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Book I
Note F

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 13

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Chapter XII

Internal Organisation of the Empire


Sources: —

The Codex Theodosianus, to which occasional reference is made in these volumes, is too well known to require detailed description.​a Published in the year 438 by order of Theodosius II, the grandson of Theodosius the Great, codifying the legislation of 127 years (312‑438), it is the great quarry from which enquirers into the social and political condition of Rome under the Christian Emperors will always draw their materials. I quote from Ritter's edition with Gothofred's notes, Leipzig, 1736‑1743; but I have also used the admirable edition of Haenel (1842), which contains a more complete text than was available in Ritter's day.

The Notitia Dignitatum, notwithstanding the use made of it by Gibbon and Guizot, is still scarcely as common a book in the library of the historical student as it deserves to be. Its full title is 'Notitia dignitatum omnium, tam civilium quam militarium in partibus Orientis et Occidentis.' From the time of Augustus downwards 'Breviaries' of the Empire somewhat similar in form to this had been often compiled, sometimes by the Emperor's own hand; but there can be little doubt that the Notitia as we know it, was put together in the first years of the fifth century, probably about the time of Alaric's first invasion of Italy. It is a complete Official Directory and Army List of the whole Roman Empire, and is of incalculable value for the decision of all sorts of questions, antiquarian and historical. For instance, the whole theory of the identification of the existing ruins with  p595 the former stations along the line of Hadrian's British Wall depends entirely on the mention in the Notitia of the names of the cohorts posted at those stations.

The Notitia devotes forty-five chapters to the Eastern and forty-five to the Western Empire. The different classes of civil and military officers are enumerated according to their rank. Nearly every chapter begins thus — 'Sub dispositione viri illustris [or spectabilis],' and then follow the names of his subordinates. At the end of the chapter is a description of his 'officium,' that is, of the various classes of persons who form his official retinue, notaries, secretaries, registrars, and the like.

Most of the chapters are headed with curious pictures of the 'Insignia' of the person whose office they describe: shields of the legions for a general officer, a carriage and four horses for the highly honoured Praefectus Praetorio, maidens with melancholy countenances bearing the produce of their respective lands to signify the different countries under the Prefect's rule, fortresses for the general on a hostile frontier, purses bursting with gold for the minister of finance, and so forth. These pictures can be clearly traced up to a MS. (now lost) of the eleventh century, and probably in the main they are accurate copies of those which adorned the Notitia when its leaves were turned over by Arcadius and Honorius.

It is remarked however (by Böcking) that while the pictures of the maidens, the chariots and so forth, have in general a 'Byzantine' character, those of the cities with their steep, red‑tiled roofs show a mediaeval and Teutonic influence. A curious story is told​1 of the Codex of the Notitia now in the Royal Library at Munich. It seems that the ecclesiastic of Spires, who was copying this MS. for Otho Henry, Count Palatine, made some changes in the pictures, but the Count was so offended at these alterations that a fresh copy was made accurately representing the original. The double set of pictures is still attached to the Munich Codex. The story is creditable to the archaeological discernment of the German Prince, but illustrates the kind of liberty which the mediaeval scribes considered themselves entitled to use.

The literary history of the Notitia Dignitatum is curious but tantalising. The chief MSS. now in existence appear to be  p596 transcripts of a very fine Codex written about the tenth century, which till the middle of the sixteenth century was still in existence in a library (I presume the library of a monastery) at Spires. From this Codex we know that a copy was made by order of Pietro Donato, Bishop of Padua, in the month of case, 1436. The Spires MS. has unfortunately disappeared. All the searches which have been made for it, at Spires and elsewhere, have proved quite fruitless, and scholars have come reluctantly to the conclusion 'that very little hope still remains that it can have escaped a cruel Fate, executing her decrees by the craft of the book-binder or the contents of the glue‑pot.'​2 Four good copies, however, of the Spires MS. fortunately exist, and the most interesting of these is the 'Codex Venetianus,' which Böcking, the chief authority on the subject, pronounces to be the same which was made, as above stated, for the Bishop of Padua during his presidency of the Council of Basle. During the troubles of the French Revolution this MS. was transported to England, and Dr. Böcking, writing in the year 1834, says with comical despair, 'The MS. lately in the library of St. Mark's at Venice is now an exile in the book-cases of England' ('in Anglicis pluteis exsulat'), and again, 'In what corner of that great chaos of MSS. and books called England this Codex may now be lying, I cannot conjecture.' All the time it was safely housed and duly catalogued in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It is one of the 'Canonici' collection, is now quoted as 'Oxoniensis Canonicianus,' and its reference in the catalogue is Canon. Misc. 378.

The edition of the Notitia from which Gibbon worked and which was a book of great repute in its day, is that of Guido Panciroli of Padua (Venice, 1593, 1602; Lyons, 1608; Geneva, 1623). Panciroli's work, however, was rendered quite obsolete by that of the above-mentioned Dr. Böcking (Bonn, 1839‑1853). This edition has 1700 pages of notes and an elaborate index: but it again is superseded, as far as the text is concerned, by the very complete and critical edition of Otto Seeck (Berlin, 1876) who has caused the Oxford MS. to be properly collated, and has now given us what may be considered an authoritative text.

For notes, however, we are still dependent on the very learned but somewhat cumbrous and not always helpful commentary of Böcking. A great service would be rendered to historical science  p597 by any scholar who should furnish us with a clear and concise commentary on Seeck's text of the Notitia, embodying the results of the most recent investigations into the administrative system of the Empire.

Guides: —

Bethmann-Hollweg's 'Gerichtsverfassung und Prozess des sinkenden römischen Reichs' (Bonn 1834).

For further information as to some of the subordinate members of the official hierarchy than I am about to insert here, I may refer to the Introduction to my 'Letters of Cassiodorus' (London, 1886) and to an article on 'Law reform in the time of Justinian' (chiefly founded on the 'De Dignitatibus' of Joannes Lydus), contributed by me to the Contemporary Review, May, 1881.

Difficulty of the subject. The death of Theodosius was the prelude to momentous changes in the whole Roman world. Before proceeding to describe them, it will be convenient to give some faint outline of the internal organisation of the Empire during the fourth century. Fragmentary and imperfect the sketch must necessarily be. Materials for it are scanty; but the attempt must be made, though the result may be a confession of ignorance on many points rather than a series of defined and well-rounded statements such as readers naturally prefer.

Undisguised Absolutism of the later Emperors. The Emperor, that still majestic figure who stood at the head of the Roman state, how shall we think of him? The old idea that he was merely the most influential of Roman citizens, that idea which Augustus and even Tiberius strove to preserve, must be considered as quite obsolete since the changes introduced by Diocletian and Constantine. All the Greek half of the Empire calls him without compunction Basileus (King), and no Roman, though he may not use the actual word Rex in speaking of him, can still cheat himself with the thought that the Imperator is one  p598 whit less of an absolute sovereign than Tullus or Tarquin. Few things impress one with a more vivid conception of his power than the matter-of‑fact way in which a historian like Zosimus speaks of the imperial dignity as 'the Lordship of the Universe' (ἡ τῶν ὅλων ἀρχή). In the Directory of the Empire, the Chamberlain, the Almoner, the Marshal, are described as having charge of 'the Sacred Cubicle,' 'the Sacred Charities,' and 'the Sacred Palace.'​3 The characters which the Imperial hand deigns to trace in purple ink upon the parchment scroll are 'the Sacred Letters.' When the august scribe wishes to describe his own personality he speaks with charming modestly of 'Our Clemency' or 'My Eternity.'​4 Nay, in some place he speaks of his own presents to his courtiers as gifts 'from heaven.'5

Apotheosis of the Emperors, how regarded by themselves, If it were possible to penetrate into the secret thoughts of those long-vanished wearers of the purple, one would eagerly desire to know under what aspect the imperial deification presented itself to their minds. Many a one had watched the failing intellect and the increasing bodily infirmities of the preceding Emperor. In some instances a timely dose of poison, or a judicious arrangement of the bed‑clothes over his mouth, had hastened his departure from a world in which his presence was no longer convenient; yet in the very first  p599 proclamation of the new ruler to the soldiery he would speak of his predecessor as 'God Augustus,' or 'God Tiberius,' 'God Claudius,' or 'God Commodus,'​* and the court poets would, as we have seen, describe in unfaltering phrase his translation to the spheres. by Vespasian, The homely common sense of Vespasian seems to have perceived the humour of the thing. At the first onset of his disease he said, 'If I am not mistaken I am in the way to become a God.'​6 by Caligula, But Caligula accepted his divinity much more seriously. He averred that the goddess Luna visited him nightly in bodily shape, and he called upon his courtier Vitellius (the same who was afterwards Emperor) to vouch for the fact. Vitellius, with his eyes bent towards the ground, replied, 'My lord, you gods alone are privileged to look upon the faces of your fellow-deities.' And Caligula evidently received the answer as a matter of course, and not a smile probably crossed the faces of the bystanders — for to smile at Caligula's godhead would have been to die.7

by Theodosius. But it may be said that no fair argument can be drawn from the case of a confessed madman like Caligula. Let us hear then how Theodosius, the statesman, the Christian, the sound theologian, permitted himself to be addressed in the Panegyric of Pacatus. The latter is praising him​8 for the accuracy with which he always discharges his promises of future favour to his courtiers. 'Do you think, O Emperor, that I wish to praise only your generosity? No, I marvel also at  p600 your memory. For which of the great men of old, Hortensius, Lucullus, or Caesar, had so ready a power of recollection as that sacred mind of yours, which gives up everything that has been entrusted to it at the very place and time which you have ordered beforehand? Is it that you remind yourself? or, as the Fates are said to assist with their tablets that God who is the partner in your majesty, so does some divine power serve your bidding, which writes down and in due time suggests to your memory the promises which you have made?' Such a sentence, gravely premeditated and uttered without reproof in the presence of Theodosius, is surely not less extraordinary than the impromptu answer of Vitellius.

Mode of election of the Emperor. How was this omnipotent Emperor, this God upon earth, selected from the crowd of ordinary mortals around him? Hereditary descent was not the title, though we have already met with many instances in which it asserted itself. The Empire never, at any rate during the period with which we are concerned, lost its strictly elective character. Who then were the electors? Imagine the endless discussions on this point which would take place in any modern European state, the elaborate machinery by which in Venice, in Germany, in the United States, even in Poland, the election of the Chief of the Executive has been accomplished. Of all this there is not a trace in the Roman Empire. In old days, when the Republic was still standing, the army, after an especially brilliant victory, gathered around the praetor or proconsul who commanded them, and with shouts of triumph, while they clashed their spears upon their shields, saluted him Imperator. That tumultuary proceeding seems to have  p601 been the type of every election of a Roman Emperor. The successor might have been absolutely fixed upon beforehand, as in the case of Tiberius; he might follow in the strict line of hereditary descent as Titus followed Vespasian and Domitian Titus; the choice might even have been, as in the case of the Emperor Tacitus, formally conceded by the soldiery to the senate; but in any case the presentation of the new sovereign to the legions, and their acclamation welcoming him as Imperator, seems to have been the decisive moment of the commencement of his reign.

This fact explains the anxiety of every Emperor who had a son, to have him associated with himself in his own lifetime. By presenting that son to the legions, as Valentinian presented Gratian at Amiens to the army of Gaul, this delicate and critical event of the acclamation was accomplished, while he still had all his father's influence at his back, and as he was an Augustus already, his reign might, if all went well and no rival claimant to the favour of the legions arose, be quietly prolonged without any solution of continuity at his father's death.

In a great number of cases such an attempt to settle the succession beforehand, whether in favour of a real or adopted son, was successful. In many, as we all know, it failed, some other legions, often in a distant part of the Empire, having, when the news of the death of the old Emperor arrived, acclaimed their favourite officer as Imperator, arrayed him with the purple, and eventually carried him, shoulder-high, into the chambers of the Palatine. This, it may be said, was mutiny and insurrection, but when one considers the essentially unconstitutional and tumultuary character of the election of every Emperor, one is almost ready to say that in this case at least  p602 success was the only test of legality. The lawful Imperator was the man who either succeeded to the throne without opposition, or who made good his pretensions by the sword. The usurper was a general who having been 'acclaimed' by the troops was afterwards defeated in battle.

Parallel between the Imperial Acclamation and the Papal Adoration. A parallel might possibly be drawn between the election of a Roman Emperor and that of his yet mightier successor, the Roman Pontiff. It is well known to how fluctuating and ill‑defined an electorate the choice of a new bishop of Rome was entrusted until, in the eleventh century, it was transferred to the College of Cardinals. And although the lengthy deliberations of the old men who are now immured in the Vatican during a Papal Interregnum might seem as little as possible to resemble the cheers uttered by the rough voices of the Roman legionaries, there is still among their traditions the possibility of electing a Pope by 'adoration,' a rapid and summary process, with no set speeches or counting of votes, which may possibly have been suggested by the remembrance of the equally impulsive movement where, in theory at least, the Roman army chose its Emperor.

The Roman nobility official, not hereditary. The brothers, sisters, and children of the Emperor bore the title of Nobilissimus, and naturally took precedence of the rest of the brilliant official hierarchy which surrounded his throne. Of the ordinary members of this hierarchy it is usual to speak as Nobles, and there does not seem any reason for departing from the customary practice if it is clearly understood by the reader that hereditary dignity, or in the strict sense of the term 'noble blood,' did not form part of the idea of an aristocracy in Imperial Rome. Office ennobled the actual  p603 holder. No doubt the son of a Prefect had a greater chance of attaining to office than the son of a shopkeeper. In right of this chance he enjoyed a certain social pre‑eminence, but he had no claim by inheritance to a seat in the Senate, or to any other share in the government of the State. In thinking of the aristocracy of the Empire we must entirely unfeudalise our minds. The Mandarins of China or the Pachas of Turkey furnish probably safer analogies than any which could be drawn from our own hereditary House of Peers.

Of the many grades into which this official hierarchy was divided, three only need here attract our attention:

1. The Illustres.

2. The Spectabiles.

3. The Clarissimi.9

Our own titles of distinction are for the most part so interwoven with ideas drawn from hereditary descent that it is impossible to find any precise equivalents to these designations. 'His Grace the Duke,' 'The Most Noble the Marquis,' are obviously inappropriate. But as extremely rough approximations to the true idea, the reader may perhaps be safe in accepting the following equations:

Illustris = The Right Honourable.

Spectabilis = The Honourable.

Clarissimus = The Worshipful.

If we describe the functions of the different classes we shall get a little nearer to a true analogy, but parliamentary institutions and local self-government will  p604 still prevent that analogy from being exact. With these limitations we may say that

The Cabinet Ministers = the Illustres.
Heads of Department, Lords Lieutenant of Counties, Generals and Admirals = the Spectabiles.
The Governors of our smaller Colonies, Colonels and Captains in the Navy = the Clarissimi.

The Illustres, who alone need be described with any detail, were twenty-eight in number, thirteen for the West and fifteen for the East. The only difference worth noticing is that there were five Magistri Militum for the East as compared to three in the West.

For the sake of clearness we will confine our attention to the thirteen Cabinet Ministers of the West, who may be classified thus: —

Civil administration,
finance and justice
Army Household

Praefectus Praetorio Italiae

Praefectus Praetorio Galliarum

Praefectus Urbis Romae

Magister Officiorum


Comes Sacrarum Largitionum

Magister Peditum in Praesenti

Magister Equitum in Praesenti

Magister Equitum per Gallias

Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi

Comes Rerum Privatarum

Comes Domesticorum Equitum

Comes Domesticorum Peditum

Praetorian Prefect. 1. In each of the four great compartments into which Diocletian had divided the Roman world, the Praefectus Praetorio was the greatest man after the Emperor. He wore a woollen cloak dyed with the purple of Cos and differing from the Emperor's only in  p605 length, reaching not to the feet but to the knees. To him most of the laws were addressed, and he was charged to see to their execution. He held in his hand the whole network of provincial administration, and was the ultimate referee, under the Emperor, in all cases of dispute between province and province, or municipality and municipality. In all the processes of civil and criminal law his was (still under the Emperor) the final court of appeal. The idea of his office seems to have been that as the Emperor was the head, so he was the hand to execute what the head had decreed. What Joseph was to Pharaoh when the Lord of Egypt said to him 'Only in the throne will I be greater than thou';​10 what the Grand Vizier is now to the Sultan of the Ottomans; that, substantially, the Praetorian Prefect was to the Augustus. The nearest approach which, under our own political system, we can make to a counterpart of his office, is to call him a Prime Minister plus a Supreme Court of Appeal.

The history of his title is a curious one. In the very early days of Rome, before even Consuls had a being, the two chief magistrates of the Republic bore the title of Praetors. Some remembrance of this fact lingering in the speech of the people gave always to the term Praetorium (the Praetor's house) a peculiar majesty, and caused it to be used as the equivalent of palace. So in the familiar passages of the New Testament, the palace of Pilate the Governor at Jerusalem, of Herod the King at Caesarea, of Nero the Emperor at Rome, are all called the Praetorium.​11 From the palace the troops who surrounded the person of the  p606 Emperor took their well-known name 'the Praetorian Guard.' Under Augustus the cohorts composing this force, and amounting apparently to 9,000 or 10,000 men, were scattered over various positions in the city of Rome. In the reign of Tiberius, on pretence of keeping them under stricter discipline, they were collected into one camp on the north-east of the city. The author of this change was the notorious Sejanus, our first and most conspicuous example of a Prefect of the Praetorians​12 who made himself all‑powerful in the state. The fall of Sejanus did not bring with it any great diminution of the power of the new functionary. As the Praetorians were the frequent, almost the recognised, creators of a new Emperor, it was natural that their commanding officer should be a leading personage in the state, as natural (if another English analogy may be allowed) as that the Leader of the House of Commons should be the First Minister of the Crown. Still, it is strange to find the Praetorian Prefect becoming more and more the ultimate judge of appeal in all civil and criminal cases, and his office held in the golden age of the Empire, the second century, by the most eminent lawyers of the day.

His office made by Constantine a purely civil one. This part of his functions survived. When Constantine at length abated the long-standing nuisance of the Praetorian Guards — setting an example which was unconsciously followed by another ruler of Constantinople, Sultan Mahmoud, in his suppression of the Janissaries — he preserved the Praetorian Prefect, and, as we have already seen, gave him a position of pre‑eminent dignity in the civil and judicial administration of the  p607 Empire. But of military functions he was now entirely deprived, and thus this officer, who had risen into importance in the state solely as the most conspicuous Guardsman about the court, was now permitted to do almost anything that he pleased in the Empire so long as he in no way meddled with the army.

This strong line of demarcation between civil and military functions was one of the most important features of the change in the government introduced by Diocletian and Constantine. It was a change alien to the spirit of the old Roman Republic, whose generals were all judges and revenue-officers as well as soldiers; but it consolidated for a time the fabric even of the Western Empire, and it created that wonderful bureaucracy machine which, more than any other single cause, prolonged for ten centuries the existence of the Empire at Byzantium.

Its duration. On the important question how long the Praefectus Praetorio continued in office there is an inexplicable silence among most ancient and modern authorities; but the following statement made by a learned and laborious German legist​13 may probably be relied upon with safety. 'With reference to the tenure of office [of all the imperial functionaries] Augustus's plan of continuing them in power for an indefinite series of years had [in the fourth century] been abandoned, and a return had been made to the fundamental principle of the Republic that all offices were annual in their duration; an arrangement by which the cause of good administration was not benefited, but which served to break the power of the provincial governors. The prolongation of the term of office depended entirely  p608 on the favour of the Emperor. Only the Praetorian Prefects were nominated for an indefinite time, albeit they seldom maintained themselves in power longer than one year.'14

Prefect of the City. 2. Praefectus Urbis. The Prefects of the two great capitals of the Empire seem to have been theoretically the equals in rank of the Praetorian Prefects, and though their power extended over a more circumscribed area, the splendour of their office was quite as great. When the Prefect of Rome drove through the streets of the city he was drawn by four horses richly adorned with silver trappings and harnessed to the stately carpentum. This degree of state was apparently permitted to no other official save only to the Praetorian Prefects. Girt with a sword, he took his seat as President of the Senate. On the assembling of that august body, the chiefs of the army were expected to fall prostrate before the Prefect, who raised them and kissed each in turn, to show forth his desire to be on good terms with the army. Even the Emperor himself used to walk on foot from his palace to meet the Prefect as he moved slowly towards him at the head of the Senate. The police of Rome, the anxious task of the gratuitous distribution of cornº among the poorer inhabitants,​15 the aqueducts, the baths, the objects of art in the streets and squares of the city, were all under his general supervision, though each department had a subordinated Prefect, a Count or a Curator as its  p609 own especial head. The Prefect of Rome had also civil and criminal jurisdiction extending, in the time of Augustus, over the city itself and an area of a hundred miles radius round it, and at a later period over a much wider territory. As the especial champion of the privileges of the Senate he was the judge in all cases where the life or property of a senator was at stake. All lawsuits also and prosecutions arising out of the relation of master and slave, patron and freedman, father and son, and thus involving that peculiar sentiment which the Romans called pietas (dutiful affection), came by a curious prerogative before the Praefectus Urbis. At a later period of this history we shall make acquaintance with a man​16 holding this exalted position, and shall learn from his private correspondence some of its glories and anxieties.

Master of the Offices. 3. Magister Officiorum. Thus far we have been concerned with the government of separate portions of the Empire, for both the Praetorian Prefect and the Praefectus Urbis were somewhat like what we should call Lords Lieutenant. Now we come to the central authority, the staff officers, so to speak, of the civil administration. The chief of these was the Master of the Offices.​17 He was supreme in the audience-chamber of the sovereign. All despatches from subordinate governors passed through his hands, all embassies from foreign powers were introduced by him. The secretaries of the Imperial cabinet,​18 the guards in immediate  p610 attendance on the Imperial person, were amenable to his authority. The elaborate and expensive service of the public posts, and, by a less intelligible combination of duties, the great armour-manufactories and arsenals of the Empire, were under his oversight.​19 He was thus a great officer of the household, but he was also chief of the Scrinia, the four great Imperial cabinets,​20 and it is easy to see how enormous an influence he could exercise, especially under an indolent sovereign, over the conduct both of foreign and domestic affairs. Our constitutional system offers no precise analogy to his position, but if we imagine the offices of the various principal Secretaries of State again held, as in the days of the Tudors, by one man, and that man also discharging the important though little noticed duties of Private Secretary to the Queen, we shall not perhaps be very far from an adequate idea of the functions of the Illustrious Master of the Offices. It should be observed that there was an intense and unslumbering jealousy between the officials employed under the Praetorian Prefect and those who served the Master of the Offices. The former accused the latter, apparently with truth, of perpetually encroaching on their province and usurping their functions.

Quaestor. 3. The Quaestor had the care of preparing the Imperial speeches, and was responsible for the language of the laws. He would probably be generally a professed rhetorician, or at any rate a man of some note in  p611 the world of letters. His office is not unlike that of the Chancellor of a mediaeval monarch.

Count of the Sacred Largesses. 5. Comes Sacrarum Largitionum. The Count who had charge of the Sacred (i.e. Imperial) Bounty, should have been by his title simply the Grand Almoner of the Empire, and would seem to require a place among the officers of the household. In practice, however, the minister who took charge of the Imperial largesses had to find ways and means for every other form of Imperial expenditure; and now that the Emperor had become the State, and the Privy Purse (Fiscus) had practically become synonymous with the National Treasury (Aerarium),​21 the House Steward of the Sovereign was the Finance Minister of the State. The Count of the Sacred Largesses was therefore in fact the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Empire. To him all the collectors of taxes in the smaller divisions of the realm (comites largitionum per omnes dioeceses) were subordinate. The mines, the mints, the linen factories, the purple‑dye houses, were under his control. And as some part of the Imperial revenue was drawn from duties on the transport of goods by sea, the Count of the Sacred Largesses was supposed to have a general superintendence of private commence — though  p612 more, it must be feared, with a view to fleece than to foster it.

Masters of Horse and Foot. 6, 7, 8. Magister Peditum in Praesenti (or Praesentalis); Magister Equitum ditto; Magister Equitum per Gallias. When Constantine deprived the Praetorian Prefect of his military command, and made him the first civil minister of the state, he lodged the leader­ship of the troops in the hands of a new officer to whom he gave the title of Master. Still bent on prosecuting to the utmost his policy of division of powers, he gave to one officer the command of the infantry — always far the most important portion of a Roman army — with the title of Magister Peditum; to another the command of the cavalry with the title Magister Equitum. It is possible that in these arrangements there was a retrospective glance to the earliest days of the Republic, when the appointment of a Dictator, that absolute lord of the legions, was always accompanied by the appointment of a Master of the Horse. But whatever the constitutional warrant for the practice, it seems difficult to suppose that such a division in the supreme command could have worked successfully. And in fact we often find, in the period that we are now considering, the two offices united under the title Magister utriusque Militiae (Master of both kinds of soldiery).

Under the sons of Constantine the number of these commanders-in‑chief was increased, and under Theodosius it was increased again, partly in order to meet the stress of barbarian warfare on the frontiers, partly in order that the pride or jealousy of each Emperor might be flattered or soothed by having his own Magister in attendance at his court. But in the East and West the Master of the Foot or Horse, who commanded  p613 the troops nearest to the Imperial residence, was called 'the Master in the Presence' (in Praesenti or Praesentalis); thus with bated breath, in Latin which would have been unintelligible to Cicero, were courtiers beginning to talk of that portion of the atmosphere which was made sacred by the presence of the Imperial Majesty.​22 In addition, at the time when the Notitia was compiled, Gaul, the Orient, Thrace, and Illyricum had each its Magister of one or both divisions of the army.

The division of the civil and military offices unfavourably criticised by Zosimus. It will be well here to put on record the unfavourable opinion of the historian Zosimus with reference to the institution of these offices. The view generally adopted, and that which has been submitted to the reader, is that the separation between the civil and the military functions was a wise measure. Zosimus, however, is of a different opinion, and he holds that Constantine, who first instituted the offices of Magister Equitum and Magister Peditum, and Theodosius, who so largely increased the number of these officers, both did ill service to the state. The charge against the second Emperor seems more reasonable than that brought against the first; but here are the words of the indictment: —

Zosimus, II.33. 'Having thus divided the rule of the Prefect [into the four Prefectures], Constantine studied how to lessen his power in other ways. For whereas the soldiers were under the orders not only of centurions and tribunes,​23 but also of the so‑called Duces, who exercised the office  p614 of general in each district, Constantine appointed Magistri,​24 one of the cavalry, and another of the infantry, to whom he transferred the duty of stationing the troops and the punishment of military offences, and at the same time he deprived the Prefects of this prerogative. A measure this, which was equally pernicious in peace and war, as I will proceed to show. So long as the Prefects were collecting the revenues from all quarters by means of their subordinates, and defraying out of them the expenses of the army, while they also had the power of punishing the men as they thought fit for all offences against discipline, so long the soldiers, remembering that he who supplied them with their rations was also the man who would correct them if they offended, did not dare to transgress, lest they should find their supplies stopped and themselves promptly chastised. But now that one man is responsible for the commissariat and another man is their professional superior, they act in all things according to their own will and pleasure, to say nothing of the fact that the greater part of the money allotted to the provisioning of the troops goes into the pockets of the general and his staff.'

Zosimus, IV.27. 'Meanwhile the Emperor Theodosius, who was residing at Thessalonica, showed much affability to all with whom he came into contact, but his luxury and neglect of state affairs soon became proverbial. He threw all the previously existing offices into confusion, and made the commanders of the army more numerous than before. For whereas there was before one Master of the Horse and one of the Foot, now he distributed these offices among more than five persons. Thereby  p615 he increased the public burdens (for each of these five or more commanders-in‑chief had the same allowances as one of the two had before), and he handed over his soldiers to the avarice of this increased number of generals. For as each of these new Magistri thought himself bound to make as much out of his office as a Magister had made before when there were only two of them, there was no way to do it but by jobbing the food supplied to the soldiers. And not only so, but he created Lieutenants of Cavalry and Captains and Brigadiers​25 in such numbers that he left two or three times the number that he found, while the privates, of all the money that was assigned to them out of the public chest, received nothing.'

Superintendent of the Sacred Bedchamber. 9. Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi. We now come to a branch of administration which, as statesman­ship declined, became surrounded with more and more awful importance, the Imperial, or in the language of the day the Sacred, Household. The fortunate eunuch who attained to the dignity of Superintendent of the Sacred Bedchamber, took rank in the year 384 immediately after the other Illustres.​26 But a solemn edict,​27 issued in 422 by the grandson and namesake of the great Theodosius, ordained that 'when the nobles of the Empire shall be admitted to adore our Serenity, the Superintendent of the Sacred Bedchamber shall be entitled to the same rank with the Praetorian and Urban Prefects and the Masters of the Army'; in front, that is to say, of the humbler departments of Law and Finance, represented by the Master of the Offices, the  p616 Quaestor, and the Count of the Sacred Largesses. The wardrobe of the sovereign, the gold plate, the arrangement of the Imperial meal, the spreading of the sacred couch, the government of the corps of brilliantly attired pages, the posting of the thirty silentiarii who, in helmet and cuirass, standing before the second veil, guarded the slumbers of the sovereign, these were the momentous responsibilities which required the undivided attention of a Cabinet Minister of the Roman Empire.

Count of the Private Domains. 10. The Comes Rerum Privatarum, whom we may compare to our Commissioners of Woods and Forests, held an office which must sometimes have been not easily distinguishable from that of the Count of Sacred Largesses. Only, while the latter officer handled the whole revenue raised by taxation, the former was especially charged with the administration of the Imperial Domain. In the language of our law he dealt with realty rather than personalty. The vast estates belonging to the Emperor, concentrated in the city, or scattered over all the provinces of the West,​28 were administered under his direction. He had to see that they were let to suitable tenants, to guard against the usurpation of 'squatters,'​29 to keep a watch upon the Superintendents of the Imperial Stables, the Sheep-masters, the Foresters. A corps of porters, who were perhaps originally organised in order to convey to the palace the various delicacies grown on the domains of  p617 the Emperor, were also placed under his control. And lastly, as one of his chief subordinates was styled Count of Private Largesses,​30 he must have had charge of outgoings as well as incomings, and must have fulfilled some of the duties which now devolve on the Keeper of the Privy Purse.

Counts of the Domestics. 11, 12. Comes Domesticorum Equitum; Comes Domesticorum Peditum. These officers (who are sometimes called 'Counts of the Domestics') commanded the various divisions of the household troops, known by the names of Domestici and Protectores, and thus together replaced the Praetorian Prefect of the earlier days of the Empire. The Notitia fails to inform us what number of troops were subject to their orders. Theoretically their duties would not greatly differ from those of a Colonel in the Guards. Practically the Count of the Domestics often intervened with a most decisive voice in the deliberations respecting the choice of a candidate when a vacancy occurred upon the Imperial throne.31

The Illustrious Ministers, whose offices have now been described, formed the nucleus of the Consistorium, the council with which the Emperor was accustomed, but of course in no way bound, to consult upon all great matters of state. Such a Consistory was probably held at Antioch when Valens was deliberating concerning the admission of the Visigoths into the Empire.

 p618  I shall not here attempt to describe the functions of the Spectabiles and the Clarissimi. For the most part their offices were mere copies of the offices of the Illustres on a smaller and provincial scale. In order however to make clear the gradations of the Imperial hierarchy, a few words must be given to the new territorial divisions introduced by Diocletian. In the first ages of the Empire, the Provinces were the only subordinate division known. Now the size of these was greatly reduced (as an unfriendly critic​32 says, 'the Provinces were cut up into bits'), and two divisions, the Prefecture and the Diocese, were introduced above them.

Prefectures. Of the Prefectures, as has already been explained, there were four, each, let us say, about as large as the European Empire of Charles the Fifth.

Dioceses. Of the dioceses there were thirteen. We must empty our minds of all ecclesiastical associations connected with this word, associations which would pin us down to far too small an area. For practical purposes it will be sufficient to consider an Imperial Diocese as the equivalent of a 'country.'

Provinces. The Provinces, 116 in number, were, as a rule, somewhat larger than a French Province of average size. Many of the frontier lines still survive, especially in ecclesiastical geography. Where the lines are not the same, his infinitely various have been the causes of change! The course of trade, the conflict of creeds,  p619 war and love, crusades and tournaments, and the whole romance of the Middle Ages, might all be illustrated by the lecturer who should take for his text the map of Europe as divided by Constantine and as it was marked out at the time of the Reformation.

A glance at the following table will bring the chief divisions of the Empire in the fourth century clearly before the mind of the reader:

Prefecture Diocese No. of Provinces Modern Equivalent of Diocese
I. Italiae  1. Italia 17 Italy, Tyrol, Grisons, South Bavaria
 2. Illyricum 6 Austria between the Danube and the Adriatic, Bosnia
 3. Africa 7 Algeria, Tunis, Tripoli
II. Galliae  4. Hispaniae 7 Spain and Morocco
 5. Septem Provinciae 17 France, with the Rhine boundary
 6. Britanniae 5 England and Wales, Scotland south of Frith of Forth
III. Illyricum  7. Macedonia 6 Macedon, Epirus, Greece
 8. Dacia 5 Servia and Western Bulgaria
IV. Oriens  9. Oriens 15 Syria, Palestine, and Cilicia
10. Aegyptus 5 Egypt
11. Asiana 10 South-Western half of Asia Minor
12. Pontica 10 North-Eastern half of Asia Minor
13. Thracia 6 Eastern Bulgaria and Roumelia

The separation between the civil and military functions was carried down through all the divisions and  p620 subdivisions of the Empire, and the following may be taken as the type of the gradations of rank thus produced:

Civil Officers Military Officers
Prefecture Illustris Praefectus Praetorio Illustris Magister Militum
Diocese Spectabilis Vicarius Spectabilis Comes
Province Clarissimus Consularis, or Corrector Spectabilis Dux
or Perfectissimus Praeses
(The Illustres are marked by large capitals, the Spectabiles by small capitals,
the Clarissimi by Italic, and the Perfectissimi by Roman type.)

The subordination of the military offices was not quite so regular as that of the civil. Some of the Provinces of the interior scarcely required an army at all, while on an exposed frontier two or three large armies might be assembled. But the general idea of the subordination of offices is that shown above. To make this point quite clear let us examine the arrangement of Imperial functionaries in the two 'Dioceses' with which we have most concern, Britain and Italy.

Illustrated by the Diocese of Britain. That part of our own island which was subject to the Romans (the Dioecesis Britanniarum) was divided into five Provinces, which are conjecturally identified as follows:33

1. Britannia Prima = the country south of the Thames and Bristol Channel.
2. Britannia Secunda = Wales.
3. Flavia Caesariensis = the Midland and Eastern Counties.
 p621  4. Maxima Caesariensis = the country between Humber and Tyne.
5. Valentia = the country between Tyne and Frith of Forth.

Civil Administrators. The first two Provinces were governed by (Perfectissimi) Praesides, the last three by (Clarissimi) Consulares.

Military. The chief military leaders were:


The Count of Britain (Comes Britanniae).


The Count of the Saxon shore (Comes Litoris Saxonici per Britanniam), who from his nine strong castles dotted along the coast, from Yarmouth to Shoreham, was bound to watch the ever-recurring Saxon pirates.


The Duke of the Britains, whose headquarters were probably at York, and who had under his control the Sixth Legion stationed in that city, and various detachments of auxiliary points posted along the line of the wall in Northumberland ('per lineam Valli'), and in the stations upon the great Roman roads through Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland.

It is not expressly stated that these last two officers were subject to the control of the first, the Count of Britain, but we may reasonably infer that they were so from the fact that all the details of the troops subject to them are given with great minuteness, while of him it is only said, 'Under the control of the Spectabilis the Count of Britain is the Province of Britain.'

In civil matters there can be no doubt that the Vicarius was supreme, and he probably administered  p622 his diocese from 'the city of Augusta, which the ancients called Lundinium.'34

Financial. In financial matters we find an Accountant for the receipts of Britain (Rationalis Summarum Britanniarum), and a Superintendent of the Treasury at Augusta (Praepositus thesaurorum Augustensium), who appear to owe no obedience to the Vicarius, but are directly subordinate to the Comes Sacrarum Largitionum (at Rome or Ravenna). Similarly the Accountant of the Emperor's private estate in Britain (Rationalis rei privatae per Britannias) reports himself immediately to the Illustrious the Comes Rerum Privatarum.

Administration of Italy. This illustration, drawn from the Roman government of our own island in the fourth century, may help us to understand the similar details which are given of the civil and military administration of Italy. Praefectus Urbis. The system is here, however, somewhat complicated by the extraordinary powers vested, as we have before seen, in the Praefectus Urbis. Though the geographical limits of his power are not expressly indicated in the Notitia, we find that Vicarius Urbis. his subordinate Vicarius, who is not likely to have had a wider jurisdiction than himself, controlled the administration of seven Provinces in Italy, besides the three islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. These seven Provinces in fact made up the whole of Italy south of Ancona on the east coast, and Spezia on the west; Vicarius Italiae. and thus, little besides the valley of the Po and the countries at the foot of the Alps was left to the somewhat hardly-treated official who bore the high-sounding title of Spectabilis Vicarius Italiae.35  p623 To indemnify him, — but in those days of trouble with the heaving nations of Germany the charge must have brought more toil than profit, — he superintended the government of the Raetias, provinces which reached from the Alps to the Danube, and of which Coire and Augsburg were the respective capitals.36

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Map of Italy
at the commencement of the
fifth century

[A larger version, fully readable, opens here.]

Military commands in Italy. Of high military officers in Italy we read very little in the Notitia, doubtless because the great masters of the horse and foot 'in Praesenti' overshadowed all other commanding officers in the near neighbourhood of the court. There is a Comes Italiae, whose duty it was to look after the defence of the country close round the basess of the Alps ('Tractus Italiae circa Alpes'), and whose charge is illustrated in the effigy at the head of the chapter by two turreted fortresses climbing at an impossible angle up two dolomitic mountain peaks.

The Dux Raetiae also is mentioned, who with twenty‑one detachments of auxiliary troops — among them a cohort of Britons stationed near to Ratisbon — held the posts on the Danube and by Lake Constance and in the fastnesses of the Tyrol.

Titles and ideas of Roman Imperialism perpetuated in modern Europe. Reviewing now this great civil and military hierarchy, which was invented by Diocletian, perfected by Constantine, and was still majestic under Theodosius, we  p624 see at once how many titles, and through them how many ideas, modern European civilisation has borrowed from that subtly elaborated world of graduated splendour. The Duke and the Count of modern Europe — what are they but the Generals and Companions (Duces and Comites) of a Roman province? Why or when they changed places, the Duke climbing up into such unquestioned pre‑eminence over his former superior the Count, it might be difficult to say, as also by what process it was discovered that the latter was the precise equivalent of the Scandinavian Jarl. The Prefects of France are a closer reproduction both of the name and of the centralised authority of the Praefecti Praetorio of the Empire. Even the lowest official who has been here named, the Corrector of a province, survives to this day in the Spanish Corregidor. In ecclesiastical affairs the same descent exhibits itself. The Pope, who took his own title of Pontifex Maximus from Caesar, and named his legates after Caesar's lieutenants, now sits surrounded by his purple-robed councillors to hold what he calls, after Constantine, his Consistory. Diocese and Vicar are words which have also survived in the service of the church, both, it may be said, with lessened dignity; yet not altogether so, for if the Vicarius of Britain or Africa was greater than the modern Vicar of an English parish, he was less than the mighty spiritual ruler who, claiming the whole world as his Diocese, asserts his right to rule therein as 'The Vicar of Christ'.37

 p625  Thus do the strata of modern society bear witness to the primary Imperial rock from which they sprang. On the other hand, it is curious to observe how few of the titles of old republican Rome survived into these latter days of the Empire. Tribunes indeed we do find in the Notitia, but they are chiefly military officers. Of Quaestors, Aediles, Praetors, the offices which in old days formed the successive steps on the ladder of promotion to the highest dignities of the state, we find traces indeed, but of the faintest possible kind, in the Notitia. The Consulate, it is true, still retained much of its ancient splendour. The Emperor was generally invested with this dignity several times during his reign. Claudian's enthusiastic congratulations show how it was prized by the sons of Probus. Pacatus speaks of it as the highest honour which Theodosius was able to bestow upon his friends.​38 Sidonius, eighty years later, says that he and his brother-in‑law, who were by birth sons of Prefects, have attained the honour of the Patriciate, and he hopes that their sons may crown the edifice by the Consulate. But though the office of Consul retained its social pre‑eminence it had no practical power. Not once does the name occur in the Notitia; not the meanest functionary is mentioned as being 'under his control.' The Vicar reflected the Prefect and the Prefect the Emperor. Power earned by the suffrages of the people was nowhere; power delegated by the Divine Emperor was irresistible and all‑prevailing.

Office of the Defensor. One office indeed there was which might seem to require some limitation of the statement which has just been made. The Defensor Civitatis derived his  p626 power, theoretically at any rate, from the popular vote, and was in theory a counterpoise to the otherwise uncontrolled dominion of the Imperial officials; and yet it might with some fairness be argued that the history of the Defensor's office is the most striking illustration of the tendency of all power in the Empire to become Imperial.

It is believed that these Defenders of the Cities came into being in the first half of the fourth century, but the first distinct trace of them in the Statute-book is in a law of 364,​39 addressed by Valentinian and Valens to the Praetorian Prefect of Illyricum, Probus, a governor whose unjust exactions​40 must often have made the Provincials under his rule sigh for a Defender from such a ruler. The functions of the Defensor were eloquently expressed in an edict addressed by Theodosius to a holder of the office.​41 'The Defensores of all the Provinces are to exercise their powers for the space of five years.​42 Thou must in the first place exhibit the character of a father to the commonalty: thou must not suffer either the rustics or the city-dwellers to be vexed with inordinate assessments. Meet the insolence of office and the arrogance of the Judge with proper firmness, yet always preserving the reverence which is due to the magistrate. Claim thy right of freely entering into the Judge's presence when thou shalt desire to do so. Exclude all unjust claims and attempts at the spoliation of those whom it is thy duty to cherish as thy children, and do not suffer anything beyond the accustomed imposts to be demanded of  p627 these men who certainly can be guarded by no arm but thine.'

We can gather with sufficient clearness from this edict what were the duties of the new officer, whom, perhaps with some slumbering memories of the Tribunes of the Plebs in republican Rome, the Emperors were now creating to be a check on the venal rapacity of their own judges and tax‑collectors. He was to be the perpetual advocate of the municipality, to maintain its rights against usurping officials, to resist all attempts at illegitimate and excessive taxation, to be a sort of embodied Habeas Corpus Act on behalf of the poorer and friendless citizens. He was chosen by the voice of the whole community, but his name had to be submitted to the Praetorian Prefect for his approval, and he was confirmed in that office by that high functionary. In order to secure in the new officer a sufficient amount of courage and independence for the exercise of his duties, it was expressly provided that he should not be chosen from the class of decurions, the local vestry‑men, corresponding to those Senators of Antioch whose woes we were recently considering.​43 For the decurion, as we shall see more plainly in a later chapter, was a being born to be pillaged and oppressed, and was always trembling before the frowns of power.

But this requirement, that the Defensor should be a man of rank and importance in the State, ruined a well-meant plan. The Defensor took upon himself the airs of a great official; he gradually became a real magistrate; his jurisdiction, which at first extended only to cases where an amount of sixty solidi (£36) was at stake, was enlarged so as to include cases  p628 relating to five times that amount. And as he grew in importance and power, he evidently became more and more unapproachable by his 'children,' the humbler class of tax‑payers, so that before the end of a century from the first appearance of the name in the Statute-book, we find a law passed to repress the insolence and injustice of the Defensor, and to recall him to a remembrance of the object for which he was appointed. So true it is that every office takes the colour of the State on which it is engrafted. In a monarchy which has become democratic we see even the professed servants of the monarch pandering to the passions of the crowd; while in a republic which had become Imperial even the constituted champions of the commonalty were found before long in the ranks of its oppressors.

Military organisation of the Empire. In conclusion, though the proper subject of this chapter is civil administration, we may give a glance at another most interesting subject brought before us by the Notitia Dignitatum, namely the condition of the army of the Empire. The information with which the Notitia furnishes us on this subject is tantalising by its very fullness. At first sight we seem to have a complete picture of the disposition of all the legions and all the corps of 'federate' infantry and cavalry over the whole Empire. But on closer examination we find that there are great gaps in the statement thus laid before us. Deficiencies in one place, redundancies in another, bewilder us in our attempt to construct a definite scheme of military organisation of the State. It will probably require some years of patient labour, especially of comparison of this ill‑edited army-list with the slowly accumulating evidence of inscriptions, before  p629 anything like safe and definite conclusions can be reached as to the magnitude and the composition of those armies on the Danube and the Rhine, which did not avail to save the Empire from the impact of the barbarians.

Nominal strength of the Imperial army. Meanwhile, however, it may be stated very roughly, that the Notitia appears to display to us a force whose nominal strength was nearly a million of men, and that this force was pretty evenly divided between the Eastern and the Western portions of the Empire.​44 There can be no doubt, however, that this number is enormously in excess of the troops which Rome could actually put in the field. The legions especially (the theoretical strength of which at this time was 6100 foot soldiers, with cavalry attached to the number of  p630 730)​45 appears sometimes in history in such a miserably attenuated condition, that some writers​46 have asserted that even in theory it only consisted of 1000 men, an alteration which would require us to reduce the estimate just given to little more than a sixth. For any such formal and theoretical reduction, however, there does not appear to be sufficient authority. The following sentences from a contemporary author probably set forth the true state of the case.

'The name of the legions still abides in our army, but through negligence the strength which it possessed in old days is broken, the rewards of valour being now given to intrigue, and the soldier's promotion which he used to earn by toil now given by favour. When the veteran has earned his discharge, having completed his term of service, there is no one to take his place. Moreover, some must be incapacitated for service by disease, others will desert or perish by one accident or another, so that unless every year, I might almost say every month, a troop of young recruits is brought to fill the places of those who fall out, a legion, however numerous at the outset, soon dwindles. There is another reason for our attenuated legions, namely, the great labour of service therein, their heavier arms, their more numerous duties, their severer discipline. In order to escape these, most recruits rush to take the military oath in the auxiliary forces where the toil is less and the rewards sooner earned.'​47

Classification of the soldiery. This last remark leads us to consider the different  p631 classes of troops, which, according to the Notitia, composed the Imperial army. The 132 legions which were enumerated above are divided into three ranks. These are: —

25 legiones Palatinae
70 legiones Comitatenses
37 legiones Pseudo-Comitatenses

Legiones Palatinae. The first class, the 'legions of the Palace,' speak for themselves. If not in the strictest sense the bodyguard of the sovereign, a title which more fittingly belongs to the high-born and brilliantly accoutred Domestici and Protectores, they are at any rate those troops who are most immediately under the eye of the Emperor, and who will be first grouped round his standard when he goes forth to war.

Auxilia Palatina. Over against these 'legiones Palatinae' are found certain non‑legionary bodies of troops, forty-three in number in the East and sixty-five in the West, called the Auxilia Palatina. To read through the titles of these regiments is to study the morbid anatomy of the dying Empire. You find there the name of almost every barbarian nationality that was hovering on its borders, the cannibal Attacotti of Scotland, the Heruli, the Thervingi, the Moors. Then there are names like those of our battle-ships, the Petulantes, the Invicti, the Victores; and names derived from the reigning Emperor, the Valentinianenses, the Gratianenses, the Felices Theodosiani, the Honoriani Victores, the Felices Arcadiani. The terrible name of Goths does not appear on the list, but there can be little doubt that among these barbarian satellites of the Emperor were to be  p632 found a large number of those yellow-haired Visigothic foederati, whose golden collars roused the envy, and whose arrogant demeanour kindled the resentment of the Roman legionaries. In the regiment of Gratianenses there may very likely have still been serving some of those very Alans, his partiality for whom cost the ill‑fated Gratian his life.

Legiones Comitatenses. From the legiones Palatinae and their attendant auxilia we pass to the legiones Comitatenses, evidently a large and important portion of the Imperial army. In the laws of this period they are generally coupled with the Palatini, and it is not easy to see what was the difference between them, for Comitatus is used for court as Palatium for palace. It is conjectured with some probability that the legiones Comitatenses48 may have held something like the same position towards the 'Masters of the Soldiery' that the legiones Palatinae held towards the Emperor. And though we cannot prove the point, there seems some reason to connect these 'Comitatensian' legions with the assertion of Zosimus,​49 that Constantine withdrew the bulk of his troops from the fortresses on the frontier and stationed them in the cities of the interior, where they became demoralised by urban pleasures and a long peace.

Legiones Pseudo-Comitatenses. For it seems clear that the duty of guarding the frontier, taken off from these pampered 'courtly' legions, was in great measure devolved upon their inferiors, who went by the uncouth name of Pseudo-Comitatenses or 'sham-courtly' troops. These plebeians of the army received only four rations where the Comitatenses received six; they were probably  p633 of lower stature,​50 received in several ways fewer privileges than their envied superiors.

Limitanei or Ripenses. Lastly, there was a class of troops of whom the Notitia gives us only fragmentary and imperfect information, the Limitanei or Ripenses. These were apparently a kind of militia stationed on the frontiers of the Empire, along the great rivers, the Rhine and the Danube; where Egypt looks forth upon the desert; or where the Parthian was hovering round Mesopotamia. They were probably not mere soldiers, but cultivated the soil and practised the arts of peace; always, however, under special obligation to take up arms at the approach of an enemy and defend the land which they tilled. We would gladly receive further information as to this body of men whose status in some degree foreshadows that of the feudal soldiers of the Middle Ages, while at the same time some of them must surely have been found among the defenders of the great Roman Walls in Britain and in Germany.

Roman military organisation inferior to the civil. A survey of this most interesting document, the Notitia, as a whole, and a comparison of it with the Theodosian Code, suggest some reflections as to the relative capacity of the Romans as warriors and as administrators. The citizens of the little stronghold by the Tiber had first made their mark on Latium by their fierce determination in war. As their territory grew, their powers of government developed, and when they were the undisputed lords of all the fair countries  p634 round the Mediterranean Sea they did in truth fulfil with wonderful success the charge given to them in the poet's imagination by the spirit of their ancestor: —

'Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento.'

At the period which we have now reached in the history of that vast accumulation of peoples which still called itself the Roman Republic, the old Roman spirit of delight in battle was departed, but the Roman genius for law and administration still remained. The Seventh Book of the Theodosian Code gives us a dreary picture of the military state of the Empire. The sons of the veterans have to be forced to follow the profession of their fathers. Self-mutilation to avoid military service is frequent. The man who does enter the army seems to be only intent on avoiding his obligations as a tax‑payer, or oppressing his fellow-citizens by unreasonable demands when he is billeted upon them. And while the pages of the Notitia, which deal with the civil constitution of the Empire, display to us a great, well-organised, official hierarchy, — corrupt it may have been, oppressive it may have been, but one in which every wheel of the great administrative machine knew its place and performed its office, — the military chapters of that book seem to be a perfect chaos. Fragments of the same legion are dispersed hither and thither, some under the command of the Magister Militum in Praesenti, some under the Duke of a province. It would seem to have been in the last degree difficult for the Prefect of a legion to ascertain accurately who were subordinate to him, and to whom he was subordinate. All the mistakes and the heart-burnings to which divided responsibility and ill‑defined  p635 prerogatives give birth, seem to be here prepared in abundant measure. Instead of keeping the noble legions of the early Empire, the 25 of Augustus or the 33 of Severus, up to their full strength, and enabling them to do deeds worthy of their great traditions, each Emperor seems to form a number of fresh legions, some of which he calls after his own name and some after the name of the latest tribe of barbarians to whom he has taken a fancy. But whether they be called 'Happy Honorians,' or 'Senior Britons,' or 'Lancers of Comagene,' in any case we feel certain that they are not a legion in the old magnificent sense of the word. The full complement of officers may be there, exhausting the treasury by their exorbitant Annonae, or parading their gorgeous equipments before the eyes of a gratified Emperor, but when the Goth or the Frank appears upon the frontiers of the Empire where such a mushroom legion is stationed, we feel sure that he will not find 6000 stout soldiers ready to resist him.

In short, the perusal of the Notitia and the Code leaves us with the conviction that not even Valentinian nor Theodosius, and certainly none of their successors, was a Carnot or a von Moltke, able to 'organise victory.' The civil administration of the Empire was marvellous, and it left its mark upon Europe for centuries, but the military administration at the close of the fourth century was a fabric pervaded by dry‑rot, and it crumbled at the touch of the barbarian.

The Author's Notes:

1 By Seeck, on the first page of his 'Praefatio.'

2 Böcking, Ueber die Notitia, &c., p5.

3 Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi, Comes Sacrarum Largitionum, Castrensis Sacri Palatii.

4 Codex Theodosianus, lib. XIV tit. 17.14; lib. XII tit. 1.160.

5 For instance, in Cod. Th. VI.30.23, the Count of Sacred Largesses is ordered by Theodosius II to bestow certain solatia on his retired subordinates, 'ex his videlicet quae suae jurisdictionis esse, nec aliis ex consuetudine coelitus deputata cognoverit.' 'Coelitus, id est ab Imperatore seu Principe' is the remark of the commentator.

* From the Corrigenda, p. xxvii: Tiberius was never deified, and is therefore never styled 'divus.' Commodus was not deified until after the accession of Septimius Severus.

6 'Primâ quoque morbi accessione, "ut" (inquit) "puto, deus fio." ' Sueton. Vita Vespasiani, xxiii.

7 Dion. lib. LIX c. 27.

8 Sect. 18.

9 The fourth and fifth classes were named Perfectissimi and Egregii respectively.

10 Gen. xli.40.

11 Τὸ Πραιτώριον: Mark xv.16; Acts xxiii.35; Philippians i.13.

12 By usage, if not of strict right, this sense, as well as that of Prefect of the Palace, seems to inhere in the title Praefectus Praetorio.

13 Bethmann-Hollweg, I p57.

14 A list carefully prepared by Otto Seeck (Hermes, XVIII.289‑302) gives us nineteen Prefects of the City in twenty years and five months.

15 Ammianus Marcellinus (XIX.10.1) describes in forcible language the woes of a Praefectus Urbis in a time of scarcity.

16 Apollinaris Sidonius. See Book III.

17 It is amusing to see the name of this Roman officer written in Greek characters: ἡγεμόνα τῶν ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ τάξεων . . . μάγιστρον τοῦτον ὀφφικίων καλοῦσι Ῥωμαῖοι (Zosimus, II.25).

18 The 'agentes in rebus.'

19 These manufactories in Italy were as follows: — (1) of arrows at Concordia (between Venice and Udine); (2, 3) of shields at Verona and Cremona; (4) of breast-plates at Mantua; (5) of bows at Ticinum (Pavia); (6) of broadswords at Lucca.

20 These four Scrinia were the Scrinium Memoriae, Scrinium Dispositionum, Scrinium Epistolarum, and Scrinium Libellorum.

21 In the earlier periods of the Empire this distinction between the Fiscus and the Aerarium, as is well known, had been diligently maintained. Augustus, in the Monumentum Ancyranum, takes credit to himself for having four times assisted the public treasury out of his own property (the Aerarium out of the Fiscus) by contributions amounting in all to 150,000,000º sesterces, or nearly one million sterling. But at that time the Emperor was still in theory little more than a private individual benevolently assisting in the administration of the state. By the third century, at any rate, this distinction between his purse and the state purse, the Fiscus and the Aerarium, seems to have vanished.

22 In the East there were two Magistri Militum in Praesenti, each of whom had command both of infantry and cavalry. The reason for this arrangement is not clear. Is it possible that it was made at the time when the Imperial Presence was pretty evenly divided between the two capitals, Constantinople and Antioch?

23 χιλίαρχοι.

24 στρατηλάται.

25 ἰλάρχας καὶ λοχαγοὺς καὶ ταξιάρχους.

26 Cod. Theod. lib. VII, tit. 8, § 3.

27 Cod. Theod. lib. VI, tit. 8, § 1.

28 The Notitia Occidentis, cap. xi, has a long string of such private Imperial possessions; the Notitia Orientis, in the corresponding chapter, does not mention any. It would be interesting to know the reason of this difference.

29 See the 'Formula Comitivae Privatarum,' Cassiodorus, Variae, VI.8.

30 'Sub dispositione viri illustris Comitis Rerum Privatarum, Comes Largitionum Privatarum (Notitia Occidentis, cap. xi). This officer is not named in the corresponding passage of the Notit. Orientis.

31 There is some apparent conflict of jurisdiction in the Notitia between the Comites Domesticorum and the Magister Officiorum. The latter has under his control seven 'Schools' of Shield-bearers, Archers, 'Gentiles' or barbarians, &c., who apparently formed part of the household troops.

32 Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, cap. 7. 'Et ut omnia terrore complerentur, provincias quoque in frusta concisae, multi praesides et plura officia singulis regionibus, ac pene jam civitatibus incubare, item Rationales multi, et Magistri, et Vicarii praefectorum, quibus omnibus civiles actus admodum rari, sed condemnationes tantum et proscriptiones frequentes,' &c.

33 We do not yet possess any authoritative statement as to the boundaries of the British Provinces.

34 Ammianus, XXVIII.3.1.

35 The ten Provinces subject to the Vicarius Urbis Romae were (1) Campania, (2) Tuscia et Umbria, (3) Picenum Suburbicarium, (4) Sicily, — each under the administration of a Clarissimus Consularis; (5) Apulia et Calabria, (6) Bruttii et Lucania, — under a Clarissimus Corrector; (7) Samnium, (8) Sardinia, (9) Corsica, (10) Valeria, — under a Perfectissimus Praeses.

36 The Provinces subject to the Vicarius Italiae were apparently (1) Venetia et Istria, (2) Aemilia, (3) Liguria, (4) Flaminia et Picenum Annonicarium, (5) Alpes Cottiae, (6) Raetia Prima, (7) Raetia Secunda. But his page in the Notitia is lost, and a good deal has to be left to conjecture.

37 The ceremony of kissing the Pope's toe is probably also derived from the Emperor's Court. Dion says of Caligula, 'He kissed very few [of his courtiers]. For to the greater number even of the Senators he only stretched out a hand or a foot for them to kiss,' lib. LIX, c. 27.

38 Paneg. xvi.

39 Cod. Th. I.29.1.

40 See p225.

41 Cod. Justin. I.55.

42 Afterwards reduced to two by Justinian, Nov. 15, c. 1.

43 See chap. 9.

44 If we take, with a little necessary correction, the numbers which Von Wietersheim deduces from the Notitia, we get these results: —

Eastern Empire Western Empire Total


70 legions = 427,000 62 legions = 372,600 799,600
43 auxilia, and other bodies of infantry, not legions = 21,500 65 auxilia, &c. = 32,500 54,000


43 vexillationes, and other bodies of cavalry = 21,500 48 vexillationes, &c. = 24,000 45,500
470,000 429,100 899,100

But there is a great deal of guess-work in all this. Especially the estimate of 500 men for the non‑legionary bodies of infantry is probably too low for their nominal strength.

Marquardt, a very careful writer, reckons, besides the above total of 132 legions, '43 other legions besides: thus in all 175 legions,' which at 6100 men to a legion would give a total of 1,067,500 men on paper, exclusive of cavalry and irregulars. He however accepts the view of the greatly diminished strength of the legion: and he wisely observes, 'I give these numbers only as approximations. Their verification involves some difficulties, to solve which a thorough investigation would be required.' (Römische Staatsverwaltung, II.588).

45 Vegetius, Epitoma Rei Militaris, II.6.

46 Including Gibbon, cap. xvii n. 132.

47 Vegetius, Epitoma Rei Militaris, II.3.

48 By Von Wietersheim, I.317 (ed. 1880).

49 II.34.

50 By Cod. Th. VII.13.3 the stature of the recruit is to be not less than 5 feet 7 inches. I imagine this to be the comitatensis, but we have no proof on the subject. By VII.22.8 it is enacted that the sons of veterans who in strength or stature do not come up to the standard of a comitatensis shall serve in the Militia Ripensis.

Thayer's Note:

a The less expert student will find the introductory article in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities useful: Codex Theodosianus.

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