Welcome to Wargames Foundry!
Cart 0

Late Imperial Romans

Our Late Roman range was sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry. Click on one of the following links to see the range, or scroll down for an article the Late Imperial Roman Army by Adrian Garbett.

Bear in mind that Arthurian infantry and cavalry (5th-6th century Romano British) can be used with the Late Romans and Saxons for greater variety and vise versa.

Click here to return to the main Roman Empire page.

Click on an image to be taken to the product range:

28mm scale lead metal miniature toy soldier from Wargames Foundry Late Imperial Roman Infantry command holding standard with armour and helmet  28mm scale lead metal miniature toy soldier from Wargames Foundry Late Imperial Roman Cavalry and Infantry armoured soldier on armoured horse with large spear 28mm scale lead metal miniature toy soldier from Wargames Foundry Late Imperial Romano British with spear, cloak and shield 


By Adrian Garbett

One of the most intriguing ancient armies is that which fought to preserve the Roman Empire during the era of its decline. For administrative reasons the Empire itself had by this time been split into Eastern and Western sections centred on Rome (initially) and Byzantium respectively. The massive borders and multiple external threats, not to mention internal revolts, required the army to change its focus from expansionist conquest to defence. This resulted in a fundamental change in the way the Empire’s armed forces were organised and recruited. Flexibility was the key word, with the introduction of fixed frontiers and mobile field armies, as well as the wholesale introduction of tribal warriors. Where once the Legions fought on their own terms they now had to face a multiplicity of enemy fighting styles, ranging from highly motivated foot warriors to lightly armoured skirmishing horsemen and heavily armoured cataphract cavalry.



To counter these threats the Roman Army became more diverse and inter-dependent, with all the arms co-operating and complementing one another to give a formidable array of responses to an enemy. The potential complexity of this period means that armies could now range from border garrison part timers supported by barbarian allies, to the might of a provincial field army with elite units, and any mixture of the two. By the Patrician period (see below), just before the fall of the West, some forces were almost totally ‘barbarian’.

The most readily apparent change to the Roman Army was the reduction in size of its Legions. During the mid-3rd century AD theincreasing number of border incursions led to detachments (referred to as vexillationes) being split off from their parent Legions, manynever to rejoin. This state of affairs was not a neat one for the administratively-minded Romans, so they took the pragmatic route and made the detachments into Legions in their own right. These now had a maximum of 1,200 troops, but many were understrength. These new Legions became strongly attached to their home bases and tended to only be called up for major conflicts. Obviously, this caused mustering problems, so central field armies were created and brought together in permanent states of readiness. These field army units (which included Auxilia and cavalry) were given the status of Palatina (after the Palatine Hill in Rome). Legions in militarily active areas were classed as Comitatensis, while more sedentary Legions were classed as Pseudocomitatensis when they were called up in an emergency.

The equipment of the Legions also changed. The heavy pilum javelin gave way to the lighter lancea, the rectangular scutum shield became a large oval, and the short gladius was replaced by a longer spatha sword. Within each Legion there seem to have been archer specialists who shot in support of their heavier-armoured comrades, the proportion being between a quarter and a third of the Legion. The Legion now took on two battlefield roles: firstly as a unit that could shower an enemy with missiles (arrows, darts, and finally javelins), and secondly as one which could engage in hand-to-hand combat. This was a powerful combination but required increased resources for training the troops.

The figures available will enable you to create any of the Legion types, but as a general guide the best equipped and most uniform should be the Palatina field Legions. They can be picked out by having helmet crests and full armour. Comitatensis legions can have a mixture of crested and uncrested helmets, some unarmoured men, and somewhat less uniformity in appearance, while border or Pseudocomitatensis Legions would be lucky to have all their shield patterns matching! For more painting information, see below.

LR001 and 2 provide all the command figures needed for Legions and Auxilia, with armoured troops predominant in the former. Thebearskin-wearing Aquilifer in pack LR002 is a Legionary standard bearer and could be given a standard with the eagle of victory atop the pole. Auxilia carried the draco windsock-style standard instead, which had a silvered metal head and a tail coloured to reflect the unit’s shield colours.

For Palatina troops use LR003/4/5/6/7, for Comitatensis these plus LR008/10/11/12/13/14/15/16, and for border troops LR009/17/18 plus just about any other figure wearing tunic and trousers [LR028/29/30 and FS003 are excellent additions]. All Legions should have apercentage of archers, which can come from LR019.

Supporting, and sometimes surpassing, the legions were the Auxilia. They too were given the field army status of Palatina and fought in allengagements as crack troops. The previous assumption that Auxilia Palatina were second rate troops compared to the Legions is nowstrongly questioned, as is the belief that they wore no armour. What is obvious is that they had a triple role, as missile and combat units like the Legions but in addition as rough terrain troops manoeuvring where Legions and cavalry could not. They were organised as a cohors, but with a maximum of 600 men including a similar percentage of archers to the Legions. It is likely that Auxilia units were paired up on the battlefield to give a combined strength equal to a Legion. Auxilia were strongly represented in the field armies, and there do not seem to have been any Comitatensis units, only the border garrisons, which could be called up as Pseudocomitatensis.

The packs provide a huge choice of Auxilia figures, as you can use armoured infantry as elite units and a mixture of unarmoured buthelmeted figures for other field army cohortes, with any other tunic and trouser wearing figures for the border Auxilia. The only realdifference between Legions and Auxilia by the end of this period seems to have been their name! Remember that each unit will have a draco standard carried by a draconarius (who would not wear a bearskin).

A final infantry type were the specialised archer units called Auxilia Palatina Sagittarii. In the West these were rare (probably not exceeding a single cohors in an army) but they were more common in the East, where they were occasionally reinforced by border garrisons (yet again probably not exceeding a single cohors). The LR019 pack will supply you with the figures you need, with the unarmoured officer [LR001] with his arm aloft and an unarmoured draconarius as command figures.

The prestige units of the Imperial army were the cavalry generally referred to as Equites. There had been an increase in their numbers and importance since earlier armies, with more specialised units of skirmishing javelinmen and archers as well as heavily armoured cataphracts. Equites units had a maximum strength of 300 men under the later organisation, but this figure could be well understrength at times, with variations in the proportions of the various types between Eastern and Western armies. The high status of cavalry is reflected by the fact that although they had been detached at times as vexillationes they were not considered border troops.

The old style armoured cavalryman on an unarmoured horse was still prevalent in Western armies but less so in the East. These are readilycollected from pack LR036. In the Western provinces, especially Gaul, it would be possible to mix in LR033 for the later period (from the 5th century). Standards would be of the vexillum type (a rectangular flag hanging from a crossbar), although at least some had an Imago (some explanation of the different types of Roman standard can be found in the Early Imperial Roman section). For examples see packs IR003, 5 & 6. Standard bearers and officers wore the same, if more ornate, equipment as the troopers, although characters are available in LR020.

The skirmishing javelin armed cavalry called Equites Illyricani could equal or surpass their heavier comrades in numbers and were used in both East and West. LR024 provide the basis for these units, with a crested helmet head for officers. The standard was once again the vexillum.

The increased use of the bow by Roman troops was continued with the introduction of Equites Sagittarii cavalry. Western armies had varying numbers, but they could make up over a quarter of a mounted force. In the East the regular units were few but they weresupplemented by locals referred to as sagittarii indiginae. The obvious choice of figures is LR025, again with a head conversion for an officer. Interestingly they could carry a draco standard if you wished. Local horse-archers will need to be converted from the same figures, but this is relatively easy. File and sand off the appliqué embroidery from the shoulders and then either model a cap or do a head swap with another figure (Sarmatians DS005 are a good example, and you can replace them with the Roman heads for more variation).

The most impressive looking cavalry in Late Imperial forces were doubtless the Equites Catafractarii and Clibanarii, fully armoured men wielding 12 ft (3.6 m) lances and mounted on metal barded horses. They had evolved following Rome’s conflicts with Armenia, Parthia, and Persia, and became an important force, especially in the East. These cavalry did not charge into battle but trotted forwards pushing enemies aside as much by fear as martial prowess. The kontos or lance was a heavy bladed cutting weapon that was wielded with both hands, slicing and stabbing opponents in an almost fencing style of combat. The precise difference between Catafractarii and Clibanarii are still debated at length, but the available information suggests that Clibanarii came from the East and Catafractarii from the West- although, confusingly, both terms are used by some sources to describe the same troops! For your armies, use the pack LR021 with the fully armoured officer from LR020. Standard bearers carried the draco standard and would be equipped as other troopers. If you want to distinguish a unit as Clibanarii I suggest mixing in LR022 and depicting the kontos as slung from the shoulder.

Roman armies were still accompanied in the field by artillery pieces, and pack LR026 gives you two cheiroballista to play with. Some of these were mounted on two-wheeled carts pulled by two mules, which could be an interesting conversion project.

It has long been accepted that Roman Legions wore red tunics and Auxilia wore unbleached linen, but this is now widely challenged. The standard issue tunic of all Late Imperial troops was probably of bleached linen (white) in most cases, with heavy embroidery around the collar and cuffs, in two ‘yokes’ down the chest and shoulders, and on the skirt of the tunic. The shape of the embroidered panels on the
tunic skirt was usually round, but some are depicted as oblong or ‘open’ boxes. This embroidery would be predominantly a reddy purple (true purple and blue being reserved for elite units), but red, brown, green, and black are also possible. The patterning could
include all or only some of the areas noted above and would also appear on cloaks. The higher a unit’s status the more embroidered and colourful its uniform is a good rule.

Elite units are noted as having blue and green clothing, some with gold edging, while red cloaks and brilliant white clothing with purple patterning were given as gifts by one Emperor. Green cloaks are mentioned for one cavalry unit. Trousers seem to have usually been various shades of brown, and service cloaks a reddy brown. Leather was a deep maroon for belts etc, and rawhide for armour and the attached pteurges (literally ‘feathers’) which hung at shoulder and waist; however, white and red examples are possible.

As a general guide I would suggest that officers and elite units have coloured and heavily embroidered tunics and cloaks, Palatina of the field army have a mixture of off-white tunics with variable amounts of embroidery, and Comitatensis and border units have generally dowdy and plain tunics with much less uniformity except for their shields.

The mention of shields is an important point, as the Late Roman Army had a different shield pattern for each unit, whether Legion, Auxilia, or Equites. These ranged from extremely ornate and intricate designs for Palatina units to simple ones for the border garrisons. The main source for these is the Notitia Dignitatum, which is basically an audit of the Roman army of around 420 AD and records all Western infantry and cavalry and most Eastern infantry units. It is a massive work and is available from the Bodleian Library as a set of colour transparencies; in black and white form with colour notes in some wargames reference works; in some illustrated military books (but beware of artistic licence!); and possibly over the Internet.

During this period the Western Romans fought against Alans, Scots-Irish, Picts, Moors, Goths, Old Saxons, Franks, and Tolosan Visigoths, while the Eastern Romans were in conflict with Armenians, more Goths, Sassanid Persia, and the Huns. They also fought each other incessantly! As time went by more and more barbarian allies were employed, initially fighting in their tribal style but later entering the Imperial Army as Auxilia Palatina, especially in the East. In the Western Empire, Franks, Alans and Visigoths were employed, while in the East we see Armenians, Visigoths (again), and Arabs in Imperial employ. With the rise to power from about 425 AD of generals fighting for their own ends (the Patrician period, for which see below), there came a massive influx of such barbarian troops into the Roman Army, which inevitably changed the composition if not the organisation of Imperial forces.

This period saw the rise of Imperial warlords and puppet Emperors, the fall of the Western Empire, and, at its close, a complete reorganisation in the East, culminating in its subsequent continuation as the Byzantine Empire. Armies now ranged from small warbands of highly motivated warriors who carved out their own kingdoms, to massive allied field armies such as that which was involved in the titanic struggle against the hordes of Attila. German and Gothic chieftains achieved high office in the Imperial army and, in the case of Stilicho, went on to protect the Empire’s shrinking Western province.

Under pressure from the nomadic peoples coming up against their borders, the Romans instituted the Federate policy, which settled whole tribal populations within the Empire for use as warriors against other tribes attempting to enter uninvited. Contact with the Huns brought about changes in the composition of Imperial armies, with Romans taking up the role of armoured horse-archers which they would continue to develop in the East for centuries. Elements of the Foederati or Federates were inducted into the Roman Army provided with training, so an average Patrician Roman field force could comprise a core of regular troops supported by trained Foederati fighting as Auxilia Palatina, plus warband foot warriors and cavalry, barbarian mercenaries, and allied nations. This is an excellent army to collect, as it provides a multitude of different figures and fighting styles that are difficult for an opponent to counter.

Foederati can make up the bulk of an army. The trained troops can be depicted by bareheaded Auxilia or by using Saxons [FS002] with oval shields and spears (the scramaseax swords and throwing axes can be replaced with wire). For the ‘wild’ Foederati use any of the Franks or Saxons. Foederati cavalry were generally unarmoured (but with better equipment as time went on) and can be assembled from Dacians [DS005/7], Sarmatians [DS006], Arthurians [LR031/33], and a few Romans, especially the unarmoured types [LR024].

The Roman regular units also changed with time and by the middle of this period some of Equites could be armed with 10–12 ft (3.0–3.6m) lances use wire). By the end Hunnic influence had taken hold and many Equites units had evolved into armoured horse archers. These are slightly more difficult to depict, but pack LR022 has two figures that are close to their appearance. In the East Clibanarii/Catafractarii continued to be utilised.

The use of allies increased markedly. In his battle against Attila in 451 AD the Roman General Aetius was accompanied by Visigoths,Armoricans, Franks, Saxons, Alans, Sarmatians, and Burgundians. Plenty to choose from there!

The only other major component were the Huns. Whole tribes were taken into Roman service before the rise of Attila, and they were even used independently to annihilate one German tribe. Aetius, the greatest Western warlord, lived for a time as an Imperial hostage amongst the Huns and used his influence and understanding of them to raise large Hunnic forces to defeat and pressurise his opponents.