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Border Defenses

The reign of Hadrian affords a suitable opportunity for surveying the boundaries of the Roman empire when it had reached its Limits of the utmost limits, and the defences by which it was Empire protected. The limits which, as Gibbon remarks, appeared to have been permanently placed for that purpose by nature, were on the west the Atlantic Ocean; the Rhine and Danube on the north ; the Euphrates on the east; and towards the south the sandy deserts of Arabia and Africa1. These boundaries were recommended by Augustus to his successors ; and they were observed by subsequent emperors, except in Britain, and in two districts into which Trajan carried his victorious arms - Mesopotamia, which for a short time, and Dacia, which for a longer period, became subject to Rome.

It was only by gradual stages, however, that a system of frontier defence grew up along these lines. In some instances a belt of allied native states, such as Commagene, Cappadocia, and Pontus on the side towards the Euphrates, were allowed to remain, so as to separate the Roman provinces from the nations outside; and it was only after a time that these were annexed to Rome, and were formally recognised as part of the Roman dominion.

There can be little doubt that the development of the frontier defences, which followed on this, was quickened by a growing fear of danger arising from the incursions of barbarians from without. The emperors, whose policy was especially devoted to this end, were those of the Flavian and Antonine dynasties, and the sovereign in particular, with whom above all others it should be associated, is Hadrian. Not only does the Roman Wall in Britain bear his name, but in other parts of the empire also shows evidence of the attention which he paid to this question. On the site of the camp constructed by his orders for the Third Legion at Lambaesis in the interior of Numidia, fragments remain of an inscription recording the address which he made to the troops stationed there; and in the course of this Hadrian expresses his admiration of the walls that had been built, and eulogises the excellence of the training of the soldiers, notwithstanding the few opportunities of drilling which they had had owing to their being stationed for long periods continuously in remote posts on the frontiers.

Similar testimony with regard to the care expended on the frontier stations and garrisons on the south-eastern coast of the Black Sea is contained in the report on that subject addressed to Hadrian by Arriantius Anian, the historian, who was praefect of the province of Cappadocia. The date of this document - which is known as the Periplus Ponti Euxini, and was written in Greek - is 131 AD; and it formed a supplement to a Latin official report, such as was regularly sent by these officers to their master, the emperor. Throughout it we meet with accounts of the condition of the fortifications along that line, in which the writer mentions that he had replaced earthwork embankments and wooden towers by brick walls, and had everywhere examined the fortifications and trenches ; the entire statement being drawn up in such a manner as to imply that the defences were a question of primary interest to the person to whom the letter was addressed.

Indeed, Hadrian is spoken of quite plainly by Dio as having been the chief organiser of this system. The following is his account : "Hadrian used to travel from province to province, visiting both the country districts and the cities ; and in the course of his inspections of the forts and walls count of he transferred some to more suitable positions, while others he dismantled or erected at new points. He also personally superintended and examined every detail ; not merely the condition of the camps in general - their arms and military engines, their trenches, ramparts and palisades - but also what affected the individual soldiers, the rank and file as well as the officers - their manner of life, and dwellings and habits ; and in many cases, where novel arrangements had been introduced tending to greater comfort, he remodelled and amended them. Besides this, he exercised the men in all kinds of fighting, approving some and censuring others, and instructing them all in their duties. And in order that they might profit by his example, wherever he went he led a hardy life, and never at such times availed himself of a carriage or four-wheeled chariot, but always walked or rode ; nor did he protect his head, either in heat or cold, but went about with it uncovered both in the snows of Gaul and under an Egyptian sun. In a word, throughout the whole empire he so trained and disciplined the entire military force both by action and precept, that even at the present time the appointments which he then made are their rule of service. This was the main reason why during the greater part of his reign he was at peace with foreign nations: they were aware of his means of defence, and inasmuch as they suffered no ill-treatment, and even received presents of money, they maintained the existing order of things. For his soldiers were so well trained, that the cavalry of the so-called Batavi swam across the Danube with their arms: on seeing which the barbarians were impressed with fear of the Romans, and when they fell out with one another they called in that power to arbitrate in their mutual disputes."

A tendency soon arose for the soldiers of a certain legion to become the permanent occupants of a particular camp. Thus the Twentieth Legion is found at Chester, the Sixth at York, and the Third Augustan Legion in Africa. The outlying fortresses were garrisoned by auxiliary troops, and these could be more easily transferred from one station to another; yet the evidence goes to prove that they also frequently continued to occupy the same positions.




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