adoratio – Imperial ceremony of kissing the emperor’s purple robe: reserved for higher and more favoured dignitaries.

agri deserti – ‘deserted lands’. Used to be interpreted as land that once was cultivated, but which had fallen out of use in the late imperial period. Now seen as a tax category for land that produced no income for the imperial fisc, and might never have done.

alae – Roman auxiliary cavalry, composed of non-citizens in the early imperial period.

annona militaris – A new tax on economic production, regularized under Diocletian at the end of the third century, often taken in kind, although it could be commuted into a gold payment.

aurum coronarium – ‘crown gold’. A theoretically voluntary gold payment shaped into a crown made by individual cities; paid on an emperor’s accession and every fifth anniversary subsequently.

Baiae – Watering hole of the Roman rich and famous on the Bay of Naples; much beloved of Symmachus.

barbaricum – ‘land of the barbarians’. A collective term for everywhere not within the Roman Empire.

imgc.jpgernjachov culture – A zone of material remains extending over Wallachia, Moldavia and the southern Ukraine, from the Carpathian Mountains to the River Don, in the later third and fourth centuries. Built around the power of Goths and other immigrants from the north, but including a large indigenous population as well.

civitas (pl. civitates) – City territory; the basic administrative unit, consisting of urban core and rural hinterland, characteristic of the late Empire.

clarissimus (pl. clarissimi) – ‘most distinguished’. A title originally reserved to senators of Rome and which became the honorific to which all professionals – civil and military – aspired under the status reforms of the emperors Valentinian and Valens in 367. Designated, despite its literal meaning, the most junior of the three senatorial ranks that emerged in the later fourth century (see illustris and spectabilis).

clarissimate – The collective term for the clarissimi.

Codex Argenteus – A luxury sixth-century copy of Ulfilas’ translation of the four Gospels into Gothic; now housed in the Uppsala University Library in Stockholm.

Codex TheodosianusTheodosian Code. A collection of imperial legislation issued by the Emperor Theodosius II, covering new rulings of the period c. AD 300–440.

cohortales – Imperial functionaries, sometimes wealthy, of the provincial bureaucracy.

cohortes – Roman auxiliary infantry, composed of non-citizens, in the early imperial period.

coloni – Roman tenant farmers, increasingly tied to their lands in the late Roman period.

comes rei militaris – A senior but not most senior, military commander of the Roman field army (see comitatenses, magister militum). Some had regional responsibilities, such as comes Africae or comes Thraciae; some commanded sections of the central field army.

comes domesticorum – ‘Count of the Domestics’. Commander of the field army’s elite guard regiments.

comes ordinis tertii – ‘count third class’. The counts (pl. comites) were an order of imperial companions created by the emperor Constantine, with three grades.

comitatenses (adj. comitatensian) – Mobile Roman field army forces, some placed centrally, some on the major frontiers (Rhine, Danube and eastern). Paid more than garrison forces (see limitanei).

consul – Originally chief executive officer of the Roman Republic, elected annually. In the late Empire, still elected annually, but nominated by the emperor; no longer an executive office, it was the supreme honour in public life short of the imperial title.

contubernium – The basic unit of the Roman army in the early imperial period, a section of eight men sharing a tent.

cura palatii – ‘Curator of the Palace’. High Roman palace dignitary in the fourth/fifth centuries.

curia – The city council of Roman landowners who administered the civitas; its individual members were known as decurions or curiales.

cursus honorem – Roman senatorial career ladder.

cursus publicus – A transportation system with way- and supply-stations for state officals to use when travelling within the Roman Empire.

deditio – The ‘surrender’ of barbarians into Roman power; the terms enforced after the surrender could vary substantially.

denarius (pl. denarii) – Basic Roman silver coin used until the late third century, when it became worthless.

distributio numerorum – A section of the western Notitia Dignitatum (see below) recording the distribution of western Roman field army units in c. AD 420.

dromons – Specialist, oar-driven, decked warships of the east Roman navy.

duumviri – ‘two men’, a ‘duo’. The standard executive officers of a curia.

dux – ‘duke’. A regional commander of limitanei.

emphyteutic lease – A favourable grant allowing tenants a more or less permanent, heritable possession of land, which could be sold to a third party.

fibula (pl. fibulae) – A decorative safety-pin used to fasten cloaks.

Fliehburgen – ‘refuge centres’. A German archaeological term for walled settlements built in many exposed areas of the Empire in the fifth century.

foedus – ‘treaty’. Hence foederati, ‘foreign group under treaty’. Often used by modern historians as a technical term with one clear meaning, but in my view it was more complex.

Fürstengraber – ‘princely graves’. A German archaeological term for burials of such wealth that they seem to belong to royalty or those pretending to such a status.

Germania, Germani – Roman terms for area between the Rhine and the Vistula, and its inhabitants; the region was largely dominated by Germanic-speaking groups, but they never came close to forming one unified force in the Roman period.

gladius – Roman legionaries’ characteristic short sword.

honoratus (pl. honorati) – A retired imperial bureaucrat of high rank; belonging increasingly to the clarissimate as the fourth century progressed, honorati largely replaced curiales as the dominant force in local Roman society.

illustres (pl. illustres) – Most senior of the three senatorial ranks of the later fourth century (see clarissimus and spectabilis).

imperator – ‘emperor’. Deriving from the title of an army commander of the Roman republican period.

iudex – ‘judge’. The title affected by the overall ruler of the kings who made up the coalition of the Gothic Tervingi in the fourth century, before the arrival of the Huns.

iugum (pl. iugera) – A unit of value, not geographical area, into which the assets of the Empire were divided under Diocletian; the basis for calculating the annona militaris.

Jastorf culture – A zone of relatively simple material remains dating to the last centuries BC, largely coincident with the spread of the Germani at that date.

jurisconsult – A first- to third-century AD specialist Roman academic lawyer who could make legal innovations via case law.

largitionales – The staff of the emperor’s financial office, the Sacred Largesse.

La Tène culture – A zone of relatively developed material remains dating to the last centuries BC, largely coincident with the spread of Celtic-speakers at that date.

legiones comitatenses – Infantry unit assigned to field forces in the late imperial army.

legiones pseudocomitatenseslimitanei, regraded as field army troops in the early fifth century.

Lex Irnitanum – The constitution of the Roman town of Irni, characteristic of the so-called Flavian municipal constitution which defined the workings of most Roman towns in the early imperial period.

libertas – ‘freedom’. Carried the technical meaning ‘freedom under the law’.

limitanei – Frontier garrison troops in permanent stations, less well-paid than comitatenses.

magister (pl. magistri) militum – In full, comes et magister utriusque militiae. Highest-ranking field army commander. Magistri militum praesentalis commanded central field armies, and magistri militum per Gallias, per Thraciam, per Orientem and per Illyricumcommanded armies on the main frontiers (Gaul, Thrace, the east, Illyricum, respectively).

magister officiorum – ‘Master of Offices’. Something like the head of the Civil Service, one of the top imperial bureaucrats.

navicularii – The state-subsidized guild of shippers, charged with transporting revenue in kind around the Empire (see annona militaris).

Notitia Dignitatum – A listing of all the military and civilian dignitaries and their office staffs of the later Empire, dating largely to c. AD 395, but its western section partly kept up to date to c. 420 (see distributio numerorum).

numeri – ‘regiments’. Basic term for unit of the late Roman army.

Ostrogoths – A new and much larger Gothic force created by Valamer (c. 455–67) and his nephew Theoderic the Amal (474–526) out of several preexisting independent groups. Sometimes equated with the Greuthungi (previously led by Ermenaric) who arrived at the Danube in 376, but this is mistaken.

palatini – Imperial Roman bureaucrats of the late period (from palatium, palace).

pars melior humani generis – ‘The better part of humankind’, Symmachus’ term for the senatorial aristocracy of Rome.

pars rustica, urbana – The ‘country’ (working farm) and ‘urban’ (for ‘civilized’ entertaining) parts of a standard Roman villa.

patricius – ‘Patrician’. Honorific title distinguishing the senior military commander or bureaucrat exercising the real power behind the throne in the fifth century.

Pax Romana – The ‘Roman Peace’: applied to the high imperial period after the conquests, but before the third century crisis; roughly, the later first to earlier third centuries AD.

possessores – The landowning class by whom and for whom the Empire was run.

praepositus sacri cubiculi – A eunuch official of the imperial household.

praesental armies, praesentalis – see magister militum.

primicerius notariorum – ‘Chief Notary’. A senior bureaucratic functionary.

primicerius sacri cubiculi – A senior eunuch functionary in the imperial household.

principales – A small inner elite of the late Roman curia, who used the city council as a vehicle for self-advancement and profit.

proskynesis – The ceremonial act of throwing yourself to the ground when being introduced into the sacred imperial presence.

Przeworsk culture – A zone of remains extending over much of central and southern Poland between the fourth centuries BC and AD.

quaestor – A senior bureaucratic functionary, increasingly specializing in legal matters.

quinquennalia – An anniversary celebrated every five years of an imperial reign (see aurum coronarium).

rationalis Aegypti – The financial officer in charge of arms factories and other operations of the state in the Roman province of Egypt.

receptio (pl. receptiones) – The authorized large-scale migration of outsiders on to Roman soil.

Relationes (sing. Relatio) – Symmachus’ official letters to the emperor as Urban Prefect of the city of Rome.

rescript – The emperor’s answers on the bottom half of a piece of papyrus to legal questions put to him in the top half. Several hundred queries were answered every year.

Res Gestae Divi Saporis – The Acts of the Divine Shapur, king of Persia, recording his victories over third-century Roman emperors, inscribed at Naqsi Rustam, seven kilometres north of Persepolis.

Romanitas – Latin term for cultural patterns characteristic of the Roman Empire; ‘Romanness’.

Sasanians – A Near Eastern dynasty who united Iran and Iraq in the third century AD to create a superpower rivalling the Roman Empire.

solidus (pl. solidi) – From Constantine onwards the standard Roman gold coin, minted at seventy-two to the pound; half- and third-solidi were also minted.

sortes Vandalorum – ‘allotments of the Vandals’. Grants of landed estates in the province of Proconsularis made by Geiseric to his followers after the capture of Carthage in 439, and subsequent confiscations of Roman senatorlandowners’ assets.

spectabilis (pl. spectabiles) – Intermediate senatorial rank of the later fourth century (see clarissimus and illustris).

testudo – ‘tortoise’. The classic Roman wall-of-shields infantry formation, designed to give all-round and overhead protection.

Teutobergiensis Saltus – The Teutoburg Forest, where Arminius ambushed and destroyed Varus’ three legions.

Visigoths – A new and much larger Gothic group created by Alaric I (king 385–410) out of parts of the Tervingi and Greuthungi who arrived at the Danube requesting asylum in 376, and the Goths of Radagaisus who invaded Italy in 405/6. The term has often been used as a synonym for the Tervingi before 376 (when they were led by Athanaric), but this is mistaken.

Wielbark culture – A zone of remains extending over much of northern Poland in the first and second centuries AD, then spreading eastwards and southwards in the third and fourth.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!