The Thebei

This page created 9 April 2014, and last modified: 2 October 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


The Thebei is listed (98/9.30 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as the 10th of the 12 legiones palatinae in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster; it is assigned (102/5.80) to his Italian command. Its shield pattern (92#11), as found in various manuscripts under the matching label (92.l) Thebei, is shown below:

Shield patterns

Disclaimer: Remember, a lot of what comes below is speculation. Hopefully informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Comments welcome! (lukeuedasarson "at"

Note that Seeck amended the unit's name to Thebaei in his edition.

The shield pattern features a large boss, the left half of which (from the viewer's perspective) is red or (in O, P) maroon, while the right half is yellow, The main field is likewise bisected and coloured, but in the opposite fashion; similarly, the rim (except in B, where it is white) reverses this, so it repeats the pattern of the boss. The resulting pattern is accordingly unique in the Notitia, although it does appear in later Chinese Taoist symbolism as one form of the taijitu.

The name of the unit clearly refers to (Egyptian) Thebes, but how this unit relates to other units associated with the name (or any other units, for that matter) is unclear: presumably this western unit is unlikely to have been one of the "Theban legions" mentioned by Ammianus (14.11.15) as being stationed near Adrianople in Thrace in 354, which would more likely to be the Prima Maximiana Thebaeorum (18.14) and the Tertia Diocletiana Thebaeorum (18.15; the Secunda Flavia Constantia Thebaeorum (15.22) had apparently not left Egypt by this date, while the Secunda Felix Valentis Thebaeorum (15.23) would presumably not yet have been formed).

The position of the Thebei in the list of the units assigned to the Italian command (102/5.53ff) seems to indicate that it was a comitatenses unit when the Notitia was first drawn up (since it there comes after the command's auxilia palatina units, and not before), but was later promoted to the palatine status it is recorded having in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster. Six of the 12 palatine legions in the western empire appear to be such recently upgraded units judging by their anomalous positioning in the lists of the field commands they are assigned to. This is somewhat surprising, because their positioning in the illustrations section correctly corresponds to their position in the Magister Peditum's roster, and illustrations cannot be updated as easily as text, and the Magister Peditum's Italian command list seems to bear many indications of being modified even more recently than that of his infantry roster. This would imply that when the Italian list was modified, it was not replaced in toto, but amendments were, at least in some cases, appended to it, in the manner of the US Constitution.


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