Magister militum

Magister militum (Latin for "Master of the Soldiers", plural magistri militum) was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine the Great. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer (equivalent to a war theatre commander, the emperor remaining the supreme commander) of the Empire. In Greek sources, the term is translated either as strategos or as stratelates.

The original command structure of the Late Roman army, with a separate magister equitum and a magister peditum in place of the later overall magister militum in the command structure of the army of the Western Roman Empire.
West Roman army command structure
The high command structure of the West Roman army ca. 410–425, based on the Notitia Dignitatum.

Establishment and development of the Command

The title of magister militum was created in the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine the Great deprived the praetorian prefects of their military functions. Initially two posts were created, one as head of the foot troops, as the magister peditum ("Master of the Infantry"), and one for the more prestigious horse troops, the magister equitum ("Master of the Cavalry"). The latter title had existed since Republican times, as the second-in-command to a Roman dictator.

Under Constantine's successors, the title was also established at a territorial level: magistri peditum and magistri equitum were appointed for every praetorian prefecture (per Gallias, per Italiam, per Illyricum, per Orientem), and, in addition, for Thrace and, sometimes, Africa. On occasion, the offices would be combined under a single person, then styled magister equitum et peditum or magister utriusque militiae ("master of both forces").

As such they were directly in command of the local mobile field army of the comitatenses, composed mostly of cavalry, which acted as a rapid reaction force. Other magistri remained at the immediate disposal of the Emperors, and were termed in praesenti ("in the presence" of the Emperor). By the late 4th century, the regional commanders were termed simply magister militum.

In the Western Roman Empire, a "commander-in-chief" evolved with the title of magister utriusque militiae. This powerful office was often the power behind the throne and was held by Stilicho, Flavius Aetius, Ricimer, and others. In the East, there were two senior generals, who were each appointed to the office of magister militum praesentalis.

During the reign of Emperor Justinian I, with increasing military threats and the expansion of the Eastern Empire, three new posts were created: the magister militum per Armeniam in the Armenian and Caucasian provinces, formerly part of the jurisdiction of the magister militum per Orientem, the magister militum per Africam in the reconquered African provinces (534), with a subordinate magister peditum, and the magister militum Spaniae (ca. 562).

In the course of the 6th century, internal and external crises in the provinces often necessitated the temporary union of the supreme regional civil authority with the office of the magister militum. In the establishment of the exarchates of Ravenna and Carthage in 584, this practice found its first permanent expression. Indeed, after the loss of the eastern provinces to the Muslim conquest in the 640s, the surviving field armies and their commanders formed the first themata.

Supreme military commanders sometimes also took this title in early medieval Italy, for example in the Papal States and in Venice, whose Doge claimed to be the successor to the Exarch of Ravenna.

List of magistri militum

Unspecified commands

Comes et Magister Utriusque Militiae

per Gallias

per Hispanias

per Illyricum

per Orientem

per Armeniam

per Thracias


per Africam

Western Empire

  • 373–375: Flavius Theodosius, magister equitum [9]
  • 386–398: Gildo, magister equitum et peditum[22]

Eastern Empire

Magister Militae in Byzantine and medieval Italy


Later, less formal use of the term

By the 12th century, the term was being used to describe a man who organized the military force of a political or feudal leader on his behalf. In the Gesta Herwardi, the hero is several times described as magister militum by the man who translated the original Early English account into Latin. It seems possible that the writer of the original version, now lost, thought of him as the 'hereward' – the supervisor of the military force. That this later use of these terms was based on the classical concept seems clear.[23]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k PLRE I, p. 1114
  2. ^ PLRE I, p. 62
  3. ^ Arce (2004), Bárbaros y romanos en Hispania, 400-507 A.D, pág. 112
  4. ^ Gil, M.E. (2000), Barbari ad Pacem Incundam Conversi. El Año 411 en Hispania, pág. 83
  5. ^ Hughes, Ian: Aetius: Attila's Nemesis, pg. 74
  6. ^ Hughes, Ian: Aetius: Attila's Nemesis, pg. 75
  7. ^ Hughes, Ian: Aetius: Attila's Nemesis, pg. 85
  8. ^ Hughes, Ian: Aetius: Attila's Nemesis, pg. 87, Heather, Peter: The Fall of the Roman Empire, pg. 262, 491
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m PLRE I, p. 1113
  10. ^ Hydatius, Chronica Hispania, 122
  11. ^ Hydatius, Chronica Hispania, 128
  12. ^ Hydatius, Chronica Hispania, 134
  13. ^ a b c d PLRE I, p. 1112
  14. ^ PLRE I, p. 125
  15. ^ PLRE I, p. 307
  16. ^ Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin; Martindale, J. R.; Morris, J. (1980). The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume 2, AD 395-527. Cambridge University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9780521201599.
  17. ^ PLRE II, p. 597
  18. ^ PLRE I, pp. 1113–1114
  19. ^ PLRE I, p. 152
  20. ^ John Moorhead, Justinian (London, 1994), p. 16.
  21. ^ John Moorhead, Justinian (London, 1994), p. 17.
  22. ^ PLRE I, p. 395
  23. ^ Gesta Herwardi Archived 2011-01-21 at the Wayback Machine The term is used in chapters XII, XIV, XXII and XXIII. See The Name, Hereward for details.


Works cited

Aegidius (died 464 or 465) was ruler of the short-lived Kingdom of Soissons from 461–464/465 AD. Before his ascension, he became magister militum per Gallias (Master of the Soldiers for Gaul) serving under Aetius, in 458 AD. An ardent supporter of Majorian, Aegidius rebelled against Ricimer when he assassinated Majorian and replaced him with Libius Severus; Aegidius may have pledged his allegiance to Leo I, the Eastern Roman Emperor. Aegidius repeatedly threatened to invade Italy and dethrone Libius Severus, but never actually launched such an invasion; historians have suggested he was unwilling to launch an invasion due to the pressure of the Visigoths, or else because it would leave Gaul exposed. Aegidius launched several campaigns against the Visigoths and the Burgundians, recapturing Lyons from the Burgundians in 458, and routing the Visigoths at the Battle of Orleans. He died suddenly after a major victory against the Visigoths; ancient historians say that he was assassinated, but do not give the name of the assassin, whereas modern historians believe it is possible that he died a natural death. After his death he was succeeded by his son Syagrius, who would be the second and last ruler of the Kingdom of Soissons.

Agrippinus (magister militum)

Agrippinus (floruit 451-461) was a general of the Western Roman Empire, Magister militum per Gallias under emperors Valentinian III, Petronius Maximus, Avitus and Libius Severus.

Anatolius (consul)

Anatolius (fl. 421–451) was a diplomat and general of the Eastern Roman Empire and Consul in 440. He was very influential during the reign of Theodosius II, and held command of the Empire's eastern armies for 13 years and led negotiations with Attila the Hun on several occasions.

Apollonius (magister militum)

Apollonius (fl. 443–451) was a general of the Eastern Roman Empire.


Flavius Armatus (died 477), also known as Harmatius, was a Byzantine military commander, magister militum under Emperors Leo I, Basiliscus and Zeno, and consul. He was instrumental in the rebellion of Basiliscus against Zeno, and in his subsequent fall.


The comitatenses and later the palatini were the units of the field armies of the late Roman Empire.

They were the soldiers that replaced the ancient roman legionaries of Caesar.

Dagalaiphus (consul 366)

Dagalaifus was a pagan of Germanic descent who served as consul in 366. In the year 361, he was appointed by Emperor Julian as comes domesticorum (Commander of the Household Guard). He accompanied Julian on his march through Illyricum to quell what remained of the government of Constantius II that year. He led a party into Sirmium that arrested the commander of the resisting army, Lucillianus. In the spring of 363, Dagalaifus was part of Julian’s ultimately-disastrous invasion of Persia. On June 26, while still campaigning, Julian was killed in a skirmish. Dagalaifus, who had been with the rear guard, played an important role in the election of the next emperor. The council of military officers (including Dagalaifus) finally agreed on the new comes domesticorum, Jovian, to succeed Julian. Jovian was a Christian whose father Varronianus had himself once served as comes domesticorum.As emperor, Jovian quickly arranged an end to the Persian hostilities on terms that were far from advantageous to Rome. He appointed Dagalaifus magister equitum (commander of the cavalry), where Dagalaifus presumably succeeded the then-restored Lucillianus to that position. Following the death of Jovian after only several months’ rule, Dagalaifus was again influential in the election of Valentinian as the next Roman Emperor. Although he opposed Valentinian’s decision to elevate his brother, Valens, as co-emperor, Dagalaifus was retained and appointed magister peditum (Commander of Infantry) serving under Valentinian in the Western Empire.In the winter of late 365, Valentinian learned that the Alemanni had crossed the Rhine and defeated his armies in eastern Gaul around Moguntiacum (Mainz). This was the beginning of the long Alemannic War that would dominate Valentinian’s reign. The emperor initially dispatched Dagalaifus to defeat the invaders. But by the time he arrived, he found the Alemmanic forces too scattered to pursue. He was then recalled and replaced with the Magister Equitum, Jovinus. As reward for his support in elevating Valentinian to the imperial purple in 364, Dagalaifus was appointed by him to the consulship for 366. He served as consul alongside the emperor’s 7-year-old son, Gratian. Dagalaifus does not appear again in the available historical records.

Domenico Leoni

Domenico Leoni (Latin: Dominicus Leo Abrogatis; lifedates unknown) was a Venetian statesman, originally from Malamocco, who served as magister militum of Venice in 737.

Felice Cornicola

Felice Cornicola (Latin: Felix Cornicula), also Felicius, was a Venetian statesman who served as magister militum of Venice in 738. He was the second person to hold the office during the interregnum that followed Doge Orso Ipato's murder in 737. Its first incumbent was Domenico Leoni.


Garmul was a Berber king of the Mauro-Roman Kingdom. Garmul, who destroyed a Byzantine army in 571, launched raids into Byzantine territory, and three successive generals (the praetorian prefect Theodore and the magister militum Theoctistus in 570, and Theoctistus' successor Amabilis in 571) are recorded by John of Biclaro to have been killed in a battle by Garmul's forces. His activities, especially when regarded together with the simultaneous Visigoth attacks in Spania, presented a clear threat to the province's authorities. Thus the new emperor, Tiberius II Constantine, re-appointed Thomas as praetorian prefect, and the able general Gennadius was posted as magister militum with the clear aim of ending Garmul's campaigns. Preparations were lengthy and careful, but the campaign itself, launched in 577–78, was brief and effective, with Gennadius utilizing terror tactics against Garmul's subjects. Garmul was defeated and killed by 579, and the coastal corridor between Tingitana and Caesariensis secured.

John Fabriacus

John Fabriacus was, according to later legend, a Venetian statesman and general of Byzantine origin. He served as magister militum of Venice in 742. Under him, the conflict between Heraclia and Equilio was resolved. The position of Doge was restored after his term, when Teodato Ipato, who had previously served as magister militum, was elected to the post.

Legio I Armeniaca

Legio I Armeniaca was a pseudocomitatensis legion of the Late Roman Empire, probably created in the late 3rd century.

The name of the legion could refer to it being originally part of the garrison of the Armeniac provinces, but the unit, together with its twin legion II Armeniaca, appears to have been included in the imperial field army.

The legion took part in the invasion of the Sassanid Empire by Emperor Julian in 363. The Notitia dignitatum records the legion as being under the command of the magister militum per Orientis around 400.

Legio I Isaura Sagittaria

Legio I Isaura Sagitaria was a pseudocomitatensis Roman legion, levied no later than under Diocletian, and possibly already present under Probus. As its name suggests, its legionaries could be used also as archers, an uncommon feature for Roman legions.

According to Notitia Dignitatum, in the beginning of the 5th century the I Isaura was under the command of the Magister Militum per Orientem, but it is possible that in the beginning it was used to defend the Isauria region, together with the II and III Isaura.

Marcellinus (magister militum)

Marcellinus (died August 468) was a Roman general and patrician who ruled over the region of Dalmatia in the Western Roman Empire and held sway with the army there from 454 until his death.

Procopius (magister militum)

Procopius (fl. 420s AD) was a general and politician in the Eastern Roman Empire; he was the father of the Western Roman Emperor Anthemius.


Flavius Ricimer (; Classical Latin: [ˈrɪkɪmɛr]; c. 405 – August 18, 472) was a Romanized Germanic general who effectively ruled the remaining territory of the Western Roman Empire from 461 until his death in 472, with a brief interlude in which he contested power with Anthemius. Deriving his power from his position as magister militum of the Western Empire, Ricimer exercised political control through a series of puppet emperors.

Ricimer's military office and his dominance over the empire led historians such as J. B. Bury to conclude that he was a link between previous magistri militum, such as the Vandal Stilicho, and the Germanic King of Italy, Odoacer. Odoacer deposed Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476, in an act often considered to mark the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Sebastianus (magister militum)

Sebastianus (died before 445 or in 450) was a general of the Western Roman Empire, son-in-law of Bonifacius.

A good soldier and advisor, and an orthodox Catholic, Sebastianus was son-in-law of the powerful Bonifacius, comes Africae in 420s, nominated magister militum praesentalis and patrician by the Empress Galla Placidia in 432. The elevation of Bonifacius disturbed another influential general of the empire, the magister militum praesentalis Flavius Aetius, who had fought and won several campaigns in Gaul; fearing that the promotion of Bonifacius to such an elevated rank (Aetius was not a patrician) would have brought his own dismissal, Aetius took the initiative and attacked Bonifacius, who won the Battle of Ravenna (432) but died from the wounds received.

Sebastianus took the office previously kept by his father-in-law. In the meantime, Aetius fled first to his country estates, then to Rome and, through Dalmatia and Pannonia, reached the Huns, who were his friends (Aetius had spent some years, as a boy, at the Hunnic court as a hostage). When, in 433, Aetius entered Italy with a large Hunnic army, it was clear who was to win the encounter: Sebastianus was deposed and fled to Constantinople, seeking refuge at the Eastern court. Here he obtained the support of influential members of the court; he allowed his supporters to start remunerative pirate activities in Hellespont and Propontis.

In 444, as result of some plots, he was obliged to flee the Eastern court; he reached the Visigothic court of Theodoric I and, from there, he went to Barcelona. Being declared a public enemy by the Romans, he decided to pass from Spain to Africa, where he was welcomed by the Vandal king Geiseric, who, at the beginning, kept Sebastianus as advisor, but later put him to death (450).

A different timeline of the events puts his departure from Constantinople in 435, his arrival in Africa in 440 and his death before 445.

Teodato Ipato

Teodato Ipato (also Diodato or Deusdedit; Latin: Theodatus Hypatus) was Doge of Venice from 742 to 755. With his election came the restoration of the dogato, which had been defunct since the assassination of his father, Orso Ipato. Before his election he had served as magister militum in 739.

Teodato was the son of Doge Orso Ipato. He was condemned to exile in 737 in the wake of his father's murder, which came perhaps as a complication of a civil conflict between Eraclea and Equilio. The office of doge was subsequently abolished in favour of a magister militum, denoting in this case a chief magistrate to be replaced yearly. The first to be installed in this role was Domenico Leoni, who at the end of his twelve-month term was replaced by Felicius Cornicola. It was under Felicius' administration that Teodato was recalled from exile.After returning home, Teodato is said to have gained the favour of the Venetian electors, and in 739, he was thus selected as Felicius Cornicola's successor. At the end of his term he was himself replaced by Jovian Ceparius, having failed to procure re-election; and Jovian, at his term's end, was succeeded by Giovanni Fabriciaco, who took office in 741. Fabriciaco's appointment would prove disastrous: some months into his term an uprising took hold, and consequently he was ousted from office, blinded, and driven into exile. Most historians put this at around 742. Teodato, said to have been complicit in Fabriciaco's downfall, was later by popular vote appointed Doge, marking the end of the interregnum which had lasted from 737–42.

Under Teodato, Venice's seat of government was moved from Eraclea to Malamocco. Also during his reign came the renewal of an age-old treaty with the Lombards, first composed in the reign of Paolo Lucio Anafesto, and an earthquake which is said to have flooded parts of Venice. His reign came to an end in 755 when he was deposed and blinded at the instigation of Galla Gaulo, who was subsequently elected Doge.

An alternative view of Teodato's fate, as described in Hazlitt's History of the Venetian Republic, is that rather than being blinded and deposed, he was instead murdered by adherents of Galla Gaulo.

Theodoric Strabo

Theodoric Strabo (died 481) was a Thervingi chieftain who was involved in the politics of the Byzantine Empire during the reigns of Byzantine Emperors Leo I, Zeno and Basiliscus. He was a rival for the leadership of the Ostrogoths with his kinsman Theoderic the Great, who would ultimately supplant him.

Major cities
Lists and other

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.