This page last modified: 3 October 2012. This section is very much "under construction".
A note on copyright and the Notitia
These web-pages illustrate these shield patterns. Several manuscripts and other documents containing the pictures exist, showing various differences; these patterns are taken from:
1. the manuscript that now resides in the Bodleian library in the UK, and are derived from scans taken by Nik Gaukroger, andMuch of the text that accompanies the pictures, such as the names of the units, is taken from Otto Seeck's 1876 edition, as presented by Halstein Sjolie on his web-site.
2. the manuscript that now lies in the Bavarian State Library, which shows two sets of pictures, which are available on-line at the library's web-site.
Only some of the units mentioned have shield patterns preserved. In particular, the limitanei or "border" troops are not illustrated, nor are the eastern cavalry units, hence the complete lack of shield patterns for some of the forces listed below. Why this is the case is an unanswered question. It may be that an early medieval copyist grew tired of drawing so many patterns, and yet the document probably owes its continued existance because of the visual interest these very same patterns provide.
The Eastern empire:The manuscripts from which these illustrations are taken do not derive from the Late Roman period: the only surviving copies date from the 15th and 16th centuries, and all derive from a single codex - the Codex Spirensis - that is known to have existed in 1542 but is now lost (and has been lost since the 17th century). This raises the question of the authenticity of the illustrations: are they faithful reproductions of the original Roman material; wholesale fabrications of a medieval scribe; or something in between?Magister Militum Praesentalis I - 24 shieldsThe Western empire:
Magister Militum Praesentalis II - 24 shields
Magister Militum per Orientem - 21 shields
Magister Militum per Thracias - 21 shields
Magister Militum per Illyricum - 15 shields
Magister Officiorum - 6 shields
Comes domesticorum equitum, peditum - 2 shields
Comes limitis Aegypti
Comes per Isauriam
Dux Moesiae secundae
Dux Moesiae primae
Dux Daciae ripensis - 2 duplicated shieldsMagister Peditum - 123 shields
Magister Peditum's Italian command - 43 duplicated shields
Magister Equitum - 39 shields
Magister Equitum's Gallic command - 46 duplicated shields
Magister Officiorum - 7 shields
Comes domesticorum equitum, peditum - 2 shields
Comes Illyricum - 19 duplicated shields
Comes Hispenias - 15 duplicated shields
Comes Africae - 31 duplicated shields
Comes Tingitaniae - 6 duplicated shields
Comes Britanniarum - 4 duplicated shields
Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam - 2 duplicated shields
Dux Mauritania - 2 duplicated shields
Dux Tripolitanae - 1 duplicated shield
Dux Pannoniae secundae
Dux Valeriae ripensis
Dux Pannoniae primae et Norici ripensis
Dux tractus Armoricani et Nervicani - 6 duplicated shields
Dux Belgicae secundae
Dux Mogontiacensis - 4 duplicated shields
We can at least be sure that the patterns shown in the surviving copies of the Notitia are not wholesale medieval fabrications because the patterns shown are in general terms very similar in style to other sources illustrating late Roman shields, and in some cases, essentially identical.
However, while the patterns individually may be reasonably secure, the identification of any one pattern with any one unit is much less secure, since there is a strong hint that the patterns may be misaligned with the units. For instance, on the first page of the Magister Peditum's patterns, the Matiarii and Ascarii seniores, neighbouring entries, are given the same pattern. It looks like one has been accidentally duplicated. Maybe one of the two is just missing, leaving the rest unchanged; or maybe all subsequent entries have to be shifted over one place. But there is a a further problem - only one of the two Equites brachiati is shown, whereas both a seniores and juniores are listed next to each other; likewise other patterns are missing under the Magister Equitum. So we need to distinguish between various levels of "authenticity": is a particular pattern in the Notitia "merely an authentic shield pattern of some late Roman unit", or "the authentic shield pattern of the particular late Roman unit that is labelled as belonging to..."
Furthermore, the patterns shown can't be claimed to be entirely faithful reproductions, even individually, as there are differences between the various surviving manuscript illustrations - differences that these web pages illustrate, at least for three sets of illustrations. Obviously there are corruptions introduced by the multiplicity of copying events between the 5th century original and the present manuscripts which leads to discrepancies between the surviving versions. Indeed, the reason the Munich manuscript contains two sets is that the manuscript's commissioner was not satisfied with the quality of the pictures in the copy first presented to him, and he asked for a new set to be produced. The later set (herein called "the first set", since they appear at the front of the manuscript; manuscript copy "M" according to Ingo Maier's scheme) certainly look prettier than the earlier ("second") set (copy "W"), and while they are less artistic, and rougher in execution, one may nonetheless say they are likely to be more faithful reproductions. This can be seen in many places. For example, the colours of the second set more closely match those of the Bodleian manuscript (copy "O"), increasing confidence in their accuracy. Likewise, one of the helmets shown under the western Magister Officiorum looks - admittedly vaguely - like a fairly normal conical-type ancient helmet, along with crest and what look to be singly-scalloped cheek guards. But the other version has transformed this crude picture into a much clearer but easily recognizable German sallet, embellished with a crest and two tassels. Prettier, but clearly less authentic.
In addition to displaying the shield patterns, I have endeavoured to give some sort of commentary about the units and army concerned. I make no pretence of being an expert in the area however; take my conclusions with a grain of salt. Some comments derive from (or argue against) AHM Jones' analysis of the Notitia Dignitatum: "The Later Roman Empire, 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey" by A.H.M. Jones, The John Hopkins University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8018-3285-3 (this is the paperback edition). References to 'Burns' are to "Barbarians within the gates of Rome" by T.S.Burns, Indiana University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-253-31288-4. Other works are referenced when mentioned.
The document that is the Notitia Dignitatum is divided into halves pertaining to the western and the eastern portions of the Roman empire (or rather, eastern and western portions; the Romans not adhering to the same worldview as us). On internal evidence, the eastern section appears to be (at least at first sight) an essentially uniform composition dating to (or heavily revised in) ca. 395 AD, with minor alterations perhaps dating to 5 years later; some would date almost all of it to ca. 400 AD however. The western section seems to initially date from the same time, and then having evidently undergone considerable revision, with some items seemingly dating to 420 AD or even as late as 425 AD.
Thus it does not present a snap-shot picture of the Roman army, but rather a view of many changes occuring over 30 or so years, and disentangling these is a tricky business at best. Many of the units listed in the western section for instance seem to be duplicated in two (or even more) different commands. It is difficult to say which is the 'original' posting and which is the 'latest' one (assuming that is we are not dealing with two identically named units; perhaps because they are two halves of a unit split between different stations that have not yet acquired a unique identity!). Nor is it easy to discern if a given unit in a field army with an identical name to a unit in a limitanei area is merely a detachment of the latter, or the unit in its entirety was withdrawn from the frontier...
Epigraphical evidence for British units comes from the valuable Roman Inscriptions of Britain and much other British information from the excellent www.Roman-Britain.org site. A potted history of the old legions in previous centuries can be found at www.livius.org. Evidence is heavily biased towards British units not least because I am an English speaker and can't access other languages easily, but also because British archaeological comparisons are comparatively extensive.
I have compiled an alphabetical list of all the units mentioned in the Notitia which may help people in analysing the distribution of units, etc.
Troop type statistics and analyses are described below:
Numeri Barbarcoriorum etc.
Scolae, Singulares, Domestici and Bucellarii
Other Numeri and Cunei
Return to my Ancient Military History index page.