Anne Johnson, in her highly detailed and well researched book “Roman Forts” (1983), provides us with a convenient and useful list of literary sources on ancient Roman fortifications, known in Latin as castra . The most familiar of these sources are the widely known works of Julius Caesar on his various military campaigns of the middle of the 1st century BC, the Jewish War by Josephus, and the 6th book of Polybius’ Histories. Caesar talks of camps, fortifications, sieges, and tactics throughout. Josephus remarks on castra in the context of the Jewish Wars during the Flavian dynasty (70s AD), most likely with regards to the sieges of Masada and Jerusalem. Polybius is noted for describing a ‘marching camp’ of the 3rd c. BC.
Less well known, but perhaps more illuminatingly detailed, are the following ancient sources:
- Hygenius Gromaticus, de munitionibus castrorum.
- Flavius Vegetius Renatus, epitoma rei militaris.
- Flavius Arrianus, Tactica.
According to Johnson (3), Hygenius, describes the model auxiliary camp, its construction and siting for a variety of different unit types. Hygenius was believed to have written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Of the three books, this is the most obscure and of poor availability, even within research libraries. There is, however, a new (2018) English translation available by a Duncan Campbell, but I do not know anything further about the material.
The second major detailed source is Vegetius, dated from the late 4th or early 5th century. Vegetius deals with legionary as opposed to auxiliary camps, and “provides a wealth of detail about the organisation and tactics of the legions, and also deals with the duties of the various ranks of officers, the selection and building of camps, and the training of recruits.” (4)
Finally we come to Arrianus who wrote a manual on cavalry and their training. For anyone seeking ancient literary sources on Roman military camp life, this brief list should provide a good place to start one’s research.
Johnson, Anne. Roman Forts of the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD in Britain and the German Provinces. Adam & Charles Black. London: 1983.