Legio VI

This page created 8 November 2015, and last modified: 10 December 2015 (RIB II reference added)


The first officer listed (154.2 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the Dux Britanniarum is the Praefectus legionis sextae.

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

Entry 154.2, reading "Praefectus legionis sextae" is somewhat problematic. It can be read and translated as saying "The Prefect of the legion at Sextae", or as saying "The Prefect of the Sixth legion".

Frontpiece showing forts
Above: Notitia page 153 from the Parisian manuscript, P.
The stations are labelled:
Sextae, Presidium,
Dano, Morbio, Arbeia, Dictim,
Concangios, Lauatres, Verteris, Braboniaco,
Magloue, Magis, Longouicio, Deruentione.
These correspond to the 14 prefects under the Dux that are not stationed "along the line of the wall".
In the first case, the prefect's station is being called "Sextae", and thus it is the legion's number that is missing. The case for this reading is greatly strengthened by noticing the station illustration (153#2) caption (153.b) "Sextae" is shown in the frontpiece (see the example to the left), so it may be that it is the omission in the of the unit's number (and/or name) that is inadvertent. I know of no other evidence that York was called "Sextae" however, except the so-called "Marble of Thorigny (CIL 13,3162), which appears to use phrase IN BRIT(annia) AD LEGIONEM SEXT[am] in this manner, spelling out "Sextae" unlike the numerals used for (other) legionary numbers given in the same text. Further, even if this is the "correct" reading (in terms of what the scribe of the Codex Spirensis intended), it should be noted that it would appear that in preparing the names of the illustrations of the forts the "original" scribe took the names from the textual list, and the station names are not necessarily independent evidence for the names of the forts at the time of the Notitia's original compilation. For example, under the Dux Provinciae Valeriae ripensis, the third entry (143.4) reads Cuneus equitum Constantianorum Lusiono nunc Intercisa, i.e. "the Constantinian cavalry squadron of Lusonium, now at Intercisa", while the caption (142.d) for the third fort (142#4) reads not plain Intercisa but Nuncinercisa i.e. "now at In(t)ercisa", which only makes sense if it was copied, without understanding (!), from the textual list.

In the second reading, it is the officer's station that is missing. We would expect that the Sixth legion (Legio VI victrix pia fidelis Britannica) would be stationed at Eburacum (i.e. York), as it had been since the 2nd century. Of course detachments - vexillationes of the unit were constantly being sent out, and its officers, especially centurions, were constantly being seconded to command other units (see, e.g. RIB 583), but its occupation of York seems secure until perhaps the end of the 4th century - at least in terms of occupation of the fortress there; no direct dateable proof of its occupation there is known beyond the 240s, however, such are the not-entirely-unexpected gaps in the archaeoligical record

This (potential) absence of a station in the surviving copies of the Notitia could just inadvertent, and nothing further should be read into the omission. On the other hand, it may be evidence that the unit was perhaps in the process of being transferred to another command either when the list of the Dux Britanniarum's command was compiled, or when it was last modified. And since there is ample evidence, explicit in the case of statements made in sources outside the Notitia, and implicit from the Notitia itself, that British units were being transferred from their stations during the working lifetime of the "original" compilation, this interpretation is certainly seductive... albeit tinged with more than a hint of circular reasoning.

In the 3rd century, two other legions are equally attested in Britain along with the Sixth: Legio II Augusta and Legio XX Valeria victrix. Various detachments of Legio II Augusta are to be found in the Notitia, while the Legio XX Valeria victrix is apparently entirely absent; indeed, it drops out of the historical record at the end of the 3rd century during Carausius' rebellion, and was probably renamed as a consequence of that conflict. In particular, a detachment of Legio II Augusta would appear to have something to do with the Secundani iuniores, listed (102/5.208) under the Comes Britanniarum. Also listed (102/5.207) under the Comes Britanniarum is a much more mysterious Primani iuniores. No "First" legion is known from Britain, other than this Notitia entry. That both of these are iuniores units implies seniores partners elsewhere, however.

Looking to Egypt, under the Dux Thebaidos, we find listed a Legio prima Valentiniana (56/7.15) and a Legio secunda Valentiniana (56/7.18). These may have been created by Valentinian I (reigned 364-375). They are less likely to have been old units renamed by Valentinian I, as the only usurper during his reign, Procopius, does not appear to have raised any new units, and the units he is recorded by Ammianus as bringing over to his cause are all attested with their names in the Notitia. Creation under the young Valentinian II is a possibility (375-392), but unlikely given he was in the west, and until 383 was very much a minor influence under Gratian (and there are already seemingly too few units named after Gratian), while from 379 the Eastern Augustus was the more vigorous Theodosius. Valentinian II did however suffer from a major usurper, the 5-year rebellion of Magnus Maximus who came from Britain. It is possible that these two units are ex-units of Magnus': as he controlled not only Britain, but at one point Spain, Africa and Gaul, and almost all of Italy as well, they need not be British units. However, the stationing of the ala quarta Britonum (56/7.24) under the Dux Thebaidos suggests that they could be.

Speculatively, I would suggest theSecundani iuniores could be part of the second legionary unit that Magnus 'created', and that the first part, the seniores part, is the Legio II Valentiniana of the Dux Thebaidos, renamed because they had received a title such as Legio II Magnecensium under Magnus Maximus which had then to be expunged. The Primani iuniores would by this hypothesis then be the rump of the old Legio VI formerly stationed at York, the seniores part of which would have been Magnus' first legion, and consequently renamed Legio I Valentiniana when Maximus' rebellion against Valentinian II was finally crushed by Theodosius. Magnus' core British troops would under this hypothesis have been sent to far off Egypt to keep them out of trouble, in the same manner that Constantius II had sent Gallic legions of Magnentius and Decentius' off to Syria in the 350s. However, this is all very speculative!

As with all limitanei units, the shield pattern of the legio Sextae is not illustrated in the Notitia. The almost complete absence of legio VI in Carausius' coinage, unlike e.g. the other two British legions, means we have little indication what the legion's badge was (the unit does not seem to have bandied about a badge like the other two British legions did), but it may have been a bull, so this may have featured. However, by the time of the Notitia, old legionary badges were not something that was a productive source of shield pattern imagery, so this is unlikely. An altar (RIB 1022) from Piercebridge that was dedicated in 217 by a centurion from what was probably this legion shows an eagle holding a wreath in its beak, and this would seem a more likely source of imagery; eagles with apparent wreaths are shown in several other legionary patterns in the Notitia, e.g. those of the Ioviani iuniores (9.18), the Quartodecimani (18.17), and the Divitenses Gallicani (18.21). Of course, with a name like victrix, an image of a winged Victory must also be seen as a strong candidate for any hypothetical shield pattern, as found in various patterns in the Notitia (e.g. 93#16; 95#6).

References and Notes:

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. Ammianus Marcellinus ("Ammianus"); "Res gestae a fine Corneli Taciti", 26.7.13-14; available here in Latin and here in English (last accessed 8 November 2015). Return
3. Cf. a lost inscription, RIB 1825 = CIL 7.792, from Carvoran on Hadrian's Wall mentioning an otherwise unknown NUMERI MAGNES, which could be interpreted as alluding to this usurper. However, in this case, it more likely simply alludes to the station of the unit: Magnis. Return
4. Ammianus Marcellinus ("Ammianus"); "Res gestae a fine Corneli Taciti", 18.9.3; available here in Latin and here in English (last accessed 8 November 2015). Return
5. S.S. Frere, Margaret Roxan, & R.S.O. Tomlin (Eds); "The Roman Inscriptions of Britain", Vol. II, Fasc. I; Allan Sutton, Gloucester, 1990; see 2411.34 at p 93 and 2411.69 at p 98. Return


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