This page created 7 November 2014, and last modified: 7 November 2014
The most senior of the six auxilia palatina units listed under the Magister Militum per Illyricum is called the Ascarii seniores. Its shield pattern is shown in various manuscripts as below:
The shield pattern has a red outer rim and a yellow inner rim. The boss is yellow (albeit not round in O, W, and B), and is surrounded a red twin-whirlpool-cum-propellor motif; the resulting bisected shield ground is half white (left) and indigo (right; more purple in B, faded to maroon in M, but white in W). As a result, the overall impression is somewhat similar to a yin-yang or taiji pattern, although this is not as clear as with the patterns of two other units in the Notitia, as the a comparison of the following patterns taken from the Parisian manuscript shows:
The Armigeri defensores seniores and the Mauri Osismiaci are both western units, assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, and it may be the similarity of the shield pattern of the eastern Ascarii seniores has some connection with Gaul. However, the pattern of the Ascarii seniores looks even more similar to that of the Martenses seniores under the Magister Militum per Orientem, so if there is connection between the eastern Ascarii seniores and another unit, this is perhaps a more promising avenue on enquiry.
The origins of the name Ascarii are obscure: the only suggestion I have seen is that of Mommsen's back in 1889, deriving the the Greek "askos", meaning "skin, bag, hide", with the implication the unit was skilled in crossing rivers on them. A unit of Ascarii are mentioned by Ammianus (27.2.9) as capturing an Alamannic king, and plundering without orders, but the relationship of this unit to the eastern Ascarii iuniores is unknown.
Other units bearing the name Ascarii in the Nottia are the Auxilia ascarii, a limitanei unit under the Dux Pannoniae secundae ripariensis et Saviae; the Honoriani ascarii seniores, an auxilia palatina unit in the Magister Equitum's Gallic command; the Ascarii iuniores, an auxilia palatina unit under the Magister Militum per Illyricum; the Ascarii seniores, an auxilia palatina unit under the Comes Africae; and the Ascarii iuniores, another auxilia palatina unit under the Comes Africae. It is of course possible that the eastern Ascarii seniores unit is one and the same as the western unit (and likewise for the iuniores), but if so, the unit must have been assigned a new shield pattern upon transfer, since the patterns recorded for both in the Notitia are not at all similar.
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