Late Roman Shield Patterns

Comes "Hispenias"

This page last modified: 27 December 2014 (Vicarius Hispaniae illustration added)


The following infantry units drawn from the Magister Peditum's infantry roster are listed in the Notitia as being under the command of a Count who is in Spain (the numbers beside the names refer to Ingo Maier's numbering scheme):

102/5.171 Ascarii seniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.172 Ascarii iuniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.173 Sagittarii nervi (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.174 Exculcatores iuniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.175 Tubantes (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.176 Felices seniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.177 Invicti seniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.178 Victores iuniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.179 Invicti iuniores Britones (i.e. Invicti iuniores Britanniciani, an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.180 Brisigavi seniores (an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.181 Salii iuniores Gallicani (i.e. Salii Gallicani, an auxilia palatina unit)
102/5.182 Fortenses (a legiones comitatenses unit)
102/5.183 Propugnatores seniores (a legiones comitatenses unit)
102/5.184 Septimani seniores (a legiones comitatenses unit)
102/5.185 Vesontes (a legiones comitatenses unit)
102/5.186 Undecimani (a legiones comitatenses unit)
In addition to these forces, the following prefects and tribunes along with their limitanei units are also recorded as being stationed in Spain, although not under command of the above-mentioned Count:

156/8.44 Praefectus legionis septimae geminae, at Legione
156/8.45 Tribunus cohortis secundae Flaviae Pacatianae, at Paetaonio
156/8.46 Tribunus cohortis secundae Gallicae, at cohortem Gallicam
156/8.47 Tribunus cohortis Lucensis, at Luco
156/8.48 Tribunus cohortis Celtiberae, at Brigantiae near Iuliobriga
156/8.50 Tribunus cohortis primae Gallicae, at Valeia

Of these, the first five are recorded as being stationed in the province of Callaecia (sic, Gallaecia), and the last in Tarraconensis.

Above: illustration from the Parisian manuscript (P). The Count in Spain
does not have his own section, and thus has no accompanying frontpiece
showing any towns he has under his command. The picture above is taken
from the section pertaining to the Vicarius Hispaniae, and shows
personifications of the three Consular Provinces he controls: Baetica,
Lusitania, and Gallaecia. In the 4th century civil and military control of most
regions was divided between separate civil and military governors; such was
the case with Hispania.

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

Note that a "Comes Hispenias" i.e. a Count of Spain, as such, does not appear in the "index" of the Notitia; what the Notitia records is a Comes controlling the above troops in Spain, without embellishing his title further. Accordingly, there is no accompanying illustration showing any towns he controls, nor indeed any other indication that he exists. Jones thought that this was an indication that the office was a recent creation, and cites Hydatius' mention of a Comes Hispaniarum in 420 AD; and concludes because no cavalry are mentioned, the Comes had to make do with allied foederati cavalry (i.e. cavalry provided by barbarians under their own leaders rather than Roman officers).

While this is all plausible, given that the neighbouring Comes Africae commands an inordinate amount of cavalry, I can't help but wonder if the unusually large number assigned to the Comes Africae actually includes units that should belong to a Comes Hispenias and who has been omitted (or rather deleted) from the list. The absence of any references to a Comes Hispenias might then still reflect a new office, as per Jones, or instead that the office had been destroyed, along with its troops, during the decade in which the Vandals, Suevi, Alans and then the Goths completely overran Spain.

In favour of the latter interpretation, I would consider that any new Comes Hispanias established in ca. 420 AD would surely have had to drawn (at least many of) his troops from those already in Africa and/or Gaul rather than recruit an entirely new force (for surely the previous Spanish army did not survive the decade anywhere near intact). However, the troop listing given to the Count in Spain includes not a single pseudocomitatenses unit, as one might expect from a newly constituted force created in 420 (like that under the Magister Equitum in his Gallic command).

Moreover, it also does not include any units named after 5th century rulers; again, something that would be expected of a force dating to 420 AD. It seems to me that the Spanish force is in fact recording the state of affairs, not in 420 AD, but from the end of the 4th century, and that the omission of any references to a Comes Hispenias in the Notitia reflects how this province's forces (and its beauracracy) had been destroyed in the meantime, and while the officers had been (almost entirely) deleted from the register, the military units themselves had not.

This would of course go against Jones' conviction that the distribution part of the Notitia is a reasonably accurate list of the forces as they existed in ca. 420 AD; it would imply that it too is a chronological mess. As with so many issues regarding the Notitia, certainty is impossible. The Spanish limitanei units, with their titles bearing Spanish provincial names (Gallicam referring to Spanish Gallaecia and not French Gallia), would appear to have been stationed in Spain for quite some time. However as these units are listed as being under the overall command of the Magister Peditum rather than under the Comes, this might perhaps be seen as support for Jones' hypothesis. Any previous (and subsequently defunct) Comes Hispenias would presumably have had control of these limitanei units, and the only way we would find them listed in this case under the Magister Peditum would be if they not only survived the decade but also were reassigned and recorded as being reassigned to the Magister Peditum. Given how few of the non-limitanei units are listed elsewhere, implying their lack of 'survival', this seems unlikely, as then we would have to come up with a theory as to why so many limitanei units survived the decade when so few non-limitanei units did. The most obvious explanation is that this part of the Notitia simply hadn't been kept up to date, in exactly the same way the Count's troop list hadn't.

A copy of a rather fragmentary 5th century letter known as the Epistula Honorii has survived in the Rotense codex held in Madrid which mentions four units in Spain apparently in the early 5th century - a unit of speculatores; a unit of britanici; and two other units, of seniores and iuniores, respectively. Unfortunately, there is no reason to link them with the Notitia's list of Spanish units (see Michael Kulikowski; The Epistula Honorii, Again; Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 122 (1998) 247-252; available here).

The shield patterns of the non-limitanei units as given in various manuscripts are shown below, using the appropriate patterns taken from the Parisian manuscript, excepting the Exculcatores iuniores, which is not illustrated in any of the manuscripts. Units whose patterns are presumed to be mislabelled have both the labelled pattern (with the label in quote marks) and the pattern I believe is most likely the correct pattern illustrated (with a question mark beside the supposed label).


In addition to the Fortenses listed above, there is another unit in the western half of the empire with a shield pattern shown accompanying the Magister Peditum's list: the other is assigned to the Comes Africae. It is only the relative positioning of the two within their respective command distribution lists that indicates which shield pattern belongs to which unit.


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