Late Roman Army

Life In The Legion

The Late Roman Army
There was no one Roman army, but lots of them located over the Empire. The army in northern Britain would differ to that of other provinces, and the soldiers themselves were divided into two classes. The field army or comitatenses consisted of relatively well-paid, well-motivated troops held centrally and able to respond rapidly to major threats. The static frontier troops or limitanei were more than just part time soldiers or soldier farmers, as some writers seem to believe. They were drilled and capable of dealing with small-scale incursions and routine policing actions. On occasion they were called to serve with the field army and such units were called pseudocomitatenses. All ranks were basically career soldiers in an army with a theoretical strength of over 500,000 men, with a well-defined path set out in front of them.

Too often the late Roman army is seen as ill-disciplined, poorly equipped and unmotivated compared to the army that first invaded Britain under Claudius. But if anything the opposite is true. While perhaps not a modern army as we would understand it, the army of the 4th century could be perceived as at least a professional 17th century army.

Some take the equipment used as proof of the “barbarisation” of the late Roman army, since nearly every item used can be traced back to a non-Roman source. But such a view would be too simplistic. The Roman army had always adopted equipment used successfully against them. In the same way the army had a tradition of relying on allied peoples to supply them with troops skilled in differing fighting methods. This was in no way a late Roman phenomenon, but a constant throughout the history of the army, and it was not a one-way process. The so-called barbarians were happy to adopt Roman weapons, equipment, factories, tactics and troops.

Advances in technology and equipment made the Roman army which left Britain far better equipped than the one which first invaded.