The Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores

This page created 20 April 2014, and last modified: 5 October 2014 (Green reference added)


The Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores is listed as one of the vexillationes comitatenses under the Magister Equitum's list, and is likely assigned to his Gallic command under the name Equites Honoriani iuniores (see below). The shield pattern of the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores, as shown in various manuscripts with the simple label Taifali, 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 a different unit listed as the plain Honoriani iuniores in the Magister Equitum's list, and under the Comes Africae we find such an Equites Honoriani iuniores. Because of the historical connections some historical Taifali are known to have had with Gaul but not with Africa (see below), it is probably more likely the Gallic Equites Honoriani iuniores refers to the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores than does the African Equites Honoriani iuniores. However, be aware there is a possibility these two assignments are the wrong way aound. However, this possibility is probably slight, given the otherwise unknown Equites Taifali listed under the Comes Britanniarum, which would appear to be one and the same as the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores. Incidentally, the unit may have bequeathed its name to a village in England called Tealby, formerly Teflesbi: see Thomas Green: Tealby, the Taifali, and the end of Roman Lincolnshire (2011), available here.

The shield shows a white ground with a blue or white boss encircled by red, along with two main charges, both in what appears to be (faded) purple: a disc, and what appears to be a 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.

It is possible that the red band encircling the boss may originally have depicted a wreath, as can be seem in the much larger picture of the Felices Arcadiani seniores under the Magister Militum per Orientem.

Similarly, although the disc appears plain in the small Notitia picture, it might well have been an imperial imago (portrait) in real life. The disc in the much larger-scale shield pattern of the Domestici equites under the eastern Comes Domesticorum is clearly such an imago. Further, 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 Taifali iuniores belongs to, refers to yet another type of Roman standard; a vexillum being a small flag hung from a cross-bar). However, this unit's combination of draco and disc shield pattern has also 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). 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 loses force when one considers the pattern of the similarly-named Equites Honoriani iuniores, which also has a draco, but for which the "pearl" is a lozenge; and more particularly, the pattern of one of the shields shown with the western Magister Officiorum, where the "pearl" is clearly an imago showing the portrait of a single person (unlike that of the Domestici equites, which shows a dual portrait). These shields are shown below, using the patterns taken from the Paris manuscript:

Shield patterns showing dracones

The name Taifali comes from tribal name first recorded in the mid-3rd century AD, although whether the Taifali were of mainly Germanic or Sarmatian ethnicity is debated. They fought in many conflicts during the 4th century both for and against Rome; in addition to various units incorporating the name Taifali listed in the Notitia, there is also a praefectus Sarmatarum et Taifalorum gentilium, Pictavis in Galia - i.e. a "prefect in charge of the Sarmatian and Taifali settlers at Poiteirs in Gaul". These Taifali settlers are mentioned in the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours as still being a distinct group in the mid-6th century (e.g. IV.18, where they, called Theifali by Gregory, kill the Frankish duke Austrapius). Their name lives on in the commune of Tiffauges, in the Pays de la Loire region of France.

Honoriani of course commemorates Flavius Honorius Augustus, who became the western Roman emperor at the age of 10, in 395 AD, and who died in 423 AD, thus reigning for essentially the entire span during which the Notitia compiled and revised. As a consequence, a great many western units bear his name.


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