The Secunda Britannica

This page created 23 March 2014, and last modified: 11 May 2014 (commentary expanded)


The Secunda Britannica is listed as one of the Legiones comitatenses under the Magister Peditum's infantry list. In Seeck's edition, "Secunda Britannica" is all they are called, but the manuscripts actually say "Legio secundae britannicae siue secundani" i.e. "the Legion (called the) Secunda britannica or the Secundani". Its shield pattern, under the label "Britannici", is shown in various manuscripts as below:

Secunda Britannica 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 a yellow ground, overlaid with what is clearly a wagon wheel, with a red tyre and hub, plus 8 red spokes; the colour of the axel/boss varies with the manuscript. Other units in the Notitia have 8-spoked patterns (e.g. the Pannoniciani seniores), but none look so clearly like an actual wheel.

The unit would appear to be assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command under the title Secundani Britones (there is also a plain "Britones" listed in the same command, which from its position should be a unit of auxilia palatina, but there is no correspondingly positioned and named unit in the Magister Peditum's infantry list).

What we do see are two units in Britain with very similar names: a Secundani iuniores under the Comes Britanniarum and a unit commanded by the Praefectus legionis secundae Augustae, under the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniarum. The later, stationed at Rutupis (modern Richborough in Kent) are clearly from the old Legio II Augusta. This legion dated back to Octavian (who was later styled the emperor Augustus, hence the unit's epithet), and was one of the units involved in the invasion of Britain in 43 AD; it then remained in Britain for over three and half centuries. Interestingly, the archaeological evidence implies that the fort at Richborough is a mere one-tenth the size of the one that the Legio II Augusta occupied in earlier times at Caernarvon, which might suggest that the Legion stationed there was much diminished in size. However, the number of coins found at Richborough dating to ca. 400 AD is significantly greater than at any other British archaeological site, which would attest to its continued importance at the time the Notitia was drawn up.

The unit, or at least a detachment thereof, should be equated with the Secundani iuniores, since the force of the under the Comes Britanniarum seems to have been formed from British garrison units previously under the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniarum and the Dux Britanniarum; see the discussion on his page.

An equation of the Secunda Britannica with the Secundani Britones has been questioned by Hassal (see M.W.C.Hassal's chapter, p 7-10, in CBA Reserach Report No. 18, The Saxon Shore, Ed. D.E.Johnston (1977), available here), since "Britones" sounds more like a tribal name than a geographical one, implying non-legionary status. However, this is presumably because Hassel was working from Seeck's edition, and did not have access to the original manuscripts: the fact that the Legio secunda Britannica is clearly said to be also known as the Secundani effectively removes this objection. Given all these names, that the unit's full name was the Legio secundae Britannicae iuniores or Legio secundani Britones iuniores is not beyond the realms of possibility.

The name Secundani iuniores implies a seniores counterpart. No unit called Secundani seniores is to be found in the Notitia, but there is a legion called the Britones seniores, under the Magister Militum per Illyricum. As this unit clearly has a British connection, it probably originated as a detachment of Legio II Augusta, as the seniores counterpart to the iuniores that stayed behind. This is reinforced by examining its shield pattern. It is not closely similar, as the comparison below, using the appropriate Parisian manuscript pictures, shows, but it does share a radiating spoked design in red.

Britones shield patterns

However, since Legio VI Victrix carried the title Britannica as a result of heavy fighting in Scotalnd in the early 3rd century, in the form of Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis Britannica, there is also a possibility that it was this unit that was the parent of the Britones seniores. And finally, Legio XX Valeria Victrix, while not having seemingly been called something like "Britones" or "Bitannica", seems to have left no record of its existence in Britain during the 4th century. It may be it was removed from Britain in toto, and perhaps part of it later became the Britones seniores.


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