Full Version: Centurions 4th Century AD
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Hi all.

Am currently writing a novel based on the battle of Adrianople 378 AD. Am struggling to find any evidence of whether Centurions were still in existence? Have read a lot of books that discuss the changes to unit sizes in the latter stages of the empire, these also include officers who would have been higher ranking, but nothing about centurions. Can anyone help me out?
Probably replaced by centenarius at the time of Adrianople, but there is not a huge amount of evidence.

Late Army ranks:
I really do not know about the Latin term itself, however, in the Greek terminology of the Roman offices, the term has survived in use at least up to the late 6th, early 7th century AD verbatim transliterated as κεντυρίων (centurion). If you need me to, I can quote a number of relevant papyri.
I wondered that too.
Unless I write in Latin or Greek I will have to provide a translation of everything, even their dialogue and internal thoughts.
So, assuming that Centurio translates into Centurion, then would Centenarius also translate into Centurion?
I'd imagine so. It's possible terminology varied from unit to unit.
The thing is that a heavily Graecisized Eastern Empire undoubtedly used its acquired Latin terminology in a Greek fashion, in Greek letters and for a population that used the Greek language over Latin. The fact that we have many later texts written by common soldiers/officers/administrators using the word centurion in Greek letters (fully transliterated) is for me strong evidence that the term was still alive (I do not say predominantly so, there are other words too used for the same office, some completely Greek and others also of Latin source). I doubt that the Greek speaking soldiery would call someone a centurion if the term was not alive in Latin too, even if other terms might co-exist for the same office.
Hi Macedon,

Thanks for that, if you could that would be great. As much as I want the book to be historically accurate I am trying to not have too many Latin words in, I think it can be quite heavy for a reader after a while. (Not to mention difficult to write!)
As George says, the word κεντυρίων appearing in later documents indicates that a rank of that name continued through later Roman history.

From the late 3rd century, legion centurions seem to be more commonly known as ordinarii - sometimes centurio ordinarius shows us that the words were connected, or perhaps even equivalent.

Ordinarius continued as a centurion synonym into the 6th century, when it appears on papyri from southern Egypt.

Except for one rather debatable inscription, the term centenarius is restricted to the new units of the field army, the auxilia palatina and (perhaps) the scholae. As far as I know, centenarii are never found in the regular legions, whether limitanei or comitatus troops. The term is connected to a new and different rank structure, including biarchus and circitor, that seems to have come originally from the cavalry.

Meanwhile, you might find these threads useful:

Diocletian: legions and rank structure

Late Roman ranks

Legionary Officers and NCOs - Late Roman Army
Some examples from the 6th century would be :

P.LOND 5.1734, l.27 “(hand 5) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Εὐλ̣ό̣γι̣ο̣ς̣ Ἀ̣λ̣λ̣ά̣μ̣ω̣[νος] κ̣[εν]τ̣[υρ(ίων)] λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 6) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Δῖος Παύλου στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 7) Φλ(αύιος) Ἄπα Δῖος Μαρτίο(υ) στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 8) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Ἰωάννης Ἀνθερ̣ΐο(υ) στρ(ατιώτης) λεγεωνη Σήνης μαρτυρῶ.”
P.LOND 5.1722, l.51 “Φλ(αύιος) Φώτις Θαλασίου Ἀγουστάλι(ος) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης ἀξιωθεὶς ἔγραψα ὑ(*)πὲρ αὐτῶν γράμματα μὴ εἰδότων. (hand 3) ☧ Αὐρήλιος Ἰακὼβ Ψεννησίου ἀπὸ Συήνης μαρτηρῶ. (hand 4) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Δίδυμος Σιλβ̣ανο̣ῦ̣ ἀπὸ βικαρ(ιανῶν) μαρτυρῶ. (hand 5) † Φλ(αύιος) Παπν̣ο̣(ύ)θις Δ̣ί̣ο̣υ̣ στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 6) Φλ(αύιος) Ἰωάννης Πα̣α̣μ̣ σ̣τρ(ατιώτης) λ̣ε̣γ(εῶνος) Σ̣υ̣ή̣νης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 7) Φλ(αύιος) Μ̣α̣κ̣ά̣ρ̣ι̣ο̣ς̣ Ἰσακίου στρ(ατιώτης) στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνυς μαρτυρῶ. (hand 8) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Ἀβραὰμ Σ̣τ̣εργορίο(υ) ἀπὸ ἀκτουαρ(ίων) λεγ(εῶνος) Φιλῶν μαρτυρῶ ☧. (hand 9) Φλ(αύιος) Μακάριος Ποσίου στρατ̣ιώτης λεγε̣ῶνος Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 10) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Παείων Ψαχώτος στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 1) ☧ Φλ(αύιος) Ἀβραάμ(ιος)(*) Παμ̣ητ̣ κεντυρ(ίων) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης ἐσ̣ω̣μάτισα.” (530 AD)

P.MUENCH 1.8, ctr, l.41 “† Φλ(αύιος) Ἰωάνης Ἀβραάμιος κεντυρ(ίων) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης ἀξειωθεὶς ἔγραψα ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς γράματα μὴ εἰδηείυς. (hand 3) † Φλ(αύιος) Βασιλείδης Δίου στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ †. (hand 4) † Φλ(αύιος) Παπνοῦθις Δίου στρ(ατιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 5) † Φλ(αύιος) Εὐλόγιος Ἀλλάμωνος κεντυρ(ίων) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ.” (540 AD)

The following is a very good example because it first has the term unabbreviated and because of the fact that although the term is mentioned twice it is spelled differently, evidence of how the different "i"s were at the time pronounced the same, that is the term should be pronounced 'kentirion' with all 'i's pronounced as in 'bit' .

P.MUENCH 1.9, l.105 “(hand 4) † Φλ(αύιος) Κῦρος Ἰωάννου κεντυρίων ἀριθμ(οῦ) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ τῇ πράσι ἀκούσας παρὰ τὴς θεμένης †. (hand 5) † Φλ(αύιος) Ἰωσὴφ Βίκτωρ ἰατρὸς καὶ στρα(τιώτης) λεγ(εῶνος) Συήνης μαρτυρῶ †. (hand 6) Φλ(αύιος) Μουσαίου(*) Ἀβρααμίου στρ(ατιώτης) ἀριθμοῦ Συήνης μαρτυρῶ †. (hand 7) † Φλ(αύιος) Παπνοῦθις Μαρτυρίοου κεντηρίον ἀριθμοῦ Συήνης μαρτυρῶ †. hand 8) † Φλ(αύιος) Ἰωάννης Κολοῦθος κεντηρείων ἀριθμοῦ Συήνης μαρτυρῶ. (hand 9) † Φλ(αύιος) Ἄπα Δῖος Μη[νᾶ] στρα(τιώτης) ἀριθμοῦ Συήνης μαρτυρῶ τῇ πράσει ἀκούσας παρὰ του θεμενου.” (585 AD)

This is a clear example of the Greek term hekatontarchos from 320 AD:

P.COL 7.188, l.2 “Οὐαλέριος Ἀειῶν ἑκ̣α̣τ̣ό̣νταρχος οὐιξιλατίωνος ἱππέων προ̣μώτων λεγίω̣ν̣[ος] β Τραια̣ν̣ῆ̣ς̣ τ̣ῶ̣ν̣ ὑπὸ Δηκέντιο̣ν̣ π̣[ραι]π̣ό̣σιτον” (320 AD)
Vegetius linked the terms centenarius and centurio, but he is not always reliable. Possibly, a duality of ranks reflected the move from the traditional Roman unit composition to a decimal (multiple of 10 system), such as was common in later Byzantine units. As has been mentioned new types of unit would be the first to use a new rank system, with old-style units possibly retaining old-style ranks. Steppe nomads often used a decimal system of organisation for warbands, possibly relevant here.
The Huns used the old Xiongnu system which was a decimal system. Units of 100, 1000, 10000, etc. The Alans probably did too (the Scythians and to a lesser extent Sarmatians did) but the Sarmatians and Alans weren't as well organized as the Scythians and Huna.

It would take me a while to explain it all but I might email Dr. Kim about this and see what he thinks. Although he is very biased in favor of the Huns.