The Equites Honoriani iuniores

This page created 20 April 2014, and last modified: 28 August 2014 (name updated)


The Honoriani iuniores is listed as one of the vexillationes comitatenses under the Magister Equitum's list; it is assigned to the Comes Africae as the Equites Honoriani iuniores. 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...

Note that there is also another unit listed as the Equites Honoriani iuniores in the Notitia, in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, which more likely refers to the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores rather than the unit being discussed here, for two reasons: because of the connections some historical Taifali are known to have had with Gaul but not with Africa, and there is an otherwise unknown Equites Taifali listed under the Comes Britanniarum, which would appear to be one and the same as the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores.

The shield pattern of the Equites Honoriani iuniores shows a red ground with a large blue boss. The rim of the shield appears to be (faded) purple. Two other features appear - a small mascle (voided lozenge), and a yellow draco - a military standard that was introduced to the Roman forces during the 2nd century AD as a result of the Dacian wars, and which became more popular with time, to judge from e.g. Vegetius, in which (section 2.13) a cohort is given its own standard, kept by a draconarius. Despite the name "draco" (serpent, dragon), the draco often seemed to feature a head that looked more wolf-like than serpent-like.

Draco from Trajan's column
Dacian draco coin
Draco on Arch of Constantine
Dacian draco from Trajan's column (113 AD).
Roman coin of ca. 250 AD showing a Dacian with a draco.
Dracones on the Arch of Constantine (ca. 315 AD)
Photo by Radu Oltean and used under CCA 3.0 license.
Photo by Rc13 and used under CCA 3.0 license.
Photo by MM and released into the public domain.

Although many units bear such dracones in the Notitia, this one is unique in apparently having a small rectangular section cut out of it opposite the mascle. This unit's combination of draco and mascle shield pattern has been interpreted as early evidence for the "dragon and pearl" motif in western art that is usually associated with China (see Helmut Nickel, Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 26, (1991), pp. 139-146; JSTOR version here). Although this east-west connection looks plausible given the appearance of "yin-yang" symbolism in the Notitia, e.g. with the pattern of the Mauri Osismiaci, but it loses force when one considers that the patterns of units in which a much more pearl-like disc is shown, instead of a mascle, are probably intended to represent an imago - an imperial portrait. This can be seen by comparing the pattern of Equites Honoriani iuniores with the similarly-named Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores and an unidentified pattern associated with the western Magister Officiorum. These shields are shown below, using the patterns taken from the Paris manuscript:

Shield patterns showing dracones

Thus the small mascle might originally have been an imago of some description in the real life. A small square and rectangular imago is shown in in the patterns of other units illustrated in the Notitia (e.g. the Sagittarii seniores Gallicani), and this one may have just been rotated somewhat from its proper orientation (alternatively, perhaps a lozenge was a proper orientation for one kind of imago). Such portraits had long been used as the components of Roman standards, so associating one form of standard - a draco - with another - an imago - might be appropriate (note that vexillationes comitatenses, the unit category that the Equites Honoriani iuniores belongs to, refers to yet another type of Roman standard; a vexillum being a small flag hung from a cross-bar).

The name Honoriani commemorates Flavius Honorius Augustus, who became the western Roman emperor at the age of 10, in 395 AD (he had been declared co-emperor even earlier), and who died in 423 AD. As a consequence, a great many western units bear his name. Cavalry units with related names are the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores already mentioned above, and the Equites Honoriani seniores, apparently assigned to both the Magister Equitum's Gallic command and the Comes Britanniarum.


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