Limitanei were border guards in the armies of the late Roman Empire. They were light troops and served to hold off invaders until heavier troops could arrive. They are historically significant in that their appearance, as part of a plan of military reforms of the late third century A.D. was able to extend the life of the Roman Empire by holding back barbarian invasions. The Roman Empire is the term conventionally used to describe the Ancient Roman polity in the centuries following its reorganization under the leadership of Octavian (better known as Caesar Augustus). ...
Historians believe that military reforms in the Roman Army were begun in the late third century by Diocletian. It was Constantine the Great, however, under whom the reforms began to take root and have widespread effect. The first written reference to "Limitanei" was in 363 A.D. Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (245-313 AD), born Diocles, was Roman Emperor from November 20, 284 to May 1, 305. ... Constantine. ...
The creation of the limitanei saw at the same time the creation of "comitatenses." The limitanei were the lighter of these two groups. They would be stationed directly at the borders of the Empire, with the mission of holding off invaders until the heavier troops, the comitatenses, could arrive on scene.
The military reforms enabled the Roman army to hold off the barbarian invasions more effectively than the previous arrangement had. In the end, however, the barbarian pressures simply overwhelmed the Roman border forces. By the mid-fifth century A.D. the borders had effectively been overrun. In 476, the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus was deposed by barbarian invaders. Romulus Augustus (460s/470s - after 511) was the last of the Western Roman Emperors. ...
The limitanei were the troops stationed on the borders of the empire with a specific function, unlike before where the majority of the legions had been stationed on the main borders of the empire.
The limitanei were there to provide security against small scale barbarian raids and were spread out in smaller forts over areas which were more vulnerable, to give the Roman army a visible presence and these troops when stationed by rivers were also known as ripenses.
Units of limitanei were often transferred into the field army in the area although they still remained of a lower status.
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