Patrician Roman Command

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Patrician Roman - DBA #81
(425 - 493 AD)

By Chris Brantley
Images by David Kuijt

Note: all images are thumbnails, and are clickable to see the larger original.

The Patrician Roman list covers the period from the rise of the general Aetius in 425 AD until the Ostrogoths destroyed Odavacer's Roman army and established their own Kingdom in Italy in 493 AD. In the age of Roman "Shadow" emperors, actual power was wielded by the "Patrician" Roman generals such as Aetius, Ricimer, Orestes, and Odovacar. The title "Patrius" was first conferred on the generals Stilicho and Constantius, subjects of the Late Roman -West (#77a) list. Eventually, even the pretense of an emperor became unnessary in 476 AD, when the army deposed Romulus Augustulus and made Odovacer the King of Italy. During this tumultuous period, the Patrician generals sought to hold together the pieces of the Roman empire through careful alliances and by exploiting divisions between the barbarian invaders. Ultimately, their efforts proved futile.

Equites Illyricani of the Promoti Seniores In addition to the Patrician Romans, DBA #81 covers the army of the Gallo-Roman Kingdom of Soissons. During the reigns of generals turned emperor Avitus and Majorian, Patrician Rome armies had fought to limit Visigothic expansion in Gaul. Then the Patrician Ricimer (himself a full-blooded Visigoth) confronted with the threat of Vandal incursions from North Africa, sought to shift the focus back to the defense of Italy. He executed Majorian and put the puppet Libius Severus on the imperial throne in 461 AD. This provoked a rebellion by Aegidius, the last magister militum per Gallias, who founded a kingdom in northern Gaul centered in/around Soissons. Aegidius attempted to work in concert with Gaiseric the Vandal to bring down Ricimir and Severus, but was thwarted by aggressive Visigothic expansion from the Acquitani region. Later, Clovis and the Franks overwhelmed Aegidius's son Syagrius at the Battle of Soissons in 486 AD, marking the end of this Gallo-Roman kingdom.

In addition to the western Patrician campaigns against the barbarians, this period is also famous for the conversion of the Visigoths to Arian Christianity and their almost "fanatical" expansion under King Euric (466-484 AD), which saw the Visigothic armies raid as far as Arles and the Rhone, and saw the Visigothic kingdom grow to encompass most of Spain, southern Provence, and Acquitaine. Also noteworthy was the Eastern Emperior Leo's fruitless campaign against the Vandals in North Africa, coordinated with the Western emperor Anthemius. A three-pronged attack under the overall command of Leo's brother-in-law, the incompetent Basiliscus, was poorly coordinated and ended in an embarrassing and costly withdrawal. Finally Anthemius also solicited aid from the Amoricans (from the area of Brittany) against the Visigoths that prompted two failed invasions and fueled future legends of King Arthur on the continent.


1x 3Cv Cavalry of the Armigeri Equites. These were outfitted in mail, helmet, and large shield.
1x 2LH Equites Illyricani of the Promoti Seniores Equites Illyricani, Equites Sagittarii, or Aetius' Hun Foederati. The Equites Illyricani were equipped with javelin and shield; Equites Sagittarii would have a bow instead.
2x 4Bd Legio Herculiani Legionarii. The Roman Legions of this period were much smaller than in previous eras and comprised of non-Italian recruits. The extent to which they were armoured is questionable. Most historians suggest they were equipped similarly to the Auxilia Palantina with large shield, spangenhelm helmet, spatha sword, and a broad headed thrusting spear. A few may have worn body army of mail or rawhide.
2x 4Aux Auxilia Palatina of the Cornuti Auxilia Palatina, or possibly garrison troops. Typically unarmoured, they fought with the protection of a large shield and spangenhelm helmet, bearing the long spatha sword, javelins and darts.
2x 3Kn Germanic Cavalry Hard charging Germanic cavalry in the west. Regular Clibanarii or Gothic Foederati in the East.
4x 4Wb Germanic Foederati Warriors "Foederati" or barbarians who fought as allies/mercenaries under their own leaders in Roman service. The list of potential Feoderati is extensive and includes the Visigoths, Burgundians, Limigantes, Franks, Alamanni, Quadi, Suevi, Rugian, Turcilingi, Alan, Isaurian in the east, and even pre-Islamic nomadic Arabs in Roman north Africa campaigns. Early foederati were irregular in equipment and training but tended to become more Romanized in organization, equipment, clothing and training as they became settled within Rome's borders. It was not uncommon for a Feoderati leader and his comitatus or bodyguard troops to be more heavily armed and armoured than their Roman counterparts.

Although not reflected in the list above, the Patrician Roman army was also known to employ small numbers of Artillery (bolt shooters) and Psiloi (fast moving exculcatores or "squashers").


Early Gothic/Vandal (#70), Early Frankish, et. al. (#74), Early Saxon, et. al. (#75a), Hunnic (#79), Later Visigothic (#80), African Vandal (#84), Gepid/Lombard (#85).

One notable omission is the Later Sassanid Persians (#73b). The Sassanians shared a border with Rome throughout the period of the Patricians, and were the largest and most powerful rival of Rome; they fought many wars against Rome both before and after the Patrician Roman period. During most of the 5th century, however, they were involved in devastating civil wars and regular invasions by the Epthalite Huns. Their situation was so bad that Rome sent aid as a matter of policy, preferring to shore up a known enemy as a bulwark against further invasions from the East.

So the Sassanians were concerned with their Eastern frontier, and the Romans primarily concerned with their own string of invasions (Vandals and Visigoths and Ostrogoths, O My!) and civil wars (the secession of the Kingdom of Soissons), and the two superpowers of their era don't seem to have fought any wars with each other for the 68 years of the Patrician Roman list. None the less, they would be an appropriate historical enemy if you want to be a little speculative.


This army offers an interesting combination of steady "regulars" and fierce "irregular" barbarians. It is tempting to adopt a "Sword and Shield" tactical doctrine with impetuous Knights and feoderati Warband as the hard-charging "sword" and the Legionarii Blades and Auxilia Palatina as the steady "shield". Or you can apply the same analogy with 8 elements of Roman foot as the "shield" and 4 element of Roman horse as the swift-striking "sword". The challenge in either case, is how to make best use of the undermanned Roman Blades and single elements of Cavalry and Light Horse.

The Patrician Knights should perform well against their warband-heavy Gothic, Frankish, Saxon and Visigothic foes but will be outmanned against the Vandals and Lombards/Gepids.

The Patrician legionarii are still the queen of DBA battle (although this may be questionable in historical terms). They alone can stand up to the Vandal and Lombard heavy horse (assuming you don't adopt the Knights Quick-Kill vs. Blades variant rule) with any degree of confidence. However, they are at risk of being ganged up on by Germanic warband. They will need support from foederati Warband and the Roman Auxilia who both engage the barbarian Warband on fairly even terms.

What to do about the Huns and their rampaging Light Horse? Aetius' was initially successful in recruiting them as allies to help keep the Germanic tribes in check, but later was forced to face them in a desperate battle at Chalons and ultimately saw Atilla and his Huns ravage Italy. If confronted by a Hunnic army with the maximum 11 elements of Light Horse, the best Roman tactic is to closely guard your camp, keep your foederati Warband out of harm's way for fear an impetuous countercharge will expose their flanks, and roll well when your own Knights, Cavalry and Light Horse come to grips with the Huns.


A fortified villa, a hasty march camp, a pallisaded rampart, a section of city wall, or even a barbarian wagon laager could be appropriate subjects for a Patrician Roman DBA camp.


Eastern Roman Clibanari

The primary "contemporary" source for the Patician period is Vegetius, who wrote sometime between 383 and 450 AD. Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" treats this period in detail. Merrill's "The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation" (Thames and Hudson, 1986) makes interesting reading. Merrill's thesis is that the "barbarization" of the Roman army was the principal cause of Rome's downfall.

Gamers may be interested in Simon MacDowall's "Romans, Goths & Huns" from the Sterling Wargaming in History series, published in 1991.

For more information on-line, visit the Roman resources listed on the Historical Resources page.

The western Roman emperors during the Patrician period were Placidius Valentinanus (Valentinian III)(424-455 AD), Petronius Maximus (455 AD), Avitus (455-456 AD), Majorian (457-461 AD), Libius Severus (461-465 AD), Procopius Anthemius (467-472 AD), Anicius Olybrius (472 AD), Glycerius (473-474), and Romulus Augustus (Augustulus) (475-476 AD). The eastern Empire was ruled by Theodosius II (402-450 AD), Marcian (450-457 AD), Leo (457-474 AD), Zeno (491-518 AD).


The figures shown are largely Gladiator, from their Late Roman range. Their helmets are of the Attic style rather than Spangenhelms, which (based upon artistic and monumentary evidence) seems slightly more appropriate for Eastern Roman armies. The barbarian Foederati warband shown are a mixed lot of Essex (SXA 3/4/5 and HSA 9) and Gladiator Goths and Franks. Shield Transfers for the Cornuti, Armigeri, and Herculiani (plus many of the Foederati warband) are by Veni Vidi Vici.

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Last modified: May 27, 1999. Images added; page moved to new location; a few minor text changes.

Page created: Jan. 11, 1999