Perhaps the most notable auxiliary regiment in Britain, the ‘quingenary’ cohort of 500 of bowmen recruited from the Hamian tribesmen of Syria, the only regiment of archers known to have been stationed in Britain. Recruited from the Hamian tribesmen of Hama in northern Syria’s Orontes valley, this unit was one of just two full archer regiments stationed in Britain. The other mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum was the ‘Numerus Syrorum Saggitariorum’ or ‘The Company of Syrian Archers’ from Malton (Derventio Brigantium) in Yorkshire, possibly the latter incarnation of the former unit.
They are the known Hadrianic garrison of Carvoran, a garrison of the Stanegate forts during Hadrian’s reign. The unit was moved to Bar Hill on the The Antonine Wall during its second occupation period c.158AD, and returned to Carvoran c.163-166 under Marcus Aurelius, where they built the fort in stone. They were stationed at some time in the Housesteads fort on Hadrian’s Wall, though their period of occupation at Housesteads is unknown.
A possible reason for stationing a whole quingenaria of archers on Hadrian’s Wall during this period might have been to provide meat and game, potentially plentiful in the area, to other garrisons. This hypothesis is supported by references to hunters (Venatores) from the fort at Birdoswald (Camboglanna).
A military diploma issued to veterans of the Cohors Primae Hamiorum Saggitariorum, found in the Balkans, allows conjecture concerning the cohort’s previous history before its deployment to Britain. It may have participated in Trajan’s Dacian Ward and been based in Moesia Inferior and had been brought to Britain in 118AD to reinforce the army there.
What can we deduce from the name Cohors Primae Hamiorum Saggitariorum?
- Cohors: This Latin term refers to a cohort, a standard tactical unit within the Roman army. A cohort typically consisted of several hundred soldiers.
- Primae: This word means “first” in Latin. It indicates that this is the first cohort of its kind or group.
- Hamiorum: This part of the name refers to the ethnic or geographical origin of the soldiers in the cohort. “Hamiorum” indicates that the soldiers were recruited from among the Hamians, a group or tribe. The Hamians were known to be from the region around the city of Hama, located in what is now modern-day Syria.
- Saggitariorum: This term comes from “sagittarius,” meaning “archer” in Latin. It signifies that this cohort was composed of archers.
Evidence for the presence of Cohors Primae Hamiorum Saggitariorum in Britain
- Military Diplomata 122AD
- Military Diplomata – 124AD (RIB 2401.6)
- Military Diplomata c AD126
- Military Diplomata (AD 158)
- Carvoran (RIB 1778 altar 136-138AD; 1792 altar 163-166AD; 1810).
- Housesteads (uninscribed tombstone of an archer; c.2nd century).
- Bar Hill (RIB 2166/2167 altars; 2172 tombstone of prefect).