The Martenses

This page created 23 March 2014, and last modified: 3 July 25 (Maier reference numbers added)


A unit called the Martenses is listed (98/9.139) as one of the pseudocomitatenses units in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster, and is presumably the unit assigned (102/5.143) to the Magister Equitum's Gallic command as the Marienses. Its shield pattern (97#11), under the label (97.l), is shown in various manuscripts as below:

Martenses 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, and features a red rim (white in P) and an undifferentiated indigo ground (purple in B, and faded to maroon in M, W). Excpet in M, the boss is quartered white and green (faded to yellow in W; in B the boss is all yellow). It is likely that the men of the Martenses are the same men as formerly commanded by the Praefectus militum Martensium (151.7) at Aleto under the Dux tractus Armoricani et Nervicani. Note that the Dux Mogontiacensis also commands a Praefectus militum Martensium, stationed at Alta Ripa (156/8.6), but they are less likely to be the Gallic Martenses. Firstly, there is every chance the unit under the Dux Mogontiacensis was wiped out in the 407 AD invasion. Secondly, and more importantly, the neighbouring units in the Gallic list, such as the Prima Flavia Gallicana (Constantia) (102/5.142), are also clearly ex-Armorican.

The name Martenses may well derive from Fanum Martis (modern Corseul in Brittany), which is believed to be the capital of the Civitatas Coriosolitum in Armorica before being destroyed in the late 3rd century, after which the administrative functions seem to have been shifted to Aleto (modern Aleth near Saint-Malo; see R.Sanquer's chapter, p 50, in CBA Reserach Report No. 18, The Saxon Shore, Ed. D.E.Johnston (1977), available here).

On the other hand, the name may well derive from a legion name "Martia" (this has been advanced by e.g. van Berchem, 'Some Chapters of the "Notitia Dignitatum"', 1995, available here, who believed the unit was a detachment of the Gallic field army, rather than vice versa). Legio IIII Martia, stationed far away under the Dux Arabiae would be an unlikely source, but Legio I Martia, which is unattested as such in the Notitia, has a presence attested from Neuf-Brisach near Colmar in France, where one inscriptional record (AE 1977, 0592) gives [..]G I MAR for"[Le]g(io) I Mart(tia)"; and from nearby Equisheim, where another (AE 1941, 0032) gives LEG I MAR. Two records (CAG-25/90, p356) from Mandeure, between Besancon and Basle, give LEG I MR. The unit is also attested further up the Rhine from many tile stamps from Augusta Raurica (modern Kaiseraugst in Switzerland), along with a gravestone bearing the inscription (CIL 13, 5270) MILITAVIT IN L P M, interpreted as "militavit in l(egione) p(rima) M(artia)". It is also attested on the Danube, in Pannonia: one inscription (RIU 3,804) dated 372 from a fort near Aquincum (modern Visegrad near Budapest) refers to a LEGIONIS PRIMAE MARTIORUM; another (AE 2000, 1223); from the same place and dating to 371 refers to a LEGIONIS PRIM[......]TIORUM, while another (CIL 3.3653 = AE 1999,1264) from Solva (modern Esztergom in north Hungary) and dated to 371 gives LEGIONIS PRIMAE MARTIORUM. Additional inscriptional evidence for Legio I Martia would seem to come from the cemetery at Colonia Iulia Concordia (modern Portogruaro in Veneto, Italy), which produced an inscription (ILS 473) mentioning the unit in the form of the N PRIME MARTIE VIC, which has been interpreted to mean "numero primae Martiae victricis"; see here for Hoffmann's 1963 analysis (in German). Thus a detachment from Legio I Martia when it was stationed along the Rhine, or indeed, from some later date, may well have been the origin of the Martenses.

As there is a Martenses seniores listed (15.17) under the Magister Militum per Orientem, it is possible the full name of the western unit was the Martenses iuniores; it is also of course possible that a putative Martenses iuniores may have simply been eliminated by the time the Notitia was compiled. Ammianus mentions in passing (26.6.7) a unit of Martenses, but it is not clear which if the above units, if any, this refers to.


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