The Vesontes

This page created 13 April 2014, and last modified: 5 October 2014 (some links added)


The Vesontes is listed as the 8th of the Legiones comitatenses under the Magister Peditum's list; it is assigned to the "Comes" Hispenias. 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 shield pattern, showing a white ground, a red rim, a boss quartered white and indigo, and four rather morel-shaped devices in red, is very similar indeed to that of the Octavani, one of the legiones palatinae assigned to the Magister Peditum's Italian command. A comparison, using the patterns given in the Parisian manuscript, makes this obvious:

Shield patterns

The name Vesontes comes from the town of Vesontio (modern Besancon in France), which was presumably where this unit was once stationed; in Caeser's day it was the largest town of the Celtic Sequani; by the time of the Notitia, it was still presumably the headquarters of the Dux Provinciae Sequanici, although his one unit is actually listed as being stationed elsewhere.

The Octavani are evidently (a detachment of) Legio VIII Augusta Pia Fedelis Constans, formerly based as Argentoratum (Strasbourg), but by an inscription (CIL 13.11538) dating to 371 AD mentioning (at least part of) the legion at Etzgen in northern Switzerland, they had apparently been partially or entirely moved away from Strasbourg before they were drafted into the Magister Peditum's Italian command. Legio VIII Augusta is also know to have contributed a detachment to garrison Divitia in the 4th century. Speculatively, they may have contributed a detachment to Vesontio, or alternatively, some other unit from Vesontio may have been brigaded with (a detachment of) the Eighth legion at some point in the 4th century. If someone could fill me in on the history of the Roman military presence in Besancon, I'd be grateful!

The morel-shaped emblems that make up most distinctive part of the shield pattern bring to mind the business end of what is often termed a military "turf cutter" (the Latin word for which is unknown, and which re-enactors suspect was actually used for some other job); the photo below shows one excavated from Newstead in Scotland:

So-called turf cutter

Photo taken from this book published in 1911, and which is now in the public domain.

They are also reminiscent of a shield borne by one of the soldiers on the 4th century Brescia Casket, as shown below:

Brescia Casket Soldiers

Photo by RobyBS89, and dedicated to the public domain.


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