The Primi Theodosiani

This page created 24 April 2014, and last modified: 22 September 2015 (ILS 2806 reference added)


The Primi Theodosiani is listed (9.39 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as the 16th of the 18 units of auxilia palatina under the command of the first Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence ("Magister Militum Praesentalis I"). Its shield pattern (8#14) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (8.o) Primi Theodosiani, 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 shows a yellow-coloured main ground with a red band encircling a yellow boss (white in W) which itself has a smaller yellow central disc. At the bottom of the shield is a brown canid - whether wolf, dog, or fox is hard to tell - facing left (right in B, which being printed, reverses its shield pattern); while at the top is a winged Victory with a halo encircling its head (but interpreted as a red eagle in B). The pattern is thus rather similar to that of the similarly positioned (16th) unit of auxilia palatina under the command of the other Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, the Secundi Theodosiani (12.38), which features a brown bear rather than a canid, and a blue ground, rather than yellow (and the Victory is absent in some of manuscript illustrations). This would thus appear to be another example of a twinned pair of units split between the two Magistri.

The name Theodosiani almost certainly refers to the emperor Theodosius I, who died in 395, around the time the Notitia was first compiled; Primi indicates this unit was the first of a series formed, or at least named, in his reign (in addition to the Secundi Theodosiani mentioned above, there is also a Tertii Theodosiani (9.40) under the gister Militum Praesentalis I, and a Quarti Theodosiani (12.41) under the Magister Militum Praesentalis II). An outside possibility is the name commemorates his grandson Theodosius II, who became Augustus in 408, since the Secundi Theodosiani appears to be listed after the Felices Arcadiani iuniores (12.37), which is clearly named after Arcadius, who reigned from 395 to 408. If so this would imply that the list of the Magister Militum Praesentalis I was drawn up quite some time after 395. Since this appears very unlikely from other evidence, one must investigate closely the position of the Felices Arcadiani iuniores, and indeed, there is good reason to suspect that this entry is indeed in the wrong position, as described in the entry for that unit; see also here for more details. Thus a naming after Theodosius I looks relatively safe, and with it, an early date for the list of the Magister Militum Praesentalis I, if not necessarily that of the Magister Militum Praesentalis II.

Similarly-numbered Theodosian units in the Notitia are the Cohors prima Theodosiana (71.25), a limitanei cohort under the Dux Armeniae; the Ala prima felix Theodosiana (71.24), a limitanei cavalry ala under the same command; the Equites primi Theodosiani (18.10), one of the vexillationes comitatenses (i.e. cavalry units) under the Magister Militum per Thracias; and the Prima Flavia Theodosiana (15.24), one of the legiones comitatenses under the Magister Militum per Orientem.

The Primi Theodosiani, like many eastern units, lived on for some time after the date of the Notitia's compilation: they went to Italy with Belisarius, and seemingly remained there: an epitaph from Florence (ILS 2806) records the presence of a PRIMI THODOSIANORVM NVMERI.


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