The Ioviani seniores

This page created 29 March 2014, and last modified: 4 November (ILS 551 photo link added)


In the western half of the empire, the senior-most unit of the legiones palatina is the Ioviani seniores, under the Magister Peditum in his Italian command. 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...

This patterns shown an unusual amount of variation between the various manuscripts, not aided by my suspicion that the Froben manuscript has probably got this pattern swapped with that of the adjacent Herculiani seniores. It is one of a set of four very similar patterns, belonging to the Ioviani seniores, Herculiani seniores, Ioviani iuniores, and the Herculiani iuniores, with the two paired iuniores units being in the east, under the command of the first Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, and the two paired seniores units in the west, under the Magister Peditum (when the "original" Ioviani and Herculiani legions were split into seniores and iuniores units is unknown, other than being likely mid-4th century). The patterns shown below taken from the Paris manuscript clearly show this relationship:

Shield patterns

Note that the Bodleian manuscript (O) and the Froben edition (B) label the pattern as the Ioviani; the other three shown give Iovininani (but Ioviani in the textual lists). While the eagle (aquila) is an attribute (i.e. symbol) of Jupiter (Iovius), and thus might reasonably appear on a shield bearing the name Ioviani, what is being shown here is probably not a bird, as such, but the image of a legionary standard in the form of an eagle, since the images of the two iuniores units show clear signs that they are standards (carrying a wreath in the case of the Ioviani iuniores, and being perched on a short cross-bar, in the case of the Herculiani iuniores).

Legionary eagle standards seemed to have taken a variety of forms. To the left is that of Legio III Cyrenaica, as depicted on a denarius of Marcus Antonius struck in 32 BC (picture from under CCA 3.0 license). In the middle is that of Legio IIII Flavia from the Portonaccio Sarcophagus of ca. 190 AD (picture from National Museium of Rome under CCA 3.0 license). On the right is that of Legio I Minerva, from Trajan's column (picture by Peter Rockwell, and taken from

Aquila on denarius Portonaccio Sarcophagus Aquila.png Portonaccio Sarcophagus Aquila.png

Unfortunately no legionary aquila has survived to the present day, although a non-legionary Roman eagle has been recovered from Silchester in Britain, minus its wings.

The original Ioviani legion was a Tetrarchic creation of the last quarter of the 3rd century; Ioviani refers not only to the god, but also the senior emperor, Diocletian (in much the same way Herculiani refers to not only Hercules, but the junior Augustus, Maximian). Interestingly, the Arch of Galerius (another of the Tetrarchs, who was identified with Mars), shows two shield patterns that apparently belong to the original Ioviani and Herculiani units: one shows an image of Hercules (readily identifiable by his club and lion skin); the other, depicted below, shows an eagle.

Arch of Galerius detail
Photo by Dan Diffendale and used under CCA 2.0 license

This eagle is much smaller in proportion to the size of the shield than those born by the Ioviani units shown in the Notitia, being much closer in scale to those borne in the Notitia by e.g. the Quartodecimani under the Magister Militum per Thracias.

Possible inscriptional evidence for the Ioviani seniores comes from the cemetery at Colonia Iulia Concordia (modern Portogruaro in Veneto, Italy), which produced an inscription (ILS 551; photo here) mentioning a soldier EX N MILIT IOVIANORVM, which clearly means "ex numero militum Iovianorum"; see here for Hoffmann's 1963 analysis (in German). This however, could also refer to the Ioviani iuniores, since this unit presumably spent time in the vicinity of Concordia in the years 394 and 395 in the struggle between Eugenius and Theodosius I. Other attestations without specifying seniores/iuniores are CIL 3.10232, from Sirmium, with N IOV, i.e "n(umero) Iov(ianorum)"; and ILS 2788, from Arles (photos here), with MILIT INT IOVIANOS, i.e "milit(avit) Int(er) Iovianos". More secure is that from a gravestone from Milan (CIL 5.6213 = ILS 2789; photo here) commemorating one Derdius, who retired as a tribune after serving 40 years in the IOVIANOS SEN. Another such epigraphic attestation is CIL 13.3687, from Trier (photo here), somewhat damaged, with IO[...]N[.]S SENIORIS, i.e "Io(via)n(o)s senior[e]s". See Tomlin, 1972 (available here), at p 273.


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