The Matiarii seniores

This page created 29 March 2014, and last modified: 6 September 2014 (Malalas reference added)


In the eastern half of the empire, the senior-most unit of the legiones palatina under the command of the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence is called the Matiarii seniores (or Martiarii seniores in the labels in W and B). Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts is as below:

Disclaimer: remember, I'm not an expert in the field of Notitia studies, so take my comments with a grain of salt...

Shield patterns

The shield pattern is similar to that of the Matiarii iuniores under the command of the first Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, but not closely similar, as these patterns taken from the Paris manuscript show:

Shield patterns

Both feature a yellow ground, a crescent at the top, and two animals turning their heads toward each other. The fine rays (?) of the seniores seen in all four of these manuscript versions (bit note the Froben edition, B) are unusual.

The name Matiarii might have something to do with Mars directly; but given the pairing of the units Matiarii and Lanciarii (see below), it is more likely to have come by a more indirect route, from mattiobarbuli - the lead-weighted throwing darts (Vegetius 1.17) with which infantrymen were equipped. These were also known as plumbatae, from their lead weights, and as martiobarbuli; the latter meaning "Mars' little barbs".

A selection of plumbatae from Lauriacum. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, and used under CCA 3.0U license.

"The" Lanciarii and Mat(t)iarii are found brigaded together not only in Ammianus (e.g. 21.13.16; 31.13.8), but also in a fragment (FGH IV,6) of Eutychianus of Cappadocia, cited by the 6th century Byzantine chronicler Malalas, describing Julian's Persian expedition. When the Matiarii were split into senoires and iuniores pairs is unknown, but it is interesting to note that in the Notitia it is the Lanciarii iuniores that is in the same command as the Matiarii seniores, while the Matiarii iuniores is in the same command as the Lanciarii seniores, and that neither pairing corresponds to two adjacently-ranked units. I would suggest that this seems to imply that the two iuniores units had been relatively recently swapped between the two commands when the Notiti was drawn up.


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