The Daci

This page created 12 April 2014, and last modified: 10 October 2015 (unit origin commentary updated)


In the eastern half of the empire, the second of the six units of legiones palatina under the command of the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, the Magister Militum Praesentalis II, is listed (12.17 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as the Daci. Its shield pattern (10#3) as shown in various manuscripts, under the same label (10.c), is as below:

Shield patterns

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

The pattern features an indigo boss (more purple in B, light blue in M, and faded to maroon in W, which also features a separate darker inner section) encircled by a yellow band. The main field is also indigo (more purple in B, and faded to maroon in M, W); it too is encircled by a yellow band, which is edged by the shield's rim, also in indigo (light blue in B, and faded to maroon in M, W). A light blue star of 12 (P), 13 (B), 14 (O), 16 (W), or 17 (M) points radiates from the inner yellow band; it reaches the outer yellow band only in W (but partially in B).

The pattern has some similarities with that of the next unit under the same commander, the Scythae (12.18), especially regarding the non-star portions of the shield, but the emblem of a 12-(or more)-pointed star is not unique in the Notitia, and is also shared by the Regii (12.23), also under the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, and by some of the Scholae units, both under the eastern Magister Officiorum, and the western Magister Officiorum.

No other legionary unit in the Notitia is named the Daci, although there are two limitanei units of auxiliaries stationed in Dacia, the primi (80.13) and secundi Dacisci (80.17), respectively, and another auxilary unit in neighbouring Moesia II called the plain Dacisci (76.12). There is also the Cohors prima Ulpia Dacorum (65.19) under the Dux Syriae, which is presumably an auxiliary limitanei unit, and the Ala prima Ulpia Dacorum (71.15) under the Dux Armeniae, which is a cavalry unit.

It is possible the Daci originated as a detachment of one of the legions stationed in Dacia, under the Dux Daciae ripensis, perhaps Legio V Macedonica (80.20-22,28) or Legio XIII Gemina (80.23-27). This seems much more likely than, e.g., an origin as an amalgamation of auxiliary formations, since the Scythae probably originated with the neighbouring Legio I Iovia (Scythica); 74.22-25, under the Dux Scythiae.

Looking beyond the time of the Notitia's compilation, a unit called the Daci was apparently stationed in Egypt by 475 at the latest, being mentioned by John Rufus in his "Plerophoria" or collection of Christian anecdotes (section 27.1, see here, p 69), and also a papyrus from Arsinoite dated to 20 June 531 (line 2, here; image here), giving (in Greek) the "stra[tio]tes ar[ithm]ou ton gennaitaton Dakon": "soldiers of the noble/excellent unit Daci". This Egyptian unit very likely refers to the Notitia's palatine Daci legion, given the Equites sexto Dalmatae, also listed (12.11) under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II in the Notitia, is similarly later recorded as being in Egypt (see A.M.Kaiser, Egyptian Units and the reliability of the Notitia dignitatum, pars Oriens (2014), available here, p 7 and notes 37, 38). This is also likely be the same unit called the Daci that is apparently recorded in a 6th-century Italian papyrus (J. O. Tjader, Die nichtliterarischen Lateinischen Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit 445-700; Lund, 1955, 18-19; a reference I have been unable to obtain), since several other units that are listed in the Notitia under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II are also recorded in 6th century Italy: the Regii (12.23), the (Comites) sagittarii Armeni (12.5), and the Felices Theodosiani (12.36).


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