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The Ninth Cohort Of Batavians
Topic Started: Feb 2 2010, 05:26 PM (1,318 Views)
Brinno
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One thing about ancient history is that our knowledge on certain eras resembles Emmental cheese. The scholars among us are trying to fill the holes with solid proof; dilettantes like me make up a filling by fantasizing. Here are just some runaway thoughts on the ninth cohort of Batavians, alternated with - I hope - some pieces of scientific consensus.

Right, well, so what happened with Flavius Cerialis and his Batavian cohort when they left Vindolanda?

One of the letters to the Batavian commander Flavius Cerialis starts as follows: "Niger and Brocchus to their Cerialis, greeting. We pray, brother, that what you are about to do will be most successful." Although in this letter a meeting with the governor is mentioned, I can imagine that what Niger and Brocchus ment with "you are about to do" could very well be the Batavian's oncoming departure to Dacia. This letter oozes a conspiring atmosphere; taking part in an emperor's campaign might have been kept secret for some time.

“..tile stamps which name the unit have been found at Buridava in Moesia Inferior and these have been dated to the period between the first and second Dacian Wars (c. AD 102/6).” (Bowman and Thomas, on Vindolanda Tablets Online). The ninth cohort of Batavians is said to have served in the Dacian wars. In theory therefore, they could be depicted on the colonna Traiana in Rome on which the Dacian wars spiral to a high level of propaganda. We're talking about one cohort, and the chance that it played role in the Dacian wars significant enough to be depicted on the colonna is very remote, but the level of detail and accuracy of the colonna must give an idea of what the cohort must have looked like. Apparently the soldier's attires per regiment were not as uniform as we often see in the movies, still the regiments at least used standards to be recognized. On the colonna there are quite a few standards to be found. Unfortunately I haven't spotted the bronze standard yet with the horse which became the logo for Vindolanda. On the other hand there are many different types of shields depicted on the colonna. Maybe here on the forum there's an expert on militaria who can tell if there are auxiliaries depicted on it. Surely they did not look the same as legionnaries?

That the ninth Batavian cohort at least had a standard, can be found in one of the Vindolanda letters. Decurion Masculus asks his commander Cerialis: "..Are we all to return with the standard, or.." (I couldn´t find this letter on Vindolanda Tablets Online, strangely enough, but it was on the BBC History website). It is open to debate if the bronze horse was a standard to begin with, and if so, if it was the one for the Batavian cohort. Since Batavians were famous for their horsemanship, it seems very likely to me that the bronze horse was carried by the Batavian cohorts that inhabited Vindolanda. In Batavian territory in the Netherlands a large collection of beautifully made bronze harness-ornaments (phalerae) has been found. It is said to be the largest collection of anywhere in the Roman world and probably dates from 40-100 AD. Also, Tacitus mentions that no one but the Batavians were capable of crossing the Rhine on horseback while armed. The horse obviously played a very important role in Batavia.
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Badger
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The numbering of Cohorts has puzzled me a bit. Some sources on the Roman army (alas, the later ones like the Notitia Dignatatum are the most rounded out) suggest that the ratio of Legion Troops to Auxilliaries was around 1:1. With an army of several hundred thousand, that makes a lot of Cohorts.
Say for argument, an army of 250,000 men. That makes about 125,000 auxilliaries.
Now, if a Cohort is around 500 men, that would make something like 250 Cohorts.
So, why do we only hear about the low numbered ones?
Gaul being a rather large province there ought to be dozens of Gallic Cohorts, but if any Cohort in Britain has a number over 10 I have not heard of it.

Could each military area had its numbering system? It would seem unlikely that a 4th Cohort in Brittania would be confused with one on the Dacian frontier. Maybe there was a "4th" in each place?

No doubt wiser heads can weigh in on this.

Tim Wolter
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Andy
Dr Andrew Robin Birley
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The numbers simply refer to the number of cohorts raised from a particular area at a particular time, rather than a number which reflected the unit’s presence in a wider context of all auxiliary cohorts as a whole. For instance, every time you raise a couple of cohorts of Gauls, you may number them 1-whatever.....each time this is done.

As far as the Gauls are concerned, there are several units with the same number. But we can make a simple mistake of associating the entire landmass of 'Gaul' with the units of the same name. Actually the so called 'Gauls' regiments came from a fairly small area, modern day Belgium. Other units such as the Nervians were also Gallic (modern day France), as were many others. Often a unit would be associated with a city or a civitas capital, or a specific group of people, rather than a broader geographic area. Associations with perceived origins become more complex and indistinct as time progresses. Example, by the 4th century, exactly who were the 4th cohort of Gauls and where did its soldiers come from? If it even still existed that is?

A warning is to take care with the Notitia, as it was more than a little out of date and some of it is probably well wide of the mark.

It must also be remembered that some units, as with the legions, were removed from the listings for various reasons and those numbers were not used again. Should something disastrous happen, or something regarded as dishonourable, then that Legion number could be removed and cease to exist once the legion or unit ceased to exist, rather than being re-issued. Same thing could happen to an auxiliary unit. Pick the wrong side on a civil war, venture to far into the Persian desert......number and unit gone from the listing. What complicates matters is that you can have several units (auxiliary) sharing the same number. So the one you thought you had is not the one you were looking for at all. There are 4th cohorts of Gauls all over the place, Britain, Moesia, Raetia etc. They were not the same unit.

For an excellent article on the 4th cohort of Gauls search the following ref:

Birley A.R. 2008‘Cives Galli de(ae) Galliae concordesque Britanni: a Dedication at "Vindolanda in
Antiquité classique 77 (2008). P 171-187

http://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/listaarticulos?tipo_busqueda=ANUALIDAD&revista_busqueda=6987&clave_busqueda=2008


Or Auxiliaries as a whole.......look at

Spaul J. 2000 COHORS: The evidence for and a short history of the auxiliary infantry units of the
Imperial Roman Army. BAR International Series 841.
Edited by Andy, Feb 4 2010, 10:40 AM.
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SacoHarry
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Multiple cohorts running around sharing the same name = not helpful to a modern historian!

I guess there's good evidence that it's "our" IX Batavians that made it to Dacia in 105? (The obvious hurry with which they left Vindolanda at the end of Period III is a big clue at least!) Inscriptions and the Notitia then have "IX Batavorum" residing in Raetia (modern southen Germany) til the end of the western Empire. Do we know for sure that this is still "ours"?

I found excerpts from recent books online mentioning Trajan's Column scenes 36-42. (A Google search using "IX Batavorum" and "Trajan's Column" was my best starting point.) Supposedly they show Germanic auxiliaries in native war-gear, consisting of wolf and bear pelts. Elsewhere there's a paper that shows auxiliaries on Trajan's Column using chainmail and round shields to distinguish them from legionaries. Sadly, as usual much of the information online is contradictory & it's hard to know who to trust.

I don't see anything that specifies attire/standards of the Ninth Batavians yet. But it's a start. From what I've seen and what Andy says, it also sounds like a hornet's nest of conflicting info!
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Badger
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Thanks Andy, I suspected something of the sort.

As to the Notitia, it is certainly one of the oddest documents out there. Near as I can tell most scholars think it was compiled under Theodosius as a hand book to help his sons rule.

Now, Theo had his flaws, but no dummy he, it was clear Honorius and Arcadius needed the help!

But what survived seems such a mess, I wonder if it was no more than a pretty scrap book that the idiot princes could use while moving non existent units across an inaccurate map of a crumbling empire.

Who knows how many of those units even existed anymore, or existed only on parchment so that somebody's cousin Lucius could be paymaster and pocket the solidi!

Tim Wolter
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Brinno
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Thanks for the comments. Indeed a nest of big hornets; which seems to urge me to raise the level of caution to "question everything"-level... I certainly would have thought that the Roman army's strengths organising and bureaucracy would have lead to at least systematic numbering of cohorts. Also, I thought the addresses on the Vindolanda letters themselves suggested a high level consistency in names and whereabouts of units. Otherwise letters might have ended up on the wrong side of the empire a few times too many. On the other hand it might mean just a higher level of local organization. Which makes me wonder if the militairy reports that were found were just ment for local use or (also) for higher levels like the governor in Britain. But that's a spin-off for perhaps another item. I guess the best chance in discovering hard evidence on whereabouts, appearance or standards are newly found Roman grave-monuments or letters.

In the meantime I dug up a booklet dating from 1979. "What the soldiers wore on Hadrian's Wall", by H. Russel Robinson, with to my surprise on page 11 a detail-picture of Trajan's Colonna with the adjacent comment "Auxiliary cavalry and infantry from Trajan's Column, Rome, early 2nd century A.D. All wear simple helmets, mail shirts and carry oval shields." No idea if Russel Robinson's right that they are auxiliaries, but these pictured soldiers all have differently decorated shields. Maybe different units were 'summarized' by picturing one soldier (with his unique shield) per unit. But, perhaps more obvious, the auxiliaries just had no uniform shield decorations.

Just one thing on standards. In the same booklet two images of gravestones or -monuments show a soldier. Interesting to see that both happen to carry something of a standard. The one in Hexham carries some portrait on a pole; the one found at Carrawburgh shows an animal (a bull, or, wishfull thinking: a horse) on a trident. They seem as small as the Vindolanda horse, of which is said that it might have been too small to be a standard. In both cases Russel Robinson's comment is that the soldiers are standard-bearers.
If Russel Robinson is right, of course, but to quote Dirty Harry on this: "If you want guarantees: buy a toaster."
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LilianJackson
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Hi to all who have contributed. I read your thoughts with great interest. Being a rank beginner at this, and certainly having already fallen into the trap of thinking I knew a little bit about the 9th Batavians only to realise I don't at all, it is very reassuring to know that even folks with far more mud on their shoes and loads more hours reading, researching etc. are still learning and wondering, re-reading etc.
I had not realised there was a (possibly) known standard (the bronze horse) - that's very interesting and it would, indeed, link in with their having been reputed horsemen.

Can anyone remind me of which tablet it was in which Decurion Masclus requested more beer (or is it a figment of my imagination??) I can't spot it on the tablets website, though my eyes are pretty poor and I probably missed it. And was Masclus one of the Batavians?

Best regards,
Lilian
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SacoHarry
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Just happened to be rereading Tony Birley's "Garrison Life at Vindolanda" and found the Masclus passages (Tony says he also shows up as "Masculus" at least once). The Vindolanda tablet # is 1544. But I think that the tablets website uses a different numbering system -- just to make things simple! He does appear to be one of the Batavians, because he's writing to Cerialis as his commander when he's asking for the beer.

Hope that's of some help!
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LilianJackson
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Harry,
many thanks!
Lilian
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