Political history

Duces Ripae

Duces Ripae

Kalin Stoev

Institute for Balkan Studies & Center of Thracology

Bulgarian Academy of Sciences


University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, Bulgaria

Fuculty of Library Studies and Cultural Heritage

20 June 2020
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Abstract:  The name dux ripae is currently known from the eastern border of the empire – the Euphrates River, and is considered a prototype of the famous Late antique positions of dux limitis or dux ripensis. Epigraphical and historical evidence suggest however, that there are traces that a position of dux ripae or a position practically equaled to it was in existence on the Danube in 3rd century.

Key words: Moesia, Limes, Provinces, Administration, Army.

The name dux ripae is currently known from the eastern border of the empire – the Euphrates River, and is considered a prototype of the famous Late antique positions of dux limitis or dux ripensis, which appeared after the reorganization of the administration in the time of Diocletian and Constantine, when the formation of smaller provinces and the separation of civilian from military command in them was fulfilled. It is also believed that in its activity the dux ripae was subordinated to the legates of Syria, similar to the cavalry prefects of the Mesopotamian legions.[1] 

Although the definition is de facto a hapax, the title dux is often used to refer to temporary or permanent military commandant's offices, including in the Balkans. In an inscription from Sarmizegetusa, the seat of the financial subordinee of the governor – procurator of the Dacian provinces (Daciae tres), the legate Titus Claudius Fronton is called fortissimus dux (CIL III 1457).[2] Other examples show that the title is indeed often given as an additional designation for extraordinary powers (eg CIL II 4114: T. Claudio Candido… leg (ato) Augg (ustorum) / pr (o) pr (aetore) provinc ( iae) H (ispaniae) c (iterioris) / et in ea duci terra marique / adversus rebelles hh (ostes) pp (ublicos) / item Asiae item Noricae…). Marius Maximus, legate of legio I Italica in Nove, is also called a dux in an epigraphic certificate.

Many of these, as well as other examples, actually use the title dux as the equivalent of a prepositus, i.e. commander of an ad hoc composite vexillation. However, a sufficient number of examples, such as that of Marcianus, the commander of Gallienus, show that the word was also used in an official sense, and the course of Traianus Mucianus from Augusta Traiana show at least that there are different degrees of command entrusted to a duke, and the higher is associated with ducenario rank.

Interesting are the examples from Dacia, which, due to its position in the Roman world, quite naturally demanded decisive and at times extraordinary decisions for protection. Apart from the mentioned inscription, there is another testimony referring to Iulius Quadratus, commander of Trajan, where the mentioned is called stratilaths for command in the Dacian war, therefore something like magister exercitus. Dacia itself as a province has a genesis similar to that of Mesopotamia, which was originally created as a province by Trajan. Just as Mesopotamia, ruled by a cavalry prefect, had some dependence on the nearby imperial province of Syria, Dacia initially had some subordination to Moesia. The decision on the supremacy of the imperial legate in the province is quite interesting. The old Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa is neglected and only provincial governor with senatorial rank, with the power to command the Legion is the one of Apulian Dacia. In the territory of Dacia there are two more sub-provinces – Dacia Malvensis and Dacia Parolissensi, which, however, are entrusted to equestrian procurators.[3] The procurator of Apulian Dacia, who resided in Sarmizegetusa, is de facto the second person in the province, and he and the proconsul in Apullum personify and, if necessary, the unity of the "three Dacias". However, they command only the garrison entrusted to them in Apullum, and in large military initiatives, military power over the contingents of the mobile army in them is given to a representative of the "committee" or the imperial circle of trusted people: such as the cavalry commander close to Trajan Marcius Turbo in the Dacian Wars or M. Claudius Fronton in the Marcomannic Wars.

"Exceptional associations" are indeed typical feature of Augustan principles but also to the provincial management of 3rd AD: as for eample Q. Axius Aelianus, Aurelius Marcus, agens vice praesidis. Especially often was such feature in Dacia, Moesia and Pannonia, where unification of command was required with a view to the rapid transfer and coordination of forces along the Danube and Sava river corridors.

It is particularly interesting to us how the military power was exercised in the two Dacian sub-provinces, and in particular in Dacia Malvensis, close to Lower Moesia. In this region, a significant number heavy vexillationes, such as these of equites and pedites, which were necessary in this his "non-Roman" kind of expansion in time when they are attached to the regular forces of a Roman emperor or commander.[4] With the temporary end of Hadrian's expansion and the time of Antoninus Pius, these troops were regulated in the Roman style, with their transformation into alae and numeri, subject in most cases to prepositions or another legionary commander. Their distribution, however, has remained supra-provincial. 

It is further very probable that the military-logistical connections between Upper and Lower Moesia were preserved, which can be seen from the fact that three of the "field" ethnic combat units of Dacia were also registered in Ratiaria – numerus Maurorum, vexillation Syrorum, ala numeri Illyricorum.[5]  In the municipal territory of the colony there was also territorium legionis, which in its southern part coincided with the prefecture of the coast (praefectura ripae). This prefecture logically included the lands on the left bank of the Danube, in Dacia, or in general coincided with the province of Dacia Malvensis, which arose together with the three-provincial system of Dacia from the time of Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius, replacing Hadrian's two-provincial. According to the ingenious assumption of Fr. Fittinghof, Dacia Malvensis is created from the southern parts of Upper Dacia (or the new Dacia Apulensis), which deprives the latter of access to the Danube and therefore deprives the definitions of "Upper" and "Lower".[6] The course of Claudius Fronto, who was first a legate of Upper Moesia and Apulia Dacia, can also be interpreted in this sense. I can assume that from Malvensis and Parolissensis Dacia, he had only power over the large military units,[7] which are generally subject to the equestrian praefectus ripae! Since just south of Malvensis is what was once the lands of the prefectures of Moesia and Triballia, later turned into legionary territory, we can assume that a military-administrative district was identified in southern Dacia and northern Moesia and was probably subordinated to praeses, praefectus, or procurator. The assumption is not so unexpected, if given the dependence militarily land in the Wallachian Plain of Lower Moesia, at least until about 20 years of 2nd Century (Creation of the Lower Dacia) and eastern parts and at least 140 The conclusion is by B. Gerov, based on the data from the diploma from Palamaritsa (December 13, 140) (RMD I 39 = IDR I 13 = AE 1962 264), and is generally accepted in science.[8]

In view of these circumstances, it can now be assumed that a military commandant's office covering the defense of the coast, which was called differently at different times, has survived along the Danube, approximately between Oescus and Viminacium. This is, of course, the administrative continuation of the first and earliest territory of the province of Moesia, mentioned in the famous inscription of Baebius Atticus, referring to the prefecture of the civitatium of Moesia and Triballia, which remained an independent region within the province and with "capital" Oescus. It is entirely possible in the days of relatively calm in 1st – 2nd that this territory has been subject to Moesian Procurator – service, about whose specific features so far we have very scarce information. Now the obscure passages in the biography of Maximinus the Thracian, who after the death of Caracalla was subjected to "exile" in his native lands become reasonable, and he must have been a procurator or praefectus in this region. After his time, the position was clearly military, and we can assume that both Gallus, who repelled the Goths from the walls of Oescus, and Marcianus had the title dux Ripae, by which name the Danube bank of the former Triballia was meant. To these we should perhaps add a lesser-known Aurelius Licinianus, mentioned in a tombstone from Montana. 

It is possible that after the chiefs of the coast were called simply duces on the coast, the position later regained its pure equestrian status and the dux on the ripa was also Traianus Mucianus, as praefectus ducenarius, as well as one Ulpius Crinitus, who probably occupied this position in the time of the emperors Valerian and Gallienus.


[1] Gilliam 1941 ,, 157 ff.

[2] CIL III 1457: M (arco) Cl (audio) Ti (beri) filio Quirin (a) / Frontoni co (n) s (uli) leg (ato) Aug (usti) / pr (o) pr (aetore) ) trium Dac (iarum) et Moes (iae) sup (erioris) / comiti divi Veri Aug (usti) donato / donis milit (aribus) bello Armen (iaco) et Parth (ico) ab / Imp (eratore) Antonin (o) Aug (usto) et a divo Vero Augus (to) / coron (a) mural (i) item vallar (i) item classic (a) / item aurea item hast (is) puris IIII item vexill (is) / curator ) oper (um) locorumq (ue) public (orum) leg (ato) leg (ionis) I Min (erviae) / leg (ato) leg (ionis) XI Cl (audiae) praetori aedili curuli ab actis / senatus quaestori urbano decemviro / stlitibus iudicandis / col (onia) Ulp (ia) Traian (a) Aug (usta) Dac (ica) / Sarmiz (egetusa) patrono / fortissimo duci amplissim (o) / praesidi

[3] Gudea , Lob ü scher 2006, 22 .

[4] The Roman legion was heading for its decline in efficiency in imperial times from the first to the third century, and it seems that the Roman emperors did not use it willingly in the fight against non-Romans: Wheeler 1993: 219–220 and cit. there lit. 

[5] Stoev 2014.

[6] Vittinghoff 1969 , 145.

[7] Vittinghoff 1969 , 146.

[8] Petolescu 1985, 50.


RMD = M.M. Roxan, Roman Military Diplomas, London 1978 -

IDR = Inscripțiile Daciei Romane = Inscriptiones Daciae Romanae, Vol. I - V


Secondary Sources:

Стоев, К. (2014), „Нови епиграфски паметници от Рациария и нейната територия“. – В: Иванов, Р. (ред.). Ratiaria Semper Floreat. Рациария и нейната територия. Изследвания. (София), 230–283/ Stoev, K. (2014), “Novi epigrafski pametnitsi ot Ratsiaria i neynata teritoria. Izsledvania (Sofia), 230–283.

Gilliam, J.F. (1941), “The Dux Ripae in Dura.” – Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 72, 157-175.

Gudea, Lobüscher (2006), Dacia. Eine römische Provinz zwischen  Karpaten und

Schwarzem Meer (Meinz am Rhein).

Petolescu, C.C.  (1985), « L’organisation de la Dacie sous Trajan et Hadrien ». – Dacia NS 29.1–2, 45–55.

Vittinghof, F. (1969), “War die Kolonie Malva mit Romula (Reșca) identisch? ” – Acta

Musei Napocensis VI (1969): 131–147. 


This page is part of the project LABedia: Еncyclopedia of Late Antique Balkans, 4th-5th c.,
financed by the National Science Fund, contract КП-06-Н30/6, 13.12.2018