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Roman Arsenals

Weapon Sources for Imperial Roman Armies

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Forum member KL47 provides information on the Roman arsenals throughout the Roman Empire.

"The late Roman armies were supplied with weapons from a system of arsenals (fabricae) established in various cities throughout the empire. The list of imperial officials known as the Notitia dignitatum (ND) (dating from the late 4th to early 5th century) gives the locations of these arsenals (which were under the control of the magister officiorum) and the types of weapons and equipment manufactured at each one. The listings for Italy and Gaul are as follows:

Arsenals In Italy

Arrows at Concordia
Shields and weapons at Verona
Cuirasses (loricae) at Mantua
Shields at Cremona
Bows at Ticinum
Swords (spathae) at Luca

Arsenals in the Gauls

All weapons at Argenton
Arrows at Macon
Cuirasses, ballistae and suits of armor for the heavy cavalry known as clibanarii at Autun
Shields at Autun
[text corrupt] at Soissons
Swords at Rheims
Shields at Trier
Ballistae at Trier
Swords and shields at Amiens

In the early centuries of the empire, archers were usually recruited as auxiliaries from Syria, North Africa and other places in the Middle East which had a long tradition of archery. By the late empire, however, archers were being trained all over the place. There were entire regiments of sagittarii in the regular army: among the 15 regiments of elite auxilia palatina that the ND lists as being assigned to the field army in Gaul is one known as the Sagittarii Nervii Gallicani, who certainly sound like they were recruited locally, rather than being "imported" from overseas.

By the 5th century, there were also numerous Roman cavalry regiments trained to use the bow either as their primary weapon (equites sagittarii) or as a supplement to their swords and lances. The ND doesn't list any equites sagittarii as stationed in the Gallic provinces (the ones in the Western empire seem to have been concentrated in Africa), but it's possible that some of the other cavalry regiments there carried bows as back-up weapons. Bows were probably originally issued to cavalrymen in the East in the later 4th century to help them counter Persian bow-armed cavalry. However, I've seen speculation that it may have been Aetius who first introduced this trend in the West, having seen the usefulness of mounted archers at first hand while he was staying with the Huns. Bows were certainly standard issue for virtually all Roman cavalrymen by the early 6th century, but there's no record of whether this policy was introduced in time to be implemented in the West before the collapse of that half of the empire.

Having said all that, you may remember one of my earlier posts in which I explained about the decline of the border troops known as limitanei during the 5th century, and how some of these garrisons in Gaul (and also in Britain) survived as self-sustaining communities long after most of the West had been overrun. It seems reasonable to suppose that these isolated outposts would have had people on hand who knew (or learned) how to repair and manufacture various kinds of weapons, since they could clearly no longer expect to receive replacement equipment from 'official' sources."

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