Frontiers

Brothers in Arms

Video: Emerson Brooking investigates the similarities between ancient and modern military tactics.
May 2011

For many, the day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult to relate to. Emerson Brooking, who graduated this May with a double major in political science and classical studies, knew that to understand present conflict, one must only look to the past—in this case, all the way back to ancient Rome.

“My idea for a research project came to me as I was interning at a counterinsurgency think tank,” he says. “I'd previously planned on doing a thesis linking classical and contemporary strategies; I just had no idea where to go from there. I began to see that the metrics used to define modern insurgency—ideological cause, prominent leader, use of strategic violence to persuade the neutral population and the eventual emergence of a conventional counterstate—were similarly evident in ancient revolts.”

Brooking began recasting Rome as a counterinsurgent power, assessing its imperial motivations, military capability and cultural influence through the lens of modern counterinsurgency theorists. Due to the fact that very few comparisons of this sort had been made before, he was operating in largely uncharted territory.

“I can remember many times where I felt discouraged and was ready to quit, only to be reinspired when I discovered new evidence of links. It wasn't easy work, but it was immensely rewarding.”

Brooking hopes to eventually publish his award-winning thesis, Roma Surrecta: Portrait of a Counterinsurgent Power, 216 BC - AD 72, in book form.