The Undecimani

This page created 7 May 2014, and last modified: 2 August 2015 (Maier reference numbers added)


In the eastern half of the empire, the fifth of the six units of legiones palatina under the command of the second Master of the Soldiers in the Imperial Presence, the Magister Militum Praesentalis II, is listed (12.20 in Ingo Maier's numbering scheme) as the Undecimani. Its shield pattern (10#6) as shown in various manuscripts, under the matching label (10.f) Undecimani, 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 what appears to be a red rope coiled in a somewhat yin-yang-like arrangement, unique in the Notitia - or it would be unique, if the previously-listed unit, the Primani (12.19), did not have a pattern (10#6) that is exactly the same (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 the result 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 infected the patterns ascribed to the units on the next line: the Lanciarii iuniores (10#7), the Regii (10#8), and the Cornuti(10#6), since the first of third of these have patterns clearly related to other units that share their names. In this case, it would appear one or the other of the Primani and Undecimani has been ascribed the pattern of the other, and its own pattern is simply lost rather than misplaced.

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 surely derives from Legio XI Claudia, dating from the 1st century BC; 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 (76.24, apparently the headquarters) is still stationed according to the Notitia, under the Dux Moesiae secundae (other detachments of the same legion (76.25-26) are recorded garrisoning Transmarisca in Moesia II). Also stationed under the very same commander in the Notitia are detachments of Legio I Italica, from which the Primani may very well get its name. Since these two legions were stationed together, and two of their presumed 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 they would have been issued similar shield patterns when the second Praesental field army was created (although identical patterns would be somewhat surprising).

Shown below is the 4th century grave stele of Aurelius Sudecentius from Legio XI, exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Aquileia (Italy). He carries a pair of spears apparently suitable for throwing as well as thrusting (and is therefore possibly a lanciarius?); his oval shield unfortunately does not show a shield pattern.

Grave stele
Photo from the Italian National Archaeological Museum

In the western half of the empire, another unit is also called the Undecimani, one of the legiones comitatenses listed (98/9.108) in the Magister Peditum's infantry roster and assigned to the Comes Hispenias. This unit likely derives from a detachment of Legio XI that seems to have served in Mauretania in 298, to judge from, e.g., the funerary stele in Aquileia of Aurelius Dizo, who was a soldier of the 11th, but who died in Mauretania (CIL V 893 = InscrAquil 2772 ?); the western unit's shield pattern is completely different from that of the eastern Undecimani.


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