The Prima Flavia Theodosiana

This page created 30 August 2014, and last modified: 19 July 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


The Prima Flavia Theodosiana is listed (15.24 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as the last of the nine legiones comitatenses under the Magister Militum per Orientem. Its shield pattern (14#6), as shown in various manuscripts under the matching label (14.f) Prima Flavia Theodosiana, 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 is relatively complex. Its basic form is a white main field bearing a red cross. Flanking the bottom arm of the cross are the forequarters of two canids, probably dogs, in light brown (dark brown in O), facing outwards. The rim is white (but absent in B), while the boss is yellow (white in M). Surrounding the boss is an unusual design in red, which looks like a circle with two deep lobes cut out at approximately the 11 o'clock and the 1 o'clock positions. This would appear to be a mythological Amazonian shield.

Early amazon
Typical amazon
Roman mosaic
Amazon by Euphronios, late 6th century BC.
Amazon on late 5th century BC Lucanian vase.
An early 3rd century mosaic from Sousse in Tunisia (Roman Hadrumetum).
Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol and released into the public domain.
Photo taken by Marie-Lan Nguyen and used under CCA 3.0 license.
Photo by Ed Meskens, and used under CCA 3.0 license.

As can be seen from the above, Amazons, despite being mythologically located to the north-east, were first conceived by the Greeks as being armed like contemporary Greek warriors; in the 6th century, this meant a heavy Argive shield as depicted above-left. After the Persian invasions, however, Amazons were depicted with light crescent-shaped peltae as carried by the appropriately-located Scythians, although they frequently were shown with a slight "bump" in the middle of the convex section that real peltae did not seem to share, as shown in the middle picture above. This bump seems to have steadily grown, so that by the start of the 3rd century, it could be shown as a central "stalk", as shown above-right, and also corresponding to the motif shown in the Notitia; geographically appropriate for a unit assigned to Rome's most eastern field army.

The pattern of the Prima Flavia Theodosiana is thus almost identical to that of the preceding unit (15.23) in the Magister Militum per Orientem's list: the Secunda Felix Valentis Thebaeorum, which differs only in substituting bovids for canids; the strange central device is also borne by the next two units in the same command, the Prima Armeniaca (15.26) and the Secunda Armeniaca (15.27). Outside of the Magister Militum per Orientem's command, it is carried by only two other units: the Menapii (18.13), under the Magister Militum per Thracias, and the unit that is said to be (12.28) the Sagittarii seniores Orientales, under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II. All six can be compared below, using the patterns taken from the Parisian manuscript:

Shield patterns

It should be noted that in addition to the central pelta device, the Prima Flavia Theodosiana also shares the feature of a dog with the Menapii, and in the case of the "Sagittarii seniores Orientales", two dogs facing away from each other.

The Theodosiana part of the unit's would appear to allude to the emperor Theodosius I, who died in 395, around the time the Notitia was first compiled (394 looks a good date). Primi would seem to indicate this unit was the first of a series formed, or at least, named in his reign; however, no other units named Flavia Theodosiana are recorded in the Notitia. Indeed, since Flavia is a marker for one of the emperors of the Flavian dynasty of the early 4th century, rather than the late 4th century, this unit's name is something of an enigma. Note that there are several other units named Primi Theodosiana in the Notitia: one is a limitanei cohort (71.25) under the Dux Armeniae; another is one of the vexillationes comitatenses (i.e. cavalry units, 18.10) under the Magister Militum per Thracias; and another is a auxilia palatina unit (9.39) under the Magister Militum Praesentalis I - its shield pattern is also features a dog, although they are otherwise very dissimilar (rather, its pattern is clearly related to the Secundi Theodosiani (12.40) and the Tertii Theodosiani (9.40), also auxilia palatina units). In addition, there is also an Ala prima felix Theodosiana (71.24) under the Dux Armeniae.

However, it may be that Theodosiana actually refers to a place, in the same way that Constantia in the western legion the Prima Flavia Gallicana Constantia refers not to Constantius, or any of the other Flavian emperors (or at least, not directly), but instead refers to a place named Constantia (modern Coutances, in France). Perhaps the Prima Flavia Theodosiana gained its last name from some action around Theodosia in the Crimea (modern Feodosia), or being stationed in some other so-named spot. In particular, the Theodosiana located somewhere in what is now Turkey might be considered a possibility. If so, then the unit might originate just as a detachment of another of the various units named Legio prima Flavia in the Notitia.

Ammianus records (20.6.8) that when the Persians captured the city of Singara (modern Sinjar in Iraq) in 360 AD, the entire defending force was led off in chains; including Legio I Parthica and a Legio I Flavia. Since we find Legio I Parthica listed (69.10) in the Notitia under the Dux Mesopotamiae, evidently either not the entire force was present, not all of it was captured, or it was reconstituted. The same could well be the case with his Legio I Flavia, in which case it would be natural to equate it with one the Notitia's eastern Legio prima Flavia units. The Prima Flavia Constantia under (15.21) the Magister Militum per Orientem would appear to be the best candidate, but the Prima Flavia Theodosiana can't be ruled out, if it was in existence at this date.


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