Late Roman Shield Patterns

Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam

This page last modified: 27 December 2014 (Munich frontpiece illustration added)


Frontpiece showing towns
Above: Frontpiece from the Bodleian manuscript (O).
The stations depicted are: Othona, Dubris,
Lemannis, Branoduno, Garaianno,
Regulbi, Rutupis, Anderidos,
Portum Adurni.
The following officers along with their units are listed as being under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore of Britain (the numbers beside the names refer to Ingo Maier's numbering scheme):

132.2 Praepositus numeri Fortensium, at Othonae
132.3 Praepositus militum Tungrecanorum, at Dubris
132.4 Praepositus numeri Turnacensium, at Lemannis
132.5 Praepositus equitum Dalmatarum Branodunensium, at Branaduno
132.6 Praepositus equitum stablesianorum Gariannonensium, at Gariannonor
132.7 Tribunus cohortis primae [Ba]etasiorum, at Regulbio (see notes)
132.8 Praefectus legionis secundae Augustae [at Rutupis] (see notes)
132.9 Praepositus numeri Abulcorum [at Anderidos] (see notes)
132.10 Praepositus numeri exploratorum, at Portum Adurni
Frontpiece showing towns
Above: Frontpiece from the Munich manuscript (W).
In contrast to the contemporary (i.e. 15th-century) Italianate appearance of the
Bodleian frontpiece, that from (W) is believed to be closer to the Codex Spirensis
version, at least in style, despite W's later (16th century) date.

Disclaimer: Remember, a lot of what comes below is speculation. Hopefully informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Comments welcome! (lukeuedasarson "at"

The locations Rutupis and Anderidos do not appear in the textual list, but as they do appear in frontpiece illustrating the forts under the command of the Comes, their names are easily supplied.

All of these units are limitanei units. However, as discussed below, it seems that some of these units might be the same as some of the pseudocomitatenses units of the Gallic field army commanded by the Magister Equitum that are not listed as being drawn from those of the Magister Peditum's infantry roster.

The men under the Praepositus numeri Fortensium, at Othonae (modern Bradwell, and formerly called Ythanceaster) were posited to be a detachment of Legio II Traiana Fortis by Boecking as long ago as the first half of the 19th century. Hassall assumed they were cavalry (see M.W.C.Hassall's chapter, p 7-10, in CBA Reserach Report No. 18, The Saxon Shore, Ed. D.E.Johnston (1977), available here), since they are recorded as being a numerus, citing the examples of the Cuneus equitum Fortensium under the Dux Valeriae ripensis and the Cuneus equitum Dalmatarum Fortensium under the Dux Daciae ripensis as examples of units called Fortenses that are "clearly" mounted. However, numerus need not be restricted to mounted units (it means simply "a number/body (of troops)"; indeed, numerous inscription exist to numeri that are undoubtably infantry units, even elite legions like the Ioviani. Further, as Hassall himself pointed out, Legio II Traiana need not be the only unit providing detachments that came to be named Fortenses in the Notitia. Unfortunately, no epigraphic evidence has been recovered from the fort at Bradwell. Note that detachments of the Legio secunda Traiana can be found so-named in the Notitia stationed at Appollonos superioris under the Dux Thebaidos, and at Parembole under the Comes limitis Aegypti).

RIB 2092
The Birrens altar.
Photo taken from here; (c) Trustees of the National Museums Scotland.
The men under the Praepositus militum Tungrecanorum, at Dubris (modern Dover) seem to be a unit of Tungri/Tungrecani/Tongrecani; the name originates from the Tongres region in Belgium. The Notitia apparently lists two such units in Britain: in addition to the Dover unit, we find a Tribunus cohortis primae Tungrorum, at Borcovicio (Vercovicium, modern Housesteads) under the Dux Britanniarum. Epigraphic evidence for this Cohors I Tungrorum millaria is extremely plentiful; we also have epigraphic evidence, not so plentiful, but still amounting to over a dozen inscriptions, for a Cohors II Tungrorum milliaria equitata, which might equate to the Dover unit, although all the epigraphic evidence for it comes from the north of England, and not the south. There is unfortunately no epigraphic evidence from Dover mentioning the identity of its garrison; indeed Hassall posited a lacuna in the Dux Britanniarum's list covering this very unit which has become widely accepted; see here for details). An altar from Birrens (RIB 2092 = AE 1987, 60) dedicated by the men of COH II MIL EQ has a carving apparently showing a patera (libation bowl) on the side, although the handle is somewhat unusual (see the picture to the left). However, its apparent "boss" makes me wonder if it is consciously echoing a shield, as the concentric rings are typical of many Notitia patterns (many such vessels found in non-military situations also show such a boss, it must be said, which appears to have facilitated holding the vessel, but as this one has a handle, such as functional element would be unnecessary).

Elsewhere in the Notitia, a unit of auxilia palatina called the Tungri is found in the apparently newly-created force under the Comes Illyricum; these might well be the same men as (formerly) found under the Tribunus cohortis primae Tungrorum; its shield pattern is rather similar to that of the Birrens altar patera shown to the left. There is an outside chance that the Latini under the same commander are the men under the Praepositus militum Tungrecanorum since we know from the epigraphic evidence that the cohors II Tungrorum milliaria equitata was awarded the very unusual title civium Latinorum, as opposed to the frequently found civium Romanorum; however, the presence of a unit called the Sabini adjacent to the Latini in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster argues agains this hypothesis. Finally, there is an elite legio palatina called the Tongrecani seniores in the Magister Peditum's Italian command which is unlikely to have anything to do with the British units other than sharing an initial recruitment area name, as it is a legionary unit, while the British cohortes are auxiliary units. Nonetheless, Hassal posited the Dover unit may have been the Tongrecani iuniores, which, although mentioned by Ammianus (26.6.12) is conspicuously absent from the Notitia. Given the legionary-auxiliary mismatch, however, I consider it more likely that the Tungrecani iuniores was simply destroyed at some point in the 50-odd years between Ammianus' work being finished and the final revisions of the Notitia. That units such as "Tungrians" replenished their ranks with men from outside their initial recruiting area can be see in the case of Cohors II Tungrorum milliaria equitata, for which an altar stone has been found (RIB 2100 = CIL 7, 1068) in Birrens mentioning the Raetians (i.e. men from the region of modern Austria) serving in the unit: the C(ives) RAETI MILIT(antes) IN COH(orte) II TUNGR(orum).

The men under the Praepositus numeri Turnacensium, at Lemannis (modern Lympne) appear to have a name originating in Turnacum (modern Tournai in Belgium). The only inscriptional evidence from Lympne (RIB 66) mentions the prefect of the British fleet stationed there in ca. 125 AD (the PRAEFECT(us) CLAS(sis) BRIT(annicae)), but nothing has been found relating to a land garrison. It is possible the Numerus Turnacensium is to be equated with the Truncensimani of the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, although it is usually assumed that the origin of the Truncensimani is with Legio XXX Ulpia, which was stationed at Tricensimae (Xanten in Germany) in the 4th century. Parallels for similar spelling mistakes are not hard to find in the Notitia.

The men under the Praepositus equitum Dalmatarum Branodunensium, at Branaduno (modern Brancaster) are clearly a "Dalmatian" cavalry unit; this type of unit was first raised By Gallienus in the 260s, although exactly what is meant by "Dalmatian" is unclear. No inscriptional evidence for this unit exists, although roof tiles (AE 1976,374; RIB 2466, 1 & 2) have been found at Brancaster bearing the name of the unit that apparently built the fort prior to the establishment of the the Saxon shore command: C(o)H(ors) I AQ(uitanorum). Another unit of Equites Dalmatarum was stationed in Britain according to the Notitia, at Praesedio (perhaps Bridlington), under the Dux Britanniarum.

The men under the Praepositus equitum stablesianorum Gariannonensium, at Gariannonor (probably modern Burgh Castle, but possibly Caister-on-Sea) have left no inscriptional evidence, and the fort is mentioned no ancient source outside the Notitia (and yet the Roman ruins at both Burgh and Caister feature walls over 4 metres high, so are hardly minor features). They are probably to be equated with the Equites stablesiani assigned to the Comes Britanniarum, as the only units of Equites stablesiani in the Magister Equitum's cavalry roster, the Equites stablesiani Africani and the Equites stablesiani Italiciani, are both assigned to far-off Africa. Exactly what is meant by "stablesiani" (beyond a trite translation of "pertaining to stables") is still debated; see here for more.

The men under the Tribunus cohortis primae Baetasiorum, at Regulbio (modern Reculver in Kent) belong to a cohort that was presumably recruited from among the Baetasii tribe in Germany in the late 1st century; an altarstone from Maryport in the north of England gives (RIB 838) the name of the unit as COH(ors) I BAESTASIORUM C(ivium) R(omanorum). Although it has no left no inscriptional evidence for its stay at Reculver, tilestamps apparently shows its presence (see M.W.C.Hassal's chapter, p 9, in CBA Reserach Report No. 18, The Saxon Shore, Ed. D.E.Johnston (1977), available here). Note that the manuscripts actually give the unit's moniker as "Vetasiorum", not "Baetasiorum".

The men under the Praefectus legionis secundae Augustae (at Rutupis, modern Richborough in Kent) are clearly from Legio II Augusta. This legion dates back to Octavian (who was later styled the emperor Augustus, hence the unit's epithet), and was one of the units involved in the invasion of Britain in 43 AD; it remained in Britain for over three and half centuries. Legio II Augusta (or at least a detachment thereof), is likely to be equated with the Secundani iuniores under the Comes Britanniarum, and by extension the Legio secunda Britannica / Secundani of the Magister Peditum's infantry list and the Secundani Britones of the Magister Equitum's Gallic command. This last, however, was questioned by Hassal since "Britones" sounds more like a tribal name than a geographical one, implying non-legionary status, but I think the fact that the Legio secunda Britannica is explicitly said by the Notitia to be also known as the Secundani removes this objection (it is not necessarily obvious, however, that this is the case, because Seeck bracketed the vital "or Secundani" from his edition as something to be deleted!). Interestingly, the archaeological evidence implies that the fort at Richborough is a mere one-tenth the size of the one that the Legio II Augusta occupied in earlier times at Caernarvon, which might suggest that the legion stationed there was much diminished in size. However, the number of coins found at Richborough dating to ca. 400 AD is significantly greater than at any other British archaeological site, which would attest to its continued importance at the time the Notitia was drawn up. The small szie of the fort is more likely an indication that it was the unit's headquarters that were stationed there, as opposed to the entirety (or even just the bulk) of the unit.

The following shield pattern for Legio II Augusta can therefore be taken from that given under the Magister Peditum, assuming the unit was not given a new shield pattern when it was withdrawn from Britain and assigned to the Gallic field army (which it likely was...):


That under O comes from the Bodleian manuscript in Oxford, that under P from the Paris manuscript, that under M from the first portion of the Munich manuscript, that under W from the second portion of the Munich manuscript, and that under B from the Froben edition.

The men under the Praepositus numeri Abulcorum (at Anderidos, modern Pevensey) have a name that looks like it might be tribal in origin, perhaps German; however, some have connected the name with Abula (modern Avila in Spain). No Roman inscriptions have been found at Pevensey, and stamped roofing tiles bearing the legend HON AUG ANDRIA have been shown to be forgeries. A unit called the Abulci is mentioned as leading the fighting at the battle of Mursa in 351 by Zosimus (2.52), but whether this is connected with the British unit is unknown. However, in the Notitia two units bear names suggesting they were previously stationed at Pevensey: the men under the Praefectus militum Anderetianorum, part of the command of the Dux Mogontiacensis; and the men under the Praefectus classis Anderetianorum, stationed at Paris, although not part of the Magister Equitum's Gallic command. The Pevensey Numerus Abulcorum is very likely the same unit as the Abulci under the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, withdrawn from Britain.

The men under the Praepositus numeri exploratorum, at Portum Adurni (modern Portchester), have left no inscriptional evidence there, and neither has any other unit. Another unit of Exploratores (i.e. "scouts", or "reconnaissance troops") is recorded in the Notitia as being stationed in Britain: the men under the Praefectus numeri exploratorum, at Lavatres (modern Bowes), under the Dux Britanniarum. Inscriptional evidence also happens to give two units of Exploratores in Britain: the N(umeri) EXPLOR(atorum) BREMEN(iensium) from an altarstone (RIB 1270) found at Bremenium (modern High Rochester); and a unit of EXPL[oratores Habitacenses], from a dedicatory inscription of 209 AD (RIB 1235 = CIL 7.1002) from Habitancum (modern Risingham); they are also called the plain [n]UME[rum e]XPLOR[ator(um)]) on a building stone (RIB 1243 = CIL 1010) from the same place. Which of these two units corresponds to which Notitia unit is unclear. However, since the Magister Equitum's Gallic command has a unit of Exploratores listed after the Abulci, these two units seem to be paired, just as the Numerus Abulcorum and the Numerus exploratores are (or were) paired under the Count of the Saxon Shore of Britain, and thus it seems reasonably certain it is the Portchester unit that was assigned to the Gallic field army (although it is conceivable the Bowes unit may have been folded into it. Note that there are only two other units of exploratores listed in the Notitia: the men of the Praefectus militum exploratorum under the far-away Dux Moesiae primae, and another such unit under the even further-off Dux Daciae ripensis.


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