The Pontinenses

This page created 15 June 2014, and last modified: 26 November 2014 (Maier reference numbers added)


The 7th of the 18 pseudocomitatenses units listed (98/9.137 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster is called the Pontinenses;it is assigned (102/5.090) to his Italian command as the Pontenenses. Its shield pattern (97#9) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (97.i) Pontinenses, is as below:

shield patterns

Disclaimer: Remember, a lot of what comes below is speculation. Hopefully informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Comments welcome! (lukeuedasarson "at"

The pattern features a blue boss (white in B, and yellowish in M) encircled by white with a white pillar beneath. The main ground is green (faded in M, and white in B) and separated from a green rim (faded in M) by a yellow band (white in W).

The name Pontinenses is usually assumed to derive from Legio I Pontica. An inscription dated 288 from Colybrassus (near modern Alanya on Turkey's south coast) mentions this unit; another Tetrarchic-period inscription (CIL 3, 6746) from Trapezus (modern Trabzon on the Black Sea cost of Turkey) also mentions the unit, as it reads LEG I P (image here), which can be expanded to "legio I Pontica"; the unit was still stationed there when the Notitia was drawn up, under the Dux Armeniae.

However, why a detachment from far-off Pontus would have found its way into the Italian field army should need some explaining - no other units in the command have a similarly eastern origin. Further, the boss-and-pillar shield pattern of the Pontinenses is typical of auxiliary units: only one other possibly legionary unit bears the motif: the unassigned Antianenses, which may well in any case be auxiliary, since not explicit indication of its status as legionary or something else is to be in the Notitia. There were many other places named "Pontus" or similar in the Roman empire, since the word simply means "bridge". One example in the Notitia is the Ponte Aoni listed as the station of the Equites stablesiani iuniores under the Dux Raetiae primae et secundae, i.e. Pons Aeni; modern Rosenheim in southern Germany; Nischer (1923, available here) for one believed this to be the origin of the unit's name (see page 36).

Another such place mentioned in the Notitia is the Ponte Aeli recorded as being the station of the Tribunus cohortis primae Cornoviorum under the Dux Britanniorum (Pons Aelius; Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England). This is a particularly promising example, as both being the base of an auxiliary unit, and that of a unit which was presumably withdrawn from Britain along with the other Roman units within the period the Notitia was being updated. The Cohors I Cornoviorum is attested only in the Notitia, and would seem to have been named after the British Cornovii tribe - apparently the only native unit stationed in Roman Britain. The Pons Aelius bridge was particularly unusual in that it seems to have been the only bridge outside Rome to bear an Imperial name (the emperor Hadrian's name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus), and thus uniquely well-suited to establishing a unique identity for any unit guarding it.


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