The Honoriani ascarii seniores

This page created 26 July 2014, and last modified: 30 October 2014 (Frankfurt fragment image added)


The Honoriani ascarii seniores is one of the auxilia palatina units listed in the Magister Peditum infantry roster; it is assigned to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command, under the name Ascarii Honoriani seniores. Its shield pattern as shown in various manuscripts, using the label Honoriani seniores, is as below:

Shield patterns

Although there is evidence that many labels attached to the shield patterns illustrating the western auxilia platina have been shifted from their proper places, it is not clear that this has happened to this unit; it may well be labelled with the correct shield pattern.

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; when "the" Ascarii were split between seniores and iuniores is unknown, beyond presumably being mid 4th-century, and whether the Honoriani ascarii seniores is a direct descendent of that unit is unknown.

Other units listed in the Nottia bearing the name Ascarii are the:

Ascarii seniores, a unit of auxilia palatina under the "Comes Hispenias";
Ascarii iuniores, another unit of auxilia palatina under the "Comes Hispenias";
Ascarii seniores, a unit of auxilia palatina under the Magister Militum per Illyricum;
Ascarii iuniores, another unit of auxilia palatina under the Magister Militum per Illyricum;
Auxilia ascarii, a limitanei unit under the Dux Pannoniae secundae ripariensis et Saviae.

The name Honoriani refers to the emperor Honorius, who succeeded his father Theodosius I in 395, around the time the Notitia was first compiled. Note that Honorius had however, been declared co-Augustus two years earlier, at the age of 7, so the presence of units bearing the name Honorius does not therefore prove they must have been entered into the document so-named at 395 at the earliest. Nonetheless, the presence of large numbers of units in the western half of the Notitia named after Honorius, compared to very few in the east, is one of the clearest indications the eastern portion was not amended much, or even at all, after the death of Theodosius, while the western half was extensively updated.

The shield pattern ascribed to the Honoriani ascarii seniores exhibits a reasonable amount of variation between the manuscripts. All have a red shield rim and boss. albeit faded in M and especially in Ff. The main ground is yellow, except in W where only the bottom half is; in W, the top half is maroon. A four-pointed star surrounds the boss; it is maroon in O, P, M, and Ff, white in W, and purple in B; in O and P the tines are straight-sided, but in M, W, B, and Ff, they curve away so that the main ground does not meet the boss. The pattern as represented in O and B bears a resemblance to that shown being carried by a soldier on the 4th century Brescia Casket, as shown below:

Brescia Casket Soldiers

Photo by RobyBS89, and dedicated to the public domain.

However, the curvature of the tines is the reverse of that seen in M, W, B, and Ff, so the match is not particularly close.


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