Alex Elliott

‘The Later Roman Naval Forces of the Northern Frontier, 3rd–5th Centuries CE’ (MA in Classics & Archaeology, 2019).

This MA thesis provides an overview of the existence, distribution, and function of naval forces operating along the Northern Frontier of the Roman Empire from the third to fifth centuries CE. Despite the vast amount of research dedicated to the Roman military, later naval units have been largely ignored. Instead, previous scholarship has frequently argued for a third-century naval decline and subsequent collapse leading to a later Empire almost wholly devoid of naval forces. An investigation of this scholarly tradition, however, reveals a framework strongly influenced by modern military organisational practices rather than that of the source material. This thesis challenges the traditional view by analysing the evidence for continued naval operations along the coasts of Britain, the Rhine, and the Danube during the later period. Each geographic area is examined through a combination of written source material, the Notitia Dignitatum, and archaeological excavation. Although displaying significant regional variation, each area surveyed provided ample evidence of both standing and campaign specific fleets operating throughout the period in question. Rather than a third-century collapse, the naval units of the Roman military were merely subject to the Diocletianic reforms of the late third/early fourth century. Following this reorganisation, these units would remain an integral part of the Roman military framework for as long as the military itself continued to operate effectively.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Frederik Vervaet, Professor Tim Parkin