The Solenses seniores

This page created 7 June 2014, and last modified: 6 September 2014 (some links added)


The Solenses seniores is listed as the most senior of the 20 legiones comitatenses under the Magister Militum per Thracias. Its shield pattern is shown in various manuscripts as below:

Tertiodecimani 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 relatively simple, with a red main field charged with a white 7-pointed star, a blue boss showing quartering lines but without differentiated colours (the star has 8 points in M and B). Seven-pointed stars are very rare in the Notitia; the only other infantry example belongs to the Martii under the Magister Militum per Illyricum.

Martii Solenses shield comparison

The Solenses seniores might date from the time of Constantine the Great (who was devoted to the worship of Sol before converting to Christianity), or, even more likely, from the time of his father, Constantius Chlorus, who was associated with Sol in the same way Diocletian was with Jupiter, Maximianus with Hercules, and Galerius with Mars. Appropriately enough, its shield device is indeed a solar emblem, a star, although not too much need be read into this, given the shield pattern of the Martii, presumably named for Galerius, also shows a white seven-pointed star, as the above patterns taken from the Parisian manuscript show; the two units may well have been initially brigaded together when they received their shield patterns. The Solenses Gallicani, also under the command of the Magister Militum per Thracias, might be an offshoot of the Solenses seniores, perhaps split off from their parent while in Gaul. The Cuneus equitum Solensium under the Dux Scythiae might perhaps be the former cavalry component of the legion.

Interestingly, in addition to the above named units, there is also a Praefectus numeri Solensium serving under the Dux Britanniarum (Britain was where Chlorus died, and Constantine was acclaimed Augustus by his troops). In Britain, there were traditionally three legionary units, but one, Legio XX Valeria Victrix, is absent from the Notitia, and indeed, from all records after the 3rd century. One might speculate that the Solenses, rather than being a unit newly raised by Constantius Chlorus, was (part of) the old Legio XX Valeria Victrix renamed. The latest evidence for its existence in Britain is its appearence on the coins of Carausius, the rebel ruler of Britain whose successor (and murderer) Allectus was suppresssed by Constantius Chlorus, a hundred years before the Notitia was compiled. Whether Carausius included it in his coinage in a bid to buy its loyalty, or to show that it was loyal to him is unproveable, but since the Sixth legion of Britain was not included on his coinage, but inscriptional evidence for it comes from his reign, the balance of evidence suggests an attempt to buy the loyalty of the 20th, as that of the Sixth seems to have been given freely.

Either could support a transformation of the 20th legion into the Solenses. If they disdained Carausius and remained loyal to central authority, they could have been awarded the name Solenses as an honour. If they rebelled, they may have been renamed by Carausius as a reward (to some other name), which would no doubt have required a subsequent renaming by Constantius or Constantine (since all traces of usurpers were to be expunged as far as possible). I would suggest a renaming following rebellion. As Carausius rebelled against his emperor Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, better known as Herculius, he had every reason to rename a legion whose name meant 'Victorious Valerians', whereas both Constantius and Constantine, i.e. Flavius Valerius Constantius and Flavius Valerius Constantinus, respectively, would have had every reason to keep its for-them well-omened name intact, for precisely the same reason.

No unit called the Solenses iuniores is recorded in the Notitia.


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