Stilla flyter Maas : senromersk strategi och logistik i den arkeologiska rekonstruktionen.

Mikael Dahlgren

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This dissertation deals with antique warfare in general and late Roman warfare in particular. The overall aim is to discuss the concept of strategy in the archaeological and historical reconstruction, based on Edward N. Luttwak’s groundbreaking work The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire (1976). Luttwak’s influence on various provincial Roman research fields cannot be underestimated, but the book has also been a source of much and sometimes heated debate, particularly among historians. Curiously enough, the debate seems to have affected the archaeological research community to a much lesser extent. Consequently, Luttwak’s ideas have been approached less critically or even generally accepted in many archaeological interpretations and reconstructions. A main concern of the study is to analyse the possible implications of provincial Roman archaeology being too dependent on comprehensive theories and models like Luttwak’s. The underlying suggestion is that archaeological interpretations might very well be extensive and qualified enough, to allow for more independent reconstructions, or critically minded evaluations of such grand historical concepts as Roman strategy.
A complementary aim of the study is to discuss one of the most important elements of strategic decision-making, which is logistics. The reason for choosing Roman military logistics as an analytical tool is threefold. Firstly, logistical activities are primarily visible on the operational level, which should make them visible in the archaeological record as well. The operational level includes all relevant sectors of the society, and not only military campaigns and combat engagements. Secondly, military history and military science have been fairly negligent regarding the unglamorous and tedious role of logistics, particularly in ancient warfare. Being a frequently decisive factor in battle as well as in extended, low-intensive conditions, the study of logistics should be a matter of greater concern. Thirdly, logistics constitutes an implicit set of arguments in Luttwak’s description of the third strategy phase; the defence-in-depth system. This system, gradually implemented after the so-called great crisis of the 3rd century A.D., is also the main objective of the study’s analysis. It has been my appraisal that an analysis of the logistical element, based on the archaeological sources and interpretations, might prove to be one useful method to evaluate the relevance of Luttwak’s ideas today, more than thirty years since the book was published. However, the analysis is also based on recent critical discussions, reevaluations and new suggestions in historical research publications. In order to illustrate the discussion, a case study is presented, focusing on a specific investigation area, once part of the provincial Roman frontier landscape in northwestern Europe. The chosen region is located along the river Meuse, between Nijmegen and Tongeren in present-day Netherlands and Belgium. The case study has been possible due to a very favourable and well-established research situation in the Netherlands and adjacent regions, but also thanks to the equally well-established and fruitful cooperation within the provincial Roman and Limes research traditions.
An introductory overview of the complex concept of strategy is presented, giving a short background to the scholarly debate over the strategic dimensions of ancient warfare and command principles. The main purpose of the overview is to present the leading ideas in Luttwak’s thesis about a Roman grand strategy, as well as the major works that disputes or supports the validity of his assumptions. The concept of logistics is less complex, but still a multifaceted one because of various definitions, operating levels and the unavoidable correlation between logistical matters and overall economic structures. In my definition, logistics is basically an operational element, which reflects both strategic planning and practical applications. The latter reflection is deemed to be clearly visible in the material remains. Historical research has largely affirmed the Roman awareness of and aptitude for careful logistical planning. Archaeology have confirmed not only detailed aspects of the most basic level of military supply and subsistence activities, but also structural and operational elements that must be considered proof of advanced logistics management.
It is argumented that the defence-in-depth system has been overrated as the only or most likely late Roman strategy in the northwestern provinces of Europe. I am supporting alternative interpretations of late Roman policy making and conduct of war, as presented in the study. My primary arguments are focusing on the logistical functions of the defence-in-depth system, which I believe have been more diverse, possibly operating more frequently in an ad hoc, non-strategic mode. The quality of the archaeological sources and interpretations in the investigation and adjacent areas, are consistently very high, not least because of recently discovered structures of the military infrastructure. This can be complemented by further investigations, or reassessments of previously analysed sources. They also seem to fit undeniably well into Luttwak’s landscape of defence in-depth installations, but the sources possess likewise a great potential to be interpreted according to different strategic considerations. The arguments used to support the logistical elements of the Luttwakian strategy phase, as reflected in archaeological and associated sources, are fairly detailed. They are in my opinion, however, not strong enough to necessarily support an defence-in-depth function. Alternative suggestions and interpretations are equally possible.
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
  • Archaeology
  • Hårdh, Birgitta, Supervisor
Award date2008 Oct 31
ISBN (Print)978-91-89578-22-7
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2008-10-31
Time: 10:15
Place: Kulturens auditorium, Tegnérsplatsen, Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Nørgård Jørgensen, Anne
Title: Ph.D.
Affiliation: Kulturarvsstyrelsen, Fortidsminder, København


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Archaeology


  • logistics
  • fortifications
  • Limes
  • frontiers
  • defence-in-depth
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Maas
  • Maastricht
  • Nijmegen
  • Luttwak
  • provincial Roman archaeology
  • strategy
  • Warfare

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