The Fortenses (in Africa)

This page created 23 March 2014, and last modified: 9 August 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


In the western half of the empire, the last the 32 units of legiones comitatenses listed (98/9.129 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster is called the Fontenses, except in the printed Froben edition (B), where it is given as FORTENSES; it is assigned (102/5.204) to the Comes Africae as the Fortenses. Its shield pattern (97#2) as shown in various manuscripts, also under the label (97.b) Fortenses, 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 is simple: a yellow main ground, a white boss, and a green band around the boss (faded to yellow in M), and rather larger in W than in the other manuscripts. Note that in the so-called distributio section of the Notitia (102/5.53 and following), there are actually two Fortenses entries: one is assigned to the Comes Hispenias (102/5.182), while the other is assigned to the Comes Africae (102/5.204). It is the relative positioning of the two within their respective command distribution lists that indicates that the shield pattern shown above belongs to the African unit, while the Spanish unit is to be equated with the second of the legiones comitatenses in the in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster and also called the Fortenses (98/9.99). Other units bearing the name appearing in the Notitia are:

9.20 Fortenses, a legio palatina under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I;
15.28 Fortenses auxiliarii, a pseudocomitatenses unit under Magister Militum per Orientem;
132.2 Numerus Fortensium, a limitanei numerus under the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam;
137.5 Limites Fortenses, a limitanei unit under the Dux et praeses provinciae Mauritaniae et Caesariensis;
139.13 Milites Fortenses, a limitanei unit under the Dux Provinciae Tripolitanae;
143.6 Cuneus equitum Fortensium, a limitanei cavalry cuneus under the Dux Provinciae Valeriae ripensis; and the
143.27 Auxilia Fortensia, a limitanei auxiliary infantry unit under the Dux Provinciae Valeriae ripensis.
This proliferation of units named Fortenses, meaning "brave" or "steadfast" is because being given the additional name Fortis was a common reward in previous centuries for a unit that had performed well in battle. The Fortenses in Spain would thus appear to be a detachment or descendent of a old legion bearing the title Fortis. One such legion was Legio II Traiana Fortis Germanica, detachments of which are listed under both the Comes limitis Aegypti (52.7) and the Dux Thebaidos (56/7.13). Another possibility might be an otherwise unattested Legio X Fortenses apparently mentioned by Ammianus (see the discussion under the Dux Palaestinae). Perhaps Legio VI Hispana, known only from possibly mid-third century inscriptional evidence (see here, in French), was called Fortis. Alternatively, it may be that the different Fortenses detachments acquired their names after being split off from a parent legion, in which case the African Fortenses could derive from e.g. Legio III Augustani, long stationed in Africa, and which is found in the Notitia under the Comes Africa as the Tertio Augustani (102/5.203), or from any other legion for that matter. The position of the AfricanFortenses, at the bottom of the list of legions under the Comes, would seem to indicate it had joined the African field army relatively recently.

As noted above, the Notitia has the Dux provinciae Tripolitanae commanding the Milites Fortenses in castris Leptitanis. These men are likely a detachment of the AfricanFortenses unit, as are the men commanded by the Praepositus limitis Fortensis under the Dux et praeses provinciae Mauritaniae et Caesariensis; alternatively, instead of being separate units, they may be the very same unit, but differentiated by time as well as space. Whether the pattern shown above was borne by the these limitanei detachments might depend on whether the detachments were detached from the unit in the African field army, or the field army unit joined the field army from a garrison position: there is plenty of evidence in the Notitia to suggest that units were given new shield patterns when they joined a field army from a limitanei force.

Inscriptional evidence for a unit apparently named the Fortenses comes from the cemetery at Colonia Iulia Concordia (modern Portogruaro in Veneto, Italy), which produced an inscription (ILS 547) mentioning a unit in the form of the NUMERO EORTEN[.]ORUM, which has been interpreted to mean Numero Fortensorum, which may refer to this unit. See here for Hoffmann's 1963 analysis (in German).


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