The Gratianenses

This page created 27 July 2014, and last modified: 19 October 2014 (some unit links added)


The last of the shield patterns illustrated accompanying the list of units under the Magister Militum per Thracias in the eastern half of the empire is labelled the Gratianenses. Its shield pattern in various manuscripts is as shown 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 features a yellow boss (white in M) surrounded by a blue band (white in W); the shield's rim is blue (with a thin white inner rim in M). In between the two blue rims are two yellow concentric rims connected by 7 yellow spokes (6 in M). The sectors between the spokes are asymmetrically coloured. In P and B, starting from the 12 o'clock position and moving clockwise, they are red, green, red, green, red, green and red (half of the sector each), and finally green again (making it look like there should have actually been 8 spokes). In B, the sectors go green, red, green, red, red, green, red. In W they are red, white, red, white, red, white, white; while in M they are red and yellow, red, yellow, red, yellow and red, yellow, again making it look like there should have been 8 spokes.

The Gratianenses, although illustrated under the Magister Militum per Thracias, is not actually listed as such. This would appear to be a simple omission, since, as Jones says (page 348), the Gratianenses would appear to be one of three related units, the Augustenses (referring to the eastern Augustus, Valens), the Valentinianenses (after his elder brother Valentinian I, the western Augustus) and the Gratianenses (after Valentinian I's son Gratian, the Caesar), raised and serving together; the other two are listed before the "missing" Gratianenses in the Magister's list (Jones doesn't seem to comment that it is actually missing in the list as written however!, and it is always a possibility the units were merely "rebranded" with new names rather than being newly raised). The shield patterns of the three units, despite their related names and being in the same command, are not at all similar, as a comparison of the following patterns taken from the Parisian manuscript shows:

Shield patterns

Thus one should be wary of expecting every clearly "related" unit to have a related shield pattern.

The name Gratianenses refers to the emperor Gratian (Flavius Gratianus Augustus), who was the senior western emperor from 375 to 383. Other units named after him recorded in the Notitia are the:

Gratianenses seniores, a unit of auxilia palatina under the Magister Equitum's Gallic command
Gratianenses iuniores, a unit of auxilia palatina under the Magister Peditum's Italian command
Auxilium Gratianense, a unit of auxilia under the Dux Moesiae primae
Milites primi Gratianenses, a unit of auxilia under the Dux Scythiae
Cohors secunda Gratiana, a(n auxiliary) cohort under the Dux Palaestinae
Since all the infantry units listed under the Magister Militum per Thracias come under the legend "Legiones comitatenses", one would expect the Gratianenses to also be a legionary unit; however, as can bee seem above, all the other units so-named are auxiliary units. Further, if the Thracian unit was legionary, this would make the Thracian field force unique in being the only one without any auxilia palatina units (or pseudocomitenses auxilia units for that matter). However, all may not be what it seems. In the Magister Militum per Orientem's list, the two auxilia palatina units there are not actually listed are such, and the pseudocomitatenses units are also enumerated differently in most manuscripts from what is actually listed; a similar situation may apply to the Magister Militum per Thracias.

In particular, it may be that the Augustenses, the Valentinianenses, and the Gratianenses were actually auxilia units: their names to me resemble those of auxilia (especially auxilia palatina) units more than they do legionary units. Perhaps these three, raised together, were added as an illustrated block of units at the end of the list for simplicity rather than being inserted in the usual place for auxilia palatina (i.e. before the legiones comintatenses). Alternatively, they may simply had not been given auxilia palatina status, and instead have been pseudocomitatenses units, in which case they would be correctly positioned, and the only problem would be the relatively minor one of a line labelling them as such being missing, which would have the added bonus of making the textual omission of the Gratianenses perhaps less surprising.


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