Religionibus firmis iuramenta constricta? Ammianus and the sacramentum militiae

Wuk, Michael (2022) Religionibus firmis iuramenta constricta? Ammianus and the sacramentum militiae. In: Ammianus Marcellinus, From Soldier to Author. Historiography of Rome and its Empire (16). Brill, Leiden, pp. 170-203. ISBN 9789004525290

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This chapter explores Ammianus Marcellinus' literary use of the sacramentum militiae, the oath of allegiance traditionally sworn by Roman soldiers at the time of their enrolment. As an author with a military background, Ammianus, unlike most other literary commentators, must have sworn the oath. As a result, his references to the sacramentum are especially important for considering how the author's military identity may have influenced his work. This chapter argues that the sacramentum holds great significance for Ammianus, who deploys references to it consciously and deliberately throughout his history. This discussion begins with an examination of the fourth-century oath-taking procedure and what emperors and civilian authors thought was the practice’s main purpose. Although rulers envisioned that the swearing of the sacramentum would bind their armies to loyal servicea belief shared with many literary commentatorsthe process naturally supported a corporate identity amongst the troops. The soldiers who took the oath would have valued the sacramentum and its swearing for its immediate effect of enhancing camaraderie. Moreover, the swearers probably viewed the practice as more related to the sense of community held by military personnel than to allegiance to the ruler. The remainder of this chapter examines how this perception of the oath is reflected in Ammianus’ account. Firstly, Ammianus refers to the oath to offer judgement on the characters of certain soldiers and commanders. Termination of the oath, particularly under dishonourable circumstances, is emphasised to insult various individuals and suggest that they were no longer members of the soldiers’ corporate identity. Secondly, although the troops sometimes broke their oaths, Ammianus suggests that most of the armed forces respected the sacramentum. Military personnel are implicitly presented as primarily associating the oath and its swearing with concepts of brotherhood. Loyalty would only be offered to the emperor if he was seen to fall within their conceptual community. Due to his awareness of these perspectives, Ammianus was in a relatively unique position amongst late antique authors. His depiction of the sacramentum militiae is directly related to the oath’s contribution to the corporate identity of the armed forces and the author’s former service as a soldier within this community.

Keywords:Ammianus Marcellinus, Sacramentum militiae, Historiography, Military identity, Loyalty
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V110 Ancient History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V130 Medieval History
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q620 Latin Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Humanities and Heritage > Lincoln School of Humanities and Heritage (Humanities)
ID Code:48353
Deposited On:31 Mar 2022 09:31

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