Roman Officers & Standard-Bearers

Roman Officers & Standard-Bearers

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Decimation (punishment)

Decimation (Latin: decimatio decem = "ten") was a form of Roman military discipline in which every tenth man in a group was executed by members of his cohort. The discipline was used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as cowardice, mutiny, desertion, and insubordination, and for pacification of rebellious legions. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth". [1] The procedure was an attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the realities of managing a large group of offenders. [2]


Early Roman army (c. 500 BC to c. 300 BC) Edit

The early Roman army was the armed forces of the Roman Kingdom and of the early Roman Republic. During this period, when warfare chiefly consisted of small-scale plundering raids, it has been suggested that the army followed Etruscan or Greek models of organisation and equipment. The early Roman army was based on an annual levy.

The army consisted of 3,000 infantrymen and 300 cavalrymen. All of which were Equites. The Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans under the Roman state would each provide an extra 1,000 soldiers and 100 cavalrymen.

King Servius of Rome would institute the Servian reforms. These would divide the population into five classes. Each of which would have different roles in the military. The first class could afford to have a cuirass, greaves, a shield, a sword, and a spear. The second class had greaves, a shield, a sword, and a spear. The third class could only afford to have the shield, a sword, and a spear. The fourth class had a shield and a spear. The fifth class would only be slingers. Any poorer citizen, called Capite Censi would have no weapons. The Capite Censi would not serve in the army unless it was an emergency. [3]

The infantry ranks were filled with the lower classes while the cavalry (equites or celeres) were left to the patricians, because the wealthier could afford horses. Moreover, the commanding authority during the regal period was the king.

When the army of Rome would be brought together on the Campus Martius it was called the Comitia Curiata. [3]

Until the establishment of the Roman Republic and the office of consul, the king assumed the role of commander-in-chief. [4] However, from about 508 BC Rome no longer had a king. The commanding position of the army was given to the consuls, "who were charged both singly and jointly to take care to preserve the Republic from danger". [5]

The term legion is derived from the Latin word legio which ultimately means draft or levy. At first there were only four Roman legions. These legions were numbered "I" to "IIII", with the fourth being written as such and not "IV". The first legion was seen as the most prestigious. The bulk of the army was made up of citizens. These citizens could not choose the legion to which they were allocated. Any man "from ages 16–46 were selected by ballot" and assigned to a legion. [6]

Until the Roman military disaster of 390 BC at the Battle of the Allia, Rome's army was organised similarly to the Greek phalanx. This was due to Greek influence in Italy "by way of their colonies". Patricia Southern quotes ancient historians Livy and Dionysius in saying that the "phalanx consisted of 3,000 infantry and 300 cavalry". [7] Each man had to provide their equipment in battle the military equipment which they could afford determined which position they took in the battle. Politically they shared the same ranking system in the Comitia Centuriata.

Roman army of the mid-Republic (c. 300–88 BC) Edit

The Roman army of the mid-Republic was also known as the "manipular army", or the "Polybian army", after the Greek historian Polybius, who provides the most detailed extant description of this phase. The Roman army started to have a full-time strength of 150,000 at all times and 3/4 of the rest were levied.

During this period, the Romans, while maintaining the levy system, adopted the Samnite manipular organisation for their legions and also bound all the other peninsular Italian states into a permanent military alliance (see Socii). The latter were required to supply (collectively) roughly the same number of troops to joint forces as the Romans to serve under Roman command. Legions in this phase were always accompanied on campaign by the same number of allied alae (Roman non-citizen auxiliaries), units of roughly the same size as legions.

After the Second Punic War (218–201 BC), the Romans acquired an overseas empire, which necessitated standing forces to fight lengthy wars of conquest and to garrison the newly gained provinces. Thus the army's character mutated from a temporary force based entirely on short-term conscription to a standing army in which the conscripts were supplemented by a large number of volunteers willing to serve for much longer than the legal six-year limit. These volunteers were mainly from the poorest social class, who did not have plots to tend at home and were attracted by the modest military pay and the prospect of a share of war booty. The minimum property requirement for service in the legions, which had been suspended during the Second Punic War, was effectively ignored from 201 BC onward in order to recruit sufficient volunteers.

Between 150 BC and 100 BC, the manipular structure was gradually phased out, and the much larger cohort became the main tactical unit. In addition, from the Second Punic War onward, Roman armies were always accompanied by units of non-Italian mercenaries, such as Numidian cavalry, Cretan archers, and Balearic slingers, who provided specialist functions that Roman armies had previously lacked.

Roman army of the late Republic (88–30 BC) Edit

The Roman army of the late Republic (88–30 BC) marks the continued transition between the conscription-based citizen levy of the mid-Republic and the mainly volunteer, the professional standing forces of the imperial era.

The main literary sources for the army's organisation and tactics in this phase are the works of Julius Caesar, the most notable of a series of warlords who contested for power in this period.

As a result of the Social War (91–88 BC), all Italians were granted Roman citizenship, the old allied alae were thereby abolished and their members integrated into the legions. Regular annual conscription remained in force and continued to provide the core of legionary recruitment, but an ever-increasing proportion of recruits were volunteers, who signed up for 16-year terms as opposed to the maximum 6 years for conscripts. The loss of ala cavalry reduced Roman/Italian cavalry by 75%, and legions became dependent on allied native horse for cavalry cover. This period saw the large-scale expansion of native forces employed to complement the legions, made up of numeri ("units") recruited from tribes within Rome's overseas empire and neighbouring allied tribes. Large numbers of heavy infantry and cavalry were recruited in the Roman Provinces of Hispania, Gallia and Thracia, and archers from the Eastern Mediterranean, ( Mostly from Thrace, Anatolia and Syria ). However, these native units were not integrated with the legions, but retained their own traditional leadership, organisation, armour and weapons.

Imperial Roman army (30 BC–AD 284) Edit

During this period, the Republican system of citizen conscription was replaced by a standing professional army of mainly volunteers serving standard 20-year terms (plus five years as reservists), although many in the service of the Roman Empire would serve as many as 30 to 40 years on active duty, as established by the first Roman emperor, Augustus (sole ruler 30 BC–14 AD). Regular annual conscription of citizens was abandoned and only decreed in emergencies (e.g. during the Illyrian revolt of 6–9 AD).

Under Augustus, there were 28 legions, consisting almost entirely of heavy infantry, with about 5,000 men each (total 125,000). This had increased to a peak of 33 legions of about 5,500 men each (c. 180,000 men in total) by 200 AD under Septimius Severus. Legions continued to recruit Roman citizens, mainly the inhabitants of Italy and Roman colonies, until 212. Legions were flanked by the auxilia, a corps of regular troops recruited mainly from peregrini, imperial subjects who did not hold Roman citizenship (the great majority of the empire's inhabitants until 212, when all were granted citizenship). Auxiliaries, who served a minimum term of 25 years, were also mainly volunteers, but regular conscription of peregrini was employed for most of the 1st century AD. Under Augustus, the auxilia consisted of about 250 regiments of roughly cohort size, that is, about 500 men (in total 125,000 men, or 50% of the total army). Under Septimius Severus, the number of regiments increased to about 400, of which about 13% were double-strength (250,000 men, or 60% of total army). Auxilia contained heavy infantry equipped similarly to legionaries, almost all of the army's cavalry (both armoured and light), archers and slingers.

Later Roman army (284–476 AD) continuing as East Roman army (476–641 AD) Edit

The Late Roman army period stretches from (284–476 AD and its continuation, in the surviving eastern half of the empire, as the East Roman army to 641). In this phase, crystallised by the reforms of the emperor Diocletian (ruled 284–305 AD), the Roman army returned to regular annual conscription of citizens, while admitting large numbers of non-citizen barbarian volunteers. However, soldiers remained 25-year professionals and did not return to the short-term levies of the Republic. The old dual organisation of legions and auxilia was abandoned, with citizens and non-citizens now serving in the same units. The old legions were broken up into cohorts or even smaller units. At the same time, a substantial proportion of the army's effectives were stationed in the interior of the empire, in the form of comitatus praesentales, armies that escorted the emperors.

Middle Byzantine army (641–1081 AD) Edit

The Middle Byzantine army (641–1081 AD) was the army of the Byzantine state in its classical form (i.e. after the permanent loss of its Near Eastern and North African territories to the Arab conquests after 641 AD). This army was largely composed of semi-professional troops (soldier-farmers) based on the themata military provinces, supplemented by a small core of professional regiments known as the tagmata. Ibn al-Fakih estimated the strength of the themata forces in the East c. 902 at 85,000 and Kodama c. 930 at 70,000. [8] This structure pertained when the empire was on the defensive, in the 10th century the empire was increasingly involved in territorial expansion, and the themata troops became progressively more irrelevant, being gradually replaced by 'provincial tagmata' units and an increased use of mercenaries.

Komnenian Byzantine army (1081–1204) Edit

The Komnenian Byzantine army was named after the Komnenos dynasty, which ruled from 1081 to 1185. This was an army built virtually from scratch after the permanent loss of half of Byzantium's traditional main recruiting ground of Anatolia to the Turks following the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, and the destruction of the last regiments of the old army in the wars against the Normans in the early 1080s. It survived until the fall of Constantinople to the Western crusaders in 1204. This army had a large number of mercenary regiments composed of troops of foreign origin such as the Varangian Guard, and the pronoia system was introduced.

Palaiologan Byzantine army (1261–1453) Edit

The Palaiologan Byzantine army was named after the Palaiologos dynasty (1261–1453), which ruled Byzantium from the recovery of Constantinople from the Crusaders until its fall to the Turks in 1453. Initially, it continued some practices inherited from the Komnenian era and retained a strong native element until the late 13th century. During the last century of its existence, however, the empire was little more than a city-state that hired foreign mercenary bands for its defence. Thus the Byzantine army finally lost any meaningful connection with the standing imperial Roman army. [ citation needed ]

This article contains the summaries of the detailed linked articles on the historical phases above, Readers seeking discussion of the Roman army by theme, rather than by chronological phase, should consult the following articles:

Some of the Roman army's many tactics are still used in modern-day armies today.

Until c. 550 BC, there was no "national" Roman army, but a series of clan-based war-bands which only coalesced into a united force in periods of serious external threat. Around 550 BC, during the period conventionally known as the rule of king Servius Tullius, it appears that a universal levy of eligible adult male citizens was instituted. This development apparently coincided with the introduction of heavy armour for most of the infantry. Although originally low in numbers the Roman infantry was extremely tactical and developed some of the most influential battle strategies to date.

The early Roman army was based on a compulsory levy from adult male citizens which was held at the start of each campaigning season, in those years that war was declared. There were no standing or professional forces. During the Regal Era (to c. 500 BC), the standard levy was probably of 9,000 men, consisting of 6,000 heavily armed infantry (probably Greek-style hoplites), plus 2,400 light-armed infantry (rorarii, later called velites) and 600 light cavalry (equites celeres). When the kings were replaced by two annually elected praetores in c. 500 BC, the standard levy remained of the same size, but was now divided equally between the Praetors, each commanding one legion of 4,500 men.

It is likely that the hoplite element was deployed in a Greek-style phalanx formation in large set-piece battles. However, these were relatively rare, with most fighting consisting of small-scale border-raids and skirmishing. In these, the Romans would fight in their basic tactical unit, the centuria of 100 men. In addition, separate clan-based forces remained in existence until c. 450 BC at least, although they would operate under the Praetors' authority, at least nominally.

In 493 BC, shortly after the establishment of the Roman Republic, Rome concluded a perpetual treaty of military alliance (the foedus Cassianum), with the combined other Latin city-states. The treaty, probably motivated by the need for the Latins to deploy a united defence against incursions by neighbouring hill-tribes, provided for each party to provide an equal force for campaigns under unified command. It remained in force until 358 BC.

The central feature of the Roman army of the mid-Republic, or the Polybian army, was the manipular organization of its battle-line. Instead of a single, large mass (the phalanx) as in the Early Roman army, the Romans now drew up in three lines consisting of small units (maniples) of 120 men, arrayed in chessboard fashion, giving much greater tactical strength and flexibility. This structure was probably introduced in c. 300 BC during the Samnite Wars. Also probably dating from this period was the regular accompaniment of each legion by a non-citizen formation of roughly equal size, the ala, recruited from Rome's Italian allies, or socii. The latter were approximately 150 autonomous states which were bound by a treaty of perpetual military alliance with Rome. Their sole obligation was to supply to the Roman army, on demand, a number of fully equipped troops up to a specified maximum each year.

The Second Punic War (218–201 BC) saw the addition of a third element to the existing dual Roman/Italian structure: non-Italian mercenaries with specialist skills lacking in the legions and alae: Numidian light cavalry, Cretan archers, and slingers from the Balearic islands. From this time, these units always accompanied Roman armies.

The Republican army of this period, like its earlier forebear, did not maintain standing or professional military forces, but levied them, by compulsory conscription, as required for each campaigning season and disbanded thereafter (although formations could be kept in being over winter during major wars). The standard levy was doubled during the Samnite Wars to 4 legions (2 per Consul), for a total of c. 18,000 Roman troops and 4 allied alae of similar size. Service in the legions was limited to property-owning Roman citizens, normally those known as iuniores (age 16–46). The army's senior officers, including its commanders-in-chief, the Roman Consuls, were all elected annually at the People's Assembly. Only equites (members of the Roman knightly order) were eligible to serve as senior officers. Iuniores of the highest social classes (equites and the First Class of commoners) provided the legion's cavalry, the other classes the legionary infantry. The proletarii (those assessed at under 400 drachmae wealth) were ineligible for legionary service and were assigned to the fleets as oarsmen. Elders, vagrants, freedmen, slaves and convicts were excluded from the military levy, save in emergencies.

The legionary cavalry also changed, probably around 300 BC onwards from the light, unarmoured horse of the early army to a heavy force with metal armour (bronze cuirasses and, later, chain-mail shirts). Contrary to a long-held view, the cavalry of the mid-Republic was a highly effective force that generally prevailed against strong enemy cavalry forces (both Gallic and Greek) until it was decisively beaten by the Carthaginian general Hannibal's horsemen during the second Punic War. This was due to Hannibal's greater operational flexibility owing to his Numidian light cavalry.

The Polybian army's operations during its existence can be divided into three broad phases. (1) The struggle for hegemony over Italy, especially against the Samnite League (338–264 BC) (2) the struggle with Carthage for hegemony in the western Mediterranean Sea (264–201 BC) and (3) the struggle against the Hellenistic monarchies for control of the eastern Mediterranean (201–91 BC). During the earlier phase, the normal size of the levy (including allies) was in the region of 40,000 men (2 consular armies of c. 20,000 men each).

During the latter phase, with lengthy wars of conquest followed by permanent military occupation of overseas provinces, the character of the army necessarily changed from a temporary force based entirely on short-term conscription to a standing army in which the conscripts, whose service was in this period limited by law to 6 consecutive years, were complemented by large numbers of volunteers who were willing to serve for much longer periods. Many of the volunteers were drawn from the poorest social class, which until the 2nd Punic War had been excluded from service in the legions by the minimum property requirement: during that war, extreme manpower needs had forced the army to ignore the requirement, and this practice continued thereafter. Maniples were gradually phased out as the main tactical unit, and replaced by the larger cohorts used in the allied alae, a process probably complete by the time the general Marius assumed command in 107 BC. (The "Marian reforms" of the army hypothesised by some scholars are today seen by other scholars as having evolved earlier and more gradually.)

In the period after the defeat of Carthage in 201 BC, the army was campaigning exclusively outside Italy, resulting in its men being away from their home plots of land for many years at a stretch. They were assuaged by the large amounts of booty that they shared after victories in the rich eastern theatre. But in Italy, the ever-increasing concentration of public lands in the hands of big landowners, and the consequent displacement of the soldiers' families, led to great unrest and demands for land redistribution. This was successfully achieved, but resulted in the disaffection of Rome's Italian allies, who as non-citizens were excluded from the redistribution. This led to the mass revolt of the socii and the Social War (91-88 BC). The result was the grant of Roman citizenship to all Italians and the end of the Polybian army's dual structure: the alae were abolished and the socii recruited into the legions.

Under the founder–emperor Augustus (ruled 30 BC – 14 AD), the legions, c. 5,000-strong all-heavy infantry formations recruited from Roman citizens only, were transformed from a mixed conscript and volunteer corps serving an average of 10 years, to all-volunteer units of long-term professionals serving a standard 25-year term (conscription was only decreed in emergencies). In the later 1st century, the size of a legion's First Cohort was doubled, increasing legionary personnel to c. 5,500.

Alongside the legions, Augustus established the auxilia, a regular corps of similar numbers to the legions, recruited from the peregrini (non-citizen inhabitants of the empire – about 90% of the empire's population in the 1st century). As well as comprising large numbers of extra heavy infantry equipped in a similar manner to legionaries, the auxilia provided virtually all the army's cavalry (heavy and light), light infantry, archers and other specialists. The auxilia were organised in c. 500-strong units called cohortes (all-infantry), alae (all-cavalry) and cohortes equitatae (infantry with a cavalry contingent attached). Around 80 AD, a minority of auxiliary regiments were doubled in size. Until about 68 AD, the auxilia were recruited by a mix of conscription and voluntary enlistment. After that time, the auxilia became largely a volunteer corps, with conscription resorted to only in emergencies. Auxiliaries were required to serve a minimum of 25 years, although many served for longer periods. On completion of their minimum term, auxiliaries were awarded Roman citizenship, which carried important legal, fiscal and social advantages. Alongside the regular forces, the army of the Principate employed allied native units (called numeri) from outside the empire on a mercenary basis. These were led by their own aristocrats and equipped in traditional fashion. Numbers fluctuated according to circumstances and are largely unknown.

As all-citizen formations, and symbolic guarantors of the dominance of the Italian hegemony, [ citation needed ] legions enjoyed greater social prestige than the auxilia. This was reflected in better pay and benefits. In addition, legionaries were equipped with more expensive and protective armour than auxiliaries. However, in 212, the emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to all the empire's inhabitants. At this point, the distinction between legions and auxilia became moot, the latter becoming all-citizen units also. The change was reflected in the disappearance, during the 3rd century, of legionaries' special equipment, and the progressive break-up of legions into cohort-sized units like the auxilia.

By the end of Augustus' reign, the imperial army numbered some 250,000 men, equally split between legionaries and auxiliaries (25 legions and c. 250 auxiliary regiments). The numbers grew to a peak of about 450,000 by 211 (33 legions and c. 400 auxiliary regiments). By then, auxiliaries outnumbered legionaries substantially. From the peak, numbers probably underwent a steep decline by 270 due to plague and losses during multiple major barbarian invasions. Numbers were restored to their early 2nd-century level of c. 400,000 (but probably not to their 211 peak) under Diocletian (r. 284–305). After the empire's borders became settled (on the Rhine-Danube line in Europe) by 68, virtually all military units (except the Praetorian Guard) were stationed on or near the borders, in roughly 17 of the 42 provinces of the empire in the reign of Hadrian (r. 117–38).

The military chain of command was relatively uniform across the Empire. In each province, the deployed legions' legati (legion commanders, who also controlled the auxiliary regiments attached to their legion) reported to the legatus Augusti pro praetore (provincial governor), who also headed the civil administration. The governor in turn reported direct to the emperor in Rome. There was no army general staff in Rome, but the leading praefectus praetorio (commander of the Praetorian Guard) often acted as the emperor's de facto military chief-of-staff.

Legionary rankers were relatively well-paid, compared to contemporary common labourers. Compared with their subsistence-level peasant families, they enjoyed considerable disposable income, enhanced by periodic cash bonuses on special occasions such as the accession of a new emperor. In addition, on completion of their term of service, they were given a generous discharge bonus equivalent to 13 years' salary. Auxiliaries were paid much less in the early 1st century, but by 100 AD, the differential had virtually disappeared. Similarly, in the earlier period, auxiliaries appear not to have received cash and discharge bonuses, but probably did so from Hadrian onwards. Junior officers (principales), the equivalent of non-commissioned officers in modern armies, could expect to earn up to twice basic pay. Legionary centurions, the equivalent of mid-level commissioned officers, were organised in an elaborate hierarchy. Usually risen from the ranks, they commanded the legion's tactical sub-units of centuriae (c. 80 men) and cohorts (c. 480 men). They were paid several multiples of basic pay. The most senior centurion, the primus pilus, was elevated to equestrian rank upon completion of his single-year term of office. The senior officers of the army, the legati legionis (legion commanders), tribuni militum (legion staff officers) and the praefecti (commanders of auxiliary regiments) were all of at least equestrian rank. In the 1st and early 2nd centuries, they were mainly Italian aristocrats performing the military component of their cursus honorum (conventional career-path). Later, provincial career officers became predominant. Senior officers were paid enormous salaries, multiples of at least 50 times basic.

A typical Roman army during this period consisted of five to six legions. One legion was made up of 10 cohorts. The first cohort had five centuria each of 160 soldiers. In the second through tenth cohorts there were six centuria of 80 men each. These do not include archers, cavalry or officers.

Soldiers spent only a fraction of their lives on campaign. Most of their time was spent on routine military duties such as training, patrolling, and maintenance of equipment etc. Soldiers also played an important role outside the military sphere. They performed the function of a provincial governor's police force. As a large, disciplined and skilled force of fit men, they played a crucial role in the construction of a province's Roman military and civil infrastructure: in addition to constructing forts and fortified defences such as Hadrian's Wall, they built roads, bridges, ports, public buildings, entire new cities (Roman colonies), and also engaged in large-scale forest clearance and marsh drainage to expand the province's available arable land.

Soldiers, mostly drawn from polytheistic societies, enjoyed wide freedom of worship in the polytheistic Roman system. They revered their own native deities, Roman deities and the local deities of the provinces in which they served. Only a few religions were banned by the Roman authorities, as being incompatible with the official Roman religion and/or politically subversive, notably Druidism and Christianity. The later Principate saw the rise in popularity among the military of Eastern mystery cults, generally centred on one deity, and involving secret rituals divulged only to initiates. By far the most popular in the army was Mithraism, an apparently syncretist religion which mainly originated in Asia Minor.

The Late Roman army is the term used to denote the military forces of the Roman Empire from the accession of Emperor Diocletian in 284 until the Empire's definitive division into Eastern and Western halves in 395. A few decades afterwards, the Western army disintegrated as the Western empire collapsed. The East Roman army, on the other hand, continued intact and essentially unchanged until its reorganization by themes and transformation into the Byzantine army in the 7th century. The term "late Roman army" is often used to include the East Roman army.

The army of the Principate underwent a significant transformation, as a result of the chaotic 3rd century. Unlike the Principate army, the army of the 4th century was heavily dependent on conscription and its soldiers were more poorly remunerated than in the 2nd century. Barbarians from outside the empire probably supplied a much larger proportion of the late army's recruits than in the army of the 1st and 2nd centuries.

The size of the 4th-century army is controversial. More dated scholars (e.g. A.H.M. Jones, writing in the 1960s) estimated the late army as much larger than the Principate army, half the size again or even as much as twice the size. With the benefit of archaeological discoveries of recent decades, many contemporary historians view the late army as no larger than its predecessor: under Diocletian c. 390,000 (the same as under Hadrian almost two centuries earlier) and under Constantine no greater, and probably somewhat smaller, than the Principate peak of c. 440,000. The main change in structure was the establishment of large armies that accompanied the emperors (comitatus praesentales) and were generally based away from the frontiers. Their primary function was to deter usurpations. The legions were split up into smaller units comparable in size to the auxiliary regiments of the Principate. In parallel, legionary armour and equipment were abandoned in favour of auxiliary equipment. Infantry adopted the more protective equipment of the Principate cavalry.

The role of cavalry in the late army does not appear to have been enhanced as compared with the army of the Principate. The evidence is that cavalry was much the same proportion of overall army numbers as in the 2nd century and that its tactical role and prestige remained similar. Indeed, the cavalry acquired a reputation for incompetence and cowardice for their role in three major battles in mid-4th century. In contrast, the infantry retained its traditional reputation for excellence.

The 3rd and 4th centuries saw the upgrading of many existing border forts to make them more defensible, as well as the construction of new forts with much higher defensive specifications. The interpretation of this trend has fuelled an ongoing debate whether the army adopted a defence-in-depth strategy or continued the same posture of "forward defence" as in the early Principate. Many elements of the late army's defence posture were similar to those associated with forward defence, such as a looser forward location of forts, frequent cross-border operations, and external buffer-zones of allied barbarian tribes. Whatever the defence strategy, it was apparently less successful in preventing barbarian incursions than in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This may have been due to heavier barbarian pressure, and/or to the practice of keeping large armies of the best troops in the interior, depriving the border forces of sufficient support.

Standard-Bearers of the Roman Legions

In the Roman Legions, standards were very important. Every century, cohort, and legion had a standard. These symbols represented their units, acted as a symbol of unity and pride, and served as a rallying point during battle (McManus). During the Roman Empire, there were many different kinds of signifers: aquilifers that bore the legion’s eagle, imaginifers that carried an image of the emperor, vexillifers who bore a banner with the legion’s name and symbol, and signifers that carried a signum, a tall pole with an open hand, the symbol of the legionaries’ oath of loyalty (Wikipedia contributors). All signifers wore animal-skin headpieces in order to be distinguished from the normal soldiers (McManus).

Scene 113. Roman standard-bearers. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Signifers had rather dangerous jobs in battle, but had relatively good jobs in day-to-day life. On the front lines in battle, a signifer could only carry a buckler (small shield) and did not have a weapon to protect himself. Polybius, when describing who is selected for the position of signifer, described them as “the bravest and most vigorous among the soldiers” (Polybius, History, Book 6). Although they would have to also be literate and good with numbers in order to act as bankers for the many members of the legion. Outside of battle, signifers were in charge of the legionaries’ pensions, meaning they had clerk-type work that would be done indoors. Matyszak suggests that putting the pension in the hands of the standard-bearer was beneficial because the legionaries would fight all the harder to protect him during battle (80). Signifers were counted as officers, so they received twice the pay of a normal legionary (Breeze), which is not surprising, given the importance of all their duties.

Works Cited

Breeze, David J. “Pay Grades and Ranks below the Centurionate.” The Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971):130-135. Print.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print.

McManus, Barbara F. “The Roman Army in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” VRoma. The VRoma Project, June 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. History: Book 6. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher. Constitution Society, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman standard-bearers on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Signifer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

In the early Roman Kingdom legion may have meant the entire Roman army, but sources on this period are few and unreliable. [1] The subsequent organization of legions varied greatly over time but legions were typically composed of around five thousand soldiers. During much of the republican era, a legion was divided into three lines of ten maniples. In the late republic and much of the imperial period (from about 100 BC), a legion was divided into ten cohorts, each of six (or five) centuries. Legions also included a small ala, or cavalry unit. By the third century AD, the legion was a much smaller unit of about 1,000 to 1,500 men, and there were more of them. In the fourth century AD, East Roman border guard legions (limitanei) may have become even smaller. In terms of organisation and function, the republican era legion may have been influenced by the ancient Greek and Macedonian phalanx. [2]

For most of the Roman Imperial period, the legions formed the Roman army's elite heavy infantry, recruited exclusively from Roman citizens, while the remainder of the army consisted of auxiliaries, who provided additional infantry and the vast majority of the Roman army's cavalry. (Provincials who aspired to citizenship gained it when honourably discharged from the auxiliaries.) The Roman army, for most of the Imperial period, consisted mostly of auxiliaries rather than legions. [3]

Many of the legions founded before 40 BC were still active until at least the fifth century, notably Legio V Macedonica, which was founded by Augustus in 43 BC and was in Egypt in the seventh century during the Islamic conquest of Egypt.

Because legions were not permanent units until the Marian reforms (c. 107 BC), and were instead created, used, and disbanded again, several hundred legions were named and numbered throughout Roman history. To date, about 50 have been identified.

The republican legions were composed of levied men that paid for their own equipment. At any time there would be four consular legions (with command divided between the two ruling consuls) and in time of war extra legions could be levied.

Toward the end of the 2nd century BC, Rome started to experience manpower shortages brought about by property and financial qualifications to join the army. This prompted consul Gaius Marius to remove property qualifications and decree that all citizens, regardless of their wealth or social class, were made eligible for service in the Roman army with equipment and rewards for fulfilling 6 years of service provided by the state.

The Roman army became a volunteer, professional and standing army which extended service beyond Roman citizens but also to non-citizens who could sign on as auxillia (auxiliaries) and were rewarded Roman citizenship upon completion of service and all the rights and privileges that entailed. In the time of Augustus, there were nearly 50 upon his succession but this was reduced to about 25–35 permanent standing legions and this remained the figure for most of the empire's history.

The legion evolved from 3,000 men in the Roman Republic to over 5,200 men in the Roman Empire, consisting of centuries as the basic units. Until the middle of the first century, ten cohorts (about 500 men) made up a Roman legion. This was later changed to nine cohorts of standard size (with six centuries at 80 men each) with the first cohort being of double strength (five double-strength centuries with 160 men each).

By the fourth century AD, the legion was a much smaller unit of about 1,000 to 1,500 men, and there were more of them. This had come about as the large formation legion and auxiliary unit, 10,000 men, was broken down into smaller units - originally temporary detachments - to cover more territory.

In the fourth century AD, East Roman border guard legions (limitanei) may have become even smaller. In terms of organisation and function, the Republican era legion may have been influenced by the ancient Greek and Macedonian phalanx. [2]

The size of a typical legion varied throughout the history of ancient Rome, with complements of 4,200 legionaries and 300 equites (drawn from the wealthier classes – in early Rome all troops provided their own equipment) in the republican period of Rome (the infantry were split into 10 cohorts each of four maniples of 120 legionaries), to 5,200 men plus 120 auxiliaries in the imperial period (split into 10 cohorts, nine of 480 men each, plus the first cohort holding 800 men).

Roman kings (to c. 500 BC) Edit

In the period before the raising of the legio and the early years of the Roman Kingdom and the Republic, forces are described as being organized into centuries of roughly one hundred men. These centuries were grouped together as required and answered to the leader who had hired or raised them. Such independent organization persisted until the 2nd century BC amongst light infantry and cavalry, but was discarded completely in later periods with the supporting role taken instead by allied troops. The roles of century leader (later formalized as a centurion), second in command and standard bearer are referenced in this early period.

Rome's early period is undocumented and shrouded in myths, but those myths tell that during the rule of Servius Tullius, the census (from Latin: censeō – accounting of the people) was introduced. With this all Roman able-bodied, property-owning male citizens were divided into five classes for military service based on their wealth and then organized into centuries as sub-units of the greater Roman army or legio (multitude). Joining the army was both a duty and a distinguishing mark of Roman citizenship during the entire pre-Marian period the wealthiest land owners performed the most years of military service. These individuals would have had the most to lose should the state have fallen.

Roman Republic (509–107 BC) Edit

At some point, possibly in the beginning of the Roman Republic after the kings were overthrown, the legio was subdivided into two separate legions, each one ascribed to one of the two consuls. In the first years of the Republic, when warfare was mostly concentrated on raiding, it is uncertain if the full manpower of the legions was summoned at any one time. In 494 BC, when three foreign threats emerged, the dictator Manius Valerius Maximus raised ten legions which Livy says was a greater number than had been raised previously at any one time. [4]

Also, some warfare was still conducted by Roman forces outside the legionary structure, the most famous example being the campaign in 479 BC by the clan army of gens Fabia against the Etruscan city of Veii (in which the clan was annihilated). Legions became more formally organized in the 4th century BC, as Roman warfare evolved to more frequent and planned operations, and the consular army was raised to two legions each.

In the Republic, legions had an ephemeral existence. Except for Legio I to IV, which were the consular armies (two per consul), other units were levied by campaign. Rome's Italian allies were required to provide approximately ten cohorts (auxilia were not organized into legions) to support each Roman Legion.

In the middle of the Republic, legions were composed of the following units:

  • Equites (cavalry): The cavalry was originally the most prestigious unit, where wealthy young Roman men displayed their skill and prowess, laying the foundation for an eventual political career. Cavalry equipment was purchased by each of the cavalrymen and consisted of a round shield, helmet, body armour, sword and one or more lances. The cavalry was outnumbered in the legion. In a total of circa 3,000 men, (plus the velites that normally enlarged the number to about 4,200), the legion only had around 300 horsemen, divided into 10 units (turmae) of 30 men. These men were commanded by decurions. In addition to heavy cavalry, there would be the light cavalry levied from poor citizens and wealthy young citizens not old enough to be in the hastati or the equites. In battle, they were used to disrupt and outflank enemy infantry formations and to fight off enemy cavalry. In the latter type of engagement, they would often (though not always) dismount some or all of the horsemen to fight a stationary battle on foot, an unusual tactic for the time, but one that offered significant advantages in stability and agility in a time before stirrups. [5]
  • Velites (light infantry): The velites were mainly poorer citizens who could not afford to equip themselves properly. Their primary function was to act as skirmishers – javelin-throwers, who would engage the enemy early in order either to harass them or to cover the movement of troops behind them. After throwing their javelins, they would retreat through the gaps between the maniples, screened from the attack of the enemy by the heavy infantry lines. With the shortage of cavalry in the army of the early to mid Republican army, the velites were also used as scouts. They did not have a precise formal organization or formation. : This was the principal unit of the legion. The heavy infantry was composed of citizen legionaries that could afford the equipment composed of an iron helmet, shield, armour and pilum, a heavy javelin whose range was about 30 meters. After 387 BC, the preferred weapon for the hastati and principes was the gladius, a short sword. Their hobnailed sandals (caligae) were also an effective weapon against a fallen enemy. Prior to the Marian reforms (see below), the heavy infantry was subdivided, according to experience, into three separate lines of troops:
    • The hastati (sing. hastatus) consisted of raw or inexperienced soldiers, considered to be less reliable than legionaries of several years' service. The Hastati were placed at the front for several reasons. One reason is the city of Rome could ill-afford to lose experienced soldiers, so they put the greenest soldiers at the front. If they survived, the Hastati/tus would gain invaluable experience. Another reason is if the newest soldiers succumbed to battle nerves and broke and tried to run, then there were experienced soldiers behind them to stiffen their resolve.
    • The principes (sing. princeps) These were the more experienced soldiers, often better equipped than the Hastati, and having more experience on the battlefield, they would take up the second line in the battle in the event the Hastati failed or fled. They were the second wave in an early Republican Legion before the military reforms of Marius.
    • The triarii (sing. triarius) were the veteran soldiers, to be used in battle only in extreme situations they rested one knee down when not engaged in combat. The triarii served primarily as reserves or barrier troops designed to backstop the hastati and principes, and were equipped with long hastae (spears) rather than the pilum and gladius (the hastati and principes stopped using spears in 387 BC). Thus armed, they fought in a phalanx formation. The sight of an advancing armored formation of triarii legionaries frequently discouraged exultant enemies in pursuit of retreating hastati and principes troops. Ad triarios redisseTo fall back upon the triarii was a Roman idiom – meaning to use one's last resort.

    Each of these three lines was subdivided into (usually 10) chief tactical units called maniples. A maniple consisted of two centuries and was commanded by the senior of the two centurions. At this time, each century of hastati and principes consisted of 60 men a century of triarii was 30 men. These 3,000 men (twenty maniples of 120 men, and ten maniples of 60 men), together with about 1,200 velites and 300 cavalry gave the mid Republican ("manipular") legion a nominal strength of about 4,500 men.

    Late Republic (107–30 BC) Edit

    See also List of Roman legions for details of notable late Republican legions
    See also Sub-Units of the Roman legion

    The Marian reforms (of Gaius Marius) enlarged the centuries to 80 men, and grouped them into six-century "cohorts" (rather than two-century maniples). Each century had its own standard and was made up of ten units (contubernia) of eight men who shared a tent, a millstone, a mule and cooking pot.

    Following the reforms of the general Marius in the 2nd century BC, the legions took on the second, narrower meaning that is familiar in the popular imagination as close-order citizen heavy infantry.

    At the end of the 2nd century BC, Gaius Marius reformed the previously ephemeral legions as a professional force drawing from the poorest classes, enabling Rome to field larger armies and providing employment for jobless citizens of the city of Rome. However, this put the loyalty of the soldiers in the hands of their general rather than the State of Rome itself. This development ultimately enabled Julius Caesar to cross the Rubicon with an army loyal to him personally and effectively end the Republic.

    The legions of the late Republic and early Empire are often called Marian legions. Following the Battle of Vercellae in 101 BC, Marius granted all Italian soldiers Roman citizenship. He justified this action to the Senate by saying that in the din of battle he could not distinguish Roman from ally. This effectively eliminated the notion of allied legions henceforth all Italian legions would be regarded as Roman legions, and full Roman citizenship was open to all the regions of Italy. At the same time, the three different types of heavy infantry were replaced by a single, standard type based on the Principes: armed with two heavy javelins called pila (singular pilum), the short sword called gladius, chain mail (lorica hamata), helmet and rectangular shield (scutum).

    The role of allied legions would eventually be taken up by contingents of allied auxiliary troops, called Auxilia. Auxilia contained specialist units, engineers and pioneers, artillerymen and craftsmen, service and support personnel and irregular units made up of non-citizens, mercenaries and local militia. These were usually formed into complete units such as light cavalry, light infantry or velites, and labourers. There was also a reconnaissance squad of 10 or more light mounted infantry called speculatores who could also serve as messengers or even as an early form of military intelligence service.

    As part of the Marian reforms, the legions' internal organization was standardized. Each legion was divided into cohorts. Prior to this, cohorts had been temporary administrative units or tactical task forces of several maniples, even more transitory than the legions themselves. Now the cohorts were ten permanent units, composed of 6 centuries and in the case of the first cohort 5 double strength centuries each led by a centurion assisted by an optio. The cohorts came to form the basic tactical unit of the legions. Ranking within the legion was based on length of service, with the senior Centurion commanding the first century of the first cohort he was called the primus pilus (First Spear), and reported directly to the superior officers (legates and tribuni). All career soldiers could be promoted to the higher ranks in recognition of exceptional acts of bravery or valour. A newly promoted junior Centurion would be assigned to the sixth century of the tenth cohort and slowly progressed through the ranks from there.

    Every legion had a large baggage train, which included 640 mules (1 mule for every 8 legionaries) just for the soldiers' equipment. To keep these baggage trains from becoming too large and slow, Marius had each infantryman carry as much of his own equipment as he could, including his own armour, weapons and 15 days' rations, for about 25–30 kg (50–60 pounds) of load total. To make this easier, he issued each legionary a cross stick to carry their loads on their shoulders. The soldiers were nicknamed Marius' Mules because of the amount of gear they had to carry themselves. This arrangement allowed for the possibility for the supply train to become temporarily detached from the main body of the legion, thus greatly increasing the army's speed when needed.

    A typical legion of this period had 5,120 legionaries as well as a large number of camp followers, servants and slaves. Legions could contain as many as 11,000 fighting men when including the auxiliaries. During the Later Roman Empire, the legion was reduced in size to 1,000 to allow for easier provisioning and to expand the regions under surveillance. Numbers would also vary depending on casualties suffered during a campaign Julius Caesar's legions during his campaign in Gaul often only had around 3,500 men.

    Tactics were not very different from the past, but their effectiveness was largely improved because of the professional training of the soldiers.


    The city of Rome grew rapidly in the centuries of the Roman Republic and Empire, reaching a population approaching one million in the second century AD. [3] The population of the city grew beyond the capacity of the nearby rural areas to meet the food needs of the city. In addition to the need for commercial imports of grain to Rome, free or subsidized grain was distributed to a large percentage of the Roman population. [4]

    In the early centuries of the Republic (509-287 BC), the Roman government intervened sporadically to distribute free or subsidized grain to its population. Regular distribution began in 123 BC with a grain law proposed by Gaius Gracchus and approved by the Roman popular assembly. Adult male citizens (over 14 years of age) of Rome were entitled to buy at a below-market price five modii, about 33 kilograms (73 lb), of grain monthly. Approximately 40,000 adult males were eligible for the grain. In 62 and 58 BC the number of Romans eligible for grain was expanded and grain became free to its recipients. The numbers of those receiving free or subsidized grain expanded to an estimated 320,000 before being reduced to 150,000 by Julius Caesar and then set at 200,000 by Augustus Caesar, a number that remained more or less stable until near the end of the Western Roman Empire. [5] [6]

    In the 3rd century AD, the dole of grain was replaced by bread, probably during the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211 AD). Severus also began providing olive oil to residents of Rome, and later the emperor Aurelian (270-275) ordered the distribution of wine and pork. [7] The doles of bread, olive oil, wine, and pork apparently continued until near the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, although the decline in the population of the city of Rome reduced the quantities of food required. [8]

    The dole in the early Roman Empire is estimated to account for 15 to 33 percent of the total grain imported and consumed in Rome. [9]

    By the late 200s BC, grain was being shipped to the city of Rome from Sicily and Sardinia. In the first century BC, the three major sources of wheat were Sardinia, Sicily, and North Africa, i.e. the region centered on the ancient city of Carthage, present day Tunisia. With the incorporation of Egypt into the Roman empire and the rule of the emperor Augustus (27 BC – AD 14), Egypt became the main source of supply of grain for Rome. [10] By the 70s, the historian Josephus was claiming that Africa fed Rome for eight months of the year and Egypt only four. Although that statement may ignore grain from Sicily, and overestimate the importance of Africa, there is little doubt among historians that Africa and Egypt were the most important sources of grain for Rome. [11] To help ensure that the grain supply would be adequate for Rome, in the second century BC, Gracchus settled 6,000 colonists near Carthage, giving them about 25 hectares (62 acres) each to grow grain. [12]

    Grain made into bread was, by far, the most important element in the Roman diet. Several scholars have attempted to compute the total amount of grain needed to supply the city of Rome. Rickman estimated that Rome needed 40 million modii (200,000 tonnes) of grain per year to feed its population. [13] Erdkamp estimated that the amount needed would be at least 150,000 tonnes, calculating that each resident of the city consumed 200 kilograms (440 lb) of grain per year. [14] The total population of Rome assumed in calculating these estimates was between 750,000 and one million people. David Mattingly and Gregory Aldrete [15] estimated the amount of imported grain at 237,000 tonnes for 1 million inhabitants [16] This amount of grain would provide 2,326 calories daily per person not including other foods such as meats, seafood, fruit, legumes, vegetable and dairy. The Historia Augusta, states that Severus left 27 million modii in storage, enough for 800,000 inhabitants at 225 kilograms (496 lb) of bread per person per annum. [17]

    The shipping lanes that connected Rome with its centers of grain supply (Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and perhaps other places) had strategic importance. Whoever controlled the grain supply had an important measure of control over the city of Rome. Rome was dependent upon the prompt arrival of imported grain. [18]

    The provision of grain to Rome was a major shipping and administrative task for the Romans. It was not feasible to supply Rome's needs by land transport. It was "cheaper to ship grain from one end of the Mediterranean to the other" by sea than "to cart it by land some 75 miles [120 kilometers]." [19] Thus, a large fleet of seaworthy grain ships was required to bring grain from relatively nearby Sicily and Sardinia, more distant North Africa, and much more distant Egypt. In straight line distances (and sailing ships did not normally travel in straight lines), distances from Sicily to Rome were more than 500 kilometres (310 mi), from Carthage in North Africa more than 600 kilometres (370 mi), and from Egypt more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi).

    To ensure an uninterrupted supply of grain the Mediterranean sea lanes needed to be kept free of piracy, an ongoing military objective tasked to the Roman navy. Rome's navy was not an autonomous military branch in a similar sense to that of a modern navy, especially after Rome had annexed the entire Mediterranean coast. In addition to performing routine anti-piracy duties, the ships that were part of what the Romans thought of as their navy actually carried a considerable portion of Roman grain imports.

    Sailing times from the ports of Ostia (near Rome) and Puteoli (near Naples) to Alexandria in Egypt might be as brief as 14 days. Returning to Rome would take much longer as the winds were adverse and ships had to hug coastlines and travel in a round-about manner. [20] "The voyage. from Alexandria to Rome was a continuous fight against foul winds." Lionel Casson estimated that average time for the voyage was nearly 70 days. [21] Grain was packed into sacks, rather than carried loose in the holds of ships. [22] Casson estimates the outward freighters "raced down from Ostia or Pozzuoli to Alexandria with the wind on their heels in ten days to two weeks" and the voyage back laden with grain ". took at least a month and on occasion two or more." [23] Given also the time needed for loading and unloading the grain ships by hand, the ships traversing the Egypt to Rome route likely only completed one round trip per year. Several round trips per year could be accomplished from North Africa or Sicily. Spain was also an important source of olive oil, and possibly grain. [24]

    Grain from Egypt. The harvest season for grain in ancient Egypt was from April to early June. The annual Nile Flood began in June and thus harvest had to be finished before the river's waters covered the land. The grain in Egypt was apparently acquired by Rome as a tax on farmers. The grain was moved mostly by barge on the various distributaries of the Nile River to Lake Mareotis bordering the southern part of the city of Alexandria. There it was inspected for quality and, when accepted, transported by canal to the port of Alexandria, the Great Harbor, where it was loaded on ships for Rome. [25]

    Grain from North Africa. Twenty-nine Mediterranean ports (not including Egypt) possibly exporting grain to Rome have been found by archaeologists in northern Africa, ranging in location from 21st century Libya to Morocco. The largest was probably Carthage. Given the lack of navigable rivers in the region grain had to be transported to these ports by land, suggesting that, because of the cost of land transport, the grain was grown in close proximity to the ports. The grain was probably transported to the ports in four-wheeled carts drawn by four oxen, each cart carrying 350 kilograms (770 lb) to 500 kilograms (1,100 lb). [26] Grain from ancient Cyraenica (Libya) may have been important because an early harvest there could supply Rome before other grain-growing regions had been harvested. [27] The arrival each year of the first fleets of grain ships was an eagerly awaited event in Rome. [10]

    The last leg. On arrival in the port of Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber River, the grain was off-loaded from its transport ship and loaded onto barges which were hauled up the river by animal or man power to the city of Rome, approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) upriver. [28] On arrival in Rome, the grain was stored in large warehouses, called horrea, until needed. Most of the horrea from the 1st century CE onwards were state-owned. [29]

    Hundreds or even thousands of ships were required to transport grain to Rome. The government of Rome encouraged building large ships for grain transport. Some had a capacity of carrying 50,000 modii (350 tonnes) or even more. Ships of much larger capacity are suggested in Lucian and the Acts of the Apostles. Grain transport presented special problems. Grain must be kept cool and dry to prevent sprouting and infestations of pests and mold and prevented from shifting from side to side in the hold of the ship which could impact the seaworthiness of the transport ship. Grain that was wet could sink the ship by expanding and splitting the sideboards of the hull. [30]

    Lucian, c. 150 CE, described a very large grain ship taking shelter in the port of Piraeus, Greece. The Isis was 55 metres (180 ft) in length and had a beam of more than a quarter of that. From the deck to the bottom of the cargo hold was 13 metres (43 ft). Casson calculated that the cargo capacity was 1200 to 1300 tonnes of grain. [31] an estimate that has not been verified by archaeological findings. [32] The grain ships were propelled entirely by sails, and not by banks of oarsmen as were Roman warships.

    Casson reconstructed a voyage from Alexandria, Egypt to Rome. A grain ship leaving Alexandria, would first steer north east to Cyprus, then follow the south coast of Asia Minor (21st century Turkey) westwards, and proceed along the south shore of Crete, stopping as needed at one of several ports en route. From Crete the grain ship would strike out across the Mediterranean Sea westwards toward the island of Malta, the objective being Syracuse, Sicily and the Straits of Messina. After passing through the Straits, large grain ships would dock at the port of Puteoli, near Naples, or after port improvements about 113 CE, at Ostia near Rome. From Puteoli the cargo of the large ships would be off-loaded onto smaller ships and taken to Ostia. Smaller ships coming from North Africa or Egypt could proceed directly to Ostia for unloading. [33]

    The voyage of Paul. The experience of Paul the Apostle in 62 CE illustrates the dangers of the voyage from Egypt to Rome. Paul boarded a Rome-bound grain ship in Asia Minor. The ship was large, with 276 people aboard, counting both crew and passengers. The voyage was late in the sailing season, after the Day of Atonement (which is usually in early October) and the winds were adverse. Following the usual route along the south shore of Crete, Paul's ship was blown off course and wrecked on the island of Malta. He spent the winter on Malta, then proceeded onward to Puteoli and Rome. [34]

    Ship owners. The ships involved in the grain trade were privately owned. The Roman government provided subsidies and tax exclusions to encourage shipbuilding and the grain trade and took the risk of shipping on itself by providing a form of insurance to ship owners. [35]

    Bread was the most important item in the Roman diet. A shortage of grain to make bread, or a large increase in the price of grain, could—and often did—have serious political consequences, including riots of the populace which impacted the stability of the Roman government. A dole of grain was given monthly to the poorer people of Rome. Grain was sold to those not qualifying for the dole, or to those who needed grain in addition to what they received in the dole. The precise details of how grain was marketed in Rome, however, are a "major puzzle". [36]

    In the early centuries of the Roman Republic and Empire, the individuals receiving the grain took it to one of many small flour mills in the city to have it ground into flour and then either baked the flour into bread at a home oven, a communal oven, or one of the numerous bakeries in every district of the city. Hand-driven mills for grain were known in the 5th century BC in Greece, and presumably spread to Rome shortly. Hand-driven mills had only a small capacity of grinding grain into flour, serving an individual household or a few households. Animal-driven mills (usually using donkeys) with a much larger capacity appeared in Rome by the 3rd century BC, and the establishment of bakeries probably accompanied the adoption of animal-driven mills. Water-driven mills with still greater capacity were first utilized in the 1st century BC, but their development required a large investment in infrastructure, especially of aqueducts, and their use to grind nearly all of the grain for the city of Rome did not come until the late 2nd or 3rd centuries AD. [37] [38]

    A steady supply of water was needed for watermills and this came from the Aqua Traiana, an aqueduct bringing water some 40 kilometres (25 mi) from springs near Lake Bracciano to Janiculum hill just outside the walls of the city of Rome. The aqueduct was inaugurated in 109 AD and the water it carried was used initially as drinking and bathing water. [39] A famine (and resultant riots) in 190 AD caused by corruption in the grain distribution system influenced the Roman government under Emperor Septimus Severus to intervene and convert the distribution of grain to the populace into the distribution of flour. The watermills constructed at Janiculum "were intended to centralize, regularize, and perhaps even deprivatize the city's milling operations." [40] Estimates of the date when the watermills came into operation vary, but it was probably in the early 3rd century. [41]

    The conversion of the grain supply for the citizens of the city of Rome to a flour supply carried with it a host of problems. Flour is much more perishable than grain, and its distribution would have to be carried out more often. Little is known about the initial distribution system for the flour produced by the watermills. The Emperor Aurelian (270-275 CE) is usually credited with changing or completing the change of the food distribution system from grain or flour to bread, and adding olive oil, salt, and pork to the products distributed to the populace. These products had been distributed sporadically before Aurelian. Aurelian is also credited with increasing the size of the loaves of bread without increasing the price of a loaf, a measure that was undoubtedly popular with the Romans who were not receiving free bread and other products through the dole. [42] In the 4th century CE, Rome had 290 granaries and warehouses and 254 bakeries which were regulated and monitored by the state and given privileges to ensure their cooperation. [43] [44]

    The population of the city of Rome peaked at possibly more than one million people from the late 1st century to the 3rd century AD, declined by 400 to 700,000-800,000, to between 400,000 and 500,000 in 452, and to a population estimated at only 100,000 in 500, declining still further thereafter in the Middle Ages. [45] Due to its "decreasing population, smaller army, and more land to feed its population", [46] [47] Rome did not need many of its watermills, storehouses, bakeries, and port and transportation facilities. Writing in the early 6th century, Cassiodorus noted the large decrease in the population and the number of watermills. "The vast numbers of the Roman people in old time are evidenced by the extensive Provinces from which their food supply was drawn . and the enormous multitude of mills, which could only have been made for use, not for ornament." [48]

    The date when the Cura Annonae ended is unknown, but it may have lasted into the 6th century. In 500, the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great visited Rome and promised food to its inhabitants, possibly restoring the Cura Annonae or continuing it. [49] In 537, the Byzantine General Belisarius and his army were besieged inside Rome by the Ostrogoths. The Goths blocked the aqueduct providing water for the watermills, thus limiting the capacity of Rome to make flour. Belisarius set up a ship mill on the Tiber River to grind grain and continue to provide the occupants of the city with bread. [50]

    Throughout most of the Republican era, the care of the grain supply (cura annonae) was part of the aedile's duties. The annona was personified as a goddess, and the grain dole was distributed from the Temple of Ceres. As early as 440 BC, however, [52] the Roman Senate may have appointed a special officer called the praefectus annonae with greatly extended powers. [53] An emergency cura annonae was an important source of influence and power for Pompey in his later career. Under the Principate, the position of praefectus annonae became permanent, while a range of privileges, including grants of citizenship and exemption from certain duties, were extended to ship-owners who signed contracts to transport grain to the city.

    A large part of the city's supply was obtained through the free market. Prices in the city were invariably high, and merchants could count on making a profit. Grain was also collected as tax in kind from certain provinces some of this was distributed to officials and soldiers and some was sold at market rates.

    Grain supply was an important issue for the Gracchi, with the elder brother Tiberius Gracchus arguing that consolidation of Roman agricultural lands in the hands of a few had pushed landless Romans into the city, where they found poverty rather than employment. The grain supply was a consistent plank in the popularist platform for political leaders who appealed to the plebs. [54] But the unpopularity of these laws led to more conservative laws attempting to rein in the Gracchi reforms such as the lex Octavia and the lex Terentia Cassia. [55]

    The price of grain became a major issue when the Roman province of Sicily revolted repeatedly, thus pushing the price to unaffordable levels. Lowering grain prices became an important part of the political platform of the radical popularist Saturninus, who acquired the office of plebeian tribune an unusual three times.

    The official responsible for the provision of the alimenta was the Curator alimentorum. During the empire, this post became an important bureaucratic position to be filled by the senatorial elite prior to achieving a consulship. The last known official to hold this post was Titus Flavius Postumius Quietus, probably during the early 270s. [56]

    Later emperors all used free or greatly subsidized grain to keep the populace fed. The political use of the grain supply along with gladiatorial games and other entertainments gave rise to the saying "Bread and circuses" from one of the bitter satires of Juvenal (60-140 A.D) as if the population of the city did nothing but live off free grain and go to entertainments (circus races were actually held on average only 17 days a year and gladiatorial shows 5–7 days in a year [ citation needed ] ). The machinery of the Annona civilis became more complex over time. [57]

    With the devaluation of currency in the course of the third century, the army was paid in rationed supplies (annonae) as well as in specie from the later third century, through a cumbrous administration of collection and redistribution. The role of the state in distributing the annona remained a central feature of its unity and power: "the cessation of this state function in the fifth century was a major factor leading to economic fragmentation, as was the end of the grain requisition for the city of Rome". [58]


    The lowest position an equestrian might hold was also the highest an ordinary soldier could expect to achieve – centurion. These men commanded centuries in the legions or the auxiliary – in the legions, these usually consisted of 80 men. These were the officers who commanded men on a day to day basis, both in war and in camp.

    Some men started their careers as centurions, either because they were wealthy or because they were equestrians who could not find a praefecti role. Others were experienced soldiers, usually having served for 15-20 years, who had proved themselves in a more junior position of authority. For an ordinary but hard working citizen soldier, this was the path to wealth, status and even a role in local administration.

    Roman Magistrates

    The elected magistrates in the Roman Republic were held in check by the equal distribution of power through multiple officials of the same rank. The one noted exception to this rule was that of the dictatorship which granted supreme imperium to a single authority. All members of each particular office grouping were of equal rank and could veto acts of other members and higher magistrates (ie Consuls) could veto acts of lower magistrates (ie Quaestors).

    As another check on abuse of power, each office was generally a 1 year term with the exception of the Dictatorship which was technically reserved to a 6 month emergency (though this could be extended) and the Censorship (18 months), whose powers were of a managerial nature rather than executive government. The annual term (and varying limits on eligibility for subsequent service) was often a matter of dispute and led to numerous civil disruptions, including the civil war led by Julius Caesar that eventually spelled the end of the Republican system (though it's institutional offices remained throughout the imperial period as well).

    Consuls (2) (Latin: those who walk together)

    The chief civil and military magistrates, elected through the assemblies by popular vote. They convened the senate and curiate and centuriate assemblies. Initially the office was only open to Patricians until the Lex Licinia opened it to Plebeian candidates in 367 BC. According to the Lex Villia annalis passed in 180 BC which established minimum age requirements for all magistrate positions within the Cursus Honorum, Consuls had to be 42 years of age. Under normal circumstances, a Roman could only serve in such a capacity only once every ten years. At the end of their annual term of service, Consuls would take the title Proconsul and generally serve as provincial governors. In the case of the death of a serving Consul, a Suffect Consul would be elected as a replacement for the remainder of his term. They were entitled to 12 Lictors as a symbol of their authority (or imperium).

    Praetors (2-8)

    This magistracy was originally designed as a sort of 3rd Consul and was established in 356 BC for Patricians only after they were forced to share the Consulship with Plebes. This however changed by 337 BC when the first Plebeian Praetor was elected. Romans were eligible to be a Praetor at the age of 39. They had imperium with the main functions being administration of civil law in Rome (Praetor Urbanus), military command, judges in courts of law (Praetor Peregrinus created in 246 BC), and finally the governing of provinces. They also assumed administrative duties of consuls when these were absent from Rome. When there were more than 2 Praetors (beyond 197 BC), the additional Praetors were generally assigned as governors of Sicily, Sardinia, and the Spanish provinces (and others as province acquisition continued through the late Republic and early Principate). Like Proconsuls, Praetors could hold the title of Propraetor after their annual term of service and be appointed as provincial governors. They were entitled to 6 lictors.

    Aediles (4) (from the old responsibility of caretaking of the aedes, or the Temple of Ceres)

    2 as Plebeian Aediles and 2 Curule Aediles. The Plebeian Aediles were established in 494 BC along with the office of the Plebeian Tribune. Curule Aediles were originally Patrician (and a higher ranking position) and the office was established in 365 BC. Eventually the Curule Aedileship became interchangeable with Patricians and Plebes. Aediles were in charge of of such things religious festivals, public games, temples, upkeep of the city, regulation of marketplaces, the grain supply in the city of Rome while Plebeian Aediles also assisted the Plebeian Tribunes. According to the Lex Villia annalis Aediles had to be 36 years of age. Curule Aediles only were entitled to 2 lictors.

    Quaestors (2-40)

    Quaestors typically had to be 31 years old (requirement lowered by Sulla as were all magistracies and raised back after his death) and could be Patrician or Plebeian (though in the later period this was a matter of major contention because ex-Quaestors were immediately eligible for a Senate seat). The Quaestor magistracy was developed in the time of the kings and the position in the later Republic was an evolution of various earlier positions and responsibilities. There were 2 Quaestores Parricidii, who were responsible for prosecution of criminals, and Quaestores Classici, who were financial officers and administrative assistants (civil and military). They were in charge of the state treasury at Rome and also served as quartermasters and Legionary officers under direct command of Proconsular or Praetorian Legates/Governors.

    Tribunes (10) (from the Latin Tribus for Tribes)

    The position of the Tribune (or Tribuni Plebis) was established after the final Plebeian withdrawal from Rome in 494 BC. Naturally they were a Plebeian only position developed as a counter measure to Patrician domination in law and policy making. They were responsible for protection of lives and property of plebians they were considered (sacrosanct) meaning their bodies were to be free of physical harm. In addition they had the power of veto over elections, laws, decrees of the senate, and the acts of all other magistrates (except a dictator) in order to protect the interest of the people (though this in itself became a powerful and manipulated political tool). They convened tribal assembly and elicited plebiscites which after 287 BC (lex Hortensia) had force of law (essentially meaning that the Tribunes could go directly to the people rather than the Senate and magistracy to propose and adopt policy).

    Censors (2) (from the Latin for census)

    Originally established under the kings, they were elected every 5 years to conduct census, enroll new citizens, review the rolls of senate and equestrians (essentially determing eligiblilty and be sure that all criteria for inclusion were met). They were responsible for the policies governing public morals and supervised leasing of public contracts. They ranked below Praetors and above Aediles in theory and they did not have imperium or entitlement to Lictors, but in practice, this was the pinnacle of a senatorial career. It was limited to ex-consuls carried incredible prestige and dignity and was essentially the "feather in the cap" for elder statesman (at least prior to the development of various prestigious provincial governorships such as Asia Minor). Either Patricians or Plebeians (established in 351 BC) could hold the position. The office was an oddity in that the elections were every 5 years, but that they served terms of 18 months. It was the only office that had notable lengths of time without any serving magistrates and Rome often went for very long periods without a censor. It was done away with as an official magistracy in 22 BC and replaced by the title Praefectura Morum in the Imperial system.

    Dictator (1)

    Created in 501 BC, just 9 years after the expulsion of the kings. In perilous times, typically of military emergency, public unrest or political upheaval a dictator could be appointed by originally the acting Consuls, and later by the overall senate body to have supreme authority. Typically the position was intended for Patricians, but the first Plebeian was appointed in 356 BC (C. Marcius Rutilius). The dictator appointed a Master of the Horse (Magister Equitum) originally as the name implies to lead the cavalry while the dictator commanded the legions (though the position also evolved into an administrative/executive position designed to assist the dictator). The Dictator's tenure was limited to 6 months or the duration of crisis, whichever was shorter. Generally, aside from those of Sulla and Caesar Roman dictatorships rarely lasted the entire 6 month term. Edicts of the dictator were not subject to veto and he was entitled to 24 lictors.


    Though technically not a magistrate office, the Lictors were a representation of the power of the elected magistrates over the people. Originally selected form among the plebes, they were eventually limited to freedmen, but were definitely citizens as a toga was a required uniform. The lictor's main task was to attend their assigned magistrates who held imperium: 12 lictors for consuls, 6 for Praetors abroad and 2 within Rome, dictators (24 lictors, (12 before Sulla) and curule aediles (2 lictors) the dictator's magister equitum ("Master of the Horse") was also escorted by six lictors. Men of Proconsular or Propraetorian governer rank were also entitled to lictors (the number of lictors being equal to their degree of imperium). The lictors carried rods decorated with fasces and with axes that symbolized the power to execute. They accompanied the magistrates wherever they went. If there was a crowd, the lictors opened the way and kept the magistrate safe. They also had to stand beside the magistrate whenever he addresses the crowd. Magistrates could only dispense their lictors if they were visiting a free city or addressing a higher status magistrate. Lictors also had ancient police duties: they could, at their master's command, arrest Roman citizens and punish them.

    Legions of Rome: Where It All Began

    Down through the centuries, millions of men served with the army of imperial Rome half a million during the reign of Augustus alone. The history of the legions is the collective story of those individuals, not just of Rome’s famous generals. Men such as Titus Flavius Virilis, still serving as a centurion at the age of 70. And Titus Calidius, a cavalry decurion who missed military life so much after retiring he re-enlisted, at the reduced rank of optio. And Novantius, the British auxiliary from today’s city of Leicester, who was granted his discharge thirteen years early for valiant service in the second century conquest of Dacia. Any analysis of the legions must begin with the men, their organization, their equipment, and their service conditions.


    The origins of the legions of Pompey, Caesar, Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius go back to the Roman Republic of the fifth century BC. Originally, there were just four Roman legions – Legios I to IIII (the legion number 4 was written as IIII, not IV). Each of the two consuls, ‘who were charged both singly and jointly to take care to preserve the Republic from danger’, commanded two of these legions. [Vege., III]

    All legionaries were then property-owning citizens of Rome, conscripted in the spring of each year into the armies of the two consuls. Legio, the origin of the word ‘legion’, meant ‘levy’, or draft. Service ordinarily ended with the Festival of the October Horse on 19 October, which signalled the termination of the campaigning season.

    Men of ‘military age’ – 16 to 46 – were selected by ballot for each legion, with the 1st Legion considered to be the most prestigious. Rome’s field army was bolstered by legions from allied Italian tribes. Legionaries of the early Republic were appointed to one of four divisions within their legion, based on age and property qualifications. The youngest men were assigned to the velites, the next oldest to the hastati, men in the prime of life to theprincipes and the oldest to the triarii, with the role and equipment of each group differing. By Julius Caesar’s day, the conscripted infantry soldier of the Republic was required to serve in the legions for up to sixteen years, and could be recalled in emergencies for a further four years.

    Originally, republican legions had a strength of 4,200 men, which in times of special danger could be brought up to 5,000. [Poly., VI, 21] By 218 BC and the war between Rome and Carthage, the consuls’ legions consisted of 5,200 infantry and 300 cavalry, which approached the form they would take in imperial times. From 104 BC, the Roman army of the Republic underwent a major overhaul by the consuls Publius Rutilius Rufus and Gaius Marius. Rutilius introduced arms drill and reformed the process of appointment for senior officers. Marius simplified the requirements for enrolment, so that it was not only property owners who were required to serve. Failure to report for military service would result in the conscript being declared a deserter, a crime subject to the death penalty.

    A legionary would be paid for the days he served – for many years, this amounted to ten asses a day. He was also entitled to the proceeds from any arms, equipment or clothing he stripped from the enemy dead, and was entitled to a share of the booty acquired by his legion. If a legion stormed a town, its legionaries received the proceeds from its contents – human and otherwise – which were sold to traders who trailed the legions. If a town surrendered, however, the Roman army’s commander could elect to spare it. Consequently, legionaries had no interest in encouraging besieged cities to surrender.

    Marius focused on making the legions independent mobile units of heavy infantry. Supporting roles were left to allied forces. To increase mobility, Marius took most of the legionaries’ personal equipment off the huge baggage trains which until then had trailed the legions, and put it on the backs of the soldiers, greatly reducing the size of the baggage train. With the items hanging from their baggage poles weighing up to 100 pounds (45 kilos), legionaries of the era were nicknamed ‘Marius’ mules’. Until that time, the maniple of 160 – 200 men had been the principal tactical unit of the legion, but under Marius’ influence the 600-man cohort became the new tactical unit of the Roman army, so that the legion of the first century BC comprised ten cohorts, with a total of 6,000 men.

    Half a century later, Julius Caesar fashioned his legions around his own personality and dynamic style. Of the twenty-eight legions of Augustus’ new standing army in 30 BC, some had been founded by Caesar, others moulded by him. The civil war, between the rebel Caesar and the forces of the republican Senate led by their commander Pompey the Great, created an insatiable demand for military manpower. At the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, Caesar led elements of nine legions Pompey, twelve. For the 42 BC Battle of Philippi, two years after Caesar’s murder, when Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus and Octavian took on the so-called Liberators, Brutus and Cassius, more than forty legions were involved.


    The emperor Augustus, as Octavian became known from 27 BC, totally reformed the Roman army after he finally defeated Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BC.

    In the professional army of Augustus, the legionary was a full-time soldier, sometimes a volunteer but more often a conscript, who signed on, initially for sixteen and later twenty years. Towards the end of his forty-three-year reign, Augustus was to boast: ‘The number of Roman citizens who bound themselves to me by military oath was about 500,000. Of these I settled in colonies or sent back into their own towns more than 300,000, and to all I assigned lands or gave money as a reward for military service.’ [Res Gest., I, 3] That retirement payment was standardized by Augustus at 12,000 sesterces for legionaries, 20,000 for men of the Praetorian Guard. After the completion of his enlistment, an imperial legionary could be recalled in an emergency to the Evocati, a militia of retired legionaries.

    On Antony’s death, Augustus controlled approximately sixty legions. Many of these were promptly disbanded. ‘Others,’ said Cassius Dio, ‘were merged with various legions by Augustus’, and as a result ‘such legions have come to bear the name Gemina’, meaning ‘twin’. [Dio, LV, 23] By this process, Augustus created a standing army of 150,000 legionaries in twenty-eight legions, supported by 180,000 auxiliary infantry and cavalry, stationed throughout the empire. He also created a navy with two main battle fleets equipped with marines, and several smaller fleets. In addition, Augustus employed specialist troops at Rome – the elite Praetorian Guard, theCity Guard, the Vigiles or Night Watch, and the imperial bodyguard, the German Guard.

    In AD 6, Augustus set up a military treasury in Rome, initially using his own funds, which were given in his name and that of Tiberius, his ultimate successor. To administer the military treasury he appointed three former praetors, allocating two secretaries to each. The ongoing shortfall in the military treasury’s funds was covered by a death duty of 5 per cent on all inheritances, except where the recipient was immediate family or demonstrably poor.


    Some volunteers served in Rome’s imperial legions – ‘the needy and the homeless, who adopt by their own choice a soldier’s life’, according to Tacitus. [Tac., A, IV, 4] But most legionaries were conscripted. The selection criteria established by Augustus required men in their physical prime. A recruit’s civilian skills would be put to use by the legion, so that blacksmiths became armourers, and tailors and cobblers made and repaired legionaries’ uniforms and footwear. Unskilled recruits found themselves assigned to duties such as the surveyor’s party or the artillery. When it was time for battle, however, all took their places in the ranks.

    A slave attempting to join the legions could expect to be executed if discovered, as happened in a case raised with the emperor Trajan by Pliny the Younger when he was governor of Bithynia-Pontus. Conversely, during the early part of Augustus’ reign it was not uncommon for free men to pose as slaves to avoid being drafted into the legions or the Praetorian Guard when the conquisitors, or recruitment officers, periodically did the rounds of the recruitment grounds. This became such a problem that Augustus’ stepson Tiberius was given the task of conducting an inquiry into slave barracks throughout Italy, whose owners were accepting bribes from free men to harbour them in the barracks when the conquisitors sought to fill their quotas. [Suet., III, 8]

    Once Tiberius became emperor the task of filling empty places in the legions became even more difficult. Velleius Paterculus, who served under Tiberius, made a sycophantic yet revealing statement about legion recruitment in around AD 30: ‘As for the recruiting of the army, a thing ordinarily looked upon with great and constant dread, with what calm on the part of the people does he [Tiberius] provide for it, without any of the usual panic attending conscription!’ [Velle., II, CXXX] Tiberius, who followed Augustus’ policy of recruiting no legionaries in Italy south of the River Po, broadly extended the draft throughout the provinces.

    Legionaries were not permitted to marry. Recruits who were married at the time of enrolment had their marriages annulled and had to wait until their enlistment expired to take a wife officially, although in practice there were many camp followers and many de facto relationships. The emperor Septimius Severus repealed the marriage regulation, so that from AD 197 serving legionaries could marry.

    For many decades, each imperial legion had its own dedicated recruitment ground. The 3rd Gallica Legion, for example, was for many years recruited in Syria, despite its name, while both 7th legions were recruited in eastern Spain. By the second half of the first century, for the sake of expediency, recruiting grounds began to shift the 20th Legion, for instance, which had up to that time been recruited in northern Italy, received an increasing number of its men from the East.

    When a legion was initially raised, its enlistment took place en masse, which meant that a legion’s men who survived battle wounds and sickness were later discharged together. As a result, as Scottish historian Dr Ross Cowan has observed, Rome ‘had to replenish much of a legion’s strength at a single stroke’. [Cow., RL 58 69] When a legion’s discharge and re-enlistment fell due, all its recruits were enrolled at the same time. Although the official minimum age was 17, the average age of recruits tended to be around 20.

    Some old hands stayed on with the legions after their discharge was due, and were often promoted to optio or centurion. There are numerous gravestone examples of soldiers who served well past their original twenty-year enlistment. Based on such gravestone evidence, many historians believe that all legionaries’ enlistments were universally extended from twenty to twenty-five years in the second half of the first century, although there is no firm evidence of this.

    Legions rarely received replacements to fill declining ranks as the enlistments of their men neared the end of their twenty years. Tacitus records replacements being brought into legions on only two occasions, in AD 54 and AD 61, in both cases in exceptional circumstances. Accordingly, legions frequently operated well under optimum strength. [Ibid.]

    By AD 218, mass discharges would be almost a thing of the past. The heavy losses suffered by the legions during the wars of Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus and Caracalla meant that the legions needed to be regularly brought up to strength again or they would have ceased to be effective fighting units. The short-lived emperor Macrinus (AD 217 – 218) deliberately staggered legion recruitment, for ‘he hoped that these new recruits, entering the army a few at a time, would refrain from rebellion’. [Dio, LXXIX, 30]

    In 216 BC, two previous oaths of allegiance were combined into one, the ius iurandum, administered to legion recruits by their tribunes. From the reign of Augustus, initially on 1 January, later on 3 January, the men of every legion annually renewed the oath of allegiance at mass assemblies: ‘The soldiers swear that they will obey the emperor willingly and implicitly in all his commands, that they will never desert, and will always be ready to sacrifice their lives for the Roman Empire.’ [Vege., II]

    On joining his legion, the legionary was exempt from taxes and was no longer subject to civil law. Once in the military, his life was governed by military law, which in many ways was more severe than the civil code.


    Legions’ headquarters staff included an adjutant, clerks and orderlies who were members of the legion. The latter, called benificiari, were excused normal legion duties and were frequently older men who had served their full enlistment but who had stayed on in the army.


    ‘I want obedience and self-restraint from my soldiers just as much as courage in the face of the enemy.’

    JULIUS CAESAR, The Gallic War, VII, 52

    Tight discipline, unquestioning obedience and rigid training made the Roman legionary a formidable soldier. Roman military training aimed not only to teach men how to use their weapons, it quite deliberately set out to make legionaries physically and mentally tough fighting machines who would obey commands without hesitation.

    As one of the indications of his rank, every centurion carried a vine stick, the forerunner of the swagger stick of some modern armies. Centurions were at liberty to use their sticks to thrash any legionary mercilessly for minor infringements. A centurion named Lucilius, who was killed in the AD 14 Pannonian mutiny, had a habit of brutally breaking a vine stick across the back of a legionary, then calling ‘Bring another!’, a phrase that became his nickname. [Tac., A, I, 23]

    For more serious infringements, legionaries found guilty by a court martial conducted by the legion’s tribunes could be sentenced to death. Polybius described the crimes for which the death penalty was prescribed in 150 BC – stealing goods incamp, giving false evidence, homosexual offences committed by those in full manhood, and for lesser crimes where the offender had previously been punished for the same offence three times. The death penalty was later additionally prescribed for falling asleep while on sentry duty. Execution also awaited men who made a false report to their commanding officer about their courage in the field in order to gain a distinction, men who deserted their post in a covering force, and those who through fear threw away weapons on the battlefield. [Poly., VI, 37]

    If whole units were involved in desertion or cowardice, they could be sentenced to decimation: literally, reduction by one tenth. Guilty legionaries had to draw lots. One in ten would die, with the other nine having to perform the execution. Decimation sentences were carried out with clubs or swords or by flogging, depending on the whim of the commanding officer. Survivors of a decimated unit could be put on barley rations and made to sleep outside the legion camp’s walls, where there was no protection against attack. Although both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony decimated their legions, this form of punishment was rarely applied during the imperial era.

    First-century general Corbulo had one soldier brought out of the trench he was digging and executed on the spot for failing to wear a sword on duty. After this, Corbulo’s centurions reminded their men that they must be armed at all times, so one cheeky legionary went naked while digging, except for a dagger on his belt. Not famed for his sense of humour, Corbulo had this man, too, pulled out and put to death. [Tac., XI, 18]


    Julius Caesar doubled the legionary’s basic pay from 450 to 900 sesterces a year, which was what an Augustan recruit could expect. This was increased to 1,200 by Domitian in AD 89. [Dio, LXVII, 3] Before this, Roman soldiers were paid 300 sesterces three times a year, instalments which Domitian raised to 400 sesterces each. [Ibid.]

    The legionary’s annual salary was infinitesimal compared to the 100,000 sesterces a year earned by a primus pilus, the most senior centurion of a legion, and the 400,000 a year salary of the legate commanding the legion. Deductions were made from the legionary’s salary to cover certain expenses, including contributions to a funeral fund for each man. Conversely, he also received small allowances for items such as boot nails and salt.

    Another source of legionary income was the donative, the bonus habitually paid to the legions by each new emperor when he took the throne – 300 sesterces per man was common. The legionaries normally received another, smaller, bonus on each subsequent anniversary of the emperor’s accession to the throne. In addition, emperors frequently left several thousand sesterces per man to their legionaries in their wills. Profits from war booty could also be substantial. After Titus completed the Siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, so much looted Jewish gold was traded in Syria that the price of gold in that province halved overnight.

    A legionary could lodge his savings in a bank maintained at his permanent winter base his standard-bearer was the unit’s banker. In AD 89, Domitian limited the amount each man could keep in his legion bank to 1,000 sesterces, after a rebel governor used funds from his legions’ banks in an abortive rebellion against him. [Suet., XII, 7]

    A soldier who fought bravely could have his pay increased by 50 per cent or doubled for the rest of his career, and accordingly gained the titles of sesquipliciarus or duplicarius. Men with these awards were represented separately from the other rank and file when units submitted their strength reports to area headquarters, immediately following the optios and centurions on the lists. Men of duplicarius status proudly made reference to it on their tombstones.

    To gain popularity with the legions, the emperor Caracalla (AD 211 – 217), ‘who was fond of spending money on the soldiers’, increased legionary pay and introduced various exemptions from duty for legionaries. [Dio, LXXVIII, 9] Cassius Dio, a senator at the time, complained that the salary increase would add 280 million sesterces to the cost of maintaining the legions. [Dio, LXXIX, 36] In AD 218, Caracalla’s successor Macrinus announced that the pay increase would only apply to serving legionaries and that new recruits would from that time forward be paid at the same rate as had applied during the reign of Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus. This only hastened Macrinus’ overthrow that same year. [Ibid.]



    Legionaries who distinguished themselves in battle could expect not only monetary rewards. At an assembly following a victorious battle, soldiers would be called forward by their general. A thorough written record was maintained on every man in every unit, with promotions, transfers, citations, reprimands and punishments all studiously noted down by the man’s optio, the second-in-command of his century. The general would read the legionary’s previous citations aloud, then praise the soldier publicly for his latest act of gallantry, promoting him and often giving him a lump sum cash award or putting him on double pay, before presenting him with decorations for valour, to the applause of the men of his legion. Polybius recorded these awards, which continued to be presented for hundreds of years: [Poly., VI, 39]

    THE SPEAR: for wounding an enemy in a skirmish or other action where it was not necessary to engage in single combat and therefore expose himself to danger. Literally ‘the Ancient Unadorned Spear’, a silver, later golden, token. No award was made if the wound was inflicted in the course of a pitched battle, as the soldier was then acting under orders to expose himself to danger. The emperor Trajan appears to be presenting a spear to a soldier in a scene on Trajan’s Column.

    THE SILVER CUP: for killing and stripping an enemy in a skirmish or other action where it was not necessary to engage in single combat. For the same deed, a cavalryman received a decoration to place on his horse’s harness.

    THE SILVER STANDARD: for valour in battle. First awarded in the first century AD.

    THE TORQUE AND AMULAE: for valour in battle. A golden necklace and wrist bracelets. Frequently won by centurions and cavalrymen.

    THE GOLD CROWN: for outstanding bravery in battle.

    THE MURAL CROWN: awarded to the first Roman soldier over an enemy city wall in an assault. Crenallated, and of gold.

    THE NAVAL CROWN: for outstanding bravery in a sea battle. A golden crown decorated with ships’ beaks.

    THE CROWN OF VALOUR: awarded to the first Roman soldier to cross the ramparts of an enemy camp in an assault.

    THE CIVIC CROWN: awarded to the first man to scale an enemy wall. Made from oak leaves, the Civic Crown was also awarded for saving the life of a fellow soldier, or shielding him from danger. The man whose life was saved was required to present his saviour with a golden crown, and to honour him as if he were his father for the rest of his days. It was considered to be Rome’s highest military decoration, and the holder of the Civic Crown was venerated by Romans and given pride of place in civic parades. Julius Caesar was awarded the Civic Crown when serving as a young tribune in the assault on Mytilene, capital of the Greek island of Lesbos.

    Entire units could also receive citations, and these were displayed on their standards.


    In early republican days, each legionary was expected to provide his own uniform, equipment and personal weapons, and to replace them when they were worn out, damaged or lost. After the consul Marius’ reforms, the State provided uniforms, arms and equipment to conscripts.

    The tunic and personal legionary equipment remained basically unchanged for hundreds of years. By Augustan times, the legionary wore a woollen tunic made of two pieces of cloth sewn together, with openings for the head and arms, and with short sleeves. It came to just above the knees at the front, a little lower at the back. The military tunic was shorter than that worn by civilians. In cold weather, it was not unusual for two tunics to be worn, one over the other. Sometimes more than two were worn – Augustus wore up to four tunics at a time in winter months. [Suet., II, 82]

    With no examples surviving to the present day, the colour of the legionary tunic has always been hotly debated. Many historians believe that it was a red berry colour and that this was common to legions and guard units. Some authors argue that legionary tunics were white. Vitruvius, Rome’s chief architect during the early decades of the empire, wrote that, of all the natural colours used in dying fabrics and for painting, red and yellow were by far the easiest and cheapest to obtain. [Vitr., OA, VII, 1 – 2]

    Second-century Roman general Arrian described the tunics worn by cavalry during exercises as predominantly a red berry colour, or, in some cases, an orange-brown colour – a product of red. He also described multicoloured cavalry exercise tunics. [Arrian, TH, 34] But no tunic described by Arrian was white or natural in colour. Red was also the colour of unit banners, and of legates’ ensigns and cloaks.

    Tacitus, in describing Vitellius’ entry into Rome in July AD 69, noted that marching ahead of the standards in Vitellius’ procession were ‘the camp-prefects, the tribunes, and the highest-ranked centurions, in white robes’. [Tac., H, II, 89] These were the loose ceremonial robes worn by officers when they took part in religious processions. That Tacitus specifically notes they were white indicates that he was differentiating these garments from the non-white tunics worn by the military.

    The one colour that legionaries and auxiliaries were least likely to wear was blue. This colour, not unnaturally, was associated by Romans with the sea. Pompey the Great’s son Sextus Pompeius believed he had a special association with Neptune, god of the sea, and in the 40s to 30s BC, when admiral of Rome’s fleets in the western Mediterranean, he wore a blue cloak to honour Neptune. After Sextus rebelled and was defeated by Marcus Agrippa’s fleets, Octavian granted Agrippa the right to use a blue banner. Apart from the men of the 30th Ulpia Legion, whose emblems related to Neptune, if any of Rome’s military wore blue in the imperial era, it would have been her sailors and/or marines.

    Whatever the weather, and irrespective of the fact that auxiliaries in the Roman army, both infantry and cavalry, wore breeches, Roman legionaries did not begin wearing trousers, which were for centuries considered foreign, until the second century. Some scholars suggest that legionaries wore nothing beneath their tunics, others suggest they wore a form of loin cloth, which was common among civilians.

    Over his tunic the legionary could wear a subarmalis, a sleeveless padded vest, and over that a cuirass – an armoured vest. Because of their body armour, legionaries were classified as ‘heavy infantry’. Early legionary armour took the form of a sleeveless leather jerkin on to which were sown small ringlets of iron mail. Legionaries and most auxiliaries continued to wear the mail cuirass for many centuries there was no concept of superseding military hardware as there is today.

    Early in the first century a new form of armour began to enter service, the lorica segmentata, made up of solid metal segments joined by bronze hinges and held together by leather straps, covering torso and shoulders. This segmented legionary armour was the forerunner of the armour worn by mounted knights in the Middle Ages. By AD 75, a simplified version of the segmented infantry armour was in widespread use. Called today the Newstead type, because an example was found in modern times at Newstead in Scotland, it stayed in service for the next 300 years.

    On his head, the legionary wore a conical helmet of bronze or iron. There were a number of variations on the evolving ‘jockey cap’ design, but most had the common features of hinged cheek flaps of metal, tied together under the chin, a horizontal projection at the rear to protect the back of the neck, like a fireman’s helmet, and a small brow ridge at the front.

    First- and second-century legionary helmets unearthed in modern times have revealed occasional traces of felt inside, suggesting a lining. In the fourth century, the Roman officer Ammianus Marcellinus wrote of ‘the cap which one of us wore under his helmet’. This cap was probably made of felt, for Ammianus described how he and two rank and file soldiers with him used the cap ‘in the manner of a sponge’ to soak up water from a well to quench their thirst in the Mesopotamian desert. [Amm., XIX, 8, 8] By the end of the fourth century, legionaries were wearing ‘Pamonian leather caps’ beneath their helmets, which, said Vegetius, ‘were formerly introduced by the ancients to a different design’, indicating the caps beneath helmets had been in common use for a long time. [Vege., MIR, I0]

    After a legion had been wiped out in AD 86 by the lethally efficient falx, the curved, double-handed Dacian sword, which had sliced through helmets of unfortunate Roman troops, legion helmets had cruciform reinforcing strips added over the crown to provide better protection. It was not uncommon for owners of helmets to inscribe their initials on the inside or on the cheek flap. A legionary helmet unearthed at Colchester in Britain had three sets of initials stamped inside it, indicating that helmets passed from owner to owner. [W&D, 4, n. 56] In Syria in AD 54, lax legionaries of the 6th Ferrata and 10th Fretensis legions sold their helmets while still in service. [Tac., A, XIII, 35]

    During republican times, Rome’s heavy-armoured troops, the hastati, wore eagle feathers on their helmets to make themselves seem taller to their enemies. By the time of Julius Caesar, this had become a crest of horsehair on the top of legionary helmets. These crests were worn in battle until the early part of the first century, before being relegated to parade use. The colour of the crest is debatable. Some archaeological discoveries suggest they were dyed yellow. Arrian, governor of Cappadocia in the reignof Hadrian, described yellow helmet crests on the thousands of Roman cavalrymen under his command. [Arr., TH, 34] The feathers of the republican hastati were sometimes purple, sometimes black, which possibly evolved into purple or black legionary helmet crests. [Poly., VI, 23]

    The helmet was the only item of equipment a legionary was permitted to remove while digging trenches and building fortifications. Helmets were slung around the neck while on the march. The legionary also wore a neck scarf, tied at the throat, originally to prevent his armour chafing his neck. The scarf became fashionable, with auxiliary units quickly adopting them, too. It is possible that different units used different coloured scarves. On his feet the legionary wore heavy-duty hobnailed leather sandals called caligulae, which left his toes exposed. At his waist he wore the cingulum, an apron of four to six metal strands which by the fourth century was no longer used.


    The imperial legionary’s first-use weapon was the javelin, the pilum, of which he would carry two or three, the shorter 5 feet (152 centimetres) in length, the longer, 7 feet (213 centimetres). Primarily thrown, javelins were weighted at the business end and, from Marius’ day, were designed to bend once they struck, to prevent the enemy from throwing them back. ‘At present they are seldom used by us,’ said Vegetius at the end of the fourth century, ‘but are the principal weapon of the barbarian heavy-armed foot.’ [Vege., MIR, I] By Vegetius’ day, a lighter spear, with less penetrating power, was used by Roman troops.

    The legionary carried a short sword, the gladius, its blade 20 inches (50 centimetres) long, double-edged, and with a sharp point for effective jabbing. Spanish steel was preferred, leading to the gladius becoming known as ‘the Spanish sword’. It was kept in a scabbard, which was worn on the legionary’s right side, in contrast to officers, who wore it on the left.

    Top right: Roman sword, a gladius, with baldric and dagger belt, mid to late first century ad. Bottom right: an early firstcentury ad gladius from Rheingoenheim and a sheath from the Rhine a gladius found at Pompeii, and another now in a museum in Mainz. On the left: other swords found on the Rhine.

    By the fourth century, the gladius had been replaced by a longer sword similar to the spatha carried by auxiliary cavalry from Augustus’ time. The legionary was also equipped with a short dagger, the pugio, worn in a scabbard on the left hip, which was still being carried into the fifth century. Sword and dagger scabbards were frequently highly decorated with silver, gold, jet and ceramic inlay, even precious stones.

    The legionary shield, the scutum, was curved and elongated. Polybius described the legionary shield as convex in shape, with straight sides, 4 feet (121 centimetres) long and 21/2 feet (75 centimetres) across. The thickness at the rim was a palm’s breadth. It consisted of two layers of wood fastened together with bull’s hide glue. The outer surface was covered with canvas and then with smooth calf-skin, glued in place. The edges of the shield were rimmed with iron strips, as a protection against sword blows and wear and tear. The centre of the shield was fixed with an iron or bronze boss, to which the handle was attached on the reverse side. The boss could deflect the blows of swords, javelins and stones. [Poly., VI, 23]

    On to the leather surface of the shield was painted the emblem of the legion to which the owner belonged. Vegetius, writing at the end of the fourth century, said that ‘every cohort had its shields painted in a manner peculiar to itself’. [Vege., MIR, II] While Vegetius was talking in the past tense, several examples suggest that each cohort of the Praetorian Guard may have used different thunderbolt emblems on their shields. The shield was always carried on the left arm in battle, with a strap over the arm taking much of the weight. On the march, it was protected from the elements with a leather cover, and slung over the legionary’s left shoulder. By the third century, the legionary shield had become oval, and much less convex.


    First-century Jewish general and historian Flavius Josephus described the training of Rome’s legions as bloodless battles, and their battles as bloody drills. ‘Every soldier is exercised every day,’ he said, ‘which is why they bear the fatigue of battles so easily.’ [Jos., JW, 3, 5, 1]

    The legionary’s training officer was his optio, who ensured that his men trained and exercised. The Roman soldier’s sword training involved long hours at wooden posts. He was taught to thrust, not cut, using the sharp point of his sword. ‘A stab,’ said Vegetius, ‘although it penetrates just 2 inches [5 centimetres], is generally fatal.’ [Vege., MIR, I]

    A legionary also learned to march in formation, and to deploy in various infantry manoeuvres. In standard battle formation soldiers would form up in ranks of eight men deep by ten wide, with a gap of 3 feet (1 metre) between each legionary, who, in the opening stage of a battle, would launch first his javelins then draw his sword. Withdrawing auxiliaries could pass through the gaps in the ranks, until, on command, the legionaries closed ranks. In close order, compacted against his nearest comrades, the legionary could link his shield with his neighbour’s for increased protection. His century might run to the attack, or steadily advance at the march.

    In battle order, the century’s centurion was the first man on the left of the first rank. The century’s tesserarius was last on the left in the rear rank, while the optio stood at the extreme right in the rear rank, from where it was his task to keep the century in order and to prevent desertions. Basic battle formations included the straight line, oblique and crescent. For defence against cavalry, the wedge or a stationary hollow square would be employed, or a partial hollow square with the men on three sides facing outward while the tightly packed formation continued to shuffle forward. The orbis, or ring, was a formation of last resort for a surrounded force.

    Apart from route marches, legionaries, from the time of the consul Marius, were also trained to run considerable distances carrying full equipment. In addition, the legionary learned defensive and offensive techniques, and to rally round his unit’s standard, or any standard in an emergency. The famous testudo, or tortoise, involved locked shields over heads and at sides, providing protection from a rain of spears, arrows, stones, etc. The testudo, ‘most often square but sometimes rounded or oblong’, was primarily used when legions were trying to undermine the walls of enemy fortresses, or to force a gate. [Arr., TH, 11] Double testudos are also known, with one group of men standing on the raised shields of a formation beneath them and in turn fixing their shields over their own heads.


    Cassius Dio wrote of the diet of legionaries: ‘They require kneaded bread and wine and oil.’ [Dio, LXII, 5] Legionaries were given a grain ration, which they were expected to grind into flour using each squad’s grinding stone. They cooked their own loaves, typically round and cut into eight slices, one for each member of the squad. Legionaries drizzled their bread with olive oil. They also ate meat, but thiswas considered supplementary to their bread ration. Coffee, tomatoes and bananas were unknown to the Romans, as was sugar honey was their only sweetener.

    The quantity of grain provided for the troops depended on the available supply and the generosity of commanders. In Polybius’ day it was half a bushel per legionary a month, and the cost was deducted from the soldier’s pay. In imperial times, the legionary’s grain ration was free. Much of the general population of Rome at that time was also provided with free grain by the government, although bakers, pastrycooks, and other commercial operators had to pay for it.

    Like the upper class, Roman soldiers ate with their fingers. They used their dagger to cut bread and meat. The fork was unknown to all classes. Romans drank wine with their meals, but it was diluted with water legionaries are rarely recorded drunk in camp. Breakfast for Romans was often just a cup of water. Lunch, prandium, was a cold snack at noon, or a piece of bread at the end of the day’s march. For legionaries, the day’s main meal was in the evening.

    By late in the first century, with legions based in permanent winter camps, rations were being acquired from local merchants who themselves sourced food and wine from the far corners of the empire. Some of those foods could be quite exotic, and both legionaries and auxiliaries ate well. Parts of the handwritten labels on amphorae have been found on pottery shards discovered in a fort which housed the cavalry of the Ala Augusta at Carlisle, Roman Luguvalium, in Britain. One had contained the sweet fruit of the doum palm from Egypt. Another reads: ‘Old Tangiers tunny, provisions, quality, excellent, top-quality.’ Tunny fish (cordula) netted in the Straits of Hercules (off Gibraltar) was processed at Tingatitanum, today’s Tangiers, being chopped up and packed in its own juice into amphora for shipment. The resultant fish paste was a great delicacy at the Carlisle base it was probably exclusively consumed by officers. [Tom., DRA]

    Amphorae containing provisions were also marked with the age of the contents in years, the capacity of the container, and the name of the firm that had produced it – a label found at Colchester named the firm of Proculus and Urbicus. Another label from the very same firm was also found in the ruins of Pompeii in Italy. [Ibid.]


    During the first century, and probably for much of the imperial era, when a legion went into winter quarters each year one legionary in four could take leave. The job of recording leave details fell to each unit’s records clerk, who was ‘exact in entering the time and limitation of furloughs’. [Vege., DRM, III] To receive their leave pass, the enlisted men of each legion had to pay their centurion a furlough fee, which the centurions retained.

    Until AD 69, centurions could set the fee at any amount they chose, and this became a source of great complaint from legionaries. Tacitus wrote, ‘A demand was then made [to new emperor Otho] that fees for furloughs usually paid to the centurions be abolished. These were paid by the common soldiers as a kind of annual tribute. A fourth part of every century could be scattered on furlough, or even loiter about the camp, provided they paid the fees to the centurions.’ The officers had not given any attention to these fees, said Tacitus, and the more money a soldier had, the more his centurion would demand to allow him to go on leave. [Tac., H, I, 46]

    Otho did not want to alienate the centurions by abolishing furlough fees, a lucrative source of income for them, but at the same time wanted to ensure the loyalty of the enlisted men. So he promised in future to pay to centurions the furlough fees on all legionaries’ behalf from his own purse. [Ibid.] Within months, Otho was dead, but his successor as emperor, Vitellius, kept his promise to the rank and file: ‘He paid the furlough fees to the centurions from the imperial treasury.’ [Tac., H, I, 58] ‘This was without doubt a salutary reform,’ Tacitus observed, ‘and was afterwards under good emperors established as a permanent rule of the service.’ [Ibid., 46]

    Men on furlough often went far afield, and could not easily be recalled in emergencies. [Tac., A, XV, 10] It seems that while the men left their helmets, shields, javelins and armour back at base when they went on furlough, they habitually continued to wear their military sandals and travelled armed with their swords on sword-belts wherever they went, even in towns, where civilians were forbidden to go armed. Petronius Arbiter, in hisSatyricon, written in the time of Nero, has his narrator strap on a sword-belt when staying in a seaside town in Greece. While walking through the town’s streets at night, illegally wearing his sword, he was challenged.

    ‘Halt! Who goes there?’ a guard demanded. Seeing the sword on his hip, the guard assumed the man must be a legionary on leave, and asked, ‘What legion are you from? Who is your centurion?’ The guard then noticed that the man waswearing Greek-style white shoes. ‘Since when have men in your unit gone on leave in white shoes?’ In response, Petronius’ narrator lied about both centurion and legion. ‘But my face and my confusion proved that I had been caught in a lie,’ he went on, ‘so he [the guard] ordered me to surrender my arms.’ [Petr., 82]


    To relay orders in camp, on the march, and in battle, unarmed musicians were attached to all legions to play the lituus, a trumpet made of wood covered with leather, and the cornu and buccina, which were horns in the shape of a ‘C’. Legion musicians wore leather vests over their tunics, and bearskin capes over their helmets. There is no record of them playing music on the march. Their role was exclusively that of signallers.


    Every legion, maniple and century had a standard behind which its men marched, and it was a great honour to be the official bearer of the sacred standard. It was the greatest honour of all to be the aquilifer, the man who carried the legion’s golden eagle standard, the aquila. Ranking above ordinary legionaries, the standard-bearer had much influence with the rank and file and was sometimes involved in councils of war by their generals. Standard-bearers also managed the legion banks.

    The tesserarius was the man in each century whose task it was to circulate the tessera, a wax tablet containing the daily watchword, to sentries in camp, and to all ranks prior to battle.

    In the infantry, the optio was the deputy to a century’s centurion. In the cavalry, he was deputy to a decurion. The equivalent of a sergeant-major today, the optio was responsible for the century’s records and training, and in battle was required to keep his century in order – several trumpet calls were directed specifically at optios for this purpose. An optio was a centurion-designate, and when a vacancy arose for a new centurion, an optio would be promoted to fill it.


    With his title literally and originally relating to the command of ten men, the decurio was a junior officer, subordinate to a centurion, who commanded a troop of cavalry in both the legions and auxiliary mounted units, which in turn was commanded by a squadron’s most senior decurion. Typically, decurions of auxiliary cavalry had previously served as legionaries and were transferred to the alae.

    A second-century decurion, Titus Calidius, joined a legion at the age of 24 and rose to become a decurion with the cavalry squadron of the 15th Apollinaris Legion. He was subsequently transferred, as a senior decurion, to the 1st Alpinorum Cohort,an auxiliary equitata unit based at Carnuntum with the 15 th Apollinaris during the reign of Domitian. When Calidius completed his enlistment with the 1st Alpinorum he re-enlisted with the unit, which continued to be based at Carnuntum after the 15th Apollinaris Legion was transferred to the East in AD 113 for Trajan’s Parthian War. Calidius went back to the 1st Alpinorum Cohort at the reduced rank of optio of horse. He died at the age of 58, having served in the Roman military for thirty-four years, and was buried at Carnuntum. [Hold., DRA, ADRH]


    The centurio was the key, middle-ranking officer of the Roman army. Julius Caesar considered the centurion the backbone of his army, and knew many of his centurions by name. Apart from some centurions of Equestrian rank during the reign of Augustus, the imperial centurion was an enlisted man like the legionary, promoted from the ranks. One centurion of Equestrian rank was Clivius Priscus, a native of Carecina in Italy, who ended his military career as a first-rank centurion. His son Helvidius Priscus, born around AD 20, became a quaestor, legion commander and praetor.

    The centurion originally commanded a century of one hundred men. Centurions commanded the centuries, maniples and cohorts of the legion, with each imperial legion having a nominal complement of fifty-nine centurions, across a number of grades. Julius Caesar’s reward for one particular centurion who had pleased him was to promote him eight grades. The centurion could be identified – by friend and foe alike – by a transverse crest on his helmet, metal greaves on his shins, and the fact that, like all Roman officers, he wore his sword on the left, unlike legionaries, who wore their swords on the right.

    The first-rank centurions, or primi ordines, of a legion’s 1st cohort, were the most senior in the legion. Promotion came with time and experience, but many centurions never made it to first-rank status. One first-rank centurion in each legion held the title of primus pilus – literally ‘first spear’. He was chief centurion of the legion, a highly prestigious and well-paid position for which there was always intense competition among centurions. The vastly experienced primi pili always received great respect and significant responsibility, not infrequently leading major army detachments.

    Promotion up the various centurion grades involved transfer between various legions. One centurion typically served with twelve different legions during his forty-six-year career throughout the empire. Centurions were also detached from legions to serve as district officers in areas where no legions were based, and were also sent to other legions and auxiliary units as training officers. In AD 83, after a centurion and several legionaries were sent to train a new cohort of Usipi German auxiliaries in Britain, the trainees rebelled, killed their trainers, stole ships and sailed to Europe. The mutineers were subsequently apprehended.

    Slaves were not permitted to become legionaries, let alone centurions. In AD 93, time-served centurion Claudius Pacatus was living in retirement when he was recognized as a slave who had escaped many years before. Because of Pacatus’ distinguished military service, the emperor Domitian spared his life, but he returned him to his original master, to live out the rest of his days as a slave.

    On their retirement, centurions were eligible for employment as lictors, the attendants of magistrates. This well-paid and prestigious post, renewed annually, involved walking ahead of the officials, and clearing the way, carrying one of their ceremonial fasces, the magistrates’ rods and axes of office.

    Many centurions had long careers. Titus Flavius Virilis, a centurion with the 9th Hispana Legion, served for forty-five years before he died at Lambaesis in Africa early in the second century while on attachment to the 3rd Augusta Legion he was 70 years of age. [ILS, 2653]


    The third-in-command of each legion of the early empire was the praefectus cas-trorium, or camp-prefect. A mature former primus pilus, the camp-prefect was the legion’s quartermaster, and commanded major legion detachments. On occasion – inVarus’ army in the Battle of the Teutoburg in AD 9, and in the case of the 2nd Augusta Legion in Britain in AD 60, for example – camp-prefects commanded entire legions.

    By the end of the fourth century, the camp-prefect had been abolished, being replaced by a junior tribune.


    Young men of Equestrian rank ‘served as military tribune as a stepping stone to the Senate’, said Dio. [Dio, LXVII, 11] In the republican Roman army, a legion’s six tribunes had commanded the troops in battle – each one, on rotation, commanding the legion, the other five commanding two cohorts each. But over time this proved unsatisfactory, and in Augustus’ remodelled Roman army the command structure changed dramatically.

    Each imperial legion still had six tribunes – one broad-stripe tribune or military tribune, five thin-stripe tribunes (the titles referring to the width of the purple stripes on their togas, and possibly also on their tunics). But the tribunes’ roles had altered.

    From 23 BC, every well-to-do young Equestrian had to serve as a tribunus angus-ticlavius, tribune of the thin stripe. According to Seneca, the chief secretary to Nero, a thin-stripe tribune did ‘his military service as the first step on the road to a seat in the Senate’. [Sen., XLVII] The thin-stripe tribune was an officer cadet, serving a six-month military apprenticeship, the semestri tribunata, during the annual campaigning season from March to October. Once they turned 18, thin-stripe tribunes became eligible for the semestri tribunata and – provided their assets totalled the qualifying sum of 400,000 sesterces net – were granted membership of the Equestrian Order.

    Gnaeus Agricola, for example, when he went to Britain as a thin-striper in AD 60, was 19. Most thin-stripe tribunes served on the staff of a legate, a legion commander. But some thin-stripers, like Agricola, were taken on to the staff of provincial governors, where they had more opportunity to shine. Appointment as a thin-striper under a legate of note, whose commendation would help later career prospects, did not come about by chance. Examples exist of senators writing to legion commander friends and provincial governors, putting forward their relatives or the sons of friends for appointment as thin-stripe tribunes. [Birl., DRA¸ TCEO]

    Legates often took their own sons with them to the provinces to serve on their staff, apparently submitting lists of names of young men they would like to accompany them, or to fill vacancies in their province, for the emperor’s approval.

    The legion in which Romans served out their semestri tribunata was never listed on memorials or in biographies when the careers of men of achievement were later recorded. It was, after all, nothing more than an internship. Conscientious thin-stripers wishing to make an impression on their sponsors and earn commendation would volunteer for special duty. Historian Tacitus’ father-in-law Agricola did not waste his time on the staff of the governor of Britain as a ‘loose young’ thin-stripe tribune enjoying a ‘life of gaiety’. Said Tacitus, Agricola did not ‘make his thin-stripe status or his inexperience an excuse for idly enjoying himself and continually going on leave’. Instead, ‘he acquainted himself with his province and made himself known to the troops. He learned from the experts and chose the best models to follow. He never sought a duty for self-advertisement, and never shirked one through cowardice. ‘ [Tac., Agr., 5] This suggests that many teenage thin-stripe tribunes wasted their semestri tribunata appointments living it up, leading the ‘life of gaiety’ that Agricola eschewed.

    Thin-stripe tribunes had no authority. When Varus’ legions were wiped out at the Battle of the Teutoburg in AD 9, the units’ most senior officers were their camp-prefects. [Velle., II, CXX] The three legions involved all had junior tribunes serving with them, and these young men were burned to death by the Germans after their capture. [Tac.,A, I, 61] Apart from staff duties, thin-stripe tribunes could sit on court martials and shared watch command duties in camp, but in battle they held no power of command.

    The sixth tribune in each imperial legion was the tribunus laticlavius, tribune of the broad stripe. Called a military tribune in official Roman records, to differentiate this position from the civil post of tribune of the plebeians, a broad-stripe tribune was second-in-command of his legion. Senior tribunes wore a richly decorated helmet, moulded armour and wore a white cloak. They were armed with a sword, worn on the left hip.

    Broad-stripers frequently found themselves leading their unit. Some legions, such as those stationed in Egypt, and also in Judea for a time, were permanently commanded by their senior tribunes. This was because those provinces were governed by prefects, and as the legion commanders in their provinces had to take orders from the governors, they could not outrank them. There are numerous examples of legionselsewhere being led on the march and into battle by their broad-stripe tribunes.

    To be promoted to the broad-stripe tribunate, an Equestrian officer had to serve out the first two steps of the three-step promotional ladder formalized by the emperor Claudius (AD 41 – 54), first as a prefect of auxiliary infantry, then as a more prestigious prefect of auxiliary cavalry, then as a broad-stripe tribune. [Suet., V, 25] A broad-stripe tribune was not yet a senator, but his appointment to the tribunate put him on the list for promotion to the senatorial order at the emperor’s pleasure. Broad-stripe tribunes usually served with a legion for three to five years, with passage through the entire three-step promotional process frequently taking nine or ten years, although an outstanding senatorial candidate could be appointed to the Senate at the age of 25.

    Claudius realized that, with just twenty-seven legions in his day, there were only twenty-seven military tribunates to fill every three years or so, limiting the number of annual vacancies. With the military tribunate becoming a promotional bottleneck, Claudius introduced the annual appointment of supernumerary military tribunes, to push larger numbers of qualified young men through to the Senate. [Ibid.] These supernumerary tribunes did not serve with the legions, but were found other duties. In AD 68 – 69, Agricola fell into this category, serving out his military tribunate in Italy raising recruits. By AD 71 he had been promoted to a legion command.

    Occasionally, broad-stripe tribunes of the early empire went from being second-in-command of legions to being in command of auxiliary cavalry units, an apparently backward step. These seem to have been special battlefield appointments, such as that of Gaius Minicius, who was transferred from the 6th Victrix Legion to command of the 1st Wing of the Singularian Horse in AD 70 during the Civilis Revolt. [See here.]

    Promotion to legion command was neither automatic nor necessarily swift. The future emperor Hadrian, while he was building his military career between AD 95 and 105, spent ten years as a prefect and tribune, commanding various auxiliary units and then being promoted to second-in-command of a legion, the 5th Macedonica, before gaining command of the 1st Minervia Legion.

    In around AD 85, Pliny the Younger served as a tribune with the 3rd Gallica Legion at Raphanaea on the Euphrates in southern Syria, where, on the orders of the province’s governor, he conducted an audit of the accounts of the cavalry and infantry cohorts attached to his legion (in several cases finding, ‘a great deal of shocking rapacity and deliberate inaccuracy’). [Pliny, VII, 31]

    By the second half of the second century, military tribunes were increasingly appointed to the command of auxiliary units, probably because of the growing number of supernumerary tribune appointments. For instance, Pertinax, a future emperor, served as a tribune of cavalry on his way to becoming a successful general. [Dio, LXXIV, 3]


    After his junior tribuneship, a young Equestrian officer gained the rank of prefect and was appointed to command an auxiliary cohort – either an infantry unit or an equitatae unit which combined infantry and cavalry. After serving for several years, he would be transferred to the command of an equitatae unit or cavalry wing. He still held the rank of prefect, but a prefect of a mounted unit outranked an infantry prefect. A promising candidate could eventually be appointed a tribune of the broad stripe.


    Every consul and every provincial governor had a quaestor appointed to his staff Mark Antony initially served as quaestor to Julius Caesar during the Gallic War. The quaestor was a former broad-stripe tribune. In the provinces, a quaestor’s responsibilities included military recruitment in his province. He automatically entered the Senate on completion of his term as quaestor.

    A junior magistrate, the quaestor was entitled to one fasces and one lictor. The fasces represented the magistrate’s power over life and death. Its symbol was an axehead projecting from a bundle of elm or birch rods tied with a red strap. Rods of birch were used to beat a condemned man the axe was then used to behead him.

    In 1919, the Fascist Party of Italy took the ancient Roman fasces as its symbol, a word from which the fascist name derived. Benito Mussolini’s Italian fascists adopted other imperial Roman symbols such as the eagle and military standards, hoping that some of the old glory would rub off. The fascist name, the eagle and the standards were in turn appropriated by Hitler’s National Socialist Party in Germany, the Nazis.


    In Augustus’ military reforms, the legion commander was the legatus legionis, or legate of the legion. A member of the Senatorial order, he was typically in his thirties. The oldest legion legate on record is 62-year-old Manlius Valens, commander of the 1st Italica Legion in AD 68 – 69 his appointment was the result of a political favour from the emperor Galba.

    Augustus set the maximum tour of duty of a legionary legate at two years. Under later emperors this stretched to an average four-year appointment. Tiberius was infamous for leaving men in appointments long term once he had found a place for them, and under him service was longer than usual.

    The legate could be distinguished by his richly decorated helmet and body armour, his embroidered scarlet cloak, the paludamentum, and his cincticulus, a scarlet waistband tied in a bow at his waist. He was entitled to five fasces and five lictors.

    By AD 268, the emperor Gallienus had decreed that senators could no longer hold legion commands, and by the end of the third century all legions were being commanded by Equestrian prefects, who then outranked tribunes. [Amm., v, 33]


    The praetor was a senior Roman magistrate. From the middle of the first century, former praetors were increasingly given legion commands. Outranking legion legates, they were entitled to six fasces and lictors. Both Vespasian and his brother Sabinus held praetor rank when they commanded legions in the AD 43 invasion of Britain.

    After AD 268, under the decree of Galienus, praetors no longer held commands.

    Propraetor was the title given to governors of imperial Roman provinces – as opposed to proconsul, the title given to ‘unarmed’ senatorial provinces, whose governors were appointed by the Senate.


    Early Imperial Roman Army


    Prefects, dukes and counts take command

    During the reign of co-emperor Diocletian (AD 285 – 305), Rome’s original provinces were divided into more than a hundred smaller provinces, each with their own governor and military commander. Between AD 312 and 337 Constantine the Great took this reorganization further.

    With prefects commanding legions, senior tribunes continued to be second-in-command of legions, on the emperor’s direct appointment. A ‘second tribune’ replaced the old enlisted rank of camp-prefect as third-in-command of a legion, and was given the appointment on merit after lengthy service. [Vege., II]

    Thin-stripe tribunes were replaced as officer cadets by the candidati militares, the military candidates. Under Constantine, this officer training corps comprised two cohorts attached to the emperor’s bodyguard. Wearing white tunics and cloaks, candidatores, as they were called, were all young men chosen for their height and good looks. Candidati service prepared suitable trainee officers for promotion to tribune and unit commands. On several occasions in the fourth century, the candidates militares went into battle with their emperors, serving as independent fighting units within the imperial bodyguard.

    The fourth-century provincial governor was a civilian. Separate provincial military commanders held the rank ofdux, or ‘leader’, the latter-day duke. The duke’s superior was a regional commander whose authority might extend across several provinces, or even in some cases the entire east or west of the empire, holding the rank of comes, literally meaning ‘companion’ of the emperor, the latter-day count. Counts also had charge of areas of civil administration. Military comites also commanded the household guard. In the late fourth century there were always two military counts and thirteen dukes in the west of the Roman Empire, while in the east there were four military counts and twelve dukes.

    Both duke and count were distinguished when in armour by a golden cincticulus, the general’s waistband, as opposed to the scarlet cincticulus of legion legates of old. The duke and count received generous salaries as well as allowances that provided each with 190 personal servants and 158 personal horses. In place of the two praetorian prefects, Constantine introduced the posts of master ofinfantry and master of horse as the empire’s supreme military commanders. The post of praetorian prefect was retained, but in a civil administrative role, with several stationed throughout the empire as financial auditors reporting directly to their emperor. [Gibb., XVII]

    Many fourth- and fifth-century Roman commanders had foreign blood, among them the counts Silvanus and Lutto, both Franks Magnentius, a German Ursicinus, who was probably an Alemanni German and Stilicho, one of whose parents was a Vandal. The father of Count Bragatio, Master of Horse under Constantius II, was a Frank. Mallobaudes, who was a tribune with the armaturae, a heavy-armoured element of the Roman household cavalry in the fourth century, was a Frank by birth, and went on to become king of the Franks. Victor, Master of Horse under the emperor Valens, was a Sarmatian.


    The auxiliary was a foreign soldier who did not originally hold Roman citizenship. Most provinces and a number of allied states supplied men to fill auxiliary units of the Roman army. Some auxiliary units lived and fought alongside particular legions others operated independently. In the AD 60s, for example, eight cohorts of Batavian light infantry were partnered with the 14th Gemina Legion.

    At least two wings of auxiliary cavalry would also march with a specific legion, so that a legion, with its auxiliary support, would typically take the field with around 5,200 legionaries and a similar number of auxiliaries, creating a fighting force of 10,000 men. In the first century, it was assumed that a legion would always march with its regular auxiliary support units – Tacitus, referring to reinforcements received by Domitius Corbulo in the East in AD 54, described the arrival of ‘a legion from Germany with its auxiliary cavalry and light infantry’. [Tac., A, XIII, 35]

    Independent auxiliary units provided the only military presence in so-called ‘unarmed’ provinces – Mauretania in North Africa, for instance, was for many years only garrisoned by auxiliaries.

    Although often armed in a similar manner to legionaries, auxiliaries wore breeches, sported light ringmail armour, and were referred to as ‘light infantry’. Specialist units such as archers, and slingers firing stones and lead shot, were always auxiliaries. Syria provided the best bowmen, while Crete and Spain’s Balearic Isles were famous for their slingers. Each legion had a small cavalry component of 128 men, as scouts and couriers, but auxiliaries made up all the Roman army’s independent cavalry units. Germans, and in particular Batavians, were the most valued cavalry.

    The auxiliary was paid just one third of the salary of the legionary 300 sesterces a year until the reign of Commodus, when it increased to 400 sesterces. [Starr, V. I] The auxiliary also served for longer – twenty-five years, as opposed to the legionary’s sixteen- and later twenty-year enlistment (plus Evocati service). Once discharged, auxiliaries could not be recalled. They did not receive a retirement bonus, but both auxiliaries and seamen received an enlistment bonus, the viaticum, on joining the service, of 300 sesterces. [Ibid.]

    From Britain to Switzerland, and from the Balkans to North Africa, tribes were responsible for supplying recruits for their particular ethnic auxiliary units, although there were occasional exceptions. Tiberius decreed that new recruits to the Thracian Horse would come from outside Thrace, much to the aggravation of the proud men of the existing Thracian Horse.

    Copies of every individual patent of citizenship issued to discharged auxiliary soldiers were kept at the Capitoline Hill complex at Rome in the Temple of the Good Faith of the Roman People to its Friends. The auxiliary prized his certificate of citizenship some had themselves depicted on their tombstones holding it. In AD 212, Commodus made Roman citizenship universal, eliminating citizenship as an incentive for auxiliary service.

    A typical auxiliary who served his twenty-five years and gained his citizenship was Gemellus from Pannonia, who joined up in AD 97 during the reign of Nerva, and was granted his citizenship on 17 July AD 122 in the reign of Hadrian. Just as a legionary could be transferred between the legions with promotion, auxiliaries moved between different units. When Gemellus received his honourable discharge, he was a decurion with the 1st Pannonian Cohort. His career had seen him work his way from 7th cohort to 1st, serving in units from the Balkans, France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, including a stint with the 7th Thracian Cohort in Britain.

    Even after they obtained their citizenship, auxiliaries frequently signed up for a new enlistment. Lucius Vitellius Tancinus, a cavalry trooper of the Vettonian Wing, born at Caurium in Spain, joined the army at the age of 20, served his twenty-five-year enlistment in Britain, obtained his citizenship, then signed on for another term. A year later, at the age of 46, he died, probably seeking a cure for whatever ailed him at the Temple of Aquae Sulis in Bath, the waters of which had legendary healing powers.

    During most of the imperial era, auxiliary units were commanded by prefects, always members of the Equestrian Order, and frequently young gentlemen of Rome. But in some cases, auxiliary units were commanded by nobles from their own tribe. These ethnic prefects were rarely permitted to rise above prefect rank.


    The reward for brave service for Rome

    On 10 August AD 110, Novanticus, a foot soldier born and raised in the town of Ratae, modern-day Leicester in England, was standing at assembly in a Roman army camp at Darnithethis in recently conquered Dacia. Novanticus was a Celtic Briton. He and some 1,000 other young Celts had joined the Roman army in the spring of AD 98, enrolled by the recently enthroned emperor Trajan in a new auxiliary light infantry unit honoured with the emperor’s family name: the Cohors I Brittonum Ulpia, or 1st Brittonum Ulpian Cohort.

    Three years later, the 1st Brittonum had been one of many units in the 100,000 -man Roman army that had invaded Dacia. Novanticus and his British comrades had fought so fiercely and so bravely in the bitterly contested battles in the mountains and passes of Dacia, that, four years after the country had been conquered, the emperor granted all the surviving members of the unit honourable discharges, thirteen years before their twenty-five-year enlistments were due to expire.

    At assembly, Novanticus presented himself before his commanding officer and was handed a set of bronze sheets just large enough to fit in one hand. This was the Briton’s discharge certificate, a copy of which would go to Rome to be displayed with hundreds of thousands of others. With discharge, Novanticus received the prize of Roman citizenship. With citizenship, he could take a multipart Roman name. Novanticus chose a name that honoured the emperor he had loyally served for the past twelve years.

    ‘To the foot soldier Marcus Ulpius Novanticus, son of Adcobrovatus, of Ratae,’ the commander read, ‘for loyal and faithful service in the Dacian campaigns, before the completion of military service.’ [Discharge certificate of Marcus Ulpius Novanticus, British Museum]

    Marcus Ulpius Novanticus would return home to Britain to enjoy the fruits of his military service and raise a family. Nearly 2,000 years later, his bronze discharge certificate would emerge from the British earth to tell of his part in the Roman war machine.


    Until AD 212, when Caracalla introduced universal Roman citizenship, auxiliaries, marines and seamen in the Roman navy were not Roman citizens. Non-citizens, so-called peregrines, traditionally only used a single name – Genialus, for example. A Latin multipart name such as Gaius Julius Genialus was the preserve of those with the Latin franchise. Accordingly, students of Roman history, from the famous nineteenth-century German scholar Theodor Mommsen onwards, came to assume that anyone recorded with a multipart name had to be a Roman citizen. But, as Professor Chester Starr and others point out, non-citizens serving in the Roman military not infrequently used Latin names, and consequently the legal status of a Roman soldier or sailor cannot always be ascertained from their name. [Starr, V. I]

    Among other examples, Starr, quoting three other eminent scholars, cites the cases of Isidorus and Neon, two non-citizen Egyptian recruits to the 1st Cohort Lusitanorum Praetoria who immediately changed their names to Julius Martialis and Lucius Julius Apollinaris on enrolling. Octavius Valens, an Alexandrine recruit to the same unit, could not have possessed Latin rights either, despite using a Latin name. [Ibid.]

    Claudius attempted to stamp out this practice, forbidding peregrines to adopt Roman family names. But under later emperors the practice revived, and, as Starr notes, auxiliaries came to take on Latin names ‘at their pleasure’. [Ibid.] Until the reign of Nero, auxiliaries recruited into the German Guard (the imperial bodyguard) took Greek or Latin names, or cobbled Latin names to their native names on joining. [Speid., 4] During Nero’s reign, numerous serving members of the German Guard bore tri-part names which included their native name and ‘Tiberius Claudius’. [Ibid.] This was in honour of Nero’s predecessor Claudius, in whose reign these men would have joined the unit.

    In the reign of Trajan, auxiliary troopers of the Augustan Singularian Horse, the household cavalry, routinely added the names Marcus Ulpius to their own immediately on joining. This would always mark them as men who served the emperor. Likewise, in the reign of Hadrian, when recruits joined this same unit, many took the names of that emperor, Publius Aelius. [Ibid.]

    By the second century, the practice of non-citizens using multi-part Latin names was not only commonplace but was accepted at the highest levels, as is made clear by a c. AD 106 letter of Pliny the Younger to Trajan, in which he wrote, ‘I pray you further to grant full Roman citizenship to Lucius Satrius Abascantus, Publius Caesius Phosphorus and Pancharia Soteris’. [Pliny, X, II]

    Latin names were in extensive use by men serving in second-century auxiliary units despite the fact they had yet to gain Roman citizenship. This is plain to see in an AD 117 report from the 1st Lusitanorum Cohort in Egypt. The report details the receipt of new recruits from the province of Asia and their distribution to various centuries within this auxiliary cohort. The names of the standard-bearers of those auxiliary centuries are all either double- or triple-barrelled. [Tom., DRA]

    The few surviving records of complete careers of centurions and decurions who served in auxiliary units reveal that those men were Roman citizens, having started out as legionaries before being promoted and transferred to auxiliary units. Yet a ration report from the cavalry wing stationed at Luguvalium in Britain, in the late first or early second century, refers to most of the decurions who commanded the sixteen troops of cavalry at the fort by single name. But all these were nicknames, among them: Agilis (Nimble), Docilis (Docile), Gentilis (Kinsman), Mansuetus (Gentle), Martialis (Warlike), Peculiaris (Special Friend), and Sollemnis (Solemn).

    An example of a peregrine who adopted a multipart Latin name as soon as he joined the Roman navy is second-century Egyptian seaman Apion, who wrote hometo his family in Egypt to tell them that he had arrived safely at the fleet base at Misenum on Italy’s west coast and joined the crew of the warship Athenonike. Almost as an aside, he finished his letter with, ‘My name is now Antonius Maximus’. [Starr, V, I]


    From the second century, units made up of foreign troops called numeri – literally ‘numbers’ – served with the Roman army as frontier guards, supplied by northern neighbours including the Sarmatians and Germans. Numeri was a generic title for a unit that was not of standard size or structure. No information exists about them. More than twenty numeri units served in Britain alone. [Hold., RAB, Indices]


    Marines served with the two principal Roman battle fleets, at Misenum near Naples, and at Ravenna on the northeast coast, on the Adriatic, as well as with the lesser fleets around the empire. Marine cohorts also acted as firefighters at major ports such as Ostia and Misenum.

    Always non-citizens, and frequently former slaves, marines and sailors were considered inferior to both the legionary and the auxiliary. The marine, the miles classicus, was paid less than the legionary and served longer, for twenty-six years. Seamen operating the oars and sails of Rome’s warships served under identical conditions to marines, and also received weapons training, to allow them to repel boarders and to act as boarders. Both marines and seamen were organized into centuries, under centurions, aboard their vessels. A libernium, the smallest Roman war galley, typically had a crew of 160 seamen and forty marines.

    Marines were trained to operate catapults that fired burning missiles from their ships. They were also involved in close-quarters combat, throwing javelins at enemy ships alongside, often from elevated wooden towers erected on deck. And they formed boarding parties to take enemy ships.

    Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Dando-Collins.

    Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

    STEPHEN DANDO-COLLINS is an award-winning historian and novelist. He is the author of several highly acclaimed works on ancient history, including Legions of Rome: The Definitive History of Every Imperial Roman Legion.

    Praefectus castrorum

    The third in command of a legion was the praefectus castrorum, the camp prefect. Unusually for such a senior position, this was usually an experienced soldier who had been in the army for most of his adult life. A former chief centurion, he dealt with much of the administration and with command tasks that required technical knowledge of how the legion worked.

    As a result, the legatus legionis was supported by two very different men – one an inexperienced youth from the upper class, looking to forward his career, the other a grizzled veteran of great experience but low social standing.

    To the Survivors the Spoils

    For those who survived wars as a Centurion, life could be very good. Their job gave them power and prestige beyond that given to men of humble station. The pay was better than for ordinary legionaries. The integration of military and civilian command in the Empire meant their status extended beyond the battlefield and fortified camps. Sometimes they would be given other duties, with at least one being sent as an ambassador to Parthia.

    When they left the army, their wealth and prestige made ex-Centurions important people in their towns and villages. They remained leaders and became an inspiration for other young men to follow their path in life.

    Kate Gilliver, Adrian Goldsworthy and Michael Whitby (2005), Rome at War: Caesar and his Legacy.

    Watch the video: Rome Fighting with Gauls HD (May 2022).


  1. Grahem

    Thank you, whoever seeks will always find

  2. Rasmus

    Rather valuable piece

  3. Mundy

    you can't name it anymore!

  4. Fionnbarr

    You are handsome. It was nice to chat with you virtually. I'll miss you. Exactly.

  5. Algernon

    I have not heard this

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