ABSTRACT

Our best evidence for combat in antiquity usually comes from the literary sources and, in particular, the historiographical accounts that play such an important role in our understanding of various events and eras. We are particularly well informed about the sixth century (AD), for which we have multiple histories, which cover a host of different events, and which present that material in a wide variety of different ways, from Count Marcellinus’ Chronicle and Malalas’ Chronograph, to Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite's Ecclesiastical History and Procopius’ Wars. These accounts, however, are not without their faults, and this is no less true for late antiquity than it is for the classical era. Fortunately, we also have detailed military treatises, like Maurice's Strategikon, legal material, like Justinian's Codex, detailed excavation reports, like those published for el-Lejjun in Jordan, and even some extensive collections of papyri, such as those uncovered at Nessana and Petra. Despite this plethora of source material, in this chapter we examine whether we have sufficient evidence for unit cohesion in the sixth century, where unit cohesion is understood as, 'the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress'. Our focus will include all land-based forces, whether it is the cavalry that feature so prominently in Maurice's treatise, or the infantry that continued to play an important role in Procopius’ Wars. We also will not limit ourselves to any one unit cohesion model. Rather, we will explore four different models: horizontal unit cohesion using, for instance, Procopius, and the material evidence from el-Lejjun (remains of the shrine to the standards); vertical unit cohesion, using, for instance, Maurice (the abundant manoeuvres and Latin commands), and Procopius (his accounts of leadership successes and failures); task cohesion, using, for instance, Procopius, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, and Agathias (their detailed descriptions of combat); and social cohesion, using, for instance, papyri, which should highlight some of the social activities in which the soldiers were engaged. In searching for evidence of unit cohesion at the end of antiquity, we also aim to underscore the value of an holistic approach, which does not privilege any one type of evidence over another, at least where possible.