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Late Roman Unit Sizes
Thank you to everyone for the responses. It has cleared up the issue for me. I have two sizes for a numerus, of which one was calculated on being a rounded number. I’ve been switching between these two numbers for years and it is just now that I have found the answer (for me), that would explain what a numerus was.

 
These are my personal views. As Ammianus is aware that there were cohorts, centuries and maniples, his reference to the term numeros means the existence of another legion organisation. My question was why another organisation. I found the answer some years ago to this but dismissed it as I thought it would be making the legion rather overly organised. However, after re-examining this idea, it makes sense and is very logical.
 
My take is the numerii organisation comes into effect when the legion is not at full strength. When you reduce the size of the cohorts, the numerii organisation now comes into play as it compensates for the reduction in the size of the cohorts. The system appears to have its roots in the time of the principate. So those two quotes from Ammianius indicate enough men are selected from the numerii to form a new numerus.
 
My support for this is Zosimus’ (6 82) six tagmata of auxiliary soldiers numbering four myriads and Sozomen’s (9 8) six arithmoi of about 4,000 men. Sozomen has about (amphi) 4,000 men, which means that Zosimus has rounded his figure. Second the ratio of men is 10:1. The disparity between the two authors is Zosimus has multiplied the total number of centuries by 100 men per century, whereas Sozomen has the correct number of men for each century.
 
So in Ammianus two references, I believe whole centuries are being chosen to form those 300 men, rather than selecting individual soldiers.
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(11-02-2016, 12:01 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: I maintain there was a standardized regiment called a numerus.

But why is this necessary? We know that there were various different types of unit in the late army, called legiones, auxilia, vexillationes, cuneii etc. We also know that most, or perhaps all, of these units could be referred to as numeri.

So why should we assume the existence of another type of unit (if that's what you're suggesting) of a fixed size, solely called a numerus?

It seems to be adding an extra level of complexity to what's already a quite complex picture!
Nathan Ross
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Because of the point Robert makes. Most of these terms were used interchangeably - Vexillatio becomes both a generic term and a specific regiment in the 4th century. Legion and Cohort were both used generically but were specific regiments.
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(11-03-2016, 01:39 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Most of these terms were used interchangeably - Vexillatio becomes both a generic term and a specific regiment in the 4th century. Legion and Cohort were both used generically but were specific regiments.

At the risk of labouring this point ( [Image: shocked.png]) - I don't agree!

Vexillatio was not a generic word - it referred specifically to a cavalry unit of the field army. While certain writers (particularly very late ones like Claudian and Gildas) used 'legion' and 'cohort' to describe units generically, we're talking here about official military nomenclature, not literature.

Numerus was used, it seems officially, to refer to many different types of unit, from legiones to auxilia to equites and scholae. So it could not have referred to a single fixed number of men, unless we assume that all these units were the same size.

It is possible that the numeri of auxilia were originally formed with the same organisation as a cavalry vexillatio or schola - they seem to use what might be a new cavalry rank structure, for some reason - but even so this would not explain why legions were also called numeri in the ND and the Perge inscription.
Nathan Ross
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(11-03-2016, 01:57 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote:
(11-03-2016, 01:39 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: Most of these terms were used interchangeably - Vexillatio becomes both a generic term and a specific regiment in the 4th century. Legion and Cohort were both used generically but were specific regiments.

Vexillatio was not a generic word - it referred specifically to a cavalry unit of the field army. While certain writers (particularly very late ones like Claudian and Gildas) used 'legion' and 'cohort' to describe units generically, we're talking here about official military nomenclature, not literature.

Numerus was used, it seems officially, to refer to many different types of unit, from legiones to auxilia to equites and scholae. So it could not have referred to a single fixed number of men, unless we assume that all these units were the same size.

It is possible that the numeri of auxilia were originally formed with the same organisation as a cavalry vexillatio or schola - they seem to use what might be a new cavalry rank structure, for some reason - but even so this would not explain why legions were also called numeri in the ND and the Perge inscription.

Vexillatio became a word for a cavalry unit ion the field army (don't know exectly when)  but before that it was a generic word for any number of troops dispatched from a parent unit.
Numerus may have become a more generic word for different unit types, but also originated as a word for an unspecified number of troops.

The thing is, the Roman sources that we have don't use the same words for the same subject, which leaves us guessing. This goes for military equipment as much as it goes for military organisation. Frustrating as it is, the harder we try to make sense of this the more we run into a dead-end street I think. trying to give hard definitions to loosely used terminology is doomed to fail.

I agree with Nathan that there is no reason to look for a 'hidden' or 'secondary' army organisation behind the one we have. A numeri (not numerii) organosation for understrength army units would be extremely complex for modern armies, it would be totally confusing for anyone in the Roman army.

Why would temporary units need a fixed number of troops? Did the US Army fix the numbers in their task forces? Did the German Wehrmacht limit set number limits in their Kampfgruppen? Roman vexillations and numeri were every bit as much created for special needs during special times, no matter that sometimes such units 'solidified' into standing units, and the names stuck. I don't see any reason to look for a special army organisation where it's not needed.
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
[Image: artgroepbutton.jpg]
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The two examples given in Ammianus where 300 men were taken from each unit, would you think that each group of 300 would have in itself been considered a Numerus?
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
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Robert wrote:

I agree with Nathan that there is no reason to look for a 'hidden' or 'secondary' army organisation behind the one we have. A numeri (not numerii) organosation for understrength army units would be extremely complex for modern armies, it would be totally confusing for anyone in the Roman army.
 
How so? If as I am led to believe a numerus was a unit of varying size, then how does a commander communicate his need for reinforcements? Please send me a numerus and then live in hope that someone would send a numerus of 2,000 men which the commander is wanting, or does he hope for the best? This is gambling. A Roman legion has a fixed number of men and a fixed number of organisations that can be easily detached.
 
Firstly, let’s not get into an argument about the finer details being historical or not but explore the possibility. Like a what if scenario. Let’s have a legion of 4,800 men organised into 30 maniples each of 160 men and 60 centuries each of 80 men.
 
Let’s say this legion is arrayed in three battle lines each of 1,600 men (10 maniples), with the first battleline consisting of the hastati, the second battle lines the principes and the third battleline the pilani.
 
Following the doctrine of the extraordinarii being one fifth of the infantry, by dividing the 4,800 men by five produces five units of 960 men consisting of two maniples of hastati, two maniples of principes and two maniples of pilani. Let’s call this unit structure a vexillation. Now if a commander ordered a vexillation to be sent somewhere, those carrying out the order would know the number of men and the different troop types required.
 
Now what if the commander decided to send the legion somewhere but wanted his camp protected. He elects to have the 1,600 pilani stay behind and guard the camp. This means a 960 man vexillation will be reduced to 640 men. Do we still call this under strength vexillation a vexillation or does it have another name? Wouldn’t it be easier to have another name so that any subordinate commander knows that what is required is two maniples of hastati and two maniples of principes.
 
Adrian wrote:
The two examples given in Ammianus where 300 men were taken from each unit, would you think that each group of 300 would have in itself been considered a Numerus?
 
Not sure who you have directed the question to but in a previous post I stated I believed they took a number of centuries from each numerus of the legion and formed then into a new numerus.
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I don't know, really. There's someone who insists that all 5500 Sarmatians taken to Britain were one numerus. Don't think that one's correct, but who can tell what was 'the' numerus?
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
[Image: artgroepbutton.jpg]
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I personally feel that any detachments from a parent unit would remain detached an not amalgamated with other detachments because it would have been an administrative nightmare knowing who was in which detachment and how they should be paid and how would they then break the numerus apart to send the detachments back to the parent units?
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
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Robert wrote:

There's someone who insists that all 5500 Sarmatians taken to Britain were one numerus.
 
It would be funny if a commander had requested a numerus of Sarmatians (following the principle of a numerus having no fixed number), and hoping for 500 Sarmatians, ends up with 5500 Sarmatians.
 
You believe too many organisations in a legion would make matters complicated. Once I would have agreed with you. According to Varro, a cohort was a coupling of several maniples. Notice that Varro does not give a fixed number. There is a reason for this. Following Varro this would means that any unit that had a number of maniples could be termed a cohort. Therefore, a cohort could vary in size depending on the number of maniples it was allocated. However, the Romans are not stupid and do have fixed sizes for the various cohort organisations within a legion. As I have found there are two cohort organisations. I call them cohorts because the primary sources use that term. One cohort organisation is commanded by a military tribune and the other is the standard 10 cohorts. So there are 6 tribune cohorts in a legion, which being less in number than the 10 cohort system, is larger in size. The tribune cohort system is the one that takes precedence on the battlefield and governs how the legion fights. The 10 cohorts system is applicable to the camp organisation. However, it is a flexible organisation and both systems can be employed on the battlefield if need be. Sulla at Chaeronea comes to mind.
 
So far the Late Roman legion is following these two cohort systems.
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(11-04-2016, 09:52 AM)Steven James Wrote: If as I am led to believe a numerus was a unit of varying size, then how does a commander communicate his need for reinforcements? Please send me a numerus and then live in hope that someone would send a numerus of 2,000 men which the commander is wanting, or does he hope for the best?

I don't see the problem. If a commander needs reinforcements, he doesn't say, 'I want a numerus' or 'I want a vexillation'. He says, 'I want x number of men', be it 100, 500, 1000 or whatever. This could be made up of the appropriate number of men drawn from a single unit (note that I am not using 'unit' in any specific sense) or, for a large number, from more than one unit. This detachment would then be referred to as a 'vexillation', whatever its size. I agree that this is unlikely to made up of individual soldiers but, more likely, of complete sub-units, the members of which would be used to serving together.
Michael King Macdona

And do as adversaries do in law, -
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
(The Taming of the Shrew: Act 1, Scene 2)
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(11-04-2016, 08:17 AM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: Vexillatio became a word for a cavalry unit ion the field army (don't know exectly when)  but before that it was a generic word for any number of troops dispatched from a parent unit.


As far as I know, the last dated reference for a vexillation of infantry detached from a legion comes from an Egyptian papyrus of AD320. The cavalry units of the same name had probably appeared already by that point, but by the mid 4th century the word seems to be used solely to refer to them in an official sense (so, for example, vexillatione XII Catafractariorum of AE 1919, 18, or the mysterious vexillatione Fesianesa of CIL 03, 371). The (tetrarchic?) vexillatione eqquitum Dalmatarum comitatensium Ancialitana of CIL 03, 405 may have been an early example, which is why the title needs to specify that they are cavalry (eqquitum) rather than infantry!

Diocletian's rescript on veteran privileges distinguishes troops serving in 'a legion or vexillation', while the Brigetio tablet of 311 mentions 'legionary soldiers or cavalrymen serving in the Illyrian vexillations' - so we can probably assume that the 'vexillatione equitum' dates from the tetrarchic period at least, and came to replace the older meaning of an infantry detachment at around the same time.


(11-04-2016, 08:17 AM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: the harder we try to make sense of this the more we run into a dead-end street I think. trying to give hard definitions to loosely used terminology is doomed to fail.

I agree. Although I don't think it's necessary so hard, if we avoid trying to overthink the situation! The late army used a variety of terms for military units, drawing them together under the collective (and deliberately flexible) title of numerus; while we could ask how many men there might have been in a legio palatina, or a numerus of auxilia, or a cavalry vexillatione (being aware that these could have fluctuated between certain points, as Nicasie suggests), trying to determine a single fixed number for every unit called a numerus is like the proverbial question about the length of a piece of string!


(11-04-2016, 10:06 AM)ValentinianVictrix Wrote: I personally feel that any detachments from a parent unit would remain detached an not amalgamated with other detachments

I'd say so. Most principiate inscriptions mentioning detachments of more than one legion have vexillationes in the plural, I think, so they were kept separate - even if operating together - and not merged. There's also the episode from the Jewish war when the Egyptian detachments, sent to replace men from the other legions, were still apparently fighting together in their own units rather than being amalgamated with the others.
Nathan Ross
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To be fair though by the time of Maurice we do end up with a fixed number for the Numerus which is, IIRC, two Bandons.
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Do you think there is any mileage in the suggestion that if Ammianus gave two clear examples of detachments numbering 300 men each were taken from the parent unit then this was a standard detachment size at the time Ammianus served in the Late Roman Army?
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
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(11-04-2016, 01:41 PM)ValentinianVictrix Wrote: this was a standard detachment size at the time Ammianus served in the Late Roman Army?

Possibly. Although Amm also mentions detachments of 500 on a couple of occasions, and a thousand at least once.

Other than the habit of Roman generals (or historians?) of thinking in terms of hundreds of men, as Michael says above this might further support the idea that a numerus had no standard size: if a commander wanted a force of a certain number, rather than asking for X amount of numeri he would ask for X-hundred men from each numerus, and would know what he was getting!



(11-04-2016, 12:40 PM)Flavivs Aetivs Wrote: To be fair though by the time of Maurice we do end up with a fixed number for the Numerus which is, IIRC, two Bandons.

I'm not that familiar with the Strategikon, but you might need to check this - as far as I'm aware, Maurice doesn't say it, although I could be wrong!

There are a couple of interesting Greek inscriptions that might support this idea though - a votive base of a tribune of Constantiniani of c.AD500 calls the unit numerus Constantinianorum. This is probably the auxilia palatina unit from the ND. Another inscription, mentioned on that page but not given in full, comes from "the tombstone of a member of a subdivision (bandon) of the Constantiniani at Pylai in Bithynia, dating to AD 531 ([σ]τρατούτης δευτέ[ρο]υ [β]άνδου Κοσταν[τ]ινηακῶν)"

There's a discussion of this second inscription in Tyche: unfortunately the first paper is in French and the reply in German! (the awesome multilingualism of European scholarship once again...) But Zuckermann's 'rejoinder' is available in English at least... It seems that R. Scharf (1997) questioned the identification both of the unit and of 'bandon' as a subdivision.

Interesting that 'bandon' seems to relate to the unit flag, just like vexillatio. Could this much later unit also have originally been cavalry?
Nathan Ross
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