Tuesday, July 14, 2009

(Gadianton?) Robbers in Late Imperial Rome

In preparation for my (possible) PhD program I have been examining European medieval history a bit more. I came across a very interesting lecture that applies to the Gadianton Robbers in the Book of Mormon. On the Late Imperial Army in Rome Richard Abels said this:

As soldiers became landlords and landlords became the masters of soldiers, private individuals became the heads of military retinues of bucellarii. Though by law bucellarii were required to take an oath not only to their employers (a private contract), but one as well to the emperor (public). But, as Whittaker points out, ‘the public oath was of limited relevance if the patron rebelled, or if imperial rule was not recognized: the loyalty of the soldiers than became private obsequium [a personal following]‘ (295). Archaeologically, one of the key developments of the fifth century was the increasing ‘nucleation of rural sites. … Small farms disappeared, many vici (villages) were abandoned or removed to old Iron Age hittop sites, while larger villas … survived, expanded and were often fortified. … [There is evidence] of concentration of property holdings, the increased isolation and inaccessibility of estates and the compulsion on peasants to seek the refuge of the rich’ (292).

Increasingly in the fifth century, the “remnants of the Roman army operated in towns,” and bands of bucellarii in the service of local great men, their patrons, controlled the countryside. The Roman sources term these bands as ‘robbers,’ but it seems probable that they were actually the private forces of local magnates maintaining order and control outside of Roman public authority.

This has several implications for the study of the Book of Mormon. For background please see this post, which discusses household soldiers in the book. And this post, which explains the social-military problems in the Book of Helaman. Those posts argue for the existence of household bands within the Book of Mormon, and the weakening power of the central government in the Book of Helaman. Both argue for a events at least basically similar to the above lecture, where the central government loses power and independent leaders emerge with their own forces.

The part that really intrigued me was the description of these household soldiers as "robbers". Of course anybody remotely familiar with the BoM will notice the similarity to the famous Gadianton Robbers. But they may not be familiar with the concept of bias within the Book of Mormon. Bias often has a negative connotation in modern discourse, but its essential in analyzing ancient documents. In the Roman case, it seems that the ethnic Romans resented the lack of national loyalty or civic duty of household soldiers by calling them "robbers". We could argue that Mormon and the Nephite historians he quoted had a similar bias. They resented the rise of household soldiers who were more loyal to their patron than the central government (and by extension God).

I should also remind you that the Gadianton Robbers often acted OUTSIDE of the major cities. They had a phase where they were hidden within the cities, but the majority of their activities, and the portion of their activities that challenged the existence of the central government was from bases outside of the major Nephite cities.

Conclusion: Its important that as we read the Book of Mormon we realize that the writer had a specific intent: To testify of Jesus Christ. Other factors, such as historical, economic, political, or cultural events can and will be skewed. This does not take does not take away from its historicity or divinity but adds depth to our study of the book as a primary document, and a tool of God containing the words of imperfect men. Plus, I have not examined these concepts with pre classic Mesoamerica. Although I have stated in other places that I believe the Book of Mormon can inform Mesoamerican knowledge instead of simply being judged by it.

I hoped you enjoyed the post, if you have anything to add or think I missed a vital point please let me know.

WHITTAKER, Dick. "Landlords and warlords." In Rich and Shipley 277-300.
MACMULLEN, Ramsey. Corruption and the Decline of Rome. 1988
RICH, John, and SHIPLEY, Graham. War and Society in the Roman World. 1993
In a perfect world I would have looked up these secondary sources and then quoted the primary ones, but I am so pressed for time I could not do that. I hope you enjoy it anyway.


David J. West said...

Awesome post Morgan.
I am really looking forward to your reviewing my book now because I have not read the above works but I came to a similar conclusion just trying to brainstorm. While not an in depth discussion within 'Heroes of the Fallen' I do mention various "Guardsmen" who serve one judge or another-usually but not always equating to them being Gadianton Masters. This puts them in direct conflict with the legitimate guardsmen serving under the law of the Chief Judge Onandagus* So Again I love your posts for always giving me new ways of looking at things and sometimes validating what I already thought.

* History of the Church vol.2 pg 79

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks David.