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© Osprey Publishing • www.ospreypublishing.com


ROMAN LEGIONARY AD 284–337 The age of Diocletian and Constantine


ILLUSTRATED BY SEÁN Ó’BRÓGÁIN  Series editor Marcus Cowper

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8 20










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ROMAN LEGIONARY AD 284–337 INTRODUCTION Diocletian and Constantine were the greatest of the later Roman emperors, and their era marks the climax of the traditional legionary system – Diocletian created more legions than any emperor since Augustus. Most frontier provinces were defended by a pair of legions, and field armies were composed of detachments drawn from those legions. Diocletian thus continued a centuries-old practice. However, he also began a process of dividing legions, including his new creations, into ‘half-legions’ and the detachments withdrawn for field army service, or garrison duties in foreign provinces, tended not to return to their parent formations. They became small, independent ‘legions’. This ensured the permanent break-up of the classic Roman legion of ten cohorts, and those attached to the increasingly permanent imperial field armies achieved elite status and better terms of service, while the frontier legions were essentially downgraded. Constantine began the process of formalizing the division of the army into elite comitatenses (field army units) and ripenses or limitanei (river bank or frontier units) in ad 325. However, the fully developed Late Roman legion of the mid- and late 4th century ad lies beyond the scope of this book. The legionary forces of ad 284–337, organized in cohorts and centuries and led by prefects, praepositi and centurions, would have been recognizable to Roman generals of earlier eras, and legionaries continued to form the backbone of the army.

Diocletian depicted in the typical fashion of a ‘soldieremperor’ of the late 3rd century ad, with radiate crown and a practical short, cropped hair. He is unshaven because he was continually on campaign or labouring on behalf of the Empire. The reverse celebrates ‘the harmony of the army’. (© RHC Archive)

CHRONOLOGY  (All dates ad) 284




Assassination of Numerian; Diocles, commander of the protectores, is proclaimed emperor and takes the name Diocletian.  Carinus, brother and co-emperor of Numerian, defeats usurper Julianus at Verona but is in turn defeated by Diocletian at the Margus. Diocletian appoints Maximian Caesar (junior emperor); Maximian defeats the Bagaudae and repels German invasion of Gaul. Diocletian defeats the Sarmatians.   Maximian promoted to Augustus (senior emperor). Revolt of Carausius in Britain and northern Gaul. 

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Maximian. His loyalty to Diocletian was unswerving, but he chafed in retirement and tried to usurp Maxentius and then Constantine, who forced him to commit suicide. (© G. Dall’Orto)

286–287 288 289 290 293

German raids across the Rhine into Roman territory. Maximian leads major punitive expedition into Germany.  Frankish king Gennoboudes submits to Maximian.  Diocletian campaigns against the Sarmatians. Failure of Maximian’s naval operations against Carausius.   Diocletian’s second campaign against the Saracens.  Diocletian establishes the Tetrarchy with Constantius and Galerius as Caesars. Constantius captures Boulogne and ejects Carausius’ forces from Gaul; Carausius assassinated and replaced by Allectus in Britain. Constantius defeats German invasion of Batavia. Revolt in Upper Egypt. 

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294 295 296


Constantine in ad 307/8. Charismatic and supremely ambitious, he fought three civil wars to bring the whole of the Roman Empire under his rule. (© RHC Archive)

297–298 298 299/300 300/1 301 302 302 303 304 305


306/7 307


308–309 309 310


Galerius defeats Egyptian rebels.  Galerius campaigns against the Persians.  Constantius and praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus recapture Britain. Maximian holds Rhine frontier and then campaigns in Spain. Diocletian defeats the Quadi, campaigns against the Carpi, and then conducts operations against Persia.  Maximian campaigns against Quinquegentiani in Mauretania. Galerius defeated by Narses I of Persia near Carrhae. Domitianus and Achilles revolt in Egypt.   Diocletian besieges Alexandria and defeats Egyptian rebels.  Maximian campaigns in Tripolitania. Galerius defeats Narses in Armenia and captures Ctesiphon.  Purge of Christians from the Roman Army. Galerius campaigns against the Marcomanni.  Constantius defeats the Franks.  Galerius campaigns against the Carpi.  Galerius fights the Carpi and Sarmatians.  Constantius defeats the Alamanni at Lingones.  Galerius campaigns against the Carpi. Constantius is victorious over the Germans at Vindonissa.  Constantius repels German raiders. Diocletian defeats the Carpi.  Abdication of Diocletian and Maximian; Constantius and Galerius become senior emperors with Severus and Maximinus as their Caesars; Constantius defeats the Picts.  Death of Constantius at York; his eldest son Constantine is declared emperor by the army in Britain. Maxentius is elevated by the Praetorian Guard in Rome and calls his father, Maximian, out of retirement.  Galerius achieves victories over the Sarmatians. Constantine fights the Franks.  Severus, official senior emperor in the West, marches on Rome to eject Maxentius, but his army deserts to Maximian; Severus is imprisoned and later executed. Galerius invades Italy and approaches Rome, but is forced to withdraw when his soldiers start to desert to Maxentius and Maximian.  Constantine attacks the Bructeri and bridges the Rhine at Cologne. Domitius Alexander revolts against Maxentius in Africa. Conference of official emperors at Carnuntum: Maximian compelled to retire again; Licinius made Augustus and charged with defeating Maxentius.  Galerius fights the Carpi. Licinius campaigns against Maxentius’ forces in Dalmatia and north-east Italy.  Domitius Alexander is defeated by Maxentius’ praetorian prefect, Volusianus.  Constantine campaigns against the Franks. Maximian revolts against Constantine but is defeated at Marseille and commits suicide. Maximinus campaigns on the

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311 312


313/4 314 314/5 316 317

318 319 323


325 326

328 330 332 334 336


Persian frontier. Licinius defeats the Sarmatians.  Death of Galerius. Maximinus attempts to seize Licinius’ Asian provinces.  Constantine invades Italy, captures Segusium, and defeats Maxentius’ armies at Turin, Brixia and Verona; Constantine advances on Rome; defeat and death of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Maximinus campaigning in Armenia. Death of Diocletian.  Maximinus invades Thrace but is defeated by Licinius at Campus Ergenus; Maximinus commits suicide; Licinius secures his position by ordering the executions of the families of Diocletian, Galerius and Maximinus. Constantine campaigns on the Lower Rhine.  Licinius campaigns on the Persian frontier.  Constantine campaigning in Germany.  Licinius fights the Sarmatians.  Constantine defeats Licinius at Cibalae.  Licinius defeated at Adrianople but turns Constantine’s position at Beroea and forces a negotiated settlement; he cedes his European territories, with the exception of the diocese of Thrace, to Constantine.  Licinius campaigns against the Sarmatians.  Crispus, son of Constantine, campaigns against the Franks.  Constantine defeats Sarmatian invaders at Campona, Margus and Bononia and pursues them across the Danube. Crispus campaigns on the Rhine.  Constantine defeats Gothic incursion. Licinius defeated at Adrianople and besieged in Byzantium by Constantine; Crispus defeats Licinius’ fleet in the Hellespont; Constantine defeats Licinius and his Gothic allies at Chrysopolis; Licinius abdicates. Empire reunited under Constantine.  Licinius is accused of plotting against Constantine and executed.  Constantine executes Crispus (son by his first marriage) and Fausta (his second wife) following a mysterious scandal.  Constantine bridges the Danube at Oescus and defeats the Goths; he proceeds to campaign on the Rhine.  Constantinus, son of Constantine, campaigns against the Alamanni.  Constantine wins major Gothic victory.  Constantine campaigns against the Sarmatians.  Constantine campaigns north of the Danube and takes the title Dacicus Maximus to celebrate the reconquest of former Roman territory.  Constantine prepares for war with Persia but falls ill and dies at Nicomedia.  

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Maxentius was overlooked in the succession of ad 305, but in 306 he was elevated by the Praetorian Guard. He was the last emperor to rule from Rome. (© RHC Archive)


RECRUITMENT AND TERMS OF SERVICE Age at recruitment In our period, most recruits to the legions were aged between 16 and 20. Valerius Flavinus was 16 when he joined a detachment of legio XI Claudia at Aquileia in north-east Italy (CIL V 895). A certain Iulius (his nomen, or family name, is lost) and Aurelius Iustinus were approved for service (probatus) in the same legion when aged 16 and 17 respectively (ILS 2333, 2332). Their epitaphs render the term probatus into soldiers’ speak as probitus or provitus. We occasionally come across even younger recruits, such as Florius Baudio, aged only 15 when he enrolled in legio II Italica in c. ad 282 (ILS 2777). Valerius Saturnanus entered II Italica aged 17 (CIL XI 4085). He fought alongside Baudio in the Divitenses detachment of the legion during Constantine’s invasion of Italy in ad 312 (below). An anonymous legionary joined II Italica when he was 18; he died seven years later in Maximian’s A...

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