The Notitia Dignitatum


This page last modified: 5 January 2015 (commentary updated)


Nine units of catafractarii are apparently noted in the Notitia (the numbers beside the names refer to Ingo Maier's numbering scheme):

9.9 Equites catafractarii Biturigenses, a comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I (see notes)
12.9 Equites catafractarii, a comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II
12.10 Equites catafractarii Ambianenses, another comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II
15.3 Comites catafractarii, a comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum per Orientem (see notes)
18.7 Equites catafractarii Albigenses, a comitatenses vexillation under the Magister Militum per Thracias
56/7.31 Ala prima Iovia catafracta[riorum], a limitanei ala under the Dux Thebaidos
74.6 Cuneus equitum catafractariorum, a limitanei cuneus under the Dux Scythiae
102/5.251 Equites catafractarii iuniores, under the Comes Britanniarum (likely a vexillation with comitatenses status)
154.5 Equites catafractarii, a limitanei equites unit under the Dux Britanniarum.

Disclaimer: Remember, a lot of what comes below is speculation. Hopefully informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Comments welcome! (lukeuedasarson "at"

Of these, the two British units are likely one and the same unit. Note that the "Biturigenses" in Equites catafractarii Biturigenses in Seeck's edition (OR.V.34) is an amendment from the manuscripts' "Biturigentes" (or, in the Munich manuscript, "Bituri gentes"); the name comes from the Civitas Biturigensium centred around modern Bourges in central France.

The word "catafractarii", as with clibanarii, implies (especially?) heavily armoured cavalry. The distinction between catafractarii and clibanarii, if any, is still the subject of much debate. Mielczarek's hypothesis (Mariusz Mielczarek, 'Catafracti and Clibanarii', Oficyna Naukowa MS, Lodz, 1993) while interesting (a distinction based on tactical usage), has in my opinion too many holes to be seriously entertained. An inscription (AE 1984,825; photo here) from Klaudioplis, modern Bolu in Turkey, and dated to the late 3rd-early 4th century, gives a soldier who spent time IN VEXILLATIONE EQQ CAT CLIB, i.e. "in a catafract clibanarii cavalry detachment", and the 4th century historian Ammianus mentions (15.10.8) the "catafracti equites, clibanarios dicitant" - i.e "the catafract cavalry, which they call clibanarii". Nikonorov (1998, available here) attempts to draw a distinction between "catafracti" on the one hand and "catafractarii/clibanarii" on the other; Ammianus, for example, records both catafractarii (16.2.5, 16.12.63) and catafracti (16.10.8, 16.12.38, 27.5.6).

It is interesting to note that, assuming the two British units are one, although the western empire has only one unit of catafractarii to the seven of the eastern empire, the three names "Albigenses" (i.e. Albiga; modern Albi in France), "Ambianenses" (i.e. Samarobriva Ambianorum; Amiens in France) and "Biturigenses" (i.e. Biturigae, the region around Bourges in France) imply a western station at some point in their history, and none of the other units have any obvious eastern connection, aside from their being stationed in the east; this contrasts with the various clibanarii units which have a decidedly eastern flavour. Since inscriptional evidence (CIL 3.14406a, found in Macedonia) gives an ECUITES CATAFRACTARIOS PICTAVENSIS (i.e. from Pictavi, the Poitiers region of France), it has been argued that the eastern Equites catafractarii in the Notitia is this same Equites catafractarii Pictavensis (it is common for limitanei units named in the Notitia to have longer names when inscriptional evidence is found for them - see D. Woods (2001); 'Some Eunapiania'; in Eklogai: studies in honour of Thomas Finan and Gerard Watson; Ed. K McGroarty; NUI Maynooth; p 93-94). An inscription (CIL 13.3493; photo here) from Amiens has been found mentioning a unit of catafractarii and which presumably refer to the Equites catafractarii Ambianenses of the Notitia; it refers to a member of an N CATAFR, i.e. a "n(umeri) catafr(actarorium)". Another inscription, CIL 13.3495, might refer to the same unit, but the writing is too fragmentary to place much confidence in - see photo here.

The Notitia's Equites catafractarii iuniores implies the existence (or former existence) of an Equites catafractarii seniores, and such a unit is indeed mentioned on a gravestone (CIL 13.1848; photos here) from Lyons, which reads NUM EQ CATAF SEN. i.e. a "numero equitum catafractariorum seniorum". This unit might be the unit referred to by a gravestone from the cemetery at Colonia Iulia Concordia (modern Portogruaro in Veneto, Italy), which produced an inscription (CILS 504 = AE 1891,106) mentioning a NUMERUM EQUITUM CATAFRACTARIORUA, although any of the other "western" catafractarii units remains a possibility. See here for Hoffmann's 1963 analysis (in German). The Lyons Equites catafractarii seniores gravestone is particularly interesting in that the deceased is apparently depicted holding a lance two-handed, while behind m walks a man, presumably a servant arms-bearer, holding a shorter spear and a shield; if so, this implies the trooper was trained to fit in two different combat styles.

Note that there is some textual confusion about the name of the Comites catafractarii - some manuscripts conflate it with the following Bucellarii iuniores as the Comites catafractarii Bucellarii iuniores (Maier numbers this as a single entry, 15.3, in his numbering scheme). See my discussion under the Magister Militum per Orientem.


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