This paper seeks to examine the status of foederati in Late Roman Egypt. One hundred years ago Jean Maspero wrote an essay on 6th century CE foederati and soldiers (“Φοιδερá¾¶τοι et Στρατιá¿¶ται dans l’armée byzantin au VIe siècle,” BZ 21  97-109). Since then many more papyri have been edited that allow a better view of the Roman military organisation of Egypt in general and the question of foederati in particular.
The main focus of this paper is the status of foederati and their duties in Egypt, one of the more peaceful parts of the Late Roman Empire. Included among these duties might well have been the screening of the roadsystem in the Eastern Desert, formerly a well-known duty of Roman soldiers. The Principate saw Egypt’s Eastern Desert dotted with small Roman outposts guarding the road system and important quarries. By the 3rd century CE there is almost no evidence for them anymore. This may give the impression that the roads through the Eastern Desert were unprotected, although they were seriously threatened by the Blemmyes, Egypt’s neighbours in the desert. The continuing trade with Berenike and Myos Hormos should have mattered enough to maintain the military road screening system (cf. O.Claud. I-IV; O.Krok; O.MyosHormos; S. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route, Berkeley 2011). Papyrological and literary evidence together seem to suggest that those patrol duties formerly carried out by Roman soldiers were outsourced – to people and tribes living near the Roman borders. These tribes may have even included the Blemmyes, a group that engendered a great deal of fear in the Egyptian inhabitants during the 5th and 6th centuries CE. But both Eusebius and Abinnaeus, the praefectus alae of the ala V Praelectorum in 4th century Egypt, mention Blemmyan envoys in Constantinople, and Procopius refers to the retraction of the Roman frontier in 298 CE and gold delivered to the Blemmyes. Some tribes of the Blemmyes therefore seem to have been Roman foederati (Eusebius, Vita Constantini 4, 7; P.Abinn. 1; Procopius, De bellis I 19, 27-37.) Another tribe appears to have formed the 6th century CE numerus of Pharanitae, which was stationed at Bau, a famous monastery, in the Thebaid. The soldiers of this unit were first recruited in the Sinai peninsula, from a tribe living near the city of Pharan, not far from the famous Monastery of St. Catherine (Ph. Mayerson, “Pharanitai in Sinai and in Egypt,” BASP 47  225-29). The Latin word numerus, or its Greek equivalent á¼€ριθμÏŒς, was used for any kind of troop in Late Roman Egypt; the term does not distinguish between Roman soldiers or federates. The Pharanitae may therefore provide another example of foederati in Late Antique Egypt – an example worth examining in more detail.