previous next

The Army and Its Divisions.

The Legions.

The Roman legion corresponded to a modern Division, but was more an organic whole, since it was the smallest unit that had separate line officers. What its normal strength was in Caesar's time we have no means of knowing; but a probable estimate puts it at 5000 men. The actual effective strength in the field, however, was usually much less, falling to 3000 men, as at the battle of Pharsalia (on Caesar's own authority). This variation in number was due to the many absences from duty which always occur in a military organization, and to the losses incurred by the individual legions in previous campaigns. Losses in old legions were not usually made good by new recruits, but the latter were formed into new legions; hence the older the legion, the smaller usually its enrollment. The average effective strength of the legion in the Gallic War was probably near 3600 men.

The subdivisions of the legions were as follows:

1 legion10 cohorts of about 360 men each.
1 cohort3 maniples of 120 men each.
1 maniple2 centuries of 60 men each.

There were, therefore, 10 cohorts, 30 maniples, and 60 centuries in each legion. These divisions did not, however, like our companies, have special "commissioned officers," but were commanded by centurions who came from the ranks. The legions constituted the main body of the army and did most of the fighting, but there were other arms employed for various purposes (see below). The legions were designated by numbers, given in the order of their enlistment.

The Cavalry.

The cavalry (equitatus), originally of Roman citizens, was in Caesar's time composed almost exclusively of recruits from subject or allied states. In Caesar's army it was composed of Gauls, Spaniards, and Germans. There was no fixed ratio between the number of legionaries and cavalry. In the campaign against the Helvetians, Caesar had 4000 equites, in the battle Pharsalia, 1000; but the number of legions was the same in both.

The cavalry was divided into regiments (alae) of about 330 horsemen each; these were subdivided into 10 squadrons (turmae) of 33 horsemen each; and these again into 3 squads (decuriae) of 11 each. See Figs. 12, 13.

The Auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries (auxilia peditum) were infantry forces from allied and subject states. Caesar nowhere gives the number of his auxilia, and it was doubtless as various as that of his cavalry. They were the light-armed soldiers (milites levis armaturae), the archers (sagittarii), and the slingers (funditores). See Figs. 30, 104, 105, 115. The best slingers came from the Balearic Islands, the best archers from Crete and Numidia. The light-armed soldiers wore no heavy armor and carried a light round shield (parma). The archers had neither corselet, helmet, nor shield. The latter they could not carry on account of their bows.

Caesar placed little reliance on his auxilia for actual fighting, but used them for the most part to make a show of force and frighten the enemy (Bk. i. 51), and to assist in building fortifications. In engagements the bowmen and slingers were usually stationed on the wings (alae), and from this were called alarii.

The Engineers and Artisans.

The engineers and artisans (fabri) sometimes formed a separate corps under the command of a chief engineer (praefectus fabrum), and sometimes they were called from the ranks of the legions when their services were needed. Caesar had a chief engineer, but no special body of men (cf. Bk. v. 11). They were employed in building bridges, ships, winter quarters, and in repairing weapons andequipments.

The Artillery.

Engines of war were not often used on the battlefield, where modern artillery forms such an important branch of the service, but mainly in the defence and assault of fortified cities or camps. They had a limited use also in the fleet (Bk. iv. 25).

We have no exact account of the construction of these engines. Caesar almost always calls them tormenta (cf. torquere, to twist), a name which clearly points to the elasticity of twisted rope, sinew, or hair, for the source of their energy. They were of three kinds: catapultae, ballistae, and scorpiones (see Figs. 61, 75, 95). The catapultae shot great arrows in a horizontal direction, like a cannon; the ballistae hurled great stones or heavy blocks of wood through the air in a high curve, as a mortar throws shells. The range of these weapons was from 1500 to 2000 ft. A scorpio was a small catapult having a range of about 350 ft. It was an accurate and deadly weapon. Caesar tells of one at the siege of Avaricum that marked and killed man after man in the same spot (Bk. vii. 25). The tormenta were usually served and kept in repair by the fabri, but as Caesar had no such corps, they were probably in his army served by legionaries.

The Baggage Train.

The baggage of the army, except the packs corresponding to knapsacks which the soldiers themselves carried (sarcinae), was borne by horses and mules (iumenta), and in wagons. The latter, however, were used mainly by the traders (mercatores) and sutlers (lixae) that followed the legion. The baggage of each legion was by no means inconsiderable. It consisted of tents, blankets, tools, the tormenta, provisions, etc., and required no less than 500 pack-animals to a legion. The inconvenience and delay occasioned by the care of so much baggage caused the Romans to call it impedimenta (incumbrances), and a legion marching with its baggage was called legio impedita; when without, legio expedita. Along with the baggage train went a multitude of drivers, grooms, officers' servants, and other menials, all of whom are included in the general term calones. Most or all of these were slaves. See Figs. 14, 55.

The Officers and their Staff.

The superior officers were: (1) the commander-in-chief (imperator or dux belli). He possessed the imperium or supreme military authority by virtue of his office, but by etiquette first received the name imperator from his soldiers after his first victory. In Caesar's case it was bestowed after his victory over the Helvetii.

(2) The legati. These were men of senatorial rank (i.e. who had once held a curule magistracy). They were appointed by the senate or the people on the nomination of the proconsul. The senate also determined the number that a general should have; Caesar had ten. They often acted as ambassadors and made treaties, but their chief duties were military. Their powers were in no way independent, but derived from the general, who might put them in command of one or more legions or confer upon them the imperium in his absence (legatus pro praetore). In his battle with Ariovistus Caesar placed a legatus at the head of each of his legions (Bk. i. 53), thus giving them an independent command, a practice which he afterwards continued to the great advantage of the service.

(3) The quaestores were officers elected by the people annually to administer the financial affairs of the provinces, one for each imperator. They had charge of the military chest, and saw to the pay, clothing, shelter, and general equipment of the legions serving in their respective provinces. On occasion they exercised the military authority of a legatus (Bk. i. 53); they were the ancient equivalent of a modern quartermaster. Besides these general officers, there were attached to each legion six tribuni militum, who were probably originally in command of the legion. They were divided into three pairs, each pair taking command in its turn. In Caesar's time they were no longer trained soldiers, but chiefly young men of equestrian rank, who went into the army for a year or two to get some military experience and thus begin their public career (cf. Bk. i. 39), so that ordinarily the legion had no proper commanding officers. Caesar was not slow to see that these political and social favorites were not the men to lead his legions into battle, and he therefore introduced the lasting reform of transferring this duty to thelegati, as mentioned above (cf. Bk. ii. 20: v. I, 25, 47). Thereafter the duties of the tribunes became mainly administrative and judicial; they cared for the levying, the discharge, and the equipment of the troops, and for the army supplies, under the orders of thequaestor; and they presided at courts-martial and took part in the councils of war. Sometimes they led the legions on the march and received subordinate military commands (cf. Bk. vii. 47, 52).

Surrounding the superior officers there was always a large number of young men, forming a kind of staff, who acted as orderlies and body-guards. The only officers "of the line" were the tribunes, and, as appears above, their command was limited.

The real leaders of the men were the inferior ("non-commissioned") officers, the centurions. Corresponding to sergeants and corporals, these were always plebeians, often of the lowest birth, who were promoted from the ranks entirely on account of their fighting qualities, and could never rise higher. There were two centurions in each maniple, making six for each cohort and sixty for the legion. The six centurions of the first cohort outranked the others and were called centuriones primorum ordinum, and were the only ones that ordinarily sat with the superior officers in the council of war. The first cohort always contained the flower of the legion, and the men in the first century of this cohort excelled all the others. Their leader, the first centurion of the whole cohort (primus or primi-pilus) and so of the whole legion, must needs be a man of great personal prowess and skill, an actual fighter, one to whom all could look as to a model soldier. Such was, for example, Publius Sextius Baculus, who repeatedly deserved the praise of his general (cf. Bk. ii. 25; iii. 5; vi. 38), and Titus Balventius (vir fortis et magnae virtutis, Bk. v. 35). As a badge of his office the centurion carried a short staff (vitis), but he was armed much like the other soldiers (see Fig. 40).

The chief distinction in dress between the officers and men was the redtunica militaris worn by the legates and tribunes, and the purple cloak (paludamentum) worn by the general (Bk. vii. 88). The officers wore also coats-of-mail of gilded bronze (see Fig. 86).

Between the centurions and common soldiers in rank were the speculatores, evocati, beneficiarii, aquiliferi or signiferi, and bucinatores, tubicines, or cornicines. The speculatores or scouts obtained news of the enemy and carried despatches. Theevocati were veterans who had completed their term of service, but remained in the army at the request of their commander. Thebeneficiarii were soldiers that had received some gift or privilege for meritorious service. The signiferi or aquiliferi were the standard bearers: soldiers selected for their courage and fidelity. The bucinatores and tubicines were the musicians. All of these had rights and exemptions not enjoyed by the common soldiers. See Figs. 39, 84, 114.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: