The Equites Dalmatae Passerentiaci

This page created 26 August 2014, and last modified: 26 August 2014


The Equites Dalmatae Passerentiaci is listed as fourth of the vexillationes comitatenses in the Magister Equitum's cavalry roster; it is assigned to his Gallic command . Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts, under the label Passerentiaci, 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 has a red rim, a white boss (yellow in M), and a green main field. Except in B, the field is decorated by two small rectangles, somewhat taller than wide, an approximately the 2 and 10 o'clock positions of the shield; they are blue with green centres (O, P), yellow (M, and more square than oblong), or white (W). These boxes might well represent a pair of rectangular Imperial portraits, albeit at a scale too small to have been successfully drawn. The only other cavalry unit depicted with such a rectangular box is the Equites octavo Dalmatae, also in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, which has its single example in the 12 o'clock position that was more typical for such portraits (e.g. see the Sagittarii iuniores Gallicani); this was a particularly common position for shield decorations generally to appear during the Tetrarchy, 100 years before the Notitia was compiled; an example of a cavlaryman's shield showing such a motif can be seen in the Piazza Armerina mosaics in Sicily, as shown below:

Piazza Armerina cavalryman
Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan and used with permission

The name Dalmatae refers to Dalmatia, from where a dozen or so auxiliary infantry cohorts were recruited in the first century; a few of these kept their names intact long enough to make it into the Notitia, such as the men under the Tribunus cohortis secundae Dalmatarum, responsible to the Dux Britanniarum. However, the great majority of Dalmatae units in the Notitia are cavalry units, like the Equites octavo Dalmatae (i.e. "the Eighth Dalmation Horse"). Such Dalmatae units seem to have been a major component of the much-expanded cavalry forces raised in the 3rd quarter of the 3rd century; exactly how Dalmatae cavalrymen were distinguished from those of other units is not yet understood.

The epithet Passerentiaci might initially seem to refer to "sparrows" (passer being the latin for small birds such as sparrows), but perhaps more likely refers to a place, such as the former Passaro in Molossian Epirus before being razed by the Romans, for example.


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