The Prima Isaura sagittaria

This page created 6 September 2014, and last modified: 2 August 2015 (Cyril reference added)


The eighth of the ten units of pseudocomitatenses listed (15.33 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as being under the command of the Magister Militum per Orientem in the eastern half of the Empire is called the Prima Isaura sagittaria. Its shield pattern (14#14) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (14.o) Prima Isaura sagittaria, 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 simple, with a blue main field, a red rim, yellow boss, and a yellow "pillar" underneath. The pattern is thus similar to several other units in the Magister Militum per Orientem's list: the Prima Italica (15.30), the Quarta Italica (15.31), and the Transtigritani (15.35). However, the basic "keyhole" shape produced by a boss with a "pillar" underneath is a very common motif in the Notitia, so perhaps not too much should be read into these similarities.

The unit is clearly the first in a series of three units, since the Comes per Isauriam commands a Legio secundae Isaura and a Legio tertia Isaura; evidently the first Isaurian legion had been transferred withdrawn from the province for posting into the field army; this must have happened no earlier than 354, as Ammianus affirms (14.2.14) that the Comes, a certain Castucius, had three legions under his command at that time.

Legio I Isaura sagittaria is the only legion to be given the moniker sagittarii in the Notitia. It would seem to imply the unit was armed with bows, but this is far from certain; there is no other source that so much as hints that a legion could be (entirely) bow-equipped. It may well be that the name refers to some past notable feat of archery by that portion of soldiers of the unit who were bow-armed; the roughly contemporary Vegetius says (1.15) that from 1/4 to 1/3 of legionaries should be archers.

A potential post-Notitia reference to the unit may come from the mid 6th-century Cyril of Scythopolis, who mentions Isaurian soldiers in his life of St. Sabas (1.9).


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