Late Roman Army
Life In The Legion
Pay and Supplies
It is generally believed that the real value of the soldiers pay was poor. However recent work has challenged this assumption and our late 4th century limitanei appear to have enjoyed a salary roughly equivalent to their Hadrianic brethren.
In pure cash terms they were paid less, but received food and equipment on top of this. They were certainly paid better than their late 2nd and early 3rd century counterparts who were badly off, suffering from Empire-wide inflation and the debasement of currency.
The area became largely self-sufficient in pottery. Crambeck, between York and Malton, became an important pottery producing area for the whole of northern Britain. A fragment of Crambeck ware found in York may portray a soldier of the late fourth century, armed with sword and perhaps a drum.
Pay was supplemented by payments in kind of clothing, rations, fodder for animals and imperial donatives. The most important payment was given on the accession of a new Emperor and thereafter on every fifth anniversary. This quinquennial donative was five gold solidi and a pound of silver equal to four solidi on the assession, and five solidi on the quinquennial celebration. This amount was paid for every Augustus in the Empire.
Clothing and equipment was issued by the state and manufactured in state run imperial factories. There were twenty in the west and fifteen in the east. In the west there were just two linen mills but fifteen woollen mills and nine dying houses. Troops received a shirt, tunic, cloak and possibly boots.
It is not known how long these items were to last. Perhaps just a year as in the gunpowder era. Whilst in garrison men lived in the forts, perhaps in easy maintenance chalet-blocks alongside their families. Food was drawn daily from storehouses, horrea, within the fort, supplied by the army but perhaps grown by the men themselves in the local area.
As part of a field army troops would be billeted on the unwilling local population. As well as growing food men would be engaged in producing and mending military equipment, tasks such as basket weaving and making jet and shale objects from local deposits.
On campaign, decrees of the mid 4th century suggest soldiers would be issued with rations for twenty days. Soldiers were to receive bucellatum or hardtack for two days and bread on the third. Ordinary wine, vinum, and sour wine, acetum, were served on alternate days. Sour wine mixed with water could make a refreshing drink, posca. Mutton was provided two days out of three, with salt pork on the third.
One can imagine soldiers taking every opportunity to draw, beg and extort rations. Bread was supplied by the bakerís guild and landowners. Wine had to be the cheap new vintages, sweet or sour, and supplemented by malted wheat or barley beer, cervesa. The main meals of the day were lunch prandium and supper cena. Our soldier would be eating the same spelt and barley bread with beef stew as people has throughout the Roman period.
Gradually the delivery of supplies in kind were commuted to cash payments. By our period limitanei received supplies for nine months and money payments for three. Unit records would be kept locally and by the princeps of the Dux based in York. These men wielded great power, and worked with the numerarii to deal with financial matters. There were generally two numerarri for each unit.