The Fortenses (in Spain)

This page created 20 May 2014, and last modified: 9 August 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


In the western half of the empire, the second of the 32 units of legiones comitatenses listed (98/9.99 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster is the Fortenses. Its shield pattern (95#13) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (95.n) 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, showing a purple main ground (more in indigo in P and faded to maroon in M and a rather bright red in W) with a red rim. The boss is variously purple (O), indigo (P), faded maroon (M), white (M) or red (B), with a white band surrounding it (yellow in W). As a result, it looks similar to a number of other patterns in the Notitia.

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). The relative positioning of the two within their respective command distribution lists indicates that the shield pattern shown above belongs to the Spanish unit, while the African unit is to be equated with the last of the legiones comitatenses in the in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster and also called the Fortenses (98/9.129). 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 they could derive from Legio VII Gemina, long stationed in Spain, or any other legion for that matter. The position of the Spanish Fortenses, at the top of the list of the Spanish legions, would seem to indicate it had been in a field army for some considerable time. In contrast, the African unit looks like it is a late-comer to a field army; it is possible the two African limitanei units and it are one and the same, and differentiated by time as well as space.

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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