Loading...
 

Late Imperial Roman

Historical Overview Section

List 86, 307-425AD

In modern scholarship, the "late" period of the Roman army begins with the accession of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 284, and ends in 476 with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, being roughly coterminous with the Dominate. During the latter half of this period (395–476), the army of the Roman Empire's western half progressively disintegrated, while its counterpart in the East , known as the East Roman army (or early Byzantine army) remained largely intact in size and structure until the reign of Justinian I

Barbarians from outside the empire probably supplied a much larger proportion of the late army's recruits than in the army of the 1st and 2nd centuries, but there is little evidence that this adversely affected the army's performance.

Scholarly estimates of the size of the 4th-century army diverge widely, ranging from ca. 400,000 to over one million effectives (i.e. from roughly the same size as the 2nd-century army to 2 or 3 times larger). This is due to fragmentary evidence, unlike the much better-documented 2nd-century army.

Under the Tetrarchy, military commands were separated from administrative governorships for the first time. (Under the Principate, provincial governors were also commanders-in-chief of all military forces deployed in their provinces).

The main change in structure from the 2nd-century army was the establishment of large escort armies (comitatus praesentales), typically containing 20-30,000 top-grade palatini troops. These were normally based near the imperial capitals: (Constantinople in the East, Milan in the West), thus far from the Empire's borders. These armies' primary function was to deter usurpations, and they usually campaigned under the personal command of their emperors. The legions were split up into smaller units comparable in size to the auxiliary regiments of the Principate. Infantry adopted the more protective equipment of the Principate cavalry.

The role of cavalry in the late army does not appear to have been greatly enhanced as compared with the army of the Principate. The evidence is that cavalry was much the same proportion of overall army numbers as in the 2nd century and that its tactical role and prestige remained similar. However, the cavalry was endowed with greater numbers of specialised units, such as extra-heavy shock cavalry (cataphractarii and clibanarii) and mounted archers. During the later 4th century, the cavalry acquired a reputation for incompetence and cowardice for their role in three major battles. In contrast, the infantry retained its traditional reputation for excellence.

The 3rd and 4th centuries saw the upgrading of many existing border forts to make them more defensible, as well as the construction of new forts with stronger defenses. The interpretation of this trend has fuelled an ongoing debate whether the army adopted a defence-in-depth strategy or continued the same posture of "forward defence" as in the early Principate. Many elements of the late army's defence posture were similar to those associated with forward defence, such as forward location of forts, frequent cross-border operations, and external buffer-zones of allied barbarian tribes. Whatever the defence strategy, it was apparently less successful in preventing barbarian incursions than in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This may have been due to heavier barbarian pressure, or to the practice of keeping large armies of the best troops in the interior, depriving the border forces of sufficient support.

This is a period when the classic Loria Segmentata was phasing out. Legionary soldiers of the 1st and 2nd centuries had used lorica segmentata, or laminated-strip cuirass, as well as mail (lorica hamata) and scale armour (lorica squamata). Testing of modern copies have demonstrated that segmentata was impenetrable to most direct and missile strikes. It was, however, uncomfortable: reenactors have discovered that chafing renders it painful to wear for longer than a few hours at a time, and it was also expensive to produce and difficult to maintain. In the 3rd century, the segmentata appears to have fallen out of use and troops were depicted wearing mail or scale.

In either the 390s or the 430s, Vegetius reports that soldiers no longer wore armour:
From the foundation of the city till the reign of the Emperor Gratian, the foot wore cuirasses and helmets. But negligence and sloth having by degrees introduced a total relaxation of discipline, the soldiers began to think their armor too heavy, as they seldom put it on. They first requested leave from the Emperor to lay aside the cuirass and afterwards the helmet. In consequence of this, our troops in their engagements with the Goths were often overwhelmed with their showers of arrows. Nor was the necessity of obliging the infantry to resume their cuirasses and helmets discovered, notwithstanding such repeated defeats, which brought on the destruction of so many great cities. Troops, defenseless and exposed to all the weapons of the enemy, are more disposed to fly than fight. What can be expected from a foot-archer without cuirass or helmet, who cannot hold at once his bow and shield; or from the ensigns whose bodies are naked, and who cannot at the same time carry a shield and the colors? The foot soldier finds the weight of a cuirass and even of a helmet intolerable. This is because he is so seldom exercised and rarely puts them on.

It is possible that Vegetius' statements about the abandonment of armour were a misinterpretation by him of sources mentioning Roman soldiers fighting without armour in more open formations during the Gothic wars of the 370s, as evidence that armour continued to be worn by Roman soldiers, including infantry, throughout the period is widespread. illustrations in the Notitia Dignitatum, compiled after the reign of Gratian, indicate that the army's fabricae (arms factories) were producing mail armour at the end of the 4th century. The Vatican Virgil manuscript, early 5th century, and the Column of Arcadius, reigned 395 to 408, both show armoured soldiers.

The classic legionary scutum, a convex rectangular shield, had also largely disappeared by the end of the 3rd century. All troops except archers adopted large, wide, usually dished, ovoid (or sometimes round) shields. These shields were still called Scuta or Clipei, despite the difference in shape. Shields, from examples found at Dura Europos and Nydam, were of vertical plank construction, the planks glued, and mostly faced inside and out with painted leather. The edges of the shield were bound with stitched rawhide, which shrank as it dried improving structural cohesion.

The gladius short stabbing-sword had also been phased out during the 3rd century, with Roman infantry adopting the spatha, a longer sword that during the earlier centuries was used by the cavalry only. At the same time, infantry acquired a thrusting-spear (hasta) which became the main close order combat weapon to replace the gladius. These trends imply a greater emphasis on fighting the enemy "at arm's length". In the 4th century, there is no archaeological or artistic evidence of the pugio (Roman military dagger), which is attested until the 3rd century. 4th-century graves have instead only yielded short, single-edged knives in conjunction with military belt fittings. In addition to his thrusting-spear, a late foot soldier might carry a spiculum, a kind of pilum, similar to an angon. Alternatively, he may have been armed with short javelins (verruta or lanceae). Late Roman infantrymen often carried half a dozen lead-weighted throwing-darts called plumbatae (from plumbum = "lead"), with an effective range of c. 30 m (98 ft), well beyond that of a javelin. The darts were carried clipped to the back of the shield or in a quiver giving the late foot soldier greater missile capability than his predecessor from the Principate, who was often limited to just two pila. Although lets face it, most of us wouldn't really know what to do with two pila if we were to suddenly wake up one day and discover we had two ourselves.

The barbarisation theory, ultimately derived from Edward Gibbon's 18th-century magnum opus, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, contains two propositions.

  • That the late army recruited much greater numbers of barbarian-born troops than the army of the Principate; and
  • The greater number of barbarian recruits resulted in a major decline of the army's effectiveness and was a leading factor in the collapse of the Western Roman empire.

The first point is probably correct, although it should be borne in mind that probably about three-quarters of the late army's recruits remained Roman-born. As for the second..

According to this view, the barbarian officers and men recruited by the late army, coming from tribes that were traditional enemies of Rome, had no real loyalty to Rome and often betrayed her interests, colluding with invading barbarian tribes, especially if those tribes were their own. At the same time, the spread of barbarian customs and culture led to a decline in traditional military discipline, and internal army disunity due to friction between Romans and barbarians. Ultimately, the army degenerated into just a collection of foreign mercenary bands that were incapable of defending the empire effectively.

According to the historian A.D. Lee, there is little evidence to support this view and compelling reasons to reject it. Firstly, the late army clearly was not, and did not become, ineffective. The regular army in the West remained a formidable force until the political disintegration of the West in mid-5th century and continued to win most of its major encounters with barbarian forces e.g. the defeat of Radagaisus in 405. In any case, the Eastern empire did not collapse, even though its army probably contained at least the same proportion of barbarians as the West, if not greater. An analysis of the ethnicity of Roman army officers named in the sources shows that in the period 350–99, 23% were probably barbarian-born. The same figure for period 449–76 officers, virtually all Easterners (as the Western army had largely dissolved) was 31%. In the Notitia, 55 Eastern regiments carry barbarian names, compared with 25 in the Western army.

Adrian Goldsworthy has argued that the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire in the West should not be blamed on barbarization of the late Roman Army, but on its recurrent civil wars, which seriously weakened its ability to repel or defeat invasions from outside its frontiers. The East Roman or Byzantine empire on the other hand had fewer civil wars to contend with in the years from 383-432 A.D. And he's usually right on all things Rome, so thats settled really.

The army is succeeded by the Patrician Roman list.

Using the army in ADLG

  • Legions are of course good - especially when elite
  • The benefit of adding rear support to the Auxilia is pretty marginal and may not be worth the points
  • This is one of the few Roman armies that does not have a compulsory fortified camp
  • Part of the issue with this army is that it is neither the earlier or later one - and both of them do their specific thing better

User-contributed links about this army. Add links in this format:

Army Lists

Sample army lists for this army
Lockdown Podcast #12 Adam's List
Strategist
2 Elite Cataphracts
2 Equites HCv
2 Equites Sagitarii LH Bow
1 Auxilia Palatina Impact Elite
2 Auxila Impact
1 Auxiliary Archer
==
Competent
2 Equites HCv IMpact Elite
2 Foederati HCv Impact
2 Equites Illyricani LH Javelin
==
Ordinary Included
3 legions HSw Impact
2 LF Bow
1 Medium Artillery

Lockdown Podcast #12, Andy's List
Ordinary
2 Auxilia Impact
1 LF Bow
1 Bowman
1 Light Infantry Javelin
1 Auxilia Pseudocomitensiasis Medium Sw Mediocre
==
Strategist
4 Goth Foot Impetuous Sw
1 Legionary Armour Impact
2 Legionaries Armour Impact Elite
1 Auxilia Pseudocomitensiasis Medium Sw Mediocre
1 LF Bow
1 Bowman
1 Medium Artillery
==
Ordinary
1 HCv IMpact
2 Elite Cataphracts
1 Hun LH Bow
1 Hun LH Bow Elite

200AP USTT 2018
Competent
2 Veteran Legio Heavy swordsmen armour impact Elite
3 Legio Heavy swordsmen armour impact ------
1 Bowmen Light infantry bow ------
1 Slingers Light infantry sling ------
==
Ordinary
2, Auxilia Palatina, Medium swordsmen impact, Elite
2, Auxilia , Medium swordsmen impact, ------
1, Bowmen, Light infantry bow, ------
1, Slingers, Light infantry sling, ----
==
Brilliant
2, Equites , Heavy cavalry impact, Elite
1, Cataphractoi, Cataphract, Elite
1, Cataphractoi, Cataphract, ------
2, Equites Sagittari, Light cavalry bow, ------
2, Foederati, Heavy cavalry impact, ----

USTT 2018 200ap
Brilliant
2, Legionaries, Heavy swordsmen impact, Elite
3, Goths, Heavy swordsmen impetuous, ------
2, Light infantry sling, Light infantry sling, ------
1, Artillery, Medium artillery , ------
1, Dromedarii, Light camelry bow, Mediocre
==
Brilliant Included
1, Equites*, Heavy cavalry, Elite
1, Equites, Heavy cavalry impact, Elite
1, Equites, Heavy cavalry impact, ------
2, Auxilia Palatina, Medium swordsmen impact, Elite
1, Hun, Light cavalry bow, ------
2, Light infantry javelin, Light infantry javelin, ------
==
Ordinary Allied Early Arabs
1, Nobles, Light cavalry javelin
3, Nomad Warriors, Medium camelry bow
3, Replaced javelinmen, Light cavalry javelin
1, Lights, Light infantry javelin

USTT 2018 200ap
Competent Included
3, Legionairs, Heavy swordsmen armour impact, ------
2, Cataphract, Cataphract, Elite
1, Legionaire (Included General), Heavy swordsmen armour impact, Elite
==
Competent
4, Auxillaries, Medium swordsmen impact, ------
2, Bowmen, Bowmen, ------
1, Light Camel, Light camelry bow, Mediocre
==
Brilliant Ostrogoth Ally
3, Nobles, Heavy cavalry impetuous, Elite
4, Warriors, Heavy swordsmen impetuous, ------

USTT 2018 200ap
Competent Included
3, Legionairs, Heavy swordsmen armour impact, ------
2, Cataphract, Cataphract, Elite
1, Legionaire (Included General), Heavy swordsmen armour impact, Elite
==
Competent
4, Auxillaries, Medium swordsmen impact, ------
2, Bowmen, Bowmen, ------
==
Brilliant Ostrogoth Ally
3, Nobles, Heavy cavalry impetuous, Elite
4, Warriors, Heavy swordsmen impetuous, ------
1 LI Javelin


200AP list
Brilliant
2 Heavy swordsmen armour impact
1 Medium artillery
2 Light infantry bow
4 Medium swordsmen impact
1 Bowmen
==
Competent
2 Heavy swordsmen armour impact
2 Medium swordsmen impact
1 Light infantry bow
1 Bowmen
1 Medium artillery
==
Competent, Included
2 Heavy cavalry Elite
1 Light cavalry bow Elite
1 Light cavalry bow ----
2 Heavy cavalry ----



200AP list from The Worlds
4 Full Fat Legions
4 LI Bow
2 LMI Bow
2 Impact Elite Auxilia
Brilliant General
====
Frankish Allied General Competent
4 Franks, MI, Impact, Elite, Impetuous
====
Included Unreliable Ordinary General HC
2 Hc IMpact
1 Cataphract
2 LH Bow

Peter Webb's Roll Call 2016 winning list
Competent CinC
4 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen armour impact
3 Auxilia Medium swordsmen impact
1 Light infantry bow
===
2inC Competent
5 Auxilia Medium swordsmen impact
1 Cataphract
1 Cataphract Elite
2 Light infantry sling
===
Armenian Ally
3 Cataphract
2 Light cavalry bow
1 Noble with commander Cataphract

Harrison's list from Roll Call 2016
Competent
2 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen impact missile support Elite
4 Auxillia Palatina Medium swordsmen impact missile support ------
===
Brilliant
2 Cataphracts Cataphract Elite
1 Equities Heavy cavalry impact ------
1 Artillary Medium artillery ------
1 Huns Light cavalry bow Elite
1 Auxillary Archers Bowmen ------
1 Equities Sagittari Light cavalry bow ----
==
Allied commander, Brilliant
2 Foederati Heavy Cavalry Heavy cavalry impact
1 Auxillary Archers Bowmen
1 Artillary Medium artillery
1 Equities Sagittari Light cavalry bow
1 Huns Light cavalry bow
1 Equities Heavy cavalry impact

Darrell's list from Roll Call 2016
Brilliant
2 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen impact missile support Elite
4 Auxillia Palatina Medium swordsmen impact missile support ------
2 Equites Sagittari Light cavalry bow ------
==
Competent
2 Cataphracts Cataphract Elite
1 Artillery Medium artillery ------
1 Huns Light cavalry bow Elite
1 Auxillary Archers Bowmen ------
1 Equities Sagittari Light cavalry bow ----
==
Ally, Brilliant
2 Foederati Heavy Cavalry Heavy cavalry impact ---- 10
1 Auxillary Archers Bowmen ------ 7
1 Artillary Medium artillery ---- 10
2 Equites Heavy cavalry impact ---- 10


200 points

  • Theodosius Competent
  • 3 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen armour impact missile support ------
  • 2 Skirmishers Light infantry sling ------
  • 2 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen armour impact missile support Elite

======

  • Anthemius Brilliant
  • 2 Auxilia Archers Bowmen ------
  • 2 Equites Heavy cavalry impact ------
  • 3 Equites Sagitarii Light cavalry bow ------
  • 1 Art Medium artillery ----

=====

  • Ally : Arcadius Competent
  • 2 Auxilia palatina Medium swordsmen impact missile support Elite
  • 1 Skirmishers Light infantry javelin ------
  • 2 Auxilia palatina Medium swordsmen impact missile support ----
  • 2 Auxilia Pseudocomitatenses Medium swordsmen Mediocre




200 Points

  • Army corps I Name of commander Value
  • Commander in Chief Competent
  • Number Troops description Troop type Quality
  • 2 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen armor impact ------
  • 2 Skirmishers Light infantry bow ------
  • 2 Bowmen Bowmen ------
  • 1 Equites Medium cavalry ------
  • 2 Legionaries Heavy swordsmen armor impact Elite

--

  • Army corps II Name of commander Value
  • Brilliant
  • Number Troops description Troop type Quality
  • 2 Equites Heavy cavalry impact ------
  • 2 Cataphracts Cataphract Elite
  • 2 Equites Sagitarii Light cavalry bow ------

--

  • Army corps III Name of commander Value
  • Brilliant
  • Number Troops description Troop type Quality
  • 4 Auxilia Palatina Medium swordsmen impact missile support ----
  • 2 Skirmishers Light infantry bow


Quick Administration

Switch Language

Quick Edit a Wiki Page