Ursicinus (Roman general)

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Ursicinus was a Roman senior military officer, holding the rank of "master of cavalry" (magister equitum) in the later Roman Empire c. 349–359.[1] He was a citizen of Antioch and was well connected in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire.


From AD 349 to 359 he served as Magister Equitum in the East. In AD 351 or 352 he was entrusted with the suppression of the Jewish revolt against Caesar Constantius Gallus.[2] Tiberias and Diospolis, two of the cities conquered by the rebels, were almost completely destroyed, while Diocaesarea was razed to the ground.[3] Ursicinus also was ordered to kill several thousand rebels, even young ones.[4]

Service with Ammianus Marcellinus[edit]

In 353, historian Ammianus Marcellinus was attached to the command of Ursicinus at his headquarters in Nisibis,[5] where he remained until recalled in 354 by Gallus, as the magister equitum (or master of the horse), to preside at an investigation for treason in Antioch.[6] According to Ammianus, the charges he was called upon to investigate were preposterous, being fabricated by Gallus' paranoia and bloodthirsty-ness, but Ursicinus nonthelesss had to put many to death.[7] Constantius, having heard of the ongoing disorders in the administration of the east, decided to dethrone Gallus at once by whatever means possible. Meanwhile, the high chamberlain Eusebius and other enemies of Ursicinus at court had poisoned Constantius' mind against the magister equitum, so that the emperor resolved to recall him to the court on pretext of promotion, to prevent him from conspiring from afar.[8]

When, in 355, Claudius Silvanus revolted against Emperor Constantius II in Gaul, Ursicinus was sent to him with a letter of recall by Constantius, which he was ordered to deliver in as favorable a manner as possible, and dissuade Claudius from revolt. However, since Silvanus' revolt had already reached uncontrollable proportions, Ursicinus had to assassinate Silvanus, thereupon assuming his command.

Ursicinus, after some delay in Gaul, was sent in 357 or 358 to resume his command in the east; the court intrigues of Eusebius the high chamberlain, according to Ammianus, brought about his recall to the court in the same year, where he was to be given the position of master of infantry, taken from Barbatio who was lately executed. Once near the court it would be easy to have him implicated for treason[9] The threat of war from Persia led to his being immediately sent back to the frontier, but he was placed under the orders of Sabinianus, a pusillanimous and debauched old man, who spent the entire ensuing campaign in his luxurious mansion in Edessa. Ursicinus arrived just in time for the siege of Amida, near which he was nearly captured by the cavalry of the Persian vanguard, and his personal guard dispersed.[10]

Ursicinus was able to maintain contact with the defenders of the city, and he did his utmost to relieve them, but was foiled by the cowardice of Sabinianus, who forbade him in the name of the emperor from putting his soldiers at any risk. In the picturesque language of Ammianus Marcellinus: “So that he seemed like a lion, terrible for his size and ferocity, but with claws cut and teeth drawn, so that he could not save from danger his cubs entangled in the nets of the hunters”.[11]

Ursicinus was dismissed after the destruction of Amida (modern Diyarbakır, Turkey) in AD 359 by the Persians,[12] for which he was officially blamed.[13]

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus revered Ursicinus, and his account is greatly biased in his favour.


Ursicinus had several sons, most notable was Potentius who died at the battle of Adrianople [14].


  1. ^ Wallace-Hadrill, A., Ammianus Marcellinus. The Later Roman Empire (AD 354-378), Harmondsworth, 1986, p. 486.
  2. ^ Thomas M. Banchich, "Gallus Caesar (15 March 351 - 354 A.D.)", De Imperatoribus Romanis, 1997.
  3. ^ Bernard Lazare and Robert Wistrich, Antisemitism: Its History and Causes, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8032-7954-X, p. 47.
  4. ^ Jerome, Chronica, 15-21; Theophanes, AM 5843.
  5. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, 14.9.1,2; Thompson, E.A., The Historical Work of Ammianus Marcellinus Groningen, 1969, p. 3.
  6. ^ Matthews, J., The Roman Empire of Ammianus, London, 1989, p. 34.
  7. ^ Ammianus XIV., 9,
  8. ^ Ammianus, XIV., 11
  9. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, The History, (Kindle Edition), XVIII., 6
  10. ^ Ammianus XVIII., 8
  11. ^ Ammianus, XIX., 3, 3.
  12. ^ Trombley, F., "Ammianus Marcellinus and fourth-century warfare: a protector's approach to historical narrative", in J.W. Drijvers and D. Hunt, eds. The Late Roman World and its Historian, London, 1999 p. 20
  13. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 20.2.2-5; Barnes, T. D., Ammianus Marcellinus and the Representation of Historical Reality, Ithaca and London, 1998, p. 63.
  14. ^ Ibid.,720