Magister militum

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General of the Eastern and Western Roman armies in the 5th century AD.

The magister militum ( army master ) was in the late antique Roman army in the time between Constantine I and Herakleios the designation for the commander in chief of a unit of the mobile field army .

Origin and function

This new title arose when the praefectus praetorio 312 was released from his military competencies, entrusted with civil administrative tasks and thereby restricted his power. Originally there was a magister militum for:

The late antique magister equitum had nothing to do with the office of the same name , the holder of which had been appointed by the incumbent dictator centuries before during the time of the republic in the event of a crisis .

Since around 400 AD, both commands have been grouped under a single magister militum or a magister utriusque militiae ("overseer of all soldiers"); these magistri commanded mixed formations made up of cavalry and infantry.

Since Constantius II (337 to 361), separate magistri militum were regularly used for the respective regional army units:

  • per Gallias ,
  • per illyricum ,
  • by Italiam et Africam ,
  • per Orientem and
  • by Thracias ,

in addition two magistri militum praesentales as commanders of the court armies ( palatini or obsequium ). Since about this time the office of army master has been one of the highest positions in the Roman Empire .

In the Eastern Roman Empire , under Emperor Justinian, around 540 additional military provinces with corresponding magistri militum were created:

Under certain circumstances, the Eastern military masters were granted special powers ( στρατηγòς αὐτοκράτωρ / strategos autokrator ) with which they could actually make decisions directly and in the name of the emperor. Occasionally, the magistri militum was also given control of the civil administration, which was unusual, since in the late Roman Empire otherwise military and civil powers were usually separated. With some justification, the later magistri militum can therefore be viewed as the preliminary stage of the exarchs , even if the former were only given civil power in exceptional cases.

In addition to or under the actual supreme army masters, there were numerous magistri militum vacantes ( singular : vacans ) who did not hold any regional command, but only exercised command over small to medium-sized units of the field army.

Development in West and East

The highest-ranking magister militum finally became regent and commander-in-chief in the western half of the empire in the 5th century and since Constantius III. the title of a patricius . As early as the second half of the 4th century, the army masters in Westrom gained a momentous influence on politics (see for example Arbogast the Elder , Aëtius and Ricimer ), even if many of them remained loyal to the ruling emperor (such as Bauto or Stilicho ). With the dissolution of the western Roman army around 470, the regular western magistri militum also disappeared . After the end of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Emperor awarded the title of army master to some Germanic military leaders and kings of the west, such as those of the Burgundians , but now more as an honorary title.

In Ostrom , the rulers and the civil administration, at least after the overthrow of Aspar (471), managed to keep even powerful army masters like Belisarius under control. The office, which in the west was often held by men of “barbaric” descent, continued to exist in the east throughout the rest of late antiquity , but then also disappeared in the course of the 7th century in the Eastern Roman army , as had previously been the case with the masters of Thrace , Armenia and the Orient commanded units were withdrawn from the borders and formed the armed forces of the new Central Byzantine thematic order in their new assembly rooms in Asia Minor . The last recorded mention of an Eastern Roman magister militum relates to the year 662.

Magistri militum (selection)


  • Helmut Castritius : On the social history of the army masters of the western empire. Uniform recruitment pattern and rivalries among the late Roman military nobility . In: MIÖG Vol. 92, 1984, pp. 1-33
  • Alexander Demandt : Magister militum. In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Supplementary volume XII, Stuttgart 1970, Sp. 553-790 (fundamentally with regard to army masters up to the end of the 5th century).
  • Wilhelm Enßlin : On the post of army master in the late Roman Empire. Part I: The title of the magistri militum except for Theodosius I. In: Klio Vol. 23, 1930, pp. 306-325; Part II: The magistri militum of the 4th century. In: Klio Vol. 24, 1931, pp. 102-147; Part III: The magister utriusque militiae et patricius of the 5th century. In: Klio Vol. 24, 1931, pp. 467-502.
  • Arnold Hugh Martin Jones , John R. Martindale, John Morris: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire . Three parts in four volumes, Cambridge 1971–92.
  • Wolfgang Kuhoff : The temptation of power. Late Roman army masters and their potential reach for the empire . In: Silvia Serena Tschopp, Wolfgang EJ Weber (Hrsg.): Power and communication. Augsburg studies on European cultural history . Berlin 2012, pp. 39–80.
  • Anne Poguntke: The Roman army master's office in the 5th century. Reflections on the relationship between emperor and army master in East and West. In: Carola Föller, Fabian Schulz (eds.): East and West 400-600 AD. Communication, cooperation and conflict. Stuttgart 2016, pp. 239–262.
  • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller: Magister militum per Armeniam (Ο Των Αρμενιακων Στρατεγος). Considerations on the Armenian command in the 6th and 7th centuries. In: Wolfram Hörandner et al. (Ed.): Viennese Byzantine Studies and Neo-Greek Studies. Contribution to the symposium “Forty Years of the Institute for Byzantine and Neo-Greek Studies at the University of Vienna in memory of Herbert Hunger , (Vienna, December 4-7, 2002)” (= Byzantina et Neograeca Vindobonensia. Vol. 24). Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-7001-3269-7 , pp. 348–365, online .
  • Alexandra-Kyriaki Wassiliou-Seibt: From magister militum to strategos: The Evolution of the Highest Military Commands in Early Byzantium (5th to 7th c.). In: Béatrice Caseau, Vivien Prigent, Alessio Sopracasa (eds.): Οὗδῶρόν εἰμι τὰς γραφὰς βλέπων νόει. Mélanges Jean-Claude Cheynet , Paris 2017, pp. 789–802.