Numerus exploratorum (at Lavatres)

This page created 12 November 2015, and last modified: 12 November 2015


The eighth officer listed (154.9 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the Dux Britanniarum is the Praefectus numeri exploratorum, said to be stationed at Lavatres.

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

The station of the unit, Lavatres (i.e. Lavatris, is modern Bowes in what used to be Yorkshire but is now in County Durham; the Anglo-Norman keep was constructed within the site of the Roman fort.

The entry Praefectus numeri exploratorum is somewhat generic: "the prefect of a unit of reconnaissance troops". A similar entry (132.10) occurs under the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam: a Praepositus numeri exploratorum ("the commander of a unit of reconnaissance troops") stationed at Portus Adurni (modern Portchester). These would appear to be distinct units: epigraphic evidence also gives two units of exploratores in Britain: a N(umeri) EXPLOR(atorum) BREMEN(iensium) from an altarstone (CIL 7,1037 = CRIB 1270) found at Bremenium (modern High Rochester); and a unit of EXPL[oratores Habitacenses], from a dedicatory inscription of 209 AD (RIB 1235 = CIL 7.1002) from Habitancum (modern Risingham); this latter unit is also called the plain [n]UME[rum e]XPLOR[ator(um)]) on a building stone (RIB 1243 = CIL 1010) from the same place. Assuming a one-to-one correspondence, which of these two units corresponds to which Notitia unit is not immediately clear. However, since the Magister Equitum's Gallic command also has a unit of Exploratores (102/5.162) listed after a unit of Abulci (102/5.161), these two units seem to be paired, just as the Numerus Abulcorum (132.9) and the Numerus exploratores (132.10) are (or were) paired under the Count of the Saxon Shore of Britain, and thus it seems reasonably certain it is the Portchester unit that is to be equated with the Gallic field army unit. The Gallic unit is an infantry unit, and would thus present no problem with being commanded by a praepositus when in Britain; the Bowes units is lead by a prefect however, which would not comport well with being an infantry unit (or, to be more exact, an auxiliary infantry unit).

Note, however, that the fort at Netherby, north of Hadrians's Wall, went by the name of Castra Exploratorum, as well befits a fort in "no man's land", and has tuned up inscriptions relating to a number of units. The majority, however, (six: RIB 968, 976, 977, 978, 979, 980 ) relate to Cohors I Aelia Hispanorum milliaria equitata, which was clearly the main garrison, before the fort was presumably abandoned by the time of the Notitia's compilation. That this unit was a milliary (i.e. extra-large) equitata (i.e. part-mounted) unit would comport extremely well with two later daughter units, one of foot, and one of horse. The foot component (at least) is clearly the men under the the men under the Tribunus cohortis primae Hispanorum (154.32), also under the Dux Britanniarum, which would leave the mounted portion free to be the Bowes unit. Of course, there may have been more units entitled exploratores in Britain - even auxiliary cohorts could themselves have vexillationes detached off (as in RIB 3491) - but since the Notitia mentions only two more units of exploratores in the whole empire, the men of the Praefectus militum exploratorum (78.25) under the far-away Dux Moesiae primae, and another such unit (80.18) under the even further-off Dux Daciae ripensis, this may not be as likely as it appears (at least, for units large enough to appear in the Notitia).

As with all limitanei units in the Notitia, the shield pattern of the numerus exploratorum Lavatres 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. N.J.E. Austin & N.B. Rankov; "Exploratio: Military and Political Intelligence in the Roman World from the Second Punic War to the Battle of Adrianople"; Routledge, 1995. Return


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