The Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum

This page created 6 April 2014, and last modified: 3 November 2014 (Ammianus commentary updated)


The Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum is listed as one of the legiones comitatenses under the Magister Militum per Orientem. Its shield pattern is shown in various manuscripts 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 is very simple, with a yellow boss and a white main ground; each is rimmed in red. The unit itself is clearly a detachment of the Legio Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum under the Dux Thebaidos, stationed at Cusas (i.e. Cusae, modern el-Qusiya). Legio II Flavia Constantia was a Tetrarchic creation of Diocletian's in 296 AD, and named after Constantius Chlorus, Caesar of the West. Also created at the same time in Egypt were Legio III Diocletiana and Legio I Maximiana which implies the existance of a Legio IIII Galeriana or similar whose name did not survive long enough to make it into the Notitia, unless it is one of the units named Martii or similar.

However, this shield pattern shown above is unlikely to be the same as that borne by the detachment still under the Dux Thebaidos. That of the similarly ex-Egyptian Prima Maximiana Thebaeorum under the Magister Militum per Thracias looks very similar to that of the Quinta Macedonica under the Magister Militum per Orientem, suggesting these two detachments were posted simultaneously to the same command (outside Egypt) and thus received similar shield patterns, but were later separated. The Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum detachment is likely to have been treated the same way when it left Egypt. In particular, it bears a very close resemblance to several other units under the Magister Militum per Orientem: the Prima Flavia Constantia, the Balistarii seniores, and the Balistarii Theodosiaci; these may have all received their shield patterns when being transferred out of Egypt. A side-by-side comparison of the Paris manuscript shields shows the relationships:

Shield patterns

Clearly, the two Flavia Constantia legions above are related to each other by not only name but also by shield pattern, and each has a Balistarii unit related to it. However, as the name Balistarii Theodosiaci is clearly related to Theodosius, this unit cannot have gained its name until his reign (from 379 to 395), and thus was either transferred out of Egypt during this later period, or, if transferred earlier, was not split off from or otherwise associated with the Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum until some time in his reign. The first option is very much more likely, because Zosimus (IV.30-31) records Theodosius mixing up northern troops with the Egyptian garrisons both in Egypt and in Macedon/Thrace, which was currently being devastated by the Goths. So these shield patterns can be reasonably securely dated to Theodosius' reign. Whether these troops received their new shield patterns when they left Egypt, arrived in Europe, or when the new Magister Militum per Orientem command was formed is hard to judge, but the time difference between the first two would have been small, so it may not matter all that much in the end. However, the fact that the Balistarii Theodosiaci is differentiated from the Legio Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum purely by the addition of a small 8-pointed star, the primary symbol of Macedon, is very suggestive that this unit gained its shield pattern in Macedon. According to Zosimus (IV.27) the office of Magister Militum per Orientem was created essentially contemporaneously with the events in Macedon, but most scholars agree this cannot be the case (see Burns, page 313, note 49, and pages 98-100), and the office was created perhaps 6 to 12 years later. Some of these troops from Egypt stayed in the region of Thrace, while others were evidently posted to the east, such those that would under the new Magister Militum per Orientem like the Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum.

However, it should be noted that Ammianus refers (14.11.15) to certain "Theban legions" as being stationed near Adrianople in Thrace in 354; so clearly some units bore the name before Thodosius' time (that he refers to legions, plural, means the reference can't be explained away as referring just to the western palatine legion the Thebei). There are five "Theban" legions in the Notitia:

Prima Maximiana Thebaeorum
Tertia Diocletiana Thebaeorum
Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum
Secunda Felix Valentis Thebaeorum
Of these, the Thebei in the Notitia is a western unit, and perhaps unlikely to have been in the east at the time; the Secunda Felix Valentis Thebaeorum had presumably not yet been raised, while the Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum had probably yet to leave Egypt, leaving the Prima Maximiana Thebaeorum and the Tertia Diocletiana Thebaeorum as "the Theban legions".

Also note that there is a Secunda Flavia Constantiniana unit listed in the Western half of the empire, but which is seemingly unrelated to the Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum - it is named not after Constantius Chlorus but after either his son Constantine I, or his grandson Constantine II; there is also another similarly-named legiones comitatenses in the west, called the Secunda Flavia Virtutis, and stationed in Africa as the Secundani.

Ammianus records (20.7.1) that a legio secunda Flavia was part of the garrison of Bazebde that unsuccessfully withstood Shapur II's siege in 360. It is likely that this unit was another detachment of Legio Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum, given its proximity compared to the western units.


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