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Does anyone happen to know whatever became of the Roman Army in the West after 476 A.D. (the legend of King Arthur notwithstanding)? Intuitively one would think that at least some soldiers perhaps: (1) gave up warfare and went into farming, or perhaps some other activity such as local security; (2), joined up with the Gothic armies, etc.; (3) organized resistence forces and held out a little longer; (4) made their way east to join up with Zeno's army in the East Roman Empire; (5) might have been killed off by the "new ownership"--the Barbarians. These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, necessarily. Also, of course I am only speculating on all this, so is their any actual historical evidence pointing to what really might have happened? If not, does anybody else have any additional thoughts? Thanks. Marcellus.
I always was under the impression that the Teutoborg Forest was where most of the army was defeated and killed. The forces in Italy were probably for guarding the cities mostly and fielding an army was next to impossible. The guards wouldn't have been in the same class as the Legionary so would have stayed there and waited for the Hammer to fall. Every city to itself?
I am very interested as well!
Guys,

You have a very outdated sense of what happened in the West around this time. Dave, you make it sound like a hostile invasion which warranted a resistance or exfiltration of individual soldiers? What 'hammer to fall'? Nothing further from the truth than that!
I can tell you that no-one on the ground will have noticed anything different, since this was a non-event. Nothing happened in 476 other than a technicality - Odoacar did not need a puppet on the throne. Nothing changed for the farmers, the cities, the soldiers - these changes had already taken place long before that time.

Let's look at 'the Roman army'. Well, to start with, what army would that be? The army that we know from the Notitia Dignitatum would have been much-reduced due to increasing conflict, decreasing financial means to keep it up and diminishing numbers of recruits due to the loss of ever more territory. Aetius only defeated Atilla with the help of his Gothic and Frankish allies/federates. The army of Spain has not been mentioned for decades (Roman Spain probably ended before 461), the army of Italy consists of Germanic mercenaries, federates and troops from the East. The army of Gaul has rebelled under Aegidius in 461 and we know that these forces (exercitus Romanorum) merge with Clovis' troops in 486. Clovis was no commander of an invading horde, he was the son of a magister militum of the Gallic field army and his command was in part based on that legal status. The Franks, Burgundians, Alans and Visigoths in Gaul were all there as part of a Roman settlement, none of them were invaders. Roman commanders (mentioned by name) are capturing Gallic and Spanish civitates for Gothic kings and no-one speaks of treason at all.

So for the soldiers, one general or another never mattered much. In fact, this pattern had existed (more or less frequent and severe) in the Empire from the 3rd century onwards: candidate 1 fought candidate 2 and even 3, and it's down to us to put labels on these candidates. But for the soldier and the farmer there was not much difference between a Constantine besieging a city and a usurper in the early 4th c. or a mid-5th c. Burgundian commander of an equally 'Roman' field army fighting a Visigothic competitor of equal rank. So instead of the 'Romans' Constantine III and Constantius fighting over Arles we see 'barbarian' Burgundians and Goths fighting over Clermont, but if you peal away the modern labels of 'Romans' and 'barbarians' you see there is very little difference, perhaps not even discernable to the citizens involved.

What changed was the perception of Rome - a Gallic nobleman in the kate 5th c. looked first to his city and family before he looked to Rome, and in 474 when the Burgundian Patricius (Man Behind the Throne) Gundobad decides it's worth more to go home to fill the vacant throne of his deceased father than to (de facto) rule the West, that is your real moment of the end of the Western empire.
If anything, what we see as 'Roman' was replaced by 'Germanic', but without conquest or overthrowing law systems. The ensuing conflicts were largely the same, but fought by people with different names. Of course it slid all downhill, which is what we see as the start of the Middle Ages, but that is nothing more than the break-up of a political system witha strong central control. But this already started during the 3rd c., and might also have occurred with any barbarians. Some historians say that the Gallic Empire of Postumus was a natural thing, an economic shift from the Mediterranean to the Rhine that later re-occurred, its process just delayed. The Roman empire would in all likelyhood have broken apart anyway.
Well now that my High School education is shattered I can learn something! Big Grin The Books we had were old 10 years ago I am not surprised they were outdated...
So starting with the N.D. and moving through time to Odoacer what did the Western Roman Empire numbers look like?
I would post it but do not have a copy of the N.D. Sad
I might suggest Chris Wickham's relatively newer book The Inheritance of Rome. He goes into detail on what changed and what didn't after the "fall" of Rome in the West. Not only is this superb scholarship, but Wickham uses wonderful prose. This is probably one of the best history books I've read in years.
Quote:So starting with the N.D. and moving through time to Odoacer what did the Western Roman Empire numbers look like?(
Not a clue! The ND does not give us any numbers (although many people seem to think that it does, strange enough), these have to be distilled from other sources (may I be so bold to suggest my own article here?), which give us a rough idea. But what happened between 394 and 476 in the West, we have no idea of.
in short, the Romans outsourced their military to Germans due to financial and manpower shortages and by allowing Germans to serve under their own ethnic leaders rather than Romans they outsourced, by fits and starts, the political structure that gave the empire its relevance. That said Procopius states that in Gaul their was a Roman army serving under their own standards in the mid 6th century after the end of the Western Empire. Presumably they would have served the Frankish kings as they served the emperor and any distinctions would have evaporated in the gradual transition from Gaul to Francia. From recall Gregory of Tours doesn't mention any such soldiers in his account so they must have disappeared by the time he wrote his history in the late 6th century
Quote: in short, the Romans outsourced their military to Germans due to financial and manpower shortages and by allowing Germans to serve under their own ethnic leaders rather than Romans they outsourced, by fits and starts, the political structure that gave the empire its relevance.

Well put, but not 100% accurate. The system you just described already originated earlier, and was in use even in times of Roman strength. Of course, when Romans became weak (civil wars, economy), this system became dangerous, especially because of the second characteristic.
What you don't describe is that the Germans originally did not replace Roman military, but added strength to already available numbers. The Roman armies grew in numbers during the 4th c., and total troop strength along the borders (regular forces, no hired federates or mercenaries mind you!) also reached a high level. Of course, when economics dictated that this number fell, it became easier to use Germans on short-term contracts. Smile

Quote:That said Procopius states that in Gaul their was a Roman army serving under their own standards in the mid 6th century after the end of the Western Empire. Presumably they would have served the Frankish kings as they served the emperor and any distinctions would have evaporated in the gradual transition from Gaul to Francia. From recall Gregory of Tours doesn't mention any such soldiers in his account so they must have disappeared by the time he wrote his history in the late 6th century
We don't know whether Procopius exaggerated or not - he managed to describe two Britains as if they were two islands. He seems to have had only scant information about what happened in the former Western provinces. I like the story but it might be a folktale.

Having said that, we know that the former Roman population continued to be ruled under their own Roman laws, whereas the Germans were subject to their own laws. Of course this vanished gradually over the course of time, but for a long time, the populations were distinct. In Italy, the Goths only claimed sovereignty over the Goths, and always asked Constantinople for their consent (I think this only changed after Belisarius campaigned in Italy). I think this also shows why Roman military had no problems fighting for Germanic kings, because that's mostly our modern perception: to them a general was a general, his jurisdiction could be fluid and the ethnicity of an army had never been a problem. The shift from a 'Roman' army under a 'Roman' general with Roman and German troops to a similarly-looking 'Barbarian' army under a German general with German and Roman troops is only very small.
Quote:I always was under the impression that the Teutoborg Forest was where most of the army was defeated and killed.
Hi,Astiryu, Just to clarify a point there were only 3 legions destroyed at the Teutoburg
wald in 9 a.d. Smile
Which Legions were they? I always find limited information on the subject and would love to have as many facts as possible. Is there an ancient source that deals primarily with the Teutoborg? Was there any census that the Goths may have done after acquiring Italy?
That would be the 17,18, and 19th legions. There has been much discussion here on RAT so info should be easy to find with a little effort. Heck, you can even Google it.
The Germanisation of the roman army or the Romanisation of the Germans to put another way was a very long process. Through service in the army as auxilliaries and trade across the frontier German society became more Roman like (greater hierarchy, more wealth inequality and the formation of ever larger tribal groupings).

Its seems axiomatic in history that opposing military forces given long enough time tend to resemble each other as they copy apparently succesfull tactics and behaviours of their opponents. For example, the Roman army adopts Germanic cultural norms such as raising leaders on shields, spatha swords, draco standards

It was routine to take captured Germanic prisoners and settle them on abandoned lands in the empire which start to be a problem from the 2nd century. These people eventually get absorbed into roman society. Perhaps they don't entirely lose their Germanness. When all people in the empire were made citizens the ethnic distinctions of citizen/non-citizen become less important. With rising income inequality the critical social marker in late antiquity was wealth and status not ethnicity. Things start to change from the Third Century Crisis on. More civil wars lead to more invasions in turn lead to more civil wars. Each civil war needs to urgently raise troops and the Germans are an easy recruiting ground. The empire becomes more regionalised and trade starts to decline meaning the Latin language starts to take on regional characteristics with one late Roman senator (Sidonis I think saying he cant understand the common people). The common people are still roman but they aren't as roman as they used to be, the only 'real' Romans at the end were the holders of the elite cultural values ie the senatorial class.

I would suspect that the late roman army (at least the field army) was probably mostly German (admittedly not an uncontested view). If most of the officers mentioned in the historical sources are Germanic I cant see how the rank and file would not be the same. As an occupation the military was a poor one with bad pay and harsh discipline. Elites don't serve (better prestige in the clergy or bureaucracy) and due to manpower shortages the poor have better options. The rich would readily remit the supply of recruits from their properties for a monetary fee which the government would use to recruit Germanic mercenaries. The house of cards starts to crumble when the Empire in a moment of weakness allowed Germans to settle in the empire under their own rulers ultimately leading to the Gothic king Alaric who held a roman military office sacking Rome because he wanted a better deal from the Empire for his people.

As a realistic source on the military units of the West I would suggest; although I have no real proof, that the Notitia Dignitatum indicates units in name only. Given the rampant bureaucratic corruption of the later roman empire and the extreme difficulty the empire had dealing with would have been relatively small invasions, the units mentioned probably were understrength with the officers pocketing the difference in salaries from real and reported strength and the military suppliers pocketing the difference between equipment produced and equipment supplied.

I could readily imagine the later roman empire as akin to the Brezhnev era Soviet Union with nothing working as it should, the bosses completely unaware of conditions on the ground being deceived by their blanket of bureaucrats and a ruling elite actively seeking official appointments to boost their prestige and milk the system dry. Probably the only real Roman military units to be effective would be the Limitanei (border troops) who would be defending hearth and home. If Procopius is right about Roman units in post Roman Gaul he's probably referring to the Limitanei.
Quote:Its seems axiomatic in history that opposing military forces given long enough time tend to resemble each other as they copy apparently succesfull tactics and behaviours of their opponents. For example, the Roman army adopts Germanic cultural norms such as raising leaders on shields, spatha swords, draco standards
I agree about the Roman habit to adopt successful practices or weapons from other peoples, but I must add that neither the spatha (Celtic) nor the draco (Sarmatian) were originally Germanic.

Quote: It was routine to take captured Germanic prisoners and settle them on abandoned lands in the empire which start to be a problem from the 2nd century. These people eventually get absorbed into roman society. Perhaps they don't entirely lose their Germanness.
Indeed not. When we hear of Roman citizens speaking Celtic in the late 5th c., it's easy to assume that germanic settlers also retained their language. The Romans also had no problem with using captured Germans as soldiers, even elite guard units. And the practise of allowing them to serve under their own leaders also predates the later 4th c. Germanic officers could rise to high ranks long before the empire declined.

Quote:I would suspect that the late roman army (at least the field army) was probably mostly German (admittedly not an uncontested view). If most of the officers mentioned in the historical sources are Germanic I cant see how the rank and file would not be the same. As an occupation the military was a poor one with bad pay and harsh discipline. Elites don't serve (better prestige in the clergy or bureaucracy) and due to manpower shortages the poor have better options. The rich would readily remit the supply of recruits from their properties for a monetary fee which the government would use to recruit Germanic mercenaries.

The Roman army had plenty of Roman recruits. their is simply put no evidence for a 'Germanised Roman army' other than the grumblings of a few historians. When we find names that 'Germanisation' is simple not born out by the evidence. it's often forgotten that emperors recruited for campaigns (in german lands, indeed), but that these troops were disbanded after the campaign was over. But the bulk of the army was raised from (Roman!) conscripts and volunteers.

Quote:The house of cards starts to crumble when the Empire in a moment of weakness allowed Germans to settle in the empire under their own rulers ultimately leading to the Gothic king Alaric who held a roman military office sacking Rome because he wanted a better deal from the Empire for his people.
In fact (as I said above), that practise was not new, it was the Roman weakness to curb these groups that lead to problems. But it need not have come to that - don't forget that in the east they managed to deal with this situation. It was the stronger West that crumbled in the end, due to a weak dynasty and generalissimos behind the throne (Stilicho, Aetius, Ricimer) who, Roman and barbarian alike, looked more to their own future than to that of the empire. Hmm, a modern lesson there?
Robert,

Thanks for the thorough reply. Much of what you say is true and insightful but I think you are missing the point. First, no one said that the event of 4 September 476 A.D. constituted a single, cataclysmic event. In fact, Romulus Austustulus technically wasn’t even the last Roman emperor in the West, rather, a case can be made that Julius Nepos was. Be that as it may, when Odoacer dismissed Romulus and then opted to become king of Italy and not emperor of Rome (and Nepos and Zeno did nothing about any of that), the empire in the West effectively ceased.

Regarding the army, for sure, there was an imperial Roman army in the West until the empire ceased to exist on or about 476 A.D. We do not know precisely how large that army was, but based on the Notitia Dignitatum and other sources, that imperial army was huge—even in the 5th century. I believe some modern scholars have surmised that the comitatensus (West) alone was about 75,000 strong (see Luttwack, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire).

Whether the imperial army was made up predominately of Latin Romans, Provincials, Germanics, or whomever, is tangential to the larger issue of: what became of those tens of thousands of soldiers armed under the imperial crown? Again, I would think that somehow they would have been disarmed and disbanded—either by force or choice or both—or else reconstituted elsewhere. Also, I believe that one of the Romanarmytalk contributors was correct in pointing out that Procopius wrote at least one group continued to fight under a Roman standard after the empire had ceased. We might disagree with Procopius from an historiagrahic standpoint, but then we are piting hsitorical evidence against our mere conjectures and intuitions.

Again, all I am asking is for thoughts on whatever became of all those imperial troops. Please do not read more into what I am asking.

Respectfully, Dave
Hi Dave,
Quote: Thanks for the thorough reply. Much of what you say is true and insightful but I think you are missing the point. First, no one said that the event of 4 September 476 A.D. constituted a single, cataclysmic event. In fact, Romulus Austustulus technically wasn’t even the last Roman emperor in the West, rather, a case can be made that Julius Nepos was. Be that as it may, when Odoacer dismissed Romulus and then opted to become king of Italy and not emperor of Rome (and Nepos and Zeno did nothing about any of that), the empire in the West effectively ceased.
Nor did I treat it as such. But i reacted to your description of the event as if something cataclismic did indeed happen, when you used words like 'resistance' and 'killed off by new ownership'. I tried to explain that such a thing did not happen, that nothing warranting such words really happened.
Romulus Augustulus was sent home rather than killed - that's also a sign. Odoacar never became emperor of Rome, but he also did not becopme 'king of Italy'. he became ruler of his own geermanic followers and asked for leave to rule to Romans for Contantinople. A huge difference. No 'new ownership' intent on wiping away the previous ownership or their soldiers. No need for resistance.
You are corrrect about Nepos, despite his abdication he was technically the last emperor in the West, although that means we usually don't 'count' poor young Romulus, why also held that title until his death, of which we do not know anything.
Besides, titles are also a technicality. we may make much of Odoacar calling himself a king, but the word (regus) was used for emperor as well during Late Roman times, on many occasions in Roman sources.

Quote: Regarding the army, for sure, there was an imperial Roman army in the West until the empire ceased to exist on or about 476 A.D. We do not know precisely how large that army was, but based on the Notitia Dignitatum and other sources, that imperial army was huge—even in the 5th century. I believe some modern scholars have surmised that the comitatensus (West) alone was about 75,000 strong (see Luttwack, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire).
Number at what period? Sure, we can make a guess as to the strength of the field army (comitatenses) c. 394, but we also know that Roman units could whittle away in a short time (or continue to exist for centuries). Such a number could be correct for say 400 AD or perhaps even 420, but what about 450 or 480? We simply do not know.

Quote:Whether the imperial army was made up predominately of Latin Romans, Provincials, Germanics, or whomever, is tangential to the larger issue of: what became of those tens of thousands of soldiers armed under the imperial crown? Again, I would think that somehow they would have been disarmed and disbanded—either by force or choice or both—or else reconstituted elsewhere. Also, I believe that one of the Romanarmytalk contributors was correct in pointing out that Procopius wrote at least one group continued to fight under a Roman standard after the empire had ceased. We might disagree with Procopius from an historiagrahic standpoint, but then we are piting hsitorical evidence against our mere conjectures and intuitions.
No disarming or disbanding, these troops remained in service for anyone who could pay them. For most of them the empire had not come to an end, that's our modern label.
We know, as I wrote earlier, of the Gallic field army that refused to acknowledge Severus in 461, who simply went over to Clovis in 486. The same would have happened in Italy or any region where such a force continued to operate. They simply received pay from a new master. No need for exfiltration or resistance or killing by anyone. It did not happen. They remained, or when no pay was delivered, as we know from a unit in Austria, some men went to collect it. And when these were killed by brigands (o tempora...) the unit disbanded itself.

I've commented on Procopius earlier: he could be writing nonsense (as he did about Britain), but if not he proves my point: Procopius does not suggest that they resisted their new lords! The Limitanei remained in place and fought on under their own banners, as would the field army have done, but for new masters.
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