Roman Cavalry

History Of The Equites Taifali

The Germanic Taifali joined a group of Goths, the Greuthungi, under Farnobius in 377AD and fought in Illyricum. Modern writers call the Greuthungi the Ostrogoths. Ammianus tells us Roman troops scattered from these “unknown tribes” suggesting a fierce reputation. He further claims “the Taifali are so sunk in gross sensuality that among them boys couple with men in a union of unnatural lust ….but if a young man catches a boar single-handed, or kills a huge bear, he is exempt thereafter from the continuation of this lewd intercourse.”

Ammianus calls Farnobius a “formidable troublemaker”, but his force was wiped out in it’s first encounter with Romans sent by the Western Emperor Gratian. The barbarians had slipped into Illyricum while Frigeridus the Count of Illyricum was with the Roman army under Richomeres fighting the Goths at Ad Salices in southeastern Romania. The battle was inconclusive and Frigeridus needed to return to Illyricum to guard the passes against the main Gothic army.

Somewhere on his journey though the Succi (Ihtiman) pass he encountered Farnobius and his band of Greuthungi and Taifali. The “Pannonian and Transalpine auxiliaries” killed Farnobius, and his army gave up. The Gothic and Taifali prisoners were sent to Italy to work as farm labourers.

These prisoners and their sons were perhaps used to form the regiment Equites Taifali under the Emperor Honorius in 395/8AD. The Notitia Dignitatum lists this unit under the command of the comes Britanniarum, as part of the British field army. It could have been sent to the Island by Stilicho in around 399AD to campaign in the north, alongside such units as our very own Praesidiensis. However it has been suggested that the Taifali and the Equites Honoriani Seniores, another regiment under the command of the comes Britanniarum, should be read as a single entity, the Equites Honoriani Taifali Seniores!

The shield designs of the Notitia are taken from two copies of the now lost original Codex Spirensis. The Oxford copy in the Bodleian Library dates from around 1436, and the Munich copy from shortly before 1550. The Oxford copy seems to be the most faithful.

The shield design of the Honoriani should be familiar to us, since their two light blue wolves on a red background is used by Alan Larson on behalf of English Heritage. The Taifali are given as a white background, red centre disk, light blue monster, ball and centre spot. The design at first will be seen on very small buckers, capable of both being carried in the left hand, and worn on the upper arm.

In researching the Tailfali I was amazed at just how much could be reconstructed of their history. A regimental identity can be pieced together from the mists of time. By now I’m familiar with and rather proud of our legion, the Praesidiensis. Now we have something else to get used to! The first five years will be the worst!