Roman legion

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The legion locations at the time of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

A Roman legion ( Latin legio , from legere "read" in the sense of: "read out", "select") was an independently operating large military unit in the Roman Empire , which most of the time consisted of 3,000 to 6,000 soldiers of heavy infantry and a small division of legions riding with about 120 men. As a factor for the success of the Roman legions, in addition to superior equipment and the closed deployment in combat formations, the intensive training and discipline in combat, but also tactical flexibility are seen. It was an essential factor in the expansion of the Roman Empire . In the heyday of the empire in the Roman Empire, around 25 to 30 legions were sufficient to secure the world empire on three continents, and these could be quickly relocated via marching streets and ships.

In the early days of Rome, Legion was the name for the entire military contingent of the city, which was raised and commanded by the two consuls . With the growth of the Ager Romanus and with special needs, additional legions were set up. Since the doubling of the army during the Samnite Wars in the penultimate decade of the 4th century BC. There were usually four legions. The legion of the classical era emerged 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 . With these reforms, the Legion was transformed from a civil army to a professional army. During his time in Gaul, Gaius Iulius Caesar had eight to twelve legions, some of which he had raised himself (56 BC). In the turmoil of the civil wars , the number of legions grew to around 70, but often with reduced strength. Emperor Augustus created a standing army whose legions were stationed in the provinces on the borders of the empire. During the imperial era , the total number was around 30 legions for a long time. In the late period of the Roman Empire , the legions' heavy infantry lost its importance, especially in relation to cavalry. In the course of the Diocletian and Constantinian reforms, which marked the last heyday of the classical Roman army, the legions were reduced to a total strength of often less than 1000 men, but their number was increased to roughly double.

In classical times, the legions operated as a rule together with auxiliary troops , usually in roughly equal numbers, which were initially provided by the Italian allies and other subjugated peoples and later recruited in the provinces and consisted of peregrines (provincial residents) without Roman citizenship . In addition to additional infantrymen, they essentially provided the contingents of mounted men, archers and slingshots . The auxiliary troops were not part of the Legion, but were led by them in action and supported them directly with their specialized skills. After the civil rights reform of Emperor Caracalla in 212, with which all provincial residents were treated as Roman citizens, the distinction between legionary and auxiliary troops in the army was increasingly abolished and lost its importance.

Roman legions existed from 6/5. Century BC BC to the early 7th century AD. During this long period of time they were subject to considerable changes in strength, composition, equipment and use. In the west they disappeared in the course of the 5th century, in the Eastern Roman Empire they finally disappeared in the 7th century with the transition from the late Roman to the Byzantine army .

The Legion in the royal times and the time of the republic

Roman royal period (around 753–509 BC)

As with all information about the Roman royal era , the available sources with statements about the early days of the Roman army were created much later and are therefore strongly colored by the legends and interests of the respective time of origin, they are mostly viewed by today's research as a later reconstruction. Much of what is presented below is therefore neither undisputed nor certain. Secure information is only available from the 4th / 3rd Century BC Chr.

The legion's origin was in the middle of the 7th century BC. . In the Greek embossed Chr Hopliten - phalanx , equipped with the lances as the main weapon and in three thousand characteristics under three tribune (tribuni Militum) was divided. There were also three hundreds of riders ( centuriae ) under the three department leaders (tribuni celerum) . In total, the attacking army of Rome at the beginning of the royal period consisted of about 3,300 men. The strength of the Legion was doubled to six thousand foot soldiers and six hundred cavalry after the unification of the hill-topping of the Palatine with the hill-Romans of the Quirinal . At that time "Legion" was the name for the entire contingent of the Roman state.

In the Legion, the citizens of the first contingent served from 18 to 46 years of age. The older generation had to occupy the city fortifications at home. The troops of the Latin allies of Rome (socii) joined the legion of Roman citizens . With the increasing strength of Rome in the 4th century BC Then several legions were put into the field at the same time.

Establishment of the Roman legion during the royal and early republican times

As part of the Servian army reform under King Servius Tullius , which also brought about the construction of the first city ​​wall of Rome , the legion was reorganized according to the later tradition ( Titus Livius ). It now consisted of 6,000 men in six ranks plus 2,400 lightly armed men. In the first four rows of the phalanx were 40 Centurien the fully equipped Hopliten (classis) , in the following two rows of ten centuries not fully equipped Hopliten the second and third asset class . The citizens of the lowest asset classes provided 24 centuries of the lightly armed, who had to fill in gaps in the phalanx if necessary. In addition, there were usually six Centuries of cavalry per legion.

Roman Republic (around 509-27 BC)

Legionnaire of Mark Antony LEG III between two standard symbols. Minted 31 BC In found condition.

At the time of the Roman Republic , the army was initially still a citizens' militia , that is, there was no standing army, but the citizens had to take up arms in the event of war (which occurred quite often). The censors divided the citizens every five years according to their wealth into five classes, which also determined the type of weapon , because the equipment had to be provided by each citizen himself. The richest came to the cavalry and were therefore called equites , the less wealthy to the heavy infantry, which in turn was divided into three classes, the poorer came to the light infantry. The poorest, the so-called capite censi (Latin: those counted by the head, since there was no other property to count), did not have to serve.

Since the end of the 2nd century BC The Legion consisted increasingly of volunteers, but there were also more evictions . In total, the Roman army comprised around 25 legions at this time, although these were often far below the target strength due to the conditions of the ongoing civil war.

The legions regularly operated together with so-called auxiliary troops . These are troops of non-Roman origin in roughly the same number. They were recruited to reinforce the foot troops and as lightly armed special units, which exceeded the quality of the Roman light infantry and cavalry and replaced them completely over time. The accurate archers from Crete and the slingers from the Balearic Islands are known . The actual cavalry, which usually formed the wings of the battle formation, soon consisted exclusively of auxiliary troops, often of Spanish and Numidian , but also of Gallic and Germanic origins.

The main task of the legion's own cavalry, however, was not deployment in battle, but reconnaissance and courier and reporting services. In order to ensure that orders were given at all times, the legionary staff officers were also mounted. As a rule slaves served as grooms and drivers . The number of grooms was estimated at 700 per legion, the driver at 300. About 1,200 pack animals were available to a legion.

First changes

In the 4th century BC The previously relatively rigid phalanx (allegedly by Marcus Furius Camillus ) was improved by the introduction of the more flexible manipular order, whereby the legions were superior to the Greek and Macedonian phalanx in later campaigns . Three meetings for several manipulas were held one after the other. The gaps between the manipulas were so large that the staggered manipulas of the rear meeting could advance between them. This resulted in a kind of checkerboard pattern and allowed a flexible battle management. Each manipula consisted of two centurions of 80 or, in the case of the triars, 30 men standing one behind the other. Immediately before the pilum was thrown and the enemy came into contact, the rear links advanced into the gaps so that a closed line of battle resulted. The maniples of the second meeting could independently fill in gaps that were too large during the advance, close the gaps that opened up at the first meeting in the battle, reinforce evacuating maniples or, if they had broken into the opposing phalanx, penetrate the intrusion and roll up the enemy. The maniples of the third meeting acted as local reserves and acted analogously to the preceding ones. A detachment of the Hastati during the phalangeal battle was impossible and could only take place in exceptional cases when the enemy retreated, but then they were usually followed up aggressively.

Establishment of the Roman Legion at the time of the Republic (after the reform of Marcus Furius Camillus)

The previous legion of 8,400 men was divided into two new legions of 4,200 men each. Each legion consisted of 30 manipulas (from manus = the hand, the flock) of two centuries each with twelve members in an open or six members in a closed order. In addition to the Roman contingent, there was an approximately equal contingent of allies ( Socii ) . A legion thus stood from the fourth to the second century BC. With around 9000 men in the field.

The Hastati made the first attack in the first meeting. The Principes formed the second meeting of the order of battle. The Triarii had a special reputation as the best-equipped elite soldiers. In hopeless situations, they provided the last support.

As lightly armed skirmishers, Velites stoodoutside the battle line. They were mostly armed with several light pila ( throwing spears ) and opened the fight. Their predecessors up to approx. 300 BC Were the Rorarii , who were armed with slingshots.

Hastati and Principes also received the pilum , while the Triarii continued to be armed with the long thrusting lance and, only three ranks deep, fought in closed order.

In emergency situations like the Punic Wars against Carthage , especially after the loss of several legions against Hannibal , the division was opened downwards in order to obtain the necessary number of recruits. Some of these were unable to procure their equipment themselves, and the state had to provide it. In the further course of Roman history, also due to the long absence due to ongoing campaigns, the Italian peasants became impoverished , which deprived the militia system of the basis, since the impoverished peasants were no longer subject to conscription.

The army reform of Marius

After the defeats against the Cimbri , Teutons and Ambrones , army reform became more and more urgent. In classical historiography, this reform was associated with the name of the general Gaius Marius . BC, although many developments started much earlier. As with most changes in the Roman army, a gradual "evolution" is assumed today.

In the course of these reforms, the organization, equipment and appearance of the legions changed significantly. For example, the legionary eagle was introduced as the troop's sole identification symbol. In addition, the minimum income ( census ) for recruits was lowered and later completely abolished. The previous classification according to asset classes was no longer required and the soldiers no longer had to procure their equipment themselves, but instead it was provided by the state. This made it possible to expand the recruitment base by making it possible for men from the poorer strata of the population ( proletarii ) to join the military.

With that, the division of the Legion into troops with different levels of armament lost its importance. Instead, seniority was decisive for assignment within the Legion. The recruits started out as Hastati , later belonged to the Principes, and finally to the Trieres . Thus, the Triarians no longer gave the troops support as the most elaborately equipped, but as the most experienced soldiers.

Furthermore, the large and slow entourage, which had been a weak point in the Roman marching order, was considerably reduced in size. The soldiers now had to carry their luggage themselves. Each Contubernium only had a pack animal for the field and bivouac equipment for building camps . The total of around 540 pack animals with their pack animal leaders probably followed their centurions or the maniples directly. The entourage still consisted of the baggage of the staff officers and the legion commander, the equipment of the specialists (e.g. blacksmith tools , surveying instruments) and field artillery ( Carrobalistae ). This entourage was no longer calculated for the follow-up supply of a legion, which was now secured with the help of the food brought by the troops.

Veterans were taken care of by the state after their 16-year service and have probably been given a piece of land since Marius. Since the respective commanders were able to politically enforce these claims against the Senate, the legionaries became closely dependent on their commanders, the so-called army clientele . The soldiers' personal loyalty to the military leader became more and more important than loyalty to the state, which contributed to the formation of private armies like those that shaped the Roman civil wars . In this respect, the Marian army reform is seen as an important factor in the fall of the Roman Republic.

Structure of a Roman legion at the time of the republic (after the army reform of Marius)

The structure of a legion after the reform of Marius:

1 legion of 10 cohorts = 3600-6000 men;

1 cohort of 3 manipulas = 360–600 men;
1 maniple from 2 centuries = 120–200 men;
1 century with 60 to 100 men

The combination of two Centuries into a Manipel was still of tactical importance in battle at that time. The command was led by the older of the two centurions (the respective ' Centurio prior '). Each legion was also assigned 300 equites . After the alliance war (91-88 BC) the Italian allies (Socii) no longer provided their own units. Since then, a legion consisted of only about 6,000 Roman infantrymen. Allies and mercenaries replaced cavalry and light foot troops (velites) .

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. Unlike the military tribunes , which were members of the senatorial or knight class who were still at the beginning of their careers and usually 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. Since the war of alliances, the office of permanent legionary commander has become a permanent institution, so that the tribunes, which at that time were still regularly elected by the people's assembly and formally also had the authority to command the legion, in practice sank to mere staff and administrative officers.

The basic features created by these reforms were not significantly changed by the reform of Augustus , which however ensured a further standardization of the Roman army.


As long as the Legion was still organized as a phalanx, it also fought as such, i.e. as a deeply staggered, closed formation in which the heavily armored citizens stood in the first rows. The enemy was first hit in a closed mass onslaught through the “lance forest” and then overcome in a sword fight by mass pressure.

With the dissolution of the closed phalanx to the manipular order or later cohort order, the way of fighting also changed dramatically. The Legion was set up in blocks like a chessboard in mostly two or three meetings . The hastati, even more lightly armored before the Marian reform, stood in the front ranks and retreated through the gaps in the lineup of the Principes after the first impact when they could not overcome the enemy. After the standardization of equipment, this tactical move was dropped and the initial attack by light infantry or by skirmishers was now assigned to auxiliary troops.

On command, the pilum was thrown closed into the enemy from a distance of about 10 to 20 paces, to open its ranks and weigh down its shields. This was followed by the fight with the gladius ( short sword ), and the legionaries went from the open to the closed order. The last meeting was the Triarii, still armed with the hasta . With their lances rammed diagonally into the ground, they created a wall that formed the last line of defense should the Principes not be able to withstand either.

The Legion of the Early and High Imperial Era (27 BC to 284 AD)


Since the army reform of Marius, the Roman army was divided into legionary troops (in which Roman citizens served as heavy infantry) and auxiliary units (auxiliary troops) of allied or subjugated peoples and changed into a professional army, which became a standing army under Emperor Augustus .

After the reform of the Legion in the Roman Empire (doubling of the first cohort to form a Cohors miliaria and subordinate to a 120-man cavalry division), the Roman Legion consisted of a standard size of almost 5,500 men.

Structure of a Roman legion during the imperial era

The legion (target strength) was made up of (see also the graphic):

Legion troops (5,500 men):
1st cohort (800 men):
5 double Centuries of 160 men each
2nd to 10th cohort (9 cohorts of 480 men each - 4,320 men in total):
6 Centuries to 80 men per cohort
Cavalry (120 men):
4 equestrian departments ( tower ) up to 30 men. They were primarily used for reconnaissance and reporting.
Officers in the staff and staff soldiers (250 men)

On campaigns, there was usually about the same number of auxiliary troops that did not belong to the legion, but were commanded by the legate:

Auxiliary troops (around 5,000 men):
Cohorts (infantry)
10 cohorts
Cavalry ( Ala )
16–24 departments (towers)
Cohors Equitata (mixed infantry and cavalry unit).

A legion including auxiliary troops and entourage, when fully occupied, had almost 11,000 men.

Detail from the Arch of Constantine with field symbols, some of which have been supplemented by modern times

The standard symbols ( signa ) enjoyed divine veneration and were therefore specially protected. On the march and in battle was every field characters , including those with SPQR Hocheitszeichen from a signifer worn. The most important standard was the legionary eagle (aquila) , which was carried and protected by the aquilifer . In particular in the 1st centurie but also in the entire 1st cohort, in which the legionary eagle was used, only selected soldiers served.

Detail of the Trajan Column with scenes from the Dacian War

The combination of two Centuries a Manipel remained nominally still exist, but lost in the course of the early empire in favor of their cohort tactical significance.

The units of the auxiliary troops were subject to greater differences than the legionary troops, as some of them had special equipment (e.g. archers) or were adapted to the typical conditions of the countries of origin. Usually the auxiliary units were not housed with the legions, but in separate camps (castra), e.g. B. on the Limes .

The legions themselves also had specialized units such as artillery, paramedics and a train to supply the legion. The extensive administrative apparatus of a legion usually also took on administrative tasks in their province. Outside of campaigns, the legions were almost constantly busy with regulatory tasks and construction work in the provinces. The administration was recruited from the active soldiers of the respective units.

From the second century AD onwards, a new type of auxiliary troops was set up, the numbers , the strength of which was considerably below that of the previous auxiliary troops (approx. One third). These troops were also used independently in smaller forts.


The Legion was led by a staff of eleven officers. The command had a legate from the senatorial class , either the governor of the province (legatus Augusti pro praetore) or - in provinces with several legions - a legatus legionis . Stationed in Egypt were legions of prefects from the equestrian commanded. A Tribunus Laticlavius (also from the senatorial class) stood by the legate's side as deputy. In the fixed camp, the Praefectus Castrorum (camp commandant), the highest rank that a non-aristocrat could achieve, ranked behind . In the tactical chain of command, five Tribuni Angusticlavii joined from the knighthood.

Behind them were the centurions of the first cohort, above all the Primus Pilus , the highest of all centurions , but also the two Primi Principes and the two Primi Hastati , the centurions of the other centurions of the first cohort. The differences, however, were particularly noticeable in social rank and pay. The centurions of the other centurions only formed hierarchies between the priores and posteriores of the individual maniples.

Within the Centuria there were still a large number of ranks that could be achieved either there or during detachments. Over 100 ranks or job titles are known, but not all of them exist at the same time. The ranks were generally indicated by badges of rank. This included narrow and wide purple-colored stripes (clavi) for generals and high officers. Over the centuries there have been major changes in this area too, so that late antique representations, for example, cannot be equated with those of the principate. The depiction of a sacrificial tribune from Dura Europos , which refers to the time before 239 AD, shows the officer in a white tunic without purple stripes. The field bandage (cinctorium) made of organic material is also one of the badges of rank of high officers with command powers and was worn over the muscle armor.

The only known, preserved Roman vexillum from the 3rd century AD. Pushkin Museum , Moscow

An interesting look at the color of the uniforms of an aquilifer and a vexillarius of the Legio II Adiutrix in the time of Caracalla is offered by a soldier's sarcophagus with remains of paint that was recovered in 2002 in Budaörs, Hungary. The Aquilifer carries in his right hand the eponymous character field with a red right-looking Legion Eagle aquila legionis , the slightly upscale swing was and is mounted on a pedestal ocher, which in turn is held by a blue ensign pole. The realism of this standard is shown by the eagle, which is depicted in this pose on the grave stele of another Aquilifer of the same legion, who fell during the Parthian Wars of Caracalla , in Byzantium . The Aquilifer from Budaörs wore a white tunic with long sleeves (tunica manlicata) that shows no insignia. The military belt is completely covered by the loosely overlying tunic. A ring buckle cingulum can be seen in the aquilifer from Byzantium. The soldier's long trousers (braccae) are colored red. The equipment also includes an ocher military coat ( sagum ) . The sarcophagus also shows a vexillarius with the red vexillum. The uniformity and colors are the same as in the aquilifer . As a further detail, red paint remains have been preserved on the visible ring buckle cingulum of the Vexillarius .

Cornicines on the Trajan Column

The common soldier was called miles gregarius ("legionnaire" is a modern word creation, derived from the Latin [miles] legionarius , which could designate all soldiers of a legion). The next level was the immune system , who were exempted from normal daily duty (guard) but were not yet superiors. In the centurion these were the hornblower cornicen and the master-at-arms custos armorum , but there was also immune in the staff service or in civil administration. According to today's understanding, they can be compared with higher team ranks.

As principalis , the legionnaire received a higher pay and a superior function. In a centuria there was the deputy of the centurion, the optio , which could also be optio ad spem , an optio that could be promoted to centurion . In terms of rank above the optio, but not as a superior authorized to issue instructions, was the signifer , the standard bearer. There was also a tesserarius , a kind of company sergeant . The tesserarius received one and a half times the pay of a legionnaire (sesquiplicarius) , Signifer and Optio double the pay (duplicarius) .

Acclamation to the Emperor and Triumph

The acclamation for Imperator could take place since the late 3rd century. Chr. Only by Roman troops. In the later imperial era, the role of the Senate in the establishment of new rulers became less and less important. During the imperial crisis of the 3rd century AD, emperors and counter-emperors were usually proclaimed by the legions ( soldier emperors ). The Praetorian Guard , which at times attained considerable power in the Roman Empire and murdered some emperors (e.g. Caligula or Balbinus ), was not a legion, but a force at disposal, similar to other units stationed in Rome ( city ​​cohorts , vigiles , imperial bodyguards).

A Roman triumph ( Latin triumphus ; also triumphal procession ) in ancient Rome was the solemn entry of a victorious general , who had been proclaimed emperor by his soldiers , into the city of Rome . In a figurative sense, victory celebrations are referred to as triumph in a wide variety of contexts. A state slave who stood behind the triumphant on the chariot held the emperor, it is said, the golden oak leaf crown ( corona Etrusca ) , which is otherwise kept in the temple of Jupiter, over the head and constantly warned him: Respice post te, hominem te esse memento (" Look around; remember that you too are human ”), also in another form memento mori .


Around 50 legions are known by name, but until the 3rd century there were usually no more than 35 legions at the same time. Each legion had a number and a name. In some cases, numbers were assigned multiple times, as each party set up its own legions in times of civil war. In the imperial era, the legions were therefore also differentiated by their surnames. Further information can be found in the list of Roman legions .

The locations of the legions changed over time as the threats to the imperial borders changed. Under Emperor Tiberius there were eight legions on the Rhine in AD 23, six in the Balkans and on the Danube, three in Hispania, two each in Africa (one of which was moved to Pannonia a little later ) and in Egypt, and four to secure the eastern border in Syria ( Tacitus Annales , 4,5). Later, the focus shifted from the Rhine to the Danube, while the Flavians rounded off the eastern border with the Parthians and stationed additional troops in Asia Minor. In late antiquity , the distribution of the legions changed again due to the reorganization of the army, whereby the legions of the late Roman Empire had little in common with those of the early and high imperial era (see below ).


Replica of a Roman hand mill

The legionnaire of the early and high imperial era had an extensive arsenal of weapons, protective equipment, entrenchment tools and personal equipment. Its equipment has undergone major changes over the centuries, due to changes in the structure of the state and the army as well as to the respective enemies and cultural influences.

During the imperial era, each tent community ( contubernium ) had a mule on which the common equipment of the tent community was carried. This was a leather tent, a hand mill (the grain was given out unground), possibly additional food as well as entrenchment equipment for setting up a marshal.

In principle, the tent community had a “mule” who, in addition to setting up the tent, also took care of the mule. Overall, the number of these "helpers" per legion is estimated at over a thousand, since the train and cavalry units in particular must have had a considerable number of grooms. The status of these "helpers" is not entirely clear; it is assumed that they were mostly slaves, but that they did have stabbing weapons for their own protection.

The legions also had various craftsmen (Fabri) who certainly carried a variety of special tools.

Weapons and armor

Reconstruction of the equipment around 70 AD
Reconstruction of the equipment of an auxiliary soldier around 175 AD.
Artistically exaggerated representation of an officer's armor

Weapons and equipment were highly standardized during the imperial era, although the quality of the individual pieces of equipment could vary. High quality or decorated weapons and armor were also given out as awards. The equipment did not differ in principle within the legion divisions (Hastati, Principes, Triarii), but only between the rank groups.


The teams received a Lorica Hamata (chain mail) or Lorica Squamata (scale armor) as body armor , and from the 1st to the 3rd century AD also a Lorica Segmentata (rail armor ). There was also a galea or cassis (helmet). The costs for this were mostly deducted from the pay. Initially, these could be decorated with a colorful tuft of hair or feathers in the middle. This option was often not available later. The most important protection was the scutum , a large rectangular shield made of wood, covered with decorated leather or felt, as well as with an iron shield boss .

The gladius , a short sword with a blade length of approx. 50 cm, which was carried on the right side, was for a long time the characteristic weapon of the Legion. In contrast to this, the centurions wore the gladius on the left. From the 2nd century it was slowly replaced by the longer spathe , which was initially only widespread among cavalry. Each legionnaire also carried two pila (javelins). In the later imperial period, the hasta (spear) was reintroduced for parts of the legion. There was also a pugio (dagger).

The cavalry and some auxiliary troops (especially Teutons) used the spathe earlier and also had modified body armor and round shield shapes ( Parma ). Funda (slingshot) and bow were also used by the legions, but usually specialized auxiliary units were equipped with them.


In principle, the centurions wore the same equipment as the teams, but probably more elaborately worked and decorated. They carried their swords on their left. In addition, they had greaves and probably didn't have a Pila with them. Her helmet was marked with a transverse comb made of dyed horse hair (crista transversa) .

Staff officers

The officers' protective equipment was very individual and primarily took into account the need for representation. In terms of its protective effect, it probably lagged significantly behind the equipment of the teams and centurions, since the representation and probably also the wearing comfort played a role. Splendid armor in the style of the Greek muscle armor made of bronze with an apron made of metal-studded leather strips ( pteryges ) were typical . A so-called “pseudoattic” type with the typical longitudinal crest, also following Greek models, was often used as a helmet. They did not carry a pila and probably no shield.

heavy weapons

Heavy weapons such as catapults , ballistae and onagers or siege towers were usually made on site during campaigns. The extent to which components (fittings, winches, etc.) were carried for this purpose is not known, but it can be assumed. The legions of empire led normally 55 light guns, called Karrenballisten (Carroballistae) with, as well as 10 Onager.

Entrenchment tool

Each Contubernium carried a variety of equipment for setting up sheltered camps. According to Flavius ​​Josephus , every soldier carried a pioneer ax , a basket, a spade, a rope, a chain, a saw and a sickle (obviously the lawn cutter) in addition to his military equipment and his pack . It seems unbelievable that the Roman infantryman could have marched with such extra weight. The research therefore assumes that this, together with the other group equipment and food, was charged to the mule of the contubernium. This pack animal was led by a mulio , who was responsible for its care, setting up the tent and possibly the preparation of food. As experiments have shown, the contubernium probably shared two hoes, two lawn cutters, a spade, two baskets and a heavy hammer. Flavius ​​Josephus did not mention the tent of the sub-unit with the iron pegs, the hand mill of the contubernium and the pila muralia (entrenchment posts), for which the majority of researchers assume that each soldier was responsible for two posts, a total of around 4.9 kg which would mean that the mule of the contubernium has been burdened with 16 stakes. This would have been possible with practically no problems.

Personal equipment

The clothing of the legionnaire consisted of the armor mentioned above and a short- or long-sleeved undergarment ( tunica ) made of wool. The cloak of the Roman soldiers Paenula or Sagum , made of heavy, felted wool, was worn over this. The often richly decorated belt ( cingulum ) was also a sword belt and marked the soldier, even if he was not wearing armor. The two military belts for the dagger and the sword were reduced to one during the 1st century AD. The sword was then carried on the balteus , a bandolier. The nailed sandals ( caligae ) were a synonym for military service , and closed shoes and boots were also worn since the 2nd century AD. A cloth ( focale ) was wrapped around the neck .

The canteen and the pot and meals were in a Sarcina transported mentioned bag.

Depending on the area of ​​application, other items of equipment were added, such as stockings, gaiters or pants ( feminalia ) . The latter were initially worn regularly by the cavalry, but from the 2nd century AD onwards they also became generally accepted in the legions. But they were not part of the standard equipment in late antiquity.

In order to be able to cover the considerable water requirement of a legionnaire of four to eight liters per day, the routes were mostly planned along lakes or rivers. Finds indicate that parts of the Augusteig Legion carried small personal wooden barrels with a capacity of up to 3.5 liters in order to be able to carry their personal water ration with them.

Marching order

The Legion in an indicated marching formation on the Trajan's Column

Sources for the marching order of a Roman army can be found in descriptions by Polybios , Gaius Iulius Caesar and Flavius ​​Josephus . Caesar was aimed at well-informed readers and therefore gave few details. Polybios and Josephus, being non-Romans, give a more complete look at the Roman organization. Their two reports differ only slightly from each other, which suggests that the Romans left their marching order largely unchanged for over 200 years.

Lightly armed infantry and cavalry were sent ahead of the army in small groups. These units had to be fast and agile. Their task was the reconnaissance and security in addition to the area investigation and preparation of the way.

Josephus then describes the vanguard , which was composed of a legion and a division of cavalry. The legion used for this was determined daily by lot.

Behind it came delegations from all the centuries of the army that marked out the camp and the pioneers to overcome any obstacles such as rivers.

These were followed by the general and his staff. Auxiliary troops, cavalry and infantry were deployed to protect it. Polybius already described the use of the allied troops for this purpose. The baggage of the staff officers was placed in the middle of the marching order and guarded by strong mounted units, as this represented a military weak point. On the one hand, luggage was a popular target that promised rich booty. On the other hand, if it were lost, there was a risk that soldiers could leave their ranks in order to recapture their belongings. The cavalry of the legions followed directly behind the general and his baggage.

Then came the legates and tribunes, followed by the rest of the army's legions. Each legion was led by its aquilifer and the rest of the standard bearers. According to representations on the Trajan's Column, these were probably accompanied by the horn players and trumpeters. The legion was drawn out on the march, depending on the roads or paths available. The luggage, especially the bivouac and pioneer equipment of the legionnaires' contubernium , loaded onto a mule by the tent community and accompanied by a mule driver, presumably immediately followed the cohort , as it is available immediately after arrival at the camp for building bivouacs and camps had to.

At the end of the procession, the rest of the auxiliaries marched in rear . A large group of sutlers , slave traders , (illegitimate) families of soldiers, etc. usually followed the army.

Examples of the marching order can also be found in Caesar's campaign against the Belgians. In contrast to Titus' troops in Samaria, Caesar had six legions form the vanguard due to direct contact with the enemy and only placed the two inexperienced, newly dug up legions behind the train. Tacitus also commented on the marching order during the campaign of the Rhine Army under Germanicus against the Usipeters , and the Greek military historian Onasander described in detail the marching order of the Roman legion in his work Strategikos at the end of the 1st century .

Depending on the march width (four or six men side by side), the march length of a legion is specified between 2.5 and 4.2 km.


Reenactment: Legionnaires at the drill

The late antique military writer Vegetius (Publius Flavius ​​Vegetius Renatus ) described the (ideal) peace education: three times a month there was a training march over 10 Roman miles (about 16 kilometers), on which the marching pace was changed in order to practice express marches and rapid retreats. In combat training one practiced open combat, the defense against unexpected attacks and assaults. Special emphasis was placed on the training on the weapon and the weapon drill and formal service as combat service to strengthen the discipline . Wooden swords and shields made of wickerwork, which were considerably heavier than the real Scuta, were used for training.

Recruits drawn in together were also trained together and put together in groups of 8, the so-called contubernium (tent community), and they were largely deprived of the opportunity to have regular contact with women. They kept hearing that they and their comrades were chosen and belonged to an elite unit; the result were groups of well-trained men, some of whom had been brutally drilled by the instructors and superiors and, if necessary, were just as brutal without hesitation. They were closely connected with one another, denied other emotional ties, and proud of the unit to which they belonged.


Failure to give orders, flight from the enemy, and desertion were punishable by death . In the event of theft or physical incapacity (e.g. drunkenness), the centurions administered the punishment . In addition, unpleasant services or the allocation of rations made from barley (which was used as fodder) could be imposed as punishments.

General punishments that occurred during routine service in the daily barracks were recorded in written morning reports. In the Tripolitan Limes Fort Gholaia, for example, a number of ostraka have been preserved from the scriptorium of the staff building , which, in addition to cases of illness, report various daily duties and, among other things, the whipping (ad virgas) of individual soldiers.

Units that had failed could be banished from the camp for some time and had to camp unprotected in front of the walls, mostly relying on gersteration. The strictest punishment was the decimation ("decimatio") of a unit. Every tenth of the unit was drawn and killed by fellow soldiers. That seldom happened, but z. B. 20 AD the governor of Africa, Lucius Apronius , had every tenth man in a centuria who had fled in battle beaten to death in this way. Units that had lost their honor may be disbanded; z. B. Vespasian disbanded four legions that had lost their standard . Entire units could also be "banished" as a punishment: After the battle of Cannae, the only two surviving Roman legions were banished by the Senate for more than ten years to Sicily, which was fiercely contested at the time. This punishment was all the more severe because at that time the army did not consist of professional soldiers, but of simple Roman citizens who were unable to manage their farms or trades during military service. With the increase in power of the army, severe disciplinary punishments became rarer, but decimations are still occasionally attested in the 4th century.

Tactics and combat management

The legion fought both in a closed order of battle, so that the individual soldier could only be attacked from the front and was very well covered by the large shield, and - in contrast to the phalanx - in a loose order of battle, in which the legionnaire had no contact with neighbors, front and had behind man. This may require greater discipline than fighting in the close ranks of the phalanx. The normal order of battle was divided into three rows. Two centurions were grouped into a maniple under the command of the senior centurion. Later they were only listed in cohorts.

The enemy was showered with a hail of javelins ( pila ) at a distance of about 20 paces . These should, in addition to adding losses, dissolve the enemy shield wall and the formation. The pilum was made of metal that was not too hard, so that it would ideally be bent when it was stuck in the opponent's shield, rendering it unusable or at least not being able to be thrown back due to the deformation caused by the impact. It is reported repeatedly that the last distance to the opponent was run with loud shouts. Before the clash of opposing lines, the Roman legion usually closed order and let the enemy crash against the wall of shields. The front rows were probably caught or pushed forward by the shields of the rear. From the cover of the large shield, the Roman legionaries tried primarily to hit the face or side of their opponent. The gladius was mostly used as a stabbing weapon. If a legionnaire fell, the man behind stepped forward and closed the gap.

The decisive strength of the Legion against less organized “barbarian” armies was its unconditional cohesion, by which everyone was covered by his neighbor, and the depth of the limbs, which prevented a breach of the line. Compared to other constellations, e.g. B. the phalanx, the Legion could be used tactically more flexible. She could pivot in battle, advance offset and (to a limited extent) retreat while fighting. As far as is known, the latter has only succeeded once (under Philip II of Macedonia) with a phalanx .

The task of the auxiliary troops was initially to weaken the enemy before the clash of the main forces and above all to cover the flanks of the legion. The cavalry of the Alae in particular had the task of encompassing the opposing battle order and dissolving it from the flanks or the rear. Later, when most of the auxiliary units had adapted in armament and equipment to the legions, this difference no longer existed.

If the formation of a legion came under attack, for example by arrows or throwing spears, the legionnaires could unite to form the well-known turtle formation (testudo) . The legionaries' large shields then protected them from above. The formation was used almost exclusively during sieges.

To prevent exhaustion, the Legion could also use the Rotate command to withdraw the entire first line through the rows to the last, while the following row advanced itself. In this way, the front line could be kept even in the event of the most violent enemy attacks, as each legionnaire of a legion only fought a few minutes or even seconds before being relieved in the front row: a tactic that Caesar successfully used in the siege of Alesia , among others .

Supply and replenishment

For a legion in action, soldiers, horses and mules are expected to need around 18.4 tonnes of grain per day, an army consisting of eight legions therefore needs 147 tonnes of grain per day, not including the green fodder for the animals. As planned, the legions carried 17 daily rations; accordingly, replenishment should not have been provided until the 18th day.

The Legion in Late Antiquity (284–602)

Legionnaire towards the end of the 3rd century in a northern province (hobby reconstruction)
Late Roman officer's helmet

Even under the Severans (193–235), the organization and equipment of the Roman troops essentially corresponded to the traditional structure. The finds discovered since 2008 from the context of the Harzhorn event , which can be dated to the period after 228 (most likely 235), include pila , caligae , a chain mail and parts of typical imperial helmets . But in the heavy defeats that the Roman army suffered against the Goths and Sassanids in the years between 244 and 260 , as well as in the almost endless civil wars of this time (see Imperial Crisis of the 3rd Century ), many legionaries lost their lives; entire units were wiped out and not set up again. Around 260, Emperor Gallienus in particular carried out far-reaching reforms: Command of the legions was now withdrawn from the senators, who were replaced by professional officers, the proportion of cavalry was significantly increased and the tactical units in which the infantry operated were reduced. That these new legions were able to cope with the changed requirements is proven by the fact that from 268 onwards the Roman army lost almost no more important battles: The Goths, Franks and Alamanni were repulsed, renegade parts of the empire were forcibly reintegrated into the empire; and finally in 282 they even managed to plunder the Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon . A defeat Galerius suffered against the Persians in 297 was compensated for in the following year by winning the Battle of Satala .

In the beginning of late antiquity , these measures were therefore systematized and completed, so that the appearance of the legion fundamentally changed. As a result of Diocletian's army reform (284 to 305), the number of legions was greatly increased (to around 60), but in return their nominal strength was considerably reduced (around 1,000 men). This took into account the fact that the legions of the previous size had not been used as a tactical unit since the 3rd century: The new, smaller legions could be quickly and flexibly assembled into armies of the size required. The equipment of the Roman soldiers also changed significantly; the pilum was finally replaced by a thrusting lance (hasta) , the gladius , which had gradually fallen out of use since the late 2nd century, finally by the long sword (spatha) ; the articulated armor disappeared, the helmets were now made according to Persian models. The rectangular, imperial scutum was replaced by a round shield, called parma or clipeus , which had already been widespread in the auxiliary troops. The shield emblems shown in the Notitia Dignitatum were also painted on this. The body armor now consisted of simple chain mail again or, in Eastern Stream , increasingly of scale armor . In addition, chain hoods , bracers or greaves were put on if necessary . In the reign of Gratian , according to Vegetius, the discipline deteriorated and the soldiers allegedly asked to be allowed to take off heavy armor during routine activities or during the march, probably also in order to achieve greater mobility. This corresponded to the growing importance of the cavalry. Much equipment was probably lost in the wars against the Goths and Persians.

The officer and historian Ammianus Marcellinus reports in the late 4th century that the legionnaires at the Battle of Adrianople (378) were weighed down by their armor in the heat; In addition, he repeatedly mentions horsemen and infantrymen in "shimmering defense". Soldiers in scale armor can also be seen in late antique illustrations such as the Galerius Arch or carvings from the 5th and 6th centuries from Egypt and Constantinople. Many foot soldiers, especially among the limitanei , could no longer afford the expensive protective accessories and had to make do with a shield, although actually state workshops ( fabricae ) were supposed to ensure that the legionnaires were well equipped, which was mainly in Westrom soon stopped working. The armor was carried on the supply wagons and, according to Maurikios' strategicon, was given out to the men in the first battle lines before the battle.

From the 4th century onwards, the share of the so-called foederati in the Roman army increased, as mercenaries from outside the empire who fought under their own leaders in their ranks. They were not part of the legions, but over time the distinction between them and the regular soldiers blurred.

Since Constantine I , the imperial army was divided into

The role of the cavalry increased steadily, especially in the context of the clashes with "barbaric" cavalry armies (Goths, Sarmatians , Huns ) and above all in the fight with the Persian Sassanids, in whose armored armored riding played a prominent role. In this context, the legion's loss of importance after the end of the 4th century can be explained, although the Roman infantry never disappeared from the battlefield until the end. The standard unit of the late Roman army eventually became the number with a size of about 300 men.

The Roman soldiers of the time after Diocletian differed not only in their armament, but also in appearance and clothing, from the legionaries of the early and high imperial period; this has long been associated with the phenomenon of the "barbarization" of the army. More recently, however, several researchers have taken the view that the changed appearance of the imperial troops was less due to direct influences from outside the empire than to the attempt to make a new military elite, which also included many Romans, outwardly distinctive from their environment to delimit. Nevertheless, it is certain that the emperors, especially in the west of the empire, were dependent on recruiting non-Romans; and since the auxiliary troops no longer existed, these warriors now joined the regular army differently than before, provided that they did not serve as foederati . The imperial army's language of command remained Latin , and it was not until the 7th century that it was replaced by Greek in the Eastern Roman army.

After the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the Eastern Roman army was able to be brought back to normal strength with some difficulty. Several legions of the west, however, were wiped out in 351 in the Battle of Mursa and then especially in 394 in the Battle of Frigidus and were not set up again afterwards. The western Roman army disbanded in the course of the 5th century, mainly due to the government's insolvency, which had been unable to finance any significant amount of regular troops since around 450 at the latest. In the Eastern Roman Empire, however , the legions only disappeared in the context of the heavy fighting against Sassanids and especially Arabs of the late 6th and early 7th centuries, as a result of which the imperial army was fundamentally reformed. The legio IV Parthica , which is mentioned under Emperor Mauricius (582–602), was one of the last legions that can be identified .

The point in time at which the individual units disappeared cannot usually be precisely determined; Responsible is not only the poor source situation, but also a peculiarity of the late Roman administration, which could lead to legions persisting on paper, although they in fact no longer existed: Since in late antiquity the civil administrative officials were also considered milites , these were pro forma assigned to a military unit upon recruitment; In the 6th century under Emperor Justinian, the writers of the praefectus praetorio Orientis were still assigned to the legio I Adiutrix - regardless of whether they were still part of the fighting force at that time (which is unlikely).

See also: The late Roman army

See also


  • Peter Connolly : The Roman Army. Tiberius Claudius Maximus, soldier in the service of Trajan. Tessloff, Nürnberg 1996, ISBN 3-7886-0745-9 (book for young people).
  • Peter Connolly: Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill Books, London 1998, ISBN 1-85367-303-X .
  • Thomas Fischer : The army of the Caesars, archeology and history , Friedrich Pustet Verlag, Regensburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-7917-2413-3 ; 2nd amended and revised edition 2014.
  • Kate Gilliver: On the Road to Empire. A history of the Roman army. Theiss, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-8062-1761-0 .
  • Adrian Goldsworthy: The Legions of Rome. The great manual for the instrument of power of a thousand-year-old empire. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-86150-515-0 (easily legible representation; focus is on the time of the republic and the principality).
  • Arnold HM Jones: The Later Roman Empire . 2 volumes, Blackwell, Baltimore 1986, pp. 607 ff. (On the late antique army; reprint of the three-volume edition Oxford 1964).
  • Marcus Junkelmann : The Legions of Augustus. The Roman soldier in the archaeological experiment. Zabern, Mainz 1986, 9th edition 2003, ISBN 3-8053-0886-8 .
  • Olaf Krause: The doctor and his instruments in the Roman legion. Greiner, Remshalden 2010, ISBN 978-3-86705-046-3
  • Ernst Künzl : Among the golden eagles. The armor jewelry of the Roman Empire. Schnell + Steiner publishing house, Regensburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-7954-2011-6 .
  • Yann Le Bohec : L'armée romaine sous le haut empire . Picard, Paris 1989, 3rd edition 2002 (German translation of the 1st edition: The Roman Army of Augustus to Constantine the Great Steiner, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-515-06300-5 ).
  • Yann Le Bohec (Ed.): The Encyclopedia of the Roman Army . 3 volumes. Wiley, New York 2015, ISBN 978-1-4051-7619-4 .
  • Stefan Pfahl: Badge of rank in the Roman army of the imperial era. Wellem, Düsseldorf 2013.
  • Nigel Pollard, Joanne Berry: The Legions of Rome . Theiss, Stuttgart 2012.
  • Emil Ritterling : Legio. In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume XII, 1, col. 1186 - Volume XII, 2, col. 1829.
  • Jennifer Schamper: Studies on parade armor parts and other decorated weapons of the Roman Empire. (= Cologne studies on the archeology of the Roman provinces . Volume 12), VML Verlag Marie Leidorf Rahden, North Rhine-Westphalia 2015, ISBN 978-3-89646-140-7 (Dissertation University of Cologne 2014, 247, 74 pages, illustrations, 30 cm , 1560 g).
  • Michael Simkins: The Roman Army from Caesar to Trajan. Defense and knowledge, Bonn 1981, ISBN 3-8033-0330-3 .
  • Pat Southern: The Roman army. A social and institutional history. Oxford 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-532878-3 .
  • Michael A. Speidel : Army and rule in the Roman Empire of the high imperial era (= Mavors. Roman Army Researches. Volume 16). Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-515-09364-4 ( specialist review by H-Soz-u-Kult ).
  • Michael Whitby : Rome at War, 293-696. Routledge, London 2003, ISBN 0-415-96860-7 (current, brief overview of the late Roman army).
  • John Warry: Warfare in the Classical World. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 2004, ISBN 0-8061-2794-5 .
  • Simon MacDowall: Late Roman Infantryman, 236-565 AD. Weapons, Armor, Tactics (= Warrior Series 9). Reed, London 1999, ISBN 1-85532-419-9 .
  • Philip Matyszak: Legionnaire in the Roman Army: The Ultimate Career Guide , Primus, Darmstadt 2010, ISBN 978-3-89678-822-1 .

Web links

Commons : Roman legions  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Blösel : The Roman Republic. Forum and expansion. CH Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-67413-6 , pp. 64, 72.
  2. 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.
  3. Jochen Bleicken : Augustus . Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8286-0027-1 , pp. 303 and 723.
  4. Kate Gilliver: Towards the Empire. Hamburg 2007, p. 19 ff.
  5. Eduard Nemeth, Florin Fodorean: Roman Military History. (= Story compact ). WBG , Darmstadt 2015, p. 43.
  6. ^ Stefan Franz Pfahl : Badge of rank in the Roman army of the imperial era . Wellem, Düsseldorf 2012, ISBN 978-3-941820-12-8 (= inaugural lecture Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf), pp. 9-12.
  7. AE 2005, 01264 .
  8. Zsolt Mráv , Katalin Ottományi : DE {I} FU (N) C (TUS) EXP (EDITIONE) GERM (ANICA) LAU-RI (ACO) MORT (E) SUA. Sarcophagus of a soldier from Budaörs who died during the Caracallas Alemannic expedition . In: Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 56 (1-3), pp. 177-212; Pp. 177, 183, 185.
  9. E.g. Caesar, De bello Gallico 1, 42: legionarios milites legionis X .; De bello civili 1, 78: legionarii .
  10. Marcus Junkelmann: The Legions of Augustus . Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1986, ISBN 3-8053-0886-8 , pp. 203-204.
  11. Marcus Junkelmann: The Legions of Augustus . Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1986, ISBN 3-8053-0886-8 , p. 204.
  12. Marcus Junkelmann: The Legions of Augustus . Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1986, ISBN 3-8053-0886-8 , p. 206.
  13. Marcel Giloj: Water transport in the Augustan army. An experiment on the suitability of small wooden barrels , in: Christian Koepfer (Ed.): The Roman Army in the Experiment Frank and Timme, Berlin 2011, pp. 137–146.
  14. ^ Peter Connolly: Greece and Rome at War . P. 241.
  15. ^ A b Peter Connolly: Greece and Rome at War . P. 238.
  16. Le Bohec 1993, p. 143.
  17. Flavius ​​Josephus: De bello Iudaico 5,2,1.
  18. ^ Caesar: De bello Gallico 2, 19.
  19. Tacitus, Annals 1,51,5-6.
  20. ^ Onasander, Strategikos 7.
  21. ^ A b Stefan Burmeister, Roland Kaestner: Armed Forces and Strategies. Rome's military reaction to the clades Variana In: Stefan Burmeister, Salvatore Ortisi (eds.), Phantom Germanicus. Searching for traces between historical tradition and archaeological evidence. Material booklets on the prehistory and early history of Lower Saxony 53 (Rahden / Westf. 2018), pp. 95–136, here pp. 110–111 ( online ).
  22. Flavius ​​Vegetius Renatus ; translated by Friedhelm L. Müller: Abriß des Militärwesens , Stuttgart 1997, p. 249.
  23. Peter Heather: The fall of the Roman world empire , Reinbek 2010, pp. 21-23
  24. Jacques, François; Scheid, John: Rome and the Empire in the High Imperial Era, 2008, p. 167.
  25. OBuNjem 00022
  26. See Guy Halsall: Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West , Cambridge 2007, p. 145, MacDowall / Embleton, 1999, pp. 15-16.
  27. See Henning Börm : Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian , Stuttgart 2018, p. 174ff.
  28. See AHM Jones: The Later Roman Empire , Oxford 1964, p. 566.