Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as
Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire (late 4th century).
Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what is contained in
his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris (also referred to as De
re militari), and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a
guide to veterinary medicine. This long-held conclusion, that nothing
is known of Vegetius' life nor ever will be, has recently been
The latest event alluded to in his Epitoma rei militaris is the death
of the Emperor
Gratian (383); the earliest attestation of this work is
a subscriptio by one Flavius Eutropius, writing in
the year 450, which appears in one of two families of manuscripts,
suggesting that a bifurcation of the manuscript tradition had already
occurred. Despite Eutropius' location in Constantinople, the scholarly
consensus is that Vegetius wrote in the Western Empire. Vegetius
dedicates his work to the reigning emperor, who is identified as
Theodosius, ad Theodosium imperatorem, in the manuscript family that
was not edited in 450; the identity is disputed: some scholars
identify him with Theodosius the Great, while others follow Otto
Seeck and identify him with the later Valentinian III, dating the
work to 430-35. Vegetius identifies himself in the opening of his
work Epitoma rei militaris as a Christian.
1 Epitoma rei militaris
4 External links
Epitoma rei militaris
Main article: De Re Militari
Vegetius' epitome mainly focuses on military organization and how to
react to certain occasions in war. Vegetius explains how one should
fortify and organize a camp, how to train troops, how to handle
undisciplined troops, how to handle a battle engagement, how to march,
formation gauge and many other useful methods of promoting
organization and valour in the legion.
As G. R. Watson observes, Vegetius' Epitoma "is the only ancient
manual of Roman military institutions to have survived intact".
Despite this, Watson doubts its value, for Vegetius "was neither a
historian nor a soldier: his work is a compilation carelessly
constructed from material of all ages, a congeries of
inconsistencies". These antiquarian sources, according to his own
statement, were Cato the Elder, Cornelius Celsus, Frontinus, Paternus
and the imperial constitutions of Augustus, Trajan, and
The first book is a plea for army reform; it vividly portrays the
military decadence of the Late Roman Empire. Vegetius also describes
in detail the organisation, training and equipment of the army of the
early Empire. The third book contains a series of military maxims,
which were (appropriately enough, considering the similarity in the
military conditions of the two ages) the foundation of military
learning for every European commander from
William the Silent
William the Silent to
Frederick the Great.
His book on siegecraft contains the best description of Late Empire
Medieval siege machines. Among other things, it shows details of
the siege engine called the onager, which afterwards played a great
part in sieges until the development of modern cannonry. The fifth
book gives an account of the materiel and personnel of the Roman navy.
The author of the 1911
Encyclopædia Britannica article states that
"In manuscript, Vegetius' work had a great vogue from its first
advent. Its rules of siegecraft were much studied in the Middle Ages."
N.P. Milner observes that it was "one of the most popular Latin
technical works from Antiquity, rivalling the elder Pliny's Natural
History in the number of surviving copies dating from before AD
1300." It was translated into English, French (by
Jean de Meun and
others), Italian (by the Florentine judge Bono Giamboni and others),
Catalan, Spanish, Czech, and Yiddish before the invention of printing.
The first printed editions are ascribed to Utrecht (1473), Cologne
(1476), Paris (1478), Rome (in Veteres de re mil. scriptores, 1487),
and Pisa (1488). A German translation by Ludwig Hohenwang appeared at
Ulm in 1475.
However, from that point Vegetius' position as the premier military
authority began to decline, as ancient historians such as Polybius
Niccolò Machiavelli attempted to address Vegetius'
defects in his L'arte della Guerra (Florence, 1521), with heavy use of
Polybius, Frontinus, and Livy, but Justus Lipsius' accusation that he
confused the institutions of diverse periods of the Roman Empire and
G. Stewechius' opinion that the survival of Vegetius' work led to the
loss of his named sources were more typical of the late
Renaissance. While as late as the 18th century a soldier such as
Marshal Puysegur based his own works on this acknowledged model, in
Milner's words, Vegetius' work suffered "a long period of deepening
Vegetius emphasizes the shortcomings of the Roman Army in his
lifetime. To do this, he eulogises the army of the early Empire. In
particular, he stresses the high standard of the legionaries and the
excellence of the training and the officer corps. In reality, Vegetius
probably describes an ideal rather than the reality. The army of the
early Empire was a formidable fighting force, but it probably was not
in its entirety quite as good as Vegetius describes. In particular,
the 5-foot-10-inch minimum height identified by Vegetius would have
excluded the majority of the men in Roman times (the Roman foot was
29.6 cm and inch was 2.46 cm, hence a 5'10" Roman was 172.6 cm, which
is just above average height of Roman (Italian) men of the time from
skeletal evidence from
Herculaneum in 79 AD). The emperor Valentinian
(364–375) lowered the height minimum to 5' 7" Roman which equals
165.2 cm. Despite the romanticism extolling the idealized virtues of
the Roman legion of an earlier time, Vegetius'
De Re Militari
De Re Militari remains
a reliable and useful insight into the success of the early Roman
^ Rosenbaum, S; "Who was Vegetius?" published on Academia.edu 2015
^ N.P. Milner sets forth the argument for Theodosius in Vegetius:
Epitome of Military Science, second edition (Liverpool: University
Press, 1996), pp. xxxvii ff; T. D. Barnes, "The Date of Vegetius"
Phoenix 33.3 (Autumn 1979), pp. 254–257, makes the case for
^ Seeck, "Die Zeit des Vegetius", Hermes 11 (1876), 61–83. Seeck's
conclusions changed the mind of Karl Lang, who twice edited the
Teubner De re militaria, and adopted Seeck's ascription.
^ G. R. Watson, The Roman Soldier (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1969), p. 26.
^ Lipowsky, Felix Joseph (1827). Des Flavius Vegetius Renatus fünf
Bücher über Kriegswissenschaft und Kriegskunst der Römer.
^ Watson, The Roman Soldier, pp. 25f
^ Milner, Vegetius, p. xiii
^ Milner, Vegetius, pp. xiiif.
^ Milner, Vegetius, p. xiv.
Military Institutions of Vegetius, translated with a preface and notes
by Lieutenant John Clarke, London, 1767. Abridged reprint (Books IV
and V omitted): The Military Institutions of the Romans, Military
Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pa.. 1944.
Epitome of Military Science, translated with notes and
introduction by N.P. Milner, Translated Texts for Historians, Vol. 16,
Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993. (Second edition 1996;
second revised edition 2011.)
Het Romeinse leger, Dutch translation by Fik Meijer, Polak/Van gennep
Publishers, Amsterdam, 2004.
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The complete Latin text of
De Re Militari
De Re Militari is available online:
The Latin Library
From the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress
De re militari [Cologne] N[icolaus] G[oetz, ca. 1475].
De re militari [Augsburg, Johann Wiener, ca. 1475].
The 1944 abridged edition of Lieutenant John Clarke's 1767 translation
(omitting Books IV and V, "of interest only to military antiquarians")
is available online:
The Military Institutions of the Romans
A complete facsimile of John Clarke's 1767 translation is available at
Military Institutions of Vegetius
ISNI: 0000 0001 1777 1731
BNF: cb11887810j (d