The Transtigritani

This page created 6 September 2014, and last modified: 27 October 2015 (Jones reference added)


The last of the ten units of pseudocomitatenses listed (15.35 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 Transtigritani. Its shield pattern (14#16) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (14.q) Transtigritani, 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 white main field (yellow in B), a yellow rim, a yellow boss (red in P, maroon in W), a blue band surrounding the boss, and a blue "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 Prima Isaura sagittaria (15.33). 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 name Transtigritani means "beyond the Tigris"; the unit was presumably either recruited there or had been stationed there before joining the command of the Magister Militum per Orientem. Either way, however, it could have not have stayed long in the command of the Magister Militum per Orientem, as in addition to being the command's last-listed unit, and thus likely the unit that had most recently joined the command, it is also attested in numerous papyri from Egypt over the next 150 or so years, the first of which (SB 14 11574; image here) dates from no later than February 406: a mere decade (or less) since the last update to the eastern section of the Notitia (this particular papyrus states the unit is stationed in the Arsinoite nome there, and concerns the receipt of pickled meat). So the unit must have been been transferred out of the command by the end of 405 at the very latest.

Whether the Transtigritani was a legionary or an auxiliary unit cannot be affirmatively judged by its name alone. However, since of the nine other pseudocomitatenses units in the command, seven would appear to be either certainly legionary or very likely legionary, while the remaining two are most likely to also be legionary, it may well be the men of the Transtigritani were also legionaries.

Given the unit's name, indicating a station across the Tigris, this would indicate the unit was probably a detachment of Legio II Parthica, since in the Notitia (69.11) this is the only legion deployed so far east as to be on the Tigris itself, at Cefae (Cepha, modern Hasankeyf in Turkey) under the Dux Mesopotamiae. A detachment of Legio VI Parthica is also possible, given that unit was likely deployed at least as far east before joining the field army, as the Sexta Parthica (15.32).

An important 5th-century papyrus (P.CtYBR inv. 3912(A); click here to view) regarding the unit in Egypt records the unit receiving 1335 annonae of rations, implying a strength of perhaps 1100 - 1200 men, allowing for officers having multiple shares (for a discussion, see here). The large size of the unit, if this papyrus is interpreted correctly, also argues for legionary status.

A.H.M.Jones considered the Transtigritani to be a late creation, due to its position at the end of the Magister Militum per Orientem's list, and as having been raised in Armenia after being the area was annexed by Theodosius, as opposed to being withdrawn from the area before Theodosius' reign, and saw it is a replacement unit for the losses sustained over the years, particularly at Adrianople, which he estimated as one-seventh of the eastern comitatus. However, its lowly position to my mind better comports to simply having been withdrawn from the frontier later than e.g. the Sexta Parthica.


1. Ingo Maier; "Appendix 4: Numeration of the new edition of the compilation 'notitia dignitatum' (Cnd)"; last accessed 26 October 2015. See also for here for numbering examples. Return
2. Amin Benaissa; "The Size of the Numerus Transtigritanorum in the Fifth Century"; Zeitschrift fuer Papyrologie und Epigraphik 175 (2010) p 224-226. Return
3. A.H.M. Jones; "The Later Roman Empire, 284-602; A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey"; Blackwell, Oxford, 1964; vol. 3 of 3, at p 355. Return


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