Late Roman Army

The chlamys or paludamentum of a senior officer.

The external facade of York's river frontage.

The soldier, his family and slaves.

A soldier on leave.

Life In The Legion

Old-fashioned ranks were still retained alongside new titles. A legio would be probably commanded by a prefect, as would a fleet based at Praesidium. A praepositus commanded a detachment, or a post. It is likely that the Praesidiensis was commanded by a praepositus or a prefect. The last inscription of Roman Britain so far discovered tells us that the construction of the watchtower, burgus, at Ravenscar was carried out under Justinianus, a praepositus who may have been responsible for constructing all the watchtowers along the coast, and Vindicianus, the magister commanding the work party.

Officers received their commission from the Emperor Honorius via the office of the magister peditum, after serving as a protector, a sort of staff college come bodyguard. However influence and money could buy an appointment. The officer commanding the Praesidiensis would have been appointed by Stilicho himself, to serve under the Dux based in York.

There is evidence that the fortress of York was refurbished in the late fourth century, perhaps at the orders of Theodosius after the AD 367 conspiracy. The Minster undercroft contains some very fine painted wall plaster from a room built out into the portico space of the basilica. It has been suggested that this may have been one of the private rooms of the Dux himself. The so-called “Anglian Tower” behind York library may also have been built in the later fourth century. The multi-angular tower retains something of the riparian façade of the fortress.

Promotion was decided by length of service, added by bribery. Ranks in new units were in order of seniority, semissalis (1 ½ rations), circitor & biarchus (2 rations), centenarius possibly the commander of 100 men (2 ½ rations), ducenarius who commanded 200 men (3 ½ rations), senator (4 rations) and primicerius (5 rations). Rations seem to have been generous, and designed to feed the soldier, his family and slaves.

Senior officers would be in receipt of large quantities of rations, part of which could be transmuted into money. They certainly could legally draw rations which belonged to their men. Custom also allowed them to continue drawing rations for dead and missing soldiers. In AD 443 it is recorded that limitanei lost one twelfth of the annonae or rations, to the dux, the priceps on his staff, and the praeposti of the forts. NCO’s often chose to serve more than their allotted 24 years.

There were also specialists like the drill instructor, the campidoctor, the standard bearer, draconarius, the trumpeter or bucinator and the medicus. Transfers between units were discouraged, and Stilicho reminded his officers in AD 400 that such transfers needed imperial authorisation. Soldiers, commonly called pedes, could obtain a commission by becoming one of the protectors, under the magistri militum.

Leave is something of a grey area. Initially it would have had to be granted by the Dux in York, however by AD 402 the unit commander may have been able to grant leave to a certain number of men at one time.