This page created 5 April 2014, and last modified: 22 November 2014 (Maier reference numbers added)
In the eastern half of the empire, the fifth of the legiones palatina listed (9.21 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the first Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence (i.e. the Magister Militum Praesentalis I) is the Nervii. Its shield pattern (7#6) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (7.f) Nervii, is as below:
The pattern features a yellow boss centre encircled with a red and then a yellow band. An indigo 8-pointed star (purple in B, faded to maroon in M, W) radiates therefrom into a light blue main ground; a thin ray projects between each of the main points of the star (absent in P). The whole is bordered by a yellow band and finally by a light blue band (white in W) forming the shield's rim. The pattern is thus very similar to that of the previously-listed unit under the same commander, the Fortenses, as can be seen from following patterns taken from the Paris manuscript:
Given the similar shield patterns and the adjacent ranking under the same commander, it is clear that these two units were habitually brigaded together (see further, below). Various other units of Nervii are listed in the Notitia, but none are of comparable rank (i.e. none have palatine status); as they are all of limitanei status, their shield patterns are not recorded. There are some other units including the name Nervii in their title in addition to other appellations, but these are auxiliarii units, not legiones, and their patterns are also very dissimilar. The units are:
Sagittarii nervi(i), an auxilia palatina unit under the "Comes" Hispenias;All of these units are in the western half of the empire. The name Nervii is usually connected with the part of Gaul that is now north-east France and Belgium, and at the time of the Notitia was called "Nervica", as in the Dux tractus Armoricani et Nervicani. The name comes from the ancient Gallic tribe the region was named after: the Nervii (a large number of auxiliary units were recruited from the area in the early empire, some survived long enough to appear in the Notitia, such as the men under the Tribunus cohortis sextae Nerviorum, listed under the Dux Britanniarum). The area was later termed the Civitas Nerviorum; the Nervii were presumably recruited from the area.
Sagittarii Nervii Gallicani, an auxilia palatina unit in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command;
Cohors tertiae Nerviorum, a limitanei auxiliary cohort under the Dux Britanniarum;
Cohors sextae Nerviorum, another limitanei auxiliary cohort under the Dux Britanniarum;
Numerus Nerviorum Dictensium, a limitanei numerus under the Dux Britanniarum;
Milites Nerviorum, a limitanei unit under the Dux Belgicae secundae; and the
Laeti Nerviorum, a "unit" of gentes under the Dux Belgicae secundae.
However, another possible derivation should seriously be considered: in Latin "nervi" can mean nerves, or sinews, and could be used metaphorically, not in the way English uses "nervous" (as in "flighty"), but in the opposite sense - "brave, steadfast", which is a particularly suitable name for a military unit (English can use the word in a somewhat similar way - as in "he's got a nerve!"). That this particular unit should be so-called is particularly appropriate, given they are paired with a unit whose name also means "steadfast, brave" - the Fortenses. This alternative meaning becomes yet more likely given no cavalry units are so-called, only infantry units, precisely the type that should be steadfast as opposed to dashing. Of course, it may well be that the name is punning, and refers simultaneously to both meanings.
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