Vege'tius, Fla'vius Rena'tus
designated as Vir Illustris,
to which some MSS. add the title of Comes.
Vegetius is the author of a treatise Rei Militaris Instituta,
or Epitome Rei Militaris,
dedicated to the emperor Valentinian, known to be the second of that name, from an allusion contained in the body of the work (1.20) to Gratian, and to the unfortunate contests with the Goths.
The materials were derived, according to the declaration of the writer himself (1.8) from Cato the Censor, De Disciplina militari,
from Cornelius Celsus, from Frontinus, from Paternus, and from the imperial constitutions of Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian.
The work is divided into five books.
The first treats of the levying and training of recruits, including instructions for the fortification of a camp; the second of the different classes into which soldiers are divided, and especially of the organisation of the legion; the third of the operations of an army in the field; the fourth of the attack and defence of fortresses; the fifth of marine warfare.
In the earlier editions the whole of the above matter was comprehended in four books; but Scriverius, on the authority of the best MSS., set apart as a fifth book all the chapters which followed the 30th of the fourth, since this is the point at which the precepts regarding naval affairs commence.
We can speak with little respect of this compilation.
The usages of periods the most remote from each other, of the early ages of the commonwealth, of the era of Marius and Caesar, of the first emperors and of the successors of Constantine, are mixed together into one confused mass, and not unfrequently, we have reason to suspect, are blended with arrangements which never existed except in the fancy of the author. From the circumstance that we are here presented with something like a regular and systematic exposition of the Roman art of war, the statements have been frequently adopted without modification in manuals of antiquities ; and notwithstanding the warning of Salmasius, have been too often quoted with respect by scholars who ought to have been fully aware of their worthlessness.
That it is possible to glean some curious and even important information from these pages, may be admitted, but we must act with the utmost caution, and scrutinise with jealous eye every addition thus made to our store of knowledge. We know nothing of the personal history of Vegetius, but it has been inferred from the tone in which he speaks of the military oath (2.5) that he was a Christian.
The three earliest editions of Vegetius are without date and have no name of place or printer, but are known, from the researches of bibliographers, to have been printed respectively at Utrecht, Paris, and Cologne between the years 1473-1478. The first with a date is that which appeared at Rome, 4to. 1487, and was reprinted in 1494. The best edition is that of Schwebelius (4to. Norimberg, 1767), containing a selection from the commentaries of Stewechius and Scriverius, together with a French translation. It was reprinted (omitting the translation) with additional remarks by Oudendorp and Bessel, 8vo. Argent. 1806. This treatise will be found also in all the collections of the Latin " Veteres de Re militari Scriptores," of which the best edition is that printed at Wesel (Vesalia Clivorum), 8vo. 1670.
There is a version of Vegetius in German, printed as early as 1474
, and in French, printed in 1488
, but in neither is the name of the translator given. In 1489 Caxton published " The fayt of armes and chyvalry from Vegetius," to which is appended the following curious notice : " Thus endeth this boke, which Xyne of Pyse" (Christina of Pisa) " made and drewe out of the boke named Vegecius de Re Militari, which boke, beyng in frensche, was delyvered to me Willm Caxton by the most crysten kynge, henry vii, the xxxiij day of Janyuere, the iiij yere of his regne, and desired and wylled me to translate this said boke, and reduce it into our english and natural tonge, and to put it in emprynte. Whiche translacyon was finysshed the viij day of Juyll the said yere and emprynted the xiiij day of Juyll next followyng, and ful fynyshed."