The Notitia Dignitatum


This page created 1 January 2004, and last modified: 9 August 2014 (some links added)


Thirteen units of armigeri are apparently noted in the Notitia, eight of them horse:

Cuneus equitum armigerorum, under the Dux Moesiae secundae
Cuneus equitum secundorum armigerorum, also under the Dux Moesiae secundae
Cuneus equitum armigerorum, under the Dux Scythiae
Equites armigeri, a comitatenses vexillation in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command
Equites armigeri seniores Gallicani, a comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I
Equites armigeri seniores Orientales, a comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum per Orientem
Equites armigeri seniores, a comitatenses vexillation under the Comes Africae
Equites armigeri iuniores, another comitatenses vexillation under the Comes Africae
and three of them legionary infantry units:
Armigeri defensores seniores, a comitatenses legion in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command
Armigeri propugnatores seniores, a palatine legion under the Comes Africae
Armigeri propugnatores iuniores, another palatine legion under the Comes Africae
and the following two units which are probably duplicates of two of the above:
Armigeri seniores, i.e. the Armigeri under the Magister Equitum
Armigeri, a unit of milites under the Dux Mogontiacensis, likely the Armigeri defensores seniores.
Armigeri should probably imply 'armoured', and given most soldiers were armoured to some extent, likely 'heavily armoured'. Accordingly, some have taken the cavalry armigeri units to be the equivalent of horse catafracts. However, this is just one of many possible explanations of the title, and leaves open the question of what the foot units are. (Armegeri also has a broader meaning of "equipped, especially for war", but of course any soldier has an even higher probability of being merely equipped for war than of being armoured).

Only the shield patterns for some of these units are shown in the Notitia:

Shield patterns

Those under O come from the Bodleian manuscript in Oxford, those under P from the Paris manuscript, those under M from the first portion of the Munich manuscript, those under W from the second portion of the Munich manuscript, and those under B from the Froben edition.

Given that the three foot units all appear to have equivalent mounted units serving under the same commander, it might appear that these particular mounted armigeri units (if not the others) might derive from the mounted portions of older legions; and it may be that the other mounted armigeri are likewise derived from legionary horse (in the same way that the various Equites Promoti seem to be), and that the question of what "armigeri" are then boils down to 'why are some legions called "armigeri"?'

It is of course entirely possible that the men of these legions were particularly well armoured (at least, at the time they were formed); another explanation could be that they earned the description as a nickname or badge of merit, in the same manner as Cromwell's "Ironsides" did in the British civil wars of the 1640s - these men were not particularly well-armoured (not even in iron, but buff-jackets for most part), but their behaviour was certainly steadfast. Perhaps one (or more than one) legion's resoluteness in action earned it a cognomen, which as time went on became the 'officially recognized' primary name of the unit, bequeathing its name to various detachments as recorded in the Notitia.

Such nicknames and/or merit names being transferred into 'official' names (i.e. official enough to be listed in the Notitia Dignitatum, the 'register of officials') would certainly be far from unique. 'Propogunatores' itself is almost certainly such a name ('the Defenders'); and there are many units entitled 'Victrix' ('Victorious') in the Notitia, deriving from battle honours from long-past actions.

Two units bear the related designation of "armaturarum":

Schola armaturarum seniorum, under the western Magister Officiorum
Schola armaturarum iuniorum, under the eastern Magister Officiorum
"Armaturarum" has a very similar meaning to armigeri, but being somewhat broader: "equipped, especially armed with weapons". As with armigeri, it is unclear how this label distinguishes them, if at all, from their fellows. See my discussion on Scholae for more details.


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