The Defensores

This page created 24 April 2014, and last modified: 12 December 2014 (Froben edition picture added)


The Defensores is the 9th unit of auxilia palatina listed (9.32 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the first Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence (i.e. the Magister Militum Praesentalis I). Its shield pattern (8#7) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (8.g) Defensores, 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"

Like many other units assigned to the same command, the shield pattern of the Defensores shows an indigo-coloured ground (purple in B, faded to maroon in W and to pink in M) with a red rim. It also shows a twin-headed zoomorphic motif that is extremely common in the Notitia (over a dozen examples), especially amongst auxilia palatina units; the example borne by the Defensores is in yellow (white in W). The boss is yellow (O, P), red (B), pale pink (M), or white (W, in this case augmented with three small inked-in circles). In addition to its numerous appearances in the Notitia, the twin-headed zoomorphic motif is known from a range of sources; some further examples are given below:

Torslunda die

Bronze die press from Torslunda, Sweden.
Late 7th century?; object number 4325 in the
Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm.
Public domain image taken from a 1903 book.
Belt buckle

Bronze belt buckle from Monceau-le-Neuf, Aisne, France.
Early 5th century?; and now in the Laon Museum.
Photo by "Vassil" and released into the public domain.
Finglesham buckle

Gold belt buckle from Finglesham, Kent, England.
Late 6th century; private collection.
Photo from York Digital Library.

In addition, the Missorium of Valentinian, a silver plate shown below (the original is now held in the Museum of Art & History in Geneva, and from whose website the left picture is taken), shows a guard with a shield pattern that appears essentially identical to that depicted in the Notitia as belonging to the Defensores.

Missorium of Valentinian

The name Defensores ("the Defenders") is rather generic, relating to neither a tribe nor a personage. A Defensores seniores appears under the Magister Peditum's list in the west, assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command; his command is also assigned a Defensores iuniores, and whose shield pattern is not recorded; both the Defensores seniores and Defensores iuniores are listed as pseudocomitaenses units. Given the presence of many unit names that have both a seniores and a iuniores form in the west, and a single corresponding unit in the east, it could well be that the two western units as auxilia units. The same command also has an Armigeri defensores seniores, this however is listed as a legiones comitatenses unit; no corresponding Armigeri defensores iuniores is listed in the Notitia.

The 9th unit under the command of the second of Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, i.e the Magister Militum Praesentalis II, is the Vindices. Its shield pattern also bears a very similar twin-headed zoomorphic motif, albeit in different colours, and would appear to be another example of a twinned pair of units split between the two Magistri. This is reinforced by the units' names: "Vindices" also means "the Defenders".


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