Vegetius' Epitoma Rei Militaris was composed at some time between the years A.D. 383 and 450, and addressed to an unnamed emperor who is saluted on various occasions as imperator inuicte. While it is generally accepted that the Epitoma was written in the late fourth century A.D. and most likely dedicated to the emperor Theodosius the Great (379-95), the last Augustus to rule both East and West, many indications in the text itself point to a later date. This was suggested as early as the eighteenth century, when Edward Gibbon offered that the Epitoma was meant for the eyes of Valentinian III (325-55). Gibbon's view, which has received some support in subsequent centuries (most notably from Otto Seeck, Walter Goffart and Eric Birley) emerges as a shrewd judgement when elements of the text are juxtaposed with contemporary literature. In this thesis, sections of the text that invoke the emperor or treat of contemporary affairs will be used to demonstrate that the work most probably belongs to the fifth century, and more specifically to some time during the reign of Valentinian III. Most importantly of all, it will be seen that loci that have been used by certain scholars to support a late-fourth-century date, when closely examined and compared with the full gamut of contemporary evidence (including literature, inscriptions and three dimensional art), point, instead, to some time after the death of Theodosius the Great. And when one considers the manner in which Vegetius addresses the emperor, it seems difficult to accept that the honorand was an experienced military ruler like the victor of the River Frigidus. Indeed, of all the possible imperial candidates, it will emerge that Theodosius I is the least likely of the possible recipients, and that, if the text was not addressed to Valentinian III, it will be well to consider other fifth century emperors such as Arcadius and Theodosius 11 (emperors of the East) or Honorius (emperor of the West) rather than the founder of their imperial dynasty.
A secondary aim of this thesis is to exploit fully the potential of the Epitoma Rei Militaris as a source for the Late Empire, rather than merely as a source for military formations, tactics and traditions of the more distant past, as has been so often discussed by several generations of military scholars. This, so far as can be established, has not yet been attempted on a large scale. Obviously, this investigation and analysis not only enables the text itself to be dated with greater precision (which, of course, must remain the primary aim of this discussion), but also allows us to corroborate and validate the information provided by the epitomator's contemporaries, writers of such diverse backgrounds and beliefs as the bishop Ambrosius, Ammianus Marcellinus, Claudian, Merobaudes, Orosius, Pacatus, Prudentius, Sidonius Apollinarus and Symmachus, to name but a few. Ideology is as important as the nuts and bolts of history, and it is important to remember that the value, first and foremost, of any literary source is that it reflects the views and intentions of the author rather than records any particular historical reality. Vegetius must be viewed in this fashion or we risk creating pseudo-history. In short, this is not merely the study of one text in isolation, but the study of any text that might relate to the themes and language employed by Vegetius. A firm tenet of the research methodology employed in this thesis is that it is necessary to draw a picture of the late-Roman world as accurately as possible in order to divine the military and political atmosphere into which we can slot the Epitoma — thus 'Vegetius in context' as the title of the present work suggests.