Late Roman Army
Life In The Legion
Limitanei to Comitatensis
The Notitia Dignitatum is a list of army units and officerships of the Western and most of the Eastern Empire. The document also gives shield designs. The original manuscript was copied twice, and our shields are based on the most reliable version. When it was written is a matter of debate, but it seems to have been occasionally updated. For northern Britain a date of the early 5th century seems likely. By this time Praesidium is home to a unit of Dalmation Horseman, while the Praesidienses are now a Legio Comitatensis in the Gallic field army. We need to consider why this is the case.
There are various possible occasions when the unit may have moved. Magnus Maximus was proclaimed Emperor in Britain in AD 383 and moved units to the continent, especially from the north west of Britain. The defences of Britain were reorganised by Stilicho at the turn of the century. Either Stilicho himself or more likely one of his generals campaigned north of the Wall with locally raised forces around AD 398-9, returning to the continent with these forces at the end of the campaign in AD 402.
Finally Constantine III took an army across to France in AD 407 to re-establish Roman control after the barbarians crossed the Rhine in force. Of these I feel the time of Stilicho is the most likely for the relocation of the Praesidiensis, but this is pure supposition.
However the troops taken to France from Britain in AD 402 came from the right area. Interestingly limitanei were taken from the German frontier to re-enforce the Gallic field army at the same time, as if Stilicho was trying to re-centralise his available manpower.
The last issues of Roman coinage seem to coincide with the withdrawal of troops in AD 402. The last issues of coinage to reach Britain in bulk were bronzes of the house of Theodosius. These coins were minted in Gaul until AD 395 when the mints closed. Then coins were supplied from Rome, and a few from Aquileia.
The latest issues to arrive were in the names of Honorius and Arcadius. New issues dated to AD 403 did not reach Britain, suggesting that state wages were not paid after Ad 402. Clipping was common, but local copies of official issues were not produced, suggesting a very rapid collapse of the cash economy. The Praesidiensis may have got out while the going was good!