Scholae Palatinae

The Scholae Palatinae (literally "Palatine Schools", in _el. polytonic|Σχολαὶ), were an elite military guard unit, usually ascribed to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great as a replacement to the Praetorian Guard. The "Scholae" survived in Roman and later Byzantine service until they disappear in the late 11th century, during the reign of Alexios I Komnenos.


During the civil wars of the late Tetrarchy, Caesar Flavius Valerius Severus, following the orders of Galerius, attempted to disband the Praetorian Guard but only managed to lead the rest of them in revolting and joining Maxentius. When Constantine the Great, launching an invasion of Italy in 312, forced a final confrontation at the Milvian Bridge, the Praetorian cohorts made up most of Maxentius' army. Later, in Rome, the victorious Constantine definitively disbanded the Praetorian Guard. Although there is no direct evidence that Constantine established the "Scholae Palatinae", the lack of a bodyguard unit would have become immediately apparent, and he is commonly regarded as their founder. Nevertheless, some units, such as the "schola gentilium" ("school of tribesmen") are attested much earlier than 312, and may have their origins in the reign of Diocletian.

The Late Roman "scholae"

The term "schola" was commonly used in the early 4th century to refer to organized corps of the imperial retinue, both civil and military, and derives from the fact that they occupied specific rooms or chambers in the palace. Each "schola" was formed into an elite cavalry regiment of around 500 troops, [Number attested in the time of Justinian; 4th century numbers may have been different. "Codex Iustinianus" IV.65 & XXXV.1] mostly recruited from among Germanic tribes.Haldon (1999), p. 68] In the West, these were Franks and Alamanni, [In the 4th century, Franks were very numerous among palace guards; Ammianus Marcellinus, "Historiae" XV.5.11] while in the East, Goths were employed. In the East, under the impact of anti-Gothic policies, from the mid-5th century they were largely replaced with Armenians and Isaurians.

Each "schola" was commanded by a "tribunus" and later by a "comes", who had a number of senior officers called "domestici" or "protectores" directly under him.Treadgold (1995), p. 92] Unlike the Praetorians, there was no overall military commander of the "scholae", and the Emperor retained direct control over them; however, for administrative purposes, the "scholae" were eventually placed under the direction of the "magister officiorum". [Southern & Dixon (1996), p. 57] In the "Notitia Dignitatum" of the late 4th century, seven "scholae" are listed for the Eastern Empire and five for the Western half. ["Notitia Dignitatum", "Pars Orient." XI.4-10 & "Pars Occid." IX.4-8] In Justinian's time, but also possibly in earlier times, the "scholae" were billeted in the wider neighbourhood of Constantinople, in the towns of Bithynia and Thrace, serving in the palace by rotation.Haldon (1999), p. 68]

As befitted their guards status, the "scholares" received higher pay and enjoyed more privileges than the regular army: they received extra rations ("annonae civicae"), were exempt from the recruitment tax ("privilegiis scholarum") and were often used by the Emperors on civilian missions inside the Empire. Gradually however, the ease of palace life, and lack of actual campaigning as the Emperors ceased to take the field themselves, lessened their combat abilities. In the East, they were eventually replaced as the main imperial bodyguard by the Excubitors, founded by Emperor Leo, while in the West, they were permanently disbanded by Theodoric the Great. [Southern & Dixon (1996), p. 56] Under Zeno, they degenerated to parade-ground display troops: as it became possible to buy an appointment into the ranks of the "scholae", and the social status and benefits this entailed, the units were increasingly filled with by the capital's well-connected young nobility. Emperor Justinian is said to have caused panic amongst their members by proposing that they be sent on an expedition. Justinian also raised four "supernumerary" "scholae" of 2,000 men purely in order to raise money from the sale of the appointments. It seems that this increase was reverted by the same emperor later.

Forty "scholares", named "candidati" for their bright white tunics, were selected to form the Emperor's personal bodyguard, [Jones (1986), pp. 613-614 & 1253] and although by the 6th century they too fulfilled a purely ceremonial role, in the 4th century they accompanied the emperors on campaign, as for example Julian in Persia. [Ammianus Marcellinus, "Historiae" XXV.3.6]

List of "scholae"

In the Western Empire (note that the Western part of the "Notitia" refers to the 420s):
* "Scola scutariorum prima"
* "Scola scutariorum secunda"
* "Scola armaturarum seniorum"
* "Scola gentilium seniorum"
* "Scola scutatorium tertia"

In the Eastern Empire (note that the Eastern part of the "Notitia" refers to the 390s):
* "Scola scutariorum prima"
* "Scola scutariorum secunda"
* "Scola gentilium seniorum" [most likely the same unit mentioned for the West, transferred there after the Eastern list was compiled]
* "Scola scutariorum sagittariorum", a unit of horse archers.
* "Scola scutariorum clibanariorum", a unit of "clibanarii".
* "Scola armaturarum iuniorum"
* "Scola gentilium iuniorum"

Note: The suffixes "seniorum" and "iuniorum" refer to units of the same ancestry, now commonly held to have been created from the division of the Roman army in 364 between emperors Valens and Valentinian I. The "seniores" are the "senior" Western units, while "iuniores" their "junior" Eastern counterparts.

Notable "scholares"

* Saints Sergius and Bacchus were officers in Emperor Maximian's "schola gentilium". [ [ The Origin of the Cult of SS. Sergius and Bacchus] ]
* Saint Martin of Tours, an officer in the "scholae" of Caesar Julian.
* Mallobaudes, a Frankish king, "tribunus armaturarum", later "magister militum".
* Claudius Silvanus, a Frankish tribune and later usurper.
* Bacurius, prince of Caucasian Iberia, "tribunus sagittariorum" at the Battle of Adrianople.Ammianus Marcellinus, "Historiae" XXXI.12.16]
* Cassio, "tribunus scutariorum" (likely of the elite first "schola") at the Battle of Adrianople.Ammianus Marcellinus, "Historiae" XXXI.12.16]
* Justinian I served as a "candidatus" in 518, at the time of the death of Emperor Anastasius and the accession of his uncle Justin I.

The "scholae" as one of the "tagmata"

The "scholae", along with the "excubitores", continued to exist in the 7th and early 8th centuries, although diminished in size, as purely ceremonial units. However, in ca. 743, after putting down a major rebellion of thematic troops, Emperor Constantine V reformed the old guard units of Constantinople into the new "tagmata" regiments, which were meant to provide the emperor with a core of professional and loyal troops. [Haldon (1999), p. 78] The "tagmata" were professional heavy cavalry units, garrisoned in and around Constantinople, forming the central reserve of the Byzantine military system and the core of the imperial expeditionary forces. In addition, like their Late Roman ancestors, they were an important stage in a military career for young aristocrats, which could lead to major field commands or state offices. [Haldon (1999), pp. 270-273]

The exact size of the "tagmata" is a subject of debate. Estimates range from 1,000 [Haldon (1999), p. 103] to 4,000 [Treadgold (1980), pp. 273-277] men. The various "tagmata" had a uniform structure, differing only in the nomenclature used for certain titles, which reflected their different ancestries. The "scholai" were headed by the "domestikos tōn scholōn", first attested in 767. [Treadgold (1995), p. 28] Gradually, the office rose in importance, and by the 10th century he was the senior officer of the entire army, effectively a commander-in-chief under the Emperor. In ca. 959, the post and the unit itself were divided into two separate commands, one for the East ("domestikos tōn scholōn tēs Anatolēs") and one for the West ("domestikos tōn scholōn tēs Dysēs"). [Treadgold (1995), p. 78]

The "domestikos" was assisted by two officers called "topotērētēs" (Gr. τοποτηρητής, lit. "placeholder", "lieutenant"), who each commanded half of the unit, and a "chartoularios" ("secretary") and "proexēmos" (head messenger). [Treadgold (1995), p. 102] The "tagma" was further divided into 20 smaller units ("banda", sing. "bandon") commanded by a "komēs" ("count"). After the split in the late 10th century, there appear to be 15 "banda" for each half of the "scholai", likely indicating an increase in the size of the overall unit by half. [Treadgold (1995), p. 85] Each "komēs" commanded 5 "domestikoi", the equivalent of regular army "kentarchoi" ("centurions"). [Treadgold (1980), p. 274] There were also 40 standard-bearers ("bandophoroi"), who were grouped in four different categories. In the "scholai", these were: "protēktores" ("protectors", deriving from the older "protectores"), "eutychophoroi", "skēptrophoroi" ("sceptre bearers") and "axiōmatikoi" ("officers"). [Treadgold (1980), p. 276]

The forty "kandidatoi" are still mentioned in the 10th century work "De Ceremoniis", but the title had become nothing more than a mere palace dignity, fulfilling a purely ceremonial role and entirely separate from the "tagma" of the "scholai".



*cite book |title=Scholae Palatinae. The Palace Guards of the Later Roman Empire Rome |last=Frank |first=R.I. |year=1969
*cite book |title=Warfare, state and society in the Byzantine world, 565-1204 |last=Haldon |first=John F. |year=1999 |publisher=Routledge |isbn=1857284941
*Haldon, John F.: " [ Strategies of Defence, Problems of Security: the Garrisons of Constantinople in the Middle Byzantine Period] ", published in "Constantinople and its Hinterland: Papers from the Twenty-Seventh Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Oxford, April 1993", edited by Cyril Mango and Gilbert Dagron (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995)
*cite book |title=The Late Roman Army |last=Southern |first=Pat |coauthors= Dixon, Karen R. |year=1996 |publisher=Routledge |isbn=071347047X
*cite book |title=The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social Economic and Administrative Survey |last=Jones |first=Arnold Hugh Martin |year=1986 |publisher=Johns Hopkins University Press |isbn=080183354X
*Treadgold, Warren T.: Notes on the Numbers and Organisation of the Ninth-Century Byzantine Army, published in "Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies" 21 (Oxford, 1980)
*cite book |title=Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081 |last=Treadgold |first=Warren T. |year=1995 |publisher=Stanford University Press |isbn=0804731632

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