Sunday, 4 October 2009

Count of the Saxon Shores

The Count of the Saxon Shore or comes litoris Saxonici was the head of the "Saxon Shore" military command of the later Roman Empire.

The Roman empire in the time of Hadrian (ruled 117-138 AD), showing the imperial province of Britannia (England/Wales), and the 3 legions deployed there in 125.

The post was possibly created during the reign of Constantine I and was probably existent by AD 367 when Nectaridus is elliptically referred to as one by Ammianus. His remit covered the southern and eastern coasts of Roman Britain during a period of increasing maritime raids from barbarian tribes outside the empire. The Count was one of three commands covering Britain at the time, along with the northern Dux Britanniarum and central Comes Britanniarum.
Comes (genitive: comitis) is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus (compare comitatenses), especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum. The word comes derives from com- "with" + ire "go."
Comes rei militaris
These comites held military appointments, higher than
dux, but under Magister peditum/ Magister equitum; they were the superiors of a series of military posts, each commanded by a praepositus limitis (border commander), and/or unit commanders, such as tribunes of cohorts, alae (auxiliary equivalent), numeri, in the eastern empire even legions : The Notitia Dignitatum (early fifth century) mentions six such positions, of the rank vir spectabilis, in the western empire (Comes Italiae, Comes Africae, Comes Tingitaniae, Comes Tractus Argentoratensis, Comes Britanniarum and Litoris Saxonici per Britannias) and two in the eastern empire: Comes (limitis) Aegypti, Comes Isauriae = - per Isauria).
Comes Africae -- Count in charge of the defense of Roman Africa.
Comes Argentoratensis -- Count in charge of the defense of part of Gaul (Gallia).
Comes Avernorum -- Count in charge of the defense of part of Gaul (Gallia).
Comes Britanniarum -- Count in charge of defense of Roman Britain (Britannia). This post presumably expired circa AD 410, when the last Roman troops left the isles forever.
Comes Hispaniarum -- Count in charge of the defense of Roman Iberia (Hispania).
As the number of comites grew, the rank was devalued, which led to he introduction of the notion of classes of comites; first, second and third ordines

Dux Britanniarum was a military post in Roman Britain, probably created by Diocletian or Constantine I during the late third or early fourth century. It is listed in the Notitia Dignitatum as being one of the three commands in Britain, along with the Comes Britanniarum and Count of the Saxon Shore. His troops were limitanei or frontier guards and not the comitatenses or field army commanded by the Comes Britanniarum.
Fourteen units in north Britain are listed in the Notitia as being under his command, stationed in either modern
Yorkshire, Cumbria or Northumberland. Archaeological evidence indicates there were others that were occupied at the time which are not listed. His forces included three cavalry vexillationes with the rest being infantry, overall they were newly-raised units rather than being third century creations. In addition to these fort garrisons, the dux commanded the troops at Hadrian's Wall and the Notitia lists their stations from east to west as well as some further forts on the Cumbrian coast. These troops appear to have been third century regiments although the reliability of the Notitia makes it difficult to infer any solid information from it.

Comes Britanniarum was a military post in Roman Britain, with command of the mobile field army from the mid 4th century onwards.
It is listed in the
Notitia Dignitatum as being one of the three commands in Britain, along with the Dux Britanniarum and Count of the Saxon Shore. His troops were the main field army in Britain or comitatenses and not the limitanei or frontier guard commanded by the other two.

The shield of the Equites Taifali, a Taifal mercenary corps serving under the comes of Britain.

Some historians formerly considered the post to have been introduced after 410 during a now-discounted re-occupation of Britain under Honorius.
The first
comes in Britain was Gratian the Elder, the father of emperor Valentinian I, who commanded the British field army (comitatus) holding this title. It seems to have been an appointment during some unrecorded crisis at the time.
A permanent office was created in the late fourth or early fifth century, perhaps by
Stilicho who withdrew troops from Britain to defend Italy in 402. Alternatively, it may have been instituted by Magnus Maximus or Constantine III.
According to the Notitia Dignitatum the comes commanded six cavalry and three infantry units, probably a force of no more than 6,000 troops. This tiny force was charged with supporting the frontier troops in fending off the increasing number of barbarian raids during the period. Some units seem to have been transferred from the Duke of Britain's or Count of the Saxon Shore's armies. The office was not in place for long as the last Roman troops are recorded in Britain no later than 409.

Originally, the command may have covered both sides of the English Channel as well as Britain's western coast, as Carausius had done but by the end of the fourth century the role had been diminished and Gaul had its own dux tractus Amoricani and dux Belgicae Secundae.
In 367, a series of invasions from Picts, Franks, Saxons, Scots and Attacotti appears to have defeated the army of Britain and resulted in the death of Nectaridus. Under Count Theodosius' reforms, the command was reorganised slightly.
The fifth century Notitia Dignitatum lists the names of the Saxon Shore Forts from Norfolk to Hampshire that were under the Count's command. Further stations up the North Sea coast were probably also his responsibility. Forces he controlled were classified as limitanei, or frontier troops. In 401 many of his soldiers appear to have been withdrawn for the defence of Italy, likely rendering Britain much more vulnerable to attack.

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