previous next


ALA, ALA´RES, ALA´RII. These military terms had different meanings at different periods.

1. In the original constitution of the Roman army, each legion of citizens was accompanied by a body of 300 equites (Plb. 1.16, 2 ; 2.24, 3; 6.20, 9). These were drawn up on the flanks of the infantry, and hence were termed alae (cf. Cincius in Gel. 16.4.6, alae dictae exercitus equitum ordines, quod circum legiones dextra sinistraque, tanquam alae in avium corporibus, locabantur).

2. When, at a later date, the socii were required to contribute a contingent to the Roman army, the Roman legions were placed in the centre of the line of battle, and the allies formed the wings. Hence the allied troops, both cavalry and infantry, were sometimes termed alae or alarii; and we find mention, not only of equites, but also of cohortes alares or alarii (Liv. 10.40, 8; 41, 5; 43, 3). These were commonly grouped together as the dextera ala and the sinistra ala (id. 31.21), although these terms did not always correspond to their position in the line of battle (id. 27.2).

3. After the franchise had been extended to the whole of Italy, and thus all Italian troops were included in the legions, the term alarii was transferred to the foreign troops (auxilia) serving along with the Roman armies. Thus Caesar (B.C. 1.73) distinguishes the cohtortes alariae from the legionariae cohortes (cf. B. G. 1.51).

4. Under the Empire, the word ala usually denotes “auxiliary cavalry,” the term cohortes being used without any epithet to denote “auxiliary infantry,” as contrasted with the legiones. Thus Tacitus (list. 4.18) mentions the ala Batavorum, &c., and many others are known to us from inscriptions (cf. Henzen, Index inscript. c. viii. p. 131). Sometimes a body of horse was named from the officer who had first raised it, or who commanded it at the time: cf. ala Liliana (Tac. Hist. 1.75), ala Auriana (ib. 3.5). The ala was originally divided into the turmae, each containing three decuriae. But at a later time the ala was either miliaria or quingenaria: in the former case there were 24 turmae, in the latter 16, besides various officers (Hygin. Castrum, 16, 23, 30; cf. Henzen, Annal. dell' Inst. 1860, p. 71).


hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.16
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 8
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.75
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 40
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.4.6
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: