Violence and the Roman Way of Warfare

Publication Date

March 2020

Document Type

Contribution to a Book

Publication Title

The Cambridge World History of Violence


Garrett G. Fagan, Linda Fibiger, Mark Hudson and Matthew Trundle





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Scholars up until the middle of the twentieth century saw Roman warfare as restrained and disciplined. At that point the consensus changed to one that viewed it as fierce and bellicose. This view, in turn, has been challenged in the early twenty-first century, with the argument that Roman conflict was typical for ancient states. Rome’s rise from city-state to empire certainly involved considerable violence, but the available evidence cannot conclusive demonstrate either that it was particularly brutal and aggressive or that its military actions were ordinary for the period. Sources report that Roman battle was especially bloody, but this can be interpreted as a result of culture or of weaponry. We read of large numbers of civilians killed and enslaved, but such accounts need to be viewed critically and compared to the ancient norm. Additionally, the reality and nature of the imperial Pax Romana continues to be debated. The apparent decline in uprisings against Roman rule is worthy of note, but there may have been revolts and wars we do not know about. At this point in time historians are not in a position to definitively state what the nature of Roman military violence was.


Rome, military violence, imperialism, ancient sources, casualties, slaves, ethnic cleansing, civil war, battlefield archaeology, measures of violence, pax Romana, tempo of war, weaponry, discipline