lunedì 13 ottobre 2008


I would like to make a very short description of the Roman army. Basicaly, there were two "kinds" of army units, from a geographical point of view: the army from Roma and the army from the provinces.

In Rome, there were three kind of units:

- the praetorian cohortes
- the cohorttes urbanes
- the cohortes of vigiles

- elite troops, defending the emperor; they had a big monthly earn.
- they were commanded by 1 o 2 praefecti praetorio, of equestrian rank, under the direct emperor's orders.
- commanding officers:
- 1 tribune
- 6 centuriones, of a lower rank
- 1 centurion (trecenarius) - of a higher rank, who commanded 300 speculatores - the emperor's personal guard
- 1 princeps castrorum
- in the cohortes there were also knights (equites)

In 27 BC, Augustus creates 9 cohortes (I - IX), and in 2 BC, the praefectus praetorio. Tiberius will make on the Esquilin an auxiliary camp, of 16 ha. The praetorian cohortes took part in the civil wars from 68 - 69 AD; Vitellius will increase their number to 16, but Vespasian will lower them again to 9.
They had a role in Commodus' assassination in 192. Septimius Severus will reorganize them, so in the 3rd century their role will fade. In 312, after the reform of Maxentius, Constantine the Great will dissmiss them.


Mainly within the cities; Augustus created in 13 AD these troops, in Rome were 3 cohortes, in Lugdunum and Carthago, 2.
They were in charge with the city guard. In the first century, they were lead by:
- the praefectus Urbis (senatorial rank)
- 1 tribune
- 6 centuriones
Their power was of 500 to 1000 men (the maximum of 1000 under Septimius Severus).
In 20 AD, they were camped in the praetorian camp until the reign of Aurelianus (270 - 275), then they were moved in Castra Urbana (on the Mars field) until the 6th century AD.


Augustus created 7 cohortes, for being a night police and firemen.
Until the 3rd century, they were not considered as soldiers.
They were commanded by a praefectus vigilium, of an equestrian rank, helped by sub-prefect.
In the 3rd century AD, they were about 1000 men.

The emperors created also other troops for their personal security:

custodes: about 500 soldiers (Germans and barbarians), created by Augustus. They were knights, commanded by 1 decurion and 1 tribune.
speculatores: 300 personal guards, camped in the praetorian camp, under the command of the praefuctus praetorio.
equites singulares Augusti: the emperor's guard, organized by Trajan as a numerus (an auxiliary troop), with 500 to 1000 men, commanded by decuriones, princeps decurion and a tribunus. They were under the command of the praefectus praetorio.
frumentarii: organized by Trajan, they were carrying letters and orders, but also spyes. They were a subdivion of a numerus, and in number of about 100 men.
statores Augusti: organized like a numerus, they were a military police.

The Legio was based on a cohors that was formed by 3 Manipuli (astati,principi e triari) positionated in 3 lines:
1 in the first line there were the ASTATI that was the youngest, more impetuous and exuberant; therefore more suited to the first collision although less experienced in the use of weapons, manoeuvre and less resilient and tenacious. The ASTATI had a great semi-cylindrical shield (SCUTUM) high around 1.30 m. and 0.80 m wide, covered with leather and reinforced iron edges. They had also two lances launched by 20 - 30 meters above the enemy before the collision: (PILUM) and GLADIO (short double-edged weapon). They used to wear metal helmet and a pectoral, whether they could afford even a shell: the Lorica Segmentata. This while maintaining the free movement of the torso and arms, was a heavy protection that penalized the fighter. the Segmentata offered a good protection against the most hits of arrows and swords, especially coming from above. But its structure made it difficult to manage during the time, for that reason in the late period it was not used anymore.

2 in the second there were more mature soldiers, the PRINCIPES that completed in experience and consistency what the first line missed. They represented the best of the Roman Army. They were armed and "armoured" similarly, but instead of carrying javelins, they used longer lances (HASTA)

3. in the third there were veterans, TRIARI, choosen of many battles that expected, with a knee on the ground, the outcome of the battle. They were armed in the same way as Principes.

These 3 groups were the heavy infantry of the Roman Empire. The rest of the army was made up of lightweight infantry (Veliti) and the cavalry.

Each soldier had to take a "survival kit" consisting of: roll, coat, 3 days food rations, bronze tin, pan for water, wicker basket to collect the earth, accepts, picket to excavate the trenches and build fortifications, everything had a total weight of 40 kg.

The strength of the Roman Empire was also the ability to make ingenieristiche works, such as bridges, fortifications or siege machines in a short time.

The balista (Latin ballista, in derived from the greek ballistēs, from ballo "pull") it is a big siege machine invented by the Greeks and mainly used by the Romans. It throwed big darts or javelins or spherical stones individually or for small groups, depending on the type of model.

siege towers