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What colour was the late Roman draco standard? Robert Vermaat's Fectio page has a useful collection of ancient sources: Arrian mentions that the standards were 'multicoloured' in the second century, but later writers seem to refer solely to purple draco tails.

But if all dracos were the same colour, how would they work in identifying units and individuals on the battlefield? If all dracos were purple, how might the banner of an emperor be distinguished from that of a less exalted commander, or of a cohort (as Vegetius, I think, suggests)? Could they have been of different sizes, perhaps, or could they have had additional features that might have differentiated standards of different sorts? I realise there's no direct evidence on this, but I wondered what others here might think!
Hi, Nathan

If I recall correctly, one of the sources described the Emperor's victory parade of 357, in which purple draco's and cataphracts (those shiny-kinda-guys) were so impressive. I would think the draco sleeve might have been made expressly for this occasion. Maybe there are other references of purple not relating to an emperor. As you noted, and by simple logic, one would think dracos would have different colors recognizable to each cohort. "But you never know... you just never really know." (Uncle Nameless). Undecided
(01-16-2016, 09:45 PM)Alanus Wrote: [ -> ]Hi, Nathan

If I recall correctly, one of the sources described the Emperor's victory parade of 357, in which purple draco's and cataphracts (those shiny-kinda-guys) were so impressive. I would think the draco sleeve might have been made expressly for this occasion. Maybe there are other references of purple not relating to an emperor. As you noted, and by simple logic, one would think dracos would have different colors recognizable to each cohort. "But you never know... you just never really know." (Uncle Nameless). Undecided

Does the Strategikon, or any of the later "Strategikons/Taktikas" make any references to Dracones? I know they continued use until at least the 9th century in the Medieval Roman Army.

The Strategikon mentions banners for units were separate and differentiated in color, but I don't know if it mentions Dracones.
This section of an old post from TWC contains a useful summary:

http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthrea...h-century)
A surpisingly high percentage of the shield patterns in the Notitia appear to depict unit standards of one sort of another. Several of these show a draco, of which there are:

6 x Yellow (or gold, brass, etc.)
1 x Purple
1 x White (or silver)

None are illustrated as having a head differently coloured from the tail (except for one manuscript's version of the white one, where the head seems to have accidentally been coloured the same as the shield's main field: red).

Cheers, Luke
(01-16-2016, 02:51 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: [ -> ]What colour was the late Roman draco standard? Robert Vermaat's Fectio page has a useful collection of ancient sources: Arrian mentions that the standards were 'multicoloured' in the second century, but later writers seem to refer solely to purple draco tails.

But if all dracos were the same colour, how would they work in identifying units and individuals on the battlefield? If all dracos were purple, how might the banner of an emperor be distinguished from that of a less exalted commander, or of a cohort (as Vegetius, I think, suggests)? Could they have been of different sizes, perhaps, or could they have had additional features that might have differentiated standards of different sorts? I realise there's no direct evidence on this, but I wondered what others here might think!

Thanks for the promo. Wink
Actually the colour mentioned is 'purpure',  which looks rather more like deep red than purple.

But why would dracos need to identify units (or individuals)  on the battlefield. With one per cohort I assume that every soldier knew where to look, and they would never 'get lost in a sea of dracones'.
I also assume that the only individual with a draco would be the emperor himself, and he would not fight in the front line.
(01-18-2016, 12:57 PM)Robert Vermaat Wrote: [ -> ]With one per cohort I assume that every soldier knew where to look, and they would never 'get lost in a sea of dracones'.

For the individual soldiers, I'm sure, yes, they would just have glanced towards their nearest draconarius... But for the commanding officers, looking out over a battle line with every 500 men (or whatever a 'cohort' might have meant by that era!) having an identical purple draco, it would indeed have looked confusing, and hard to distinguish one unit from another... Unless it was just a way of assessing losses: count the number of dracones still in the air! [Image: wink.png]

I suppose it depends who these various signa were for...

Thanks for the red/purple reminder too, btw!
This was discussed here on RAT before.

My own view is the Draco was the symbolic representation of the Emperor on the battlefield. It was used by each cohort in a Legion/Auxilia unit as the rallying point, probably the association with the Emperor inspired the men to seek out the Draco if their unit broke up. We know that when Silvanius was promoted by his men to the rank of Emperor they stripped the Draco standards of their material covering so they could cloak Silvanius in purple.

There is not the evidence for 3rd/4th Century units having different coloured Draco standards, they all appear to have been either purple or a reddish purple in colour.
(01-22-2016, 01:16 PM)ValentinianVictrix Wrote: [ -> ]This was discussed here on RAT before.

My own view is the Draco was the symbolic representation of the Emperor on the battlefield. It was used by each cohort in a Legion/Auxilia unit as the rallying point, probably the association with the Emperor inspired the men to seek out the Draco if their unit broke up. We know that when Silvanius was promoted by his men to the rank of Emperor they stripped the Draco standards of their material covering so they could cloak Silvanius in purple.

There is not the evidence for 3rd/4th Century units having different coloured Draco standards, they all appear to have been either purple or a reddish purple in colour.

I take it you didn't read my post above then!  There is evidence in the Notitia for three different colours of dracones.

Further, it would seem rather strange for such a standard to have an imperial symbolic function, because Roman units already carried another kind of standard that was clearly much more suited to the job - those ones carrying an imperial imago.  Not much more symbolic of the emperor than a portrait of the man! 

You can see depictions of these in the Notitia, and not just as shield pattern emblems, but what appear to be actual standards as well - these last are shown on the image associated with the Comes limitis Aegypti .  See here (scroll down to the bottom).

A draco would be clearly more easily visible, making it a much better rallying device than an imago.  However, I am not entirely convinced any Roman infantry units needed such "rallying" devices, as such. It seems to me any infantry unit that was disrupted enough to require "rallying" was very unlikely to stick around long enough to do so, because it would have ceased to be a unit in the first place.  I see infantry standards as more of a reference point - something to align the ranks against, so that good order could be maintained. Once order has been broken, their function has effectively ceased. Recall Julius Caesar attempting to stop a fleeing standard bearer - he clearly wasn't acing as a rally point.

Cavalry would be a different matter, though. They wheel around and get expect to get broken up in ways infantry do not.

Cheers, Luke
By the reign of Theodosius the Great Imago's had been phased out as the Emperor's were no longer considered 'divine' as they had in previous times (I believe Theodosius was the last Emperor to accept the title 'Pontifex Maximus').

My view is based on the literary evidence as there is precious little artistic evidence or monumental evidence showing coloured Draco standards. The most telling was the Silvanius episode as it clearly showed that the troops who raised him to the Purple only had access to purple material via the Draco standards that they had, and enough material was gathered from them to be able to cloak Silvanius in a suitable manner.
If I may venture my opinion, this quote by Ammianus seems to show a uniform purple-color of the decorations on the standards. I may just be reading this wrong but it seems to be pretty clear (at least at this point in time, 355 AD).

'... So Silvanus, seeing no safety under present conditions, was driven to extreme measures, and having gradually spoken more boldly with the chief officers, he aroused them by the greatness of the reward he promised; then as a temporary expedient he tore the purple decorations from the dragon standards and vexilla of the cohorts and the companies, and so mounted to the imperial dignity'
(01-23-2016, 02:04 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: [ -> ]
(01-23-2016, 10:51 AM)lukeuedasarson Wrote: [ -> ]There is evidence in the Notitia for three different colours of dracones.

I was looking through the images from the ND on your site for these. Do you mean the dragon or snake-like devices shown on some of the shield emblems, or are there actual depictions of standards with poles and coloured tails? Could it be that the emblems are intended to show the 'creature' itself, rather than the military standard?

No, the only standards shown in a manner that include poles, and are planted upright, and thus are "clearly" standards, are those of the Egyptian count.  Others show just the decorative aspects, on shield patterns, but some can hardly be anything else.  E.g. an eagle depicted perched on a cross staff (as in the Herculiani iuniores), as opposed to on a lightning bolt, can hardly be anything other than a military aquila. If it was "just" representing the attribute of Jupiter, a lightning bolt would presumably be expected, if anything horizontal was to go in its claws. (a wreath would be another contender, of course). Likewise the Felices Honoriani seniores  shows not only what appears to be a rectangular imago (albeit absent the actual portrait in this particular case) plus part of the pole supporting it and the two phalarae above and below it. Surely this can't be anything other than a military standard. Its sister unit, the Felices Honoriani iuniores also depicts what is in all probability a standard, given the way the winged Victory holding aloft the wreath is balanced on such a small globe.

Now it is true that images like these can be found in contexts other than standards (although there is a chicken and egg problem here in that if we see an image a"ssociated" with the kind of imagery found on standards, how can we tall which copied the other?)

But the overall impression of summing these together is very strong - there is a very high number of emblems depicted in the ND that have very strong associations with military standards. So it would be odd, IMO, to conclude that the emblems shown that are emblems commonly associated with military standards are not in fact depicting standards. 

In the particular case of dracones, the way the Notitia ones are depicted argues firmly against a "creature" interpretation - every single one is shown with a cut off rectangular "body", just as you would expect for a wind-sock type standard that had to let air through it. Not a single one includes anything like legs, or even a tail.  One (the Eq. Honoriani iuniores) also has a neat rectangular portion chopped out of its "body". Exactly what this is intending to represent I am not sure (it isn't a support piece, since that would be part of the weighty head, and not the light body), but it to my mind is conclusive proof this isn't representing a "creature".

(Note that I take the opposite conclusion with the similar Eq. Mauri Alites - I believe the two things there do depict actual creatures, or to be more exact, their heads).

The 4th century is a period of flux in terms of imagery, because Christian elements are starting to take over in many areas, and we have explicit textual evidence for this in terms of standards from e.g. the Passio Sanctorum Bonosi et Maximiliani describing the [/url][url=http://lukeuedasarson.com/NDherculianiSeniores.html]Herculiani seniores in 362. This unit seems to have switched between images of Hercules and Christian forms several times over the century in terms of unit standards; this is precisely why it may have adopted an eagle as a shield emblem, IMO, as a neutral compromise between the two.  After all, it's presumably easier to change a single standard than to change a thousand odd shields whenevr a new emperor is installed...

(01-27-2016, 12:43 PM)caiusbeerquitius Wrote: [ -> ]Luke, are you familiar with Berger´s work?

Our analysis of the [different notitia dignitatum] documents reveals that a reliable record of the late antique objects, compositions, and spatial organization is accessible in this set of illustrations [meant is M2], for M II is based on a tracing of the Spirensis , the lost Carolingian manuscript of the Notitia. This tracing is our most important link to the late antique version.“

P.C. BERGER, The Insignia of the Notitia Dignitatum, A contribution to the study of late anti- que illustrated manuscripts, New York / Garland 1981, p. xviii.

No, I've not been able to get hold of a copy. If you have one in electronic form, I'd be most grateful for a copy!

As far as I am aware there is no evidence the M2 set were "traced" in the sense most people assume - i.e. a direct copying through a translucent sheet; on the contrary, the evidence points to it being done indirectly.  The M2 set also suffers from truly horrible inking that obscures many of the drawing lines underneath.  So while it is in many ways the most reliable - for some things - especially broad spatial details, it is demonstrably less reliable in some others, particularly in fine details.

(01-26-2016, 04:25 PM)ValentinianVictrix Wrote: [ -> ]By the reign of Theodosius the Great Imago's had been phased out as the Emperor's were no longer considered 'divine' as they had in previous times (I believe Theodosius was the last Emperor to accept the title 'Pontifex Maximus').

My view is based on the literary evidence as there is precious little artistic evidence or monumental evidence showing coloured Draco standards. The most telling was the Silvanius episode as it clearly showed that the troops who raised him to the Purple only had access to purple material via the Draco standards that they had, and enough material was gathered from them to be able to cloak Silvanius in a suitable manner.

But as Robert has already pointed out, Ammianus doesn't say "purple" - he says purpureo, which covers a much broader gamut of coplours than our purple does. In particular, it covers colours without any blue tints whatsoever - and thus precisely the dark red colour that vexillae are known to have been coloured for centuries.

So this is no evidence at all for purple as opposed to red standards, just standards that are dark coloured.  In other words, no change at all.  Now an imperial (i.e. expensive) "purple" would properly have some blue tint in it, since it was associated with Murex snails, and in particular (putting on my chemist's hat) the dye-fixed product of 6,6′-dibromoindigo.  But you wouldn't find this in military standards, that's for sure, it was much too expensive. IIRC, it's even in Diocletian's price control edict, as much the most expensive thing in it.
Luke wrote:

In the particular case of dracones, the way the Notitia ones are depicted argues firmly against a "creature" interpretation - every single one is shown with a cut off rectangular "body", just as you would expect for a wind-sock type standard that had to let air through it. Not a single one includes anything like legs, or even a tail.  One, the Equites Honoriani Iuniores', also has a neat rectangular portion chopped out of its "body". Exactly what this is intending to represent I am not sure (it isn't a support piece, since that would be part of the weighty head, and not the light body), but it to my mind is conclusive proof this isn't representing a "creature".

The Equites Honoriani Iuniores shield does depict a creature, the oldest style of dragon yet known. The Taifali were an Alan tribe, the second one to arrive in Roman territory. The Alans descended from the Saka, in particular the Yuezhi who originally lived in Northwestern China. Let's trace this creature symbol from the Taifali back to it's origin.

[attachment=12404]
Here we have the "dragon and pearl" on the Equites Taifali Juniors shield as it is today. I'm showing it as an accurate copy of the original. (I think that's John Conyard holding the shield.)

[attachment=12405]
Now we have the dragon and pearl as drawn in the Notitia Dignitatum. There are many dragon variations, and this one is an "eared dragon." The eared Chinese dragon had no legs. (The hornless dragon, found on scabbard slides, did have legs.)

[attachment=12406]
The modified version of the eared dragon arrived during the Warring States Period, a time when Yuezhi warriors trained the initial cavalry of Lord Wuling in the State of Zao, c. 300 BC. About this time, the eared dragon received its pearl and found its way into the Saka (Yuezhi) Culture, in this instance as a sword pommel. But how old is this creature?

[attachment=12407]
Originally, the eared dragon had no pearl ("of wisdom"). This jade version belonged to Fu Hao, the famous woman general who lived during the Shang Dynasty. She died around 1,250 BC. and her jade collection (along with over 100 weapons) was entombed with her in Anyang, China. Now we'll go back another 3,000 years.

[attachment=12408]
The eared dragon is traced back to the Hongshan Culture of Northeastern China, c. 5,000 to 3,000 BC. This is the Neolithic birth of the Equites Taifali's stylistic dragon, an actual creature albeit mythical and carved in soap-stone.

I know my ancient creatures... but no, I don't have a clue about colors of dracos. Wink
I have split the comments about editions of the Notitia Dignitatum from 'color of the draco' thread, as this seems to go into an entire new direction.
(01-30-2016, 07:27 AM)Alanus Wrote: [ -> ]The modified version of the eared dragon arrived during the Warring States Period, a time when Yuezhi warriors trained the initial cavalry of Lord Wuling in the State of Zao, c. 300 BC. About this time, the eared dragon received its pearl and found its way into the Saka (Yuezhi) Culture, in this instance as a sword pommel. But how old is this creature?

Certainly the pattern of the Eq. Taifali has been claimed by others to represent a drago and pearl motif, e.g. in Helmut Nickel; "The Dragon and the Pearl"; Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 26, (1991), pp. 139-146.  (He says evidence for the pearl , as opposed to heavenly disks, only goes back to the Tang dynatsy...)  But people who argue this also tend to see a Chinese yin-yang symbol in the pattern of the Armigeri Defensores seniores, when a much closer-to-home Celtic origin seems more likely there in terms of both geography and chronology.  Just because a Chinese connection can be advanced doesn't mean it is correct.

It is, to my mind, suspicious that people see a pearl in the Eq. Taifali's pattern don't make similar claims about all the other objects shown between the heads and the tails of the other Notitia dracones. In the case of the Taifali, a claim might be made, in isolation, because it is lacking any embellishemnt, but what of the others that obviously can't be pearls, by virtue of e.g. showing human figures on them, or by not being round, but being quadrilateral?  How do these essentially identically arranged dracones relate to the Taifali in that case?  (Nickel seems to explain this away by claiming the shields' bosses take the place of the pearl - but wouldn't that imply the Taifail actually has two pearls?)  Ockam's razor says the "pearl" of the Taifail is an imago, as far as I am concerned.

Now, I wouldn't argue that in the specific case of the Taifali, there could have been no possibility of a secondary association with a pearl. I see multiple symbolisms in other shield patterns in the ND, after all. But if so, it would have been secondary and not primary.

Note that the Taifali pattern is the sole draco in the Notitia that is actually purple! (albeit turning somewhat to grey in the Bodleian version, badly faded to pink in both the Munich versions, and rendered as plain indigo in the Parisian version, as is the case of all its "purples").

Incidentally, your statement that the Taifali were Alani is very bold - I can't see a single reference to Taifali in Bachrach's "A History Of The Alans In The West", for example.  As far as I am aware, there is precious little positive evidence one way or another for them even being Sarmatian.
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