|Scholae - Late Roman
By Robert Vermaat
were possibly created by Diocletian, but since
Constantine abolished the Praetorian guard he may have
been the one responsible for their creation. We don't
know their original strength but later each scholae
unit was 500 strong (Codex Justinianus IV.65, XXXV.1).
All scholae are cavalry units.
Originally there may have been but three, but this was
soon expanded. The west had 5 scholae, the east
had 7, but we know that the Scola gentilium seniorum
later returned to the west.
Later a 7th was added, which continued at least until the
time of Justinian who added 4 more, but disbanded them
soon(but read below about their real value). The ones we
find in the Notitia Dignitatum are best known:
Under the western Magister Officiorum:
Scola scutariorum prima
Scola scutariorum secunda
Scola armaturarum seniorum
Scola gentilium seniorum
Scola scutatorium tertia
Under the eastern Magister Officiorum:
Scola scutariorum prima,
Scola scutariorum secunda
Scola scutariorum sagittariorum
Scola scutariorum clibanariorum
Scola armaturarum iuniorum
Scola gentilium iuniorum
Scola gentilium seniorum
The schola units were also known under numeral
names, independent of their official names. For example
the scola scutatorium quarta is
therefore not a short-lived scholae unit, but
most probably the scola scutariorum clibanariorum.
From the 5h century onwards this is a normal way of
describing the scholae units, while we
encounter the official individual names mostly when
officers careers are described.
the shield designs of many late Roman units are shown in
the Notitia Dignitatum, this does not seem to be
the case for the units of the scholae.
were directly commanded by the emperor, and were usually
stationed close to his person. We know from the 6th c.
that the scholae were stationed in towns outside
Constantinople, and this may have been the rule for the
time before. Scholae recruits received high pay,
annonae civicae, were freed from recruitment tax
(privilegiis scholarum) and had excellent career
opportunities (see below).
The recruits for these units were first and foremost
barbarians. In the 4th century we see especially Franks
and Alamans in the west, and Goths in the east. Officers
have Germanic names or are identified as such: Silvanus
and Mallobaudes (armaturae), Malarich (gentiles)
were Franks, and Ammianus tells us these were especially
represented among palace guards as well as the scholae
units (Ammainus Marcellinus XV.5.11). Agilo and Scudilo (scutarii)
were Alamans, Gomoar, Bainobaudes (also scutarii)
and Balchobaudes (tribune of the armaturae seniores)
were at least western Germanics. Arintheus (armaturae)
will have been a Goth. Nestica and Barzimer (tribunes of
the scutarii) were Germans, whereas Bacurius
(tribune of the scutarii sagittarii) was a king
of the Caucasian Iberians.
Also in the lower ranks we encounter many Germanic names.
During the 5th century the eastern scholae were
especially filled with Armenian recruits, while from the
time of Zeno recruits were especially Isaurians.
Apart from the non-Roman background, we can also find
evidence that recruits had to be physically excellent.
Being tall and good-looking was certainly a good thing if
you wanted to serve in the scholae. The scholae
guards had shoulder-length hair, after the German
fashion, and received especially quality and highly
decorated arms and armour. Synesios of Cyrene described
them (negatively) as slender young men with long thick
hair, smelling of perfume, carrying golden lances and
shields. We encounter them also on the Theodosian
missorium and the Ravenna mosaics: bare-headed, torqued,
with big fibulae and decorated shields.
A modern reconstruction of scholae guardsmen (Minervii,
A well-known soldier
from the scholae is St. Martin of Tours who
served under Constantius II and under the Caesar Julian.
The famous scene with St. Martin and the beggar outside
Amiens can therefore be pictured during Julians
campaigns in Gaul. Martin soon afterwards entered the
priesthood, which is not especially surprising when one
thinks of the attitude that Julian had towards
But there may be more to it. Ammianus described that
Julian had only a personal guard of 360 soldiers when he
went from Milan to Gaul. And apparently these soldiers
were good for nothing, because Julian is said to have
remarked that they werent proper warriors, but only
able to pay (Zosimus III.3.2).
But if Martin was indeed with this force (which seems a
bit small to be the only guard of a Caesar), would that
mean that the scholae were not a crack unit but
already a weak palace guard? Or do we have to look a bit
further to explain this scathing comment, and remember
that Constantius had a sickly mistrust for his family
(Julian was after all the last remaining one) and made
sure that the scholae accompanying his cousin
was not very loyal to their new Caesar? If they were
staunch Christians to boot, this may be ample explanation
for Julians derogatory remark
While the scholae palatine units ranked highest
among the units of the Late Roman army, the scutarii
ranked as most prestigious (while oldest) among the scholae.
The commander of a scholae unit was originally a
tribune (tribunus scutariorum) but from the 5th
c. we encounter a comes scholarum, which seems
to have been a promotion. Theres a law from 413,
stipulating that scholae tribunes who were
promoted to Comitivia primi ordines during their
service, ranked upon discharge as high as the Dux of a
province. Not bad for a military career. The commanders
of scholae units were also much favoured with
commanding units of the field army, since the Late Roman
army did not know either army groups or the commanders of
army groups. Since therefore no officers existed between
the tribunes and the regional commanders (comes
domesticorum or magister peditum/equitum),
a scholae commander could be among the first in
line to command detachments of the field army.
The scholae continued to be the core of the
army, cradle for the best officers, until well into the
5th c. or even into the 6th. Many tribunes made it to dux,
comes or magister militum. However,
when the emperors ceased to accompany the forces into
battle, the corps slowly became an army within the
army looking for personal gain more than promotion
Of the western scholae we hear next to nothing
after the Notitia Dignitatum. They were
disbanded as guards by Theodoric the Great, but continued
to exist in a (non-defined) role, possibly as city guards
in Ravenna, because a scutarius turns up in
several property documents of the 6th and 7th century.
In the east, the scholae continued in their
elite role, at least at first. The valour of recruits was
for a long time guaranteed, but less called for. Zeno was
the first to recruit men whose personal connections were
more important than their military usefulness. After that
time, it became possible to buy a position with the scholae.
With that, the guards became a palace force, good enough
to parade on the streets of Constantinople. When the Huns
under Zabergan close in on the walls of the city in 559,
the scholae are no longer considered a military
force. Agathius tells us that they paid to enter the scholae,
money being the only criterium, many totally unfit to
even carry weapons. They werent even military
trained, their only role being to guard the place in fine
clothing, their role being only to enhance the emperors
appearance (Agathius XV.5.2-6). It came to be that, in
order to spare the exchequer the cost of their pay, from
time to time they were threatened to accompany real
armies into battle. To stay at home the scholae
then agreed to be fined several months pay
was already Leo I (457-474) who created a new corps, the
300-strong excubitores. These men, presumably
real soldiers, became the real bodyguard of the emperor,
displacing the scholae.
With an English translation, ed. and trans. J.C.
Rolfe, 3 vols., (Loeb Classical Library,
London/Cambridge 1935, repr. 1971-2).
Res Gestae Divi Augustae, full text (Latin): http://www.gmu.edu/departments/fld/CLASSICS/ammianus.html.
- Zosimus': Historia Nova, tr.
unknown (1814), ed. Roger Pearse, in: Early
Church Fathers - Additional Texts, at: http://www.ccel.org/p/pearse/morefathers/home.html (scroll down to page
bottom for Zosimus).
- Hoffmann, Dietrich (1969): Das
Spätrömische Bewegungsheer und die Notitia
Dignitatum, 2 vols., Epigraphische Studien 1,
(Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn).
- Nicasie, Martijn (1997): Twilight of
Empire, the Roman Army from the Reign of
Diocletian until the Battle of Adrianople,
(Thesis Publishers Amsterdam).
- Southern, Pat and
Karen Dixon (1996):
The Late Roman Army, (Routledge).
- Woods, David (1996): The Scholae
Palatinae and the Notitia Dignitatum,
in: Journal of Roman Military Equipment
Studies 7, pp. 37-50.