This article is about Late Roman army commands, under the understanding that the Roman army was not a clear-cut affair. First of all, we have to distinguish between ranks, titles and grades. This can be confusing, because sometimes titles evolved into ranks, and some ranks are without an earlier equivalent.
THE CHANGES OF DIOCLETIAN
When we discuss the hierarchy of the Late Roman army, it's important to first get an idea of what we are discussing. Contrary to popular view, the Roman army was not an army comparable to modern armies. Changes were slow to be implemented, uniformity as we know it most probably did not exist, and standards like unit strength or uniformity in command structure was not the same all over the empire. The same goes for the 'new model army' that was developed by Diocletian and his successors (especially Constantine).
From the literary evidence (legislation, papyri, hagiographical and historical literature from historians such as Ammianus Marcellinus, bureaucratic documents such as the Notitia Dignitatum, tactical treatises such as the Strategikon or the inscriptions found throughout the empire, mostly on funerary monuments) we gather that Diocletian did not alter the structure of the 'old-style' units. These 'old-style' units such as legiones (regardless of these being later classed as palatinae, comitatenses or limitanei), cohortes and alae retained the same traditional internal structure and ranking system which they had during the Principate, and which remained the same until the 7th c. Their officers continued to be called tribunes, centurions and decurions. At the same time, 'new-style' units were created with apparently a different hierarchy of ranks and posts, limited to newly created units of the comitatenses, namely scholae, vexillationes, auxilia palatini and some cunei.
RANKS, POSTS, TITLES AND GRADES
are the true steps on the ladder of command. Well
try to filter out these true ranks, even
though this can be very difficult.
Posts are temporary commands or duties, which could be held by men of different ranks, the seniority depending on the responsibilities and time for which the command could be held. Examples of such posts are the vicarius (in fact an acting tribune) and the domesticus (acting regimental chief-of-staff).
Titles are often confused with ranks. This is not surprising given the limited knowledge that we have of the Late Roman army and its structure. Add to that the fact that titles could be similar for civilian and military (such as the Magister), the inconsistency with which titles were used and the evolving meaning. In principle though, titles could be held by men of different ranks, and there seems to have been a rank-like hierarchy involved (such as Comites de facto outranking Duces).
Grades have to do with pay or denoting seniority and privileges, and several grades can be included in one rank. Another difference in pay grade was determined by the army class of a particular unit. Soldiers were paid more when they served in units that belonged to the comitatenses instead of the limitanei, and even more in the auxilia, scholae and palatini.
The only fourth-century list of these Late Roman regimental grades or indeed a pay-scale is from Hieronymus writing ca. 386-7 (Jerome, Contra Johannem Hierosolymilanum episcopum 19 (PL23, 370);
The only connection to the actual amount of money paid to (some of) these ranks and grades comes from an edict of April 13, 534 from Justinian issued to Belisarius in North Africa (Codex Justinianus I.27.2:19-36, which stipulates the salaries of military clerks in the five newly re-created African ducates after Belisarius victory over the Vandals.
One annona equalled 5 nomismata or solidi (one year of ration's worth), and one capitus equalled 4 nomismata or solidi (one year of fodder for the horse):
of these confirm the list of Jerome (the recruits and
rankers are left out since there were no clerks of that
rank), and from the amounts paid to the numerarius
and the assessor we can concluded that these
compare to the senator and tribunus
respectively. Similarly, the rankers perhaps received one
annona, one capitus if cavalry, equalling nine nomismata,
and the recruit perhaps a half annona, one capitus if
cavalry, equalling six-and-a-half nomismata.
was the replacement of the praefectus praetorium
since the time of Constantine. The magister officiorum,
a civilian official, commanded the scholae, but
Constantine meant the bulk of the armed forces to be
commanded equally by the magister peditum (general
of the infantry) and the magister equitum (general
of the cavalry). However, this system soon evolved. More
magistri were appointed, such as the magister
praesentalis or the magister in praesenti (magister
commanding the forces in the presence of the Emperor), or
regional commanders such as the magister militum per
Gallias, per Orientem, per Thracias, etc.
When Constantine segregated the civil and military functions, the military commanders ceased to be civil governors (although in some cases there were exceptions). Provinces were henceforth commanded by praeses without military functions, while the troops were commanded by duces. There seems to have been no sharp distinction between comites and duces.
(title) was originally a title (lit. meaning
companion) for members of the entourage of
the Emperor, not a rank. Later the title became known for
several functions, both military as well as civilian.
These functions were formalised by Constantine, by
creating titles such as the comes sacrarum
largitionum (finance minister), the comes
domesticorum (commander of the protectores domestici).The
military version of the title was the comes rei
militaris, a vague title without a description of
rank or importance, which could describe commands varying
from minor frontiers to overall army command of a magister
(rank) was originally a title (lit. meaning
leader) of an officer acting in a temporary
capacity above his rank, commanding a collection of
troops in transit or in temporary command of a single
unit. From the third century, a dux became a
regular officer. After Constantine, the dux
commanded the provincial troops (the comitatenses
and palatini falling under the command of the magistri
or comites). Such a command could encompass a (part
of a) province (styled after the name of that province,
such as the dux Aegypti) or even several provinces
(such as the dux Britanniarum (duke of the
Britains), who commanded the regions straddled by Hadrian's
Wall). Another name could be dux limitis, but
these names were not standardised.
The tribunus (rank)
was the commanding officer of a new-style unit, which
could be a regiment of auxilia palatina or a numerus
or anything in between. Tribuni of the scholae
were commanded by the magister officiorum, but tribuni
also commanded cavalry vexillationes, new-style auxilia
regiments as well as the new-style legions of the field
army, but also the old-style cohorts of the limitanei.
By the mid-fifth century a tribunus might also be
styled a comes, under the debasement of Roman
military titles. By the sixth century a papyrus describes
an old-style cohort commanded by a tribunus, eight
senior officers including the adiutor (regimental
clerk), the primicerius, six ordinarii and
six others, probably the centuriones.
The praefectus (rank) was the officer in command of old-style legions (praefectus legionis) and of old-style alae (praefectus alae), although these were only to be found in the West, notably on the Danube and in Britain. Praefecti could also command several units together, as seen with the praefectus legionis quartaedecimae geminae militum liburnariorum cohortis quintae partis superior, Carnunto, who commanded the fourteenth legion as well as a part of the Danube fleet plus the fifth cohort, from his command post at Carnuntum.
The praepositus (post) was originally a title for any officer in temporary command of a unit, usually a vexillation on the way to or from a battle, later a classic numerus. This title could be held by officers of several ranks; prefects, tribunes or legionary centurions. In the Later Roman army, the praepositus was (like the comes) a name for a post, tribunes and prefects being addressed as praepositus or officer-commanding. Most of all we come across the praepositus as commander of old-style units, notably in the African provinces. Praepositi could command scholae units as well as old-style legions (praepositus legionis), old-style cohorts (praepositus cohortis), but there are also commands of less known units (praepositus militum, praepositus equitum and praepositus auxilia). Of course here, too, titles were used inconsistently, as is proven by the case of a prefect of an old-style ala (one Flavius Abinnaeus at Dionysias), who was also addressed with the title praepositus, and even as praefectus castrorum. In Africa, the limes was divided into sections, each commanded by a praepositus limitis subordinate to the dux. A praepositus could also command groups of laeti (praepositus laetorum), which were groups of barbarians who had been defeated in a campaign and settled throughout the empire under Roman supervision.
(title) was originally a member of the select corps that
Gallienus created as a group of loyal men around him.
This group changed into a kind of school for officers,
making men who were promoted from the ranks to become a protector
before they were posted to their new ranks and duties.
Some of these protectores were posted to the staff
of field commanders (deputati) to gain experience,
and performed a great number of duties. They could be
sent to round up recruits and vagrants, or act as border
guards controlling exported goods. Their more military
duties could include the arrest of important persons, as
related by Ammianus Marcellinus, who himself was a member
of the ten protectores domestici in the staff of
the general Ursicinus. This group was named domestici
(men serving in the entourage of the Emperor, although
also dispersed over the lower army staffs) to distinguish
them from ordinary protectores, who succeeded to a
command of a unit after serving for a number of years as protector.
Other military tasks included special misssions, such as
preparing temporary forts on campaign, or the arrest of
The primicerius (rank) was the senior NCO (both in old-style as well in new-style units) whose name came first on the regimental muster-roll (matrix). A primicerius can be compared to a regimental lieutenant-commander, replacing an absent tribunus in the guise of the vicarius or as the tribunes domesticus. Primicerii played an important role in the day-to-day administrative affairs. In the scholae they ranked as clarissimi, equal in standing to the tribunus, the next step in promotion. In unofficial sources the term becomes a generic description of any senior regimental officer. A primicerius received five annonae (plus two capitus if cavalry).
The vicarius (post) was the highest non-commissioned officer and could assume command in absence of a tribunus. He was not a strict rank but an acting-tribune, sometimes even from another unit. The formulaic coupling vicarius vel tribunus from a number of sources signified the title of commanding officer or officer in charge regardless of his actual rank. When an infantry regiment was split into two equal parts, the tribunus commanded the first and the vicarius the second. Maurikios mentioned the ilarch (or the senior hekatontarch) for the case of a cavalry regiment, but see above. Vegetius mentioned a tribunis minor, which might signify a change in promotion procedured, or he might have had the vicarius in mind.
The domesticus (post) was a regimental chief-of-staff or adjutant. The term was also used in military and civilian life for a great number of assisting officers and officials with varying ranks. See also protector. Not to be confused with the select corps of domestici who accompanied the Emperor.
(rank) used to be as the regimental drill master or chief
training-officer of the Principate (before
that and afterwards, a training officer was known as the exercicator
or doctor armorum / armidoctor). Although
it is still unclear if the roles and seniority of the campidoctor
in old-style and new-style units were comparable, both
Vegetius and Maurikios use the term for a regimental
drill master. However, the campidoctor developed
into one of the most important NCOs, exclusive to
the infantry. Ranking third behind the tribunus
and the primicerius, and on occasion the campidoctor
could (like the vicarius) take command of (part of)
an infantry unit.
The senator (rank) served in several troop types including the scholae, but otherwise nothing is known about this rank. A senator received probably four annonae (plus two capitus if cavalry).
The ducenarius (rank) originally was a class of minor judges who sat in minor cases (Suetonius, In Augustum, cap. XXXII). There was also a civilian procurator ducenarius. Not much is known of the Late Roman ducenarius, although he may have commanded two hundred men, which would be logical if the new-style campidoctor commanded part of a unit. However, this may be due to a misunderstanding of Vegetius, who mentioned this rank as a rank between the centurion and the primus pilus of his theoretical Legio Antiqua. Vegetius was in all probability wrongly equating ducenti into ducentenarius. A classic example of a ducentenarios however is not known from the military, but from horse-racing, as a horse with two hundred victories (Diocles). As a result we cannot be sure if Vegetius, as he often did, made something up or mentioned the actual number of men under the command of a ducenarius. The word ducentenarius as a commander of two hundred men is not known before Bede (8th c.). A ducenarius received three-and-a-half annonae (plus one-and-a-half capitus if cavalry).
The centenarius (rank) likewise seems clear-cut as a commander of a hundred men, but although Vegetius compares them to centuriones (maybe just by etymology), its by no means sure that the name refers to the number under his command. Lucius Artorius Castus was a procurator centenarius of Liburnia. The second-century title procurator centenarius may have referred to his salary, and the Late Roman centenarius portus (a unique command mentioned for the city of Rome) seems too important to be just a centurion. Maybe its not surprising that, like the ducenarius, the centenarius was also originally a legal function. A centenarius received two-and-a-half annonae (plus one capitus if cavalry).
The ordinarius (rank) seems to have been the same as the centurion of the old-style regiments, commanding eighty men according to a papyrus describing a sixth-century cohort. Odd enough, the ordinarius, although widely attested, does not appear in either Jerome's or Justinian's list, so perhaps
(rank) seems to have been a junior officer comparable to
the decuriones which continued to exist in old-style
units and who commanded an eight-man strong contubernium.
The word biarchus literally means in
charge of the food supply, or mess-leader
or caput contubernium, which may indeed point to
his practical role in commanding a contubernium.
The circitor (grade) was the lowest NCO grade. According to Vegetius, the circitor was once a post of the inspector of the sentries, but evolved into a rank of which we know little to nothing. A law of Constantine stipulated that sons of cavalrymen could, provided he brought two horses or a horse and a slave, start immediately as circitor. A circitor received two annonae (plus one capitus if cavalry).
The semissalis (grade) may have been a senior soldier with higher pay, receiving one and a half annonae (plus one capitus if cavalry).
The pedes and the eques (rank) were the common privates of the infantry and the cavalry. A pedes may have received one annona, and an eques may have received one annona plus one capitus.
The tiro or recruit was the lowest rank in the army, which a man held from joining during his training period. During this time he did not receive full pay and allowances. An advice to Valens and Valentinian entailed keeping groups of between fifty and a hundred tirones attached to each unit, admitting them upon vacancies. A tiro may have received a half annona (plus one capitus if cavalry).
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