|The Army of the Principate, a brief guide||
To most people, this is the 'classic'
era of the Roman army, when legionaries equipped with
the famous lorica segmentata used javelin and short sword
to subdue the barbarians and bring the Pax Romana to the
known world. These were tough, well trained, superbly equipped and
disciplined soldiers who collectively constituted the most formidable
fighting machine that the Ancient World had ever seen. Nor is this
popular view far removed from the truth.
Legionary organisation - citizen troops
This represented the fighting strength of the legion and it is possible that on paper the legions may actually have been 6,000 strong, with the numbers being made up by men on secondment, working at headquarters, providing the governor with intelligence officers or administrative staff or performing other related functions. If these men are taken into consideration, then it is possible that for administrative purposes, the century was composed of 100 men - 80 front line soldiers and 20 who were on permanent or semi-permanent detachment from their parent legion.
To make matters more difficult for the historian, at some time during the first century, the tactical utility of the First Cohort was enhanced by increasing it in size to 800 men, arranged as five double centuries. This change is often associated with the Flavians and can be archaeologically attested through the remains of fortress accommodation, but its exact date is unknown.
The commander of a legion in our period was
invariably a Senator of some standing - a man who had already had
a varied military and administrative career, and who had probably
reached the rank of praetor at Rome. His official title
was legatus legionis because, while theoretically the Emperor
held all military power, in practice he delegated
it to trusted Senators. Such legionary legates were, on the whole,
tough, experienced and highly competent officers, though there
were some notable exceptions, and all must, at some time, have served
as junior officers or tribuni.
N.C.O's within the century included the Signifer who bore the signum or standard of the century,
(which was, of course, the embodiment of the honour and spirit
of the unit) and who also acted as its banker; the Optio,
so called because he had been chosen by the centurion with a view
to promotion tothecenturionate himself; and the Tesserarius
who was in charge of passing on the watchword.of the day. Other
NCO's were to be found at legionary headquarters dealing with the
vast amount of paperwork generated by this highly bureaucratic army.
As the first century progressed command of an auxiliary
unit was incorporated into the normal career structure of the Equestrian
class, with professional soldiers first commanding an auxiliary cohort,
transferring to the legions for a few years as a military tribune, commanding
an ala and then possibly moving on into civilian administration as a procurator.
There are also examples of legionary centurions transferring over to the
auxiliaries as away of furthering their careers.
One of the problems inherent in the very success of the auxilia as an organ of Romanisation was that as provincials became more civilised, so their warlike qualities became somewhat blunted. and during the second century we find Rome recruiting irregular units from amongst the barbarians across the frontier, the so-called numeri and cunei, literally 'wedges' and 'units', with a view to utilising their warlike qualities against fellow barbarians . This was a policy that would develop considerably as recruitment within the Empire became more difficult.
Useful Books :
Brian Campbell : The Roman Army- A Sourcebook
Peter Connolly : The Roman Army
Peter Connolly : Greece and Rome at War
John Warry : Warfare in the Classical World
Graham Webster The Roman Imperial Army
Copyright M. Olejnik 1998