Ala I Herculea

This page created 18 November 2015, and last modified: 18 November 2015


The twenty-second item listed (154.38 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the Dux Britanniarum following the subsection headed "along the line of the Wall" (item 154.16, per lineam valli), is the Praefectus alae primae Herculeae Oleanaco.

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

The men under the Praefectus alae primae Herculeae are said to be stationed at Oleanaco (i.e. Olenacum); this location is thought to be modern Elslack in North Yorkshire, over 100 km south of the wall. No inscriptions have been recovered from the fort there, and no inscriptions matching the name ala I Herculeaare known from other localities in Britain. They might conceivably represent the mounted component of an old cohors equitata unit, of which Britain had a great number over the years (at least 20), and which may have been separated out in the early Tetrarchic period, and renamed after the emperor Maximian, i.e. Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus Herculius. If so, three possibilities exist for the remaining foot component. The first is that it could have simply been disbanded, most likely by having had its members enrolled into one of the various legions created around this date, such as the original Solenses, or perhaps Legio I Flavia Constantia. The second possibility is that it may have also been simply renamed, although this seems less likely, as one would expect it to have been renamed in a similar fashion to the mounted component, as a cohors prima Herculea. Two such units exist in the Notitia. One (147.16), under the Dux Raetiae primae et secundae, is qualified as Raetorum, implying it was raised in Raetia and/or recruited from Raetians (as opposed to Britons), and thus almost certainly has nothing to do with the British ala prima Herculea. The second (130.5) is not only stationed in far-off Tingitania, under the Comes Tingitaniae, but that officer also commands an ala Herculea (130.3), which would be much more likely to correspond to any mounted unit split off from the African foot unit than the British ala prima Herculea. The third possibility is that the foot component may simply have continued carrying the unit's old name. Cohortes listed in the Notitia that are known to have had equitata components include:

Cohors IIII Lingonum (= 154.17),
Cohors I Batavorum (= 154.23),
[Cohors II Tungrorum milliaria] (= [154.28.1]),
Cohors II Lingonum (= 154.31), and
Cohors II Thracum (= 154.33).

Any of these might be a potential starting point for the formation of a newly-named mounted unit.

However, given the likely date of reformation, a unit descriptor of ala must be viewed as unlikely; one would expect a detachment formed in this way to be called a numerus instead. Accordingly, the most likely option is not a re-naming of an equitata unit at all, but the reformation of a proper ala. Several alae are attested in Britain that have no known Notitia counterparts, and two are known to have been present into the 3rd century at least: the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata and the ala Gallorum Sebosiana, and thus the most likely candidates (the ala Hispanorum Vettonum civium Romanorum comes close, with its last datable attestation being to 197-200: RIB 730).

The ala Gallorum Sebosiana is poorly attest outside diplomata; rare inscriptional evidence comes from near Stanhope (RIB 1041) and from Lancaster (RIB 605; 262-6 AD). That the reverse situation applies with the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata, which has no attestations in diplomata but a wealth of inscriptional evidence means the two could even be the same unit. However, the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata has been equated with ala Augusta Gallorum Proculeiana civium Romanorum, which is also known from diplomata but not from any inscriptional evidence whatsover, so is an even better match.

Since almost all of the inscriptions for ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata come from Maglone (Old Carlisle;the last dateable record for the unit there, RIB 897, is for 242), which in the Notitia hosts a Praefectus numeri Solensium (154.17), I suspect that it is this unit that took over the identity of the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata, leaving the ala Gallorum Sebosiana to have become the ala prima Herculea.

As wih all limitanei units in the Notitia, the shield pattern of the ala I Herculea is not illustrated.


1. Ingo Maier; "Appendix 4: Numeration of the new edition of the compilation 'notitia dignitatum' (Cnd)"; last accessed 26 October 2015. See also for here for numbering examples. Return
2. Guy de la Bédoyère; "Companion to Roman Britian"; Tempus, 1999; see on-line portion regarding "The Roman Army in Britain" here (last accessed 9 December 2015). Return
3. E.g. M.C. Bishop; "The garrison: Part I", posted 2 August 2014, and last accessed 15 November 2015. Return


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