Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum

Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum

This is the first of my units for my Western/Eastern Late Roman Army from 330 to around 400, This army is being built to fight my Sassanid’s. The First unit I had to paint was the Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum, I decided upon A and A miniatures’ as they are beefy looking figures, befitting a guard unit and depict the Clibanariorum armor and the Nesaean horse nicely (and my Sassanid cavalry are also from this range).

A Short History

 The Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum were part of the “Schola” or the Imperial Guard cavalry retinue, Each Schola was between 500 and 600 men. Many of the recruits for the Palatine troops were from barbarian tribes, Franks, Goths, Alans, Alamanni, Armenians and Isaurians. The Palatine troops were under command directly by the Emperor, the Magister Officiorum had direct control over the disposition of the Schola. Each Schola was commanded by a tribune who ranked as a Comes.  
By 400AD Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum were part of the eastern Empire Army, according to the 'notitia dignitatum. The Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum were present at the battle of Strasbourg/Argenoratum 357AD and they disgraced themselves by retreating when their commander was unhorsed (possibly Hormisdas who was a Persian).and several animals falling over in exhaustion

This event is noted by both Ammianus, 16.12.37-41 and in the “Historia Nova” of Zosimus, at the battle of Strasbourg/ Argenoratum in 357 (HN 3.3.4-5): 

And I ought not omit what Caesar did after this victory. He had a troop of 600 horse, well trained in war, on whose strength and experience he so relied that he hazarded many of his hopes with them. When the battle began, the whole army fell upon the enemy with maximum enthusiasm so that the Roman army was gaining considerable advantage, but these alone broke ranks and fled, and even though Caesar himself and a few others rode after them and called them back to share in the victory, they would not have any part in the battle. Caesar was therefore very properly angry with them because, as far as they were concerned, they had abandoned their countrymen to the barbarians, but he did not impose on them the penalty defined by law; rather he dressed them in women's clothing and led them through the camp to expel them, thinking this a punishment worse than death for manly soldiers.

Dressed as women could refer to the removal of their military belts and being discharged as women so no land rights.

Concerning Cataphractarii and Clibanarii

I am not a believer that cataphractarii and clibanarii were one and the same. The first Roman Cataphract unit known is ala I Gallorum et Pannoniorum catafractata. The evidence we have for this unit is in a diploma dated 1st June 125 (when it was stationed in Moesia Inferior; it remained in that province until at least the late 150s).

Both types appear in the Notitia Dignitatum and units of both types are included in a field army. The cataphracts are listed first, this I believe indicates that not only did they differ but the cataphractarii are the senior of the units. The difference, I suggest, lies in the way that they were equipped and mounted.

Western vs Eastern heavy cavalry

The Western type had their beginnings with Bosporan contarii , however the Roman type we are considering were introduced by the Sarmatian tribes. Both rider and horse were armoured; the man was armed with contus, bow and sword, and did not use a shield (Tacitus, Histories, 1.79). Tacitus calls the rider's armour catafractes and says that it was made from scales of horn or hard leather and was so heavy that the man had difficulty getting up when unhorsed. Trajan's Column shows Sarmation cavalry with both horse and rider wholly covered with tight-fitting scale armor.
I have a theory to put forward that the Clibanariorum were mounted on the larger Nisean horses (which were larger than there western types and in bred on farms around Rome by this stage) with bronze scale armor (as horse sweat does not rust bronze and it polishes nicely) and that the men were armored head to foot, and armed with two handed Contus and the bow in the eastern style.
There was much discussion in the Roman Army Talk forum on whether clibanarii used shields or not. Certainly, the Parthian and Sasanian rock reliefs do not show their predecessors using them and Julian, in describing Constantius' clibanarii, states specifically that they did not need shields (Jul. Or. II, 57C) also I have a theory that the six Schola units of the Magister Officiorum only five shields are depicted on the Notitia Dignitatum, so perhaps the Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum did not have them! (even though Scuta means shield!!!!)

A few Qoutes
Nazarius, Paneg., 24.5
What a spectacle that is said to have been, how dreadful to behold, how terrible, horses and men alike enclosed in a covering of iron.
Maxentius' clibanarii at the battle of Turin, AD 312.

Nazarius, Paneg., 24.5
When all had been killed to a man and your soldiers were untouched, people transferred the horror inspired by their armour to wonder at the victory . . .
Maxentius' clibanarii again.

Libanius, Oration XVIII, 18.37
. . . cavalry so invulnerably equipped as to lend them a terrible aspect . . .
Constantius' Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum, AD 357.

Ammianus, 16.10.8
. . . all masked, furnished with protecting breastplates and girt with iron belts, so that you might have supposed them statues (simulacra) polished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men.
Scola Scutariorum Clibanariorum escorting Constantius on his entry into Rome, AD 357.

Claudian, In Rufinum II, 357-364
. . . the limbs within give life to the armour's pliant scales so artfully conjoined, and strike terror into the beholder. 'Tis as though iron statues (simulacra) moved and men lived cast from the same metal . . . each stands alone, a pleasure yet a dread to behold, beautiful yet terrible . . .
Rufinus' clibanarii, AD 395.



  1. Nice painting mate! And a V. good post!

  2. Very nice - altogether too tempting for a King Arthur and his knights job, though...

  3. Fascinating post and great looking figures.


  4. Very nice and some great info too!!

  5. Luverlee!

    Some good info there too.

  6. Oh, it is the old clibinarii vs cataphractii discussion. Nice work. I have the Sasanian A&A (still unpainted) - looking forward to it..