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In the empire, the legion was standardized, with symbols and an individual history where men were proud to serve. The legion was commanded by a legatus or legate.
Aged around thirty, he would usually be a senator on a three year appointment. Immediately subordinate to the legate would be six elected military tribunes — five would be staff officers and the remaining one would be a noble heading for the Senate originally this tribune commanded the legion.
There would also be a group of officers for the medical staff, the engineers, record-keepers, the praefectus castrorum commander of the camp and other specialists such as priests and musicians.
There is no evidence to suggest that legions changed in form before the Tetrarchy , although there is evidence that they were smaller than the paper strengths usually quoted.
The final form of the legion originated with the elite legiones palatinae created by Diocletian and the Tetrarchs.
These were infantry units of around 1, men rather than the 5,, including cavalry, of the old Legions.
The earliest legiones palatinae were the Lanciarii , Joviani , Herculiani and Divitenses. The 4th century saw a very large number of new, small legions created, a process which began under Constantine II.
In addition to the elite palatini , other legions called comitatenses and pseudocomitatenses , along with the auxilia palatina , provided the infantry of late Roman armies.
The Notitia Dignitatum lists 25 legiones palatinae , 70 legiones comitatenses , 47 legiones pseudocomitatenses and auxilia palatina in the field armies, and a further 47 legiones in the frontier armies.
The names also suggest that many new legions were formed from vexillationes or from old legions. In addition there were 24 vexillationes palatini, 73 vexillationes comitatenses; other units in the Eastern limitanei and in the Western limitanei.
According to the late Roman writer Vegetius ' De Re Militari , each century had a ballista and each cohort had an onager , giving the legion a formidable siege train of 59 Ballistae and 10 Onagers each manned by 10 libritors artillerymen and mounted on wagons drawn by oxen or mules.
In addition to attacking cities and fortifications, these would be used to help defend Roman forts and fortified camps castra as well.
They would even be employed on occasion, especially in the later Empire, as field artillery during battles or in support of river crossings.
Despite a number of reforms, the Legion system survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire , and was continued in the Eastern Roman Empire until around 7th century, when reforms begun by Emperor Heraclius to counter the increasing need for soldiers around the Empire resulted in the Theme system.
Aside from the rank and file legionary who received the base wage of 10 asses a day or denarii a year , the following list describes the system of officers which developed within the legions from the Marian reforms BC until the military reforms of Diocletian c.
The rank of centurion was an officer rank that included many grades, meaning centurions had very good prospects for promotion.
The most senior centurion in a legion was known as the primus pilus first file or spear , who directly commanded the first century of the first cohort and commanded the whole first cohort when in battle.
Within the second to tenth cohorts, the commander of each cohort's first century was known as a pilus prior and was in command of his entire respective cohort when in battle.
The seniority of the pilus prior centurions was followed by the five other century commanders of the first cohort, who were known as primi ordines.
In modern military terms, an ordinary centurion was approximately equivalent to a Warrant Officer that had a junior officer's commission. Whereas the most senior centurion was closer to the equivalent to the rank of a full Captain.
The equestrian, or military tribunes held positions equivalent to the rank of Major, while the Senatorial Tribune and the Camp Praefect were the equivalent of a Lt.
The centuries took their titles from the old use of the legion drawn up in three lines of battle using three classes of soldier. Each century would then hold a cross-section of this theoretical line, although these century titles were now essentially nominal.
Each of the three lines is then sub-divided within the century into a more forward and a more rear century. From the time of Gaius Marius onwards, legionaries received denarii a year equal to Sestertii ; this basic rate remained unchanged until Domitian , who increased it to denarii.
In spite of the steady inflation during the 2nd century, there was no further rise until the time of Septimius Severus , who increased it to denarii a year.
However, the soldiers did not receive all the money in cash, as the state deducted their pay with a clothing and food tax. To this wage, a legionary on active campaign would hope to add the booty of war, from the bodies of their enemies and as plunder from enemy settlements.
Slaves could also be claimed from the prisoners of war and divided amongst the legion for later selling, which would bring in a sizeable supplement to their regular pay.
Later, under Caracalla , the praemia increased to denarii. From BC onwards, each legion used an aquila eagle as its standard symbol. The symbol was carried by an officer known as aquilifer , and its loss was considered to be a very serious embarrassment, and often led to the disbanding of the legion itself.
Normally this was because any legion incapable of regaining its eagle in battle was so severely mauled it was no longer combat effective.
When Caesar's troops hesitated to leave their ships for fear of the Britons, the aquilifer of the tenth legion threw himself overboard and, carrying the eagle, advanced alone against the enemy.
As Rome evolved from a conquering to a defending power, the cohort was increased to a field strength of — men. These still depended on the shock tactics of pilum and gladius, but the 5,—6, heavy infantry in a legion were now combined with an equal number of supporting cavalry troops and light infantry made up of archers, slingers, and javelin men.
In order to deal with mounted barbarian raiders, the proportion of cavalry rose from one-seventh to one-fourth. By the 4th century ad , with the empire defending its many fortified border outposts, as many as 10 catapults and 60 ballistae were assigned to each legion.
In modern times the term legion has been applied to a corps of foreign volunteers or mercenaries, such as the French provincial legions of Francis I and the second-line formations of Napoleon.
Legion Article Additional Info. Print Cite. Facebook Twitter. Give Feedback External Websites. Command of the First Centuria of the First Cohort was the highest and the 6th Centuria of the 10th Cohort was the lowest.
The commander of the first cohort of each Centuria except the first , with the following titles for the Centurions in sequence throughout each Centuria.
The Principales would be the equivalent of modern day non-commissioned officers and had the following rank structures from highest to lowest:.
A single position within the Legion. The Aquilifer was the Legion's Standard or Eagle bearer and was an enormously important and prestigious position.
The next step up would be a post as a Centurion. Each Centuria had a Signifer He was responsible for the men's pay and savings, and the standard bearer for the Centurial Signum, a spear shaft decorated with medallions and often topped with an open hand to signify the oath of loyalty taken by the soldiers.
It was this banner that the men from each individual Centuria would rally around. A soldier could also gain the position of Discentes signiferorum, or standard bearer in training.
One for each Centurion 59 , they were appointed by the Centurion from within the ranks to act as his second in command. Again there were 59 of these, or one for each Centuria.
They acted in similar roles to the Optios. They worked hand in hand with the Signifer drawing the attention of the men to the Centurial Signum and issuing the audible commands of the officers.
Carried the Standard bearing the image of the Emperor as a constant reminder of the troop's loyalty to him.
These were trained specialists, such as surgeons, engineers, surveyors, and architects, as well as craftsmen. They were exempt from camp and hard labor duties due to the nature of their work, and would generally earn slightly more pay than the Milites.
The basic new recruit. A Tirones could take up to 6 months before becoming a full Milites. On the march the Legionary could carry between three and fourteen day's worth of rations, a saw, a wicker basket, a piece of rope or leather, a shovel, a waterskin, a sickle and a pickaxe.
Each of these items, aside from the pickaxe which was worn on the belt, was carried on a forked pole introduced by Gaius Marius called the pila muralia , which earned his men the nickname Marius' Mules.
There is some discrepancy over what was actually carried and the possible total weight. At times, some items may have been transported in wagon trains or on mules such as the legionaries' tents and millstones for grinding the corn rations.
It has been estimated that a legionary could carry anywhere from 66 lbs. The standard belt. It was rather narrow and typically decorated with bronze strips, that were sometimes tin-plated, all the way around.
These were usually formed into complete units such as light cavalry, light infantry or velites , and labourers.
There was also a reconnaissance squad of 10 or more light mounted infantry called speculatores who could also serve as messengers or even as an early form of military intelligence service.
As part of the Marian reforms, the legions' internal organization was standardized. Each legion was divided into cohorts. Prior to this, cohorts had been temporary administrative units or tactical task forces of several maniples, even more transitory than the legions themselves.
Now the cohorts were ten permanent units, composed of 6 centuries and in the case of the first cohort 5 double strength centuries each led by a centurion assisted by an optio.
The cohorts came to form the basic tactical unit of the legions. Ranking within the legion was based on length of service, with the senior Centurion commanding the first century of the first cohort; he was called the primus pilus First Spear , and reported directly to the superior officers legates and tribuni.
All career soldiers could be promoted to the higher ranks in recognition of exceptional acts of bravery or valour.
A newly promoted junior Centurion would be assigned to the sixth century of the tenth cohort and slowly progressed through the ranks from there.
Every legion had a large baggage train, which included mules 1 mule for every 8 legionaries just for the soldiers' equipment.
To make this easier, he issued each legionary a cross stick to carry their loads on their shoulders. The soldiers were nicknamed Marius' Mules because of the amount of gear they had to carry themselves.
This arrangement allowed for the possibility for the supply train to become temporarily detached from the main body of the legion, thus greatly increasing the army's speed when needed.
A typical legion of this period had 5, legionaries as well as a large number of camp followers, servants and slaves. Legions could contain as many as 11, fighting men when including the auxiliaries.
During the Later Roman Empire, the legion was reduced in size to 1, to allow for easier provisioning and to expand the regions under surveillance.
Numbers would also vary depending on casualties suffered during a campaign; Julius Caesar 's legions during his campaign in Gaul often only had around 3, men.
Tactics were not very different from the past, but their effectiveness was largely improved because of the professional training of the soldiers.
After the Marian reforms and throughout the history of Rome's Late Republic, the legions played an important political role.
By the 1st century BC, the threat of the legions under a demagogue was recognized. Governors were not allowed to leave their provinces with their legions.
When Julius Caesar broke this rule, leaving his province of Gaul and crossing the Rubicon into Italy, he precipitated a constitutional crisis.
This crisis and the civil wars which followed brought an end to the Republic and led to the foundation of the Empire under Augustus in 27 BC. Generals, during the recent Republican civil wars, had formed their own legions and numbered them as they wished.
During this time, there was a high incidence of Gemina twin legions, where two legions were consolidated into a single organization and was later made official and put under a legatus and six duces.
At the end of the civil war against Mark Antony , Augustus was left with around fifty legions, with several double counts multiple Legio Xs for instance.
For political and economic reasons, Augustus reduced the number of legions to 28 which diminished to 25 after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest , in which 3 legions were completely destroyed by the Germanics.
Beside streamlining the army, Augustus also regulated the soldiers' pay. At the same time, he greatly increased the number of auxiliaries to the point where they were equal in number to the legionaries.
He also created the Praetorian Guard along with a permanent navy where served the liberti , or freed slaves. The legions also became permanent at this time, and not recruited for particular campaigns.
They were also allocated to static bases with permanent castra legionaria legionary fortresses. Augustus' military policies proved sound and cost effective, and were generally followed by his successors.
These emperors would carefully add new legions, as circumstances required or permitted, until the strength of the standing army stood at around 30 legions hence the wry remark of the philosopher Favorinus that It is ill arguing with the master of 30 legions.
With each legion having 5, legionaries usually supported by an equal number of auxiliary troops according to Tacitus , the total force available to a legion commander during the Pax Romana probably ranged from 11, downwards, with the more prestigious legions and those stationed on hostile borders or in restive provinces tending to have more auxiliaries.
Some legions may have even been reinforced at times with units making the associated force near 15,—16, or about the size of a modern division.
Throughout the imperial era, the legions played an important political role. Their actions could secure the empire for a usurper or take it away.
For example, the defeat of Vitellius in the Year of the Four Emperors was decided when the Danubian legions chose to support Vespasian.
In the empire, the legion was standardized, with symbols and an individual history where men were proud to serve. The legion was commanded by a legatus or legate.
Tactics were no different from those of the early Greeks and battles were joined on a plain. Spearmen would deploy themselves in tightly packed rows to form a shield wall with their spears pointing forwards.
There were now three lines of soldiers when in battle formation. Roman soldiers had to purchase their own equipment.
Each of these three lines was subdivided into maniples, each consisting of two centuries of 60 men commanded by the senior of the two centurions.
Centuries were normally 60 soldiers each at this time in the hastati and principes no longer men. The mid Republican legion had a nominal strength of about men.
Later on the legions were made up of 80 strong centuries. Each century had its standard and was made up of ten units of eight soldiers who shared a tent, millstone, a mule and cooking pot depending on duration of tour.
Throughout Rome's Late Republic, the legions played an important political role. By the 1st century BC the threat of the legions under a demagogue was recognized.