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How late where plumed helmets and muscle cuirasses used by Roman/Byzantine soldiers?

How late where plumed helmets and muscle cuirasses used by Roman/Byzantine soldiers?

According to the osprey book Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen by Raffaele D'Amato, Byzantine imperial guardsmen where known to have worn muscle cuirasses and also plumed helmets.

Its gotten me curious and i would like to know how late soldiers in the Greco-Roman road made use of classically inspired armour.

How late can we trace the use of things such as Corinthian/Attic/Roman plumed helmets and muscle cuirasses? and where they merely for decorative purposes or actually used in combat?

Muscle cuirasses were rigid and rather uncomfortable; they also required custom fitting. So did lorica segmentata, but it was far more practical in battle. It's hard to say for sure whether the muscle cuirass was seriously used in battle by the Romans, but certainly it was exclusive to particular officers, such as a legate. They are very common in depictions,as it was a classic piece of armour and so you can imagine it was mainly a glorified status symbol. I know this doesn't really answer your question of how late, but this gives you a background. You might say that they were outdated long before, but were used to make showy officers.

Lamellar armour

Lamellar armour is a type of body armour, made from small rectangular plates (scales or lamellae) of iron or steel, leather (rawhide), or bronze laced into horizontal rows. Lamellar armour was used over a wide range of time periods in Central Asia, Eastern Asia (especially in China, Japan, Mongolia, and Tibet), Western Asia, and Eastern Europe. The earliest evidence for lamellar armour comes from sculpted artwork of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the Near East.


As all-citizen formations and symbolic protectors of the dominance of the Italian "master-nation", legions enjoyed greater social prestige than the auxilia for much of the Principate. This was reflected in better pay and benefits. In addition, legionaries were equipped with more expensive and protective armour than auxiliaries, notably the lorica segmentata, or laminated-strip armour. However, in 212, the Emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to nearly all the Empire's freeborn 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.

The military chain of command was relatively flat. In each province, the deployed legions' legati (legion commanders, who also controlled the auxiliary units attached to their legion) reported to the legatus Augusti pro praetore (provincial governor), who also headed the civil administration. The governor in turn reported directly to the Emperor in Rome. There was no 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.

Compared to the subsistence-level peasant families from which they mostly originated, legionary rankers enjoyed considerable disposable income, enhanced by periodical 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 the reign of 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 senior warrant officers, were organised in an elaborate hierarchy. Usually promoted from the ranks, they commanded the legion's tactical sub-units of centuriae (about 80 men) and cohorts (about 480 men). They were paid several multiples of basic pay. The most senior centurion, the primus pilus, was automatically elevated to equestrian rank on 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 a soldier's basic pay.

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. 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 military and civil infrastructure. In addition to constructing forts and fortified defences such as Hadrian's Wall, they built roads, bridges, ports, public buildings and entire new cities (colonia), and cleared forests and drained marshes to expand a province's available arable land.

Soldiers, mostly drawn from polytheistic societies, enjoyed wide freedom of worship in the polytheistic Roman system. Only a few cults were banned by the Roman authorities, as being incompatible with the official Roman religion or being 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 cult in the army was Mithraism, an apparently syncretist cult which mainly originated in Asia Minor.

Except for the early 1st century, the literary evidence for the Principate period is surprisingly thin, due to the loss of a large number of contemporary historical works. From the point of view of the imperial army, the most useful sources are: firstly, works by the general Caius Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico and Commentarii de Bello Civili, covering his conquest of Gaul (58-50 BC) and his civil war against rival general Pompey (49-48 BC), respectively. Strictly speaking, these wars pre-date the army's imperial period (which started in 30 BC), but Caesar's detailed accounts are close enough in time to provide a wealth of information about organisation and tactics still relevant to the imperial legions. Secondly, works by the imperial-era historian Tacitus, writing around AD 100. These are the Annales, a chronicle of the Julio-Claudian era from the death of the founder-emperor Augustus to that of Nero (AD 14-68). Even this suffers from large gaps, amounting to about a third of the original the Historiae was the sequel to the Annales, bringing the chronicle up to the death of Domitian (AD 96), of which only the first part, a detailed account of the Civil War of 68-9 survives and the Agricola, a biography of Tacitus' own father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who as governor of Britain (AD 78-85) attempted to subjugate Caledonia (Scotland) to Roman rule. The third important literary source is De Re Militari, a treatise on Roman military practices by Vegetius, written c. 400. This contains much useful material relating to the Principate period, but the author's statements are undated and sometimes unreliable. Also useful are: The Jewish War by Josephus, an eyewitness account of the First Jewish revolt of AD 66-70 by one of the Jewish commanders who defected to the Romans after he was captured the essay Acies contra Alanos (Ektaxis kata Alanon) by the Greek author Arrian, who was imperial governor of Cappadocia in AD 135-8: this describes a campaign led by the author to repel an invasion of his province by the Alans, an Iranian people of the Caucasus region. But most Roman historians present only a very limited picture of the imperial army's affairs, as they describe only military campaigns and say little about the army's organisation, logistics and the daily lives of the troops. Fortunately, the thin and fragmentary literary evidence has been complemented by a vast mass of inscription and archaeological evidence.

The imperial army was a highly bureaucratised institution. Meticulous financial records were kept by units' cornicularii (book-keepers). Detailed records were kept on all individual soldiers and there is evidence of filing systems. [3] Even minor matters such as soldiers' requests to their praefectus for leave (commeatus) had to be submitted in writing. [4] From the evidence discovered at Vindolanda, a fort near Hadrian's Wall, it can be deduced that the Roman garrison in the province of Britain alone generated tens of millions of documents. [5] However, only an infinitesimal fraction of this vast documentation has survived, due to organic decomposition of the writing-medium (wooden and wax-tablets and papyrus). The only region of the empire where the army's documentation has survived in significant quantities is Egypt, where exceptionally dry conditions have prevented decomposition. Egyptian papyri are thus a crucial source for the army's internal organisation and life. The Vindolanda tablets, documents inscribed on wooden tablets and preserved by unusual anoxic conditions, are a rare corpus of army documents from the north-western part of the Empire. They consist of a series of letters and memoranda between officers of three auxiliary regiments stationed in succession at Vindolanda AD 85–122. They provide a valuable glimpse of the real lives and activities of the garrison of an auxiliary fort. [6]

A large corpus of inscription evidence has been preserved on inorganic materials such as metal or stone.

Of outstanding importance are the bas-reliefs on monuments erected by emperors to record their victorious wars. The most notable example is Trajan's Column in Rome. Erected in 112 to celebrate the Emperor Trajan's successful conquest of Dacia (101-7), the reliefs provide the most comprehensive and detailed portrayal of Roman military equipment and practice extant. Other examples include imperial triumphal arches (see List of Roman triumphal arches). Another major source on stone is the extensive corpus of recovered tombstones of Roman soldiers. These often carry reliefs showing the subject in full combat dress plus inscriptions containing a summary of his career (age, units served, ranks held). Also important are dedications of votive altars by military personnel, which shed light on the dedicator's religious beliefs. In the case of both tombstones and altars, officers are disproportionately represented, due to the substantial expense of such monuments.

Notable metal documents are Roman military diplomas. A diploma was a bronze tablet issued, between c. AD 50 and 212 (when all free inhabitants of the empire were granted Roman citizenship) to an auxiliary soldier on completion of his 25-year term of service to prove the award of citizenship to the holder and his family. A particular advantage of diplomas for historians is that they are accurately datable. Diplomas also normally list the names of several auxiliary units which served in the same province at the same time, critical data on the deployment of auxiliary units in the various provinces of the Empire at different times. Also usually recorded are: beneficiary's regiment, regimental commander's name, beneficiary's military rank, name of beneficiary, name of beneficiary's father and origin (nation, tribe or city) name of beneficiary's wife and name of her father and origin and names of children granted citizenship. Over 800 diplomas have been recovered, although most in a fragmentary state. (Even these, however, represent an infinitesimal fraction of the hundreds of thousands of diplomas which must have been issued. Apart from natural corrosion, the main reason for this low recovery rate is that, prior due to the late 19th century, when their historical value was recognised, diplomas were almost invariably melted down when found in order to recover their copper content – indeed most were probably melted down in the period following 212).

Finally, a mass of information has been uncovered by archaeological excavation of imperial military sites: legionary fortresses, auxiliary forts, marching-camps and other facilities such as signal-stations. A prime example is Vindolanda fort itself, where excavations began in the 1930s and continue in 2012 (under the grandson of the first director, Eric Birley). Such excavations have uncovered details of the lay-out and facilities of military sites and remains of military equipment.

The army of the late Republic that Augustus took over on becoming sole ruler of the Empire in 30 BC consisted of a number of large (5,000-strong) formations called legions, which were composed exclusively of heavy infantry. The legion's light infantry (velites) which had been deployed in earlier times (see Roman army of the mid-Republic), had been phased out as had its contingent of cavalry. Legions were recruited from Roman citizens only (i.e.: from Italians and inhabitants of Roman colonies outside Italy), by regular conscription, although by 88 BC, a substantial proportion of recruits were volunteers.

To remedy the deficiencies in capability of the legions (heavy and light cavalry, light infantry, archers and other specialists), the Romans relied on a motley array of irregular units of allied troops, both composed of subject natives of the empire's provinces (called the peregrini by the Romans) and of bands supplied, often on a mercenary basis, by Rome's allied kings beyond the Empire's borders. Led by their own aristocrats and equipped in their own traditional fashion, these native units varied widely in size, quality and reliability. Most would only be available for particular campaigns before returning home or disbanding.

On gaining undisputed mastery over the Roman empire in 30 BC, Augustus (sole rule 30 BC – AD 14) was left with an army which was bloated by extraordinary recruitment for the Roman civil wars and at the same time lacking a suitable organisation for the defence and expansion of a vast empire. Even after disbanding most of his defeated adversary Mark Anthony's legions, Augustus had 50 legions under his command, composed exclusively of Roman citizens i.e. by that time, of Italians and inhabitants of Roman colonies outside Italy. Alongside these were a mass of irregular non-Italian allied units whose command, size and equipment varied greatly. Some allied units came from provinces within the empire, others from beyond the imperial borders.

Legions Edit

The first priority was to reduce the number of legions to a sustainable level. 50 legions implied too high a recruitment burden for a male citizen-body only about two-million strong, especially as Augustus intended to create a long-term career force. The Emperor retained just over half his legions, disbanding the rest and settling their veterans in no less than 28 new Roman colonies. [7] The number of legions remained close to that level throughout the Principate (varying between 25 and 33 in number). [8]

Unlike the Republican legions, which were, in theory at least, temporary citizen-levies for the duration of particular wars, Augustus and his right-hand man Agrippa clearly envisioned their legions as permanent units composed of career professionals. Under the late Republic, a Roman citizen iunior (i.e. male of military age: 16–46 years) could legally be required to serve a maximum of sixteen years in the legions and a maximum of six years consecutively. The average number of years served was about ten. In 13 BC, Augustus decreed sixteen years as the standard term of service for legionary recruits, with a further four years as reservists (evocati). In AD 5, the standard term was increased to twenty years plus five years in the reserves. [9] In the period following its introduction, the new term was deeply unpopular with the troops. On Augustus' death in AD 14, the legions stationed on the rivers Rhine and Danube staged major mutinies, and demanded, among other things, reinstatement of a sixteen-year term. [10] Augustus prohibited serving legionaries from marrying, a decree that remained in force for two centuries. [11] This measure was probably prudent in the early imperial period, when most legionaries were from Italy or the Roman colonies on the Mediterranean, and were required to serve long years far from home. This could lead to disaffection if they left families behind. But from about AD 100 onwards, when most legions were based long-term in the same frontier-province and recruitment was primarily local, the prohibition of marriage became a legal encumbrance that was largely ignored. Many legionaries formed stable relationships and brought up families. Their sons, although illegitimate in Roman law and thus unable to inherit their fathers' citizenship, were nevertheless frequently admitted to legions.

At the same time, the traditional grant of land to retiring veterans was made replaceable by a cash discharge bonus, as there was no longer sufficient state-owned land (ager publicus) in Italy to distribute. Unlike the Republic, which had relied primarily on conscription (i.e. compulsory levy), Augustus and Agrippa preferred volunteers for their professional legions. [12] Given the onerous new term of service, it was necessary to offer a substantial bonus to attract sufficient citizen-recruits. In AD 5, the discharge bonus was set at 3,000 denarii. [13] This was a generous sum equivalent to about 13 years' gross salary for a legionary of the time. To finance this major outlay, Augustus decreed a 5% tax on inheritances and 1% on auction-sales, to be paid into a dedicated aerarium militare (military treasury). [14] However, veterans continued to be offered land instead of cash in Roman colonies established in the newly annexed frontier provinces, where public land was plentiful (as a result of confiscations from defeated indigenous tribes). [15] This was another grievance behind the mutinies of 14 AD, as it effectively forced Italian veterans to settle far from their own country (or lose their bonus). [16] The imperial authorities could not compromise on this issue, as the planting of colonies of Roman veterans was a crucial mechanism for controlling and Romanising a new province, and the foundation of veterans' colonies did not cease until the end of Trajan's rule (117). [15] [17] But as legionary recruitment became more localised (by AD 60, over half of recruits were not Italian-born), the issue became less relevant. [18]

Augustus modified the command structure of the legion to reflect its new permanent, professional nature. In Republican tradition (but ever less in practice), each legion was under six equestrian military tribunes who took turns to command it in pairs. But in the late Republic, military tribunes were eclipsed by higher-ranking officers of senatorial rank called legati ("literally "envoys"). A proconsul (Republican governor) might ask the senate to appoint a number of legati to serve under him e.g. Julius Caesar, Augustus' grand-uncle and adoptive father, had 5, and later 10, legati attached to his staff when he was governor of Cisalpine Gaul (58-51 BC). These commanded detachments of one or more legions at the governor's behest and played a critical role in the conquest of Gaul. But legions still lacked a single, permanent commander. [19] This was provided by Augustus, who appointed a legatus to command each legion with a term of office of several years. The ranking senatorial military tribune (tribunus militum laticlavius) was designated deputy commander, while the remaining five equestrian tribunes served as the legatus' staff officers. In addition, Augustus established a new post of praefectus castrorum (literally "prefect of the camp"), to be filled by a Roman knight (often an outgoing centurio primus pilus, a legion's chief centurion, who was usually elevated to equestrian rank on completion of his single-year term of office). [14] Technically, this officer ranked below the senatorial tribune, but his long operational experience made him the legion commander's de facto executive officer. [20] The prefect's primary role was as the legion's quartermaster, in charge of legionary camps and supplies.

It has been suggested that Augustus was responsible for establishing the small cavalry contingent of 120 horse attached to each legion. [21] The existence of this unit is attested in Josephus' Bellum Iudaicum written after AD 70, and on a number of tombstones. [22] The attribution to Augustus is based on the (unproven) assumption that legionary cavalry had completely disappeared in the Caesarian army. The Augustan era also saw the introduction of some items of more sophisticated and protective equipment for legionaries, primarily to improve their survival rate. The lorica segmentata (normally called simply "the lorica" by the Romans), was a special laminated-strip body-armour, was probably developed under Augustus. Its earliest depiction is on the Arch of Augustus at Susa (Western Alps), dating from 6 BC. [23] The oval shield of the Republic was replaced by the convex rectangular shield (scutum) of the imperial era.

Auxilia Edit

Augustus' ambitious expansion plans for the Empire (which included advancing the European border to the lines of the Elbe and Danube rivers) soon proved that 28 legions were not sufficient. Starting with the Cantabrian Wars, which aimed to annex the mineral-rich mountains of north-western Spain, Augustus' 44-year sole rule saw an almost uninterrupted series of major wars that frequently stretched the army's manpower to the limit.

Augustus retained the services of numerous units of irregular allied native troops. [18] But there was an urgent need for extra regular troops, organised, if not yet equipped, in the same way as the legions. These could only be drawn from the Empire's vast pool of non-citizen subjects, known as peregrini. [24] These outnumbered Roman citizens by around nine to one in the early 1st century. The peregrini were now recruited into regular units of cohort-strength (c. 500 men), to form a non-citizen corps called the auxilia (literally: "supports"). By AD 23, Tacitus reports that the auxilia numbered roughly as many as the legionaries (i.e. c. 175,000 men). [25] The roughly 250 regiments of auxilia this implies were divided into three types: an all-infantry cohors (plural: cohortes) (cohort) (c. 120 regiments) an infantry unit with a cavalry contingent attached, the cohors equitata (plural: cohortes equitatae) (80 units) and an all-cavalry ala (plural: alae, literal meaning: "wing"), of which c. 50 were originally established. [26] [27]

It appears that at this early stage, auxiliary recruitment was ethnically based, with most men originating from the same tribe or province. Hence regiments carried an ethnic name e.g. cohors V Raetorum ("5th Cohort of Raeti"), recruited from the Raeti, a group of Alpine tribes that inhabited modern Switzerland. It has been suggested that the equipment of auxiliary regiments was not standardised until after AD 50, and that until then, auxiliaries were armed with the traditional weaponry of their tribe. [28] But it is possible that at least some regiments had standardised equipment from Augustan times.

Auxiliary regiments were designed to operate as a complement to the legions. That is, they performed exactly the same role as the Republic's alae of Italian allies (socii) before the Social War (91–88 BC), an equal number of which always accompanied legions on campaign.

Praetorian Guard and other forces based in Rome Edit

Praetorian Guard Edit

Under the late Republic, a proconsul on campaign often formed a small personal guard, selected from the troops under his command, known as a cohors praetoria ("commander's cohort"), from praetorium meaning the commander's tent at the centre of a Roman marching-camp (or commander's residence in a legionary fortress). At the Battle of Actium (31 BC), Augustus had five such cohorts around him. After the battle, he retained them in being as a permanent brigade in and around Rome, known as the praetoriani ("soldiers of the imperial palace"). Inscription evidence suggests that Augustus increased the Praetorian establishment to nine cohorts, each under the command of a tribunus militum (military tribune). [29] With all the legions deployed in far-off provinces under the command of powerful senators, Augustus evidently considered that he needed a least one legion-sized force with him in Rome to deter potential usurpers. Augustus stationed three cohorts in the City itself, each housed in separate barracks, and the rest in neighbouring cities of Latium. Originally, each cohort was independent, but in 2 BC, Augustus appointed two overall commanders (praefecti praetorio) of equestrian rank, one for the cohorts based in the City, the other for those outside. [30]

Augustus envisaged the Praetorians as an elite force, whose duties included guarding the imperial palace on the Palatine hill, protecting the Emperor's person and those of his family, defending the imperial government, and accompanying the emperor when he left the City on long journeys or to lead military campaigns in person. They also served as ceremonial troops on state occasions. Recruits to the ranks were, during the Julio-Claudian era, exclusively Italian-born. They were accorded much better pay and conditions than ordinary legionaries. In AD 5, the standard term of service for Praetorians was set at 16 years (compared to 25 years in the legions), and their pay was set at triple the rate of ordinary legionaries. [31] In deference to Republican tradition, which banned armed men within the boundaries of the City of Rome, Augustus laid down a rule that Praetorians on duty within the City must not wear armour and must keep their weapons out of sight. [32] Those Praetorians on important official duties, such as the Emperor's bodyguard-detail, wore the formal dress of Roman citizens, the toga, under which they concealed their swords and daggers. [33] [34] The rest wore the soldier's standard non-combat dress of tunic and cloak (paludamentum). [35]

Urban cohorts Edit

In addition to the praetorians, Augustus established a second armed force in Rome, the cohortes urbanae ("urban cohorts"), of which three were based in the City and one in Lugdunum (Lyon) in Gaul, to protect the major imperial mint there. These battalions were tasked with maintaining public order in the City, including crowd-control at major events such as chariot-races and gladiatorial combats, and the suppression of the popular unrest that periodically shook the City e.g. the riots caused by high grain prices in AD 19. [36] Their command was given to the praefectus urbi, a senator who acted as Rome's "mayor". Unlike the praetorians, the urban cohorts were not deployed for military operations outside Italy. [37]

Vigiles Edit

The Vigiles or more properly the Vigiles Urbani ("watchmen of the City") or Cohortes Vigilum ("cohorts of the watchmen") were the firefighters and police of Ancient Rome. The Vigiles also acted as a night watch, keeping an eye out for burglars and hunting down runaway slaves, and were on occasion used to maintain order in the streets. The Vigiles were considered a para-military unit and their organisation into cohorts and centuries reflects this.

Imperial German Bodyguard Edit

To double-insure his own personal safety and that of imperial family members, Augustus established a small personal guard called the Germani corporis custodes (literally: "German bodyguards"). Probably of cohort-strength, these were crack horsemen recruited from native peoples on the lower Rhine, mainly from the Batavi. Their leader, probably a Batavi aristocrat, reported to the Emperor directly. The Germans shared the task of guarding the imperial family and the Palace with the Praetorians. [31] In AD 68, the Emperor Galba disbanded the German Bodyguards because of their loyalty to Nero (ruled 54-68), whom he had overthrown. The decision caused deep offence to the Batavi, and contributed to the outbreak of the Revolt of the Batavi in the following year. [38]

Imperial expansion strategy Edit

Under Augustus, the European borders of the empire he inherited from his grand-uncle Julius Caesar were considerably expanded. During the first half of his sole rule (30–9 BC), Augustus' central strategic objective was to advance the Roman border from Illyricum and Macedonia to the line of the Danube, Europe's greatest river, in order both to increase strategic depth between the border and Italy and to provide a major fluvial supply route for the Roman armies in the region. The strategy was successfully executed: Moesia (29-7 BC), Noricum (16 BC), Raetia (15 BC) and Pannonia (12-9 BC) were annexed in steady succession. After settling the Danube border, Augustus turned his attention to the North, where Julius Caesar had in 51 BC established the border of Roman Gaul along the river Rhine, the second major European fluvial route. Augustus launched an ambitious strategy of advancing the Rhine border to the river Elbe, aiming to incorporate all the warlike Germanic tribes. This would eliminate their chronic threat to Gaul, increase strategic depth between free Germans and Gaul, and make the western Germans' formidable manpower available to the Roman army. But a massive and sustained military effort (6 BC – AD 9) came to nothing. Roman advances in Germania Magna (i.e. Germany outside the empire) had to be scaled down during the Great Illyrian Revolt of AD 6–9, when many troops were diverted to Illyricum. Then Augustus' expansion strategy suffered a crushing setback when some 20,000 Roman troops were ambushed and massacred by the Germans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. After this, Augustus shelved his Elbe strategy. It was apparently revived briefly by his successor Tiberius, whose nephews, the generals Germanicus and Drusus, launched major and successful operations in Germania in AD 14–17, during which the main tribes responsible for Varus' defeat were crushed and the three lost legionary aquilae (eagle-standards) were recovered. [39]

But if Tiberius ever contemplated advancing the border to the Elbe, by AD 16 he had clearly abandoned the idea and decided to keep the border at the Rhine. [40] Most likely, he assessed the Germanic tribes as too powerful and rebellious to incorporate successfully into the empire. After this, plans to annex western Germania were never seriously revived by Augustus' successors. Under the Flavian emperors (69-96), the Romans annexed the trans-Rhenane region they called the Agri Decumates i.e. roughly the territory of the modern southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg. But this acquisition was strictly aimed at shortening the lines of communication between the legionary bases of Germania Superior and Raetia provinces (Mainz and Strasbourg in Germania Sup. and Augst and Regensburg in Raetia), by incorporating the salient between the upper reaches of the Rhine and Danube rivers. It was not part of a renewed effort to subdue Germany as far as the Elbe.

Doubtless mindful of the costly failure of his Elbe strategy, Augustus reportedly included a clause in his will advising his successors not to attempt to expand the empire further. [41] In the main, this advice was followed, and few major permanent annexations were made for the duration of the Principate. The main exceptions were (a) Britain, which was invaded by the emperor Claudius in AD 43 and was progressively subdued (as far as the Tyne-Solway, line of the later Hadrian's Wall) in 43–78. However, the stiff, prolonged resistance offered by native tribes seemingly confirmed Augustus' warning, and reportedly led the emperor Nero at one stage to seriously consider withdrawing from Britain altogether [42] and (b) Dacia, conquered by Trajan in 101–6. In both cases, it appears that, apart from the emperors' self-glorification, the primary motivations were probably the target-countries' mineral resources and also to prevent those countries becoming bases for anti-Roman resistance in Gaul and Moesia respectively.

Apart from Britain and Dacia, other major territorial acquisitions by ambitious emperors were swiftly abandoned by their immediate successors, who took a more realistic view of the value and defensibility of the new possessions:

  1. In Britain, governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola was in AD 79 apparently authorised by emperor Vespasian to launch the conquest of Caledonia, thus bringing the whole island under Roman rule. [43] But in 85, by which time Agricola's troops had advanced as far north as Inverness, the project was apparently cancelled by the emperor Domitian, who needed reinforcements for the troubled Danube front. Agricola was dismissed and archaeology shows that the Romans abandoned the Scottish Highlands and withdrew to the Forth-Clyde isthmus and that by 110, Roman forts in the Scottish Lowlands had also been evacuated, returning the border to the Tyne-Solway line. This prompted Agricola's son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, to comment that "the complete subjugation of Britain was achieved but immediately given up" (perdomita Britannia et statim missa). [44] (Two further attempts to annex the Lowlands – by Antoninus Pius (r. 138-61), who built the Antonine Wall along the Forth-Clyde isthmus, and by Septimius Severus (r. 197-211), were likewise abandoned by their successors).
  2. The Parthian province of Mesopotamia, annexed by Trajan in 116, was evacuated by his successor Hadrian in 118.
  3. Hadrian also withdrew, by 126 (cf: the establishment of the Limes Transalutanus), from a large portion of Decebal's former Dacian kingdom, shortly after its conquest in 107 by Trajan: Moldavia, eastern Wallachia and the Banat (SE Hungarian Plain) were abandoned to Free Dacian and Sarmatian tribes. The most likely reason was that these regions did not possess significant mineral resources and were considered too difficult to defend. ' reported plans to annex Sarmatia (i.e. the Hungarian Plain, which formed a salient between Roman Pannonia and Dacia, then under the control of the warlike Iazyges Sarmatian tribe) and Marcomannia (Bavaria/Austria north of the Danube, the territory of the Marcomanni and Quadi Germanic tribes) were only partially accomplished by the time the emperor died in 180 and even these gains were promptly abandoned by his son and successor Commodus.

The Rhine-Danube line thus remained the permanent border of the Empire in Europe for most of the Principate, with the exceptions of the Agri Decumates and Dacia. (Even these two salients were given up in the late 3rd century: the Agri Decumates were evacuated in the 260s and Dacia by 275. It appears that the Romans had exhausted the recoverable mineral wealth of Dacia and that both salients had become too expensive to defend). In the East, despite a certain amount of see-sawing in the disputed buffer-zone of Armenia, the long-term border with the Parthian empire was settled along the upper Euphrates river and the Arabian desert. In North Africa, the Sahara desert provided a natural barrier. As the borders became settled, the Roman army gradually mutated from an army of conquest to one of strategic defence, with long-term, fortified bases for the legions and strings of auxiliary forts along the imperial borders. The strategy adopted to ensure border security and the role required of the army by that strategy is discussed in Border security strategy, below.

In a different category are the Roman troops deployed to protect the Greek cities on the northern shores of the Black sea (Pontus Euxinus). These cities controlled trade in the vital resources of the northern Black sea region (principally grain from Sarmatia and metals from the Caucasus region). Pontic Olbia and the Roman client-states of the Bosporan kingdom and Colchis hosted Roman garrisons for much of the Principate era. But here the Romans relied on tame native monarchies rather than direct annexation. By this means, the Black sea was turned into a Roman "lake" inexpensively.

1st century Edit

The dual-structure configuration of legions/auxilia established by Augustus remained essentially intact until the late 3rd century, with only minor modifications made during that long period. The senior officers of the army were, until the 3rd century, mainly from the Italian aristocracy. This was divided into two orders, the senatorial order (ordo senatorius), consisting of the c. 600 sitting members of the Roman Senate (plus their sons and grandsons), and the more numerous (several thousand-strong) equites equo publico or "knights granted a public horse" i.e. knights hereditary or appointed by the Emperor. Hereditary senators and knights combined military service with civilian posts, a career-path known as the cursus honorum, typically starting with a period of junior administrative posts in Rome, followed by five to ten years in the military and a final period of senior positions in either the provinces or at Rome. [45] This tiny, tightly knit ruling oligarchy of under 10,000 men monopolised political, military and economic power in an empire of c. 60 million inhabitants and achieved a remarkable degree of political stability. During the first 200 years of its existence (30 BC – AD 180), the empire suffered only one major episode of civil strife (the Civil War of 68–9). Otherwise, attempts at usurpation by provincial governors were few and swiftly suppressed.

Under the emperor Claudius (ruled 41-54), a minimum term of 25 years' service was established for auxiliary service (although many served for longer). On completion of the term, auxiliary soldiers, and their children, were from this time routinely granted Roman citizenship as a reward for service. [46] (This is deduced from the fact that the first known Roman military diplomas date from the time of Claudius. This was a folding bronze tablet engraved with the details of the soldier's service record, which he could use to prove his citizenship). [47]

Claudius also decreed that prefects of auxiliary regiments must all be of knightly rank, thus excluding serving centurions from such commands. [46] The fact that auxiliary commanders were now all of the same social rank as all but one of a legion's military tribunes, probably indicates that auxilia now enjoyed greater prestige. Indigenous chiefs continued to command some auxiliary regiments, and were normally granted the rank of Roman knight for the purpose.

It is also likely that auxiliary pay was standardised at this time, but pay scales during the Julio-Claudian period are uncertain. [46] Estimates range from 33-50% of legionary pay, well below the 75-80% in force in the time of the emperor Domitian (ruled 81-96).

Auxiliary uniform, armour, weapons and equipment were probably standardised by the end of the Julio-Claudian period (AD 68). Auxiliary equipment was broadly similar to that of the legions. By AD 68, there was little difference between most auxiliary infantry and their legionary counterparts in equipment, training and fighting capability.

After about AD 80, the centuriae of the First Cohort of each legion were doubled in size to 160 men, but the number of centuriae apparently reduced to 5, thus reducing the legion's centurions from 60 to 59. The legion's effectives were thus increased to c. 5,240 men plus officers. In the same period, some auxiliary regiments, both alae and cohortes, were also doubled to so-called milliaria size (literally "1,000-strong", actually only 720 in milliary alae and 800 in cohortes). But only a minority of auxiliary regiments, about one in seven, were so enlarged.

2nd century Edit

During the 2nd century some units with the new names numerus ("group") and vexillatio ("detachment") appear in the diploma record. [48] Their size is uncertain, but was likely smaller than the regular alae and cohortes, as originally they were probably detachments from the latter, acquiring independent status after long-term separation. As these units are mentioned in diplomas, they were presumably part of the regular auxiliary organisation. [49] But numeri was also a generic term used for barbarian units outside the regular auxilia. (see section 2.4 Irregular units, below).

3rd century Edit

The traditional alternation between senior civilian and military posts fell into disuse in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries, as the Italian hereditary aristocracy was progressively replaced in the senior echelons of the army by the primipilares (former chief centurions). [50] In the 3rd century, only 10% of auxiliary prefects whose origins are known were Italian equestrians, compared to the majority in the previous two centuries. [51] At the same time, equestrians increasingly replaced the senatorial order in the top commands. Septimius Severus (ruled 197–211) placed equestrian primipilares in command of the three new legions he raised and Gallienus (260–68) did the same for all the other legions, giving them the title praefectus pro legato ("prefect acting as legate"). [52] [53] The rise of the primipilares may have provided the army with more professional leadership, but it increased military rebellions by ambitious generals. The 3rd century saw numerous coups d'état and civil wars. Few 3rd-century emperors enjoyed long reigns or died of natural causes. [50]

Emperors responded to the increased insecurity with a steady build-up of the forces at their immediate disposal. These became known as the comitatus ("escort", from which derives the English word "committee"). To the Praetorian Guard's 10,000 men, Septimius Severus added the legion II Parthica. Based at Albano Laziale near Rome, it was the first legion to be stationed in Italy since Augustus. He doubled the size of the imperial escort cavalry, the equites singulares Augusti, to 2,000 by drawing select detachments from alae on the borders. [54] His comitatus thus numbered some 17,000 men. [55] The rule of Gallienus saw the appointment of a senior officer, with the title of dux equitum ("cavalry leader"), to command all the cavalry of the emperor's comitatus. This included equites promoti (cavalry contingents detached from the legions), plus Illyrian light cavalry (equites Dalmatarum) and allied barbarian cavalry (equites foederati). [53] But the dux equitum did not command an independent "cavalry army", as was suggested by some more dated scholars. The cavalry remained integral to the mixed infantry- and cavalry-comitatus, with the infantry remaining the predominant element. [55]

The seminal development for the army in the early 3rd century was the Constitutio Antoniniana (Antonine Decree) of 212, issued by Emperor Caracalla (ruled 211–18). This granted Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire, ending the second-class status of the peregrini. [56] This had the effect of breaking down the distinction between the citizen legions and the auxiliary regiments. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the legions were the symbol (and guarantors) of the dominance of the Italian "master nation" over its subject peoples. In the 3rd century, they were no longer socially superior to their auxiliary counterparts (although they may have retained their elite status in military terms).

In tandem, the legions' special armour and equipment (e.g. the lorica segmentata) was phased out during the early 3rd century. [57] There was also a progressive reduction in the size of the legions. Legions were broken up into smaller units, as evidenced by the shrinkage and eventual abandonment of their traditional large bases, documented for example in Britain. [58] In addition, from the 2nd century onwards, the separation of some detachments from their parent units became permanent in some cases, establishing new unit types, e.g. the vexillatio equitum Illyricorum based in Dacia in the early 2nd century [59] and the equites promoti (legionary cavalry detached from their unit) and numerus Hnaufridi in Britain. [53] [60]

The first global estimate for the size of the imperial army in the ancient sources is in the Annales of Tacitus. In AD 23, shortly after the end of the rule of Augustus, there were 25 legions (about 125,000 men) and "roughly the same number again of auxiliaries" in about 250 regiments.

From this base-line of c. 250,000 effectives, the imperial army grew steadily in the 1st and 2nd centuries, almost doubling in size to c. 450,000 by the end of the rule of Septimius Severus (AD 211). The number of legions increased to 33, and auxiliary regiments even more sharply to over 400 regiments. The army under Severus probably reached its peak size for the Principate period (30 BC – AD 284).

In the late 3rd century, it is likely that the army suffered a sharp decline in numbers due to the so-called "Third Century Crisis" (235-70) a period of numerous civil wars, major barbarian invasions and above all, the Plague of Cyprian, an outbreak of smallpox which may have eliminated as many as a third of the army's effectives. It is possible that, by AD 270, the army was not much greater than in AD 24. From this low point it seems that numbers were substantially increased, by at least a third, under Diocletian (r. 284-305): John the Lydian reports at some point in his reign the army totalled 389,704 men – restoring overall strength to the level attained under Hadrian. [61]

The likely trend in the size of the Roman army in the Principate may be summarised as follows:

NOTE: Regular land forces only. Excludes citizen-militias, barbarian foederati, and Roman navy effectives

It is estimated that the imperial fleets employed 30–40,000 personnel. [75] Adding 10–20,000 barbarian foederati, the military establishment at the time of Severus numbered not far short of half a million men. The impact of the costs of this enormous standing army on the Roman economy can be measured very approximately.

Date Empire
Empire GDP
(million denarii) (a)
Army costs
(million denarii) (a)
Army costs
as share of GDP
AD 14 46 million [76] 5,000 [77] 123 [78] 2.5%
AD 150 61 million [79] 6,800 (b) 194 (c) 2.9%
AD 215 50 million (d) 5,435 (b) 223 (c) 4.1%

(a) constant AD 14 denarii i.e. disregarding increases in military pay to compensate for debasement of coinage
(b) assuming negligible growth in GDP per capita (normal for agricultural economy)
(c) Duncan-Jones 14-84 costs, inflated by increase in army nos. & assuming cash-bonuses and discharge-bonus paid to auxiliaries after 84
(d) assuming 22.5% decline in population due to Antonine Plague (AD 165-80) (midpoint of 15-30% range) [80]

Army costs thus rose only moderately as a share of GDP between 14 and 150 AD, despite a major increase in army effectives of c. 50%. This is because the empire's population, and therefore total GDP, also increased substantially (by c. 35%). Thereafter, the army's share of GDP leapt by almost half, although army numbers increased only c. 15%. This is due to the Antonine plague, which is estimated by epidemiological historians to have reduced the empire's population by 15-30%. Nevertheless, even in 215, the Romans spent a similar proportion of GDP on defence than today's global superpower, the United States of America (which spent c. 3.5% in 2003). But the effective burden on taxpayers in an unmechanised agricultural economy with little surplus production (80% of the population depended on subsistence agriculture and a further 10% were on subsistence income), would have been relatively far heavier. Indeed, a study of imperial taxes in Egypt, by far the best-documented province, concluded that the burden was relatively severe. [81]

Military spending swallowed up c. 50-75% of total government budget, as there was little "social" spending, the main items of the latter consisting of prestige construction projects in Rome and the provinces grain-dole and cash-handouts for Rome's proletariat and subsidies to Italian families (similar to modern child benefit), to encourage them to produce more children. Augustus instituted this policy, with a one-off payment of 250 denarii per child. [82] (Additional subsidies to poor Italian families, known as alimenta, were introduced by Trajan). [83]

Central command Edit

Under the Augustan settlement, the Roman state formally remained a republic, with the same official name, Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR – "The Senate and People of Rome") and administered by the same magistrates (state executive officers) as before: the Consuls (2 elected each year), Praetors (4), Aediles (12), Quaestors (20), who were elected (by the Senate after AD 14) annually, and the Censors (2), who were elected every five years. In practice, however, political and military power was concentrated in the hands of the emperor, whose official titles were princeps ("First Citizen") and Augustus. (In conversation, the emperor was normally addressed as "Caesar" and referred to in popular speech as imperator, a term which originally meant "supreme commander", and from which the English word "emperor" derives, via Proto-Romance *imperatore and Old French empereor.) The emperor's supremacy was based on his assumption of two permanent and sweeping powers: the tribunicia potestas ("power of the tribune (of the plebs)"), which gave him control of the legislative body, the Senate (by giving him a veto over its decrees) and the imperium proconsulare maius (literally: "eminent proconsular command"), which made the emperor, in effect, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (by subordinating to his command the provincial governors, who controlled the military forces in their province). [31] In addition, the emperor frequently had himself elected as one of the Consuls or Censors. The latter post was especially useful, as it gave him the power to appoint (or remove) members from the roll of Senators and from the Order of Knights, the two aristocratic orders of imperial Rome, which filled all senior administrative and military positions.

In the border provinces where military units were mostly stationed (i.e. 15-17 of the 42 Hadrianic provinces), the governors mostly bore the title legatus Augusti pro praetore, although in a few smaller provinces they were known as procurator or praefectus. The governors, who normally held office for three years, commanded all forces in their provinces, both legions and auxilia, as well as being the heads of the civil administration. The governors reported directly to the emperor – there were no intermediate levels of command. However, there are instances during the Principate where the governors of smaller provinces were subordinated to governors of larger neighbouring ones e.g. the praefectus (later procurator) of Judaea was normally subordinate to the legatus Augusti of Syria.

At Rome, there was no army general staff in the modern sense of a permanent central group of senior staff-officers who would receive and analyse military intelligence and advise on strategy. Augustus established a formal consilium principis ("imperial council") of magistrates and leading senators in rotation to advise him on all state matters and to prepare draft-decrees for submission to the Senate. But the real decisions were made by a semi-formal group of senior officials and close friends, the amici principis ("friends of the emperor"), whose membership was chosen by himself and might vary from time to time. Under Tiberius, the amici superseded the formal consilium and became the effective governing body of the empire. [84]

Several amici would have had extensive military experience, due to the traditional mixing of civilian and military posts by the Principate aristocracy. But there was no consilium specifically dedicated to military affairs. Commanders of the Praetorian Guard, especially if they did not share their command with a partner, might acquire a predominant influence in military decision-making and act as de facto military chief-of-staff e.g. Sejanus, who was sole commander of the Guard AD 14–31, most of the emperor Tiberius' rule.

The emperor and his advisors relied almost entirely on reports from the 17-odd "military" governors for their intelligence on the security situation on the imperial borders. [85] This is because a central military intelligence agency was never established. [86] The imperial government did develop an internal security unit called the frumentarii. In military jargon, this term, literally meaning "grain-collectors" (from frumentum = "grain"), referred to detachments of soldiers detailed to forage food supplies for their units in the field. The term came to be applied to auxiliary soldiers seconded to the staff of the procurator Augusti, the independent chief financial officer of a province, to assist in the collection of taxes (originally in kind as grain). At some point, probably under Hadrian (r. 117-38), the term acquired a very different meaning. A permanent military unit (numerus) of frumentarii was established. Based in Rome, it was under the command of a senior centurion, the princeps frumentariorum. [87] According to Aurelius Victor, the frumentarii were set up "to investigate and report on potential rebellions in the provinces" (presumably by provincial governors) i.e. they performed the function of an imperial secret police (and became widely feared and detested as a result of their methods, which included assassination). [88] Although doubtless well-informed about events in the border-provinces through their network of local agents and spies, it appears that the frumentarii never expanded beyond internal security to fulfil a systematic military intelligence role. [89]

The lack of independent military intelligence, coupled with the slow speeds of communication, prevented the emperor and his consilium from exercising anything but the most general control over military operations in the provinces. Typically, a newly appointed governor would be given a broad strategic direction by the emperor, such as whether to attempt to annex (or abandon) territory on their province's borders or whether to make (or avoid) war with a powerful neighbour such as Parthia. For example, in Britain, the governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola appears to have been given approval for a strategy of subjugating the whole of Caledonia (Scotland) by Vespasian, only to have his gains abandoned by Domitian after AD 87, who needed reinforcements on the Danube front, which was threatened by the Sarmatians and Dacians. However, within these broad guidelines, the governor had almost complete autonomy of military decision-making. [90]

Provincial command Edit

In those provinces that contained military forces, the governor's immediate subordinates were the commanders (legati legionis) in command of the legions stationed in the province (e.g. in Britain, three legati reported to the governor). In turn, the legionary commander was reported to by the combat-unit commanders: the centuriones pili priores in command of the legion's cohorts and the praefecti, in command of the auxiliary regiments attached to the legion. The empire's high command structure was thus remarkably flat, with only four reporting levels between combat-unit commanders and the emperor.

An auxiliary regiment would normally, but not always, be attached to a legion for operational purposes, with the praefectus under the command of the legatus legionis (the legion's commander). The period that it was so attached could be a long one e.g. the eight Batavi cohortes apparently attached to legion XIV Gemina for the 26 years from the invasion of Britain in AD 43 to the Civil War of 69. [91] However, a legion had no standard, permanent complement of auxilia. [92] Its attached auxiliary units were changed and varied in number according to operational requirements at the behest of the governor of the province where the legion was based at the time or of the emperor in Rome. [93]

Praetorian Guard Edit

Augustus' successor Tiberius (r. 14-37), appointed only single commanders for the Praetorian Guard: Sejanus 14–31, and, after ordering the latter's execution for treason, Macro. Under the influence of Sejanus, who also acted as his chief political advisor, Tiberius decided to concentrate the accommodation of all the Praetorian cohorts into a single, purpose-built fortress of massive size on the outskirts of Rome, beyond the Servian Wall. Known as the castra praetoria ("praetorian camp"), its construction was complete by AD 23. [94] After Tiberius, the number of prefects in office simultaneously was normally two, but occasionally only one or even three.

By AD 23, there were nine Praetorian cohorts in existence. [95] These were probably the same size as legionary cohorts (480 men each), for a total of 4,320 effectives. Each cohort was under the command of a military tribune, normally a former chief centurion of a legion. It appears that each cohort contained some ninety cavalrymen who, like legionary cavalry were members of infantry centuriae, but operated in the field as three turmae of thirty men each. [69] The number of Praetorian cohorts were increased to twelve by the time of Claudius. During the 68-9 civil war, Vitellius disbanded the existing cohorts because he did not trust their loyalty and recruited 16 new ones, all double-strength (i.e. containing 800 men each). However, Vespasian (r. 69-79) reduced the number of cohorts back to the original nine (but still 800-strong), later increased to ten by his son, Domitian (r. 81-96). By this time, therefore, the Guard consisted of c. 8,000 men. [96]

It was probably Trajan (r. 98-117) who established a separate cavalry arm of the Guard, the equites singulares Augusti ("personal cavalry of the emperor", or imperial horseguards). An elite troop recruited from members of the finest auxiliary alae (originally from Batavi alae only), the singulares were tasked with escorting the emperor on campaign. The unit was organised as a milliary ala, probably containing 720 horsemen. [97] It was under the command of a military tribune, who probably reported to one of the Praetorian prefects. It was the only praetorian regiment that admitted persons who were not natural-born citizens, although recruits appear to have been granted citizenship on enlistment and not on completion of 25 years' service as for other auxiliaries. The unit was housed in its own barracks on the Caelian hill, separate from the main castra praetoria. By the time of Hadrian (r.117-38), the singulares appear to have numbered 1,000 men. [98] They were further expanded to 2,000 horse in the early 3rd century by Septimius Severus, who constructed a new, larger base for them in Rome, the castra nova equitum singularium. [54] By AD 100, therefore, the Guard consisted of c. 9,000 effectives, rising to c. 10,000 under Severus.

Some historians have dismissed the Praetorian Guard as a parade-ground army of little military value. The Praetorians were certainly taunted as such by the soldiers of the Danubian legions during the civil war of 68–9. [99] But Rankov argues that the Praetorians boasted a distinguished campaign-record that shows that their training and military effectiveness was far more impressive than those of merely ceremonial troops and amply justified their elite status. [100] During the Julio-Claudian era (to 68), the Praetorians saw relatively little action in the field, as emperors only rarely led their armies in person. After that date, emperors led armies, and therefore deployed the Praetorians on campaign, much more frequently. The Praetorians were in the thick of the Emperor Domitian's wars, firstly in Germany and then on the Dacian front, where their prefect, Cornelius Fuscus was killed in action (87). Other examples include the Praetorians' prominent role in Trajan's Dacian Wars (101-6), as acknowledged on the friezes of Trajan's Column and the Adamklissi Tropaeum. Equally celebrated, on the Column of Marcus Aurelius, was the Praetorians' role in the Marcomannic Wars (166-80), in which two Guard prefects lost their lives. [101] Even their final hour was wreathed in military glory: at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), the Praetorians fought fiercely for their emperor Maxentius, trying to prevent the army of rival emperor Constantine I from crossing the river Tiber and entering Rome. Many perished fighting and others drowned when the makeshift pontoon-bridge they were using collapsed. Subsequently, the Praetorians paid the price of supporting the losing side: they were definitively disbanded, and their fortress demolished, by Constantine. [102]

Legions Edit

The legion consisted almost entirely of heavy infantry i.e. infantry equipped with metal armour (helmets and cuirasses). Although it was almost unbeatable by non-Roman infantry on the battlefield, it was a large, inflexible unit that could not campaign independently due to the lack of cavalry cover and other specialist forces. It was dependent on the support of auxiliary regiments.

The legion's basic sub-unit was the centuria (plural: centuriae), which literally means "a hundred men", but in practice numbered 80 men in the principate, equivalent in numbers to half of a modern company. The legion's main tactical sub-unit was the cohors (plural: cohortes, or cohort), which contained six centuriae for a total of 480 men, roughly the same size as a modern battalion. There were 10 cohorts to each legion, or 4,800 men (c. 5,000 including the small legionary cavalry of 120 horse and officers). Thus a legion was equivalent in numbers to a modern brigade. By AD 100, however, the legion's First Cohort was divided into only five centuriae, but double-strength at 160 men each, for a total of 800 men. At this point, therefore, a legion would have numbered c. 5,300 effectives. [103]

In addition, each legion contained a small cavalry contingent of 120 men. Unlike auxiliary cavalry, however, they do not appear to have been organised in separate cavalry squadrons (turmae) as were auxiliary cavalry, but to have been divided among specific centuriae. Legionary cavalry probably performed a non-combat role as messengers, scouts and escorts for senior officers. [22]

Auxilia Edit

The following table sets out the official, or establishment, strength of auxiliary units in the 2nd century. The real strength of a unit would fluctuate continually, but would likely have been somewhat less than the establishment most of the time.

Unit type Service Unit
No of
Ala quingenaria cavalry praefectus decurio 16 turmae 30 (32) 1 480 (512)
Ala milliaria cavalry praefectus decurio 24 turmae 30 (32) 720 (768)
Cohors quingenaria infantry praefectus 2 centurio 6 centuriae 80 480
Cohors milliaria infantry tribunus militum 3 centurio 10 centuriae 80 800
Cohors equitata
infantry plus
cavalry contingent
praefectus centurio (inf)
decurio (cav)
6 centuriae
4 turmae
(480 inf/120 cav)
Cohors equitata
infantry plus
cavalry contingent
tribunus militum 3 centurio (inf)
decurio (cav)
10 centuriae
8 turmae
(800 inf/240 cav)

(1) Opinion is divided about the size of an ala turma, between 30 and 32 men. A turma numbered 30 in the Republican cavalry and in the cohors equitata of the Principate auxilia. Against this is a statement by Arrian that an ala was 512 strong. [105] This would make an ala turma 32 men strong.
(2) tribunus militum in original citizen cohortes [106]
(3) praefectus in Batavi and Tungri cohortes milliariae [106]

Unless the regiment name, was qualified by a specialist function e.g. cohors sagittariorum ("cohort of archers"), its infantry and cavalry were heavily equipped in the same way as the legionaries.

Cohors Edit

These all-infantry units were modeled on the cohorts of the legions, with the same officers and sub-units. It is a common misconception that auxiliary cohortes contained light infantry: this only applies to specialist units such as archers. Their defensive equipment of regular auxiliary infantry was very similar to that of legionaries, consisting of metal helmet and metal cuirass (chain-mail or scale). There is no evidence that auxiliaries were equipped with the lorica segmentata, the elaborate and expensive laminated-strip body-armour that was issued to legionaries. However, legionaries often wore chain-mail and scalar cuirasses also. In addition, it appears that auxiliaries carried a round shield (clipeus) instead of the curved rectangular shield (scutum) of legionaries. As regards weapons, auxiliaries were equipped in the same way as legionaries: a javelin (although not the sophisticated pilum type provided to legionaries), a gladius (short stabbing-sword) and pugio (dagger). [107] It has been estimated that the total weight of auxiliary infantry equipment was similar to that of legionaries', so that non-specialist cohortes may also be classified as heavy infantry, which fought in the battle-line alongside legionaries. [92]

There is no evidence that auxiliary infantry fought in a looser order than legionaries. [92] It appears that in a set-piece battle-line, auxiliary infantry would normally be stationed on the flanks, with legionary infantry holding the centre e.g. as in the Battle of Watling Street (AD 60), the final defeat of the rebel Britons under queen Boudicca. [108] This was a tradition inherited from the Republic, when the precursors of auxiliary cohortes, the Latin alae, occupied the same position in the line. [109] The flanks of the line required equal, if not greater, skill to hold as the centre.

Ala Edit

The all-mounted alae contained the elite cavalry of the Roman army. [92] They were specially trained in elaborate manoeuvres, such as those displayed to the emperor Hadrian during a documented inspection. They were best-suited for large-scale operations and battle, during which they acted as the primary cavalry escort for the legions, which had almost no cavalry of their own. They were heavily protected, with chain-mail or scale body armour, a cavalry version of the infantry helmet (with more protective features) and oval shield. Their offensive weapons included a spear (hasta), a cavalry sword (spatha), which was much longer than the infantry gladius to provide greater reach and a long dagger. The elite status of an alaris is shown by the fact that he received 20% greater pay than his counterpart in a cohort, and than a legionary infantryman.

Cohors equitata Edit

These were cohortes with a cavalry contingent attached. There is evidence that their numbers expanded with the passage of time. Only about 40% of attested cohortes are specifically attested as equitatae in inscriptions, which is probably the original Augustan proportion. A study of units stationed in Syria in the mid 2nd century found that many units which did not carry the equitata title did in fact contain cavalrymen e.g. by discovery of a tombstone of a cavalryman attached to the cohort. This implies that by that time, at least 70% of cohortes were probably equitatae. [110] The addition of cavalry to a cohort obviously enabled it to carry out a wider range of independent operations. A cohors equitata was in effect a self-contained mini-army. [111]

The traditional view of equites cohortales (the cavalry arm of cohortes equitatae), as expounded by G.L. Cheesman, was that they were just a mounted infantry with poor-quality horses. They would use their mounts simply to reach the battlefield and then would dismount to fight. [112] This view is today discredited. Although it is clear that equites cohortales did not match equites alares (ala cavalrymen) in quality (hence their lower pay), the evidence is that they fought as cavalry in the same way as the alares and often alongside them. Their armour and weapons were the same as for the alares. [113]

Nevertheless, non-combat roles of the equites cohortales differed significantly from the alares. Non-combat roles such as despatch-riders (dispositi) were generally filled by cohort cavalry.

Auxiliary specialised units Edit

In the Republican period, the standard trio of specialised auxilia were Balearic slingers, Cretan archers and Numidian light cavalry. These functions, plus some new ones, continued in the 2nd century auxilia.

Heavily armoured lancers Edit

Equites cataphractarii, or simply cataphractarii for short, were the heavily armoured cavalry of the Roman army. Based on Sarmatian and Parthian models, they were also known as contarii and clibanarii, although it is unclear whether these terms were interchangeable or whether they denoted variations in equipment or role. Their common feature was scalar armour which covered the whole body and conical helmets. Their lances (contus) were very long and were held in both hands, precluding the use of shields. In some cases, their horses are also depicted as protected by scalar armour, including head-piece. Normally, they were also equipped with long swords. In some cases, they carried bows instead of lances.

Together with new units of light mounted archers, the cataphractarii were designed to counter Parthian (and, in Pannonia, Sarmatian) battle-tactics. Parthian armies consisted largely of cavalry. Their standard tactic was to use light mounted archers to weaken and break up the Roman infantry line, and then to rout it with a charge by the cataphractarii concentrated on the weakest point. [114] The only special heavy cavalry units to appear in the 2nd century record are: ala Ulpia contariorum and ala I Gallorum et Pannoniorum cataphractaria stationed in Pannonia and Moesia Inferior respectively in the 2nd century. [115] Both faced the so-called "Sarmatian salient" between the Roman territories of Pannonia and Dacia, i.e. the Hungarian Plain, the territory of the Iazyges, a Sarmatian tribe which had migrated there and seized control of it during the 1st century.

Light cavalry Edit

From the Second Punic War until the 3rd century AD, the bulk of Rome's light cavalry (apart from mounted archers from Syria) was provided by the inhabitants of the northwest African provinces of Africa proconsularis and Mauretania, the Numidae or Mauri (from whom derives the English term "Moors"), who were the ancestors of the Berber people of modern Algeria and Morocco. They were known as the equites Maurorum or Numidarum ("Moorish or Numidian cavalry"). On Trajan's Column, Mauri horsemen, depicted with long hair in dreadlocks, are shown riding their small but resilient horses bare-back and unbridled, with a simple braided rope round their mount's neck for control. They wear no body or head armour, carrying only a small, round leather shield. Their weaponry cannot be discerned due to stone erosion, but is known from Livy to have consisted of several short javelins. [116] [117] Exceptionally fast and maneuverable, Numidian cavalry would harass the enemy by hit-and-run attacks, riding up and loosing volleys of javelins, then scattering faster than any opposing cavalry could pursue. They were superbly suited to scouting, harassment, ambush and pursuit, but in melee combat were vulnerable to cuirassiers. [118] It is unclear what proportion of the Numidian cavalry were regular auxilia units as opposed to irregular foederati units. [119]

In the 3rd century, new formations of light cavalry appear, apparently recruited from the Danubian provinces: the equites Dalmatae ("Dalmatian cavalry"). Little is known about these, but they were prominent in the 4th century, with several units listed in the Notitia Dignitatum.

Camel troops Edit

A unit of dromedarii ("camel-mounted troops") is attested from the 2nd century, the ala I Ulpia dromedariorum milliaria in Syria. [120]

Archers Edit

A substantial number of auxiliary regiments (32, or about one in twelve in the 2nd century) were denoted sagittariorum, or archer-units (from sagittarii lit. "arrow-men", from sagitta = "arrow": It. saetta, Rom. sageata). These 32 units (of which four were double-strength) had a total official strength of 17,600 men. All three types of auxiliary regiment (ala, cohors and cohors equitata) could be denoted sagittariorum. Although these units evidently specialised in archery, it is uncertain from the available evidence whether all sagittariorum personnel were archers, or simply a higher proportion than in ordinary units. At the same time, ordinary regiments probably also possessed some archers, otherwise their capacity for independent operations would have been unduly constrained. Bas-reliefs appear to show personnel in ordinary units employing bows. [121]

From about 218 BC onwards, the archers of the Roman army of the mid-Republic were virtually all mercenaries from the island of Crete, which boasted a long specialist tradition. During the late Republic (88-30 BC) and the Augustan period, Crete was gradually eclipsed by men from other, much more populous, regions with strong archery traditions, newly subjugated by the Romans. These included Thrace, Anatolia and above all, Syria. Of the thirty-two sagittarii units attested in the mid 2nd century, thirteen have Syrian names, seven Thracian, five from Anatolia, one from Crete and the remaining six of other or uncertain origin. [27]

Three distinct types of archers are shown on Trajan's Column: (a) with scalar cuirass, conical steel helmet and cloak (b) without armour, with cloth conical cap and long tunic or (c) equipped in the same way as general auxiliary foot-soldiers (apart from carrying bows instead of javelins). The first type were probably Syrian or Anatolian units the third type probably Thracian. [122] The standard bow used by Roman auxilia was the recurved composite bow, a sophisticated, compact and powerful weapon. [121]

Slingers Edit

From about 218 BC onwards, the Republican army's slingers were exclusively mercenaries from the Balearic Islands, which had nurtured a strong indigenous tradition of slinging from prehistoric times. As a result, in classical Latin, Baleares (literally "inhabitants of the Balearic Islands") became an alternative word for "slingers" (funditores, from funda = "sling": It. fionda, Fr. fronde). Because of this, it is uncertain whether the most of the imperial army's slingers continued to be drawn from the Balearics themselves, or, like archers, derived mainly from other regions.

Independent slinger units are not attested in the epigraphic record of the Principate. [121] However, slingers are portrayed on Trajan's Column. They are shown unarmoured, wearing a short tunic. They carry a cloth bag, slung in front, to hold their shot (glandes). [122]

Scouts Edit

Exploratores ("reconnaissance troops", from explorare = "to scout"): Examples include two numeri exploratorum attested in the 3rd century in Britain: Habitanco and Bremenio (both names of forts). Little is known about such units. [123]

Throughout the Principate period, there is evidence of ethnic units of barbari outside the normal auxilia organisation fighting alongside Roman troops. To an extent, these units were simply a continuation of the old client-king levies of the late Republic: ad hoc bodies of troops supplied by Rome's puppet petty-kings on the imperial borders to assist the Romans in particular campaigns. Some units, however, remained in Roman service for substantial periods after the campaign for which they were raised, keeping their own native leadership, attire and equipment and structure. These units were variously called by the Romans socii ("allies"), symmachiarii (from symmachoi, Greek for "allies") or foederati ("treaty troops" from foedus, "treaty"). One estimate puts the number of foederati in the time of Trajan at c. 11,000, divided into c. 40 numeri (units) of c. 300 men each. The purpose of employing foederati units was to use their specialist fighting skills. [124] Many of these would have been troops of Numidian cavalry (see light cavalry above).

The foederati make their first official appearance on Trajan's Column, where they are portrayed in a standardised manner, with long hair and beards, barefoot, stripped to the waist, wearing long trousers held up by wide belts and wielding clubs. In reality several different tribes supported the Romans in the Dacian wars. Their attire and weapons would have varied widely. The Column stereotypes them with the appearance of a single tribe, probably the most outlandish-looking, to differentiate them clearly from the regular auxilia. [125] Judging by the frequency of their appearance in the Column's battle scenes, the foederati were important contributors to the Roman operations in Dacia. Another example of foederati are the 5,500 captured Sarmatian cavalrymen sent by Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161–180) to garrison a fort on Hadrian's Wall after their defeat in the Marcomannic Wars. [126]

Legions Edit

As had been the case during the Republic, the legions of the Principate era recruited Roman citizens exclusively. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, these represented a minority of the empire's inhabitants (about 10–20%). From the time of Augustus, legionary recruitment was largely voluntary. Republican-style conscription of citizens was only resorted to during emergencies which demanded exceptionally heavy recruitment, such as the Illyrian revolt (AD 6-9).

Once the borders of the empire stabilised in the mid-1st century, most legions were based in particular provinces long-term. The number of Italian-born recruits dwindled. According to one survey, c. 65% were Italian-born in the early Julio-Claudian period (to AD 41), 49% in the period 42–68, 21% in the Flavian era (69-96) and around 8% under Hadrian. Italians thus represented c. 4% of total army recruits under Hadrian, if one takes into account the auxilia, despite constituting c. 12% of the empire's population, and well over 50% of its citizen-body, in 164. [79] However, it should be borne in mind that many legionary recruits born outside Italy were residents of Roman colonies originally established to settle legionary veterans. As descendants of the latter, such recruits were, at least partially, of Italian blood e.g. the emperor Hadrian, who was born in the Roman colony of Italica in Spain and whose father was of Italian descent while his mother is thought to have been of local Iberian origin. However, the proportion of legionaries of Italian blood dropped still further as the progeny of auxiliary veterans, who were granted citizenship on discharge, became a major source of legionary recruits. It was probably to redress this shortfall that Marcus Aurelius, faced with a major war against the Marcomanni, raised two new legions in 165, II Italica and III Italica, apparently from Italian recruits (and presumably by conscription). [127]

A major recruitment problem for the legions was that the host provinces often lacked a sufficiently large base of citizens to satisfy their recruitment needs. For example, Britannia province, where Mattingly doubts that the three legions deployed could fill their vacancies from a citizen-body of only c. 50,000 in AD 100 (less than 3% of about two million total inhabitants). This implies that the British legions must have drawn many recruits from elsewhere, especially from northern Gaul. [128]

The frontier legions' recruitment problems have led some historians to suggest that the rule limiting legionary recruitment to citizens was largely ignored in practice. But the evidence is that the rule was strictly enforced e.g. the recorded case of two recruits who were sentenced to be flogged and then expelled from a legion when it was discovered that they had lied about their status. [129] The only significant exception to the rule appears to have concerned the sons of legionaries. From the time of Augustus until the rule of Septimius Severus (197-211), serving legionaries were legally prohibited from marrying (presumably so as to discourage them from deserting if they were deployed far from heir families). However, with most legions deployed in the same bases long-term, legionaries often did develop stable relationships and bring up children. The latter, although of Roman blood, were illegitimate in Roman law and thus could not inherit their fathers' citizenship. Nevertheless, it appears that the sons of serving legionaries were routinely recruited, perhaps through the device of granting them citizenship when they enlisted. [130]

Auxilia Edit

In the 1st century, the vast majority of auxiliary common soldiers were recruited from the Roman peregrini (second-class citizens). In the Julio-Claudian era (to AD 68), conscription of peregrini seems to have been practiced, probably in the form of a fixed proportion of men reaching military age in each tribe being drafted, alongside voluntary recruitment. [131] From the Flavian era onwards, it appears that the auxilia were, like the legions, a largely volunteer force, with conscription resorted to only in times of extreme manpower demands e.g. during Trajan's Dacian Wars (101–106). [132] Although recruits as young as 14 are recorded, the majority of recruits (66%) were from the 18–23 age group. [133]

When it was first raised, an auxiliary regiment would have been recruited from the native tribe or people whose name it bore. In the early Julio-Claudian period, it seems that efforts were made to preserve the ethnic integrity of units, even when the regiment was posted in a faraway province, but in the later part of the period, recruitment in the region where the regiment was posted increased and became predominant from the Flavian era onwards. [131] The regiment would thus lose its original ethnic identity. [134] The unit's name would thus become a mere curiosity devoid of meaning, although some of its members might inherit foreign names from their veteran ancestors. This view has to be qualified, however, as evidence from military diplomas and other inscriptions shows that some units continued to recruit in their original home areas e.g. Batavi units stationed in Britain, where several other units had an international membership. [135] It also appears that the Danubian provinces (Raetia, Pannonia, Moesia, Dacia) remained key recruiting grounds for units stationed all over the empire. [136] [137]

About 50 auxiliary regiments founded by Augustus were, exceptionally, recruited from Roman citizens. This was due to the emergency manpower requirements of the Illyrian revolt (AD 6-9), which was described by the Roman historian Suetonius as the most difficult conflict Rome had faced since the Punic Wars. Although the Republican minimum property requirement for admission to the legions had long since been abandoned, citizens who were vagrants, convicted criminals, undischarged debtors, or freed slaves (Roman law accorded citizenship to the freed slaves of Roman citizens) were still excluded. Desperate for recruits, Augustus had already resorted to the compulsory purchase and emancipation of thousands of slaves for the first time since the aftermath of the Battle of Cannae two centuries earlier. [138] But the emperor found the idea of admitting such men to the legions unpalatable. So he formed separate auxiliary regiments from them. These units were accorded the title civium Romanorum ("of Roman citizens"), or c.R. for short. After the Illyrian revolt, these cohorts remained in being and recruited peregrini like other auxiliary units, but retained their prestigious c.R. title. [92] [139] Subsequently, many other auxiliary regiments were awarded the c.R. title for exceptional merit, an award that conferred citizenship on all their currently serving members.

Apart from the citizen-regiments raised by Augustus, Roman citizens were regularly recruited to the auxilia. Most likely, the majority of citizen-recruits to auxiliary regiments were the sons of auxiliary veterans who were enfranchised on their fathers' discharge. [140] Many such men may have preferred to join their fathers' old regiments, which were a kind of extended family to them, rather than join a much larger, unfamiliar legion. Legionaries frequently transferred to the auxilia (mostly promoted to a higher rank). [141] The incidence of citizens in the auxilia would thus have grown steadily over time until, after the grant of citizenship to all peregrini in 212, auxiliary regiments became predominantly, if not exclusively, citizen units.

It is less clear-cut whether the regular auxilia recruited barbari (barbarians, as the Romans called people living outside the empire's borders). Although there is little evidence of it before the 3rd century, the consensus is that the auxilia recruited barbarians throughout their history. [142] [143] In the 3rd century, a few auxilia units of clearly barbarian origin start to appear in the record e.g. Ala I Sarmatarum, cuneus Frisiorum and numerus Hnaufridi in Britain. [123] [144]

A legion's ranks, role and pay, with auxiliary and modern equivalents, may be summarised as follows:

Notes: (1) Elevated by emperor to equestrian rank on completion of single-year term of office

Explanation of modern rank comparisons: It is difficult to find precise modern equivalents to the ranks of an ancient, unmechanised army in which aristocratic birth was a pre-requisite for most senior positions. Thus such comparisons should be treated with caution. Nevertheless, some approximate parallels can be found. The ones presented here are based on rank-comparisons used in Grant's translation of the Annales by Tacitus. [146]

As they mostly rose from the ranks, centurions are compared to modern sergeants-major, the most senior officers without a commission. An ordinary centurion was in command of a centuria of 80 men, equivalent to a company in a modern army, and is thus comparable to a British company sergeant-major (U.S. first sergeant). Senior centurions, known as primi ordinis ("of the first order"), consisted of the five commanders of the double-strength centuriae of the First Cohort (160 men each) and the nine pilus prior centurions (commanders of the 1st centuria of each cohort), who in the field are generally presumed by scholars to have been the actual (though not official) commanders of their whole cohort of 480 men, equivalent to a modern battalion. A senior centurion is thus likened to a British regimental sergeant-major (U.S. command sergeant major), the most senior non-commissioned officer in a battalion. The primus pilus, the chief centurion of the legion, has no clear parallel.

From the centurionate, the rank-structure jumps to the military tribunes, aristocrats who were directly appointed senior officers and thus comparable to modern commissioned officers. Although primarily staff-officers, in the field tribunes could be placed in command of one or more cohorts (Praetorian Guard cohorts were commanded by tribunes, and in the auxilia, a praefectus, equivalent in rank to a tribune, commanded a cohort-sized regiment). These officers are thus comparable to modern colonels, who normally command battalions or regiments in a modern army. Finally, the legatus legionis was in command of the whole legion (over 5,000 men, equivalent to a modern brigade), plus roughly the same number of auxiliaries in attached regiments, bringing the total to c. 10,000 men, equivalent to a modern division. Thus a legatus is comparable to a modern general officer. The legions thus lacked any equivalent to modern junior commissioned officers (lieutenant to major). This is because the Romans saw no need to complement their centurions, who were considered fully capable of field commands, with commissioned officers. As a consequence, a chief centurion promoted to praefectus castrorum would, in modern terms, leap from sergeant-major to the rank of colonel in one bound.

Rankers (caligati) Edit

At the bottom end of the rank pyramid, rankers were known as caligati (lit: "sandalled men" from the caligae or hob-nailed sandals worn by soldiers), or simply as milites ("soldiers"). Depending on the type of regiment they belonged to, they held the official ranks of pedes (foot-soldier in a legion or auxiliary cohors), eques (cavalryman in legionary cavalry or an auxiliary cohors equitata) and eques alaris (ala cavalryman). [147] A new recruit under training was known as a tiro, and received half-pay.

Soldiers' working lives were arduous. As well as facing the hardships of military discipline and training, and the dangers of military operations, soldiers fulfilled a large number of other functions, such as construction workers, policemen, and tax collectors (see below, Everyday life). It has been estimated from the available data that only an average of c. 50% of recruits survived their 25-year term of service. This mortality rate was well in excess of the contemporary demographic norm for the 18-23 age-group. [83] An indication of the rigours of military service in the imperial army may be seen in the complaints aired by rebellious legionaries during the great mutinies that broke out in the Rhine and Danube legions on the death of Augustus in AD 14. [148]

"Old men, mutilated by wounds are serving their 30th or 40th year. And even after your official discharge, your service is not finished. For you stay on with the colours as a reserve, still under canvas - the same drudgery under another name! And if you manage to survive all these hazards, even then you are dragged off to a remote country and settled in some waterlogged swamp or untilled mountainside. Truly the army is a harsh, unrewarding profession! Body and soul are reckoned at two and a half sesterces a day - and with this you have to find clothes, weapons, tents and bribes for brutal centurions if you want to avoid chores. Heaven knows, lashes and wounds are always with us! So are hard winters and hardworking summers. " [149]

"The soldiers' reply was to tear off their clothes and point to the scars left by their wounds and floggings. There was a confused roar about their wretched pay, the high cost of exemptions from duty, and the hardness of the work. Specific reference was made to earthworks, excavations, foraging, collecting timber and firewood. " [150]

The gross and net pay of legionaries and auxiliaries may be summarised as follows:

legionary pedes:
amount (denarii)
XXX auxiliary pedes
amount (denarii)
Stipendium (gross salary) 225 188
Less: Food deduction 60 60
Less: Equipment etc. deductions 50 50
Net disposable pay 115 78
Plus: Donativa (bonuses)
(average: 75 denarii every three years)
25 none proven
Total disposable income 140 78
Praemia (discharge bonus: 3,000 denarii) 120 none proven

Basic legionary pay was set at 225 denarii per annum under Augustus. Until at least AD 100, auxiliary soldiers were apparently paid less than their legionary counterparts. In the early Julio-Claudian period, it has been suggested that an auxiliary foot-soldier was paid only a third the rate of a legionary (although an eques alaris was paid two-thirds). [152] By AD 100, the differential had narrowed dramatically. An auxiliary pedes was paid 20% less than his legionary counterpart at the time of Domitian (81-97) (but an eques cohortalis the same and an eques alaris 20% more). [153]

General military pay was increased by 33% denarii under Domitian (r.81-96). Septimius Severus (r. 197-211) increased the rate by a further 25%, and then his successor Caracalla (r. 211-8) by 50% again. [154] But in reality, these pay rises only more-or-less covered price inflation over this period, which is estimated at c. 170% by Duncan-Jones. [81] Since the debasement of the central silver coinage, the denarius, roughly reflected general inflation, it can be used as a rough guide to the real value of military pay:

Emperor Nominal pay
of legionary
No. of denarii
minted from 1 lb. silver
Real pay
of legionary
(in constant AD 14 denarii)
Augustus (to AD 14) 225 85 225
Vespasian (70-81) 225 103 186
Domitian (81-96) 300 101 252
Hadrian (117-38) 300 105 243
S. Severus (197-211) 400 156 218
Caracalla (211-8) 600 192 265

NOTE:Real pay calculated by dividing silver content of Augustan denarius (85 d. to lb) by the silver content of later denarii and multiplying by nominal pay

Furthermore, a soldier's gross salary was subject to deductions for food and equipment. The latter included weapons, tents, clothing, boots and hay (probably for the company mules). [16] [156] These deductions would leave the 1st-century legionary with a modest disposable income of c. 115 denarii, and an auxiliary 78 denarii.

A legionary's daily pay-rate of 2.5 sesterces was only marginally greater than a common day-labourer in Rome could expect in this period (typically two sesterces per day). [157] Such modest remuneration for a tough service raises the question of how the imperial army succeeding in raising sufficient volunteers with only the occasional recourse to conscription. The reason is that the comparison with a Rome day-labourer is misleading. The vast majority of the army's recruits were drawn from provincial peasant families living on subsistence farming i.e. farmers who after paying rent, taxes and other costs were left with only enough food to survive: the situation of c. 80% of the Empire's population. [158] To such persons, any disposable income would appear attractive, and the physical rigours of army service no worse than back-breaking drudgery in the fields at home. In any case, where a peasant family had more children than its plot of land could support, enlistment of one or more sons in the military would have been a matter of necessity, rather than choice.

In addition, soldiers enjoyed significant advantages over day-labourers. They had job security for life (assuming they were not dishonourably discharged). Legionaries could count on irregular but substantial cash bonuses (donativa), paid on the accession of a new emperor and on other special occasions and, on completion of service, a substantial discharge-bonus (praemia) equivalent to 13 years' gross pay, which would enable him to buy a large plot of land. Auxiliaries were exempt from the annual poll-tax payable by all their fellow-peregrini and were rewarded on discharge with Roman citizenship for themselves and their heirs. Duncan-Jones argues that, at least from the time of Hadrian, auxiliaries also received donativa and praemia. [159] Finally, a ranker had a one in twenty chance of increasing his pay by 50-100% by gaining promotion to the rank of principalis or junior officer. Out of 480 men, a typical cohort would contain 24 junior officers (other than specialists).

The great mutinies of AD 14, which were about pay and conditions – as distinct from later revolts in support of a contender for the imperial throne – were never repeated. The reason they occurred at all was probably because, at the time, many legionaries were still conscripts (mostly enlisted during the Illyrian revolt crisis of AD 6-9) and the majority still Italians. This made them far less tolerant of the hardships of military life than provincial volunteers. Italians were by this stage used to a higher standard of living than their provincial subjects, largely due to a massive effective subsidy by the latter: Italians had long been exempt from direct taxation on land and heads and, at the same time, rents from the vast imperial and private Roman-owned estates carved out by conquest in the provinces largely flowed to Italy. Thus, a central demand of the 14 CE mutineers was that legionary pay be increased from 2.5 to 4 sesterces (1 denarius) per day. This was conceded by Tiberius in order to pacify the mutiny, but soon revoked as unaffordable, and pay remained at roughly the same real level into the 3rd century.

Rankers with specialist skills were classed as milites immunes ("exempt soldiers"), meaning that they were exempt from the normal duties of their fellow-soldiers so that they could practice their trade. A legion would contain over 600 immunes. [160] Over 100 specialist jobs are attested, including the all-important blacksmiths (fabri), among whom the scutarii ("shield-men"), probably smiths that specialised in weapons manufacture or repair, and other craftsmen who worked in the fabrica carpentarii ("wagon-makers/repairers", or, generally, "carpenters") capsarii (wound-dressers) and seplasiarii ("ointment-men"), medical orderlies who worked in the valetudinarium (hospital in a legionary fortress) or hospitium (auxiliary fort hospital) balniator (bath attendant) and cervesarius (beer-brewer). [161] It is uncertain, however, whether the latter two jobs were held by milites immunes or by civilians working for the unit on contract. [162] Immunes were on the same pay-scale as other rankers. [160]

Junior officers (principales) Edit

Legions Edit

Below centurion rank, junior officers in the centuria were known as principales. Principales, together with some specialists, were classified in two pay-scales: sesquiplicarii ("one-and-a-half-pay soldiers") and duplicarii ("double-pay soldiers"). [163] These ranks probably most closely resembled the modern ranks of corporal and sergeant respectively. A higher rank of triplicarius ("triple-pay soldier") is attested very rarely in the 1st century and this pay-scale was probably short-lived. [164] Sesquiplicarii included the cornicen (horn-blower), who blew the cornu, a long, three-piece circular horn. Above him was the tesserarius (literally "tablet-holder", from tessera = "wax tablet", on which the daily password was inscribed), who was the officer of the watch. Duplicarii, in ascending order of rank, were the optio, or centurion's deputy, who was appointed by his centurion and would expect to succeed him when the latter was promoted. While a centurion led his unit from the front in battle, his optio would bring up the rear. Responsible for preventing rankers from leaving the line, the optio was equipped with a long, silver-tipped stave which was used to push the rear ranks forward. Ranking just below centurion was the signifer (standard-bearer), who bore the centuria's signum. In the field, the signifer wore the skin of a wolf's head over his own. [165] At the legionary level, the vexillarius had charge of the commander's vexillum, or banner, and accompanied the legatus in the field. The aquilifer bore the legion's aquila standard, and wore a lion's head. He accompanied the chief centurion, as did the legion's imaginifer, who bore a standard with the emperor's image. All these standard-bearers were duplicarii.

Auxilia Edit

An auxiliary regiment's junior officers appear broadly the same as in the legions. These were, in ascending order: tesserarius, optio, signifer (standard-bearer for the centuria). However, auxiliary regiments also attest a custos armorum ("keeper of the armoury"), on pay-and-a-half. The vexillarius, bore the regiment's standard, on double-pay. In addition, the turma of an ala appear to have contained a curator on double-pay, ranking just below decurion, apparently in charge of horses and caparison. [166]

Mid-level officers (centuriones and decuriones) Edit

Between junior officers (principales) and senior officers (tribuni militum), the Roman army contained a class of officers called centurions (centuriones, singular form: centurio, literally "commanders of 100 men") in the infantry and decurions (decuriones, singular form decurio, literally "commanders of 10 men") in the auxiliary cavalry. These officers commanded the basic tactical units in the army: a centurion headed a centuria (company, 80 men-strong) in the infantry (both legionary and auxiliary) and a decurion led a turma (squadron, 30-men strong) in the auxiliary cavalry (in the small contingents of legionary cavalry, squadron-leaders were called centurions). Broadly speaking, centurions and decurions were considered to be of corresponding rank.

Legions Edit

The great majority of rankers never advanced beyond principalis. The few who did became centurions, a rank they would normally attain after 13–20 years of service to reach this level. [167] Promotion to the centurionate, known to the Romans simply as the ordo, or "rank", was normally in the hands of the legatus legionis. However, the latter occasionally followed the Republican tradition and allowed the men of a centuria to elect their own centurion. Although most centurions rose from the ranks, there are a few instances attested of young men who were directly appointed centurions on enlistment: these were mostly the sons of active or retired centurions. [168]

Centurions were arguably the most important group of officers in the army, as they led the legions' tactical sub-units (cohorts and centuriae) in the field. In consequence, on becoming a centurion, a soldier's pay and prestige would undergo a quantum-leap. Centurions were paid far more than their men. The available evidence is scant, but suggests that, in the 2nd century, an ordinary centurion was paid 16 times the pay of a ranker. [169] If so, the differential had widened dramatically since the days of the Punic Wars, when a centurion was paid just double the rate of a ranker i.e. was a duplicarius in imperial terms. [170] By the time of Caesar, the standing of centurions had already greatly increased: in 51 BC, after an especially tough campaign during the Gallic War, Caesar promised his troops a bonus of 50 denarii per man, and 500 each to the centurions, indicating that a differential of 10 times was commonplace even in the late Republic. [171]

Each legion contained 60 (later 59) centurions, ranked in an elaborate hierarchy. Each of the 10 cohorts was ranked in seniority, the 1st Cohort (whose centuriae, after about AD 80, were double-strength) being the highest. Within each cohort, each of its six centuriae, and thus of its commanding centurion, was likewise ranked. Within this hierarchy, three broad ranks can be discerned: centurions (centuriones ordinarii), senior centurions (centuriones primi ordinis or "first-rank centurions") and the legion's chief centurion (centurio primus pilus). Senior centurions included those in command of the five centuriae in the 1st Cohort and the centuriones pilus prior ("front-spear") centurions of the other nine cohorts (i.e. the centurions in command of the 1st centuria of each cohort, who many historians believe, was also in de facto command of the whole cohort). [172]

All centurions, including the primus pilus, were expected to lead their units from the front, on foot like their men, and were invariably in the thick of any combat melee. As a consequence, their casualty rates in battle were often heavy. An example from Caesar's De Bello Gallico, during a battle against the Belgic tribes of northern Gaul (57 BC): "Caesar had gone to the right wing, where he found the troops in difficulties. All the centurions of the 4th cohort [of the 12th legion] were dead, and the standard lost nearly all the centurions of the rest of the cohorts were either killed or wounded, including the chief centurion, P. Sextius Baculus, a very brave man, who was so disabled by serious wounds that he could no longer stand on his feet." [173] Or again, in a later battle against Vercingetorix at Gergovia (52 BC): "Attacked from all sides, our men held their ground until they had lost 46 centurions. " [174] In battle, centurions were also responsible for the security of their unit's standard, whose bearer, the signifer, stayed close to his centurion on the battlefield. The chief centurion was accompanied by the aquilifer and had the even weightier responsibility of protecting the legion's aquila (eagle-standard). [172]

Centurions were also responsible for discipline in their units, symbolised by the vitis or vine-stick which they carried as a badge of their rank. The stick was by no means purely symbolic and was frequently used to beat recalcitrant rankers. Tacitus relates that one centurion in the army in Pannonia gained the nickname Da mihi alteram! ("Give-me-another!") for his propensity to break his stick over his men's backs and then shout at his optio to bring him a new one. [175] Centurions often earned the hatred of their men, as shown during the great mutinies which broke out on the Rhine-Danube borders on the death of Augustus. In one legion, each centurion was given 60 lashes of the flail by the mutineers, to represent the legion's total number of centurions, and was then thrown into the Rhine to drown. [176]

Outside the military sphere, centurions performed a wide range of administrative duties at a senior level, which was necessary in the absence of an adequate bureaucracy to support provincial governors. A centurion might serve as a regionarius, or supervisor of a provincial district, on behalf of the provincial governor. [177] They were also relatively wealthy individuals, due to their high salaries. In retirement, they often held high civic positions in the councils of Roman coloniae (veterans' colonies). [178]

However, in social rank, the great majority of centurions were commoners, outside the small senatorial and equestrian elites which dominated the empire. In the class-conscious system of the Romans, this rendered even senior centurions far inferior in status to any of the legion's tribuni militum (who were all of equestrian rank), and ineligible to command any unit larger than a centuria. This is probably the reason why a cohort did not have an official commander. (However, many historians believe that a cohort in the field was under the de facto command of its leading centurion, the centurio pilus prior, the commander of the cohort's 1st centuria). [179] Until c. AD 50, centurions had been able to command auxiliary regiments, but the emperor Claudius restricted these commands to Knights. The only escape-route for centurions from this "class-trap" was to reach the highest grade of centurio primus pilus. On completing his single-year term of office, the chief centurion of each legion (i.e. some 30 individuals each year) was elevated to the Order of Knights by the emperor. [168]

Normally, an outgoing primus pilus (known as a primipilaris) would be promoted to praefectus castrorum (quartermaster and third officer) of a legion or to prefect of an auxiliary regiment or to tribune of a Praetorian cohort in Rome. Beyond these posts, the senior command-positions reserved for knights were in theory open to primipilares: command of the imperial fleets and of the Praetorian Guard, and the governorships of equestrian provinces (most importantly, Egypt). But in practice, primipilares rarely progressed to these posts due to their age (unless they were in the minority of centurions directly appointed as young men). It would take a ranker a median of 16 years just to reach centurion-rank and probably the same again to reach primus pilus. Most primipilares would thus be in their 50s when elevated to the Order of Knights, and already eligible for retirement, having completed 25 years' service. (In contrast, hereditary knights would be appointed to military tribunates of a legion and command of auxiliary regiments in their 30s, leaving plenty of time to move on to the senior posts). [180]

Auxilia Edit

Auxiliary cohorts were also divided into centuriae, ranked in order of seniority. The centurion commanding the 1st centuria was known as the centurio princeps ("leading centurion") and was the 2nd-in-command of the cohort after the praefectus. In the cavalry, the equivalent rank was the decurio (decurion), in command of a turma (squadron) of 30 troopers. Again, the decurion of the 1st turma was designated the decurio princeps.

Most of the surviving evidence concerns legionary centurions and it is uncertain whether their auxiliary counterparts shared their high status and non-military role. [181] It appears that many auxiliary centuriones and decuriones were members of native provincial aristocracies who were directly commissioned. [181] Auxiliary centurions risen from the ranks were thus probably less predominant than in the legions. Those rising from the ranks could be promotions from the legions as well as from the regiment's own ranks. In the Julio-Claudian period, auxiliary centurions and decurions were a roughly equal split between citizens and peregrini, though later citizens became predominant due to the spread of citizenship among military families. [141] There is little evidence about the pay-scales of auxiliary centurions and decurions, but these are also believed to have amounted to several times that of their men. [178]

Byzantine Military

The Column of Justinian was a Roman triumphal column erected in Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in honour of his victories in 543. It stood in the western side of the great square of the Augustaeum, between the Hagia Sophia and the Great Palace, and survived until the early 16th century, when it was demolished by the Ottomans.

The column of Justinian stood on the south-west of Hagia Sophia and was nearly as high as its dome. The column was built of brick and covered with a bronze sheating. On its top there was a statue of Emperor Justinian (527-565) on horseback, the left hand holding a globe, the right hand raised and pointing to the east.

The column was made of brick, and covered with brass plaques. The column stood on a marble pedestal of seven steps, and was topped by a colossal bronze equestrian statue of the emperor in triumphal attire (the "dress of Achilles" as Procopius calls it), wearing an antique-style muscle cuirass, a plumed helmet of peacock feathers (the toupha), holding a globus cruciger on his left hand and stretching his right hand to the East. There is some evidence from the inscriptions on the statue that it may actually have been a reused earlier statue of Theodosius I or Theodosius II.

Contemporary drawing of the equestrian
statue of Justinian (1430).

The column survived intact until late Byzantine times, when it was described by Nicephorus Gregoras, as well as by several Russian pilgrims to the city. The latter also mentioned the existence, before the column, of a group of three bronze statues of "pagan (or Saracen) emperors", placed on shorter columns or pedestals, who kneeled in submission before it. These apparently survived until the late 1420s, but were removed sometime before 1433.

The column itself is described as being of great height, 70 meters according to Cristoforo Buondelmonti. It was visible from the sea, and once, according to Gregoras, when the toupha fell off, its restoration required the services of an acrobat, who used a rope slung from the roof of the Hagia Sophia.

By the 15th century, the statue, by virtue of its prominent position, was actually believed to be that of the city's founder, Constantine the Great. Other associations were also current: the Italian antiquarian Cyriacus of Ancona was told that it represented Heraclius.

It was therefore widely held that the column, and in particular the large globus cruciger, or "apple", as it was popularly known, represented the city's genius loci. Consequently, its fall from the statue's hand, sometime between 1422 and 1427, was seen as a sign of the city's impending doom. Shortly after their conquest of the city in 1453, the Ottomans removed and dismantled the statue completely as a symbol of their dominion, while the column itself was destroyed around 1515. Pierre Gilles, a French scholar living in the city in the 1540s, gave an account of the statue's remaining fragments, which lay in the Topkapi Palace, before being melted to make cannons:

Among the fragments were the leg of Justinian, which exceeded my height, and his nose, which was over nine inches long. I dared not measure the horse's legs [. ] but privately measured one of the hoofs and found it to be nine inches in height.

The appearance of the statue itself with its inscriptions is preserved, however, in a 1430s drawing (see left) made at the behest of Cyriacus of Ancona.

It was probably the only monumental statue of an emperor that survived until the late Byzantine times.

Re: Was muscle cuirass used in combat?

Vicarius Provinciae Join Date May 2008 Location Hobs Crk Posts 10,676

How late where plumed helmets and muscle cuirasses used by Roman/Byzantine soldiers? - History

Charles Michael B. Imperial Cuirasses in Latin Verse: From Augustus to the Fall of the West. In: L'antiquité classique, Tome 73, 2004. pp. 127-148.

Imperial Cuirasses in Latin Verse: From Augustus to the Fall of the West*

While a great deal has been written over the years about the arms and armour of the ordinary Roman infantryman or cavalry trooper, the equipment worn by the emperor and his senior officers has been relatively neglected. The present article, however, will not attempt to "reconstruct" the armour of a Roman general or imperator of the imperial era. Rather, it will attempt to analyse the way in which such figures are depicted in Latin verse. Thus we hope to provide a record of ideas rather than facts, a synthesis of whatever may be gleaned from the pages of writers that are rarely, if ever, used for Roman military equipment studies. For this reason, one would do well to ignore, in the main, Greek allusions to cuirasses in literature dating to "Roman" times. Of course, an investigation of such references would provide an interesting study in itself, but it is one which should be undertaken separately. Similarly, it matters little what prose-writers such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Ammianus and the "scriptores" of the Historia Augusta (which we shall assume to be the work of one author, as the present state of scholarship on the topic dictates) wrote about imperial cuirasses. In any case, the few references that Roman historians do make to the emperor girt for war rarely give any indication of the type of cuirass worn by their imperial subjects. Still, instances where the prose- writers mentioned above do allude to imperial cuirasses will be duly noted, mainly for the sake of completeness.

The cuirass most readily associated with a high-ranking Roman officer, or indeed the emperor himself, is the Hellenistic muscle or moulded cuirass, which is sometimes referred to as the lorica anatómica1. The emperor and his senior officers,

Byzantine Military

They not only have an intense love for their subject, but often have a deep knowledge of strange and obscure areas of history.

This photo from Facebook is a beautiful recreation of might have been. This could very well be similar to the feathered helmet of the Emperor Justinian below.

Contemporary drawing of the equestrian
statue of Justinian (1430).

The Column of Justinian was a Roman triumphal column erected in Constantinople by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in honor of his victories in 543. It stood in the western side of the great square of the Augustaeum , between the Hagia Sophia and the Great Palace , and survived until the early 16th century, when it was demolished by the Ottomans.

The column of Justinian stood on the south-west of Hagia Sophia and was nearly as high as its dome. The column was built of brick and covered with a bronze sheating. On its top there was a statue of Emperor Justinian (527-565) on horseback, the left hand holding a globe, the right hand raised and pointing to the east.

The column was made of brick, and covered with brass plaques. The column stood on a marble pedestal of seven steps, and was topped by a colossal bronze equestrian statue of the emperor in triumphal attire (the "dress of Achilles" as Procopius calls it), wearing an antique-style muscle cuirass, a plumed helmet of peacock feathers (the toupha ), holding a globus cruciger on his left hand and stretching his right hand to the East.

Read More . . . .

Ranks, pay and benefits

Common soldiers

At the base of the rank pyramid were the common soldiers: pedes (infantryman) and eques (cavalryman). Unlike his 2nd-century counterpart, the 4th-century soldier's food and equipment was not deducted from his salary (stipendium), but was provided free. [200] This is because the stipendium, paid in debased silver denarii, was under Diocletian worth far less than in the 2nd century. It lost its residual value under Constantine and ceased to be paid regularly in mid-4th century. [201]

The soldier's sole substantial disposable income came from the donativa, or cash bonuses handed out periodically by the emperors, as these were paid in gold solidi (which were never debased), or in pure silver. There was a regular donative of 5 solidi every five years of an Augustus reign (i.e. one solidus p.a.) Also, on the accession of a new Augustus, 5 solidi plus a pound of silver (worth 4 solidi, totaling 9 solidi) were paid. The 12 Augusti that ruled the West between 284 and 395 averaged about nine years per reign. Thus the accession donatives would have averaged about 1 solidus p.a. The late soldier's disposable income would thus have averaged at least 2 solidi per annum. It is also possible, but undocumented, that the accession bonus was paid for each Augustus and/or a bonus for each Caesar. [202] The documented income of 2 solidi was only a quarter of the disposable income of a 2nd-century legionary (which was the equivalent of c. 8 solidi). [203] The late soldier's discharge package (which included a small plot of land) was also minuscule compared with a 2nd-century legionary's, worth just a tenth of the latter's. [204] [205]

Despite the disparity with the Principate, Jones and Elton argue that 4th-century remuneration was attractive compared to the hard reality of existence at subsistence level that most recruits' peasant families had to endure. [206] Against that has to be set the clear unpopularity of military service.

However, pay would have been much more attractive in higher-grade units. The top of the pay pyramid were the scholae elite cavalry regiments. Next came palatini units, then comitatenses, and finally limitanei. There is little evidence about the pay differentials between grades. But that they were substantial is shown by the example that an actuarius (quartermaster) of a comitatus regiment was paid 50% more than his counterpart in a pseudocomitatensis regiment. [207]

Regimental officers

Regimental officer grades in old-style units (legiones, alae and cohortes) remained the same as under the Principate up to and including centurion and decurion. In the new-style units, (vexillationes, auxilia, etc.), ranks with quite different names are attested, seemingly modelled on the titles of local authority bureaucrats. [208] So little is known about these ranks that it is impossible to equate them with the traditional ranks with any certainty. Vegetius states that the ducenarius commanded, as the name implies, 200 men. If so, the centenarius may have been the equivalent of a centurion in the old-style units. [209] Probably the most accurate comparison is by known pay levels:

Regimental officers in the 4th-century army [210]
Multiple of basic pay (2nd century)
or annona (4th century)
2nd-century cohors
(ascending ranks)
4th-century units
(ascending ranks)
1 pedes (infantryman) pedes
1.5 tesserarius ("corporal") semissalis
2 signifer (centuria standard-bearer)
optio (centurion's deputy)
vexillarius (cohort standard-bearer)
2.5 to 5 centenarius (2.5)
ducenarius (3.5)
senator (4)
primicerius (5)
Over 5 centurio (centurion)
centurio princeps (chief centurion)
beneficiarius? (deputy cohort commander)

NOTE: Ranks correspond only in pay scale, not necessarily in function

The table shows that the pay differentials enyjoyed by the senior officers of a 4th-century regiment were much smaller than those of their 2nd-century counterparts, a position in line with the smaller remuneration enjoyed by 4th-century high administrative officials.

Regimental and corps commanders

Regimental and corps commanders in the 4th-century army [211]
Pay scale
(multiple of pedes)
(ascending order)
No. of posts
Job description
12 Protector Several hundreds
(200 in domestici under Julian)
cadet regimental commander
n.a. Tribunus (or praefectus) c. 800 regimental commander
n.a. Tribunus comes n.a. (i) commander, protectores domestici (comes domesticorum)
(ii) commander, brigade of two twinned regiments
or (iii) some (later all) tribuni of scholae
(iv) some staff officers (tribuni vacantes) to magister or emperor
100 Dux (or, rarely, comes) limitis 27 border army commander
n.a. Comes rei militaris 7 (i) commander, smaller diocesan comitatus
n.a. Magister militum
(magister equitum in West)
4 commander, larger diocesan comitatus
n.a. Magister militum praesentalis
(magister utriusque militiae in West)
3 commander, comitatus praesentalis

The table above indicates the ranks of officers who held a commission (sacra epistula, lit: "solemn letter"). This was presented to the recipient by the emperor in person at a dedicated ceremony. [212]

Cadet regimental commanders (protectores)

A significant innovation of the 4th century was the corps of protectores, which contained cadet senior officers. Although protectores were supposed to be soldiers who had risen through the ranks by meritorious service, it became a widespread practice to admit to the corps young men from outside the army (often the sons of senior officers). The protectores formed a corps that was both an officer training-school and pool of staff officers available to carry out special tasks for the magistri militum or the emperor. Those attached to the emperor were known as protectores domestici and organised in four scholae under a comes domesticorum. After a few years' service in the corps, a protector would normally be granted a commission by the emperor and placed in command of a military regiment. [214]

Regimental commanders (tribuni)

Regimental commanders were known by one of three possible titles: tribunus (for comitatus regiments plus border cohortes), praefectus (most other limitanei regiments) or praepositus (for milites and some ethnic allied units). [215] [216] However, tribunus was used colloquially to denote the commander of any regiment. Although most tribuni were appointed from the corps of protectores, a minority, again mainly the sons of high-ranking serving officers, were directly commissioned outsiders. [217] The status of regimental commanders varied enormously depending on the grade of their unit. At the top end, some commanders of scholae were granted the noble title of comes, a practice which became standard after 400. [218]

Senior regimental commanders (tribuni comites)

The comitiva or "Order of Companions (of the emperor)", was an order of nobility established by Constantine I to honour senior administrative and military officials, especially in the imperial entourage. It partly overlapped with the established orders of Senators and of Knights, in that it could be awarded to members of either (or of neither). It was divided into three grades, of which only the first, comes primi ordinis (lit. "Companion of the First Rank", which carried senatorial rank), retained any value beyond AD 450, due to excessive grant. In many cases, the title was granted ex officio, but it could also be purely honorary. [219]

In the military sphere, the title of comes primi ordinis was granted to a group of senior tribuni. These included (1) the commander of the protectores domestici, who by 350 was known as the comes domesticorum [220] (2) some tribuni of scholae: after c. 400, scholae commanders were routinely granted the title on appointment [221] (3) the commanders of a brigade of two twinned comitatus regiments were apparently styled comites. (Such twinned regiments would always operate and transfer together e.g. the legions Ioviani and Herculiani) [222] (4) finally, some tribunes without a regimental command (tribuni vacantes), who served as staff-officers to the emperor or to a magister militum, might be granted the title. [221] These officers were not equal in military rank with a comes rei militaris, who was a corps commander (usually of a smaller diocesan comitatus), rather than the commander of only one or two regiments (or none).

Corps commanders (duces, comites rei militaris, magistri militum)

The commanders of army corps, i.e. army groups composed of several regiments, were known as (in ascending order of rank): duces limitis, comites rei militaris, and magistri militum. These officers corresponded in rank to generals and field marshals in modern armies.

A Dux (or, rarely, comes) limitis (lit. "Border Leader"), was in command of the troops (limitanei), and fluvial flotillas, deployed in a border province. Until the time of Constantine I, the dux reported to the vicarius of the diocese in which their forces were deployed. After c. 360, the duces generally reported to the commander of the comitatus deployed in their diocese (whether a magister militum or comes). [72] However, they were entitled to correspond directly with the emperor, as various imperial rescripts show. A few border commanders were, exceptionally, styled comes e.g. the comes litoris Saxonici ("Count of the Saxon Shore") in Britain. [223]

A Comes rei militaris (lit. "Companion for Military Affairs") was generally in command of a smaller diocesan comitatus (typically ca. 10,000 strong). By the time of the Notitia, comites were mainly found in the West, because of the fragmentation of the western comitatus into a number of smaller groups. In the East, there were 2 comites rei militaris, in command of Egypt and Isauria. Exceptionally, these men were in command of limitanei regiments only. Their title may be due to the fact that they reported, at the time to the Notitia, to the emperor direct (later they reported to the magister militum per Orientem). [125] A comes rei militaris also had command over the border duces in his diocese.

A Magister militum (lit. "Master of Soldiers") commanded the larger diocesan comitatus (normally over 20,000-strong). A magister militum was also in command of the duces in the diocese where his comitatus was deployed.

The highest rank of Magister militum praesentalis (lit. "Master of Soldiers in the Presence [of the Emperor]") was accorded to the commanders of imperial escort armies (typically 20-30,000 strong). The title was equivalent in rank to Magister utriusque militiae ("Master of Both Services"), Magister equitum ("Master of Cavalry") and Magister peditum ("Master of Infantry").

It is unknown what proportion of the corps commanders had risen from the ranks, but it is likely to have been small as most rankers would be nearing retirement age by the time they were given command of a regiment and would be promoted no further. [224] In contrast, directly commissioned protectores and tribuni dominated the higher echelons, as they were usually young men when they started. For such men, promotion to corps command could be swift e.g. the future emperor Theodosius I was a dux at age 28. [225] It was also possible for rungs on the rank-ladder to be skipped. Commanders of scholae, who enjoyed direct access to the emperor, often reached the highest rank of magister militum: e.g. the barbarian-born officer Agilo was promoted direct to magister militum from tribunus of a schola in 360, skipping the dux stage. [221]


Our knowledge of Roman armor comes from drawing together three different strands of evidence. First, there is the documentary evidence, comprising not only passages from ancient literature, but also original documents preserved, for example, on the writing tablets from northern England. Second, there is the iconographic evidence, provided by ancient sculptures and reliefs depicting soldiers and scenes of warfare. And third, there is the archaeological evidence of actual weapons and pieces of armor surviving from antiquity.

Each of these strands has its own difficulties and challenges. For example, some of our documentary sources represent eyewitness testimony, such as the commentaries of Julius Caesar, a military man reporting on military events. On the other hand, some are the product of later research, such as the historical work of Livy, who is our main resource for much of the Second Punic War and the army of the middle Republic. Writing during the reign of the emperor Augustus, Livy drew on earlier sources, one of whom was the Greek writer Polybius, who is generally acknowledged to have been more military-minded, and whose often fragmentary work is consequently preferred for military details.

Sculpture is usually assumed to present an accurate picture of contemporary reality. It seems likely, for example, that the tombstones of soldiers erected along Rome&rsquos northern frontiers were crafted by local artisans whose depictions of the deceased were informed by daily contact with the military. But complications arise in the case of state-sponsored monuments like Trajan&rsquos Column, whose primary purpose was not to present a pattern book of Roman soldiers, but to make a political statement. While a general level of accuracy can be demonstrated, there has clearly been some stereotyping, and any attempts to identify individual units by minute differences in the representation of their equipment are misguided (figure 19.6).

Archaeology provides us with actual examples of Roman arms and armor, but these are rarely closely dated, and the circumstances of their deposition in the ground are often obscure. The well-known Corbridge hoard illustrates a few of the difficulties. This collection of military odds and ends, contained in an iron-bound chest, was unearthed in 1964 from within the confines of the fort at Corbridge (England). Besides the well-known lorica segmentata armor, folded and wrapped in rags, the chest contained spearheads tied up in a bundle, along with other items including a broken pilum head, various tools and nails, a set of (illegible) writing tablets, a wooden tankard, and many small objects.

Figure 19.6 Figure from the Great Ludovisi battle sarcophagus, thought to date from the mid-fourth century A.D. His ornate panoply is suspiciously reminiscent of the armor worn by the officer on the so-called Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, nearly four centuries earlier. It is likely that the sculptor has employed artistic license here. Palazzo Altemps, Rome (Inv. 8564). Photo Credit: L. Tritle.

Archaeologists were unsure whether the chest had been buried beneath the floorboards of an upstanding building (ca. A.D. 85&ndash100) or on vacant ground after the building&rsquos demolition, but the nature of the remains more closely matches the latter scenario. And, as the burial of unwanted material is most likely to occur during periods of abandonment and withdrawal, the hoard&rsquos deposition can probably be linked to the dismantling of the Hadrianic fort in ca. A.D. 139. But if the hoard&rsquos dating is reasonably secure, its purpose is less obvious. All the pieces could conceivably have originated in a workshop, but without direct knowledge of the individual perpetrator or his objectives, the careful packing and burial of such an indiscriminate collection of items cannot easily be explained.

These are just some of the difficulties encountered in the study of Roman arms and armor. Ideally, the three strands of evidence come together and complement one another but, more often, we rely on isolated bits and pieces, and there are entire decades of Roman history when the sources fail us entirely, frustrating our hopes of discerning the development of Roman arms and armor with any degree of accuracy and authenticity.


Polybius famously describes the Roman legionary&rsquos armament, in a digression that he inserts into his narrative of the Second Punic War. &ldquoThe Roman panoply is primarily the shield (thyreos),&rdquo he writes. &ldquoThe width of its curved surface is two-and-a-half feet (0.77 m), the height four feet (1.23 m), and the thickness of the rim another palm (0.08 m). Made from double planking stuck together with bull&rsquos glue, the outer surface is covered with linen and then with calf skin. Around the upper and lower rim, it has an edging of iron, so that it is protected against the hacking strokes of swords (machairai) and against leaning it on the ground. It is also fitted with an iron boss, which largely fends off the blows of stones, pikes (sarisai) and flying missiles in general&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.2&ndash5).

The shield that Polybius describes here is conventionally known as the scutum, and is recognizably the same item as the beautifully preserved oblong shield discovered at Kasr al-Harit (Egypt) in 1900. An examination carried out by the German scholar Wolfgang Kimmig established its method of construction. At 1.28 m long and 0.64 m wide across the curving face, it fits Polybius&rsquos description fairly closely. But, rather than double planking, it was constructed from three layers of birch wood strips, the inner and outer of which were laid horizontally, sandwiching a vertical layer in between. Both faces were covered with lamb&rsquos wool felt. On the back, a horizontal hand grip spanned a centrally placed oval cut-out for the owner&rsquos hand, and this was covered on the front by a wooden &ldquobarleycorn&rdquo boss (so-called from its elongated oval shape), fixed at the midpoint of a vertical wooden spine.

If the shield had ever been edged in metal, none survived. But Polybius&rsquos comment about leaning the shield on the ground finds an echo, a century later, in the words of Caesar, who describes how his exhausted men, in the battle against the Nervians in 57 B.C., &ldquorenewed the fight after resting against their shields&rdquo (Caes. B Gall. 2.27).

The Kasr al-Harit shield cannot be closely dated, but Polybius&rsquos description finds further corroboration from a pair of well-known sculptures. The first of these is the frieze from the victory monument erected at Delphi (Greece) by Lucius Aemilius Paullus, following his defeat of the Macedonian King Perseus at Pydna in 168 B.C. (cf. Plut.Aem. 28.4). Though fragmentary and badly weathered, the figures of Roman soldiers clearly carry the long curved scutum with central handgrip. The second is the so-called &ldquoAltar of Domitius Ahenobarbus,&rdquo now in the Louvre (Paris, France), which is thought to have originated from the shrine erected near the Circus Flaminius by Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, consul in 122 B.C. (cf. Plin. HN 36.26). The detail is much finer and, in keeping with its theme of census-taking prior to military enlistment, the figures of four legionaries can be picked out, all of them carrying the scutum (cf. figure 19.7).

Figure 19.7 One of the column pedestal reliefs from Mainz, thought to have originated from the Flavian-era legionary headquarters there. The sculpture&rsquos military provenance guarantees a degree of authenticity. Both figures wear the &ldquoImperial Italic&rdquo helmet and carry the curved body shield known as the scutum. The left-hand figure carries the distinctive legionary pilum, with its short, slender iron shank, while the right-hand figure is armed with the short Hispanicus sword. Landesmuseum Mainz. Photo Credit: D. B. Campbell.

The Roman soldier often used the shield&rsquos protruding boss (umbo) as a supplementary weapon. In his account of the Roman assault on the Carthaginian infantry line during the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C., Livy records that, &ldquobattering them with their shoulders and shield bosses (umbones), and moving forward into the cleared space, the Romans advanced a considerable distance, as if they were meeting no resistance&rdquo (Livy 30.34).

Polybius, in common with other authors writing in Greek, uses the word thyreos to represent the long body-shield. The word is probably related to thyra, the Greek word for a door. The similarity between the two words led Livy to commit one of his best-known blunders, when he claimed that, in 191 B.C., with the Romans and Aetolians battling underground for possession of a Roman siege mine, &ldquothings became more sluggish since they blocked the tunnel wherever they desired, sometimes by stretching rugs across, sometimes by hastily thrusting up doors&rdquo (Livy 38.7). However, Polybius&rsquos version of the same event makes it plain that the stalemate was caused &ldquobecause both parties threw up shields and wicker screens in front of them&rdquo (Polyb. 21.28.11).

At some stage, the Romans designed a leather cover for the scutum, tailored to fit snugly with a drawstring around the rim. First and foremost, it afforded some protection from knocks and scrapes on the march this would have been desirable as many shields seem to have been highly decorated, a practice frowned upon by Scipio Aemilianus while preparing his army for the siege of Numantia (Frontin. Str. 4.1.5 also Plut. Mar. 201D Polyaenus, Strat. 8.16.4). As a secondary benefit, the leather cover perhaps incorporated carrying straps, for the scutum was fairly heavy (a replica made by Peter Connolly weighed ca. 10 kg) and, when it was not being used in battle, it must have been awkward to carry around by its horizontal hand grip. Clearly, it was usual to uncover thescutum for battle, as on one occasion in 57 B.C., when Caesar&rsquos men were unexpectedly attacked while still entrenching their camp, &ldquothere was no time to fasten on their insignia or even to put on their helmets (galeae) and remove the covers (tegimenta) from their shields&rdquo (Caes. B Gall. 2.21).

The earliest archaeological example of such a tegimentum is the leather fragment from the legionary base at Oberaden (Germany), founded in 11 B.C. and occupied for only a few years. Roughly the top third of the cover survives, confirming that the Late Republican scutum still had parallel sides and a curved top (and, presumably, bottom) edge like the Kasr al-Harit shield.

There seems to have been a move toward replacing the barleycorn boss and the vertical wooden spine that went along with it, as finds from Alise-Sainte-Reine (France), scene of Caesar&rsquos famous siege of Alesia in 52 B.C., include iron bosses of circular and &ldquobutterfly&rdquo shape (cf. Sievers 1995: 139). The distinctive oblong shield can be seen on the western relief of the so-called &ldquoCenotaph of the Julii,&rdquo erected in Saint-Remy de Provence (France) in 30&ndash25 B.C., perhaps for a veteran of Caesar&rsquos Gallic campaigns unfortunately, the style of boss cannot be discerned. However, the metopes on the mausoleum of Munatius Plancus, thought to date from the 20s B.C., show representations of various weaponry, amongst which several scuta can be seen an exterior view shows a circular umbo, while interior views show a central circular hole with horizontal hand grip.

&ldquoAlong with the shield goes the sword (machaira),&rdquo continues Polybius. &ldquoThis, which they call the &lsquoSpanish,&rsquo he wears on the right thigh. It has an excellent point and a strong cutting edge on both sides, as its blade is firm and reliable&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.6&ndash7). Despite Polybius&rsquos use of the specialist term machaira, this is clearly the classic cut-and-thrust sword which is conventionally known as the gladius Hispaniensis (&ldquoSpanish sword&rdquo). The machaira was properly a curved blade, and Polybius either used the name for literary effect, or by mistake as the name of the only Spanish sword known to him (cf. Qesada 1994: 83).

This appears to be the case in a separate fragment from his work, preserved in the Byzantine source known as the Suda, an encyclopaedic compilation of extracts from earlier works. It claims that, &ldquoafter the wars with Hannibal&rdquo (i.e., 218&ndash201 B.C.), the Romans adopted the Celtiberian machaira, &ldquofor it has an effective point and a powerful cutting stroke with both hands&rdquo (Suda M302 = Polyb. fr. 179). This is surely an apt description, not of the hack-and-slash machaira, but of the straight-sided Celtiberian La Tène sword and the cut-and-thrust gladius which evolved from it.

This sword came to be the defining weapon of the Roman soldier. Writing of events in Greece in 200 B.C., Livy records that the Macedonian soldiers, &ldquobeing accustomed to fight with the Greeks and Illyrians, had seen the wounds which were made by spears and arrows and, on rare occasions, by lances but now they saw bodies mutilated by the Spanish sword (gladius Hispaniensis), arms lopped off at the shoulder, or heads separated from bodies with the neck cut right through, or entrails lying open, and other repulsive wounds, and there was general panic as they began to see what sort of weapon and what sort of men they had to fight&rdquo (Livy 31.34).

Polybius mentions the fact that &ldquothey call it the &lsquoSpanish,&rsquo&rdquo and indeed it seems that the classic cut-and-thrust sword of the Middle and Late Republic was known as a Hispanicus (&ldquoSpanish&rdquo). The naming of objects after their place of origin was not unusual wool, for example, was often named after the region of production, as Pliny explains: &ldquothere are many different colours of wool but no specific names, so they are named by reference to their place of origin&rdquo (Plin. HN 8.191).

Two early examples of the Hispanicus come from &Scaronmihel (Slovenia), where they were found alongside more than a hundred other items of weaponry, all of them thought to have been deposited, perhaps ritually, at some point in the early second century B.C. Their length, at ca. 65 cm, is fairly typical for this type of sword, as is their slightly &ldquowaisted&rdquo shape (meaning that, from a width of 5 cm at the hilt, the blades narrow to 4 cm in the middle and broaden again to full width, before tapering into a long point).

Best known is the example discovered in 1986 on the island of Delos (Greece), where it is thought to have been lost in the destruction of 69 B.C. (the date is provided by Phlegon of Tralles, quoted by Photius, FGH IIIB, 257). It was still in its scabbard, and remains of a charred wooden pommel were recognizable. With a blade length of ca. 60 cm, it compares well with the earlier &Scaronmihel swords. Another fine example was found in a tomb at Fontillet, near Berry-Bouy (France), where the ceramic assemblage suggested a date of ca. 20 B.C. The blade measured ca. 65 cm and, like the Delos sword, it was still in its scabbard.

All of these swords were sheathed in the same type of scabbard: two thin sheets of wood were covered with leather facing and framed with iron guttering twin metal clasps near the opening were intended to support four suspension rings, two on each side (the Fontillet sword had all four surviving). Thus, instead of hanging vertically from one suspension point, the scabbard could be adjusted to the optimum angle for drawing and sheathing the sword comfortably.

After describing the sword and shield of the mid-Republican legionary, Polybius continues: &ldquoin addition to these, they have two javelins (hyssoi), a bronze helmet, and greaves&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.8). He gives a fulsome description of the Roman javelin, more familiarly known by its Latin name, the pilum. &ldquoOf the javelins, some are heavy and some are light. Of the heavier ones, some are rounded and a palm in diameter (7.7 cm), some are squared off. The light ones, at any rate, resemble hunting spears of the same size, and are carried along with the ones mentioned before. The length of the haft of all of these is around three cubits (1.39 m). A barbed iron point, of similar length to the haft, is fitted to each&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.9&ndash10).

Only the metal parts of pila survive, of which the earliest known examples are thought to be those discovered in the ruins of the temple at Talamonaccio (Italy), which had perhaps been dedicated after the battle of Telamon (225 B.C.). Pila of similar design were included in the hoard of equipment from &Scaronmihel. In all examples, a slim iron shank (less than 1cm thick) ended in a wide, flat tang (ca. 8 cm long and 4 cm wide) with two rivet holes, one above the other, for attachment to the wooden haft. They may be divided into two groups, following the variations which Polybius noted in the design of the shank: some are short and stubby, with a square-sectioned shank (ca. 20 cm long) and a triangular barbed tip (ca. 5 cm long), while others are long and slim, with a round-sectioned shank (ca. 45 cm long) and a narrower barbed tip (ca. 4 cm long), often verging on the pyramidal.

In order to construct the pilum, the shank&rsquos flat tang was slotted into a wooden block attached to the end of the haft, and riveted in place. Many tangs were equipped with turned edges, like flanges, clearly designed to wrap around the sides of the wooden block in order to strengthen the fastening point. Some still have the rivets in situ, measuring up to 4 cm in length.

Polybius describes the method of fastening in rather cryptic terms: &ldquothey make the fastening and its employment safe by inserting it right up to the middle of the wooden part and piercing it with closely-spaced pins, so that, during use, before the fastening loosens the iron will break, even though its thickness at the bottom, and the junction with the wooden part, are one-and-a-half dactyls (2.9 cm), such great care do they take with the fastening&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.11). Indeed, there are many examples of pila whose shanks have sheared through, as if to prove Polybius&rsquos point.

Polybius envisaged a pilum whose iron point was of similar length to the three-cubit wooden haft (1.39 m) but the longest of the pila from Camp III at Renieblas (Spain), for example, has only a 55 cm shank, 6 cm tip and 9 cm tang, falling short of Polybius&rsquos ideal by some way. At the other extreme are the short, stubby pila, examples of which were also found in the ruins of a farmstead at Ephyra (Greece), destroyed by the Romans in 167 B.C. in Renieblas III, thought to date from the 150s B.C. and at the hillfort of Entremont (France), thought to have been attacked in 123&ndash122 B.C. Peter Connolly&rsquos reconstructions of a short-shanked (&ldquoTalamonaccio type&rdquo) and long-shanked (&ldquoRenieblas type&rdquo) pilum weighed 1.3 kg and 1.7 kg respectively (Connolly 2000: 45).

The pilum so far described was perhaps Polybius&rsquos heavy version. Connolly has suggested that these could have been &ldquoa short range weapon to be used from a rampart or tower from which they would be thrown downward&rdquo (Connolly 1997: 44) equally, they were sturdy enough to be used as thrusting spears, whose unique design could be guaranteed to do lethal damage even after punching through a shield.

Archaeological finds from the necropolis at Montefortino (Italy), as well as from Renieblas III and &Scaronmihel, demonstrate an alternative design, with a long, socketed shank thinning to a point at one end. In this version, the wooden haft was inserted into the socket and held in place by a single rivet. This was perhaps Polybius&rsquos lightweight pilum Peter Connolly&rsquos reconstruction weighed only 0.9 kg (Connolly 2000: 45).

The simplicity of the tip means that it is not always possible to determine whether a particular specimen has been preserved to its original length. As with the tanged variety, there is some variation in size, with complete specimens from Montefortino measuring only ca. 42&ndash51 cm, from socket to pyramidal point. Nevertheless, one example from Renieblas III measures 94 cm, while another from &Scaronmihel, although now only 74 cm, was originally recorded as ca. 93 cm in length.

It is commonly believed that the pilum was designed to bend on impact, in the same way as the smaller javelin (grosphos) issued to light skirmishers (the hasta velitaris of Livy 38.20). Polybius describes this much lighter weapon: &ldquothe wooden shaft is generally two cubits (0.93 m) in length and a dactyl (1.9 cm) in thickness, and the sharp point measures a span (23 cm), beaten out and sharpened to such thinness that it was immediately forced to bend on first impact, and the enemy could not throw it back&rdquo (Polyb. 6.22.4).

Caesar seems to describe a similar situation, in his battle with the Helvetians in 58B.C.: &ldquoThe soldiers on higher ground threw their pila and easily broke up the enemy battle line. Once broken, they drew their swords and charged into them. The Gauls were severely hindered in the battle, because many of their shields had been pierced and pinned together by the single volley of pila, and as the iron part had bent they could neither pull it out nor fight properly with their left hand encumbered&rdquo (Caes. B Gall. 1.25).

Tests, however, have demonstrated the difficulty in achieving this bending effect (Connolly 2001/2: 6&ndash7). Certainly, the pilum&rsquos long, slim point was capable of inflicting its own peculiar type of damage, as illustrated by a skirmish between Romans and Gauls near Gordium (Turkey) in 189 B.C.: &ldquothe front ranks of the legions hurled their pila at the Gauls who were positioned as guards at the gate they were not wounded, but they were perplexed when their shields were pierced right through and many of them became pinned together&rdquo (Livy 38.22).

The seven-times consul Gaius Marius was credited with an innovation in the design of the pilum in 102 B.C.: &ldquofor previously, the insertion of the wood into the iron was held by two iron pins, but then Marius left one as it was, and removing the other he inserted in its place an easily broken, wooden nail he contrived that, when the javelin (hyssos) struck the enemy&rsquos shield, it should not remain upright, but because the wooden nail broke, the haft (dory) should swing around the iron one and drag, being held fast by the twisting of the point&rdquo (Plut. Mar. 25.2).

The general logic of Marius&rsquos innovation is clear. Where, previously, Polybius had been at pains to strengthen the junction between the metal and the wood, so that the weakest point was the thin iron shank itself, it seems that Marius deliberately weakened the junction, so that a spent pilum became a hindrance to the enemy, rather than additional ammunition. Plutarch&rsquos &ldquotwisting of the point&rdquo perhaps refers to the barbed tip having penetrated a shield, it would be difficult to extricate it again, particularly when the long shaft was simultaneously collapsing upon itself like a jack-knife.

The archaeology shows that the pilum tangs were no longer designed with flanges to secure the fastening, so that, if one of the two rivets were to fail, the wooden haft would indeed swing around the iron shank, disabling the weapon completely. However, fine examples from Valencia and Caminreal (Spain), perhaps from the time of the Sertorian War (82&ndash72 B.C.), have two iron rivets still in situ, and examples from Alesia and Oberaden have an iron collar to strengthen the critical fastening point. It seems that, if Plutarch has correctly described Marius&rsquos innovation, it was short-lived (cf. Connolly 1997: 41).

In battle, the legionaries must have thrown their pila before drawing their swords. Livy describes this sequence during fighting in Spain in 207 B.C., explaining that &ldquothe Romans hurled their pila. The Spaniards crouched down in the face of the enemy missiles, and then rose to hurl theirs. These the Romans received, in their usual close formation, with shields locked tightly together then, advancing step by step, they proceeded to fight with their gladii&rdquo (Livy 28.2).

In his definition of armor, the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro explained that it was named &ldquolorica, because they used to make chest-protectors (pectorales) from straps (lori) of untanned leather, but afterward, the iron Gallica, an iron tunic made out of rings, was included in the same word&rdquo (Varro, Ling. 5.116).

It is this chest-protector (pectorale) that Polybius describes, when he writes: &ldquoin addition, the multitude wear a bronze plate measuring a span (23 cm) in all directions, which they place in front of their chest and call a heart-protector, to complete their equipment&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.14). A circular embossed copper-alloy plate, 17 cm in diameter and decorated with concentric circles emanating from a central boss, was discovered at Numantia (Spain), the scene of prolonged Roman warfare in the second century. This was probably the type of object that Polybius envisaged. The method of suspension perhaps involved Varro&rsquos leather straps, which could have been attached to the small rectangular plate, found riveted to the rim of the Numantia disk.

The pectorale was, in fact, a well-established feature of Italian armor. A colossal bronze statue of Jupiter on the Capitol had allegedly been made, after the defeat of the Samnites in 293 B.C., &ldquofrom their chest-protectors, greaves and helmets&rdquo (Plin. HN 34.43). When they were not melted down or dedicated to the gods, they will have been passed down from fathers to sons and re-used for generations.

Polybius also claims that &ldquothose men who are valued at more than 10,000 drachmas put on a cuirass made of chain, instead of a heart-protector along with the others&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.15). He is clearly referring to Varro&rsquos &ldquoiron tunic made out of rings,&rdquo which we nowadays call chain-mail. The Roman armor scholar H. Russell Robinson noted that Varro&rsquos alternative term, Gallica, indicated a Celtic origin for this type of armor (Robinson 1975: 164).

The manufacture of mail was relatively straightforward, as it simply involved interlinking rows of iron or copper-alloy rings. However, alternating punched rings with butted or riveted rings, and ensuring that each one was linked to its four neighbors, was a time-consuming and, accordingly, expensive process. Archaeological finds are rare, no doubt owing to the fact that a damaged cuirass could easily be repaired.

The previously mentioned sculptures depict Roman soldiers wearing thigh-length, sleeveless mail cuirasses, belted at the waist, no doubt in order to transfer some of the weight from the wearer&rsquos shoulders to his hips (Connolly estimated this to be ca. 15 kg). Centurions whose units had disgraced themselves during fighting with Hannibal in 209 B.C. were forced to stand &ldquowith swords unsheathed and belts removed&rdquo (Livy 27.13), a punishment designed to create maximum discomfort and embarrassment.

In combat, the shoulders were particularly vulnerable to hack-and-slash attacks, so a feature known as &ldquoshoulder doubling&rdquo was employed. The sculptures depict two versions of this. One took the form of a small mail cape, draped over the wearer&rsquos shoulders and fastened by a clasp at the front the other resembled a U-shaped mail yoke, which probably attached along the wearer&rsquos upper back and wrapped around his neck before crossing each shoulder like a broad strap and fastening onto the cuirass at the front.

The &ldquoAltar of Domitius Ahenobarbus&rdquo also depicts an officer wearing the so-called &ldquomuscle cuirass&rdquo familiar from later sculpture. Although no examples from this period survive, earlier Hellenistic cuirasses illustrate the general form, and the Greek writer Pausanias, writing during the reign of Antoninus Pius, describes one which he saw in a painting at Delphi: &ldquoin my day, this kind of cuirass (thorax) is rare, but they wore them in ancient times. There were two bronze pieces, one fitting the chest and the parts around the stomach, and the other protecting the back they were called &lsquohollows&rsquo (guala): one went in front and the other behind, and then they were fastened together with buckles&rdquo (Paus. 10.26.2). Pausanias calls it a &ldquohollow cuirass&rdquo (gualothorax), though elsewhere it is called a &ldquostiff cuirass&rdquo (e.g., Ap. Rhod. Argon. 3.1226: thorax stadios), to contrast with the flexibility of chain-mail.

Whether they could afford a chest-protector or not, every soldier would strive to own a helmet of some kind, for head trauma was usually more debilitating than a body wound. The classic western Mediterranean helmet of the period is nowadays known as the &ldquoMontefortino&rdquo type, after the dozen examples found in the necropolis there (near Ancona, Italy). Beaten in bronze, the elegant rounded conical dome of these helmets rises from a thick lower rim to a central crest knob the short, angled neck guard is typically decorated with a cable pattern and the crest knob with incised waves or scales. Two rivet holes on either side of the rim were designed for the attachment of cheek-pieces.

Few Montefortino helmets survive with cheek-pieces intact, but a fine example from Italy (now in Castel San Angelo, Rome) demonstrates how these items were hinged to the helmet&rsquos rim. Each cheek-piece was fitted, on the inside of its lower edge, with a stud for a chin strap which passed around the wearer&rsquos neck to a pair of D-shaped rings riveted beneath the rear of the helmet rim (Robinson 1975: 14&ndash15, for the method of securing the helmet).

The solid crest knob was pierced by a hole, presumably to take a crest pin, though no examples are known. Polybius explains that, &ldquoin addition to all of this (viz., the panoply), they wear a crown of feathers and three upright red or black feathers, a cubit (46 cm) in height, whose fixture on top, together with all the other equipment, makes a man appear twice as tall, and fine and striking in his enemy&rsquos eyes&rdquo (Polyb. 6.23.12&ndash13). The &ldquocrown of feathers&rdquo is most likely to have been a plume.

It seems that the manufacture of armaments, though carried out by individual artisans, was a highly organized activity, and helmet manufacture was no different. When Scipio Africanus was preparing to invade Africa in 205 B.C., he requisitioned equipment from various Italian communities: &ldquothe Arretines promised 3000 shields (scuta), just as many helmets (galeae), and a total of 40,000 pila, gaesa and hastae in equal numbers&rdquo (Livy 28.45). (The gaesum and the hasta were different types of spears.) One Italian helmet, now in Munich, was stamped with its maker&rsquos mark: Q COSSI Q (probably indicating that the armorer was &ldquoQuintus Cossus, son of Quintus&rdquo).

During the Late Republic, a modified version of the Montefortino helmet appeared, characterized by the flatter neck guard and hollow crest knob of the example from Buggenum (Netherlands). And finally, a new, simpler and lighter design of helmet was developed, which Robinson perfectly encapsulated as &ldquoa jockey&rsquos cap worn back to front.&rdquo The example from Coolus (France), which gives this style of helmet its name, has a low bowl without crest knob and a small sloping neck guard it seems to have been secured by a chin-strap, threaded through a single hole on either side of the rim. (It is sometimes also known as the Mannheim type, after a beautifully decorated German example.)

In its developed form, the Coolus-style helmet is best typified by the example from Schaan (Liechtenstein), with its bronze hemispherical bowl, flat projecting neck guard, bicuspid cheek-pieces and heavy reinforcing brow guard, now introduced for the first time. A similar example from Haltern has a Montefortino-style crest knob, demonstrating how the different traditions of helmet manufacture continued to influence craftsmen.


There are rather more sculptural representations of soldiers of the imperial period than of their Republican forebears. Many of these are tombstones, and although most depict the deceased in his everyday wear, there are several that attempt to show his arms and armor. The iconic image of the imperial legionary comes, of course, from Trajan&rsquos Column in Rome, whose spiral frieze depicts events from that emperor&rsquos Dacian Wars (A.D. 101&ndash102, 105&ndash106). However, the somewhat standardized representations there can be set against those on the so-called Tropaium Traiani (Adamklissi, Romania), whose metopes depict more individualized figures from the same period (figure 19.8).

The archaeological record becomes richer, too, thanks to the continuing excavation of forts and fortresses across the Roman world. Besides weapons and fittings from armor and shields, in many cases the finds include items of leatherwork.

As regards literary evidence, the role previously performed by Polybius in describing the Roman legionary&rsquos armament is taken by Josephus, in a digression that he inserts into his narrative of the Judaean War. &ldquoThe infantrymen are armed with cuirasses and helmets,&rdquo he writes, &ldquoand wear swords (machairai) on both sides&rdquo (Joseph BJ 3.93).

Josephus does not describe the cuirass, but archaeology has revealed that a new type of body armor consisting of strips of sheet metal appeared during the reign of Augustus. Nowadays known as lorica segmentata, its Roman name is unknown. Several examples of the iron shoulder plates and girth hoops are now known, most notably from the Corbridge hoard, which enabled Robinson to determine the true method of constructing the cuirass. However, the copper alloy buckles, tie loops and characteristic lobate hinges survive as isolated finds from across the empire, perhaps because they were prone to failure and were frequently discarded.

The lorica segmentata is, of course, prominently displayed on Trajan&rsquos Column, but in an apparently oversimplified form. It is also depicted on state sponsored monuments of the Antonine period at Rome, but the trend in tombstone sculpture toward depicting deceased soldiers without armor makes it difficult to gauge how pervasive this style of armor was.

Figure 19.8 One of the metopes from the Trajanic-era monument known as the Tropaium Traiani, at Adamklissi. The cavalryman is depicted bareheaded, but wears the standard hip-length chain-mail shirt. On his feet, he wears the characteristic openwork leather boots known as caligae. His flat, hexagonal shield can be seen behind the horse&rsquos head, and he carries the long contus in his right hand his sword is slung on the left side. Adamklissi Museum, Romania. Photo Credit: D. B. Campbell.

At the same time, the armor that Varro called Gallica continued in use. Nowadays usually named lorica hamata, it is doubtful whether the Romans ever called it this. Isidore of Seville referred to it simply as lorica: &ldquothe cuirass (lorica) is so named because it lacks leather straps, for it is woven only out of iron rings&rdquo (Etym.18.13.1). It was this type of armor, &ldquowhere the slender chains combine in solid rows to form the flexible cuirass,&rdquo that the Flavian poet Statius attributed to King Creon, in his epic about Thebes (Stat.Theb.12.775).

It has been suggested that the rings themselves were called hami (&ldquohooks&rdquo). However, in the chain-mail cuirass, the shoulder-doubling was typically held in place with hooks of serpentine form, linked to a centrally-placed fastener on the wearer&rsquos chest. It is perhaps these hooks that the first century poet Vergil mentions, when he describes the legendary armor of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, as &ldquoa cuirass (lorica) fastened together with hooks (hami) and triple-threaded with gold&rdquo (Verg. Aen 3.467 cf. 5.259&ndash260).

At any rate, the resulting mesh was remarkably effective in stopping weapons, although arrows might penetrate between the rings, and a man would still suffer from the impact of a blow. For this reason, it seems that a quilted undergarment (thought to be called the subarmalis) could be worn. But it was not only the mail-armored man who benefited, for the shoulder plates of the lorica segmentata weigh heavily on the shoulders, so such a garment would help in this instance, too.

Unusually, a complete mail shirt was recovered from the excavation of a barrack block in the fort at South Shields, where it had been preserved between layers of burnt daub during the destruction of the building.

A third sort of cuirass was constructed out of scales, sewn in rows onto a cloth undergarment in such a way that each row overlapped the row beneath. The modern name, lorica squamata, has been manufactured from Isidore&rsquos explanation, that &ldquoscale (squama) is an iron cuirass made from iron or bronze plates (lamminae) linked together like fish scales, and named from the brilliance and likeness of the scales&rdquo (Etym.18.13.2). Plates of different metals could be used for effect, and several different sizes and shapes have been found.

It was perhaps this type of cuirass that the Flavian poet Silius Italicus imagined in his epic on the Punic Wars, when he described Flaminius&rsquos armor as having &ldquotwisted hooks (hami) woven with rough iron scales (squamae) and heightened by a scattering of gold&rdquo (Sil. Pun. 5. 140&ndash1).

Along with the cuirass, Josephus&rsquos soldier wore a helmet. The bronze helmet of Coolus design had been further modified by deepening the neck guard, while the reinforcing brow guard had become a standard feature. An example from Drusenheim, near Haguenau (Alsace), is typical, with its wide, flaring neck guard, marked with the names of previous owners, one of whom specifies that he belonged to (>centuria) RVFINI LEG IIII (&ldquoRufinus&rsquos century in the Fourth Legion&rdquo). The crest knob was retained, often drilled for the insertion of a plume, but the Drusenheim example also had feather tubes soldered to the sides of the helmet just above the wearer&rsquos temples.

By the time of the Jewish War, a new helmet design had evolved, usually made of iron. Robinson believed that he could discern two developmental strands, which he classified as &ldquoImperial-Gallic&rdquo and &ldquoImperial-Italic,&rdquo reflecting their supposed geographical origins. In fact, both types of helmet continued the tradition of hemispherical bowl, reinforcing brow guard, and deep, flaring neck guard, but omitted the crest knob. Both now included ear recesses cut out of the rim, often reinforced with bronze ear guards, and the back of the head was further reinforced by horizontal ribbing. Robinson&rsquos &ldquoImperial-Gallic&rdquo helmets were further characterized by the application of decorative &ldquoeyebrows,&rdquo embossed on the front above the brow guard.

A fine example of Robinson&rsquos &ldquoImperial-Gallic&rdquo series, recovered from the Rhine at Weisenau (Mainz, Germany), was decorated with applied brass bosses, three along the neck guard and three arranged on either cheek guard. A brass crest plate, incorporating a horizontal front-to-back tube, was riveted to the top, so that a crest-holder could be inserted, while a hook fixed at the front of the helmet no doubt ensured the stability of the crest itself. A looped brass carrying handle was attached to the outside of the neck guard. Similar features occur in Robinson&rsquos &ldquoImperial-Italic&rdquo series of helmets, one of which, found at Hebron (Israel), had iron cross-bracing riveted to the skull.

Josephus continues his description of the Imperial infantryman by observing that &ldquothe sword on his left is much longer than the other one for the one on his right is not more than a span (23 cm) in length&rdquo (Joseph BJ 3.94). This short sword is clearly the soldier&rsquos dagger (pugio), for this weapon&rsquos characteristically waisted blade was normally 25&ndash30 cm long.

At the same time, the gladius Hispaniensis (or &ldquoHispanicus&rdquo) continued in use, although the correspondence of Claudius Terentianus, preserved on papyrus, shows that the weapon could simply be called a &ldquofighting sword&rdquo (gladius pugnatorius). The earlier waisted blade (the &ldquoMainz&rdquo type, in Gunter Ulbert&rsquos scheme) appears to have given way to a parallel-sided blade (Ulbert&rsquos &ldquoPompeii&rdquo type) of similar length.

It seems that, in Josephus&rsquos description, he may have confused the sword and the dagger. Contemporary sculptures, for example the Rhineland tombstones with their full-figure representations of the deceased, show that the common soldiers wore their sword on the right side, while centurions and officers wore theirs on the left.

The Pilum and Shield

Josephus writes that &ldquothe infantrymen who are selected to accompany the general carry a lance (lonche) and a shield (aspis), but the remaining legion carry a javelin (xyston) and an oblong shield (thyreos)&rdquo (Joseph BJ 3.95).

The archaeological and sculptural evidence (e.g., the Tropaium Traiani) indicates that legionaries continued to use the pilum, so it seems that Josephus has simply utilized the word xyston for this distinctive weapon. The Greek word lonche is, however, equivalent to the Latin lancea, and we know of specialist legionary troops designated as lanciarii (&ldquolance-men&rdquo) one tombstone depicts the deceased with a long quiver containing five of these throwing weapons.

Similarly, legionaries continued to use the curved body shield (scutum), rendered in Greek as thyreos. It remained concave, but where the Republican version was curved at the top and bottom, it seems that, in the imperial period, a rectangular version came into use (e.g., Trajan&rsquos Column, and the Tropaeum Traiani). It was edged with lengths of brass binding, a frequent find on archaeological sites, and the handgrip was covered by a hemispherical brass umbo. A fine example, set in a decorated rectangular plate and etched with the name of the Eighth Augusta Legion, was dredged from the Tyne at South Shields (England).

The general&rsquos selected bodyguard may have used a different sort of shield, for Josephus&rsquos chosen word, aspis, normally describes a round shield. On Trajan&rsquos Column, the standard-bearers and musicians are depicted carrying a small, circular shield (clipeus), and a leather segment of a circular cover (tegimentum) from Castleford (England) would have fitted a shield of ca. 50 cm diameter.

The Cavalry Sword, Spear, and Shield

Josephus writes that &ldquoamongst the cavalrymen, the long sword (machaira) is worn on the right and the long spear (kontos) in the hand, and the shield (thyreos) sideways along the flank of the horse, and hung in a quiver at the side are three or more javelins (akontes), with broad points and no smaller than spears&rdquo (Joseph. BJ. 3.96).

Few infantry swords had blades longer than 50 cm (the length of the &ldquoPompeii&rdquo style sword from Newstead, Scotland), but longer swords occur in the archaeological record, with parallel-sided blades measuring ca. 70&ndash90 cm. These have been identified as examples of the &ldquobroadsword&rdquo (spatha). Writing of events in A.D. 50, Tacitus contrasted the &ldquoswords and javelins (gladii ac pila) of the legionaries&rdquo with the &ldquobroadswords and spears (spathae et hastae) of the auxiliaries&rdquo (Tac. Ann. 12.35). However, it seems likely that auxiliary infantrymen wielded the same short sword as their legionary counterparts, and that it was mainly horsemen who benefited from the longer reach of the spatha. Indeed, in his description of the Roman cavalryman, Arrian claims that &ldquothe long and broadspatha is suspended from his shoulders&rdquo (Arr. Tact. 4.8) suspension was by a baldric, examples of which can be seen in sculpture (see figure 19.8).

There was not necessarily an official nomenclature of swords, however. A writing tablet written by a cavalry decurion at Carlisle (England) lists the names of cavalrymen &ldquowho did not have regulation swords (gladia instituta)&rdquo (Tomlin 1998: 55&ndash63, no. 16). The writer uses the archaic term gladium (perhaps simply a spelling error for gladius) where we would have expected the word spatha.

There was an even wider vocabulary of spears, but their defining features often elude us. Josephus&rsquos cavalryman carries the &ldquolong kontos&rdquo (or contus), perhaps intended to be used as a thrusting weapon. In infantry hands, the thrusting spear was often called thehasta (or, in Greek, dory). He also carries &ldquothree or more akontes,&rdquo which are clearly intended as missiles. The elder Pliny is known to have written an entire book about &ldquoThrowing missiles from horseback&rdquo (De iaculatione equestri: Plin. Epist. 3.5.3), but such weapons were usually called &ldquolances&rdquo (lanceae). The same writing tablet from Carlisle lists &ldquoall the names of lance-men who are missing lances (lanciae),&rdquo and further qualifies the weapon as a &ldquofighting lance&rdquo (lancia pugnatoria) (Tomlin 1998: 55&ndash63, no. 16).

Cavalrymen depicted on sculptures carry a flat, oval (or, occasionally, elongated hexagonal) shield with central hand grip. Like the legionary scutum, it had a protective cover secured by a drawstring. Such an oval goatskin tegimentum discovered at Valkenburg was designed for a shield of ca. 120 cm x 60 cm. It is quite likely that auxiliary infantrymen used the same shield, and even the legionaries on the Column of Marcus Aurelius are depicted carrying this type.

Cavalry Armor and Helmets

Josephus continues his description of the cavalry by noting that &ldquothey have helmets and cuirasses, just like all the infantrymen. The equipment of those selected to accompany the general differs in no way from that of the horsemen in the squadrons (alae)&rdquo(Joseph.BJ 3.97).

It is clear, particularly from the evidence of figural tombstones, that cavalrymen wore mail or scale shirts, no doubt to facilitate the maneuverability required when fighting on horseback. These were similar to the infantry cuirasses, with modifications to enable the wearer to sit in the saddle comfortably.

Cavalry helmets, on the other hand, are thought to differ from infantry versions, again owing to the peculiarities of cavalry fighting. The archaeological record offers various helmets that sport a deep back, a relatively narrow neck-guard, and cheek-pieces that completely cover the ears, an ideal defense when blows may be coming from all around the wearer in place of the infantry helmet&rsquos brow-guard, they have a flat brow-band. Many are ostentatiously decorated, including copper-alloy sheathing for the helmet bowl, often sculpted to represent wavy hair. Such ornamentation is thought to reflect the higher rate of pay enjoyed by cavalrymen. This classic design, labelled &ldquoAuxiliary Cavalry Type A&rdquo by Robinson, is typified by the helmet discovered in 1981 at Weiler (near Arlon, Luxemburg), and can also be discerned on several cavalry tombstones.

Another design which is thought to have been exclusive to cavalry can be seen in the Niederbieber helmet (Robinson&rsquos &ldquoType D&rdquo), with its crest like a cock&rsquos comb running from the apex down the back, and a similar one from Heddernheim (Robinson&rsquos &ldquoType E&rdquo), with its pointed peak and thick, upright cross-bracing on the skull. Like &ldquoType A,&rdquo both have all-enclosing ear-guards those of Niederbieber design lap down over the wearer&rsquos collar bone, while those of Heddernheim design wrap around the wearer&rsquos chin.

Finally, mention should be made of Robinson&rsquos so-called &ldquoCavalry Sports&rdquo helmets. One of these, typified by the example from Guisborough (England), is simply a variation on the Weiler style it lacks the ornamental hair, but elaborates the flat brow-band so that it projects upward at the front. Others, like the example from Vize (Turkey), are recognizable cavalry helmets (in this case, a Weiler helmet) with a face mask applied. It seems likely that these were used in action, and were not restricted to the parade ground.


It is often assumed that Roman armor fell out of use in the later period. However, although lorica segmentata currently seems to disappear in the mid-third century, mail and scale continued. At the same time, the old &ldquoImperial&rdquo design of helmet was eventually replaced by a simpler construction known as the &ldquoridge&rdquo helmet, in which the two sides of the bowl were manufactured individually and fastened together with a central ridge of metal cheek- or neck-guards were attached separately.

In fact, there is thought to have been a general simplification of the soldier&rsquos panoply, with a concentration on the flat, oval shield and long broadsword, and the replacement of the pilum with more basic forms of javelin. These elements can already be observed at Dura Europos, whose destruction has been placed in ca. A.D. 256. No lorica segmentata fittings were found, but fragments of iron mail and hundreds of copper-alloy scales, in many cases still mounted on their fabric backing, have survived. Similarly, the surviving swords were of spatha type, with no sign of the gladius Hispaniensis, and out of more than a dozen shields, only one was a scutum, manufactured in triple ply (like the Kasr al-Harit shield) but rather short and squat, at 100 cm by 86 cm. The other shields, constructed from vertical planks of wood, were slightly dished ovals of around 110 cm by 90 cm a thin layer of animal skin had been glued to both sides and, in three cases, elaborately painted.

The homogenizing tendency continued into the fourth century. It may be coincidental that the distinction between citizen legionaries and peregrine auxiliaries had ended with Caracalla&rsquos universal granting of Roman citizenship. Indeed, it is more likely that, in a changed world, practicalities required each soldier to be equipped for a variety of tactical situations.


Allason-Jones, L. and M. C. Bishop. 1988. Excavations at Roman Corbridge: The hoard. London.

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston. 2006. Roman military equipment from the Punic Wars to the fall of Rome. 2d ed. Oxford.

Connolly, P. 1997. &ldquoPilum, gladius and pugio in the Late Republic,&rdquo in Feugère 1997: 41&ndash57.

&mdash&mdash&mdash. 2000. &ldquoThe reconstruction and use of Roman weaponry in the second century B.C.,&rdquo in A. T. Croom and W. B. Griffiths (eds.), Re-enactment as research. JRMES 11: 43&ndash6.

&mdash&mdash&mdash. 2001. &ldquoThe pilum from Marius to Nero: A reconsideration of its development and function.&rdquo JRMES 12/13: 1&ndash8.

Feugère, M. 1994. &ldquoL&rsquoéquipement militaire d&rsquoépoque républicaine en Gaule,&rdquo in C. van Driel-Murray (ed.), Military equipment in context. JRMES 5: 3&ndash23.

Horvat, J. 2002. &ldquoThe hoard of Roman republican weapons from Grad near &Scaronmihel.&rdquo ArhVest 53: 117&ndash92.

Kimmig, W. 1940. &ldquoEin Keltenschild aus Aegypten.&rdquo Germania 24: 106&ndash11.

Quesada Sanz, F. 1994. &ldquoMáchaira, Kopís, Falcata,&rdquo in J. de la Villa (ed.), Dona Ferentes. Homenaje a F. Torrent. Madrid, 75&ndash94.

&mdash&mdash&mdash. 1997a. &ldquoMontefortino-rype and related helmets in the Iberian peninsula: A study in archaeological context,&rdquo in Feugère 1997: 151&ndash66.

&mdash&mdash&mdash. 1997b. &ldquoGladius hispaniensis: An archaeological view from Iberia,&rdquo in Feugère 1997: 251&ndash70.

Reddé, M. et al. 1995. &ldquoFouilles et recherches nouvelles sur les travaux de César devant Alésia (1991&ndash1994).&rdquo BRGK 76: 73&ndash157.

Robinson, H. R. 1975. The armour of Imperial Rome. London.

Sievers, S. 1995. &ldquoDie Waffen,&rdquo in Reddé 1995: 135&ndash57.

&mdash&mdash&mdash. 1997. &ldquoAlesia und Osuna: Bemerkungen zur Normierung der spatrepublikanischen Bewaffnung und Ausrustung,&rdquo in Feugère 1997: 271&ndash6.

Sim, D. 1997. &ldquoRoman chain-mail: Experiments to reproduce the techniques of manufacture.&rdquo Britannia 28: 359&ndash71.

Tomlin, R. S. O. 1998. &ldquoRoman manuscripts from Carlisle: the ink-written tablets.&rdquo Britannia 29: 31&ndash84.

Ulbert, G. 1969. &ldquoGladii aus Pompeji.&rdquo Germania 47: 97&ndash128.

van Driel-Murray, C. 1999. &ldquoA rectangular shield cover of the Coh. XV Voluntariorum c. R.,&rdquo in J. Oldenstein and O. Gupte (eds.), Spätrömische Militärausrüstung. JRMES 10: 45&ndash54.

Celtic Warriors in the Greco-Roman Imagination

Celtic warriors played an increasingly prominent role in the art and literature of the the Greeks and Romans from the 4th Century BC onwards. A coalition of Celtic tribes under a high-king known as Brennus invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 390 BC, and another ruler called Brennus helped to lead an invasion of Southeastern Europe with a coalition of tribes which culminated in the invasion of Greece c. 280 BC. “Brennus” was probably originally a Celtic title which became corrupted and misinterpreted as a name by Greek and Roman writers. The aggressive migration of the Celts into the Mediterranean led to increasingly intense conflicts with the Hellenistic kingdoms and the Roman Republic.

Greek and Roman authors describing conflicts with Celtic tribes noted the differences in Celtic tactics and equipment. However, these accounts are heavily coloured by bias and exaggeration. Celtic tactics were generally denigrated as inferior, feeding into Greco-Roman stereotypes about northern peoples being wild and unintelligent. Celtic warriors were considered to have foolhardy courage in battle which could quickly turn to panic when the battle turned against them. Greek and Roman authors accused the Celts of barbarous and brutal behaviour such as human sacrifice and even cannibalism. While human sacrifice was practiced in Celtic cultures, stories like Pausanias’ account of Celts eating Greek babies when they sacked Callium in 279 BC are fiction.

Celtic arms and armour were adopted by the groups they came into conflict with in the Mediterranean, such as the Thracians and the Romans. The Roman gladius is an important example of this, as it was descended from Celtic or Celtiberian swords which could be used for both cutting and thrusting. The gladius replaced the more pointed, blunt-edged swords that Romans had used until its adoption in the 3rd Century BC. There are several theories about this adoption, including the idea that the gladius was introduced by Celtiberian tribes in the Iberian Peninsula, from Celtic or CeltIberian mercenaries fighting for Hannibal in the Second Punic War, or from Gallic tribes in Europe.

The later adoption of the spatha, a longer sword than the gladius, was largely due to the increasing numbers of Celtic cavalry auxiliaries in the 2nd to 3rd Century AD Roman army, and changes in Roman tactics. Other examples of Celtic arms adopted by the Romans are the Montefortino and Coolus helmet-types.

Watch the video: Οι Βυζαντινοί Κατάφρακτοι (January 2022).