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Was There a Military Revolution at the End of Antiquity?

  • Conor Whately EMAIL logo


In a book on Justinian’s wars of conquest, Peter Heather has argued that Rome’s ability to wage war in the sixth century CE was helped, to a large degree, by the military revolution that took place in Late Antiquity, which consisted of two principal parts: an increased deployment of Roman soldiers to the eastern frontier, and a shift towards Hunnic tactics. In this essay, however, I argue that these claims are misguided, and using five criteria set out by Lee Brice in an article on military revolution during the reigns of Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedon, I show that the changes which Heather argues in favour of had begun long before Late Antiquity. Instead, what we see is the continued gradual evolution of Rome’s military, with the Roman state shifting troops to the east from the beginning of the imperial era, and the first documented implementation of steppe-inspired changes dating to the second century.


I would like to thank David Parnell for commenting on an earlier draft of this article; the anonymous reviewer for their feedback; the audience at the Many Faces of War conference in Brookings, South Dakota in 2018 for their feedback on a version of this paper, and Graham Wrightson for the initial invitation. Thanks too to SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) for funding this research.


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Published Online: 2021-06-11
Published in Print: 2021-06-26

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