The Undecimani

This page created 7 May 2014, and last modified: 7 May 2014


Disclaimer: remember, I'm not an expert in the field of Notitia studies, so take my comments with a grain of salt...

In the eastern half of the empire, the fifth out of six units of legiones palatina under the command of the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence is called the Undecimani ("the Eleventh"). Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts is 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 pattern what appears to be a red rope coiled in a rather yin-yang-like arrangement, unique in the Notitia - or it would be unique, if the previously-listed unit, the Primani, did not have exactly the same pattern (except in manuscript M, which gives the Undecimani red for the one blue region shown in the other manuscripts, and for also giving the Primani a yellow boss instead of red as in the other manuscripts). Since the only other instance in the Notitia where two units share the same patterns, and which are also adjacent to each other, is evidently the result of a manuscript error, it is thus necessary to enquire if this is the case here. If there has been a duplication, it is apparent that the mistake has not infected the patterns ascribed to the units on the next line (the Lanciarii iuniores, the Regii, and the Cornuti), since the first of third of these have patterns clearly related to units that share their names. In this case, it would appear one or the other of the Primani and Undecimani has been ascribed the pattern of the other, and its own pattern is lost.

On the other hand, it may be there has not been a duplication, and the two units actually did have similar (or identical) shield patterns. But this appears unlikely at first blush, given the names of the two units, which appear to be derived from two clearly different legions. That of the Undecimani surely derives from the Legio XI Claudia, dating from the 1st century BC; the only legion numbered "eleven". Under the Empire, this legion was long stationed at Durostorum (modern Silistra in northeast Bulgaria), which is where one of its detachments was still stationed according to the Notitia, under the Dux Moesiae secundae (other detachments of the same legion are recorded garrisoning other locations in Moesia II). Also stationed under the very same commander in the Notitia are detachments of Legio I Italica, from which the Primani undoubtably gets its name. Since these two legions were stationed together, and their detachments under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II are recorded next to each other in the Notitia, and thus were also probably brigaded together, it may not be so surprising they would have been issued similar shield patterns when the second Praesental field army was created (although identical patterns would be somewhat surprising).

Shown below is the 4th century grave stele of Aurelius Sudecentius from Legio XI, exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Aquileia (Italy). He carries a pair of spears apparently suitable for throwing as well as thrusting; his oval shield unfortunately does not show a shield pattern.

Grave stele
Photo from the National Archaeological Museum

In the western half of the empire, another unit is also called the Undecimani, one of the legiones comitatenses under the Magister Peditum and assigned to the Comes Hispenias. This unit likely derives from a detachment of Legio XI that seems to have served in Mauretania in 298, to judge from, e.g. the funerary stele in Aquileia of Aurelius Dizo, who was a soldier of the 11th, but who died in Mauretania (CIL V 893 = InscrAquil 2772 ?); its shield pattern is completely different from that of the eastern Undecimani.


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