ANCIENT ROMAN ARMY

ROMAN ARMY


testudo (tortoise) formation

The Romans had a huge standing army and reserve forces of several hundred thousand men. Each legion consisted of 5,000 infantrymen and 120 cavalry. "Legions," wrote historian Timothy Foote, "were self sufficient units, and their men doubled in more specialties (135) than Boy Scouts have merit badges. There were men trained in baking and bookkeeping, in carpentry, cobbling and plumbing, in music and medicine and signaling, not to mention the latest method of conducting a siege...Apart from fighting, what the legion did best was building. Men of the legions worked---as they marched or fought---at a regular pace, pretty much from sunrise to sunset, without weekends of holidays, except for special days devoted to religious festivals." [Source: Timothy Foote, Smithsonian, April 1985]

Every citizen between the ages of seventeen and forty-five was obliged to serve in the army, when the public service required it. In early times the wars lasted only for a short period, and consisted in ravaging the fields of the enemy; and the soldier’s reward was the booty which he was able to capture. But after the siege of Veii, the term of service became longer, and it became necessary to give to the soldiers regular pay. This pay, with the prospect of plunder and of a share in the allotment of conquered land; furnished a strong motive to render faithful service. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Roman legionaries marched with heavy body armor, a sword, javelin and shield and carried 60 pound pack with provisions and other gear. Soldiers who died on the battlefield were collected and collectively buried by their comrades. Romans traditionally incorporated the barbarian contingents into their army. At the end of the 4th century Goths were allowed to enter the empire to keep them pacified, This gave them a beachhead to mount full scale invasions in 405 after displacement by the Huns. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Order of Battle

In case of war in the Republican Era, it was customary to raise four legions, two for each consul. Each legion was composed of thirty maniples, or companies, of heavy-armed troops,—twenty maniples consisting of one hundred and twenty men each, and ten maniples of sixty men each,—making in all three thousand heavy-armed troops. There were also twelve hundred light-armed troops, not organized in maniples. The whole number of men in a legion was therefore forty-two hundred. To each legion was usually joined a body of cavalry, numbering three hundred men. After the reduction of Latium and Italy, the allied cities were also obliged to furnish a certain number of men, according to the terms of the treaty. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

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In ancient times the Romans fought in the manner of the Greek phalanx, in a solid square. This arrangement was well suited to withstand an attack on a level plain, but it was not adapted to aggressive warfare. About the time of Camillus, the Romans introduced the more open order of “maniples.” When drawn up in order of battle, the legion was arranged in three lines: first, the hastati, made up of young men; second, the principes, composed of the more experienced soldiers; and third, the triarii, which comprised the veterans, capable of supporting the other two lines. Each line was composed of ten maniples, those of the first two lines consisting of one hundred and twenty men each, and those of the third line consisting of sixty men each; the maniples, or companies, in each line were so arranged that they were opposite the spaces in the next line.

This arrangement enabled the companies in front to retreat into the spaces in the rear, or the companies in the rear to advance to the spaces in front. Behind the third line usually fought the light-armed and less experienced soldiers (rorarii and accensi). Each maniple carried its own ensign; and the legion carried a standard surmounted with a silver eagle. \~\

Roman Army in the A.D. First Century

The Roman-era Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37- after 93) wrote: “Now here one cannot but admire at the precaution of the Romans, in providing themselves of such household servants, as might not only serve at other times for the common offices of life, but might also be of advantage to them in their wars. [Source: Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37- after 93), “The Jewish War, Book III, .5-6, translated by William Whiston]

“And, indeed, if any one does but attend to the other parts of their military discipline, he will be forced to confess that their obtaining so large a dominion hath been the acquisition of their valor, and not the bare gift of fortune; for they do not begin to use their weapons first in time of war, nor do they then put their hands first into motion, while they avoided so to do in times of peace; but, as if their weapons did always cling to them, they have never any truce from warlike exercises; nor do they stay till times of war admonish them to use them; for their military exercises differ not at all from the real use of their arms, but every soldier is every day exercised, and that with great diligence, as if it were in time of war, which is the reason why they bear the fatigue of battles so easily; for neither can any disorder remove them from their usual regularity, nor can fear affright them out of it, nor can labor tire them; which firmness of conduct makes them always to overcome those that have not the same firmness; nor would he be mistaken that should call those their exercises unbloody battles, and their battles bloody exercises.

“Nor can their enemies easily surprise them with the suddenness of their incursions; for as soon as they have marched into an enemy's land, they do not begin to fight till they have walled their camp about; nor is the fence they raise rashly made, or uneven; nor do they all abide ill it, nor do those that are in it take their places at random; but if it happens that the ground is uneven, it is first leveled: their camp is also four-square by measure, and carpenters are ready, in great numbers, with their tools, to erect their buildings for them.

Military and Army Reorganization Under Augustus

While Augustus (ruled 31 B.C. - A.D. 14) knew that his power must have some military support, he was careful not to make the army a burden to the people. He therefore reduced the number of legions from fifty to twenty-five. As each legion contained not more than six thousand men, the whole army did not exceed one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers. These legions were distributed through the frontier provinces; the inner provinces and Italy were thus not burdened by the quartering of troops.To support the imperial authority at home, and to maintain public order, Augustus organized a body of nine thousand men called the “praetorian guard,” which force was stationed at different points outside of Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Dr Jon Coulston of the University of St. Andrews wrote for the BBC: “Augustus was able to establish the Roman army on a permanent, financially manageable footing. The number of legions was reduced from 60 to 28 (then down to 25 in 9 AD), and numerous colonies were established in Italy, in the more Romanised provinces and in areas which required tight control. Colonies became an important source of future citizen recruitment. [Source: Dr Jon Coulston, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

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Roman military size

“Legions were grouped initially in regions which were not fully subdued, such as Spain and the Balkans. But in the longer term they were poised for future expansion, as in Germany and Syria. Alongside the legions there were non-citizen regiments, permanently established on the model of legionary cohorts for infantry, and similar sized units (alae) for cavalry. Collectively known as auxilia, these units exploited the regional military traditions of the empire and its fringes to supply cavalry, archers, and light troops. They were commanded by equestrian officers - more politically reliable than the senators whose social standing was necessary for commanding citizen troops. Senators governed provinces and commanded legions, but Augustus was careful to limit their terms in office and to fill sensitive posts with equestrians, such as command of the newly formalised Praetorian Guard. |::|

Suetonius wrote: “Of his military forces he assigned the legions and auxiliaries to the various provinces, stationed a fleet at Misenum and another at Ravenna, to defend the Upper and Lower seas, and employed the remainder partly in the defence of the city and partly in that of his own person, disbanding a troop of Calagurritani which had formed a part of his body-guard until the overthrow of Antonius, and also one of Germans, which he had retained until the defeat of Varus. However, he never allowed more than three cohorts to remain in thc city and even those were without a permanent camp; the rest he regularly sent to winter or summer quarters in the towns near Rome.. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum--Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars--The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]

“After the civil wars he never called any of the troops "comrades," either in the assembly or in an edict, but always "soldiers"; and he would not allow them to be addressed otherwise, even by those of his sons or stepsons who held military commands, thinking the former term too flattering for the requirements of discipline, the peaceful state of the times, and his own dignity and that of his household. Except as a fire-brigade at Rome, and when there was fear of riots in times of scarcity, he employed freedmen as soldiers only twice: once as a guard for the colonies in the vicinity of Illyricum, and again to defend the bank of the river Rhine; even these he levied, when they were slaves, from men and women of means and at once gave them freedom; and he kept them under their original standard [i.e., he kept them apart from the rest in the companies in which they were first enrolled], not mingling them with the soldiers of free birth or arming them in the same fashion

As military prizes he was somewhat more ready to give trappings [the phalerae wre discs or plates of metal attached to a belt or to the harness of horses] or collars, valuable for their gold and silver, than crowns for scaling ramparts or walls, which conferred high honour; the latter he gave as sparingly as possible and without favouritism, often even to the common soldiers. He presented Marcus Agrippa with a blue banner in Sicily after his naval victory. Those vho had celebrated triumphs were the only ones whom he thought ineligible for prizes, even though they had been the companions of his campaigns and shared in his victories, on the ground that they themselves had the privilege of bestowing such honours wherever they wished. He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favourite sayings of his were: "More haste, less speed"; "Better a safe commander than a bold"; and "That is done quickly enough which is done well enough." He used to say that a war or a battle should not be begun under any circumstances, unless the hope of gain was clearly greater than the fear of loss; for he likened such as grasped at slight gains with no slight risk to those who fished with a golden hook, the loss of which, if it were carried off, could not be made good by any catch.

“In passports, dispatches, and private letters he used as his seal at first a sphinx, later an image of Alexander the Great, and finally his own, carved by the hand of Dioscurides; and this his successors continued to use as their seal. He always attached to all letters the exact hour, not only of the day, but even of the night, to indicate precisely when they were written.


Sacking of Jerusalem on Titus's Arch


Spoils of Wars of Getting Rich form the Roman Army

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The spoils of war went nominally into the treasury of the State. Practically they passed first through the hands of the commanding general, who kept what he pleased for himself, his staff, and his soldiers, and sent the rest to Rome. The opportunities were magnificent, and the Roman general understood how to use them all. Some of them were legitimate enough according to the usages of the time: the plunder of the towns and cities that were taken, the ransom exacted from those that were spared, the sale of captives as slaves. Entirely illegitimate, of course, were the fortunes made by furnishing supplies to the army at extravagant prices or diverting these supplies to private uses. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“The reconstruction of the conquered territory brought in returns equally rich; it is safe to say that the Aedui paid Caesar well for the supremacy in central Gaul that he assured them after his defeat of the Helvetii. The civil wars that cost the best blood of Italy made the victors immensely rich. Besides the looting of the public treasury, the estates of men in the opposing party were confiscated and sold to the highest bidder. The proceeds went nominally to the treasury of the new government, but the proceeds were infinitesimal in comparison with the profits. After Sulla had established himself in Rome, the names of friends and foes alike were put on the proscription lists, and if powerful influence was not exerted in their behalf they lost lives and fortunes. For such influence they had to pay dearly. |+|

“One example may be cited. The estate of one Roscius of Ameria, valued at $300,000, was bid in for one hundred dollars by Lucius Chrysogonus, a freedman of Sulla, because no one dared bid against the creature of the dictator. The settling of the soldiers on grants of land made good business for the three commissioners who superintended the distribution of the land. The grants were always of farms owned and occupied by adherents of the beaten party, and the bribe came from both sides.” |+|

De Re Militari

De re militari, also Epitoma rei militaris, is a treatise by the Latin writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450) about Roman warfare and military principles, methods and practices. It is only Roman military tract to survive, and was the most influential military text in the western world until the 19th century. A sort of Western version of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” it was dedicated to Emperor Valentinian and was probably addressed to Theodosius the Great (ruled 378-395) and is thought to have been written during Theodosius’s reign. Richard the Lionhearted and Henry II of England carried De Re Militari everywhere with them during campaigns, Numerous manuscript copies of Vegetius circulated in the time of Charlemagne and one of them was considered a necessity of life by his commanders. A manuscript Vegetius was listed in the will of Count Everard de Frejus, about 837 A. D., in the time of Ludwig the Just.


De Re Militari


“Flavius Vegetius Renatus was a Roman of high rank. In some manuscripts he is given the title of count. Raphael of Volterra calls him a Count of Constantinople. Little is known of his life. It is apparent from his book that he had not had extensive practical experience as a soldier.. He states quite frankly that his purpose was to collect and synthesize from ancient manuscripts and regulations the military customs and wisdom that made ancient Rome great. According to his statement, his principal sources were Cato the Elder, Cornelius Celsus, Paternus, Frontinus, and the regulations and ordinances of Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian.

“The Emperor Valentinian, to whom the book is dedicated, is believed to be the second emperor of that name. He evidently was not Valentinian I since his successor, Gratian, is named in the book. Between the reign of Valentinian II and Valentinian III, Rome was taken and burned by Alaric, King of the Goths, an event that unquestionably would have been mentioned had it occurred before the book was written. Vegetius mentions the defeat of the Roman armies by the Goths, but probably refers to the battle of Adrianople where Valens, the colleague of Valentinian I, was killed.

“It is a paradox that De Re Militari, which was to become a military bible for innumerable generations of European soldiers, was little used by the Romans for whom it was written. The decay of the Roman armies had progressed too far to be arrested by Vegetius' pleas for a return to the virtues of discipline and courage of the ancients. At the same time Vegetius' hope for a revival of the ancient organization of the legion was impracticable. Cavalry had adopted the armor of the foot soldier and was just commencing to become the principal arm of the military forces. The heavy armed foot-soldier, formerly the backbone of the legion, was falling a victim of his own weight and immobility, and the light-armed infantry, unable to resist the shock of cavalry, was turning more and more to missile weapons. By one of the strange mutations of history, when later the cross-bow and gun-powder deprived cavalry of its shock-power, the tactics of Vegetius again became ideal for armies, as they had been in the times from which he drew his inspiration.

Main Points of De Re Militari

“Vegetius unceasingly emphasized the importance of constant drill and severe discipline and this aspect of his work was very tiresome to the soldiers of the middle ages, the feudal system lending itself but poorly to discipline. "Victory in war," he states in his opening sentence, "does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will insure it." His first book is devoted to the selection, training and discipline of recruits. He insists upon the utmost meticulousness in drill. "No part of drill is more essential in action than for soldiers to keep their ranks with the greatest exactness." His description of the many arms which the Roman soldier was required to become expert in reminds one of the almost innumerable duties of the present day infantryman. Recruits were to be hardened so as to be able to march twenty miles in half a summer's day at ordinary step and twenty-four miles at quick step. It was the ancient regulation that practice marches of this distance must be made three times a month.


De Re Militari


“The second book deals with the organization and officers of the legion, the ancient system of promotion, and how to form the legion for battle. We find the Romans provided for soldier's deposits, just as is done in the American army today; that guard and duty rosters were kept in those days as now; and that the Roman system of guard duty is only slig.htly different from our manual for interior guard duty. The field music is described and is an ornamental progenitor of that in use in United States. The legion owed its success, according to Vegetius, to its arms and its machines, as well as to the bravery of its soldiers. The legion had fifty-five ballista for throwing darts and ten onagri, drawn by oxen, for throwing stones. Every legion carried its ponton equipment, "small boats hollowed out of a single piece of cimber, with long cables or chains to fasten them together." And in addition were "whatever is necessary for every kind of service, that the encampments may have all the strength and conveniences of a fortified city." Trains of workmen were provided to perform all the duties now performed by the various services in armies.

“The third book deals with tactics and strategy and it was this portion of Vegetius that influenced war in the Middle Ages so greatly. He explains the use of reserves, attributing this invention to the Spartans, from whom the Romans adopted it. "It is much better to have several bodies of reserves than to extend your front too much" - an injunction as good today as when it was written. Encircling pursuit is described. The terrain is not overlooked. "The nature of the ground is often of more consequence than courage." The enemy should be estimated carefully. "It is essential to know the character of the enemy and of their principal officers-whether they be rash or cautious, enterprising or timid, whether they fight from careful calculation or from chance."

“Vegetius' work is filled with maxims that have become a part of our everyday life. "He, therefore, who aspires to peace should prepare for war." "The ancients preferred discipline to numbers." "In the midst of peace, war is looked upon as an object too distant to merit consideration." "Few men are born brave; many become so through training and force of discipline."

“Vegetius was a reformer who attempted to restore the degenerate Romans of the 4th Century to the military virtues of the ancients, whom he never ceases to laud. His little book was made short and easy to read, so as not to frighten, by a too arduous text, the readers whom he hoped to convince. He constantly gives the example of the " Ancients" to his contemporaries. The result is a sort of perfume of actuality, which had much to do with his success. It still is interesting reading and still is the subject of modern commentaries.



Roman Military Divisions: Cavalry, Infantry, Marine

Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450) wrote in “De Re Militari” (“Military Institutions of the Romans”): “The military establishment consists of three parts, the cavalry, infantry and marine. The wings of cavalry were so called from their similitude to wings in their extension on both sides of the main body for its protection. They are now called vexillations from the kind of standards peculiar to them. The legionary horse are bodies particularly annexed to each legion, and of a different kind; and on their model were organized the cavalry called Ocreati, from the light boots they wear. [Source: De Re Militari (Military Institutions of the Romans) by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450), written around A.D. 390. translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clarke Text British translation published in 1767. Etext version by Mads Brevik (2001) digitalattic.org]

The fleet consists of two divisions, the one of men of war called Liburnae, and the other of armed sloops. The cavalry are designed for plains. Fleets are employed for the protection of seas and rivers. The infantry are proper for the defense of eminences, for the garrisons of cities and are equally serviceable in plain and in uneven ground. The latter, therefore, from their facility of acting everywhere, are certainly the most useful and necessary troops to a state exclusively of the consideration of their being maintained at a less expense.

The infantry are divided into two corps, the legions and auxiliaries, the latter of which are furnished by allies or confederates. The peculiar strength of the Romans always consisted in the excellent organization of their legions. They were so denominated ab eligendo, from the care and exactness used in the choice of the soldiers. The number of legionary troops in an army is generally much more considerable than that of the auxiliaries.

Roman Cavalry And Its Weapons

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “The cavalry is divided also into ten parts or troops. In each of these, three captains first are chosen; who afterwards appoint three other officers to conduct the rear. The first of the captains commands the whole troop. The other two hold the rank and office of decurions; and all of them are called by that name. In the absence of the first captain, the next in order takes the entire command. The manner in which these troops are armed is at this time the same as that of the Greeks. But anciently it was very different. For, first, they wore no armor upon their bodies; but were covered, in the time of action, with only an undergarment. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]


“In this method, they were able indeed to descend from their horses, or leap up again upon them, with greater quickness and facility; but, as they were almost naked, they were too much exposed to danger in all those engagements.The spears also that were in use among them in former times were, in a double respect, very unfit for service. First, as they were of a slender make, and always trembled in the hand, it not only was extremely difficult to direct them with exactness towards the destined mark; but very frequently, even before their points had reached the enemy, the greatest part of them were shaken into pieces by the bare motion of the horses. Add to this, that these spears, not being armed with iron at the lowest end, were formed to strike only with the point, and, when they were broken by this stroke, were afterwards incapable of any farther use.

“Their buckler was made of the hide of an ox, and in form was not unlike to those globular dishes which are used in sacrifices. But this was also of too infirm a texture for defense; and, as it was at first not very capable of service, it afterwards became wholly useless, when the substance of it had been softened and relaxed by rain. The Romans, therefore, having observed these defects, soon changed their weapons for the armor of the Greeks. For the Grecian spear, which is firm and stable, not only serves to make the first stroke with the point in just direction and with sure effect; but, with the help of the iron at the opposite end, may, when turned, be employed against the enemy with equal steadiness and force. In the same manner also the Grecian shields, being strong in texture, and capable of being held in a fixed position, are alike serviceable both for attack and for defense. These advantages were soon perceived, and the arms adopted by the cavalry. For the Romans, above all other people, are excellent in admitting foreign customs that are preferable to their own.”

Ideal Roman Army Size

Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote in “De Re Militari”: “The first book treats of the choice and exercises of new levies; the second explains the establishment of the legion and the method of discipline; and the third contains the dispositions for action. By this methodical progression, the following instructions on general actions and means of victory will be better understood and of greater use. By an army is meant a number of troops, legions and auxiliaries, cavalry and infantry, assembled to make war. This number is limited by judges of the profession. The defeats of Xerxes, Darius, Mithridates and other monarchs who brought innumerable multitudes into the field, plainly show that the destruction of such prodigious armies is owing more to their own numbers than to the bravery of their enemies. An army too numerous is subject to many dangers and inconveniences. [Source: De Re Militari (Military Institutions of the Romans) by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450), written around A.D. 390. translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clarke Text British translation published in 1767. Etext version by Mads Brevik (2001) digitalattic.org]


“Its bulk makes it slow and unwieldy in its motions; and as it is obliged to march in columns of great length, it is exposed to the risk of being continually harassed and insulted by inconsiderable parties of the enemy. The incumbrance of the baggage is often an occasion of its being surprised in its passage through difficult places or over rivers. The difficulty of providing forage for such numbers of horses and other beasts of burden is very great. Besides, scarcity of provisions, which is to be carefully guarded against in all expeditions, soon ruins such large armies where the consumption is so prodigious, that notwithstanding the greatest care in filling the magazines they must begin to fail in a short time. And sometimes they unavoidably will be distressed for want of water. But, if unfortunately this immense army should be defeated, the numbers lost must necessarily be very great, and the remainder, who save themselves by flight, too much dispirited to be brought again to action.

“The ancients, taught by experience, preferred discipline to numbers. In wars of lesser importance they thought one legion with auxiliaries, that is, ten thousand foot and two thousand horse, sufficient. And they often gave the command to a praeter as to a general of the second rank. When the preparations of the enemy were formidable, they sent a general of consular dignity with twenty thousand foot and four thousand horse. In our times this command was given to a count of the first order. But when there happened any dangerous insurrection supported by infinite multitudes of fierce and barbarous nations, on such emergencies they took the field with two armies under two consuls, who were charged, both singly and jointly, to take care to preserve the Republic from danger. In short, by this management, the Romans, almost continually engaged in war with different nations in different parts of the world, found themselves able to oppose them in every quarter. The excellence of their discipline made their small armies sufficient to encounter all their enemies with success. But it was an invariable rule in their armies that the number of allies or auxiliaries should never exceed that of the Roman citizens.

Making Sure a Roman Army Stays Healthy

Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote in “De Re Militari”: “The next article is of the greatest importance: the means of preserving the health of the troops. This depends on the choice of situation and water, on the season of the year, medicine, and exercise. As to the situation, the army should never continue in the neighborhood of unwholesome marshes any length of time, or on dry plains or eminences without some sort of shade or shelter. In the summer, the troops should never encamp without tents. And their marches, in that season of the year when the heat is excessive, should begin by break of day so that they may arrive at the place of destination in good time. Otherwise they will contract diseases from the heat of the weather and the fatigue of the march. In severe winter they should never march in the night in frost and snow, or be exposed to want of wood or clothes. A soldier, starved with cold, can neither be healthy nor fit for service. The water must be wholesome and not marshy. Bad water is a kind of poison and the cause of epidemic distempers. [Source: De Re Militari (Military Institutions of the Romans) by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450), written around A.D. 390. translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clarke Text British translation published in 1767. Etext version by Mads Brevik (2001) digitalattic.org]

“It is the duty of the officers of the legion, of the tribunes, and even of the commander-in-chief himself, to take care that the sick soldiers are supplied with proper diet and diligently attended by the physicians. For little can be expected from men who have both the enemy and diseases to struggle with. However, the best judges of the service have always been of the opinion that daily practice of the military exercises is much more efficacious towards the health of an army than all the art of medicine. For this reason they exercised their infantry without intermission. If it rained or snowed, they performed under cover; and il1 fine weather, in the field. They also were assiduous in exercising their cavalry, not only in plains, but also on uneven ground, broken and cut with ditches. The horses as well as the men were thus trained, both on the above mentioned account and to prepare them for action. Hence we may perceive the importance and necessity of a strict observance of the military exercises in an army, since health in the camp and victory in the field depend on them. If a numerous army continues long in one place in the summer or in the autumn, the waters become corrupt and the air infected. Malignant and fatal distempers proceed from this and can be avoided only by frequent changes of encampments.

Providing Provisions for a Roman Army


Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote in “De Re Militari”: “Famine makes greater havoc in an army than the enemy, and is more terrible than the sword. Time and opportunity may help to retrieve other misfortunes, but where forage and provisions have not been carefully provided, the evil is without remedy. The main and principal point in war is to secure plenty of provisions and to destroy tIle enemy by famine. An exact calculation must therefore be made before the commencement of the war as to the number of troops and the expenses incident thereto, so that the provinces may in plenty of time furnish the forage, corn, and all other kinds of provisions demanded of them to be transported. They must be in more than sufficient quantity, and gathered into the strongest and most convenient cities before the opening of the campaign. If the provinces cannot raise their quotas in kind, they must commute for them in money to be employed in procuring all things requisite for the service. For the possessions of the subjects cannot be kept secure otherwise than by the defense of arms. [Source: De Re Militari (Military Institutions of the Romans) by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450), written around A.D. 390. translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clarke Text British translation published in 1767. Etext version by Mads Brevik (2001) digitalattic.org]

“These precautions often become doubly necessary as a siege is sometimes protracted beyond expectation, the besiegers resolving to suffer themselves all the inconveniences of want sooner than raise the siege, if they have any hopes of reducing the place by famine. Edicts should be issued out requiring the country people to convey their cattle, grain, wine and all kinds of provisions that may be of service to the enemy, into garrisoned fortresses or into the safest cities. And if they do not comply with the order, proper officers are to appointed to compel them to do it. The inhabitants of the province must likewise be obliged to retire with their effects into some fortified place before the irruption of the enemy. The fortifications and all the machines of different kinds must also be examined and repaired in time. For if you are once surprised by the enemy before you are in a proper posture of defense, you are thrown into irrecoverable confusion, and you can no longer draw any assistance from the neighboring places, all communication with them being cut off. But a faithful management of the magazines and a frugal distribution of the provisions, with proper precautions taken at first, will insure sufficient plenty. When provisions once begin to fail, parsimony is ill-timed and comes too late.

“On difficult expeditions the ancients distributed the provisions at a fixed allowance to each man without distinction of rank; and when the emergency was past, the government accounted for the full proportions. The troops should never want wood and forage in winter or water in summer. They should have corn, wine, vinegar, and even salt, in plenty at all times. Cities and fortresses are garrisoned by such mcn as are least fit for thc service of the field. They arc provided with all sorts of arnms, arrows, fustibali, slings, stones, onagri and balistae for their defense. Great caution is requisite that the unsuspecting simplicity of the inhabitants be not imposed on by the treachery or perjury of the enemy, for pretended conferences and deceitful appearance of truces have often been more fatal than force. By observing the foregoing precautions, the besieged may have it in their power to ruin the enemy by famine, if he keeps his troops together, and if he divides.them, by frequent sallies and surprises.

Methods to Prevent Mutiny in an Army


Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote in “De Re Militari”: “An army drawn together from different parts sometimes is disposed to mutiny. And the troops, though not inclined to fight, pretend to be angry at not being led against the enemy. Such seditious dispositions principally show themselves in those who have lived in their quarters in idleness and effeminacy. These men, unaccustomed to the necessary fatigue of the field, are disgusted at its severity. Their ignorance of discipline makes them afraid of action and inspires them with insolence. [Source: De Re Militari (Military Institutions of the Romans) by Flavius Vegetius Renatus (died A.D. 450), written around A.D. 390. translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clarke Text British translation published in 1767. Etext version by Mads Brevik (2001) digitalattic.org]

“There are several remedies for this evil. While the troops are yet separated and each corps continues in its respective quarters, let the tribunes, their lieutenants and the officers in genera4 make it their business to keep up so strict a discipline as to leave them no room to harbor any thoughts but of submission and obedience. Let them be constantly employed either in field days or in the inspection of their arms. They should not be allowed to be absent on furlough. They should be frequently called by roll and trained to be exact in the observance of every signal. Let them be exercised in the use of the bow, in throwing missile weapons and stones, both with the hand and sling, and with the wooden sword at the post; let all this be continually repeated and let them be often kept under arms till they are tired. Let them be exercised in running and leaping to facilitate the passing of ditches. And if their quarters are near the sea or a river, let them all, without exception, be obliged in the summer to have the frequent practice of swimming. Let them be accustomed to march through thickets, inclosures and broken grounds, to fell trees and cut out timber, to break ground and to defend a post against their comrades who are to endeavor to dispossess them; and in the encounter each party should use their shields to dislodge and bear down their antagonists. All the different kinds of troops thus trained and exercised in their quarters will find themselves inspired with emulation for glory and eagerness for action when they come to take the field. In short, a soldier who has proper confidence in his own skill and strength, entertains no thought of mutiny.

“A general should be attentive to discover the turbulent and seditious soldiers in the army, legions or auxiliaries, cavalry or infantry. He should endeavor to procure his intelligence not from informers, but from the tribunes, their lieutenants and other officers of undoubted veracity. It would then be prudent in him to separate them from the rest under pretence of some service agreeable to them, or detach them to garrison cities or castles, but with such address that though he wants to get rid of them, they may think themselves employed by preference and favor. A multitude never broke out into open sedition at once and with unanimous consent. They are prepared and excited by some few mutineers, who hope to secure impunity for their crimes by the number of their associates. But if the height of the mutiny requires violent remedies, it will be most advisable, after the manner of the ancients, to punish the ring-leaders only in order that, though few suffer, all may be terrified by the example. But it is much more to the credit of a general to form his troops to submission and obedience by habit and discipline than to be obliged to force them to their duty by the terror of punishment.

Codes and Signals in the Roman Empire

Adam Hart-Davis wrote for the BBC: “The Romans had clever signalling systems. On Hadrian's Wall an alphabetic system was used based on two groups of five flags, which allowed them to send messages letter by letter, and was similar to the system developed in England at the end of the eighteenth century. [Source: Adam Hart-Davis, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The Romans also had a coded system, with which they could send only one of a dozen fixed messages, depending on the time for which they showed a flag. The sender and receiver would have the same code book and identical water clocks, marked perhaps with numbers. |::|

“To send message VI in the book, raise your flag (or flaming torch at night), wait until the receiver raises a flag to acknowledge, then lower your flag, and raise it again, starting your clock as you raise the flag. When your flag points to VI, lower your flag again. The receiver should have started the clock when the flag went up for the second time, and stopped it when the flag went down; the number VI will reveal the message. The idea of using codes like this was taken up by the French, also at the end of the eighteenth century.” |::|

Multicultural Army of the Roman Empire


The Romans army, deployed a multitude of non-Romans in it military, both in the regular army as soldiers and as mercenaries. These non-Romans came from all over the Roman Empire and outside it: Greece, Gaul, North Africa, Spain, Egypt, the Balkans and even sometimes included units of former enemies such as Scythians, Germans, Persians and Parthians.

Examinations of Roman gravestones by historians indicates soldiers were recruited far from the places they campaigned. A soldier from Syria died near Hadrian's Wall, near where his Scottish wife was born. A Standard bearer from Lyon (France) was buried in Romania. A legionnaire from Austria fell in Egypt. One soldier who served until he was 50 said he fought four campaigns in Spain, one in Macedonia, and several in Italy and Asia Minor. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The rivers Rhine and Danube defined the borders of the Roman empire in continental Europe, separating the citizens of Rome from the many peoples who inhabited Germania, the Roman term for the area stretching as far north as Scandinavia and as far east as the Vistula River. The empire had never isolated itself from the Germanic peoples they called barbarians, recruiting them as soldiers for the Roman army and developing commercial and diplomatic ties with their leaders. [Source: Melanie Holcomb, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2002, metmuseum.org \^/]

“From the time of Julius Caesar, barbarians had been deployed to protect the Roman frontiers. The increasing strength and reach of the military in the later centuries of the empire required the incorporation of ever greater numbers of barbarian units—known as foedarati—into the army. By the fourth century, some 75,000 soldiers were stationed in the Roman province of Gaul (modern France), most of them Germanic. Many of these barbarians would in time return to their homeland, while others would remain with their families in Roman territories, some rising to the highest military ranks. Germanic burial rites, as distinct from Roman practices, included weapons and military equipment; thus the burial goods of Germanic graves both in and outside the empire's borders offer a rich evocation of the money, gifts, and often elaborately decorated military insignia that such service accrued to soldiers . They also give a sense of the distinctive costumes of barbarian women. \^/

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “Sometimes, of course, it was outsiders who introduced the trappings of Roman life to the provinces. This was especially true in frontier areas occupied by the army. In northern Britain, for example, there were few towns or villas. But there were many forts, especially along the line of Hadrian's Wall, and it is here that we see rich residences, luxury bath-houses, and communities of artisans and traders dealing in Romanised commodities for the military market. “Even here, though, because army recruitment was increasingly local, it was often a case of Britons becoming Romans. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Foreign soldiers settled down and had families with local women. Grown-up sons followed their fathers into the army. The local regiment became more 'British'. The new recruits became more 'Roman'. We see evidence in the extraordinary diversity of cults represented by religious inscriptions on the frontier. Alongside traditional Roman gods like Jupiter, Mars, and the Spirit of the Emperor, there are local Celtic gods like Belatucadrus, Cocidius, and Coventina, and foreign gods from other provinces like the Germanic Thincsus, the Egyptian Isis, and the Persian Mithras. Beyond the frontier zone, on the other hand, in the heartlands of the empire where civilian politicians rather than army officers were in charge, native aristocrats had driven the Romanisation process from the beginning.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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