The Notitia Dignitatum (Latin for "The List of Offices") is a unique document of the late Roman Empire. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the Eastern and Western Empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial level, diplomatic missions and army units. It is usually considered to be up to date for the Western Roman Empire in the 420s and for the Eastern or Byzantine Empire in the 390s. However, no absolute date is given in the text itself and omissions complicate deriving an absolute date from its content.
Copies of the manuscript
There are several extant 15th and 16th-century copies (plus a color-illuminated 1542 version). All the known and extant copies of this late Roman document are derived, either directly or indirectly, from Codex Spirensis, a codex known to have existed in the library of the cathedral chapter at Speyer in 1542 but which was lost before 1672 and cannot now be located. That book contained a collection of documents (of which the Notitia was the last and largest document, occupying 164 pages) that brought together several previous documents of which one was of the 9th century. The heraldry in illuminated manuscripts of Notitia is thought to copy or imitate no other examples than those from the lost Codex Spirensis.
For each half of the empire, the Notitia enumerates all major "dignities" (i.e. offices) in its gift, often with their location and even their exact officium (staff, enumerated except for the most junior). These are organised by:
- Court officials (including the most senior dignitaries such as praetorian prefects).
- Military commanders (magistri militum, comites rei militaris and duces), showing the full titles and stations of their regiments.
The Notitia presents four main problems, as regards the study of the Empire's military establishment:
- The Notitia depicts the Roman army at the end of the 4th century. Therefore its development from the structure of the Principate is largely conjectural, owing to the lack of other evidence.
- It was compiled at two different times. The Eastern section apparently dates from c. 395 AD; the Western from c. 420 AD. Furthermore, each section is probably not a contemporaneous "snapshot", but relies on data stretching back as far as twenty years. The Eastern section may contain data from as early as 379, the start of the rule of Theodosius I. The Western section contains data from as early as c400: for example, it shows units deployed in Britain, which must date from before 410, when Roman officialdom lost control in the island. In consequence, there is substantial duplication, with the same unit often listed under different commands. It is impossible to ascertain whether these were detachments of the same unit in different places at the same time, or the same whole unit at different times. Also, it is likely that some units only existed on paper or contained just a skeleton personnel. According to the former Professor of History at the University of Liverpool, Roger Collins, the Notitia Dignitatum was an archaising text written around 425 CE whose unreliability is shown up by "the supposed existence of traditional (Roman military) units in Britain and Spain at a time when other evidence shows they were not there."
- The Notitia has many sections missing and lacunae (gaps) within sections. This is doubtless due to accumulated text losses and copying errors as it was repeatedly copied over the centuries: the earliest manuscript we possess today dates from the 15th century. The Notitia cannot therefore provide a comprehensive listing of all units in existence.
- The Notitia does not contain any personnel figures. Therefore, the size of individual units, and of the various commands, cannot be ascertained, as we have little other evidence of unit sizes at this time. In turn, this makes it impossible to assess accurately the overall size of the army. Depending on the strength of units, the late 4th century army may, at one extreme, have equalled the size of the 2nd century force (i.e. over 400,000 men); at the other extreme, it may have been far smaller. For example, the forces deployed in Britain c. 400 may have been just 18,000 against c. 55,000 in the 2nd century.
The Notitia contains the earliest known depictions of the diagram which later came to be known as yin and yang symbol. The infantry units armigeri defensores seniores ("shield-bearers") and Mauri Osismiaci had a shield design which corresponds to the dynamic, clockwise version of the symbol. The emblem of the Thebaei, another Western Roman infantry regiment, featured a pattern of concentric circles comparable to its static version. The Roman patterns predate the earliest Taoist versions by almost seven hundred years.
- "Publication of Offices - Notitia Dignitatum (Sammelhandschrift)". World Digital Library. 1542. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
- A. Goldsworthy Roman Warfare (2000) 198
- Roger Collins, Early Medieval Europe: 300-1000, The Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1991, pp.89-90
- P. Heather, Fall of the Roman Empire (2005) 63
- D. Mattingly An imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire (2006) 239
- Giovanni Monastra: The "Yin-Yang" among the Insignia of the Roman Empire?, Sophia, Bd. 6, Nr. 2 (2000)
- Isabelle Robinet: "Taiji tu. Diagram of the Great Ultimate", in: Fabrizio Pregadio (ed.): The Encyclopedia of Taoism A−Z, Routledge, Abingdon (Oxfordshire) 2008, ISBN 978-0-7007-1200-7, pp. 934−936 (934)
- Helmut Nickel: The Dragon and the Pearl, Metropolitan Museum Journal, Bd. 26 (1991), S. 146, Fn. 5
Sources and references
- Notitia Dignitatum, edited by Robert Ireland, in British Archaeological Reports, International Series 63.2.
- Westermann Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte contains many precise maps
- A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8018-3285-3
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Notitia dignitatum.|
- Dr Ingo G. Maier, Compilation Notitia Dignitatum, extensive links and resources
- Placenames from Notitia Dignitatum GIS from Pelagios/Pleiades. 1505 toponyms. 1164 matches.
- Bodleian Library: manuscript
- Bavarian State Library: Notitia Dignitatum Clm 10291 − full online scan of the 1542 manuscript with its modernised illustrations
Latin, web versions
- Works related to Notitia dignitatum at Wikisource
- Notitia Dignitatum at IntraText
- Notitia Dignitatum, with pictures, from bibliotheca Augustana