The Menapii seniores

This page created 23 March 2014, and last modified: 9 November 2014 (van Berchem link added)


The Menapii seniores is listed as the most senior of the legiones comitatenses in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster; it is assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command. Its shield pattern is shown in various manuscripts as below:

Menapii Seniores shield patterns

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

Note that the patterns are labelled the "Menapes sen(iores)" in O, and the "Menapes" in P, while the unit itself is listed as the "Merapes" in not only O and P, but also M as well.

The shield pattern shows a green boss (faded to yellow in M, and white in W, B) encircled by a yellow band (white in W). The main ground is green (faded to yellow in M, and white in B) and the rim is red. The main ground features a yellow serpent-like figure arranged in a C-shape, with the head to the left (right in B, which being printed, reverses all of its shield facings), and the opening to the C at top of the shield. It thus looks very similar to the pattern of the Cortoriacenses, another of the legiones comitatenses in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command. The "serpent" is probably just a crude depiction of a regular draco, as borne by e.g. the Equites Honoriani Taifali iuniores, although the one in the Parisian manuscript, P, in particular bears affinities with half of the ubiquitous twin-headed zoomorphic motif borne by, for example, the Cornuti.

The name Menapii derives ultimately from the Belgic tribe the Menapii, no doubt via the Roman district into which part of their territory was included, the civitas Menapiorum; this later became the civitas Turnencensium. The Menapii seniores were presumably raised there, or had been stationed there recently before joining the field army. It is thus interesting that the Dux Mogontiacensis is noted as commanding a Praefectus militum Menapiorum at Tabernis (presumably Tres tabernas; i.e. modern Saverne in French Alsatia). The men under this prefect would appear to be the same as the Menapii seniores, or a perhaps more likely, a detachment thereof (as advanced by van Berchem, 'Some Chapters of the "Notitia Dignitatum"', 1995, available here), or vice versa.

Alternatively, the unit at Tabernis might be the same as the "missing" Menapii iuniores, as no such iuniores partner to the Menapii seniores is to be found in the Notitia (unless it is the unit in the east under the Magister Militum per Thracias simply called the Menapii, but since there are many instances of trios of units in the Notitia being divided along the lines of "X seniores" and "X iuniores" in the west, and plain "X" in the east, this might be considered unlikely, especially since the Menapii is the one of the most senior of the legiones comitatenses in the east, and a iuniores unit would be expected to be lower ranked: the highest-ranked iuniores comitatenses legion in the east, the Pannoniciani iuniores is ranked 15th out of 20 units in the list of the Magister Militum per Thracias). As might be expected, the shield pattern of the eastern Menapii is completely different to that of the western unit.


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