The Roman Military Mores 
Soldiers
Photo by J.Jahnige, 1997, outside the Flavian amphitheatre ('Colosseum').
The Romans were successful in the art of war from the first days of the monarchy, and that success continued until the collapse of the empire. (Many reasons account for the collapse, one of which was that the hiring of mercenaries to replace Romans weakened the military.) So successful were the Romans in the art of war that Caesar's tome De Bello Gallico has been used as a textbook in the Ecole Militaire of France. (Napoleon was a student at the Ecole Militaire, since he had been born in Corsica in the first year that island was under French control.) The United States Military Academy at West Point used the book as a text up to the Second World War.

The earliest known Roman army consisted mainly of heavy infantry. Divisions were manned according to personal wealth because an individual miles paid for his own arms and equipment. The wealthiest, looking much like a Greek hoplite, carried a hasta (thrusting spear), round shield (buckler), helmet, corslet, and greaves. Soldiers in the next three classes also had the hasta but carried a scutum (large oval shield) instead of the buckler. Each division was a little less heavily armored according to the individual's wealth.

By the time of the Punic Wars lines of march and attack had been refined. The first two lines replaced the hasta with a pilum (heavy javelin). The third line retained the hasta. The small round shield had been replaced by the scutum for all lines and all carried the gladius (a small Spanish-style sword). The wealthiest wore lorica hamata (mail armor), the others a pectorale (breastplate). A greave was worn only on the left leg. Equites (cavalry) carrying spears were added to the light javelin-equipped infantry. The famed Roman legion had been created.

By Julius Caesar's time, those who served in the Roman military did not have to purchase their own equipment. From the time of Marius (pre-Caesar) to the end of the empire the state had needed men from all levels of society. It made efforts not only to equip them but also to give them land in the provinces on which they could settle when their term in the military had been completed (usually 20 years). Although equipment was issued by the state, if a soldier wanted finer quality he could supply his own gear, and there was little uniformity in the armor. The pilum and gladius were now standard equipment for a legionary, while greaves had been abandoned. The scutum was a bit shorter and either more curved or a definite rectangle.

Who would have served with Caesar?
Officers:
Caesar, as lead general, was called dux until his first important victory against the Helvetii, after which he was called imperator.
His staff officers were legati, equivalent to a lieutenant-general of the US army today. The legati were men of senatorial rank who were assigned to command one or more legiones; to serve as special envoys (hence they were considered ambassadors); or to take charge of hiberna, the winter quarters. (The legati thus took over functions filled in earlier times by junior officers with the title of tribunus militum.)
The centurio was a non-commissioned officer in charge of a century (the equivalent of a contemporary warrant officer).

The troops:
I. Legionary Soldiers
Pedites (infantry) were the mainstay of the army. These were Roman male citizens between the ages of 17 and 46, and most served for 16-20 years. They were generally not allowed to have a wife back in Italy. Many who were stationed in the provinces for long periods of time would take local wives and raise families. Merging of the Latin spoken by these soldiers with the languages spoken in the provinces gave rise to the modern Romance languages.
  A. Legio - Originally each legion comprised 6000 men but the number was down to about 4800 by Caesar's time. The legions were numbered and their numbers visible on signa (standards) carried by the signifers.
  B. Cohors - 1/10 of a legion, or 480 men, equivalent to a battalion today.
  C. Manipulus - 1/3 of a cohort, or 160 men, equivalent to a company today.
  D. Centuria - 1/2 of a maniple and the smallest unit, comprising at this time 80 men, led by a centurion elected from its ranks. As the name suggests, originally it held 100 men.

II. Auxilia
Pedites were drawn either from nations that had voluntarily allied themselves to Rome, or that had been conquered by Rome, or from mercenaries. Within the auxilia were
  A. Leves armaturae pedites - Lightly armed infantry, usually from Gallia and Germania.
  B. Funditores - slingers from the Balearic Islands.
  C. Sagittarii (archers) from Crete and Numidia.

III. Equites
Equites now were cavalry recruited from Gallia, Hispania, and Germania. Caesar used about 4000 in the Gallic Wars as scouts, as the first line of battle, or to chase a retreating enemy. In this group were:
  A. Ala - approximately 300 horsemen divided into ten squadrons known as turmae.
  B. Turma - 1/10 of an ala.
  C. Decuria - 1/3 of a turma.

IV. Ceteri
Ceteri did not fight but were nevertheless essential to the forces.
  A. Calones - slaves who performed daily tasks
  B. Mercatores - traders who provided PX services
  C. Muliones - caretakers of the pack animals and impedimenta (baggage)
  D. Exploratores - scouts
  E. Speculatores - spies

This summary is but a start, and I invite students to add to this site. Discuss the weapons used, the armor worn, the ancillary gear carried, the setup of a camp, building temporary bridges, or military techniques such as the testudino. Send your suggestions for topics and request for a grading rubric to Joan Jahnige, jjahnige@ket.org. This is suggested primarily to my students, but any interested party may contribute to this page.

Do you know what it means to 'walk the extra mile'?

Principal sources:
John Warry, Warfare in the Classical World by John Warry, St. Martins Press, New York, 1980.
Hammond, N.G.L., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1970.

J.Jahnige, 1/18/99 (revised 6/4/01-cam)

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