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Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Printable Version

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Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-17-2017

It seems (as discussed in a previous thread) that the city of Rome was undefended by troops when Alaric besieged it in AD408. In fact he seems to have been pretty much unopposed by the Roman army in Italy: the five 'tagmata' under Valens that he defeated in 409 had been summoned from Illyricum; Honorius otherwise relied on Huns to defend him, and six more units from Constantinople to defend Ravenna in 410.

So what happened to the Roman field army of Italy? There was a big troop concentration at Ticinum earlier in 408, stationed to guard against/attack Constantine III in Gaul. They mutinied, but Honorius and Olympius seem to have brought them back under control - why could they do nothing against the Goths? After massacring Stilicho's people they seem to vanish from the scene!


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Robert Vermaat - 01-18-2017

(01-17-2017, 11:35 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: So what happened to the Roman field army of Italy?

Technically the Goths were also a Roman army, albeit in opposition to Ravenna. That may have neutralised other armed forces as well - the mutiny may have been under control, but that did not mean Ravenna was 'in control' of those forces. Commanders who took over (such as Sarus) may have been very careful about whom to support. It wasn't a clear cut situation like 'we ousted Stilicho, now we can command his forces'. Olympius may have thought so (which is why he refuses Alaric's demands). he is shortly afterwards himself replaced by the praefectus praetorio Jovinus.

Even though many of the germanic troops who were loyal to Stilicho were either neutralized or went over to Alaraic (which I see more as a changing of sides by Roman units that as barbarians defecting to a barbaric army), the units weren't gone - we see plenty of military action shortly afterwards to against Contantine III, by Constantius III and between Boniface and Aetius. But having fought Alaric in the years before that, as well as beating Radagais and suffering a (no doubt not unanimous) mutiny so shortly before the siege of Rome, maybe the troop couldn't be sent anywhere. Maybe that was one of the grounds for the mutiny anyway?


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-18-2017

(01-18-2017, 08:06 AM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: Technically the Goths were also a Roman army,

Technically, yes - but was there not quite a dispute between those soldiers (at Ticinum) who saw themselves as 'Roman' and the foederati or others under Sarus and Stilicho (who may also have seen themselves as 'Roman', of course)? I don't quite understand what the mutiny at Ticinum was about, but the troops seem to have slaughtered the Goths quite enthusiastically afterwards, which maybe implies that they were inspired by a sort of anti-'barbarian' sentiment...


(01-18-2017, 08:06 AM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: Olympius may have thought so... he is shortly afterwards himself replaced by the praefectus praetorio Jovinus.

As far as I can tell, Olympius hung on for a year or so, until early/mid 409, before being ousted. Just beforehand he won a battle against the Goths under Ataulf at Pisa, apparently in command of a large (?) Roman force:

When the emperor heard of (Ataulf's) approach, and that he had with him an inconsiderable force, he ordered all his troops both horse and foot, which were in the different towns, to march under their own officers to meet him. To Olympius, who was commander of the court guards, he gave the Huns who were in Ravenna, amounting to three hundred. (At Pisa they met the Goths) attacked them, killed eleven hundred Goths, and returned in safety to Ravenna, with the loss of only seventeen men. (Zosimus Book V)

Shortly after this Olympius is deposed and the 'troops in Ravenna' (Romans? Huns? 'Court guards'?) mutiny. So it seems that there were quite a few military units scattered about the place - so why was Honorius unable or unwilling to use them against Alaric? Was Alaric simply too strong to be opposed? Valens seems to have considered six thousand men from Dalmatia to be sufficient to confront the Goths (more fool him!)



(01-18-2017, 08:06 AM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: we see plenty of military action shortly afterwards... But having fought Alaric in the years before that, as well as beating Radagais and suffering a (no doubt not unanimous) mutiny so shortly before the siege of Rome, maybe the troop couldn't be sent anywhere. Maybe that was one of the grounds for the mutiny anyway?

Yes, Constantius III certainly had troops available when he marched into Gaul to attack Arles in 411-ish - were they the same soldiers that had remained at Ticinum all this time? What had they been doing while Alaric and Ataulf roamed about Italy?

Could it have been that the field army units originally mutinied in summer 408 because they didn't want to be sent into Gaul while a large 'barbarian' force (Alaric and his Goths) remained behind them in Italy? And after that they were effectively 'on strike'?


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Flavivs Aetivs - 01-18-2017

It seems likely the desertion of the Gothic troops who had been mixed into the professional Roman regiments crippled the capacity of the Italic army (which about 6 years before numbered at least "30 regiments" and we know was still being updated in the Notitia as late as 419-428).

My guess is that it was understrength and morale was low, coupled with divided or uncertain leadership which made it as a whole ineffectual and logistically problematic to organize back into an effective exercitus.

We know Aetius had at least 2 significant field armies in 425-439 so it certainly wasn't gone.

Quote:Shortly after this Olympius is deposed and the 'troops in Ravenna' (Romans? Huns? 'Court guards'?) mutiny. So it seems that there were quite a few military units scattered about the place - so why was Honorius unable or unwilling to use them against Alaric? Was Alaric simply too strong to be opposed? Valens seems to have considered six thousand men from Dalmatia to be sufficient to confront the Goths (more fool him!)

Which proved to be not enough since those units (I believe it's stated its 6 Legions, is it not?) were annihilated and only like 100 men survived. He considered 6 Arithmoi totalling 4000 men from Constantinople to be enough to defend Ravenna, however.


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-18-2017

(01-18-2017, 05:25 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: those units (I believe it's stated its 6 Legions, is it not?) were annihilated and only like 100 men survived... 6 Arithmoi totalling 4000 men from Constantinople

Five I think - "Five of the tagmata in Dalmatia... manned with 6000 men". And there were six units (arithmoi, or banda?) from Constantinople that defended Ravenna, again numbering 6000*. I suspect all of these could either legions or auxilia, if there was even a difference between them at this point - numeri anyway.

* Actually, you're quite right - Sozomen says there were 6 arithmoi totalling about 4000 men (explained here) - the dodgy old online version of Zosimus says 6000, but this could be a misprint or mistake...

But yes, it does seem there was morale/leadership/command and control problem in the Roman forces in Italy during this period. The army amassed at Ticinum at 408 to confront the usurpers in Gaul seems to fall apart for about three years, until General Constantius (probably) manages to pull them back together again. The fact that Honorius had to bring fresh troops from Dalmatia and Constantinople, and otherwise had to rely on ten thousand Huns (mercenaries?) to defend him suggests he didn't have much faith or trust in his own army!

This makes me wonder where Constantius comes into things, and how he was able to reimpose command over the troops in Italy. He was born in Naissus, apparently, and was 'Roman' - could he have arrived in Italy with those tagmata from Dalmatia? Perhaps he was leading them, until the force was handed over to Valens? He must have moved quickly to seize control in 410 or so, condemning and executing Olympius shortly afterwards and then invading Gaul. Perhaps a late manifestation of the old-fashioned Illyrian vir militaris, and more acceptable to the troops than the short-lived and politically-appointed magistri that succeeded Stilicho?


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Flavivs Aetivs - 01-20-2017

Quote:and otherwise had to rely on ten thousand Huns (mercenaries?)

Source? Never heard of that bit.


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Robert Vermaat - 01-20-2017

(01-18-2017, 06:28 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: The army amassed at Ticinum at 408 to confront the usurpers in Gaul seems to fall apart for about three years, until General Constantius (probably) manages to pull them back together again. The fact that Honorius had to bring fresh troops from Dalmatia and Constantinople, and otherwise had to rely on ten thousand Huns (mercenaries?) to defend him suggests he didn't have much faith or trust in his own army!

The army amassed at Ticinum would have been dispersed very soon afterwards I think, or at least around several other parts of Italy. Given all the crises and the lack of available units, no commander could afford to keep so many troops in the field for so long a time without a real purpose? They will for sure have fought Alaric during his second invasion of Italy (late summer 408), but during 409, with all the negotiations going on, Italy seems to have been quite peaceful. Would the entire army have been kept together? I have my doubts about that. The next year, Attalus besieges Ravenna before Alaric marches on Rome, and Constantine III is able to enter northern Italy with his main army (the remainder going to Spain) and even reaches Ravenna before a revolt in Gaul forces him to turn back.

This makes me think that either a) there was no longer a strong military presence in northern Italy or b) they were there but refused to do anything.


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-20-2017

(01-20-2017, 02:25 AM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Source? Never heard of that bit.

It's Zosimus, Book 5: "Affairs having thus been concerted [in AD410], the emperor called ten thousand Huns to his assistance in the war against Alaric."

Although this is from the antiquated online translation again, so it might need checking...


(01-20-2017, 08:04 AM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: either a) there was no longer a strong military presence in northern Italy or b) they were there but refused to do anything.

Yes, that sounds about right!


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Flavivs Aetivs - 01-20-2017

Quote:a) there was no longer a strong military presence in northern Italy

That's not possible, because Constantius III had no federate troops except maybe a handful of Alans with which to begin his campaign to end the usurpations. We know there was a strong military presence in Italy until at least 444.


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-20-2017

(01-20-2017, 04:19 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Constantius III had no federate troops except maybe a handful of Alans

How do we know what sort of troops he had, or did not have? Does any source give either the numbers or composition of his force?

(presumably he still had those ten thousand Huns though! [Image: wink.png] )

Actually, does any source refer to an identifiable Roman military unit in the west after c.400? (the five tagmata from Dalmatia excepted...)


(01-20-2017, 04:19 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: there was a strong military presence in Italy until at least 444.

How do we know this, as well? Is there anything to suggest that the various 'Roman' armies of the 5th century were not just amalgams of foederati and mercenaries?


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Renatus - 01-21-2017

(01-20-2017, 01:13 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: It's Zosimus, Book 5: "Affairs having thus been concerted [in AD410], the emperor called ten thousand Huns to his assistance in the war against Alaric."

Although this is from the antiquated online translation again, so it might need checking...

Ridley's translation has, 'This done, the emperor summoned ten thousand Huns as allies in the war against Alaric', which is substantially the same.


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Flavivs Aetivs - 01-21-2017

Quote:How do we know this, as well? Is there anything to suggest that the various 'Roman' armies of the 5th century were not just amalgams of foederati and mercenaries?

Well the laws of the 440's indicate army units were being redistributed to fortified towns under the command of Sigisvult due to the Vandal invasion. Aetius had at least two field armies prior to that, because we see him operating independently of both Felix in 426-430 and Litorius in 435-437. He had the forces to campaign against the Franks while Felix was campaigning against the Huns in 427, and while Sigisvult was leading forces against Bonifacius in Africa (427-429).

We know some sort of force was operating in Spain as well, under Censorius, Asturius, and Merobaudes although it was destroyed probably under Vitus in 446. When the Romans and Huns were defeated at Tolouse in 439, Aetius came out of Italy and defeated the Goths with some sort of military force that same year, ending the war with a Roman victory.

I can't go into detail regarding Constantius' III's available forces without some research. Honestly it's been a while since I've discussed this.


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-21-2017

(01-21-2017, 06:24 PM)Renatus Wrote: Ridley's translation has, 'This done, the emperor summoned ten thousand Huns as allies in the war against Alaric', which is substantially the same.

Thanks for checking! I've come to be very mistrustful of the sole online translation, as it appears to originate in the 17th century and has several notable errors.


(01-21-2017, 06:58 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Well the laws of the 440's indicate army units were being redistributed to fortified towns under the command of Sigisvult due to the Vandal invasion.


This would be N.Val 9 (June 24 AD440), on the restoration of the right to bear arms?: "Although the solicitude of Our Clemency is stationing garrisons through various places and the army of the Invincible Theodosius, Our Father, will soon approach, and... Aetius will soon be here with a large band and... Sigivuldus does not cease to organise guards of soldiers and federated allies (militum atque foederatorum) for our cities and shores..."(still the people must be armed to repel the Vandalic invasion.)

This doesn't sound to me like regular army units being redistributed, but rather like a desperate attempt to raise a militia to hold the line until the regulars turn up from Constantinople! The 'garrisons' mentioned, like the 'soldiers' organised by Sigisvuld, would perhaps have been on the levy type soldiers used for local defence and simply called 'milites' in the ND.

Some support for this might come from the other mention of Sigisvuld, in N.Val 6, on recruits and those who harbour deserters (March 20 AD440): "In accordance for our responsibility for the successful restoration of the army, We decree that the landowner must furnish recruits..." (various fines and threats follow, aimed at anyone trying to harbour deserters etc).

This sounds very much to me like the regular army of the previous century had ceased to exist in Italy, and Sigisvuldus was in charge of concerted efforts to 'restore' it in order to face the Vandals. That the emperor also had to arm the citizens indicates that this was a bit of an ad-hoc process, perhaps!

Anyway, the idea put forward by J.B. Bury that the field army of Italy in 428-437 still consisted of 37 units of infantry and 7 units of cavalry, as detailed in the ND, seems impossible - if any force like that had existed even in 408, Alaric would surely never have been able to move so freely in and out of Italy!


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Flavivs Aetivs - 01-21-2017

That's the one, although the reinforcements from Constantinople arrived in Panormus where they met up with the professional army.

"militum atque foederatorum"

Which translates, as you said, to "both soldiers and federates." I think this is an indication that at least some of these were professional soldiers. We know they existed as they're mentioned several times - Aetius' and Majorian's army at Vicus Helenae is explicitly stated as Roman, and the defendes of Aquileia are described as Roman Soldiers (assuming of course it is a snippet of Priscus, which is conjectural).

Quote:The 'garrisons' mentioned, like the 'soldiers' organised by Sigisvuld, would perhaps have been on the levy type soldiers used for local defence and simply called 'milites' in the ND.

As far as we can tell milites was just a way of naming a unit. There's no indication that these were "levies" for "local defense" and the overwhelming majority of them in the Notitia are listed as Limitanei regiments.

However, you have a point in that local levies were probably a big part of this sudden need to see to the defense of Italy, as the Variae of Cassiodorus record that local militia drove off a Vandal raid near Tarentum in 440, while Panormus was besieged (this siege was lifted upon Aetius' approach).

Quote:the successful restoration of the army

To be fair, there's no effective way to interpret that. It's clear manpower was a severe issue in the 5th century as Aetius was largely drawing his recruits from the upper Rhine Alemanni and of course his Alans.

I don't remember off the top of my head who calculates it (AHM Jones, I think) but he says that in order to maintain the Gallic and Italic armies it would require 4500 recruits a year, which evidently in an Empire with a population of 50 million between both halves was difficult to field.

Quote:This sounds very much to me like the regular army of the previous century had ceased to exist in Italy

But that's impossible for it not to have existed. Let's assume 10,000 Huns was the average they could field themselves (without all their Germanic federates, and this is consistent with recent research on the early medieval Hungarian plain). Then Felix in 427/428 must have had at least in the vicinity of 10,000 men to campaign against them with, while Aetius was with the Gallic field army which must have numbered in the vicinity of 25,000 men in order to confront the Aquitanian Goths (estimates come from The Goths by Peter Heather. Conversely, in 454 the Gepids and Amali Goths (future Ostrogoths) probably each could field around 10,000 to 20,000 men.) It's impossible to say what the Salian Franks could field but it seems to have been significant.

To be fair though, the only actual number for a barbarian force we have from this period is the Neccar River Burgundians who ambushed and slew the Huns of Octar, who could field 3000 men against the Huns. Later, 700 Alemanni pestering North Italy was enough to get Majorian appointed emperor.

The fact that Sidonius poetically contrasts magna agmina with palatiniis... turmae in his panegeyric on Majorian is also evidence that there was a field army in 454, which suddenly disappeared (presumably as a result of Aetius' assassination). It also shows the Scholae were still around (even if they weren't exactly much more than a parade unit at this point).

As for the Notitia, if you do the math and assume that the Spanish, British, and African units were all wiped out, then deduct the approximate losses from the loss of Revenue in 439, that still leaves on paper around 37,000 Limitanei and around 31,000 Comitatenses for Aetius.

(I assumed the average strength of a Numerus was 640 men and assumed units of milites were organized as Numeri, Equites were Cunei and that the Cuneus numbered 256 men like the Tarantiarchia, and that Pseudocomitatenses units were typically Legions as evidenced in the Theodosian Code. The final number came out to roughly 225,000 men, and I began subtracting from there).

We can't guess at actual strength or account for unrecorded losses, but evidence from the 3rd century suggests the average operational strength declined from about 90% (1st-2nd Century AD) to about 70%. Coello shows this (although he makes no conclusions about actual unit size).


RE: Where was the Roman Army in AD408? - Nathan Ross - 01-22-2017

(01-21-2017, 11:38 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Aetius' and Majorian's army at Vicus Helenae is explicitly stated as Roman

Maybe so - but can we be confident about the meaning of 'Roman' by that point?

Besides, they would surely have been able to take over the armies previously fielded by the successive Gallic usurpers Constantine III and Jovinus, which would presumably have comprised the nucleus of the old Gallic field army and whatever limitanei units they had drawn from the Rhine and Britain. But this force would not have been available to defend Italy in 408-10... (or subsequently, really)



(01-21-2017, 11:38 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: To be fair, there's no effective way to interpret that.

I suppose we can't be certain. But it does seem a fairly good interpretation that the defense of Italy in June 440 was no longer in the hands of a regular central field army, if small-scale garrisons and armed civilians had to make up the lack! And the law about 'restoring' the army dates from March of the same year, which suggests the process of 'restoration' was quite a new thing at that point.



(01-21-2017, 11:38 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: But that's impossible for it not to have existed.

I would think it more likely that the Italian field army did not exist, than that a force of thirty thousand trained and disciplined Roman regular troops stood idly by at some depot in northern Italy while Alaric and his Goths rampaged up and down the peninsula for nearly three years!

However, you're surely right that some Roman military forces existed - I found one inscription, CIL 06, 3296, from Rome: de numer]o cornutorum seniorum / dd(ominis) nn(ostris) Honorio A[ug(usto) et Theodosio co(n)s(ulibus) - which I make to be AD407 (Honorius cos. VII and Theodosius II)

So if the Cornuti Seniores were still around - perhaps they accompanied the emperor on his visit to Rome that year? - then presumably other units from the ND would have been in existence too. But I don't think we can extrapolate from this that the full army list was still current at that date, can we?

As you've pointed out, most numbers given for armies of this period seem to be surprisingly small. If Honorius could pull 6000 troops from Dalmatia to 'defend Rome', I would think Stilicho's original force at Ticinium could hardly have been much larger.