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Medieval Army Lists

Late Roman (West) - DBA 77a
(307-425 AD)

The Late Roman (West) list covers the period from the abdication of the emperor Diocletian until the rise of Valentian III in 424 AD.

The early years of this period were a time of successful consolidation and restoration of Roman power that first began when Diocletian was proclaimed emperor in 284 AD. He expanded the army by 1/3, forming many new, but smaller legions, and was successful in restoring the Roman frontiers. His military establishment is recorded in detail in the Notitia Dignitatum. Recognizing the difficulty of ruling such a large empire effectively, he also formed the Tetrachy, which laid the seeds for future division of the empire into East and West.

After Diocletion's abdication in 307 AD, the next great emperor was Constantine, who survived civil war among the Tetrachs to be recognized as sole ruler in 324 AD. Constantine founded his capital at Constantinople in 330 AD and also set about reforming the Roman army, which was divided into frontier troops (Limitanei and Ripenses) and large mobile field armies (the emperor's Palatini and the regional Comitatenses) deployed in reserve.

The period following the reign of Constantine the Great represents the twilight of the Roman Empire in the west. The merciless expansion by the Huns from the east put renewed pressure on the Germanic and steppes tribes to migrate westward across Rome's borders on the Rhine and Danube rivers. At first, many were welcomed and settled as Foederati or Federates. As more came, and as Rome's dealings with the barbarians become more strained, conflict broke out throughout the Empire.

In the 350's AD, the Roman General Julian temporarily stopped the flow of Franks and Alamanni across the Rhine, but was forced to allow settlements within Rome's borders. Not long after, in 363 AD, now Emperor Julian stripped the frontier garrisons to build an army that was subsequently lost in a doomed excursion to conquer Persia. In 364 AD, the empire was split between Valentinian in the west and Valens in the East. Then followed renewed pressure from the Goths (Visi- and Ostro-) on the Danube frontier. When Rome refused to allow the Ostrogoths to settle as Federates and subsequently mistreated their Visigothic allies, the Goths allied with other tribes to destroy the Emperor Valens and his army at Adrianople (Hadrianopolis) in 378 AD.

Chaos reigned until Theodosius united the thrones of east and west and pacified the barbarians with diplomacy. Desperate for troops, he rebuilt Rome's armies with Gothic foot soldiers. When he died in 395 AD, Rome was split again cleanly between east and west. In the west puppet emperors ruled, their strings pulled by Roman generals such as Stilchio (himself a Vandal by birth).

To stop the rampages of the Goths in Italy, Stilchio recalled the frontier garrisons, thus allowing the Alans, Suebi and Vandals to cross the frozen Rhine umimpeded in 406 AD and sweep across Europe. The British legions declared the usurper Constantine as emperor in 407 AD and he crossed into Gaul to restore some semblance of Roman order in the north in part by forming alliances with the previously settled Franks and Burgundians. While Stilchio intriqued to bring down Constantine, the Alans, Suebi and the infamous Vandals proceeded to carve out new kingdoms in Spain. This caused Constantine's Spanish allies to abandon him and proclaim their own usurper, Maximus, as emperor. By 410 AD, the Western Empire was entirely in a shambles. The Rhine frontier had collapsed and the last legions had been withdrawn from Britain. The Visigoths had sacked Rome and ravaged Italy before settling down in their own kingdom in Southwest France. The influence of Rome outside Italy was limited and the Roman generals were increasingly dependent on the Visigoths as allies to form a buffer against the other barbarian tribes.

And it would only get worse, when in 451 AD, Attilla the Hun made his appearance on the European scene. But that is another story, more Patrician in nature.

Composition

1 x 4Kn or 3Cv Roman knights are either the Gallic Equites Catafractarii or the Clibanarii. The Clibanarii were more common in later years and were modeled after eastern cavalry. The Equites sagittarii Clibanarii and the Equites Persae Clibanarii emulated the bow-armed Persian heavy cavalry. Other Clibanarii, such as the Cuneus Equitum Clibanariorum Palmirenorum were modeled after the fully armored lancers fielded by the Parthians and Palmyrans.
2 x 3Cv Include both the regular Equites (e.g. Equites Armegeri) and the Sagitarii or mounted archers. Roman horsemen were typically well-equipped with mail and shield and wore the conical spangenhelm helmet.
1 x 2LH Specialist troops recruited from among Rome's allies to scout for and screen the army.
4 x 4Bd The still formidable Roman legionary, now typically Gallo-Roman or Germanic in origin rather than Latin, and equipped with ring mail or leather armor (or no armor), a leather helmet, an oval or round shield, thrusting spear and the spatha sword.
3 x 4Ax Allied or Foederati units, typically Germanic or Gallic in origin (e.g. Auxilia Celtae, Auxilia Brisigari), employed in a variety of specialized roles. In the frontier militias, the Auxilia could be descendants of Hadrian's veterans who were settled in border garrisons generations before.
1 x Art or 2Ps The Notitia Dignitatum records one unit of catapult operators (Ballistarii) stationed at Bontobrica near Mainz on the Rhine frontier.

Enemies

Late Rome-West enjoy a quite barbarous list of opponents: Alan (#55d), Scots-Irish (#61), Moorish (#65), Caledonian/Pict (#67), Middle Imperial Rome (#69) Early Goth or Vandal (#70), Early Frank, Burgundian, Alamannic or Rugian (#74), Early Saxon, Frisian, Suevi, Bavarian or Thuringian (#75a), Late Roman-East (#77b), and Later Visigoth (#80).

Tactics

The Knight option coupled with Roman Blades make the Late Roman-West army a dangerous opponent for most Warband heavy opponents, but the Late Romans must also contend with barbarian armies (e.g. Alans, Vandals, etc.) that are both more mobile and that can also match the Romans Knight for Knight and occasionally Blade for Blade. A careful combined arms approach and appropriate use of terrain so that the Roman Auxilia can contribute are essential. Skillful generalship is necessary to avoid the decline and fall of your Late Roman ambitions.

Camp

For a mobile field army, a march camp--perhaps with hasty defenses--is certainly appropriate. For the frontier Ripenses and Limitanei, a pallisaded garrison is a likely choice. A cart or wagon element representing a baggage train is also well suited.

Painting Tips

The following tips by Luke Ueda-Sarson were forwarded by Larry Nellinger, Jr.:

Assuming you are playing 4th or 5th century Romans, you want the following (some of these bits are conjectural, but they are the best guesses vailable):

Legionaries and their supports (including artillery, marines and promoti light horse, but excluding foot guards): Leather armour (legionaries only), red helmet crest, red tunic, brown breeches, maroon scabbards and belts, black shoes if shoes provided, otherwise sandals. Field regiments will have purple shoulder markings and cuffs.

Auxilia (including cavalry, both heavy and light-other than promoti light horse), foot guards, foot auxilia and their supports: White (or cream colored) tunics (heavy cavalry have mail), yellow helmet crest (and plumes for some cavalry - with green horse cloths), maroon scabbards and belts, brown breeches and black shoes. Field regiments will have purple shoulder markings and cuffs.

Shield patterns varied enormously. By this time, the old-style winged thunderbolts had disappered. You need to look at the Notitia dignitatum (parts of which are reproduced in WRG/Phil Barkers 'Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome' or something lie that. If you play Romans you NEED this book. It covers Goths too).

The following notes by Simon MacDowall, author of Romans, Goths and Huns and The Late Roman Infantry were forwarded courtesy of Larry Nellinger, Jr.:

I use 25mm mostly and the Foundry figures (and most new ones now) are all in mail. If I were you I would paint the cuirasses iron or bronze, although my feeling is that such cuirasses were more likely only worn by officers, but of course we cannot be certain. There is pretty good evidence for iron muscled cuirasses and the yellow-brown ones that Phil Barker has mentioned could quite likely be bronze. There are 15mm figures in armour, the best are by Donnington which are actually based on my book. My favourite is the one based on Plate A with spangenhelm and scale armour. Donnington is pretty hit and miss, some of their figures are terrible, others excellent; their Late Romans are amongst their best. We cannot absolutely rule out rawhide cuirasses I just think it is a bit unlikely. I believe most or all Legionaries would have worn mail or scale and many auxiliaries would have as well, at least up untill the end of the 4th Century. 5th Century troops would probably have been less well equipped but there is hard evidence for armoured infantry in the East in the 5th C. - Simon

The following notes by Moramath were clipped from the rec.games.miniatures.historical newsgroup. He is commenting on recent historical reinterpretations of ancient sculptures which has led to the rejection of Barker's conclusions that Late Romans wore leather armor moulded like a breastplate:

I'm not current with the latest research, but don't despair if you have some of those figures, the old Phil Barker view is not impossible, but it is less likely and very unfashionable. If I ever get round to a DBA "End of Roman Britain" Army I'll be including a base or two of those lads to represent Six Victrix , for old time's sake and no better reason than in one of the museums in York one of the first things you used to see was a large sandstone statue of a chap exactly so equipped. This is conventionally identified as the god Mars, and the cuirass extends over the shoulders in a manner which is recognised as artistic convention as it's utterly impractical. There are, however, remarkably similar figures on fragments of a lost triumphal column incorporated in a Turkish bath in Constantinople whose kit looks more functional. As to what the cuirass was made of, that's another matter, but I seem to remember the Greeks in the mythological battle (Amazonmachy) on one of the Dura-Europos shields have what appears to be a yellow-brown cuirass and maybe petruges (but not at the shoulder), while the rest of their kit is pretty much mid third century AD.

(Editors Note: Comments on Red versus Unbleached Tunics):

Maybe bleached for Centurions (Centenarii?) and Officers with embroidery/aplique panels as per Barker, but also sometimes with another band along the bottom hem and a vertical strip similar to those on the chest running up the side seams from the hem to about two-thirds the way to the waist in "purple." "Purple" in this case can mean madder-based red-brown through to crimson for rankers, same or possibly proper murex based purple for officers. The circular patches on the thigh and cloak corners can, less frequently, be square or octagonal. There is some indication of even bigger patches on the cloak.

The current view seems to derive from Nick Fuentes paper "The Roman Military Tunic" published in M. Dawson "Roman Military Equipment: The Accoutrements of War (Proceedings of the Third Roman Military Equipment Research Seminar)" British Archaeological Reports International Series 336, Oxford, 1987. I haven't access to this volume but the conclusions are summarised on page 84 of Brassey's History of Uniforms - the Roman Army: The Wars of the Empire, (Graham Sumner, ISBN18575632120). Basically, it is that during the early Empire legionaries wore white, while centurions and officers wore white on parade, with centurions wearing red in the field. However, for the Late Empire red is not completely unattested, see Plate 7b in "Roman Military Equipment" by M C Bishop and J C Coulston (Batsford 1993, ISBN 0713466375) for a catacomb painting of a 4th Century soldier in a red tunic. According to the Brassey's volume mentioned above this chap was a soldier in an Auxilia Palatina. Slingshot 198 also has an article which includes descriptions of some painted Late Roman shields from Egypt which bear images of what appear to be wearing pinkish tunics, the same source confirming green for saddlecloths.

Other Resources:

The still-classic reference for 4th-5th century Roman history is Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Also see Best of Gibbon's Decline and Fall).

Vegetius' manual, Epitoma Rei Militaris, describes the Roman military system at a point sometime between 383 - 450 AD. (Latin Text)

As part of their Wargaming in History series, Sterling Publishing Co. has reprinted a quite entertaining softcover by Simon MacDowall entitled "Romans, Goths & Huns," which was originally released by Argus Books in the U.K. in 1990. The book includes a stripped down version of MacDowall's own Legio rules for ancient-medieval warfare.

The following selections are available in the De Bellis Bookstore:

Caesar : A History of the Art of War Among the Romans Down to the End of the Roman Empire", by Theodore Ayrault Dodge (Da Capo Press, Oct. 1997). 816 pages, softcover.

Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, by Arthur Ferrill (Norton, June 1998). Softcover. (Mini-review: a history of the period offered in support of Ferrill's thesis that the recruitment of barbarian infantry into the Roman Army was a principle cause of the empire's fall.)

Late Roman Cavalryman 236-565 AD (Warrior 15), by Simon MacDowall (Osprey, Nov. 1996). 64 pages, softcover.

Late Roman Infantryman 236-565 Ad (Warrior 9), by Simon MacDowall (Osprey, Sept. 1994). 64 pages, softcover.

Romano-Byzantine Armies 4th - 9th Century (Men-At-Arms 247), by David Nicolle, A. McBride (Illustrator) (Osprey, Sept. 1998) 48 pages, softcover.

The Late Roman Army by Pat Southern (Yale Univ. Press, Aug. 1996). 240 pages.

The Rise and Decline of the Late Roman Field Army, by Richard S. Cromwell (White Mane, May 1998). 97 pages.

See also the links to Roman history sites on the DBA Historical Resources page.


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Last Updated: March 27, 1999