The Fortenses (in Africa)

This page created 23 March 2014, and last modified: 28 September 2014 (links added)


A unit called the Fortenses is listed as the last of the legiones comitatenses of the Magister Peditum's infantry roster (albeit it as the Fontenses in the texts of most manuscripts); 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 pattern is simple: a yellow main ground, a white boss, and a green band around the boss (faded to yellow in M), and rather larger in W than in the other manuscripts. Note that the Magister Peditum's infantry roster lists another unit of legio comitatenses called the Fortenses, under the "Comes" Hispenias. It is the relative positioning of the two legiones comitatenses Fortenses units within their Comital lists that indicates which one is which: the Spanish unit is the first of the legions listed in the Spanish list, and thus should correspond to the more highly-positioned unit in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster; while the African unit is the last in the African list, and thus should correspond to the more lowly-positioned unit in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster.

In addition to the comitatenses unit under the Comes Africae, the Notitia has the Dux provinciae Tripolitanae commanding the Milites Fortenses in castris Leptitanis, who are likely a detachment of this unit, as are the men commanded by the Praepositus limitis Fortensis under the Dux et praeses provinciae Mauritaniae et Caesariensis. Whether the pattern shown above was borne by the these limitanei detachments might depend on whether the detachments were detached from the unit in the African field army, or the field army unit joined the field army from a garrison position: there is plenty of evidence in the Notitia to suggest that units were given new shield patterns when they joined a field army.

Note that in addition to the above mentioned units, various other units named Fortenses appear in the Notitia:

Fortenses, a unit of auxilia under the Dux Provinciae Valeriae ripensis
Fortenses, a cuneus of equites under the Dux Provinciae Valeriae ripensis
Fortenses, a numerus under the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam Fortenses, a legio palatina under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I
Fortenses auxiliarii, a pseudocomitatenses unit under the Magister Militum per Orientem

The name Fortenses means "brave", or "steadfast", and the reason many other units bear the name Fortenses in the Notitia (see my alphabetical list) is because being given the additional name "Fortis" was a common reward under the early empire for a unit that had performed well in battle. The Fortenses in Africa thus may well be a detachment or descendent of a old legion bearing the title Fortis. One such legion was the Legio II Traiana Fortis Germanica, detachments of which are listed under both the Comes limitis Aegypti and the Dux Thebaidos. Another possibility might be the otherwise unattested Legio X Fortenses mentioned by Ammianus (see the discussion under the Dux Palaestinae). Alternatively, it may be that the different Fortenses detachments acquired their names after being split off from a parent legion, in which case the African Fortenses could derive from e.g. Legio III Augustani, long stationed in Africa, and which is found in the Notitia under the Comes Africa as the Tertio Augustani, or from any other legion for that matter. The position of the African Fortenses, at the bottom of the list of legions under the Comes, would seem to indicate it had joined the field army relatively recently.


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