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Bill Thayer

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Book I
Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 8

Book 1 (continued)

Thayer's Note: This page is from the first edition of the book, which Hodgkin considerably expanded into a much more detailed second edition, often refining or even outright changing his conclusions and opinions. That second edition is onsite in full; the serious student will take advantage of it.

Vol. I
Note E

Statistical Aspects of the Contest between Rome and the Barbarians

Of really trustworthy statistics concerning the numbers and resources of the two powers whose struggle we have been contemplating, it must at once be confessed that we have none. We have only guesses by learned and ingenious men, from data so vague or so distant in point of time that error from a thousand different sources which no learning or ingenuity can detect may have flowed in and vitiated their conclusions.

1. Number of the Goths

On this point it is no wonder that precise information is not forthcoming. One would not expect the tumultuary inroads of an unlettered people to show an accurate muster-roll or a scientifically arranged commissariat. Our most valuable number is the 200,000 fighting men of the Visigothic nation who, according to Eunapius, were collected in the year 376 on the Wallachian shore of the Danube under the leader­ship of Fridigern. Add to these the other Visigoths under Sueridus and Colias, and under Athanaric, who may have afterwards become amalgamated with them, deduct the losses by battle, plague, and famine, add again the natural increase of the population during the peaceful reign of Theodosius, deduct for those whom Alaric may have left behind him in Illyria, and the reader can then form his own conjecture as to the number of Gothic troops who encompassed Rome in the three great sieges.

By a singular coincidence we have the same number, 200,000, mentioned​1 as that of the soldiers of Radagaisus who were shut up by Stilicho in the hill-country near Florence.  p391 There are some very slight indications that Alaric made his second invasion of Italy less of a national migration than the first, and that this was one cause of his greater success in 408 than in 402. Possibly he may have been warned by the calamity which befell the unwieldy host of Radagaisus in the interval between those two dates, and may therefore have led a better disciplined and more compact army into Italy, and left the long train of waggons, the women and the children, behind. If one were to venture on a guess at all it would be that Alaric's army in his second and successful invasion of Italy ranged between 50,000 and 100,000 men.

2. Number of the Roman Army

At the time when the Notitia was compiled (probably on the eve of the battle of Pollentia) there were thirty-seven Numeri and eight Vexillationes serving in Italy.​2 To take the former, which is by far the larger class, first, we find on comparing the names of these Numeri with those of the different classes of troops serving under the Illustris Magister Peditum Praesentalis,​3 that fifteen are Legions of one sort or another, and the remaining twenty-two are Auxilia Palatina. From the fact of their being all classed together under the common term Numeri we should be disposed to conjecture that the Legio and the Auxilium were not of very different size; and the whole history of the Roman army renders this hypothesis more probable since we know that the theory of that army was, that side by side with the Roman citizens marching in the Legions an equal number of allies (Socii) were to serve as Auxilia, the former being generally heavy-armed troops, the latter light-armed, or cavalry. As an approximation to the truth therefore we shall probably be safe in counting all these thirty-seven Numeri as so many Legions.

Now we know from Vegetius, who wrote towards the end of the fourth century, that the Legion still consisted, theoretically, of 6,100 foot-soldiers, and 730 horse.​4 And  p392 this is confirmed substantially by Joannes Lydus, writing at the end of the fifth century, who says that 'there are 6000 foot-soldiers in each Legion.'​5 The last-named authority also informs us that the Vexillatio, which we know to have been a detachment of cavalry, consisted of 500 men.

Taking, therefore, the Legion at its full complement of 6,100 infantry + 730 cavalry - 6,830 men, and multiplying by 37, we get 252,710 for the total number of men in the Numeri, and adding to this number 4000 for the additional cavalry in the eight Vexillationes, we get a gross total of 256,710 men of all arms and nationalities in the service of Rome within the frontiers of Italy at the commencement of the fifth century. In the demoralised, exhausted, bankrupt state of the Empire, one may imagine almost any deduction that one pleases from this total to bring it down to the effective force under the command of Stilicho; but on the other hand one must also increase it by an equally vague and conjectural estimate for the troops withdrawn from the defence of the provinces in order to take service among the defenders of Italy.

3. Population of Italy

In a young and vigorous community, the number of the civil population from whom fresh recruits might be drawn to oppose an invader who remained three years in the land, might have been an important consideration. But Alaric probably knew that he might safely despise any accessions to the Imperial strength that might be drawn from the exhausted and spiritless population of Italy. What the number of that population was we cannot determine with any approach to accuracy. The only datum for the calculation is the number of the levée en masse of citizens from sixteen to forty-six years of age, which, according to Polybius, was made throughout Italy south of a line drawn from Spezia to Rimini in the year 225 B.C. in expectation  p393 of a fresh Gaulish invasion. The number then raised amounted to about 700,000 foot-soldiers and 70,000 horse. On this basis Von Wietersheim calculates the population of that portion of Italy at 4,700,000, to which he adds for Lombardy, Piedmont, and Venetia, 4,700,000; for the Alpine districts, 300,000; giving a total of 9,700,000 for all Italy at its fullest extension; and, notwithstanding the fearful waste of life in the Social, Servile, and Civil Wars, he claims a sufficient increase of population to bring up the number to at least 11,000,000 in the time of Augustus.

From these numbers those adopted by Mr. Bunbury in his article 'Italia,' in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, do not greatly differ, though he adopts a somewhat lower estimate. He fixes the population of Italy south of the Spezia-Rimini line at 4,000,000, exclusive of slaves, and remarks that the population of the same district at the present time considerably exceeds 9,000,000.

It will be evident that in deducing the number of the inhabitants of Italy at the Christian era from the statistics of a period more than two centuries earlier, there is already great danger of error. For the four centuries between Augustus and Theodosius we have absolutely no guide in reference to this subject, only the strong and almost passionate utterances of Pliny as to the depopulating effect of the slave-system of agriculture. Such utterances, and the whole course of Imperial history, justify us in believing that if the population of Italy was eleven millions at the time of Augustus, it was considerably less than that number at the time of Theodosius. It is to be remarked, however, that the estates were not so large nor the withering effects of slave-culture so terribly visible in the Lombard plain as in the centre and south of Italy. Possibly one reason of the ill-success of Alaric's first invasion was that he never passed beyond the former and more populous district. If so, his rapid march at the opening of his second invasion, across Umbria to Rome, may have been a stroke of sagacious boldness like Sherman's celebrated Georgian campaign at the close of the American Civil War, and may have succeeded for the same reason, because it led him through a  p394 country the heart of which was already eaten out by slavery.

4. Population of Rome

If the population of Italy might have been a source of strength to her defenders, that of Rome, under the critical conditions of its food-supply, was an obvious source of weakness. What then was the number of those multitudes who watched for the approach of the cornº-ships to Ostia, and who thronged round Attalus shouting 'Pone pretium carnis humanae'?

There are two chief data upon which all the enquirers into this subject found their reasonings:—

1. The Monumentum Ancyranum, the marble tablet upon which Augustus records his donations to the Roman people. The sentence to which they attach most importance runs thus, 'Consul XII, Trecentis et viginti millibus Plebei urbanae sexagenos denarios viritim dedi' (In my 12th Consulship [B.C. 15] I gave to every man of the urban commonalty, being 320,000 in number, sixty denarii).

This seems as if it should give some secure foothold to the statistician, at any rate for the time close upon the Christian Era. If we know the number of the poor free citizens, to estimate that of the senators, and all above the 'plebs urbana,' should not be difficult. The great element of uncertainty, however, arises from the slaves. Most enquirers concur in assuming them at something like the same number as the free population. This is however only a guess, and one which our comparative ignorance of social life in Rome leaves us no means of accurately testing. There are other difficulties of detail connected with the inscription, questions how low down in point of age this distribution of cash extended, whether girls as well as boys were included in it, and why in the same inscription other numbers (250,000 and 200,000) are mentioned, apparently for the same class of recipients.

Thus it is not surprising that from the same somewhat vague premises the following very different conclusions are drawn by their respective authors:—

 p395  Bunsen fixes the population of Rome (B.C. 15) at 1,300,000.

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I take this comparison of their different results from Von Wietersheim (I.243), who himself arrives, by a course of reasoning of his own, at results very similar to those of Bunsen, making the total population of the city 1,350,000.

2. The Curiosum Urbis, a description of the city of Rome assigned to the age of Constantine, gives the number of the dwellings therein as 1790 Domus, and 46,602 Insulae.​6 Scholars are generally agreed that the former are the great self-contained mansions of the rich, and the latter the blocks of what we should call 'tenemented property' let out in flats and rooms to the poorer classes.

From this number of dwellings Gibbon infers a population of 1,200,000, and Von Wietersheim 1,470,000 at the beginning of the fourth century.

It is obvious, however, how exceedingly liable to error are all calculations of the population of a city from the conjectural allowance of so many inhabitants to each house. While the city was in the height of its prosperity, and 'overcrowding' was being practised, such calculations might be below the mark, and they would be almost sure to be greatly above it when the wave of prosperity was receding. The stately domus would still remain though the retinue of slaves was gone, and one or two solitary lodgers might represent the once teeming population of a crowded insula. It is, I suppose, considerations of this kind which have led Gregorovius to put the population order at the time of Alaric's invasion as low as 300,000. To me, notwithstanding the undoubted influence of the removal of the Courts to Constantinople and Ravenna, so great a decline of population from the 1,500,000 which he admits for the  p396 time of Rome's greatest prosperity, seems too much, especially as in the report of the Prefect Albinus (to be mentioned in the next chapter), as to the rapid recovery of population by the city after Alaric's sieges, shows that Rome still exercised a strong attraction of gravitation upon the people of Italy. I should be disposed to conjecture that the inhabitants of the city at the commencement of the first siege might still amount to one million. But the reader will see how much is left to mere guess-work in all these calculations. The Romans of the Empire had accurate census-tables and registers, but unfortunately the labours of the amanuensis, which have preserved to us their school-books and their religious tracts in almost too great abundance, have scarcely saved for us one of these.

The Author's Notes:

1 Orosius VII.37.

2 Notitia Occidentis, cap. VII.

3 Ib. cap. V.

4 Vegetius de Re Militari, II.6.

5 Joannes Lydus de Magistratibus, I.46.

6 I quote the numbers at second hand from Gregorovius (Geschichte der Stadt Rom, I.139) and Friedlaender (Sitten-Geschichte Roms, I.63). Von Wietersheim (I.252) makes 1482 Domus and 44,171 Insulae. It appears that there is some discrepancy between the numbers assigned to each Region and the summation at the end.

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