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The Contubernium ( Latin "tent community", plural: Contubernia ) with usually eight men was the smallest organizational unit in the ancient Roman army (in the early Republic this was still the Decurie with ten men).

Military importance

A contubernium not only shared a leather tent, but also a hand mill and mule with a driver and thus formed a household and combat community. The soldiers stood together in battle order and presumably formed a band of the eight-man-deep phalanx . They marched together, prepared food together and dug a section with their pila muralia when building a field fortification . In the case of misconduct by individuals, the whole group was often punished as well.

Until the reorganization of the army of the Emperor Hadrian , the Contubernium did not have a senior rank, but was headed by the senior officer. Then the contubernium was reinforced to ten men and led by a decanus . During this time, the contubernium was also called manipulus (in the course of the reorganization, the previous maniples were no longer used as organizational and tactical units). During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI. (886-912) the Contubernium numbered 16 men.

In the camps , in which, in contrast to the Marschlagers, tents were no longer pitched but fixed, sometimes multi-storey barracks were built, the term was transferred to the part of a barracks inhabited by eight soldiers. Such a team barracks consisted of ten contubernia and a centurion head building in which the commandant of the respective centurion was accommodated. The contubernium itself consisted of a bedroom, also called papilio (Latin for tent ), and an anteroom, the arma (Latin for weapons ). The papiliones could be multi-story and had hearths. The arma was primarily used to store weapons, but was also used as a horse stable for mounted units or for craft activities.

Civil meaning

In Roman marriage law , the contubernium corresponds to today's “illegitimate cohabitation”, namely between a slave and a female slave or between a slave and a freed person . These were not recognized as legally effective marriages, which in particular had the consequence that the resulting children were not related to their father (and also not to the mother, if this was a slave). Such a connection required the consent of the slave owner, who could revoke this at any time.

Do not confuse the Contubernium in this sense with the concubinage , a "de facto relationship" between free Roman citizens who had no intention of marrying.

Later meaning

In the 16th century, Contubernium was also used to designate bursa and similar institutions, such as the Collegium principis of the University of Heidelberg . The Contubernium Dorpatense was a German-Baltic student union in Dorpat and Tübingen.



  1. Latin “con” = together, “taberna” = tent, booth.
  2. a b Thomas Fischer: The army of the Caesars. Archeology and history , Pustet, Regensburg 2012, ISBN 978-3791724133 . P. 261 ff.
  3. ^ Rolf Heyers: Dr. Georg Marius, called Mayer von Würzburg (1533-1606). (Dental) medical dissertation Würzburg 1957, pp. 5-7.