I'm frantically trying to make some notes and do some reading so that I can do some typing. I have three draft chapters due June 1st (thought they were do July 1st, then double-checked and saw the mistake). I'm also giving a paper in 2 weeks (the ideas, and nearly an outline, are ready to go -and I've been told the rougher the better). I also have a paper that was due May 31, but which has been pushed to July 1st. Anyway, frantically working away.
One of those pieces is a chapter in my intro to the Roman military book-project, and a chapter on combat at that. I've been struggling, a bit, with how much to include, especially since you can only say so much about combat in 8,500 words (my target) - and given it's meant, really, as in introduction, I'm cognizant of the need to keep the material manageable (not overwhelming with titles, for instance). Anyway, nearly ready to start typing the chapter and gather some last minute research. In particular, I'm going back over Speidel's (the elder, so to speak) 2000 paper, "Who Fought in the Front?". It's a bit fuzzy, because I read it ages ago. Essentially it takes the evidence of Maurice and uses it to look at who was at the front of the ranks in combat fighting in the years between 300 and 600.
It's not an unreasonable idea - using Maurice for an earlier period. After all, Vegetius is regularly used in that way, though he does regularly refer to this antiqua legio (though scholars use other information too). Now, all well and good in this chapter until I get to Speidel's claim that catafractarius could refer to a rank in the military, like decurio (a cavalry rank, usually), and that it under-officers of this new rank were those who fought in the front. That they were heavily-armoured would, on the surface, seem to support his claim. Indeed, if you're at the front doing most of the fighting, then you really do or probably would need more armour, though there's a lot we don't know about what actually happened when opposing sides came to blows, so to speak.
As suggested, what stood out to me was Speidel's claim that catafractarius could refer to rank, and not just a type of soldier. On the surface the suggestion struck me as just plain wrong - I did an encyclopaedia article on them, and I didn't come across any indication it could be an officer. So, I decided to do some digging and find out if I'd been mistaken (wouldn't be the first or the last time I've gotten things wrong). It turns out, however, that the evidence for this is comprised of two lone papyri: CHLA 18 660, and CHLA 43 1248. You can look up all the papyri at papyri.info, and the inscriptions I'll allude to at http://www.manfredclauss.de/. The two papyri, however, need not be interpreted as Speidel (and actually Rea in ZPE 56 and Zuckerman in ZPE 100) suggest.
CHLA 18 660, a list of sorts (of supplies) seems to be contrasting soldier catafractarius with actuarius, and an actuarius in this case isn't a rank in the military, but effectively an accountant (albeit one doing paperwork for the military). So, to my mind a type of civilian in the military, and unintentionally contrasted, with a type of soldier in the military. CHLA 43 1248 might point to catafractarius as a rank – for we have a Sarapio promoted (provectus) to decurio at line 1.13: sarapio catafracta(rius), prou(ectus) decur(io), and an Apion promoted to catafractarius at line 1.14: Apion eq(ues) prou(ectus) catafra(ctarius). But in the case of Sarapio, why must it be evidence he’s going from catafractarius to decurio, and why can’t it be that he’s a catafractarius who’s promoted to decurio? In the case of Apion, might it not be evidence for a regular cavalryman (eques) who’s just been upgraded to catafract? Indeed, in the other two instances, in the same papyrus (CHLA 43 1248), catafractarius is clearly being used to refer to soldier-type. It would seem to me to be needlessly complicated to use both (potential) senses of term, rank and soldier-type, in this document (Contra see Speidel 2000: 477, n. 22). The two other uses are at 2.8, where we find scholam catafractariorum, and at 3.15, where we find catafractarii. The latter, admittedly, is a bit more ambiguous.
In any case, in these instances it's best to bring in comparative evidence, and for that I turned to the Notitia Dignitatum, and the aforementioned epigraphic and papyrological databases. In the ND, it should come as no surprise that all mentions of catafract denote a type of soldier (or type of unit).
There are at least three units of catafractarii in the eastern praesental armies (Not. Dign. or. 5.34, 6.35, 6.36), one in Thrace, (Not. Dign. or. 8.29), another in the
Thebaid (Not. Dign. or. 31.52), and a third in Scythia (Not. Dign.
or. 39.16), to say nothing of those we find in Britain (Not. Dign.
oc. 7.200, Not. Dign. oc.
In the epigraphic database there are 16 inscriptions (Latin) that come up that list a form of "cataf", the term I used in my search. They are AE 1912, 192; AE 1919, 18; CIL 3.99; CIL 3.10307; CIL 3.14406a (here specifies that he’s a heavily armoured cavalryman – equites catafractarios); CIL 5.6784; CIL 11.5632; CIL 13.1848; CIL 13.3493; CIL 13.7323; CIL 16.110; IBulgarien 52; IIFDR 110; IK 31.40 (this one lists both catafractariorum and clibaniariorum); ILCV 504; and AE 1931, 68. In all 16 of those inscriptions, a form of catafract is used to refer to describe or denote a type of unit, and without question.
Next I turned back to the papyrological database and decided to try the Greek form, kataphraktos/oi. In this instance I got 9 hits, but of those only 7 of 9 dated to the common era, and those 7 generally dated between the early third and middle fourth centuries. The first, BGU 1.316, uses the term to refer to a heavily-armoured horse. The second, P. Abinn. 77, is a lot like CHLA 18 660, and so makes distinctions between civil-military persons and strictly military ones, again actuarius vs. catafractarius (though Hellenized forms, of course). Yes, it could be for officials, but I think catafractarius as heavily-armed cavalry soldier conveys the sense just as well. The next one, P. Abinn. 78, another this food or supply list, like the previous one makes a distinction between a soldier, and in this case a citizen (or something like a citizen - completely civil then). The next case, P. Oxy 41.2951, uses catafractrius in the exact manner we find it in the epigraphy, namely as a kind of soldier or unit (line 19, ἀριθμοῦ καταφράκτων). P. Panop. Beatty 2 makes the sort of contrast we have in P. Abinn. 77 and 78 and CHLA 18 600. The penultimate case, SB 18.13852, is the only really ambiguous one, where it could refer to a type of officer. It could also, however, refer to a type of solider. Finally we come to
Stud. Pal. 5.97. This, like the occasional other example, could refer to officers, for they are listed as ἐπιμελητῶν καταφράκτων, so armoured men in charge, or those in charge of the catafracts, who are sent off (ἀποστελλομένων) to Alexandria (lines 5-7). On the other hand, if the term katafractarius refers to officer, why bother specifying that they are in charge? Makes no sense.
The balance of evidence, then, such as I've found, points to catafractius meaning heavily-armoured cavalryman only, and not officer. Of course, if anyone has any evidence or thoughts they'd like to share to contradict or modify this suggestion, please do get in touch! Come to think of it, I think I should draw this up and send it in to a journal. Maybe this summer - and with more detail. Anyway, I believe I've sorted this out. Now, to get back to the other pages of Speidel's chapter.