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Late Roman Unit Titles - By Weapon
#1
I've noticed that there are many infantry units mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum that have very specific weapon orientated titles, such as Funditores, Ballistarii, Lanciarii and the prima Isauria sagittaria ...

From my reading of both Vegetius and Maurice, the late Roman regiments seem to have been combined-arms units, with heavy infantry, javelin-throwers, archers and slingers all incorporated into a single file. The missile troops are stationed the rear of the fighting unit.

Lacking any further evidence, I'm thinking that these unit titles are fossils, preserved from past auxiliary unit weapon types. In the midst of the 4th century, these units were legions, pseudocomitatenses, legio comitatenses and legio palatina - heavy infantry units, with an archaic title (just as the British Army still has the Queens Royal Lancers, the Light Dragoons, the Grenadier Guards, the Queen's Royal Hussars etc.) Anachronisms.

There is no reason, following this train of thought, however, that the units could not still have particular skill and/or preference for those weapons.

Just a thought.

I just can't see much use for 500-1200 slingers in the Eastern Field Army ... but nowhere else in the Empire ...
~ Paul Elliott

The Last Legionary
This book details the lives of Late Roman legionaries garrisoned in Britain in 400AD. It covers everything from battle to rations, camp duties to clothing.
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#2
As for slingers, it is possible that they were only employed in the East because they were only available there. I am not convinced this was so, but the military use of the sling seems to have been as much a cultural choice as a strictly technological one. The military use of the sling had a long tradition in the Middle East (well illustrated by the Assyrians), and further west, the Rhodians and inhabitants of the Balearics made a specialty of it; but other peoples don't seem to have had a taste or aptitude for this. Perhaps the Eastern armies had the easiest time maintaining units of slingers.

On the whole I think you are on the right track. I will add one confusing fact, though: it is entirely possible to construct an army where the administrative units have no correspondance to the fighting arrangements. The English of the Hundred Year's War raised units under the auspices of various nobles, and these units were mixed knights, longbowmen, and (early on) heavy infantry. (see http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/p ... twich1.pdf towards the end of the article). We know from battles like Crecy and Halidon Hill that the English army didn't deploy in mixed units of knights (mounted or not) and archers, but in blocks of one type or the other. Now this is way different from late Rome, but is shows a near total separation between administrative units and fighting units. (or perhaps, the English genius for defying logic Confusedhock: )
Felix Wang
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#3
Quote:Anachronisms.

That's well possible. We may compare it to the confusing 'tribal' names of many other units, which include believable names like Alamanni, Tervingi, etc., but then also completely archaic names.

So what to think? Are all names archaic, possibly based on original detachments or auxiliary units, which then received a life of their own? Or maybe it were honorary names, chosen for a reason.

I've hardly to mention that several scholars still see units of ballistarii as possible (a body guard has been mentioned), or the ones named after 'believable' tribes. Maybe we should not think of the Late Roman army as being operated under one system? maybe both theories are possible?

But confusing.
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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