The Domestici Equites (East)

This page created 28 May 2014, and last modified: 28 May 2014


In the eastern half of the Empire, the Count of the Household Horse controls a single mounted bodyguard unit, called the Domestici Equites. Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts 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 pattern is ornate. The boss is purple and marked with quartering lines; it is surrounded by a further purple band and a narrow yellow band. This in turn is surrounded by a broad yellow band on which are inscribed 6 (B), 10 (O) or 11 (P, M, W) hearts (the hearts are purple rather than yellow in W). The main field is also purple and bears three charges in yellow: a circular imago (imperial portrait) at the 12 o'clock position, showing the heads and shoulders of two people; and flanking the imago, two winged Victories. It thus closely resembles the pattern of the Domestici Pedites under the (eastern) Count of the Household Foot.

It is unclear to what extent, if any, the Domestici were military guard units at this (or indeed, any) date as opposed to being purely ceremonial; they seem to have functioned more as a staff officers college than anything else. In the 350s, Ammianus records Constantius being protected on the field by 'praetorian' foot guards who may well be the same as the Domestici pedites, but whether this guard survived into the 5th century as a military force is unclear. We also hear of protectores as bodyguards for commanders, but these do not find any place in the Notitia's organizational scheme.

Paired Victories flanking an imperial image are a characteristic late Roman motif, and can also be found on e.g. the Arch of Constantine (although in this case the imperial image has been lost; single Victories are also used on the same monument). The motif continued into the Byzantine era; the picture below of the early-6th century Barberini ivory in the Louvre shows how the Victories have been transformed into angels, and have been elevated to flanking Christ rather than the earthly emperor.

Barberini Ivory

Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen and released into the public domain.


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