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Legio I Illyricorum

Coin of Aurelian at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Coin of Aurelian (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn)
Legio I Illyricorum: one of the legions of the later Roman empire. Its name means 'legion of the Illyrians'.

This legion was almost certainly founded by the emperor Aurelian, either before he marched to the east to attack the Palmyrene Empire of the empress Zenobia, or immediately after he had subdued the Syrian oasis city in 273. To create this new unit, Aurelian must -to judge from the legion's name- have used soldiers from the legions of the Danube; they were to remain in the east as a non-oriental element that had no local ties and could be relied upon.

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The Diocletianic Camp in Palmyra. Photo Marco Prins.
The Diocletianic Camp in Palmyra.

The unit remained in Palmyra, where the "Diocletianic Camp", immediately west of the city, served as its base. Barracks, the principia (HQs), the praetorium (commander's mansion), and the temple for the standards have been excavated. The First legion of the Illyrians was still in Palmyra when the text known as the Notitia Dignitatum (a list of magistracies and army units) was composed (c.400).

A unit made up from soldiers of I Illyricorum and III Gallica was active in Egypt in 315-316. A comparable unit is known to have stayed at Syene, in southern Egypt, in 323. In both cases, the commander was an officer named Victorinus.

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