The Primani

This page created 7 May 2014, and last modified: 13 July 2015 (unit derivation commentary updated)


The fourth out of the six units of legiones palatina listed (12.19 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as being under the command of the the command of the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence (i.e. the Magister Militum Praesentalis II) in the eastern half of the Empire is called the Primani. Its shield pattern (10#5) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (10.e) Primani, 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 pattern appears to be a red rope coiled in a rather yin-yang-like arrangement, unique in the Notitia - or it would be unique, if the subsequently-listed unit, the Undecimani (12.20), did not have exactly the same pattern (except in manuscript M, which gives the Undecimani red for the one blue region shown in the other manuscripts, and for also giving the Primani a yellow boss instead of red as in the other manuscripts). Since the only other instance in the Notitia where two units share the same patterns, and which are also adjacent to each other, is evidently involved with of a manuscript error, it is thus necessary to enquire if this is the case here. If there has been a duplication, it is apparent that the mistake has not affected the patterns ascribed to the units on the next line: the Lanciarii iuniores (12.21), the Regii (12.23), and the Cornuti (12.24), since the first and the third of these have patterns that are clearly related to other units that share their names. Thus, if there has been a manuscript transmission error, it would appear one or the other of the Primani and Undecimani has been ascribed the pattern of the other, and its own pattern lost, rather than the patterns and labels becoming misaligned as in the case of e.g. the Ascarii seniores (98/9.41) in the west.

On the other hand, it may be there has not been a duplication, and the two units actually did have similar (or identical) shield patterns. This appears unlikely at first blush, given the names of the two units, which appear to be derived from two clearly different legions. That of the Undecimani ("the Eleventh") surely derives from the Legio XI Claudia, dating from the 1st century BC, since it was the only legion numbered "eleven". Under the Empire, this legion was long stationed at Durostorum (modern Silistra in northeast Bulgaria), which is where one of its detachments (its headquarters, apparently) was still stationed according to the Notitia (76.24), under the Dux Moesiae secundae (other detachments of the same legion are recorded garrisoning other locations in Moesia II). Also stationed under the very same commander in the Notitia are detachments of Legio I Italica (76.21-23), and from which the Primani ("the First") may get its name. Since these two legions were stationed together, and their detachments under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II are recorded next to each other in the Notitia, and thus were also probably brigaded together, it may not be so surprising after all that they would have been issued similar shield patterns when the second Praesental field army was created (although identical patterns would be somewhat surprising). As an aside, it is worth pointing out that Nischer (1923, available here or here) considered the unit to be derived from Legio I Adiutrix, since he believed it to be a former pair with the Secundani (76.24) under the Magister Militum per Illyricum, which he considered to be derived from Legio II Adiutrix. This derivation removes one possible objection to the Primani equals a detachment of Legio I Italica equation: all 10 cohorts of Legio I Italica have clearly assigned stations in the Notitia, and thus if the Primani did indeed derive from the unit, the absent cohorts must have been replaced at some point. This is not a fatal objection, perhaps, but does engender caution.

The Primani that features in Ammianus' account (16.12.49) of the battle of Argentoratum (Strasbourg) in 357, and whose men were responsible for stopping the Alamannic breakthrough in the Roman centre, might be equated with this unit; however, there is another unit called the Primani in the Notitia, in the west, under the Comes Africae; they appear to be the same unit as the Prima Flavia Pacis, one of the legiones comitatenses listed in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster; its shield pattern is completely different to that of the eastern unit. If the eastern Primani was at Strasbourg, then one would might have expected the Undecimani to have been mentioned by Ammianus alongside them; since they are not, an argument from silence, weak as it is, might argue that the Primani at Strasbourg were therefore not the eastern unit. On the other hand, Ammianus' description of their resoluteness at the battle would well fit the Notitia Primani's elite palatine status.

Because so many legions carried the number "one", the above attribution of the legion's name to Legio I Italica, or Legio I Adiutrix for that matter, is far from secure; many other candidates could be proposed. It is worth noting that a Primani iuniores is listed (102/5.207) as being under the command of the Comes Britanniae. The origins of this unit's name are hard to trace, but the name itself clearly indicates the some-time existence of a Primani seniores to complement it: it may be the Primani under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II was that very unit. Or maybe not - there were, after all, many other legions named "Prima such-and-such".


Return to the Notitia alphabetical unit list page.
Return to my Notitia index page.