Numerus Solensium

This page created 13 November 2015, and last modified: 2 December 2015 (Solentium textual note added)


The eleventh officer listed (154.12 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the Dux Britanniarum is the Praefectus numeri Solensium, said to be stationed at Maglone.

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

Maglone, the station of the numerus Solensium, is modern Old Carlisle in Cumbria, and not to be confused with the city of Carlisle, which is some 17 km distant. Solensium refers to Sol, the sun-god, and who was associated with Constantius 'Chlorus' in the same way Diocletian was with Jupiter, Maximianus with Hercules, and Galerius with Mars; Constantius' son Constantine the Great was also associated with Sol Invictus before converting to Christianity. Hence the unit presumably dates, or to be more exact, the unit's name dates from around the end of the 3rd century.

In the Notitia, two legionary units also carry the name of Sol: the Solenses seniores (18.12) and Solenses Gallicani (18.28); both under the Magister Militum per Thracias. The British unit may have been a new unit raised by Constantius (or his son), but given that these other infantry Solenses units are legionary formations rather than auxiliary units, it is easy to conclude they are all detachments of the same legion. Further,it is tempting to conclude that this legion was the old Legio XX Valeria victrix renamed. The Twentieth, the third of Britain's normal garrison legions, is the only one of the three not named in the Notitia. The latest evidence for its existence is its appearence on the coins of Carausius, the rebel ruler of Britain whose successor (and murderer) Allectus was suppresssed by Constantius Chlorus, a hundred years before the Notitia was first compiled. Whether Carausius included it in his coinage in a bid to buy its loyalty, or to show that it was already loyal to him is unproveable, but since the Sixth legion was not included on his coinage, but inscriptional evidence (RIB 2291) for it come from his reign, the balance of evidence suggests an attempt to buy the loyalty of the Twentieth, as that of the Sixth legion seems to have been given freely.

Either could support a transformation of Valeria victrix into the Solenses. If they disdained Carausius and remained loyal to central authority, they could have been renamed as an honour. If they rebelled, they may have been renamed by Carausius as a reward, which would no doubt have required a subsequent renaming by Constantius or Constantine (since all traces of usurpers were to be expunged as far as possible; no trace of any "tyrants" remain in the Notitia, although units named after usurpers are recorded in e.g. Ammianus' history). I would suggest a renaming following rebellion. As Carausius was in rebelliom against the emperor Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, better known as Herculius, he had every reason to rename a legion whose name meant 'Victorious Valerians', whereas both Constantius and Constantine, i.e. Flavius Valerius Constantius and Flavius Valerius Constantinus respectively, would have had every reason to keep its for-them well-omened name intact, for precisely the same reason.

However, it should also be noted that in the Notitia, two units of limitanei cavalry units also bear the name of Sol: the cuneus Solensium (74.3) under the Dux Scythiae, and another cuneus Solensium (76.3), under the Dux Moesiae secundae. That the British unit is led by a prefect would also equally well comport with it similarly being a cavalry unit, and indeed the only unit mentioned (RIB 890, RIB 893, RIB 894, RIB 895, RIB 897, RIB 902, RIB 905, RIB 907) in the many inscriptions that have been found at Old Carlisle is none other than a cavalry unit: the ala Augustae. This unit, then, could very well be the same unit as the Notitia's numerus Solensium.

The unit has an interesting name, as the inscriptions make it clear the name Augusta is an award ("ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata": i.e. "the squadron named Augustus for bravery"). It would be easy to imagine Constantine Chlorus, promoted to Augustus in 305, giving the unit a new name, not necessarily as a replacement, but perhaps as an addition, like the name Augusta was also an addition, and that this new name became the what the unit was usually referred to as. Or perhaps the unit had identified themselves with Constantius' enemy Carausius, who had proclaimed himself Augustus, and Constantius had to expunge this connection; what better than his own official moniker? (Note how RIB 2291, a milepost that has a Carausian inscription, was upended, and a Constantinian one carved into the other end: RIB 2292.) It might be even easier to imagine his son doing the same thing: Constantine was proclaimed Augustus by British troops upon his father's death at York in 306, but he had to make do with officially being a mere Caesar for a while while he consolidated his position: perhaps this was one of the units that first proclaimed him, and was rewarded for it.

Tombstone of Insus
Detail of the tombstone (RIB 3185) of Insus, trooper of ala Augusta.
Unfortunately, the face of his shield is not shown.
Photo by M.C. Bishop and used under CCA 2.0 license.
That the ala I Herculea that is also listed (154.38) as being under the Dux' command would also appear to be a similarly-renamed cavalry unit makes me regard the ex-cavalry hypothesis for the numerus Solensium as being more likely than an ex-legionary hypothesis.

As none of the British diplomata attest the ala Augusta under that name, its "real" name must have been something else. The most obvious candidate is the ala Augusta Gallorum Proculeiana civium Romanorum, since this is attested in several diplomata, but not a single piece if inscriptional evidence for it has turned up in Britain; and thus neatly complementing the polar opposite case of the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata, which has a wealth of inscriptional records (e.g. RIB 3185, left) contrasting with its lack of diploma evidence.

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 the Praefectus numeri Solensium, it would appear that it is this unit that took over the identity of the ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata.

Note that the manuscripts actually give solentium rather than solensium; this was not only amended by Seeck in his edition of the Notitia (OC.XL.28), and Boecking in his edition, but had been done so by Rhenanus in the printed Froben edition.

As with all limitanei units in the Notitia, the shield pattern of the numerus Solensium is not illustrated.

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", 18.9.3; available here in Latin and here in English (last accessed 8 November 2015). Return
3. The monikers Solensium and Herculaea are similar by being related through the men who carried these names: Hercules for the Augustus (i.e. senior emperor) Maximianus, and Sol Invictus for his Caesar (i.e. junior emperor) Constantinus. Return
4. M.C. Bishop, "The garrison: Part I", posted 2 August 2014, and last accessed 15 November 2015. Return
5. Otto Seeck (Ed.); "Notitia Dignitatum accedunt Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae et Latercula prouinciarum", Weidmann, Berlin, 1876; available here (last accessed 26 October 2015). Return
6. Eduard Boecking; "Notitia dignitatum et administrationum omnium tam ciuilium quam militarium in partibus orientis et occidentis", Adolph Marcus, Bonn, 3 Volumes + Index (1839-1853); Volume 1 (the East; 1839) available here; Volume 2 (the West, part 1; 1840) here; Volume 3 (the West, part 2; 1850) here; Index (1853) here and also here (last accessed 1 November 2015); at p 113 of volume 2 & p 874 of volume 3. Return


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