Paying the Army in the Theodosian Period
By Warren Treadgold
Production and Prosperity in the Theodosian Period, edited by Ine Jacobs (Peeters, 2014)
Introduction: Calculating how much the army was paid during the Theodosian period is more difficult than calculating the army’s pay about a century earlier or later. The only estimate known to me for the period around 400 must be deduced from some cryptic remarks made by Chris Wickham. So far I myself have ventured estimates for around 300 and around 518, but not in between. Our difficulties begin with the fact that by the late fourth century what had been the soldiers’ pay, the stipendium, had become almost worthless because of inflation; and around 400 it ceased to be paid at all. What still was paid was the annona militaris, originally a ration allowance but now in effect the soldiers’ pay, supplemented by other allowances for arms, uniforms, horses, and fodder. By 400, however, we cannot easily estimate how much the average soldier received in such allowances, because they were either paid in kind or commuted at variable rates.
A law of 393 from the Theodosian Code will illustrate our problems. It concerns soldiers who had not collected their annonae at the usual time, when supplies were abundant (presumably soon afterthe harvest). The law prohibits such soldiers from demanding allowances for annona at a higher rate later, when supplies had become scarcer and more expensive. We may conclude that in 393 annonae were often (perhaps usually) commuted to a monetary allowance at market prices. Yet market prices varied, not just with the time of year (as the law says) but with the success or failure of the harvest and the agricultural productivity of different regions. What soldiers were paid in coin must therefore have varied from year to year, and from place to place.
Figures for civilian wages in the later Roman Empire are of limited use for estimating the wages of soldiers. For example, we know that some extremely poor men earned as little as three gold solidi a year. But the soldiers cannot have been very poor — they needed to be properly fed, clothed, housed, and equipped, or they could not fight effectively. We can estimate the average annual cost of a satisfactory diet for a soldier at roughly the official value of an annona specified in a law of the year 445: four solidi. However, soldiers surely cost the state much more than this, because they needed arms and uniforms and often horses, and most of them had families to feed, clothe, and house. Most soldiers must also have put money aside for future expenses, because our law of 393 shows that they could live without their annona allowance for months before trying to collect it later. Even then, the soldiers who waited to receive their annonae cannot have spent all of it to feed themselves, because then they would have gained nothing by waiting: they would merely have paid higher prices for the same food. Thus soldiers must have received much more in annonae around 400 than they needed simply to eat.
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