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Friday, 29 May 2015

Unit Names in the Western Late Roman Army

Ah, so many things to blog about right now - Historians For the Britain, the disastrous election, Charlie Hebdo and Islamic 'extremism'*, 'Why is my curriculum so white?', the History Manifesto - but so little inclination to finish any of them off.  Ho hum.
Instead of any of that serious stuff then, here is a table I just came across, which came out of research I was doing in 2004, preparatory to Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West and which I used in a hand-out at my first Kalamazoo in 2004.
This was part of my thinking about the 'barbarization' of the late Roman army and how this may have been as much a deliberate construct within the late imperial army and its search for new identities after the separation of military and civil services.  The point was that the bulk of the ethnic names of the auxilia palatina that have been used to argue for 'barbarization' (the regiments of franci, etc. - understood as being recruited entirely from the barbarian groups of that name) are found in the context of the elite praesental field armies.  These armies, as this table shows, also contained the bulk of units with 'warlike' and 'animal' names.  I wanted to show, too, that the 'contemporary' ethnic names had to be seen in the context of the use of other non-Roman ethnic names from past history.
These names are quite different from earlier imperial names, not least in that they are cast in the (usually) masculine plural, thus referring to the men in the unit, rather than in the feminine singular (thus referring to the unit itself) as had earlier been the norm.  They also stress qualities that are the very antithesis of classically-defined Romanitas : animal names, ferocity and fierceness (also animal qualities).  In the imperial field armies, then, there seemed to be a competitive discourse stressing the non-Roman, the animal, the barbarian.  Indeed the boasting inherent in these titles also makes a difference from traditional ideas of Romanness.
This could then be placed alongside many of the usually-supposed barbarian 'imports' into Roman military life to suggest that the army was the locus of a different discourse of Roman masculinity that stressed an opposition to traditional 'civic masculinity'.
I think that might I now row back from an extreme view negating the barbarian recruiting of the auxilia palatina with those 'current' ethnic names, though I would still want to see the titles given them as indicative of something new.  I also think that any recruiting from the specific group in question probably quickly declined and the name became more of a unit identity (like the franci still serving in Justinianic Egypt centuries later) rather than a simple description, and that that fit well into the military culture just suggested. 
I similarly wanted to suggest that, later, at the end of the fourth century, the new units of foederati underwent a similar evolution as the barbarian auxilia palatina had experienced, from new elite units raised from barbarians into Roman elite units recruited from all sorts of people (as indeed Olympiodorus says in the earlier fifth century).

Note: I don't vouch for the exactitude or rigour of these counts but I think that the overall pattern is right.

Ethnic names - current ethnic names like 'Franci', 'Alamanni', 'Attacotti', etc.
Warlike names - things like 'feroces', invicti (?) and the like.
Imperial names - Honoriani, Arcadiani, etc.
Animal names - leones, cornuti, etc.
Antique names (If I remember rightly) include ancient ethnonyms like sabini, celtae, parthi.  This could also include Arcades, if this is not a corruption or variant on the Arcadiani.
Theogonistic names - Herculiani, Ioviani, etc.
Functional names - Sagittarii, lanciarii, (possibly) exploratores or superveniores.
Old unit names are names that derive from early imperial legionary or auxiliary unit titles
Rank - prima, secunda, etc. (I now realise that these could be a sub-set of "old unit names").

                                                     Western Empire                               

                                               Praesental field armies.    Non-Praesental forces                    

Ethnic Names                                    13                                           5                         
Warlike Names                                 18                                         12                         
Ethnic and Warlike                             4                                           -                            
Imperial & Ethnic names                    7                                           1                           
Imperial name                                                                
               + warlike name                    4                                           -                            
Province + warlike name                    4                                           -                            
Animal Names                                    6                                           -                            
Antique Names                                   6                                         12                         
Imperial names                                    5                                           5                           
Imperial and provincial                       4                                           -                            
Province or town                                46                                         94                         
Old unit name                                     16                                         41                         
Old Unit name +
               Imperial                                2                                            1                           
Old unit name + town                         2                                            2                           
Theogonistic name                              5                                            8            
Theogonistic name +                      
               Imperial                               5                                             3            
Other                                                  4                                             1
Functional title                                 14                                           10
Rank                                                   3                                             9

* I am just not sure that 'extremism' is the right word as it implies that such beliefs represent Islam taken to its extreme, rather than a perversion of Islamic belief as it often is.  Imagine calling the Westboro Baptist Church 'extreme Christians' and you'll see my point.  I have the same kind of problem with 'fundamentalist' Islam.  I do not know what term I'd use instead so the inverted commas will have to suffice.

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