The Equites Marcomanni

This page created 20 April 2014, and last modified: 4 October 2014 (Egyptian commentary added)


The Equites Marcomanni is listed as one of the Vexillationes comitatenses under the Magister Equitum's cavalry list; it is assigned to the Comes Africae. 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 shield shows a white ground with an indigo/purple boss, along with two main charges, both in yellow: a crescent, 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.

The name Marcomanni comes from the Germanic tribe of the same name, and which is believed to mean "the frontiers ('march') people ('man')"; they were a sub-branch of the Suevi (Swabians). They fought some major conflicts against the Romans, under Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century, and in the early 5th century - the period during which the Notitia was being amended - they may have formed a portion of the Suevi that managed to penetrate across the Rhine in conjunction with many Alans and Vandals, and settle in northwest Spain, founding an independent kingdom that lasted over 170 years until absorbed by the Spanish Visigoths.

A unit of Equites Marcommani was stationed in Egypt over a hundred years before the time the Notitia was drawn up; the (west) African unit may vey well be one and the same. No Equites Marcommani is stationed in Egypt according to the Notitia; its latest attestation there is in 286-7; see A.M.Kaiser, Egyptian Units and the reliability of the Notitia dignitatum, pars Oriens (2014), available here, at p 6 and note 25).


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