Late Roman Shield Patterns

Mismatched patterns and labels in the Magister Peditum illustrations

This page created 10 November 2014 and last modified: 12 September 2015 (broken file replaced; extensive changes made)


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

An examination of the shield patterns attributed to the western Magister Peditum throws up some anomalies. Several pairs of adjacent patterns representing auxilia palatina units seem similar to one another, as if they come from "related" units, but the names typically do not relate, nor do they correspond to known historically brigaded pairs of units as recorded in the writings of Ammianus, for instance.
However, a closer examination reveals a likely explanation for these observations. It is readily apparent that the shield patterns labelled Mattiaci (92.u in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) and Ascarii seniores (92.x) are almost identical (see right; pictures taken from the Parisian manuscript, P). Either one has been accidentally duplicated from the other, or they belong to two somehow "related" units. While such inadvertent duplication is relatively easy for copied text, it is barely conceivable for an elaborate illustration such as this.     92u-x
As I have mentioned on my page on the Magister Peditum, Seeck listed three units in his edition (the Batavi seniores, Mattiaci seniores, and Mattiaci iuniores) for what in the illuminated manuscripts appear to be just two units: the "Batavi matriciaci seniores" (98/9.39) and the "Mattiaci iuniores" (98/9.40; see page 20 of Ingo Maier's concordance). Seeck was not the first to spilt the units thus, however, for the printed Froben edition, and likely edited by Rhenanus, gives exactly the same three units. If, instead of assuming both the shield pattern and the label of one or the other Mattiaci units is missing, we instead propose that what is missing is only the label for one of these two units, but not the shield pattern, this has the effect that the remaining shield patterns should be shifted along one position to the left (or to state the same result another way, the labels should be shifted along one position to the right).

If this is done, something rather remarkable ensues. Suddenly, in addition to the Mattiaci seniores & iuniores now having very similar shield patterns corresponding to similar unit names, various other units of auxilia palatina with related names now have related shield patterns. E.g.

the Ascarii seniores (i.e. 92#22) and the Ascarii iuniores (i.e. 92#23) are differenced only by the latter lacking the animal charge of the former;
the Leones seniores (i.e. 93#4) and the Leones iuniores (i.e. 93#5) have almost identical patterns featuring (lion?) heads;
the Felices seniores (i.e. 93#9) and the Felices iuniores (i.e. 93#10) now both feature very hairy heads;
the pattern of the Cornuti iuniores (i.e. 93#2) is now revealed to contain the pattern of the eastern Cornuti (10#9) circumscribed within a border;
the Salii seniores (i.e. 93#7) now features two cut-off canids like the eastern Salii (8#1) does; and further, the Iovii seniores (i.e. 93#1) now features, instead of a plain disc, a winged Victory (an attribute of Iovius).
All this assumes the label shift jumps the three-unit block of the Exculcatores seniores (98/9.48), the Sagittarii Tungri (98/9.49), and the Exculcatores iuniores (98/9.50), as the illustrated patterns do.

Assuming this shift is correct, the question arises of where, if at all, does it stop? The best recourse would appear to be to look further down the list for patterns, or better yet, sets of patterns, that seem to be aligned with sets of names. The block on page 94 comprising its first row:

94#5 (Honoriani) Atecotti seniores (94.e)
94#6 (Honoriani) Marcomanni seniores (94.f)
94#7 (Honoriani) Marcomanni iuniores (94.g)
94#8 (Honoriani) Atecotti iuniores (94.h)
stands out, for not only do the Honoriani Marcomanni seniores and iuniores have similar patterns to each other, but the Honoriani Atecotti seniores and iuniores not only share a similar colour scheme, but they also do so with the Atecotti iuniores (Gallicani) (95#7 / 95.g) illustrated on the next page, increasing my confidence that these units, and presumably subsequent ones as well, are back in their proper alignment, and thus the alignment break ceases at some prior point.

Preceding this block of four units are four shield patterns labelled as follows:
94#1 Sequani (94.a)
94#2 Sagittarii venatores (94.b)
94#3 Latini (94.c)
94#4 Sabini (94.d)
The Latini (98/9.69 in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster) and the Sabini (98/9.70) have obviously related names (i.e. constituent tribes of ancient Rome), but it is the Sagittarii venatores (98/9.68) and the Latini that share related shield patterns; thus it appears the labels here have been slipped. Now it just so happens that, in the textual list, that there is a unit called the Brachiati (98/9.71) inserted between the Sabini (98/9.70) and the Honoriani Atecotti iuniores (98/9.72), but no such shield pattern or label is given. By inserting this missing label, and giving it to the mislabelled "Sabini" pattern (i.e. 94#4), and shifting the other labels along one position in the same direction, the Latini and the Sabini are also seen to have related patterns: brown eagles on yellow fields. Furthermore, this has the effect that the two units immediately preceding in the list, and which have related names, the R(a)eti (98/9.66) and the Sequani (98/9.67), being neighbouring provinces of the upper Rhine, now also have related patterns: both now feature a "head on a stick" motif.

However, it must be noted this shift is the opposite direction to the one described previously, which makes for something of a problem: it further magnifies the fact there are not enough patterns to go around rather than reduces it. To be more exact, there are 11 shield patterns illustrated between those I have ascribed above to the Felices iuniores (i.e. 93#10) and the Latini (i.e. 94#2), but 13 names in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster covering the same gap with this double shift; there would "only" be 12 without the Brachiati insertion. Furthermore, there is a suspicious absence in textual roster in this region: there is no unit of Valentinianenses seniores listed after the Gratianenses seniores (98/9.56). One would expect to find a unit so-named in this place, since the Gratianenses iuniores (98/9.64) has a Valentianenses iuniores (98/9.65) immediately following it; and not only is the Gratianenses seniores assigned to a field command (that of the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, as the Gratianenses; 102/5.119), but the Valentianenses iuniores is apparently assigned to the same command, as the Valentinianenses (102/5.122), while the Gratianenses iuniores is assigned (102/5.88) to the Magister Peditum's Italian command; and finally, there is also another Valentinianenses (102/5.112), assigned to the Comes Illyricum, and which is presumably the "missing" Valentinianenses seniores. Inserting this "missing" unit into the roster would further raise the number of units between the Felices iuniores and the Latini to 14.

It may be no coincidence that this brings the number of missing patterns in this section to three; since, as noted previously, a block of three units (98/9.48-50) is also missing between the Leones iuniores (98/9.047) and the Tubantes (98/9.051), along with their associated patterns and labels. Further, the Brachiati iuniores (102/5.117) of the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, and which presumably corresponds to the infantry roster's Brachiati (98/9.71), has a much higher relative positioning in the Gallic list, coming as it does between the entries for the Leones seniores (102/5.116 = 98/9.46) and the Salii Seniores (102/5.118 = 98/9.52) - exactly where the block of three units with missing patterns is situated.

We know that the "original" compilation arranged the shield patterns on its page 93 in rows of four (why some of the derivative primary copy manuscripts, e.g. F and V, adopted an arrangement with six patterns per row is a mystery, but presumably has something to do with changing the number of pages when copied). I would speculate that two complete rows of shield patterns have been omitted. Such an omission may have occurred during compilation of "the" original, since intentional deletions of particular units due to e.g. battlefield losses, are unlikely to cluster like this given the units concerned were assigned to different commands, while unintentional omissions would more likely take the form of either single deletions or of complete rows, than of part-rows.

One omitted row would thus correspond to the Exculcatores seniores, Sagittarii Tungri, Exculcatores iuniores, and the Brachiati iuniores. Another row would correspond to the second block of three missing patterns plus one other. Which three, and which other? Let us look at "the three" first. These are much more likely to be missing as a contiguous block rather than scattered, giving 11 possible positions for the block to be positioned (14 labels minus a block of three = 11 choices). Assigning 93#19, 93#20, and 94#1 to the R(a)eti (98/9.66), Sequani (98/9.67), and the Sagittarii venatores (98/9.68), respectively, means the R(a)eti and the Sequani, as previously noted, have similar shield patterns, so this seems reasonable; lowering the remaining choices to 8 positions. Assigning 93#11, 93#12, 93#13, 93#14, 93#15, 93#16, and 93#17 to the Gratianenses seniores (98/9.56), a putative Valentinianenses seniores (98/9.56.1?), the Invicti seniores (98/9.57), the Augustei (98/9.58), the Iovii iuniores (98/9.59), the Victores iuniores (98/9.60), and the Batavi iuniores (98/9.61), respectively, means the Victores iuniores appropriately bears a shield showing a winged Victory, while the Batavi iuniores bears a pattern very similar in shape, if not colour, to that of the eastern Batavi seniores (9.24). Assuming this positioning is correct, this leaves just 93#18 to be assigned - to either the Bructeri (98/9.62), or the Valentianenses iuniores (98/9.65). Assigning it to the Valentianenses iuniores gives a block of 12 contiguous patterns - i.e. a multiple of four - back to the previous omitted block, whereas assigning it to the Bructeri does not, so the Valentianenses iuniores is clearly to be preferred.

The problem then remains of "the other" unit to join the block of three units Bructeri (98/9.62), Ampsivarii (98/9.63), and the Gratianenses iuniores (98/9.64). The Victores seniores (102/5.68) of the Magister Peditum's Italian command, but which is missing from the his infantry roster, is a poor candidate, as its positioning in the Italian command's list indicates it would have had a position in the roster between the Iovii seniores (98/9.043) and the Cornuti iuniores (98/9.044). As an aside, it should be note that the shield pattern I have ascribed to the Iovii seniores, featuring a winged Victory, could equally well be suited to the Victores seniores itself, and the break in continuity here may have been due to a mistake in transmission based on potentially similarity of their patterns. Since the only remaining western auxilia palatina unit that is named seniores that does not have a corresponding plain iuniores unit listed is the Invicti seniores (98/9.57), I would propose the putative missing unit is the Invicti iuniores. (Note there is an Invicti iuniores Britanniciani (98/9.81), but since the other unit named iuniores Britanniciani in the roster, the Exculcatores iuniores Britanniciani (98/9.82), is clearly differentiated from the Exculcatores iuniores (98/9.50), we should not expect the Invicti iuniores Britanniciani to be the same as a missing Invicti iuniores. There is also a Victores iuniores Britanniciani listed (102/5.206) as being under the command of the Comes Britanniae, and which is presumably differ from the roster's Victores iuniores (98/9.60), as this is listed (102/5.178) as being under the command of the "Comes" Hispenias). Given the related of the names Bructeri and Ampsivarii (tribal), as well as the Gratianenses iuniores and the following Valentianenses iuniores (imperial), I would posit the unit would have been ranked between the Batavi iuniores (98/9.61) and the Bructeri (98/9.62).

What would such a rebalanced list of auxilia palatina look like? See below for a very large image!

Huge auxilia shields image


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