Middle Imperial Romans
(193-324 AD)
(DBA II/65ab)

Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

The Middle Imperial Roman list begins in 193 AD following the assassination of Commodus, the last of the Antonine Dynasty emperors. Following Commodus' death, the Senate quickly elected the elderly Pertinax as Emperor, who was subsequently murdered by officers of the Praetorian Guard. Prompted by bribes, the Praetorians proclaimed the wealthy Didius Julianus as the new Emperor, while the frontier legions advanced their own contenders in turn. Pescennius Niger claimed the throne with support of the eastern legions. Septimius Severus had the backing of the Danube legions, while Clodinus Albinus was championed by the British legions. Severus' advance on Rome faced little resistance as support for Didius Julianus melted away. Albinus made alliance with Severus against Niger, being named "Caesar" to Severus' "Augustus". Severus then advanced on Niger, defeating him at Nicaea in early 194 and again near Issus in late Spring. Niger was killed while fleeing Antioch, and his head was displayed to the defenders of Byzantium who had refused to open their gates to Severus and his beseiging forces. The city held out until 195, after which Severus had the city's walls thrown down.

With Roman Syria and Egypt pacified, Severus then turned his attentions to punitive expeditions against tribal kingdoms in upper Mesopotamia and Arabia who had supported Niger and/or who had used the civil war as an opportunity to raid Roman cities. Facing little opposition, he annexed Osrhoene in upper Mesopotamia and forced others kingdoms into tributary status. Meanwhile, Severus learned that Clodinus Albinus was engaged in a correspondence with friends in the Senate about future moves. He forced Albinus' hand by revoking Albinus' title, and later naming his own son Marcus Antonius (aka Caracalla) as Caesar. Albinus and the British legions rose in revolt, with Albinus being proclaimed emperor and moving his army to Lyon in France, where he drew support from Roman aristrocrats in Gaul and Spain. Despite an initial victory against the Roman governor of Lower Germany, whose troops remained loyal to Severus, Albinus was unable to expand his influence eastward, and most of 196 AD was spent in fierce skirmishing with Severan supporters and local opportunists. In early 197 AD, Severus launched his invasion of Gaul, forcing back Albinus's army at Tournus. Falling back on Lyon, Albinus was defeated on 19 February 197 in one of the fiercest battles in imperial Roman history. With more than 100,000 men on the field, Albinus forced the Severans into retreat (during which Severus was thrown from his horse). Just as the outcome seemed clear, the Severan cavalry appeared and routed the Gallic army. Albinus committed suicide rather than face capture. After the battle, Severus allowed his men to multilate the bodies of the dead (who were denied burial) and sack Lyon. For his part, Severus had Albinus' wife and children put to the sword and sent Albinus' head back to Rome as a warning to the Senate.

Having eliminated his last rival, Severus raised three new legions (one of which was stationed at Albanum near Rome as a blunt reminder to the Senate of Imperial power) and then turned his attention again to the Parthian east. Following the line of the Euphrates, the Severans sacked Seleucis, Babylon and Ctesiphon in 197-198 AD and annexed the region of upper Mesopotamia as a Roman province. To celebrate his victories, Severus took the title Parthicus Maximus and promoted his sons Caracalla to the rank of Augustus and Geta to the rank of Caesar. Subsequently, Severan armies campaigned against the desert nomads in his home territory of North Africa, extending the frontier southward with a new line of fortifications and creating the Roman province of Numidia. Concerned that his sons were becoming to quarrelsome and corrupted by Roman politics, Severus took them to Britain. Caracalla lead successful campaigns against the Caledonians and Maeatae, after Severus took ill and eventually died at Eboracum (York).

Caracalla succeeded his father after arranging for the murder of his brother Geta, and ruled for seven years (211-217 AD). After two years in Rome, he fought a campaign along the German and Rhaetian frontier in 213 AD before departing east to campaign against the Parthians. In 216 AD, he lead a Roman army deep into Mesopotamia, largely unopposed by the Parthians, who has retired to the east. In 217 AD, he was killed while traveling with a small escort to the temple at Carrhae. His death was blamed on a Parthian bushwacker, but it seems likely that his Praetorian prefect Macrinus had a hand in the plot.

Macrinus was elevated by the troops to the purple in April 217 AD, only to face incursions by the Dacians, Armenians and Persians. After suffering a defeat to the Persians near Nibilis, he bought peace on his eastern frontiers with gold. The Syrian legion rose in revolt against the Emperor Macrinus in 218 AD. Macrinus attempted to crush the revolt but was defeated near Antioch on 8 June 218, captured while fleeing at Chalcedon and subsequently executed. The victors then proclaimed the teenage Egalabus (Marcus Aurelius Antonius) as emperor. Egalabus was a distant cousin to Caracalla through Severus' wife Julia Domna. His reign, though long (218-222) was undistinquished except for his peculiar behavior. Unable to produce a heir, he recognized the teenaged Severus Alexander as Caesar, but was killed by the Praetorians in March 222 after approaching them with a plot to kill Alexander.

Severus Alexander held the purple for nearly fifteen years (222-235 AD), although power was largely held by a council consisting of his mother Julia Mamea, his grandmother Julia Maesa and the two Praetorian Prefects Ulpian and Paulus. The rise of the Sassanid Persians, who overthrew their Parthian overlords in 227 AD, created a new military challenge on the easern Frontier. After several years of Sassanid incursions, Alexander accompanied his generals on an eastern campaign in 231 AD that temporarily stabilized the eastern frontier. The withdrawal of troops from the Rhine frontier to fight in the east, however, had prompted renewed German pressure. In 234 AD, Alexander was encamped at Mainz in Upper Germany preparing for a campaign across the Rhine, when he engaged in negotiations with the Germans offering gold for peace. This enraged his soldiers, who rose up and killed the young emperor in March 234 AD, ending the Severan dynasty.

The next sixty years saw Rome ruled by a rapid succession of soldier-emperors:

  • Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus (Maximinus Thrax) (235-238 AD) - German campaign, Dacian/Sarmatian, African/Senatorial revolt, murdered by his troops.
  • Marcus Antonius Gordianus (Gordian III) (238-244 AD) - Loss of Hatra (240 AD), 1st Sassanid campaign/victory and victory at Resaina (241 AD), 2d Sassanid campaign (243 AD) culminating in defeat at Misiche/Peroz-Shapur.
  • M. Julius Philippus (Philip the Arab)(244-249 AD) - Treaty with Shapur, campaigns against the Carpi in Moesia and Pannonia, Moorish incursions, revolt of the Moesian legions, defeated by Trajan Decius at Verona
  • Trajan Decius (249-251 AD) - revolt of Jotapianus, Carpi/Gepid campaign, Senatorial revolt, Gothic campaign in Moesia Inferior, defeated and killed by Cniva at Abrittus.
  • Trebonianus Gallus (251-253 AD) - treaty with the Goths, Sassanid invasion of Syria, Roman defeat at Barbalissos, resulting in Sassanid annexation of the Syrian province, Aemilius Aemilianus refused to pay Gothic tribute, defeats Goth and marches on Rome, Gallus killed by mutinous troops. Aemilius also killed by his troops on arrival of Valerian with troops from Rhaetia and Noricum.
  • Valerian (253-260 AD) and Gallienus (253-268 AD) - Father and son split East and Western empires as co-Augustus. Key military events include a Syrian campaign and recovery of Antioch (257 AD), Gothic invasion of Asia Minor (257 AD), Frankish invasion of Gaul/Spain (257-258 AD), Alemanni invasion of Italy (258 AD), revolts in Pannonia/Moesia and Illyricum (258-260 AD), defense of Edessa and capture/humiliation of Valerian by Sapur (259 AD). In 258 AD, Gallienus formed a standing cavalry unit at Milan to counter Praetorian political influence and provide a central reserve. Revolt of Postumus (259 AD) and breakaway Gallic empire. Gothic invasion of Greece (268 AD) and Roman victory over the Goths at Niassus (Moesia). Assassination of Gallienus by his Illyrian officers while beseiging Aureolus at Milan.

The next series of soldier-emperors is typically designated the Illyrian emperors because of their region of origin. Claudius II Gothicus (268-270 AD) was purportedly designated heir by Gallienus on his deathbed, and completed the seige of Milan. He was then confronted by an Alemanni invasion of Rhaetia and Italy, winning a significant victory in late 268 AD. In 269-270 AD, he campaigned successfully against the Goths, while uprest in the Gallic empire lead to Spain breaking away to rejoin Claudius, and the Palmyrans under Queen Zenobia annexed Antioch, parts of Asia Minor and most of Egypt. While the Emperor was occupied with the Goths, Censorius mounted a Roman revolt in Northern Italy (269-270 AD).

Following the death of Claudius Gothicus to plague in 270, his brother Quintillus was named emperor, prompting a revolt by the legions in Simium who proclaimed their commander Aurelian as emperor. During the same period, the Vandals and Sarmatians raided across the Danube into Pannonia in force. Aurelian defeated Quintillas' forces in the field, and Quintillas died not long thereafter under unknown circumstances. Meanwhile, the Alemanni and Juthungi (Jutes) raided through Noricum into northern Italy in 270-271 AD. After wintering in Rome, Aurelian marched north and drove the Germans back across the Danube and recovered Pannonia in turn. Aurelian returned to Rome by the close of 271 AD, where he initiated construction of the Aurelian wall and set about fortifying other Italian cities. In 272 AD, Aurelian drove back a Gothic invasion, but abandoned greater Dacia, establishing a smaller, more defensible Dacian province south of the Danube carved from Moesia and Thracia. With his Danubian frontier temporarily secure, he marched east to recover the Roman provinces annexed by Palmyra. The armies of Zenobia were defeated at Immae (near Antioch) and Emesa in summer 272 AD, after which Aurelian laid seige to Palmyra itself. Zenobia was captured trying to escape through the desert, and Palmyra surrendered to Roman occupation.

Returning west, Aurelian defeated and resettled the Carpi, only to have the Palmyrans rise in revolt under Septimius Antiochus in 273 AD. Aurelian turned eastward again, overwhelming the Palmyrans and destroying their city before turning moving south to suppress the revolt of Firmus in Egypt.

Back in Rome by 274 AD, Aurelian turned his attention toward the breakaway Gallic Empire, now under the rule of Esuvius Tetricus. The armies of the Roman and Gallic empires meet at the Catalaunian fields (Chalons), where Tetricus deserted to Aurelian's camp on the eve of battle. The Gallic army was easily defeated and the breakaway provinces of Gallia and Britannia returned to the Roman empire. Having restored the Imperial borders save for Britain, Aurelian held a great triumphal march and then settled down to rule his empire, adopting various economc and religious reforms. Among his military reforms was an expansion of the mobile field cavalry created by Gallienus.

In 275 AD, Aurelian's armies suppressed revolts in Gaul and repelled an invasion in Vindelicia (southern Germany). By early Fall, he headed his army east to campaign against the Sassanids. While encamped at Caenophrurium near Byzantium, Aurelian was murdered through the treachery of his personal servant, who wrongly convinced a group of Praetorian officers that Aurelian was planning to have them put to death.

Aurelian was followed by a series of short-lived emperors including Tacitus (275-276 AD), Probus (276-282 AD), Carus (282-283 AD), Numerian (283-284 AD), and Carinus (283-285 AD). Tacitus fought a successful campaign against rampaging Heruli and Maeotidae in Asia Minor before his murder. Probus fought successful campaigns against the Franks, Alamanni, Longiones and Burgundi and then strengthened the Rhine frontier. His attention then moved eastward, first repulsing a Vandal invasion of Illyricum, then suppressing a revolt in Lycia, and finally launching punitive expeditions against the Blemmye after their incursions in upper Egypt. Probus was planning a campaign in Persia when he was murdered by his troops, who revolted in favor of the Praetorian Prefect Carus. Carus launched a successful invasion of Persia, capturing Ctesiphon but died of natural causes in the field (although some accounts state he was killed by a bolt of lightning). His younger son Numerian extracted the army from Persia, but took ill and died near Emesa in Syria. His elder son Carinus was co-Augustus, and launched a campaign against the Quadi in 283 AD. In 284 AD, he was campaigning in Britain, but marched south in early 285 to supress the rebellion of Iulianus, who was defeated near Verona. Then in July, he defeated a rebel army lead by Diocletian at the Margus River, but at the moment of triumph he was slain by a trusted officer who Carus had reputedly cuckoled.

Ruling for over 20 years, Diocletion restored stability to the empire through the establishment of the Tetrarchy, dividing the empire into east and west, each ruled by an Augustus with a subordinate Caesar responsible for designated territories. Diocletion ruled in the east as the senior Augustus, while Herculius Maximianus ruled in the west. Diocletion reorganized the roughly fifty Roman provinces into a hundred divided into twelve administrative dioceses. The army was reorganized into border troops and palace troops, the later forming the main Roman field army.

In this east, Diocletion relied on his Caesar Galerius to lead campaigns tub Egypt in 294 and against Narses of Persia in 295 AD. In 298 AD, Galerius campaigned in Armenia and forced a favorable treaty with the Sassanids. Between 299-305, his attention was focused on bringing the Sarmatians and Carpi to heel. Meanwhile, in the west, Herculius ws forced to quell a rebellion of the Bagaudae and a German invasion of Gaul in 286. He then had to contend with the rebellion of his former Admiral Carausius, who formed a breakaway empire in Britain and northern Gaul. A lackluster general, Herculius joined his Rhine army and turned over active command in Gaul to his Praetorian Prefect Constantius, who was named Caesar. In 293 AD, Constantius defeated Carausius near Bononia, recovering northern Gaul. It took until 296, however, for Constantius to recover Britain from Allectus. In 297, Herculius launched a campaign against the Moors in Spain, and followed it up in 299 by operations against the Moors in the region of Carthage. For the balance of his career, however, he left military matters to Constantius.

Battle of the Milvian Bridge, fresco by Raphael in the Vatican Palace

Diocletian resigned the throne in 305 AD and forced Herculius to do the same. Galerius became Augustus of the East and Constantius in the west. Constantius' reign was short-lived, as he died with his son of an epidemic at York in 307 AD while preparing for a campaign against the Picts. The western caesar Severus surrendered to the usurper Maxentius, who had him put to death. Maxentius was beset by intrigues and rebellions in the west, until he was defeated and killed at the battle of the Milvian Bridge by the Emperor Constantine on 27 Oct. 312 AD.

That left the Roman empire in the hands of Constantine I, ruler of the west, and Licinius as Augustus in the east. Both ruled from 308-324 AD, although each had ambitions to rule a reunited empire. A war erupted in 316 AD, culminating in battles at Cibalae (in Pannonia) and at the Campus Ardiensis in Thrace, after which Licinus ceded all his European territories save Thrace to Constantine. A second war broke at in 324 AD, with Constantine defeating Licinius at Adrianople (Thrace) and Chrysopolis (Bosphorus). Licinus was taken prisoner and executed some months later along with his son and heir, leaving Constantine the Great the uncontested ruler of the reunited Roman empire and bringing this DBA list to a close.

Army Composition

West (II/64a) East (II/64b) Notes
1x 3Cv (Gen) Roman general and Equites Alares.
1x 3Cv or 3Kn 1x 3Cv or 4Kn 3Cv represent additional Equites Alares. 3Kn repret Equites Catafractarii or mailed lancers without shield on unarmored horses. After 227 AD, they can be represented as Clibanarii (4Kn) or fully armored Parthian lancers on armored horses recruited by Severus Alexander into eastern Roman service. The fully armored lancer appeared in the western army after 307 AD.
1x 2Lh Equites Sagittarii (bow armed light horse), Equites Satitarrii Indenae (eastern Border horse), Moors (after 259 AD), Equites Illyricani (including Equites Scutarii and Legionary Promoti), or eastern Dromedarii.
1x 3Bd Legio Lanciarii. Elite troops equipped with smaller round/oval shields and carrying multiple javelins, presumably used in conjunction with legionaries as shock troops.
3x 4Bd Roman legionaries.
3x 4Ax Roman auxiliaries.
1x 4Ax or 4Bw or 2Ps More auxilia, including auxiliary archers. For variety, the Auxilia element can be depicted as Roman marines. Eastern Psiloi can also be represented by rustic slingers
1x Art 1x Art or 2Lh Cart-mounted bolt shooters or more Light Horse (see above).

Missing from the Eastern list are the Palestian clubman (6Bd) employed by Aurelian against the Palmyrans and the Sarmatian and Gothic horse (3Kn) employed by the later Eastern Emperors as foederati.

Enemies and Allies

The Western enemies list includes the Sarmatians (II/26), Early Germans (II/47efg), Scots-Irish raiders (II/54a), Later Moors (II/57), Caledonians (II/60), fellow Romans (II/64ab), Vandals (II/66), Picts (II/68a), Burdundi (II/70a), the later Germans (II/72abcd), Saxons (II/73), and Later Imperial rivals (78a).

The Eastern enemies list encompasses the always unruly Thracians (I/48), Hatra (II/22c) and the Characenes (II/22d), the Armenians and Gordyene (II/28bc), Parthians (Ii/37), Carpi (II/52), Blemmye (II/55ab), P. Niger's early Imperial rivals (II/56) and other Romans (II/64ab), Visigoths (II/65b), Vandals (II/66), Gepids (II/71), Palmyrans (II/74b), and Constantine's reformed army (II/78a).

The Western army can ally itself with the Franks (II/74a), whereas the eastern army can jon forces with Nomadic Arabs (II/23a) and/or Armenians (II/28bc) or alternatively with the Visigoths (II/65b).


Arable in both cases, the Eastern army is more aggressive than the Western army list and will find itself in unfriendly terrain more often. Still, this is a flexible army, with enough mobility to take advantage of the good going, enough Auxilia to contend the bad, and enough Blades to provide a steady core. Artillery and Bow provide threats against enemy mounted, and the Roman knight can strike fear into the hearts of most enemy foot. It is also a balanced army that will reward a skilled combined arms approach.

Middle Imperial Roman - Essex Ready Painted Army


By the Middle Imperial period, the Early Imperial scutum and lorica segmenta armor had given way to large oval shields, and chain or rawhide armor for legionaries predominated. Scutatus provides a more detailed description of the transition in armor. Auxiliaries were typically unarmored with either large oval or small round shields (depending on principal weapon), and with or without helms. 15mm ranges specific to the Middle Imperial period are available from Metal Mercenaries (which offers an extensive listing) and Essex (RO31-RO44).

Early Imperial auxiliaries with oval shields and chain/rawhide can easily be pressed into service, as can most Late Imperial infantry. For the Middle Imperial knights, I encourage you to take a look at Outpost Wargames Services' Late Roman Lanciarii and Clibanarii. In 25mm, Middle Imperial troops are available from A&A Miniatures, Amazon, Essex and are forthcoming from Curtey's Miniatures (through Outpost).

Middle Imperial Roman - Essex Ready Painted Army

Camps and BUAs

The Roman march camp is still appropriate, as are turf forts and the like. Supply wagons, baggage trains, and herd animals are also viable camps. The Milvian Bridge or Legionaries chopping down the sacred groves of Mona make colorful subjects. BUAs could include the more formidible stone and wood fortresses of the Rhine and Danube frontiers and Hadrian's wall, as well as Roman cities and/or fortified manors.


The principal classical sources for this period are Cassius Dio (Books 74-80) and Herodian's History of the Empire from The Time of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the historically suspect and somewhat sensational Historica Augusta.

For historical background, the De Bellis Bookstore can recommend these biographies on Septimius Severus, Aurelian, Diocletian , and Constantine I as well as Pat Southern's The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine

Useful Osprey references include:

And visit the De Bellis Bookstore for references to book titles on Rome and her Enemies.

Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

Last Updated: 15 March 2005

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.