Sunday, 31 May 2020

Roman Britain part 2; The Roman Army in the 4th Century

I am no historian, and this article is my own interpretation of events during this turbulent era.

As previously stated, units of the Roman Army were gradually withdrawn from Britain to fight on the Continent. As the  domestic situation deteriorated, the ruling pro-Roman elite decided to leave the towns and make for their fortified villas in the country.

Although most of the fighting troops had been withdrawn, it's seems that some were left to put up a defense against the gangs of bandits and deserters, the Warbands of Scots-Irish,( the Del-Riata) and Picts along with bands of Franks and Frisians.

Addendum July 8th 2020:

 As mentioned in a previous article my own belief is that the "Saxon" raiders could have been Frankish or Frisian Pirates.
The Franks and Saxons detested each other. There were Saxon Federated troops already in Britannia at this time. I have read that, there is very little archeological evidence of Saxon settlement in Britannia during this period, and prior to 450AD. Therefore I’m assuming that any Saxons, Angles or Jutes were posted within Roman military forts.

The Forces Involved.

This is a bit of a tough one. There is  information available on regular units for this era but not actual numbers, so this is my best guess.

There was only one formation that stayed in Britain. This was the Ala Petriana. It was based near Carlisle ( Luguvalium on the map ) at a fort on Hadrians Wall ( Uxelodunum ).

There was also a fort at Verbeia ( Ilkley) which contained a cataphract cavalry unit. This could have been  a unit detached from the main Petriana Ala.

The original formation was 1000 men but by the time of the 4th century that number could have been half or less. My own estimate is 300 to 500 men, tending toward the lower figure. I also think this unit would probably have ended up at Eboricum ( York). There may have been other Cavalry formations but they were only stationed in Britannia for a short while.

When the unit first came to Britain they may have been composed of armoured cavalry. As time went on the armour may have become lighter in order to become more mobile. Also, in campaigning it may have been the experience that less armour was required against lighter armed opponents.

In regard to weapons, it seems that the cavalrymen were well trained in the use of the lance, spears, javelin and bow. Therefore any cavalry you have in your collection will fit the bill.

The Prefect of the Ala was the Senior Prefect within the Roman Army in Britain. Some of the cavalry unit may have been taken to Gaul but it is not known wether this transfer took place if at all

The Heavy Infantry.

In the early days of the Empire there were six Legions based in Britain and involved in campaigns against the tribes. These were;
2nd Legion Augusta,
2nd Legion Adiutrix,
6th Legion Victrix,
9th Legion Hispana,
14th Legion Gemini,
20th Legion Valeria.

Three of these Legions ( or sub-units of these formations ) were still in Britain during the 4th  century;

The 2nd Augusta. Based at Rutupiae. ( Richborough ).
The 6th Victrix.  Based at Eboricum. ( York )
The 20th Valeria. Based at Deva, (Chester ) with some units at Camuludunum. ( Slack near Huddersfield ).

Originally of 4/5000 men these unit numbers would have been changed under the Diocletion reforms. The original number was reduced to 2000 men per Legion. This number could have been weakened more by Imperial claimants taking troops back to Gaul.

The Auxilliaries;

Originally drawn from all over the Empire and coming in with the Legions, up to 30,000 Auxiliary  infantry served in Britain. These were organised into Cohorts of 500 infantrymen and armed with bows, slings, javelin and spears. Most of these infantry were also withdrawn leaving roughly 7000 men still manning their posts.

Citizen Qualification:

This was a major influence on the organisation of the Roman Army. In 212AD all Freemen within the Empire became Citizens. The difference between Legionary and Auxilliary disappeared and every man was a " Peditatus"or Infantryman. The Cavalrymen were always known as Equites.

The Later Army.

The Army was now divided in half. One half was the Field Army ( the Commitatenses ) which engaged in mobile operations. The other half was the Limitanii. These were used as static units to defend the borders.

There has been a debate over the years about the quality and armament of these border troops, but recent thinking has decided that these men were just as well trained as the field troops.

Some of the Limitanii may well have been experienced veterans retired from the Field Army.

These men also had access to the equipment when required. On most occasions they went up against lightly armed raiders with at most a shield. Therefore, a shield and helmet were all that was needed. Body armour (mail or leather ) was available if more serious fighting was intended. The large heavy shield was dispensed with in favour of a smaller round or oval shield more suited for dispersed fighting in woodland.

Therefore all the Infantrymen of the 2nd, 6th and 20th would have been Limitanii style infantry. Their main weapon is still the famous Pilum, the weighted heavy javelin used by all Roman Infantry since the early days of the Republic. However this weapon was now gradually being replaced with the Verutum ( a spear that could be thrown or used in close combat ), and the Spiculum, an all-metal javelin similar to the pilum.

There was also the Plumbata or martiobarbouli This was a small weighted dart, 4 of which were clipped behind the shield.

The Peditus were also trained in the use of bows and slings. Therefore your Cohort could have four stands all armed differently.

Troop totals;

Taking into account the above numbers, the reforms and Rebellions I estimate 13,000 infantry and  1000 cavalry. I think the Cavalry would have been  kept at full strength as long as possible. Without good quality remounts being available the Ala would have slowly lost its strength.

Note: Between 367AD and 372AD, Count Theodosius The Elder was made Comes Britannarium and sent to Britannia by the Emperor Valentinian with a force of 4 units. Not a great deal is known of the exact composition, but it was either Cohorts or Ala or a mix of both Cavalry and Infantry. As both types were of approximately 500 men, that would make this force about 2000 strong.

At one point Magnus, during 383 to 390, while still attempting to take the Purple, was forced to send back a Legion plus cavalry to Britannia. This force was led by the Comes Gallium with the name of Vallio. Although successful he was assassinated so that he could not threaten Maximus.

At this time the Penine and Welsh forts were abandoned, with the 20th Legion being withdrawn from Glevum. There is a possibility that Eboricum became more prominent as a central base for the Romano British forces.

Troop command.

During this era the Provinces were subdivided to reduce any Provincial Governers chances of gathering a large army. Next,command of army units were taken out of the hands of local Governors and retained within the Army. There were two Senior Commands in Britannia ;

The Dux Brittanarium; He commanded units in the North and East
The Comes Litoris Saxonici; The Count of the Saxon Shore. He commanded the units stationed in the South and South-East of the country.( The Romans may have used the word “ Saxon “ as a broad description for any Germanic tribes, therefore Frisian and Frankish pirates being “ Saxon” hence The Saxon Shore.)

The Dux Brittanarium was the Senior of the two. There are two that are known of;

Fullofaudes. He met his end during the Great Barbarian Conspiracy.
His replacement, Dulcitius carried on the command.

How long these two men were in charge during the 4th century is not known.

The Count of the Saxon Shore; one was Nectaridus. He was also killed during the Conspiracy but his replacement is unknown. When Theodosius the Elder  came to Britannia he may have taken over command.

The troops themselves were organised into 500 man Cohorts led by a Prefect or Tribune. The word “ Cohort" was gradually changing to “ Numerus”.

Suggested scale of troops;

Using the Table Top Battles system;

1,000 cavalry = 1 point x 2 = 1 stand of cavalry @ 2 points.

13,000 infantry = 13 points x 2 = 26 points =

 4 armoured infantry @ 3 points = 12 points.

4 stands of unarmoured infantry @ 2 points each = 8 points.

4 stands of unarmoured archers @ 1 point each = 4 points.

2 Command stands @ 1 point each = 2 points.

Total = 28 points.
The infantry composition can be changed by withdrawing the armoured infantry for lighter armed troops. The cavalry can be upgraded to 3points if you withdraw 1 General. The Cavalry always remains at one stand.

Alternatively; A stand is equal to roughly 25 to 75 men; with four stands equalling a unit. A 1 point stand equals 25 men. A 2 point stand equals 50 men. A 3 point stand equals 75 men.

As you can see by the photos the 4 stand unit is the one I am using ( the practical reason being, that you get a lot of plastic in a box!!) but I still use a mix of individual stands in an “ ad hoc” arrangement if required. The 3 point stand is the “ heaviest” available in Britannia in this Era.

That's the end of this chapter. The figures are 20mm Hat figures with some Newline designs 20mm metal. The map was hand drawn by myself with info gleaned from The Ordinance Survey map of Roman Britain.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Roman Britain ; Part 1, The 4th century. 301AD to 400AD.

This was a time of great change right across Europe. The Roman Empire was slowly collapsing from the inside as various claimants both Roman and non Roman fought for the Emperors throne both in the East and West.

Having two Emperors, one in each half of the Empire did not halt the Roman Empire,s enthusiasm for Civil War.

In order to make up the drain on manpower each Roman leader was forced by lack of financial resources to recruit tribesmen into the army.

During the Republic and the early years of the Empire, the state always recruited auxiliary troops from the races they either conquered,or cowed into cooperating with them. These non-Roman troops were kept apart from the Regular Army.

Now however times had changed and these former auxiliaries were now fully integrated into the system. Wether they liked it or not Roman Officers had no choice!.

The former tribal leaders of these Foederatii or federated troops were made Prefects and their Warbands became Cohorts. They were then posted to areas within the Empire away from their original homeland.

For example, in 370AD a Saxon chieftain by the name of Fruomarius was made a Tribune and he, along with a "Numerus "( Cohort) of his men were posted to Britain.

Britannia had been suffering tribal raids for some time. As Imperial contenders tussled for Power, the Army had to operate despite troop shortages. The situation had not improved during 365/ 371 AD, in the Great Barbarian Conspiracy.

 It seems the Roman Secret Service ( the Arcana) failed in collecting information on the preparations made by the various opposing Nations. The Western Frontier suddenly came under attack from the East, the North and South all at once.

The Germanic Allemani, Franks and Saxons, were plundering Gaul and Raetia.
The Sarmatians and Quadii were attacking Pannonia.

Picts,  Frankish pirates, Frisians, Scotti and Attacotti ( also known as the Del Riatta? ) were raiding South of Hadrians Wall. These tribesmen were coming over or through the Wall where it was thinly held. When not attacking the Wall they would sail down the East or West Coast and outflank the Wall completely.

The Asturianii of Tripolis and Berbers were raiding colonies on the North African coast. At one stage the Romans could not retaliate because of the lack of pack camels.

The Goths were raiding Pannonia, and the Persians Armenia.

Roman troops in Britannia had not been paid, therefore they deserted and formed bands of looters sometimes even joining with the tribesmen.

In 368AD Theodosius came to Britannia to correct the situation.Marching from London he sent out companies of soldiers lightly armed to break up the mobs of mutineers and bandits along with marauding tribesmen.

After about a year of campaigning Theodosius managed to restore order. Mutineers were executed and tribal raiders were killed or driven off. Hadrians Wall was regarrisoned.

The 6th Legion upgraded their fort at Eboricum. ( modern day York ).

In 383AD the acting Commander of the British Army, Magnus Maximus was proclaimed Emperor by the troops. Maximus took a fair number of troops from the North of England and headed to Gaul for a showdown with the current Western Emperor Gratian.

In the subsequent battles Maximus was killed. Many of his soldiers did not want to return to Britain and so they settled on the West coast of Gaul. The area was called Brettania which was also known as Amorica (modern day Brittany ).

In 398AD the Western Roman Magister Militum ( Army Commander in Chief ) Stilicho, came with an army to Britain. He waged a campaign against the Picts and the Scotti setting out from the fortification of Hadrians Wall.

His force was said to be nine Units of Commitatenses ( these were regular field army troops maybe 18,000 men ). By about 350 AD, the old Legions  had been split in half ,each part being known as a " Junior" or " Senior" formation.

 In the Eastern part of the Empire some of the old Legions may have still retained their original formation. The new formations were about 2000 men strong, and were all one type of Infantry. Cavalry formations were also of 2000 men and again were all the same troop type.

This was ok for the bigger battles, but increasingly  warfare was being fought by smaller formations within the Empire itself:  A) because of the lack of resources, and B) Roman troops could not be everywhere to counter the tribal incursions. It was not unusual for regular troops to face " barbarian" troops dressed and armed in the same fashion!.

Most military formations were either Infantry Cohorts ( Numerus) or Cavalry Ala ( Banda ), led by a Tribune or a Prefect. These formations were about 300 to 500 men in total.It seems that as time went on , if you had 300 men in your formation you were doing well,.

Larger battle groups were made up of a number of cohorts or Ala or a mix of both. Usually it was a case of making do with what was available.

On the rivers , Naval units known as " Riparenses" patrolled the major waterways in an effort to break up raiding Warbands, either before they crossed the border or as they made their way back encumbered with loot and slaves. The Roman vessels were painted blue/grey and held about 50 men.

The Rhine and the Danube marked the border of the Western Empire. In 367 AD and for two years after, the Rhine flooded making it difficult to campaign in the area.

Events on the Continent continued to slowly disintegrate as Germanic tribes pushed Westward. Senior Germanic Chieftains obtained Praetorian status in the Army as Roman Emperors and Generals were forced to negotiate. Lack of troop numbers meant that sometimes matters could not be settled by main force.

 These Tribal recruits were given training but stilled retained some of their own customs. The Roman Army was becoming less " Italian" and more " Germanic". Even the Eagle Standards were being replaced with the Draco, a metal dragons head on a staff with material attached shaped like a Windsock. Such was the situation as Britain headed into the 5th century and more problems on the horizon.

Addendum added 8th July 2020:

Having read more about the 3rd and 4th  century I am more inclined to believe that the " Saxon" raiders mentioned in the histories are Frankish or Frisian pirates. The reason for this is that there were already Saxon Federated troops  within the Roman army, some being posted to Britannia. The Franks and Saxons detested each other and, at this time the Saxons had not yet migrated to the West coast of Europe. The word "Saxon" may have been used by the Romans to describe all Germans.

The figures in the illustrations are Hat Industries with some Newline Designs. The ship's crew are Emhar Viking crew. The spears and javelins are from North Star. Some of the shields are from Magister Militum.

 The boats are scratch built, along with the fort and the ballista. I think the buildings are Hovels and Peter Pig. The tree area bases and road sections are S and A Scenics. The trees are various manufacturers.

The wagons, mules and civilians, are from Ceaser Miniatures Roman Supply Train boxes.