Did the late Roman government lie about the borders of their empire? Has this ever been argued by Roman historians?

This question is different from this one.

Michael Kulikowski refers to the Notitia Dignitatum as "deliberately falsifying" the status of military units within the empire. If the Roman government manipulated the status of the military, is it possible that there was greater manipulation of information by the Imperial government?

The Western empire isn't something I know much about, I'd appreciate any help

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    Note this, from the Wikipedia article: "The Western section contains data from as early as circa AD 400: for example, it shows units deployed in Britannia, which must date from before 410, when the Empire lost the island." So it's just a matter of the compiler using outdated info.
    – Meir
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:03
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    The Notitia Dignitatum claims that there was still a significant Roman presence in Britain in the 420s How did you arrive at such a conclusion? That document does not claim a date. @Meir To be more precise, the Notitia Dignitatum appears to have been first compiled in the late 4th century, and then selectively updated until about 427. So it is not a definitive snapshot of the Roman Empire from any point in time.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:11
  • In response to Semaphore, this isn't really my conclusion, this is a direct quote from the first page of "The British Sections of the 'Notitia Dignitatum': An Alternative Interpretation" link here. Furthermore, the concept of the Nogitia Dignitatum being a propaganda piece can be found in a paper by Michael Kulikowski. I am completely unaware of any evidence of the document being 'selectively updated'. Would it be possible for you to provide a source? Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 16:26
  • If you're going to quote something, you should edit your post to put in an actual quote with blockquote formatting, and also and cite it.
    – Spencer
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 21:44
  • @Giraffeshavelongnecks As Spencer says, you need to properly mark quotations or paraphrases. Otherwise, it falls under plagiarism which we are obligated to remove. Regarding the Notitia Dignitatum: "the Notitia Dignitatum seems to have been modified on several occassions . . . sections on the Eastern Empire do not seem to show any changes after 395. The western sections were altered . . . as late as the 420s. The updates were patchy and not always consistently made throughout all of the relevant sections." Goldsworthy, Adrian, The Fall of the West: The death of the Roman superpower.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 5:16

1 Answer 1


Let me answer at least one part of the question, on presence of Roman forces in early 5th century Britain.

Before that, however, my recommendation is not to use the Notitia Dignitatum for anything other than the most simple/basic purpose. Certainly not as an entry point to read on Western Roman Empire. This document lacks context, and is very open to too many interpretations, as you seem to be aware - your references in the comments.

Back to my answer, there was a large contingent of late Roman cavalry, the Equites Taifali in Lincolnshire (northeastern/east England) during this time period, late-4th / early-5th century.

So, even after the Sack of Rome (410CE), a significant group of Roman cavalry still remained in Britain. So, in this sense, the Notitia Dignitatum was, if you like, not incorrect.

The Equites Taifali seemed to be particularly strong fighters, and they did stay on as opposed to “returning” to Rome or Ravenna. The commas because Taifali were frontier forces, not originally Roman but most likely Central Asian in origin. Some believe they came all the way from Central Asia under the banner of Samartians. In any case, they “kept the peace” for at least about another century in Lincolnshire.

Dr Caitlin Green has the details, her own site:

As to who these cavalry troops potentially billeted and losing spurs at Ludford might have been, one reasonable possibility is that they were members of the very late Roman Equites Taifali. This cavalry unit was probably established between 395 and 398 from the Taifali of northern Italy and Gaul and is known to have been in Britain under the command of the Comes Britanniarum ('Count of the Britains') in the very late fourth to early fifth centuries. Perhaps most significantly, however, it just so happens that a neighbouring parish to Ludford, Tealby, actually bears an originally Old English name that almost certainly derives from the continental tribal-name Taifali and means '(the settlement of) the Taifali', to which the Old Norse for village, -bȳ, was added in the Anglo-Scandinavian period (Tealby < Tavelesbi/Teflesbi < Old English *Tāflas/*Tǣflas + Old Norse bȳ, with *Tāflas/*Tǣflas being the Old English form of the tribal-name Taifali). Needless to say, such a coincidence is highly suggestive, and it has furthermore been argued that the presence of this tribal-name in Lincolnshire is difficult to explain in a convincing manner without recourse to the Equites Taifali.

NOTE: See that quote in full on her site, as the details from the hyperlinks are useful. A brilliant site for late antiquity history in Britain (and outside too).

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    Thank you for the site recomendation, I found the page on the Sassanid coins found in England to be very interesting. I think it should help with the project that this is for Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 9:49
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    Most welcome, and her other posts are also pretty fascinating. She seems willing to dig (more than others) into non-mainstream British history. My kind of history, subversive! Lol.
    – J Asia
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 9:59

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