The Prima Italica

This page created 6 September 2014, and last modified: 25 July 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


The fifth of the ten units of pseudocomitatenses listed (15.30 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 Italica. Its shield pattern (14#11) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (14.l) Prima Italica, 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 yellow boss, and a yellow "pillar" underneath; the rim (absent in B) is also blue, but a lighter blue in M and W. The pattern is thus similar to several other units in the Magister Militum per Orientem's list: the Prima Isaura sagittaria (15.33), the Transtigritani (15.35), and the Quarta Italica (15.31). 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 would appear to be a detachment of Legio I Italica, portions of which (76.21-23) according to the Notitia are still based along the Danube under the Dux Moesiae secundae, where they had been based since the first century. As might be expected given the legion's longevity, inscriptional evidence for the unit is both extensive and widespread; examples dating to the Tetrarchy, ca. 100 years before the compilation of the Notitia, come from, for example, Jordan (AE 1987, 964) and Kherson in the Crimea (AE 1994, 1539). Another detachment of the unit is the Moesiaci seniores, in the Magister Peditum's Italian command (102/5.59); its shield pattern is unrelated, which is not surprising, as the Moesiaci seniores seem to have been detached from their parent legion in the early 4th century, almost a hundred years before the compilation of the Notitia, whereas the pseudocomitatenses status of the Prima Italica would seem to imply that it is a relatively recent addition to the field army.


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