An update on the podcast schedule and the Istanbul project: here
I just listened to your very interesting podcast Why the Romans Lost (to the Arabs). Basically, they could not afford to recruit, train, and pay another army after their defeat and they could not bring an existing army from the West or the Balkans to fight the Arabs. Further, new recruits would be inexperienced and, therefore, ineffective. This raises a question that has long bothered me. Hannibal crushed army after army, yet the Romans and their Italic allies fielded new armies, developed effective tactics, and in the end defeated him. I would guess that this was accomplished with a smaller population than the Byzantium Empire had to draw from. Similarly, after the tribes from northern Europe destroyed Roman armies in several battles arround100 BC, Marius was able to recruit a new army from the common people of Rome, train them, march north and crush the invading tribes. Granted, he was lucky that they gave him time to do this rather than pouring into Italy and they split their forces, but still, the point is he found willing young men who, though never having fought anyone, were willing to follow Marius and fought well. What changed in the people? Why couldn’t or wouldn’t the people of 5th century Italy rise to the challenge and join a capable general like Aetius and defend their homeland? Why had they stopped recruiting citizens in the previous centuries and chose to rely on mercenaries? Why couldn’t the people of the Byzantine Empire do what the people of Italy did under Fabius, Scipio, and Marius? The only answer I can think of is that the basic character of the people changed. When I was 17 in 1964, my mother told me that if I refused to defend my country she would disown me. This was a common thought among the generation that fought WWII. Who would tell their son that now? We changed.
You bring up excellent questions and I haven’t studied either of the earlier eras in detail. But I think there are a couple of factors worth considering.
1) The numbers mentioned by the ancient sources are worth questioning. I don’t know how devastating Roman losses really were.
2) Hannibal had just the one army for the Romans to contend with. He didn’t lead waves of attack each summer on the same locations the way the Arabs did.
3) The city states of the Republic may have had an advantage, in terms of recruitment, because of their smaller size. This gave them better engagement with their citizens. Whereas the Empire seems to have bred in people a resentment of taxation and authority. People in 5th century Italy may have been more cynical about standing and dying for their government given how distant it seemed to them. And in turn how vast the whole Empire felt.
4) Similarly it seems like the tradition of citizen militias was much stronger in the days of the Republic. Once the Empire became dependent on professional soldiers there didn’t seem to be much political will to go back to ordinary citizens.
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