The Lanciarii iuniores

This page created 29 March 2014, and last modified: 22 November 2014 (Maier reference numbers added)


In the eastern half of the empire, the least senior unit of the six legiones palatina under the command of the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, i.e the Magister Militum Praesentalis II, is listed (12.21 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as the Lanciarii iuniores. Its shield pattern (10#7) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (10.g) Lanciarii iuniores, is as below:

Shield patterns

Disclaimer: Remember, a lot of what comes below is speculation. Hopefully informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Comments welcome! (lukeuedasarson "at"

The pattern shows a blue rim (white in M, W), with a yellow inner rim. The boss and two surrounding bands are variously coloured, with the majority colours being, from the inside out, black, red, and yellow. The main ground is yellow (P, M), black (W), or white (O, B), with a black band (white in B) separating it from the yellow inner rim. Some 13 (B), 16 (O, P), or 21 (M) red spokes partition the ground, and in O, P, and M, also overlap the black band.

The shield patten is thus very similar to that of the Lanciarii seniores, under the command of the first Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence.

"The" Lanciarii originated in the Tetrarchy, where they formed the nucleus of the Imperial reserve. In this period, they incorporated some mounted elements, as attested by inscriptional evidence (AE 1981, 777) where Aurelius Gaius' gravestone describes him (in Greek) as a "ippeus lankiaris". No evidence suggests that any of the units named Lanciarii in the Notitia included cavalry at the date of the document's composition (contrarily, only an argument from silence weighs against it...). At what point the Lanciarii were divided between seniores and iuniores is unknown, but it may have been in the early 350s (E.A. Mehamadiev has connected the introduction of iuniores-seniores to the problem of replacing the casualties inflicted in the heavy fighting between Magnentius and Constantius II; see here (in Russian).

There exist a number of other legionary units in the Notitia styled lanciarii in addition to the above two:

Lanciarii Stobenses, a comitatenses unit under the Magister Militum per Thracias;
Lanciarii iuniores, a comitatenses unit under the Magister Militum per Illyricum;
Lanciarii Augustenses, a comitatenses unit under the Magister Militum per Illyricum;
Lanciarii Sabarienses, a palatine unit in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command;
Lanciarii Gallicani Honoriani (also called the Lanciarii Honoriani Gallicani), a comitatenses unit in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command;
Lanciarii Lauriacenses, a pseudocomitatenses unit under the Comes Illyricum; and
Lanciarii Comaginenses, another pseudocomitatenses unit under the Comes Illyricum.
These units may have originated from standard legionary units rather than Imperial guards. "The" Lanciarii kept their elite status throughout the 4th century, fighting on at the disastrous battle of Adrianople, for example, until all was lost. In this connection, the so-called Missorium of Valentinian, a large silver plate showing either Valentinian I or II plus various guards/soldiers, and thus dating to just a few decades before the Notitia, is very instructive. As shown below, two of the shields, although worn, would appear to be very similar, or (given the wear) even identical, to that of the Lanciarii seniores and iuniores as shown in the Notitia (allowing for the fact that all the shields in the Notitia are shown as being circular, of course). The middle shield of those on the right of the dish, with its numerous spokes, would appear to be closest to the Lanciarii iuniores, while the inner shield of those on the left (and thus closest to the emperor's right hand), with its broad dotted rim, would appear to be closest to that of the Lanciarii seniores.

Missorium of Valentinian
Photo from the Museum of Genoa

The other Lanciarii iuniores listed in the Notitia is the least senior of the legiones comitatenses units under the the command of the Magister Militum per Illyricum in the western half of the empire. As it shield pattern looks nothing like those of the two eastern palatine units, it probably derives from one of the other various lanciarii units in the Notitia. Epigraphic evidence for a unit of Lanciarii iuniores comes from an inscription (AE 1922, 71) dated to the 6th century (picture here, approximately 2/3 down the page) in the form MILITUM LANCIARIUM IUNIORUM from Ulmetum (modern Pantelimon in Constanta, Romania); which of the two Lanciarii iuniores units this refers to is unknown, however.


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