The Roman legionary (in Latin legionarius, plural legionarii) was a professional heavy infantryman of the Roman army after the Marian reforms. These soldiers would conquer and defend the territories of ancient Rome during the late Republic and Principate eras, alongside auxiliary and cavalry detachments. At its height, Roman legionaries were viewed as the foremost fighting force in the Roman world, with commentators such as Vegetius praising their fighting effectiveness centuries after the classical Roman legionary disappeared.
Roman legionaries were recruited from Roman citizens under age 45. They were first predominantly made up of recruits from Roman Italy, but more were recruited from the provinces as time went on. As legionaries moved into newly conquered provinces, they helped Romanize the native population and helped integrate the disparate regions of the Roman Empire into one polity. They enlisted in a legion for 25 years of service, a change from the early practice of enlisting only for a campaign. Legionaries were expected to fight, but they also built much of the infrastructure of the Roman Empire and served as a policing force in the provinces. They built large public works projects, such as walls, bridges, and roads. The legionary's last five years of service were on lighter duties.Once retired, a Roman legionary received a parcel of land or its equivalent in money and often became a prominent member of society.
When Gaius Marius became consul in 108 BC, Rome was at war with the Numidian king Jugurtha. Seeing a need for more manpower, Marius eliminated the property requirements that used to qualify Romans into the army, allowing any Roman citizen to become a legionary.After the war, Marius set out to professionalize and standardize the Roman legionary. He greatly enhanced the training of the soldiers and uniformly armed them, giving Rome an armed force that did not have to be raised with every new campaign. He further gave his soldiers retirement benefits, such as land or monetary payment. However, because the legionaries looked to their generals for their rewards and benefits, they soon became loyal to generals rather than the Roman senate. This would eventually factor in to the end of the Roman republic.
As Augustus consolidated power in 27BC and founded the Principate, he further professionalized the Roman legionary and sought to break the legionary's dependence on his general. Under him, a legionary's term of service was raised to 25 years (before that, a legionary's average term of service was only 10 years) and pay was standardized throughout the legions. The Roman legionaries were also guaranteed a land grant or a cash payment at the end of his service, making the Roman legionary less dependent on generals for rewards after campaigns. Augustus also changed the sacramentum so that soldiers swore allegiance only to the emperor, and not to the general. Thus, Augustus managed to end the civil wars which defined the late Roman Republic and created an army that was broadly loyal to only the emperor.
Legionaries would expand Rome's borders to include lower Britannia, Dacia, North Africa, and more through military campaigns under Augustus and future emperors.
From the reign of Septimus Severus onward, the Roman legionary gradually lost his preeminence. Though there were multiple causes for this decline, all pointed to the gradual degradation of loyalty and/or discipline. Septimus Severus, perhaps unwittingly, began this decline when he lavished his legionaries with donatives and pay increases, recognising that they were his key to becoming and staying emperor. However, this proved detrimental to the discipline of the legionaries, as they began to expect more and more rewards from their emperors.Under Caracalla, Septimus Severus's successor, all freedmen in the Roman Empire became Roman citizens, effectively erasing the distinction between auxiliaries and legionaries. This, coinciding with the continued expansion of the Roman army, meant recruits of more dubious standards joined the legions, decreasing the quality of the Roman legionary further.
During the 3rd Century Crisis, a more mobile army became necessary, as threats arose across the long borders of the Roman Empire. As such, mounted cavalry became essential to respond to the varied challenges to the empire. Because of this, Roman heavy infantry faded further from dominance. By the 4th century, Roman infantry lacked much of the body armor of the classical legionary and used darts rather than the pila of their predecessors.
Though the legionary was first and foremost a soldier, he provided a variety of other critical functions. Lacking a professional police force, governors would use legionaries to keep the peace and protect critical facilities.As the Roman empire lacked a large civil administration, the army would often be given many administrative positions. High ranking soldiers often acted as judges in disputes among local populations and the army was an important component of tax collection. Legionaries also served to spread Roman culture throughout the provinces where they were stationed. As legionaries settled in the provinces, towns sprang up around them, often becoming large cities. In this way, as legionaries co-mingled and intermarried with the local populace, they helped Romanize the provinces they protect.
Roman legionaries served as a source of labor and expertise as well. As such, much of the infrastructure which connected the empire was built by legionaries. Roads, canals, and bridges were built by legionaries as well as more defensive structures such as fortresses and walls.Hadrian's wall, a monumental example of Roman engineering, was built by the three legions stationed in the area. Legionaries were not just limited to building large-scale engineering projects. Surveyors, doctors, artisans, and engineers within the army would be used for a variety of different civil services along with their normal military role.
Regular trained legionaries were known as milites and were the equivalent in rank of the modern private. Included in the ranks, aside from the milites, were the immunes, specialist soldiers with secondary roles such as engineer, artilleryman, drill and weapons instructor, carpenter and medic. These men were still fully trained legionaries, however, and would fight in the ranks if called upon. They were excused from some of the more arduous tasks such as drill and fatigues and received better pay than their comrades in arms.
Though Roman legionaries were predominantly made up of volunteer citizens, conscription of recruits continued through Republic era and into the Principate, especially in times of crisis. This meant that levees remained a significant part of the Roman legions.With the state providing the equipment to the recruits and no property requirements, even the poorest Roman citizens were able to join the legions. However, the army was viewed as an honorable and valued profession. With a steady pay, good retirement benefits, and even certain legal advantages, a legionary had many perks that common citizens found desirable. As such, though poor citizens could join the military, members from across the plebeian class were found in the Roman legions. Indeed, the army served as one of the few avenues of upward mobility in the Roman world.
The army actively sought out recruits with useful skills such as smiths, carpenters, and butchers. Though not required, literacy was useful since promotion to higher ranks such as centurion required a knowledge of writing.During the Later Republic, Roman legionaries predominantly came from the areas surrounding Rome. However, as Rome expanded, recruits began to come from other areas in Italy. Slowly, recruits came from the regions where the legions were stationed rather than from Italy itself. By the reign of Trajan, there were 4-5 legionaries originating from the provinces for every legionary originating from Italy.
When on the march in hostile territory, the legionary would carry or wear full armour, supplies and equipment. This commonly consisted of lorica hamata , lorica squamata , or 1st–3rd century lorica segmentata , shield ( scutum ), helmet ( galea ), two javelins (one heavy pilum and one light verutum ), a short sword ( gladius ), a dagger ( pugio ), a belt (balteus), a pair of heavy sandals ( caligae ), a pair of greaves, a pair of manicas, a marching pack ( sarcina ), about fourteen days' worth of food, a waterskin (bladder for posca ), cooking equipment, two stakes (sudes murale) for the construction of palisades, and a shovel, and a wicker basket.
After the military reforms of Emperor Claudius (circa 41 AD), each Legion would also be requisitioned a certain number of artillery pieces. Each cohort (roughly 480 men) would receive one Ballista; and each century (roughly 80 men) would receive one Carroballista.In a standard Legionary formation of ten cohorts and sixty centuries, a Legion would be equipped with ten Ballista and sixty Carroballista.
The Roman legionary fought first and foremost with his contubernium , the basic eight man unit of the Roman army. [ citation needed ]The men of the same contubernium fought, slept, ate, and trained together. This strong sense of camaraderie gave Roman legionaries a sense of pride and kept them fighting on the battlefield. The standard bearers, signiferi , were of great importance in keeping Roman soldiers in the battle. The loss of a standard was a disgrace to the century the standard belonged to. As such, standard bearers served as someone to rally around and as someone to exhort legionaries to battle.
Optiones , Roman officers at the rear of a formation, had many essential roles outside of battle. However, during battle, their task was to prevent legionaries from routing. Carrying a staff with a ball-end, an optio would force legionaries fleeing from battle back into formation. Leading at the front, centurions would fight alongside legionaries under their command, serving as a role model for his legionaries to remain in combat.
Finally, there were the rewards and punishments, which served as both incentives and deterrents for legionaries in battle. For example, the highly coveted corona civica was given to legionaries who saved a comrade in battle.However, death was the punishment for a variety of different offenses. Those who committed cowardice and dereliction of duty were stoned to death by their comrades. On very rare occasions when a whole unit displayed cowardice, the unit might be decimated, in which one out of every ten soldiers were executed. Less extreme punishments included demotions, changing the wheat rations to barley, and the removal of some identifying military gear.
Large armies would generally not begin battle immediately upon meeting. Rather, days or even weeks of redeployment and negotiation would take place before battle. Several days of maneuvering occurred before the Battle of Pharsalus began.Before battle, measures were taken to ensure legionaries were as effective as possible. These include giving legionaries their meals and resting them before the battle. Their commanders and general would also give speeches during this time. These speeches would heavily emphasize the amount of plunder and riches that winning the battle would give the legionaries, as this was a primary incentive for the legionaries to do battle. Light skirmishing would then take place, with cavalry and auxiliaries probing enemy lines before a pitched battle commenced.
The Roman legionary's three principal weapons were the pilum (javelin), scutum (shield), and gladius (short sword). Ideally, the legionaries would throw their pila first as they approach the enemy army. These pila could often penetrate enemy shields and hit the soldiers behind them.Even if the pila fail to pierce the shields, the neck of the javelin would bend, making the shield useless. This then makes the enemy vulnerable to missile fire and legionary attack. The disruption and damage wrought by pila would then be followed by the charge of Roman legionaries.
Though Roman scutum have various different designs, they all share a large metal boss in the center of the shield. This allows the legionary to not only use the scutum as defensive equipment but also as an offensive weapon. Legionaries would have used this iron boss to punch and shove the enemy combatants.Accompanying this is the gladius, a primarily stabbing weapon though it can also be used to cut. These fairly simple tools combined with impressive discipline made the Roman legionary an extremely effective soldier in the ancient world.
Though there were many different formations that legionaries fought in, they tended toward close ordered formations with gaps between formations. These gaps would allow for reserve units to enter battle or serve as avenues for skirmishing forces to retreat back behind the legionaries. During lulls in the battle, wounded soldiers can further be taken back behind battle lines through these gaps.
During the Pax Romana, a rank-and-file Roman legionary would be paid 225 denarii per year. This was increased to 300 denarii during the reign of Domitian. However, during the third century crisis, inflation and chaos disrupted a legionary's pay, with emperors often letting legionaries seize goods from civilians. Their income was supplemented by donatives from emperors either to secure a legion's loyalty or to award them after a successful campaign.Plunder and loot also supplement a legionary's income and is used as a large incentive for soldiers to follow their emperor in campaigns. At the end of their years of service, Roman legionaries received a small allotment of land or a monetary equivalent.
As the Roman empire solidified, permanent legionary fortresses were constructed and many grew into towns. These fortresses contained bathhouses, taverns, and even amphitheaters where festivals and animal displays were held. However, legionaries were not allowed to legally marry until the reign of Septimius Severus (though their spouses were often recognized), most likely because of the implicit necessity to care for the widow in the event of a legionary's death.
When first enlisted, a fresh Roman recruit (tiro) was not given real weapons to train with. Instead, he was given wooden swords and shields designed to be twice the weight of their counterparts in battle. This allowed the recruit to develop strength as he trained with these wooden weapons. Alongside battle training, the recruit was also taught other necessary skills such as swimming and setting up camp.Most of all, however, the recruit was taught discipline, and was drilled twice a day during his training period. After this period, which could last up to six months, the recruit would become a milite and sent to his respective legion.
The Roman soldier underwent especially rigorous training throughout his military career; discipline was the base of the army's success, and the soldiers were relentlessly and constantly trained with weapons and especially with drill—forced marches with full load and in tight formation were frequent. As discipline was important, infractions were heavily punished by the centurions. Punishments could range from being obliged to spend the night outside the protective security of a fortified camp, through being beaten with clubs ( fustuarium —a common punishment for 'slowpokes' during long marches), to the stoning of individuals or unit executions involving decimation. However, honors, rewards, and promotions were frequently awarded to legionaries who distinguished themselves in battle or through exemplary service.
One of the goals for strong disciplinary training was to expel fear from a Roman soldier. Fear, and the panic that often follows, is a devastating force to an army on the battlefield. The Romans aimed to remove fear through strict physical and mental training.However, a different fear was used to motivate a soldier in spite of the fear of battle; that was the fear of harsh punishment by their commanding officers. In the words of Josephus "they are moreover hardened for war by fear; for their laws inflict capital punishments, not only for soldiers running away from the ranks, but for slothfulness and inactivity".
A Roman legionary had two meals per day: The prandium (breakfast) and the cena (dinner). For these meals, the soldiers were issued regular rations consisting mainly of wheat, which composed roughly 60–70% of a soldier's total rations.This would be consumed in the form of either bread or porridge. However, while on campaign, the soldiers would cook their wheat rations into hardtack, a long-lasting biscuit.
Supplementing the soldier's wheat rations was the cibaria, rations other than grain. This included a variety of foodstuffs but mainly wine, vinegar, vegetables (largely beans or lentils), salt, salt-pork, cheese, and olive oil. However, this did not include fruit. Through foraging, trade with merchants, requisitioning, or raiding during campaigns, the Roman legionary could obtain other foodstuffs not included in his rations. In combination, the average soldier's diet was generally nutritious and filling.
Permanent Roman forts would contain hospitals, where doctors ( medici ) operated on wounded, injured, or sick legionaries.These medical personnel also isolated sick soldiers, thereby reducing the chance of a possibly infectious disease spreading through the army. Roman forts and camps were also planned in such a way as to minimize the spread of water-borne illnesses, which ravaged many ancient armies. Engineers took special care in piping fresh water to the camps and carrying sewage downstream of any watering places. Those legionaries who were seriously and permanently wounded or injured would be granted missio causaria, or a medical discharge. This discharge would come with many benefits including exemption from some taxes and some civic duties.
Legionary is also a term used for members of various military forces which have been accorded the title of "legion", although bearing no resemblance to the heavy infantry of ancient Rome. In the 18th and early 19th century this designation was sometimes accorded to units which comprised both mounted and foot components. More recently the title has been used by the French Foreign Legion, the Spanish Foreign Legion and the Polish Legions. Members of these modern legions are often called légionnaires, the French term for legionary.[ citation needed ]
The term was also used by the Romanian far right paramilitary group known in English as the Iron Guard.[ citation needed ]
The Roman legion was the largest military unit of the Roman army. A legion was roughly of brigade size, composed of 4,200 infantry and 300 cavalry in the republican period, expanded to 5,200 infantry and 120 auxilia in the imperial period.
The Crisis of the Third Century, also known as Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis, was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of barbarian invasions and migrations into the Roman territory, civil wars, peasant rebellions, political instability, Roman reliance on barbarian mercenaries known as foederati and commanders nominally working for Rome, plague, debasement of currency, and economic depression.
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Roman usurpers were individuals or groups of individuals who obtained or tried to obtain power by force and without legitimate legal authority. Usurpation was endemic during the Roman imperial era, especially from the crisis of the third century onwards, when political instability became the rule.
The Roman army was the armed forces deployed by the Romans throughout the duration of Ancient Rome, from the Roman Kingdom to the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and its medieval continuation, the Eastern Roman Empire. It is thus a term that may span approximately 2,205 years, during which the Roman armed forces underwent numerous permutations in composition, organisation, equipment and tactics, while conserving a core of lasting traditions.
The scutum was a type of shield used among Italic peoples in antiquity, and then by the army of ancient Rome starting about the fourth century BC. The Romans adopted it when they switched from the military formation of the hoplite phalanx of the Greeks to the formation with maniples. In the former, the soldiers carried a round shield, which the Romans called a clipeus. In the latter, they used the scutum, which was a larger shield. Originally it was an oblong and convex shield. By the first century BC it had developed into the rectangular, semi-cylindrical shield that is popularly associated with the scutum in modern times. This was not the only shield the Romans used; Roman shields were of varying types depending on the role of the soldier who carried it. Oval, circular and rectangular shields were used throughout Roman history.
The Marian reforms were reforms of the ancient Roman army implemented in 107 BC by the statesman Gaius Marius, for whom they were later named. The reforms originated as a reaction to the military and logistical stagnation of the Roman Republic in the late 2nd century BC. Centuries of military campaigning throughout the Mediterranean and increasing invasions and uprisings across Roman territory had stretched the human and physical resources of the Roman army. The 'maniple' militia used since the Samnite Wars (343-290BC) emerged as inadequate for the demands of Rome's expanding territory.
As the Roman kingdom successfully overcame opposition from the Italic hill tribes, and became a larger state, the age of tyranny in the eastern Mediterranean began to subside. Inspired by the idea of new constitutions arising there, the Roman populace threw off the yoke of tyranny and established a republic. The army was now facing threats from all of Europe and could only respond through change. This article covers the military establishment of the Roman Republic. For previous changes in the Roman army, see military establishment of the Roman kingdom.
Roman military personal equipment was produced in small numbers to established patterns, and used in an established manner. These standard patterns and uses were called the res militaris or disciplina. Its regular practice during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire led to military excellence and victory. The equipment gave the Romans a very distinct advantage over their barbarian enemies, especially so in the case of armour. This does not mean that every Roman soldier had better equipment than the richer men among his opponents. According to Edward Luttwak, Roman equipment was not of a better quality than that used by the majority of Rome's adversaries. Other historians and writers have stated that the Roman army's need for large quantities of "mass produced" equipment after the Marian Reforms and subsequent civil wars led to a decline in the quality of Roman equipment compared to the earlier Republican era:
"The production of these kinds of helmets of Italic tradition decreased in quality because of the demands of equipping huge armies, especially during civil wars...The bad quality of these helmets is recorded by the sources describing how sometimes they were covered by wicker protections, like those of Pompeius' soldiers during the siege of Dyrrachium in 48 BC, which were seriously damaged by the missiles of Caesar's slingers and archers."
"It would appear that armour quality suffered at times when mass production methods were being used to meet the increased demand ..." and "...the reduced size curiasses would also have been quicker and cheaper to produce, which may have been a deciding factor at times of financial crisis, or where large bodies of men were required to be mobilized at short notice, possibly reflected in the poor-quality, mass produced iron helmets of Imperial Italic type C, as found, for example, in the River Po at Cremona, associated with the Civil Wars of AD 69 AD; Russel-Robinson, 1975, 67"
"Up until then, the quality of helmets had been fairly consistent and the bowls well decorated and finished. However, after the Marian Reforms, with their resultant influx of the poorest citizens into the army, there must inevitably have been a massive demand for cheaper equipment, a situation which can only have been exacerbated by the Civil Wars..."
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The structural history of the Roman military concerns the major transformations in the organization and constitution of ancient Rome's armed forces, "the most effective and long-lived military institution known to history." From its origins around 800 BC to its final dissolution in AD 476 with the demise of the Western Roman Empire, Rome's military organization underwent substantial structural change. At the highest level of structure, the forces were split into the Roman army and the Roman navy, although these two branches were less distinct than in many modern national defense forces. Within the top levels of both army and navy, structural changes occurred as a result of both positive military reform and organic structural evolution. These changes can be divided into four distinct phases.
As with most other military forces the Roman military adopted an extensive list of decorations for military gallantry and likewise a range of punishments for military transgressions.
In modern scholarship, the "late" period of the Roman army begins with the accession of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 284, and ends in 476 with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, being roughly coterminous with the Dominate. During the period 395–476, the army of the Roman Empire's western half progressively disintegrated, while its counterpart in the East, known as the East Roman army remained largely intact in size and structure until the reign of Justinian I.
Hastati were a class of infantry employed in the armies of the early Roman Republic who originally fought as spearmen, and later as swordsmen. These soldiers were the staple unit after Rome threw off Etruscan rule. They were originally some of the poorest men in the legion, and could afford only modest equipment—light chainmail and other miscellaneous equipment. The Senate supplied their soldiers with only a short stabbing sword, the gladius, and their distinctive squared shield, the scutum. The hastatus was typically equipped with these, and one or two soft iron tipped throwing spears called pila. This doubled their effectiveness, not only as a strong leading edge to their maniple, but also as a stand-alone missile troop. Later, the hastati contained the younger men rather than just the poorer, though most men of their age were relatively poor. Their usual position was the first battle line. They fought in a quincunx formation, supported by lighter infantry. The enemy was allowed to penetrate the first battle line consisting of hastati, after which the enemy would deal with the more hardened, seasoned soldiers, the principes. They were eventually disbanded after the Marian reforms of 107 BC.
Roman cavalry refers to the horse-mounted forces of the Roman army throughout the Regal, Republican, and Imperial eras. The traditional Roman cavalry rode small pony-sized horses around 14 hands high.
The Imperial Roman army was the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the Roman Empire from about 30 BC to 476 AD, the final period in the long history of the Roman army. This period is sometimes split into the Principate and Dominate (285–476) periods.
The Roman army of the late Republic refers to the armed forces deployed by the late Roman Republic, from the beginning of the first century B.C. until the establishment of the Imperial Roman army by Augustus in 30 B.C.
Roman infantry tactics refers to the theoretical and historical deployment, formation, and manoeuvres of the Roman infantry from the start of the Roman Republic to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.