't make assumptions about my knowledge. I have studied the later Roman empire, including its military history, for 40 years. I have written an important article about the Battle of Adrianople ( and I am intimately familiar with Ammianus.

You are reading a great deal into the available evidence and giving us unsupported interpretations. We could argue forever about whether they are reasonable interpretations, but in my view they are too speculative for a Wikipedia article. You are just saying, "by my reasoning Julian should have built a camp, therefore he did, and the timeline follows from that." And the sun must have been in the Germans' eyes even though we have no idea whether it was a cloudy day (which it might have been, since Ammianus has Julian suggesting the absence of stars).

As to "we are surrounded" etc., the verb circumdare is not in the present tense, it is not in any tense at all, but rather it is a participle, vallo fossoque circumdati, and the verb quiescamus ("we may rest") is in the subjunctive. Julian is proposing that a camp be built so that "we may rest surrounded by a wall and ditch."

The Romans clearly did not build a camp before meeting the Goths at Adrianople after a march of perhaps 12 miles. Also, at Strasbourg, Ammianus has them in makeshift camps at the end of the day (16.12.62), which further argues against the existence of any nearby wall and ditch.

Again, you may be right and I may be wrong, but based on the only available primary source, no camp was built before the battle. Any assertion to the contrary has to be backed up by citation. Skookumpete (talk) 18:25, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

Hi. I understand, and accept, your point that speculation is inadmissible on Wiki (unless of course such speculation is sourced to a published work). However, I don't regard it as speculative to: (1) draw obvious deductions from the available data and/or (2) to apply to the available data our existing knowledge from other sources about Roman military procedure e.g. construction of fortified marching-camps (providing such detail is also sourced).
(1) My timetable is the inevitable deduction from the time-elements provided by Ammianus:
  1. The army arrived within sight of the enemy at midday (XVI.12.11: iam diem in meridiem vergit)
  2. The army marched 14 Gallic leagues (21 Roman miles) from its starting-point (XVI.12.8: Et quoniam a loco, unde Romana promota sunt signa ad usque vallum barbaricum quarta leuga signabatur et decima). This would have taken about 6 hours, including rest-stops. Thus, the army set off at around 0600 hrs.
  3. The battle and pursuit ended after sunset (XVI.12.62: Quibus...terminatis post exactum iam diem). In mid-summer, sunset would be at ca. 21.30 hrs
Now, if you are right, and the battle took place immediately after the Romans arrived within sight of Strasbourg, the Romans would have been marching and fighting, on a hot day, uninterruptedly for more than 15 hours. This is obviously absurd.
My timetable is the only plausible one, with the battle starting at ca. 1700 hrs, after a 3-hour refreshment-and-rest break for the Romans, the minimum necessary after a 20-mile march and a 2-hour camp-construction exercise. This would make the battle about 5 hours long, a reasonable figure. It was doubtless during this break, and in the safety of the camp, that Julian addressed his troops arguing for postponing action until the following day. The issue was not whether the troops should set up a camp and have a rest (which was automatic), but whether having had their break, they were even so sufficiently rested to be able to sustain a battle which was likely to be arduous.
Further support for my timetable comes from Ammianus himself. XVI.12.7: Iamque solis radiis rutilantibus...pedestres copiae...educuntur, eorumque lateri equestres sunt turmae, inter quas cataphractarii erant et sagittarii - "The sun's rays were already reddening, when the infantry was led out, with on their flanks the cavalry squadrons, among which were the cataphracts and mounted archers". In other words, the army was led out in battle order in the early evening (when the light starts to redden). Since this passage immediately precedes XVI.12.8, which provides the length of march, it has been taken by some to refer to the departure of the army from its starting-point, not its move to the battlefield. The problem with this interpretation is that at dawn, the sun's rays do not redden, but the opposite (they go from pink to white). The natural use of this phrase means evening, but obviously the march could not have started then, as it would then have been conducted by night (this may explain why the confused medieval monk copying the manuscript felt it necessary to add the stuff about the moon). Furthermore, the normal marching-order of a Roman army would have the cavalry in the vanguard and rearguard. The cavalry on the flanks was the normal battle-array. Most likely, XVI.12.7 originally was part of the later passage on the advance to the battlefield (XVI.12.19). PS: Do not underestimate errors by medieval copyists: manuscripts are full of mistakes, interpolations and lacunae - as one would expect in manuscripts hand-copied dozens of times over several centuries.
(2) Regarding Roman marching-camp procedure, here is an excerpt from the (quite good) article Roman infantry tactics:
Construction of fortified camps. Legions on a campaign typically established a strong field camp, complete with palisade and a deep ditch, providing a basis for supply storage, troop marshaling and defense. Camps were recreated each time the army moved, and were constructed with a view to both military necessity and religious symbolism. There were always four gateways, connected by two main criss-crossing streets, with the intersection at a concentration of command tents in the center. Space was also made for an altar and religious gathering area. Everything was standardized, from the positioning of baggage, equipment and specific army units, to the duties of officers who were to set up sentries, pickets and orders for the next day's march. Construction could take between 2 to 5 hours with part of the army laboring, while the rest stood guard, depending on the tactical situation. The shape of the camp was generally rectangular, but could vary based on the terrain or tactical situation. A distance of about 60 meters was left clear between the entrenchments and the first row of troop tents. This gap provided space for marshaling the legionnaires for battle and kept the troop area out of enemy missile range.[1] No other ancient army persisted over such a long period in systematic camp construction like the Romans, even if the army rested for only a single day.[2]
Breaking camp and marching. After a regimented breakfast at the allocated time, trumpets were sounded and the camp's tents and huts were dismantled and preparations made for departure. The trumpet then sounded again with the signal for "stand by to march". Mules and wagons of the baggage train would be loaded and units formed up. The camp would then be fired to the ground to prevent its later occupation and use by the enemy. The trumpets would then be sounded for a final time and then the troops asked three times whether they were ready, to which they were expected to shout together "Ready!", before marching off[3].
Also I don't think we should dismiss Ammianus' speeches too quickly. I agree that these conformed to a classical pattern of rhetoric. But the core elements may be accurate. Remember that Ammianus primary source would almost certainly have been Julian's own published memoirs of his Gallic campaign, and the speeches may contain the gist of what he actually said.
A final point is that there is no serious doubt that Julian started from Saverne. He was engaged in fortifying it (XVI.11.11) and he was still so engaged when he received envoys from Chnodomar demanding that he evacuate Alsace - whom he detained until his work was complete (XVI.12.3), no doubt to deter an Alamanni attack while work was still in progress. Add that the distance from Saverne to Strasbourg was exactly the 21 miles specified.
Having said all that, I think you are right to suggest that my original wording was too absolute. In revising it, I shall endeavour to make it more tentative. I shall also try to find a published authority that supports my timetable. But I am sure that by now you would agree that it is the only plausible reconstruction. PS: I'm interested in your published article on Adrianople - can you give me the reference? Regards EraNavigator (talk) 22:00, 7 January 2010 (UTC)

I'm glad my comments have stimulated you to think about this further. Your arguments are interesting but, I think, still too much in the nature of speculation or even "original research" to belong on Wikipedia. I think the scope of the article should be limited to what we actually know from Ammianus and what has been inferred by published scholars; and a timetable can be no part of that.

I'll make just a couple of further points and then leave this.:First, as to mistakes by medieval copyists, this happens to be another topic on which I am fairly well educated, and I can tell you that while the text of Ammianus is very corrupt, errors tend to be in the nature of spelling mistakes, lacunae, and other slips made by semi-literate monks rather than transpositions or interpolation of passages in an attempt to make sense of the narrative, such as putting the "reddening sun" in the wrong place.

If you propose that 26.12.7 actually refers to the disposition of the troops on the battlefield late in the day, then I cannot make any sense at all of what follows: Julian assembling the troops and saying it is midday, then uttering his puzzling warnings about the difficult march ahead of them. (Again, we have no reason to believe that the actual order of events was altered by copyists.) Anyway, I think there is ample precedent for "rosy-fingered dawn" going back at least to Homer.

Finally, I'm sure you know how unsafe it is to make assumptions about fourth-century warfare based on much earlier sources such as Josephus. I found when researching Adrianople that some scholars had constructed elaborate theories about the course of the battle founded on early classical models, e.g. the tendency of infantry to drift to the right, which simply don't apply to the tactics of the later empire. Also we have to beware even of writers like Ammianus, who use obsolete terminology (e.g. "maniples") as a means of putting their own work in the classical tradition. As far as camp-making is concerned, I don't think you would suggest that a Roman army on the march through peaceful imperial lands would necessarily make a fortified camp every night. It might have been prudent to do so outside Strasbourg, but we just don't know -- I have to insist on this -- whether it was actually done; certainly my initial impression from Rolfe's translation was that Julian proposed to build a camp but was talked out of it by his zealous officers, if not actually by the massed troops. Even the fortified camp that Ammianus states to have been built at Adrianople mysteriously disappears later in the narrative, and one wonders whether it ever actually existed in the form he describes, or whether this is just more classicizing. Skookumpete (talk) 00:07, 8 January 2010 (UTC)

Sorry, but your description of Germania I province (Alsace) in 357 as "peaceful imperial lands" is absurd. It misses the whole thrust of Ammianus' narrative. These lands had been under barbarian occupation for years. It was swarming with barbarian bands which had perfected ambushes to a fine art (XVI.11.14). Only shortly before, somewhere in the region, the vanguard of Barbatio's army, which was twice the size of Julian's, had suffered a surprise attack by Chnodomar's forces, and Barbatio had been driven out of the province. The key reason for this disaster was that it was NOT in camp: the attack took place "within sight of Severus' camp" (XVI.11.14). The latter passage, and others, show clearly that Alsace was a very dangerous place to operate and that Julian was taking elaborate precautions against ambuscades. In this context. it would have been crazy not to build a camp so close to the largest concentration of Alamanni forces yet. PS: The point about Ammianus "classicising" is taken, but it is worth bearing in mind that Julian was himself the great classiciser of all: a scholar of the classics, he prided himself on reviving the ancient martial practices of the Romans.EraNavigator (talk) 16:07, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

I expressed myself poorly. I meant that it was unlikely that the army made a fortified camp in all circumstances (without reference to this campaign in particular), because you were quite firm that it always did so. Of course it would have been prudent for Julian to have dug in on this occasion. On the face of it, this is the main theme of the passage: he wants to go "by the book", but in the end has to give in to the zeal of his troops. Ammianus may be implying that this was an extraordinary concession on Julian's part, to allow tired and hungry men to attack without even preparing a safe retreat; or, as you say, he may want us to understand that Julian is just urging a good rest within an existing camp. Skookumpete (talk) 17:53, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

This has been a very engaging discussion and it has certainly caused me to look at my own assumptions. Just a couple of notes.

First, it is interesting to compare Ammianus on Strasbourg with Ammianus on Adrianople. On the face of it, 16.12.7 seems to be a parallel to the dawn march at 31.12.10. But taken literally it sure seems more like a description of deployment. (Gibbon says the cavalry and infantry are marching in two columns, but I would expect them to march in a single column along the road.) The infantry are led out slowly, unlike the army departing hastily from Adrianople. The more I look at this whole passage, the more it seems as if Ammianus has taken a couple of stock scenes from his notebook and penned them in without much regard for continuity. We certainly have to discount the steep paths Julian talks about, regardless of the time of day, unless the road down to the Rhine valley was a lot more difficult than it looks. And I wonder if that stuff about the darkness of the night is intended to show Julian being more aware of the consequences of a moonless night than Valens was.

Second, if you have access to a good university library, I would be very curious to know what has been made of this passage by de Jonge in his Philological and historical commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XVI. Skookumpete (talk) 01:01, 10 January 2010 (UTC)

EraNavigator's revisions look good. Skookumpete (talk) 17:59, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

Part of the discussion seems to have been lost in the move from my talk page. I was a bit quicker to acknowledge the ambiguity about the camp than it might seem as this page is currently revised.

Anyway, I have been led to look at T.D. Barnes's Ammianus Marcellinus and the Representation of Historical Reality, in particular p. 152, where he points out that Julian was overruled by Constantius's appointees, and that "Had Julian really been in command, and had his plan been put into effect, there would have been no glorious victory at Strasbourg." This gives us some insight into the alleged address to the troops. Skookumpete (talk) 22:52, 11 January 2010 (UTC)

It's an interesting perspective, but it doesn't appear sound. If "Constantius' appointees" refers to the PPG (praefectus praetorio Galliarum) Florentius, who did indeed argue for immediate action, then he would have no power to overrule his political superior, the Caesar. This is shown by a later incident, when Julian vetoed a tax increase for Gaul strongly recommended by Florentius, on the grounds that it was too burdensome. In any case, there is no reason to believe that the Romans would have been any less successful if the battle had been postponed until the following day. EraNavigator (talk) 05:36, 12 January 2010 (UTC)
    • ^ Pierre Grimal, The Civilization of Rome, op. cit
    • ^ John Warry, Warfare in the ancient World, (St. Martin's, 1980), pp. 70-183
    • ^ Williamson, G. A., (tr), Josephus, The Jewish War, Penguin Books, 1959, p. 378-179