Perhaps the most
notably 'specialised' auxiliary regiment in Britain was the 500
strong 'quingenary' cohort of Syrian archers. "Cohors
Prima Hamiorum Sagittaria", a unit of bowmen recruited
from the Hamian tribesmen from the city of Hama in the Orontes valley
in northern Syria, one of only two whole regiments of archers known
to have been stationed in Britain. The other being a reference in
the Notitia Dignitatum of the 'Numerus Syrorum Saggitariorum'
- 'The Company of Syrian Archers' from Malton (Derventio Brigantium)
in Yorkshire. This could well be the last incarnation of the former
Hama fell under Roman rule in 63AD. Swapping
the sheltered valley of the sun-drenched Orontes River for the Roman
Empires cold and windswept northwest frontier in Britain was not
a choice most Middle Easterners would have made voluntarily, but
in the early second century AD, the 500 infantry archers from the
city of Hama simply had no choice. For they were now part of the
army of Imperial Rome, and were being sent to a new posting - to
protect the remote Roman province of Britain from the attentions
of barbarians living in what is now Scotland. Upon their arrival
in around 120AD they became the start of an extraordinary blossoming
of Middle Eastern culture in Britain. Egyptian temples, Syrian merchants,
Arab sailors - all contributed to transforming Britain for the very
first time into a cosmopolitan multi-cultural society.
COHORS I HAMIORUM SAGITTARIA IN BRITAIN
The first cohort of Hamian archers was the known Hadrianic garrison
unit of Magnis/Carvoran, one of the Stanegate forts. From their
garrison of Carvoran the unit then transferred to the legionary-built
fort at Bar Hill on the Antonine Wall, and occupied it from AD 142-157
during this frontier's second occupation period. They then transferred
back to Carvoran c.AD163-166, during the early reign of Marcus Aurelius,
where it was responsible for building the fort in stone. There is
evidence of archers possibly stationed at some time at Housesteads
fort (Vercovicium) on Hadrian's Wall, the tombstone of an
archer dated to the second century, depicted with an eastern bow
was found there, though the period of possible occupation at Housesteads
is unknown. They would undoubtedly have proved an excellent defensive
unit, able to shoot some considerable distance from the northern
battlements of the Housesteads fort.
Spaul suggests ("COHORS2"
BAR International series 841-2000) that the principle reason for
a whole quingenaria unit of archers based on Hadrian's Wall during
this period, was possibly to supply meat and game, (which may have
been abundant in the area) to the other garrisons. This theory is
backed-up by other mentions of hunters (Venatores) from the
fort at Birdoswald (Camboglanna).
"DEO SANCTO / SILVANO VE/NATORES
The earliest documentary evidence found
of Cohors I Hamiorum Sagittaria in Britain, is from the late
first quarter of the second century AD. The evidence is in the form
of a military diploma, dated July 17th 122AD. (CIL XVI 00069) Another
diploma from the slightly later date of November 16th 124AD was
found at Stannington in Yorkshire. (CIL XVI 00070 - RIB 2401.6)
Another of the same series which mentions the Hamian cohort was
discovered at Ravenglass.(Itunocelum) (AE 1997, 01001).
An altar dedicated to the Syrian Goddesses
by a newly arrived Syrian was found at Catterick in Yorkshire, and
possibly predates the diplomas, but there is no mention of the cohort
on the stone. (RIB 726)
"DEAE SVRIAE ARA GN
The text is very similar to another
altar dedication from Carvoran (Magnis) dated to AD163-166.
DEAE SVRIAE SVB CALPVRNIO AGRICOLA
LEG AVG PR PR LICINIVS CLEMENS PRAEF COH I HAMIORVM
"To the 'Syrian Goddess'. Under
Calpurnius Agricola, Legate of the Augustus with pro-praetorian
Licinius Clemens, prefect of the First Hamian Cohort (set this up)."
Other inscriptions from Carvoran;.
...IVS AGRIPPA... ...COH I HAMIORVM...
"[...]ius Agrippa [...] The First
Cohort of Hamians [...]"
(RIB 1810 altar stone dated:AD163-166
FORTVNAE AVG(ustae) PRO SALVTE L(uci) AELI(us)/ CAESARIS EX VISV
/ T(itus) FLA(vius) SECVNDVS PRAEF(ectus) COH I HAMIORVM SAGITTAR
V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) / M(erito)
"To the Fortune of the Emperor,
for the health of Lucius Aelius Caesar. As the result of a vision,
Titus Flavius Secundus, prefect of the First Cohort of Hamian Bowmen,
willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1778) altar stone dated: AD136-138