The Comites seniores

This page created 23 May 2014, and last modified: 23 May 2014


In the western half of the empire, the most senior unit of vexillationes palatinae in the Magister Equitum's cavalry list, and therefor the entire field army, is called the Comites seniores; it is assigned to the Magister Peditum's Italian command. Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts, under a label stating plain Comites except in the Bodleian manuscript (O), is as below:

Shield patterns

Disclaimer: remember, I'm not an expert in the field of Notitia studies, so take my comments with a grain of salt...

The shield pattern is very simple, with a red rim and a plain indigo/purple main ground (faded in M, W) and a boss of the same colour quartered with white. This simple pattern means it resembles many other patterns in the Notitia. As I have written before, while it might seem surprising such an elite unit should bear such a simple shield design, this is not as strange as it initially sounds. Garrison units were the most likely to be uniformly equipped in many ways in that they were always stationed in one place, and drew their surplies from one source, In contrast, field army units were constantly on the move and had to make do with equipment procured from a variety of sources. Shields would be no exception, and indeed, in as much as a shield is an expendable item, designed to be hacked apart by the enemy instead of its bearer being given the same treatment, then the more likely it was to see action, the less likely it was to have much extra embellishment devoted to it; and to judge from Ammianus, "the" Comites were in constant action during the 4th century.

The name Comites means "companions"; specifically, companions-in-arms of the Emperor; it is where the aristocratic title "Count" comes from. Another unit of Comites seniores is listed in the Notitia, in the eastern half of the empire; it is the most senior unit under the command of the Magister Militum Praesentalis II.

Inscriptional evidence for what has taken to be the Comites seniores comes from the cemetery at Colonia Iulia Concordia (modern Portogruaro in Veneto, Italy), which produced an inscription (ILS 506) mentioning an officer of the equitum Comitis seni sagit, which expands to the "equitum Comit[um] seni(orum) sagit(tariorum)". This relies on equating the thus-attested Equites comites seniores sagittarii with the (western) Comites seniores, rather than the more likely simply-missing-from-the-Notitia Comites sagitarii seniores (the Comites sagitarii iuniores is listed, under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I). See here for Hoffmann's 1963 analysis (in German).


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