Military tribune

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Attempt to reconstruct the uniform of a military tribune during the Middle Imperial Period ( re-enactment ).

Tribunus militaris or militum ( Latin ) denotes a senior officer in the Roman army and is usually rendered in German as a military tribune in order to avoid confusion with the civil tribunes .

Origin and early days

Already in the time of the kings, the leaders of departments of the cavalry are said to have been referred to as Tribuni celerum . The term tribune is derived from the tribus ("tribes"), the traditional departments of the Roman citizenship, which were headed by a caput tribu (tribal chief).

In Republican times, the first task of the newly elected consuls each year was to appoint the staff officers of the legions . Since the doubling of the army during the Samnite Wars in the penultimate decade of the 4th century BC. BC there were usually four legions, each of which received six tribuni militum . They had to have at least five years of military experience and the census of an eques (knight) and took turns in command of the Legion every two months. They were also responsible for military administrative tasks, keeping lists and similar business.

These tribunes also held the annual screening , and recruitment of troops. On a certain day, all Roman property citizens of military age between the ages of 17 and 46 gathered and lined up on the Capitol in groups of four according to size and age. The tribunes took turns choosing the most suitable men for their legion. This evacuation system ensured a uniform level of experience and quality across the entire army.

The troop officers ( centurions ) were chosen by the soldiers and appointed their deputies ( options ) and non-commissioned officers (principals) themselves. In the period between 362 and 207 BC. The choice of the 24 military tribunes was gradually passed on to the people, which has been the case since 311 BC. Was established by law. If, in times of war, a higher number of legions than was normally planned was raised, the appointment of additional tribunes remained the responsibility of the consuls.

Consular tribunes

A special form of the military tribunes were the Tribuni militum consulari potestate ("military tribunes with consular authority"). They were made in the early Roman Republic between 444 and 367 BC. Elected instead of the consuls and were thus the senior officials of the republic in the respective years. According to Livy, this construction also served to give plebeians who were eligible for this office access to the highest authority. According to current research, the military tribunes with consular authority were in practice almost exclusively patricians and their clients .

Passage office for young aristocrats

In the course of the professionalization of the Roman army in the course of the 2nd century BC BC, which in traditional historiography is associated with the so-called army reform of Marius , the traditional management structure proved to be hardly practicable. The supreme command of the armies, which were often used in long campaigns, was secured by the establishment of the promagistrates , who could lead the army in place of the consuls indispensable in Rome. However, there was no fixed regulation for the permanent command of a single legion. For those legions that were supposed to operate independently, the military commanders therefore began to appoint so-called legates ("deputies") as permanent legion commanders. In contrast to the tribunes, which were members of the senatorial or knight class who were still at the beginning of their careers and mostly had little military experience, the legates were men with war and command experience, who often also politically agreed with the person who appointed them Promagistrate or Consul. About since the alliance war at the beginning of the 1st century BC The office of permanent legionary commander became a permanent institution, so that the military tribunes, which at that time were still regularly elected by the people's assembly and formally also had the authority of command, in practice sank to mere staff and administrative officers.

In the time of Caesar , each legion was headed by six such officers. Caesar, who during his time in Gaul in the 1950s had eight to twelve legions, some of which he had drawn himself, delegated his authority to ten legates (56 BC), some of whom also commanded contingents consisting of several legions. At that time, the military tribunes were mostly young aristocrats who viewed the tribunate as a transition stage in their political career. They do not seem to have had any particular military aptitude or to have played an essential role in commanding the troops. The real importance for the military power and functionality of the Legion came from the centurions, who are praised by Caesar. From this group of veteran professional officers, higher officer positions such as that of the camp prefect ( Praefectus castrorum ) were recruited , who was in command in the absence of the legate and the highest tribune.

Military tribunes of the imperial era

Tribunes of the border army

During the imperial era , the legions of the border provinces had essentially two, possibly three ranks of military tribunes, which differed in uniform and career:

Tribunus laticlavius

The Tribunus laticlavius ("military tribune with a broad purple border" on the tunic ) was a young, about 22-year-old aristocrat from the senatorial class ( Ordo senatorius ). He was the highest-ranking of the six military tribunes and ranked as the second highest officer of the Imperial Legion and deputy of the Legatus , the legion commander. As a rule, he only stayed one to three years at the post and continued his civil senatorial career ( Cursus honorum ) at the age of about 25 . The office prepared him to take command of a legion later in his career as a legate or proconsul. The Latiklavtribun had its own staff and, in addition to advisory functions, also had military and judicial powers. He led the Legion's exercises and had drills . If the legate failed , he represented the latter and then held the title of Tribunus prolegato .

Tribunus angusticlavius

There were five Tribuni angusticlavii ("military tribunes with a narrow purple border") per legion . In the ranking of staff officers they were below the camp prefect , the third highest officer in the Legion. They too were young aristocrats, albeit from the knighthood ( Ordo equester ). They also served as staff officers for only about three years and usually began their military service as cohort leaders. As a tribune, the second tier of this career, they were mainly occupied with administrative tasks. "In peacetime they carried out the order during the drill, checked the security at the camp gates, monitored the stockpiling, took care of the conditions in the sick camp and gave justice." The police station ( statio ) of the legionary camp was subordinate to a tribune the soldiers were found and disciplinary punishments were carried out. The Angustiklav tribunes took part in the meetings of the legionary staff in an advisory capacity. In battle they led two cohorts (1000 men). Following the tribunate, they were able to become auxiliary force commanders (Alen prefects). After leaving the Legion, they continued their careers with civilian imperial procuratorial offices. Overall, however, the chivalric career was markedly more military than the senatorial one and aimed at taking over a prefecture that was mostly of a military nature (e.g. fleet , police or Praetorian prefect ).

Tribunus sexmenstris

The position of the Tribunus sexmenstris ("six months serving tribune"), which probably existed once in every legion, is only poorly documented in terms of sources and difficult to assign. This tribune was probably in command of the Legion's 120-strong cavalry . The office has strong similarities with the workers' prefecture, a civil secretary and supervisory post in the magistrate of a Roman city. This office enabled local notables to become knighted. It is possible that the six-month military tribune office opened up a similar opportunity for advancement. As the seventh tribune, this officer, if any, was the lowest staff officer grade in the Imperial Legion.

Military tribunes in urban garrisons

The exact hierarchy and distribution of tasks of the staff officers in the troops that did not belong to the legions of the border army but were in the garrisons of the cities cannot be adequately determined. Here, too, there were military tribunes whose functions and ranks - presumably - were largely identical to those of the legionary tribunes. The commanders of such garrison units were called prefects, as with the auxiliary troops .

Tribunes in late antiquity

In late antiquity , after the elimination of the legate during the reign of Gallienus , legions were commanded by prefects, departments and detachments by so-called praepositi (literally "superiors"). The traditional legionary tribunes disappeared in the 3rd century and were no longer present in the time of the Diocletian and Constantinian reforms, which marked the last heyday of the classical Roman army. The military rank of tribune only reappears in the second half of the 4th century and now designates a commander of the greatly reduced legions of the late Roman field or mobile army . The cohort prefect of the auxiliary and border troops was also replaced by the tribunus in late antiquity .

Overall, the existing sources indicate that the Roman military tribune of the late 4th to 6th centuries was a senior troop officer. Tribunes of the late Roman army were subordinate to a Dux (territorial commander of the border armies) or Comes (commander of the mobile army) and commanded a separate unit or sub-unit (legion, cohort, vexillation or number ). They could operate independently or in a larger army unit. Tribunes could also be entrusted with responsibility for special services and military diplomatic missions.

In the late 4th and 5th centuries, the title tribune was the most common higher officer rank and was used variably for each commanding officer below the highest management level, sometimes in addition to the term praepositus . The corresponding Greek name was Chiliarch , which was partly used as an equivalent for the Dux . As tribunus vacans ("surplus tribune"), military tribunes could take part in a battle without their own troop command and were possibly assigned to special tasks. The officer grade tribunus is also attested in the Roman fleet and in the imperial bodyguard . In addition, the title was also awarded to gentiles , local non-Roman nobles or notables who, as commanders of allied ethnic groups ( federates ), protected the imperial borders on behalf of the Roman Empire.


  • Alfred Richard Neumann: Tribunus 2. – 4. In: The Little Pauly (KlP). Volume 5, Stuttgart 1975, Col. 947 f.
  • Yann Le Bohec : The Roman Army . From the Frz. translated by Cécile Bertrand-Dagenbach. 3. Edition. Nikol, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-86820-022-5 , pp. 38–45.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Wolfgang Blösel : The Roman Republic. Forum and expansion. CH Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-67413-6 , pp. 64, 72.
  2. Peter Connolly : The Roman Army. Translated from the English by Thomas M. Höpfner. Tessloff , Hamburg 1976, ISBN 3-7886-0180-9 , p. 10.
  3. Robert Bunse: The Roman Oberamt in the early republic and the problem of the "consular tribunes" (= Bochum Ancient Science Colloquium. Volume 31). Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, Trier 1998, ISBN 3-88476-290-7 (also: Bochum, Ruhr-Universität, phil. Dissertation, 1997).
  4. Eduard Nemeth, Florin Fodorean: Roman Military History. (= Story compact ). WBG , Darmstadt 2015, p. 43.
  5. Nigel Pollard, Joanne Berry: The Legions of Rome. Translated from the English by Cornelius Hartz. Theiss , Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-8062-2633-1 , p. 25.
  6. Peter Connolly: The Roman Army. Hamburg 1976, p. 27.
  7. Eduard Nemeth, Florin Fodorean: Roman Military History. Darmstadt 2015, p. 52.
  8. ^ A b Peter Connolly: The Roman Army. Hamburg 1976, p. 47.
  9. a b Yann Le Bohec: The Roman Army . Hamburg 2016, p. 41.
  10. ^ Yann Le Bohec: The Roman Army. P. 60.
  11. ^ Yann Le Bohec: The Roman Army. Pp. 43-45.
  12. ^ Yann Le Bohec: The Roman Army. Pp. 37, 41, 45.
  13. ^ Yann Le Bohec: The Roman Army. P. 42.
  14. ^ Ross Cowan: Roman Legionary AD 284-337. The age of Diocletian and Constantine the Great. Osprey Publishing (Warrior 175), Oxford 2015, ISBN 978-1-4728-0668-0 , p. 35 f.
  15. a b c Benjamin Knör: The late antique officer corps. P. 55 f.