Late Roman Shield Patterns

Dux Britanniarum

This page last modified: 27 December 2014 (Maier reference numbers and transcription added; commentary about interpolations updated)


Frontpiece showing towns
Above: Frontpiece from the Bodleian manuscript.
The stations depicted are: Sextae, Praesidium,
Dano, Morbio, Arbeia, Dictim,
Concangios, Lavatres, Verteris, Braboniaco,
Magloue, Magis, Longovicio, Derventione.
The following prefects and their units are listed as being under the command of the Duke of Britain (the numbers beside the names refer to Ingo Maier's numbering scheme):

154.2 Praefectus legionis sextae (no location given)
154.3 Praefectus equitum Dalmatarum, at Praesidio
154.4 Praefectus equitum Crispianorum, at Dano
154.5 Praefectus equitum catafractariorum, at Morbio
154.6 Praefectus numeri barcariorum Tigrisiensium, at Arbeia
154.7 Praefectus numeri Nerviorum Dictensium, at Dicti
154.8 Praefectus numeri vigilum, at Concangios
154.9 Praefectus numeri exploratorum, at Lavatres
154.10 Praefectus numeri directorum, at Verteris
154.11 Praefectus numeri defensorum, at Barboniaco
154.12 Praefectus numeri Solensium, at Maglone
154.13 Praefectus numeri Pacensium, at Magis
154.14 Praefectus numeri Longovicanorum, at Longovicio (see notes)
154.15 Praefectus numeri supervenientium Petueriensium, at Derventione (see notes)
and along the line of the Wall, the following tribunes and prefects along with their units:

154.17 Tribunus cohortis quartae Lingonum, at Segeduno
154.18 Tribunus cohortis primae Cornoviorum, at Ponte Aeli
154.19 Praefectus alae primae Asturum, at Conderco
154.20 Tribunus cohortis primae Frixagorum, at Vindobala
154.21 Praefectus alae Sabinianae, at Hunno
154.22 Praefectus alae secundae Asturum, at Cilurno
154.23 Tribunus cohortis primae Batavorum, at Procolitia
154.24 Tribunus cohortis primae Tungrorum, at Borcovicio
154.25 Tribunus cohortis quartae Gallorum, at Vindolana
154.26 Tribunus cohortis primae Asturum, at Aesica
154.27 Tribunus cohortis secundae Dalmatarum, at Magnis
154.28 Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae Dacorum, at Amboglanna (see notes)
154.29 Praefectus alae Petrianae, at Petrianis
154.30 Praefectus numeri Maurorum Aurelianorum, at Aballaba
154.31 Tribunus cohortis secundae Lingonum, at Congavata
154.32 Tribunus cohortis primae Hispanorum, at Axeloduno
154.33 Tribunus cohortis secundae Thracum, at Gabrosenti
154.34 Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae classicae, at Tunnocelo
154.35 Tribunus cohortis primae Morinorum, at Glannibanta
154.36 Tribunus cohortis tertiae Nerviorum, at Ailione
154.37 Cuneus Sarmatarum (no officer listed), at Bremetenraco (see notes)
154.38 Praefectus alae primae Herculeae, at Oleanaco
154.39 Tribunus cohortis sextae Nerviorum, at Virosido

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

Note that Seeck inserted (OC.XL.46) a "missing" unit at Luguvalli (i.e. modern Carlisle) between items 154.29 and 154.30, even though there is no indication in any of the manuscripts that there should be a unit or even a place entry at this position. Further, regarding 154.37, the Cuneus Sarmatarum entry, the texts that I have seen actually say the following:

P: Cuneus armatarum bremetenraco.
B: CUNEUS Armaturarum Bremetenraco.
M: Cuneus armataR. breme
and not Cuneus Sarmatarum. However, epigraphic evidence gives solid evidence that a Sarmatian cavalry unit existed in Britian; we hear of a unit called an ala Sarmatarum (CIL 7,229 = RIB 594: 7,230 = RIB 595), and more pertinently, from the year 241, a N(umerus) EQ(uitum) SAR[m(atarum)] BREMETENN(acsensium) (CIL 7,218 = RIB 583); i.e. exactly where the "Cuneus Armatarum" is recorded in the surviving Notitia manuscripts (this location corresponds to modern Ribchester in Lancashire, and which, it must be said, is not exactly "along the line of the Wall", being over 100 kilometres south).

Regarding the other cavalry units stationed "along the line of the Wall" (per lineam valli; and thus more accurately "along the line of the rampart" and not "wall"), the men under the Praefectus alae Petrianae, at Petrianis, are known from other sources as the Ala Gallorum Petriana milliaria civium Romanorum bis torquata, and were stationed at modern Stanwix: the largest fort along Hadrian's Wall, as befits the only milliarian cavalry unit in Britain; a tombstone from there (RIB 2030) shows a cavalryman with a large oval shield; unfortunately, it is the inside of the shield that is depicted, so no shield pattern can be discerned. The men under the Praefectus alae primae Asturum, at Conderco, are the Ala I Hispanorum Asturum, which is attested (e.g. RIB 1334; photo here) at modern Benwell, from ca. 205-209 onwards (earliest example: RIB 1337). Those under the Praefectus alae secundae Asturum, at Cilurno (modern Chesters), are the men of Ala II Asturum, which had been stationed there by 184 at the latest (RIB 1463). Those under the Praefectus alae Sabinianae, at Hunno (modern Halton Chesters, RIB 1433) are the Ala I Pannoniorum Sabiniana (AE 1997,1779a; photo here). Those under the Praefectus alae primae Herculeae, at Oleanaco (Elslack, North Yorkshire, over 100 km south of the wall) cannot be identified with certainty; no inscriptions have been recovered from the fort. They may have been another unit from the general area renamed, such as the Ala Augusta Gordia, last attested ( RIB 897) at Old Carlisle (Maglone in the Notitia) in 242. Those under the Praefectus numeri Maurorum Aurelianorum, at Aballaba (modern Burgh-by-Sands) are the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum Valeriani Gallienique, attested (RIB 2042) there in the 250s.

In 1976, M.W.C.Hassall suggested (in "Aspects of the Notitia Dignitatum", Oxford, at p 113) there was a lucuna in the list reading:

Tribunus cohortis secundae Dalmatarum, Magnis
Tribunis cohortis primae Aeliae Dacorum
Tribunis cohortis secundae Tungrorum C]amboglanna
Praefectus alae Petrianae, Petrianis
which has become widely accepted, as it resolves a number of problems with names along the Wall (see here for details); this has implications for the Praepositus militum Tungrecanorum under the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam.

Potential inscriptional evidence for the men under the Praefectus numeri vigilum ("Prefect of a unit of watchmen") comes from a tile stamp found at Chester-le-Street, i.e. Concangis, and bearing the letters NV.

Entries 154.14 and 154.15, for the Praefectus numeri Longovicanorum and the Praefectus numeri supervenientium Petueriensium, respectively, are rather confused in the various manuscripts. Ingo Maier reports (personal communication) the readings shown to the right:

It can be seen that in some of the manuscripts, the entries are simply missing, albeit with spaces left for them to be filled in: clearly the entries in whichever manuscript from which they were being copied were hard to read. Seeck took the reading supervenientium (OC.XL.30) from the Trento manuscript, T, but this at least one step further removed from the now-lost Speyer codex than is the Bodleian manuscript, O, which gives bonentium, so it is not clear why supervenientium should be a preferable reading, especially since the bonentium was added to O by a second scribe who had thus presumably taken care to check whichever manuscript was being copied at this point.

ND 154.14-15 transcription
Transcription by Ingo Maier, and used with kind permission.
O: Bodleian manuscript; P: Parisian manuscript; T: Trento manuscript; L: London (Victoria & Albert) manuscript; A: Alciatus (Basel 1546) edition; B: Froben edition; V: Vatican manuscript; M: Munich manuscript.

All of the units listed above are limitanei units. However, some would also appear to comprise part of the command of the Comes Britanniarum. For instance he is recorded as commanding a unit of Equites catafractarii iuniores, but no equites catafractarii units are listed as being under the command of the Magister Equitum; so it seems likely this unit is one and the same as that commanded by the Praefectus equitum catafractariorum. Similarly the men of the Praefectus numeri Maurorum Aurelianorum seem to be the Equites scutarii Aureliaci and those of the Praefectus numeri barcariorum Tigrisiensium could well be the Equites Syri (since the Tigris runs by Syria); a tombstone (RIB 1065) from Arbeia (modern South Shields) record the death of a local woman whose husband came from Palmyra, and who was likely a member of the Numerus barcariorum Tigrisiensium.

The men under the Praefectus numeri defensorum would appear to be the same men as the Defensores seniores (a pseudocomitatenses unit in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command); and those under the Praefectus numeri exploratorum the Exploratores (another pseudocomitatenses unit in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command; although the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam also commands exploratores who might be, or partially be, this unit). Since field army units are unlikely to have been used to shore up the border garrisons (rather, the converse), it would appear that the British limitanei units were being reduced to reinforce the Gallic field army, which makes AHM Jones' Comes Britanniarum thesis (a recent reestablishement not long before 420) seem rather untenable. See further discission in the Comes Britanniarum section.

Further, the men under the Tribunus cohortis primae Tungrorum, at Borcovicio, might be the Tungri under the Comes Illyricum; see his section for details.

In addition, the men under the Tribunus cohortis primae Cornoviorum, at Ponte Aeli, might well be the Pontinenses listed as the last unit in the Magister Peditum's Italian command; see that unit's listing for further details.

The following shield patterns can therefore be taken from those given under the Magister Peditum:


Those under O come from the Bodleian manuscript in Oxford, those under P from the Paris manuscript (which calls the Tungri "Tungari" here), 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. Note that these are probably not the same patterns as the units had when serving in Britain, as there is strong evidence to suggest limitanei units were assigned new shield patterns when they first joined a field army.

There is a possibility that the men under the Praefectus numeri supervenientium Petueriensium are the Superventores iuniores of the Gallic command, but that unit is much more likely to be equated with the men of the Praefectus militum superventorum stationed at Mannatias under the Dux tractus Armoricani et Nervicani. Derventione is usually identfied with modern Malton in County Durham; Petueriensium would appear to refer to the town of Petuaria (modern Brough-on-Humber), and since it does not appear to have hosted a fort, the unit may have been raised there rather than previously stationed there. The meaning of supervenientium (assuming to is the correct reading) is obscure: "supervenire" means either "to overtake", or "to surpass"; it is where the English "supervening" comes from, meaning "to closely follow on from something".

The men under the Praefectus numeri Longovicanorum might be Cohors I Lingonum, attested (RIB 1276) from Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland) in the form of COH I L GOR EQ, i.e. "Cohors I Lingonum Gordiana equitata"; its other secure attestations all come from modern Lanchester (i.e. the Notitia's Longovicio). RIB 1091 and RIB 1092, dated to ca. 240 AD, both give COH I L GOR, while RIB 1075 gives CHO I LING. More interesting is RIB 1074, also from Lanchester, which gives a VEX SVEBORVM LON GOR, which appear to name a vexillation (i.e. detachment) of Suebians attached to (or who actually are) the First Lingones, but they are given in the form Longones, as the entry appears in the Notitia. The Lingones were originally a Gallic tribe, who lent their name to the Roman area around what is now modern Langres in France; the unit was presumably originally recruited there. Cf. the Cohors II Lingonum and Cohors IV Lingonum stationed along the wall.

Interestingly, the Praefectus legionis sextae is not given a station. We would expect that the sixth legion (Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelius Britannica to give it its full name) would be stationed at York, as it had been for some centuries; and this absence may be evidence that the unit was perhaps either in the process of being transferred to another command when the list of the Dux Britanniarum's command was compiled, or perhaps in the process of being transferred when it was last modified. However, since the station "Sextae" is shown in the frontpiece, it may be that its omission in the textual list is just inadvertent. It would be nice to connect the Sixth with the mysterious Primani iuniores under the Comes Britanniarum (see the discussion of the two Legiones Valentinianae under the Dux Thebaidos for one possibility of how this may be done).

Claudian, writing in 402 AD, says that Stilicho withdrew a 'legion' that was guarding aginst the Picts and Scots in Britain for use against the Goths. This may or may not have been a single unit, as opposed to a general military force comprised of several units, and it may or may not have been a legionary as opposed to say an auxiliary force (the word legion seems to have frequently been used in a non-technical way even by soldiers like Ammianus, to say nothing of poets like Claudian), and it may not have even been a reference to just a specific force, as opposed to an indication that Stilicho was summoning reinforcements even from the furtherest reaches of the empire, and yet it is tempting indeed to connect this 'legion' with the stationless Legio VI. However, I would posit the balance of the information does not support such a specific equation of Claudian with the Sixth from York. To me it appears that it, along with many other British limitanei units, was first drafted into a new and temporary command under a Comes Britanniarum before the entire command of the Comes was withdrawn from Britain in 402, along with various other units under the Dux Britanniarum and the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam, and that while some indeed do seem to have served against the Goths in illricum and Italy, many others were posted elsewhere, especially Gaul.

The final form of the list of the Dux Britanniarum would thus appear to date from before that of the Comes Britanniarum. It however seemingly does not date right back to the original drawing up of the Notitia; otherwise we would expect to see a unit stationed at Segontium (see the discussion under the Comes Illyricum).

The men under the Praefectus numeri Solensium would seem to represent the surviving core of a legion dating from the time of Constantius 'Chlorus', who was associated with Sol in the same way Diocletians was with Jupiter, Maximianus with Hercules and Galerius with Mars (Constantius' son Constantine the Great was also associated with Sol Invictus before converting to Christianity). Other surviving detachments of this unit appear to be represented in the Notitia Dignitatum by the Solenses seniores and Solenses Gallicani under the Magister Militum per Thracias. This may have been a new unit raised by Constantius (or his son), but given that these Solenses units are legionary formations rather than auxiliary units, it is tempting to conclude they are the old Legio XX Valeria Victrix renamed. This legion, the third of Britain's normal garrison legions, is the only one of the three not named in the Notitia. The latest evidence for its existence in Britain is its appearence on the coins of Carausius, the rebel ruler of Britain whose successor (and murderer) Allectus was suppresssed by Constantius Chlorus, a hundred years before the Notitia was compiled. Whether Carausius included it in his coinage in a bid to buy its loyalty, or to show that it was loyal to him is unproveable, but since the Sixth legion was not included on his coinage, but inscriptional evidence for it come from his reign, the balance of evidence suggests an attempt to buy the loyalty of the 20th, as that of the Sixth legion seems to have been given freely.

Either could support a transformation of the 20th legion into the Solenses. If they disdained Carausius and remained loyal to central authority, they could have been renamed as an honour. If they rebelled, they may have been renamed by Carausius as a reward, which would no doubt have required a subsequent renaming by Constantius or Constantine (since all traces of usurpers were to be expunged as far as possible). I suggest a renaming following rebellion. As Carausius rebelled against his emperor Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, better known as Herculius, he had every reason to rename a legion whose name meant 'Victorious Valerians', whereas both Constantius and Constantine, i.e. Flavius Valerius Constantius and Flavius Valerius Constantinus respectively, would have had every reason to keep its for-them well-omened name intact, for precisely the same reason.

I initially thought the Equites Crispianorum was named after Crispus, Constantine the Great's eldest son, who was executed in 326 AD (Jones states this is "certainly" the case, Vol. I, page 99 in his 3-volume edition). But, given Crispus' damnatio memoriae, I think it is much more likely they were named after Crispiana, a town on the upper Danube in Pannonia, or possibly after Crispitia, along the lower reaches of the Danube, where the Auxilium Crispitienses are recorded as being stationed under the command of the Dux Daciae ripensis. Possibly this British unit is the ex-Equites component of an old Cohors Equitata unit, and the Dacian unit is the foot component.


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