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The Imperial Guard Cavalry

    The Equites Singulares Augusti were formed around the end of the 1st c. CE, most probably by the emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98-117 CE.  They served as the emperor's personal cavalry escort, a concept which derived from the original "hand-picked" (i.e., singular) bodyguards who served in the retinue of a provincial Roman governor.  

    Trajan had been adopted by the emperor Nerva while serving as governor of Upper Germany.  Nerva, unpopular with the Praetorians in Rome for his suspected involvement in the murder of their benefactor Domitian, needed an heir who could command sufficient loyalty among the regular army to counterbalance the animus of the Praetorian Guard.  Trajan, with the eight formidable Rhine legions behind him, proved the ideal candidate.

    The reasons behind the creation of the Equites Singulares Augusti probably relate closely to the precarious political situation Trajan found himself in at the time of his accession to the imperial throne, only one year after his adoption as heir.  As governor of Upper Germany, Trajan already possessed a picked group of singulares, who naturally accompanied him upon his journey to Rome, where he would be vulnerable to Praetorian intrigues and far from his loyal legions in the north.   Out of his former provincial bodyguard, Trajan formed the nucleus of the new Imperial Guard Cavalry.

    Subsequently, the Guard singulares were individually detached for temporary duty from among the crack auxiliary cavalry units (alae) serving on the Rhine and Danubian frontiers.  At the expiration of their three-year term of service in the Guard Cavalry, singulares would return to their original auxiliary units.


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