Monday, 24 March 2014

The Notitia Dignitatum -

Work-wise (as in "real" work), this is the busiest time of the year for me, so I've not being doing much in terms of modelling, to say nothing of gaming.  But I have spent a while pottering about in one of the dim corners of my long-neglected website - updating some of my Notitia Dignitatum pages.  The so-called Notitia Dignitatum (Latin for "Register of Dignitaries") is a unique document dating from ca. 400 AD (albeit only in various copies made a bit over 1000 years later) that describes the bureaucracy of the late Roman Empire.

And why is this of interest?  Because a great deal of that bureaucracy involved the army - by far the most important component of the Imperial machinery.  And more specifically, the document records not only the names and stations of all the many hundreds of units in the army, both East and West, but also their shield patterns.  In colour no less!  Not all of them, alas, for some units' patterns are missing for reasons still unexplained, particularly for the Eastern cavalry, but there are still quite a few illustrated.  Over 280 in fact...

Click to see the page enlarged and read the unit names.
Here, for example, is a page from the manuscript copy currently lying in the French national library in Paris, showing the shield patterns of 12 legionary units assigned to one of the Eastern central field armies, that under the command of the "Magister Militum per Thracias" - the Commander of the Soldiers in Thrace (you can also make out images showing through from the other side of the page, most notably against shields with white backgrounds).

So this truly is a unique document.  If you own a late Imperial Roman army, you don't have to make an educated guess as to which units carried what kind of shields - this thing tells you!  (Let's just ignore for the moment the almost endless possibilities of manuscript corruption over the long centuries...)

And I've been slowly adding images taken from the various manuscript versions of the document to my website, so people can compare and contrast the various versions (some are clearly better than others - but what constitutes "better" is often in the eye of the beholder...).  I'll probably never "finish" the job - because with hundreds of units, each shown in multiple manuscripts - the task I have undertaken is truly vast in scope.  But I'm clearly an obsessive idiot at times, so why not?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Phil.

      At some point later this year I will write up some articles for Slingshot about the patterns (and how accurate they are; what they can tell us about the army, etc.)

  2. The colours on that manuscript are so intense! Lovely.

  3. They are indeed.

    The colours in the two versions of the pictures in the Munich manuscript are unfortunately compromised by what is probably fadng of a blue component: in one set the greens are almost always shown as yellows, and in both indigoes/purples invariably are maroon. I don't know if the colours in the Bodleian manuscript are as vivid as those of the Parisian one, as the slides released by the Bodleian Library are poor; too dark for one thing, and they have not scanned them (as far as I know) using modern digital scanners yet. However, both the Parisian and the Bodleian versions were, IIRC, illustrated by the same artist, so he may have been using the same pigment sources to do so, in which case the Bodleian ones should be just as good.

    1. Addendum - not the same artist, but an artist from the same workshop...