The Matiarii constantes

This page created 5 November 2014, and last modified: 28 July 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


The first of the eight legiones comitatenses listed (21.15 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) under the command of the Magister Militum per Illyricum in the eastern half of the Empire is called the Matiarii constantes. Its shield pattern (20#5) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (20.e) Matiarii constantes, 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 shield pattern has a yellow boss encircled by a yellow band (light-greenish blue in W). Encircling this is a yellow scalloped "star" with 12 (O, P), or 13 (M, W, B) points. This "star" projects into an indigo field (more purple in B, and faded to maroon in M, W); the rim is red, and between the rim and the main field is a green band (faded to yellow in M, W). Three other units bear similarly scalloped star motifs, all in the eastern half of the empire, and all auxilia palatina unts: the Atecotti (21.13), also under the Magister Militum per Illyricum; the Felices Arcadiani iuniores (12.37), under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II (but see here); and the Victores (9.38), under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I . Their shield patterns are compared below, using the pictures found in the Parisian manuscript:

Shield patterns

The name Matiarii seems to derive from the god Mars, albeit indirectly, from mattiobarbuli - the lead-weighted throwing darts (Vegetius 1.17) with which late Roman infantrymen were equipped. These were also known as plumbatae, from their lead weights, and as martiobarbuli; the latter meaning "Mars' little barbs".

A selection of plumbatae from Lauriacum. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, and used under CCA 3.0U license.

Other units so-named in the Notitia are the two eastern palatine legions, the Matiarii seniores (12.16), under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II, and the Matiarii iuniores (9.22), under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I, and also, with a variant spelling, the Mattiarii iuniores (98/9.106), a western comitatenses legion in the Magister Peditum's Italian command, and also the Mattiarii Honoriani Gallicani (102/5.103), a western auxilia palatina unit under the Comes Illyricum, although in this case the "Matiarii" is probably a mistake for "Mattiaci", meaning the town that is now modern Wiesbaden.

It is perhaps fitting that the next unit in the Magister Militum per Illyricum's troop list, and thus with which the Matiarii constantes is likely to have been brigaded, is the Martii (21.16), and also connected with the god Mars.

The term constantes means "steadfast": a fitting name for a legionary unit, since they were usually deployed in the second, reserve, line of an imperial Roman battle formation, while the auxiliary units typically were deployed in the first line (e.g. at the battle of Argentoratum in 357); it is the root from which the Constantinian imperial dynasty derived their name.


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