The Martenses seniores

This page created 17 May 2014, and last modified: 3 November 2014 (Ammianus reference commentary added)


The Martenses seniores is listed as the second of the nine legiones comitatenses under the Magister Militum per Orientem. Its shield pattern is shown in various manuscripts as below:

Quinta Macedonica 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 pattern has a red outer rim and a yellow inner rim. The boss is yellow, and is bisected by a yellow twin-blade propellor-like line; the resulting bisected shield ground is half blue and half white. As a result, the overall impression is somewhat similar to a yin-yang or taiji pattern, although this is not as clear as with the patterns of two other units in the Notitia, as the a comparison of the following patterns taken from the Parisian manuscript shows:


The Armigeri defensores seniores and the Mauri Osismiaci are both western units, assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, and it may be the similarity of the shield pattern of the Martenses seniores has some connection with Gaul. However, the pattern of the Martenses seniores looks even more similar to that of the Ascarii seniores under the Magister Militum per Illyricum, so if there is connection between the Martenses seniores and another unit, this is perhaps a more promising avenue on enquiry (there is plain Martenses in the west listed as one of the pseudocomitatenses units under the Magister Peditum and assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, but its shield pattern is not at all related, and no Martenses iuniores is listed in the Notitia).

The name Martenses likely derives from the Roman god of war, Mars, hence "Martian", most probably via a legion named "Martia". There was a Legio I Martia stationed in the 4th century in the west that is attested at various places along the upper Rhine and upper Danube (see the western Martenses for details), but a much more likely source for the eastern-based Martenses seniores is Legio IIII Martia, which in the Notitia is stationed at Betthorus (el-Lejjun in Jordan), under the Dux Arabiae. Legio IIII Martia seems to have been created ca. 300; which would mean "Martia" is thus also presumably a reference to the then-Caesar Galerius, just as Jovia in Legio I Jovia refers to the then-Augustus Diocletian, and Herculia in Legio II Herculia refers to the then-Augustus Maximian (this sequence might imply the existence of a Legio III Solenses or similar for the then-Caesar Constantius Chlorus; but the legion may have simply been numbered IIII because there was already a legion numbered III in the province of Arabia: Legio III Cyrenaica).

As mentioned above no unit named Martneses iuniores is listed in the Notitia. It is possible the full name of the western Martenses unit was the Martenses iuniores, but it is also of course possible that a putative Martenses iuniores may have simply been eliminated by the time the Notitia was compiled. Ammianus mentions in passing (26.6.7) a unit of Martenses, but it is not clear which if the above units, if any, this refers to.


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