The Moesiaci seniores

This page created 2 May 2014, and last modified: 3 November 2014 (Ammianus citations expanded)


The Moesiaci seniores is sixth of the legiones palatinae listed in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster; it is assigned to his Italian command. Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts, which except in B (the Froben edition) is under the label Moesiciaci, 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...

The shield pattern shows (albeit with some variations) a red rim with a yellow band inside that, and a blue boss surrounded by a blue rim; the main ground is divide radially into 3 large red sectors alternating with three smaller white sectors. Similar 3+3 sector patterns are shown by the western legionary units the Armigeri propugnatores iuniores, the Pacatianenses, and the Mattiarii iuniores.

The name Moesiaci refers to the two Moesiae provinces. Presumably the original Moesiaci were recruited from there or had been stationed there at some point (when the Moesiaci seniores was differentiated from a presumed Moesiaci iuniores, which is not recorded in the Notitia, is unknown (but see the footnote below).

As the previous legion in the Magister Peditum's list is the Pannoniciani seniores, this means they may well have been brigaded together with the Moesiaci seniores, and indeed, many have seen Ammianus' mention (29.6.13) of "obviam legiones motae sunt duae, Pannonica et Moesiaca" as conformation of such a brigading. But as David Woods says (see note 8), there

"are several objections to this identification. The first must be that their titles do not actually match [whereas] Ammianus records the names of other palatine legions in the exact form that they have been preserved by the Notitia [...] Finally, it must strike one as a remarkable coincidence that the first two palatine legions to arrive in response to attacks upon the Pannonias and Moesia Prima should have been named after those very regions".
Thus it is likely Ammianus is here simply referring to one of the limitanei units then stationed in the area. For example, the Notitia lists both Legio IIII Flavia and Legio VII Claudia as being stationed in Moesia I. But it is not even sure Ammianus' usage of the word "legiones" means legionary units, as opposed auxiliary, as he also calls the undoubtably auxila palatina units the Iovii and the Victores "legions". Note that Ammianus does mention (20.1.3) at one point "numerisque Moesiacorum duobus" i.e. "two units of Moesiaci"; they accompany the Heruli and the Batavi in crossing the Channel over to Britain. These might be seen as two detachments of a single Moesiaci legion (old-style cohorts?), but note that the Dux Moesiae secundae commands two auxiliary units called the Moesiaci: the Milites primi Moesiaci, at Candidiana, and the Milites Moesiaci, at Teglicio.

It should be noted that inscriptional evidence gives the name "Moesiaci" to Legio I Italica, e.g. a 4th century inscription (AE 1981, 777) from Cotiaeum (Kutahya in Turkey) giving (in Greek) Legio I Italica "Moesiatika", so it is this legion, founded by Nero in the 1st century, that would appear to be the progenitor of the Moesiaci seniores (in the Notitia, detachments of Legio I Italica are still found garrisoning Moesia II, along with Legio XI Claudia). Another example (CIL 6, 2759 = ILS 2045), found in Rome and dated to the end of the 3rd/start of the 4th century, gives a soldier who had had served in the 10th Praetorian cohort; he initially had served in what is simply given as the legione Mesiaca for 5 years, and in the Lanciarii for 11.

Many examples of inscriptional evidence for legionaries from Moesia (not just from Legio I Italica) have been found at Aquileia, where the emperor Maximian was based at the end of the 3rd century. This detachment was apparently inherited by his son, Maxentius, and thus fought against Constantine, who appears to have posted the unit to Metz in Gaul (Roman Divodurum Mediomatricorum), as an inscription there (CIL 13, 4328) attests to a numero Misiacorum, but it seems to have found its way back to Aquileia by the time Constantius II consolidated his hold on northern Italy in 352. In this regard, of great interest is the picture shown below, showing a grafito from Aquileia (AE 1982, 383) dated by the inscription to 352.

AE 1983, 383
AE 1982, 383. I suspect the image comes from M.P. Speidel, 'The Army at Aquileia, the Moesiaci Legion, and the Shield-Emblems in the Notitia Dignitatum', Saalburg-Jahrbuch 45 (1990), pp. 68-72, but since I don't have a copy of this paper, I can't confirm this. If anybody has a copy, please let me know!

It depicts a man from Moesia, or, to be more exact, from Dardania, which was separated from Moesia Superior in Diocletian's reorganisation of the provinces (i.e. after the man's birth); the remnant was then called Moesia Prima. The deceased is shown in three stages of his life; after leaving Moesia he appears to have served in the Protectores (Imperial bodyguards) for five years. His shield pattern would appear to be the same as that of the Moesiaci seniores.

Footnote: see E.A. Mehamadiev; Anonymus de Rebus Bellicis and Latin inscriptions from Aquileia: the question of the formation and development divisions seniores- iuniores late Roman army in the 4th C; in Mnemon, Research and publications on the history of the Ancient World; Ed. E.D. Frolova; Issue 13 (2013); p277-291, available here (in Russian). Mehamadiev connects the introduction of iuniores-seniores to the problem of replacing the casualties inflicted in the heavy fighting between Magnentius and Constantius II, and links it with the concerns expressed in the de Rebus Bellicis.


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