Beer, Blades and the Batavian Ear: The Batavian Myth, Roman Military

Roman military studies have traditionally focused on broad syntheses of military identity, correlating the experiences of the Roman army with that of modern militaries, in particular with the colonial powers of the nineteenth century.  Within this model individual soldiers are lost to discussions of grand strategies, elite careers, and battle tactics; individuals reduced to the level of cogs in a machine, which as a whole is emblematic of imperialism.   Increasingly, these perspectives are now being attacked as more and more archaeologists utilise theorised perspectives to reinterpret the Roman military as a diverse range of peoples, divided by status, duties and geographical origins.

This paper focuses upon the Batavians, the Rhineland tribe made famous by Tacitus as the preeminent auxiliary soldiers of the Roman military, providing recruits in lieu of taxation (Germania 29, Historiae 4.12).  To the Romans, they were, like all barbarians of the fringes of empire, to be respected for their bravery but also to be feared; the 
revolt of AD69-70 demonstrated both the lie of the homogenous Roman military, and of the army as the unwavering tool of imperialism.  For later generations of Dutch humanist scholars, the Batavians were an exemplar of Dutch nationalist resistance to foreign oppression – the ‘Batavian Myth’ emerged from this context.  I utilise the case study 
of Vindolanda in bringing material and textual evidence to bear on broader discussions of Roman and national identities, arguing that separation of propaganda from reality, in modern and ancient sources, is a challenge Roman archaeologists must meet.


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