Weapons of a Roman Soldier

Another subject I’m interested in is Roman military history. My ebook “The Centurion Chronicles” has modest but encouraging sales. Here’s a sampling.

Organization of the Roman Army During Caesar’s Time

The Roman army was the most effective and long-lived military institution known to history.  The principal unit was the legion.  At full or nominal strength which was rarely achieved it consisted of 6,000 men, all Roman citizens.  Realistically 4,500 was a truer number – 3,000 heavy infantry and 1,200 light infantry augmented by varying numbers of recruited cavalry.

A legion was divided into 10 cohorts of 600 men each.  Each cohort was in turn partitioned into 3 maniples of 200 men each.  Every maniple consisted of 2 centuries of 100 men.

Mobile and for the most part well-led, the Roman army under Caesar placed a high value on tactical planning/implementation and intense training.  Discipline was rigid and unforgiving.  The command structure was, by in large, well-organized.  Loyalty to specific legions was promoted and emphasized, increasing the cohesion and fighting effectiveness of the army as a whole.

The heartbeat of the legion were the Centurions who commanded units of 100 men.  There were 60 Centurions per legion.  Given much authority, they were former enlisted men singled out for bravery and leadership qualities.  The six belonging to the first cohort attended briefings and held positions of distinctive responsibility.

Above the centurions were Tribunes, six to a legion.  Coming from the Equestrian class, they were often veteran officers, sometimes ex-magistrates or young noblemen who served in the hopes of bettering themselves politically.  They maneuvered troops in battle under the direction of a general and discharged routine administrative duties.  The number of Generals varied from army to army and from campaign to campaign.  Like the Centurions they were professional soldiers.  The senior tribune, a member of the senatorial class, did military service to further his career in the government.

Directly below the legion’s general was the officer in charge of building and organizing fortified camps, which was a daily reality for an army on the move.  In the absence of the general or the senior tribune he headed the legion.

Besides the legionnaires additional combatants that comprised a Roman army included non-Italian troops such as Balearic Island slingers, Cretan archers and Numidian cavalry.  Each legion was also supported by varying numbers of auxiliary troops, and noncitizens recruited from the provinces.  These men were organized into cohorts of 500 to 1,000 men and after completing their term of service were given Roman citizenship.

Supporting the army were large administrative staffs such as personnel clerks, paymasters, quartermasters, and official historians.   Specialists like teamsters, trumpeters/buglers, standard bearers, translators, armorers, sappers, surgeons and their staffs, surveyors, topographers, couriers, artillerymen, engineers, stonemasons and, when the necessity arose, shipbuilders were an integral part of the army.

The Roman army was well-led, disciplined, and efficient.  The construction of ships and bridges were well within its capabilities.  Self-reliant and loyal to commanders, it could function for long periods in hostile environments.  Innovative means of command and communication by trumpeters, buglers, and standards allowed Roman armies to execute complicated field maneuvers.

Benefitting from years of pragmatic refining, the army that Julius Caesar inherited was well-suited for conquest.

Weaponry of the Roman Army During Caesar’s Time

Enlistment in the Roman army was for twenty years.  Only Roman citizens could join the army.  The State spared little expense in the outfitting of its soldiers.  As a result the typical infantryman in the Roman army was very well-armed.  His personal weapons consisted of:

gladus– a two-foot long double-edged sword designed for hand-to-hand combat

pugio– a dagger with an 11-inch long blade

pilum– a seven-foot long throwing spear with an effective range of approximately 75 feet,  A throwing thong increased the range to approximately 195 feet

hasta– a  short spear used for thrusting

Rigorous training coupled with often brutal discipline resulted in a machinelike proficiency of arms.  The infantryman was also well-equipped defensively.  Protection consisted of:

shield– wooden, covered with canvas and leather, rectangular, steel rimmed, two and a half feet wide by four feet high

helmet– brass or iron with rounded top, cheek guards and extended rear neck guard

body armor– brass corselet or chain mail with thick leather straps extending from the bottom to protect the thighs

greaves– brass shin guards

boots– made of heavy leather with hobnailed soles

Besides their personal weapons infantrymen were also expected to be competent and accurate in stone throwing either by hand or a sling.  Although archers were a specialized unit, infantrymen knew how to shoot.  They also had to  be able to ride and fight from a barebacked horse.