Cohors I Aelia classica

This page created 17 November 2015, and last modified: 9 December 2015 (RIB II reference modified)


The eighteenth item listed (154.34 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 Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae classicae Tunnocelo.

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

The men under the Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae classicae would appear, from the classicae part of the unit's name, to be either a naval unit of an ex-naval unit; classis being Latin for "fleet". Since the officer is a tribune rather than a prefect as found in command of all the units in the Notitia whose names are prefixed rather than suffixed with classis, and which are thus surely genuine fleets, the cohors I Aelia classica would appear to be a standard auxiliary cohort, albeit one that was originally raised by converting a naval unit into one of infantry. This was presumably in the time of Hadrian given the name Ailia: Publius Aelius Hadrianus was by far the most famous bearer of the name.

The modern location of the unit's station, Tunnocelo, is currently not known for sure. The unit is recorded (CIL 16,93 = RIB 2401.10) on a diploma from Cilurnum, modern Chesters in Northumberland, but since this relates to a retired member of the unit, it need not necessarily indicate the presence of the unit itself. Another possible location is on the Cumbrian coast, at Ravenglass, since the unit is recorded in the form CIAECL (for cohortis I Aelia classicae) on a lead sealing stamp found there (RIB 2411.94), and a 2nd-century diploma (see below).

Ravenglass has frequently been linked with Glannoventa (see under the Tribunus cohortis primae Morinorum, 154.35), but this equation has been challenged and Glannoventa instead connected with modern Ambleside, which was usually associated with Galava. Of course, if the unit moved between the 2nd century and the time of the Notitia, then there may well be cause to question this re-identification of Ravenglass with Tunnocelo (= Itunocelum), for the unit could have been stationed at Ravenglass = Glannoventa and then moved to an as-yet still unidentified Tunnocelo.

Interestingly, the Ravenglass diploma apparently (Britannia, xxviii (1992), 463-4, no. 28; I have not seen a copy of this paper) records the unit as either being a cohors equitata, or the soldier himself being an equites, but the fort at Ravenglass does not appear to contain stables blocks. If so, this would support the hypothesis Ravenglass does not equal Glannoventa. On the other hand, a coin of Theodosius I found near the fort at Ravenglass attests to continuing occupation of the site in the last quarter of the 4th century.

As with all limitanei units in the Notitia, the shield pattern of the British cohors I Aelia classica 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. S.S. Frere, Margaret Roxan, & R.S.O. Tomlin (Eds); "The Roman Inscriptions of Britain", Vol. II, Fasc. I; Allan Sutton, Gloucester, 1990. Return
3. David Shotter; "Roman Names for Roman Sites in North West England"; Contrebis (Lancaster, England: Lancaster Archaeological and Historical Society) XXIII (1998), 9-10; available here (last accessed 7 November 2015). Return
4. Eric Birley; "The Roman Fort at Ravenglass"; Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (Series 2), LVIII (1958), 14-30, at p 23; available here (last accessed 17 November 2015). Return


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