We shall say a few words first on the troops
to which the separate standards belonged and the function they fulfilled in
the army, and afterwards discuss the form of the standards. The exhaustive,
lucid, and learned monograph of A. von Domazewski (Die Fahnen im
1885) must form the basis of any such
discussion. In much of what follows, points have been taken for granted
which have been supported by evidence in the article EXERCITUS
Passing over the bundle of hay (manipulus
is said to have been a standard in the time of Romulus (Plut. Rom. 8
), the principal kinds of military
standards may be classed as (1) signa
special sense), (2) vexilla,
It will be advisable to treat the first two together.
(1) and (2) Signa
--The chief distinctive feature of Roman warfare was
that it was mainly carried on with the sword, and that the tactical unit was
a small one, viz. the maniple (Varro, L. L.
“manipulos exercitus minimas manus quae unum secuntur
signum:” cf. Serv. on Verg. A.
). Each of these maniples had a signum,
“ni C. Decimius Flavus, signo arrepto primi hastati, manipulum
ejus signis sequi se jussisset;” but there appears to have been
generally, if not always, two signiferi
maniple (Plb. 6.24
the second probably to act as a reserve in case the first were disabled or
killed; so that we need not suppose that each century had a standard. From
thus having a separate standard of its own, each maniple came to be called
e. g. Liv.
preceded the column on the march,
but stood in the hindmost rank of the maniple during the fight. The term
taken together with the fact
that where signa
are spoken of in a battle
without any qualification the reference is generally to the signa
of the hastati (Liv.
); the insufficiency of the evidence
for the existence of other standards to justify the title antesignani
(e.g. Plin. Nat.
); the probability that the standardbearers, impeded with
the excessively heavy standards, would have been almost sure to have been at
once cut down if they stood in the front rank of the sword-fight, and so the
rallyingpoint of the maniple gone (whereas the loss of a standard and its
bearer is generally spoken of as an unusual occurrence and a sign of a
serious defeat of the division); the fact that the frontrank men could be
recalled by the trumpets if they pushed away from the standards-all these
points tend to show that the case is not made out, though argued with strong
conviction by Domazewski (pp. 10-12), that the standards occupied the front
line in the battle. But they undoubtedly were at the head of the column on
the march; and their great importance, as the centre-point of the tactical
unit, may be shown from the number of phrases in which the word signa
occurs (signa tollere,
signa movere, signa ferre, signa convertere, signa constituere, signa
). The word of command was always directed to the
standard-bearers (Liv. 5.55
. 1), and conveyed to them during
the fight by the tubicines,
who stood near the
general, the signal of the tubicines
being taken up
by the cornicines.
of the legions, then, were the
standards of the maniples. Even after the regular introduction of cohorts
and centuries as administrative units, the tactical unit remained the
maniple consisting of two centuries. Caesar often mentions the maniple and
always in connexion with the standards, e.g. Bell. Gall.
6.34, 6, “si continere manipulos ad signa vellet, ut instituta ratio
et consuetudo exercitus Romani postulabat:” cf. 2.15, 1; 6.40, 1.
Even under the Empire the manipular arrangement remained in force as far as
the standards were concerned, just as it did as regards the rank of the
centurions; and so Tacitus makes mention of maniples (Hist.
3.22; 4.77, 78), and Dio Cassius, not having a word to
express “maniple,” renders it by δύο
(48.42, 2). In the battle at Forum Gallorum in
43 B.C. there were 22 cohorts and about 60 signa
lost (Galba ap. Cic. Fam. 10.3.
); the numbers show that
belong to the maniples. In the coins
given below we see the legionary signa
H(astati) and P(rincipes) [p. 2.673]
on them. But during the
Empire the manipular arrangement gradually disappeared, and Vegetius is
quite right in saying that in his time (380 A.D.) each century had a
That there was no special signum
for the cohorts
may be proved from these considerations: (1) that it would have served no
purpose, (2) that there is virtually only one form of legionary signum
on any representations we know of, and (3)
that there is no certain trace whatsoever in the inscriptions or authors of
there being two kinds of signiferi.
says (Bell. Gall.
2.25, 1), “quartae cohortis omnibus
centurionibus occisis signiferoque interfecto, signo amisso,” he
is doubtless thinking of the standard-bearer of one of the maniples,
probably of that of the hastati: cf. Mommsen in Eph. Epigr.
(diminutive of velum,
Festus, p. 377; or perhaps velum
may be a contraction of vexillum,
as Cicero says, de Orat.
45, 135) was the oldest standard of the Roman army. It was raised on the
Janiculum while the Comitia Centuriata were being held (Liv. 39.15
; D. C. 37.28
floating over the general's tent, it gave the signal for battle (Plut. Fab. 15
; cf. Caes. Bell.
2.20, 1); it was the rallying-point of the soldiers in the
case of a tumultus
Verg. A. 8.1
). The signa
of the maniples during the Republic seem to have had a
on them (see the coins below);
and, indeed, both the names are applied to the legionary standards by Livy,
secundi hastati signum
(26.5, 15), vexilla
(8.8, 8), for vexilla
were the oldest flags in
the Roman army. It is probable that the new form of signum.
which had no vexillum
all was introduced by Augustus. But vexilla
were the peculiar standards (1) of those divisions of infantry which were
separated from the main division for some special duty, (2) of the troops of
discharged veterans called out for further service.
As regards the standards of the cavalry, Domazewski (pp. 26, 27) draws a
distinction between the cavalry of those divisions which consisted of both
infantry and cavalry, such as the legions or the cohortes
and those troops which consisted solely of cavalry,
such as the alae
or the equites singulares.
To the former belonged a vexillum,
probably because the signum
was appropriated to the infantry; to the latter both
--in each case one standard for each turma.
Where both signa
appear, it is to be supposed that
was the original cavalry standard,
which was later replaced, when no confusion was likely to ensue, by the more
Among the praetorians signiferi
attached, to both the centuries and the cohorts; but, as the praetorians
were arranged in maniples (Tac. Ann. 12.56
), we may readily suppose from analogy that they were the
divisions to each of which a signum
and the numeri
had what we may call signa,
and we shall speak of these below.
--In the early Empire imaginiferi
are found belonging to the legions and
to the auxiliary cohorts; each legion and each auxiliary cohort had one
No evidence is found to prove
that they existed among the auxiliary cavalry; yet each ala
of the latter probably had a signum
(cf. Tac. Hist. 2.89
which the emperor's imago
was fixed. There is
an interesting relief of one on a tombstone in Hexham Church, reproduced by
Dr. Bruce, Handbook to the Roman Wall,
p. 79. Imagines
are never found affixed to the standards of
the tactical units except in the case of the praetorians, which was a
special body-guard of the emperor. In the legions the imaginifer
belonged to the first cohort (C. I.
3.6178, 20; Veget. 2.6); in the cohortes
to the cavalry of that body (C. I.
Legionary Signum from Mayence.
--From the time of Marius the
was the standard of the legion. It
of course had no tactical significance; but, besides being the sign of union
of the whole legion, it marked where the commander happened to be, and
accordingly where the main body of the legion was stationed. During the
battle it was in charge of the primus pilus
(V. Max. 1.6
; Tac. Hist. 3.22
). In time of
peace, during the Republic, it was kept at Rome in the Aerarium with the
other standards (Liv. 3.69
). In the camp it was placed in a little shrine (Cic. Cat. i. 9
, 24; D. C. 40.18
;--Herodian, 4.4, 5; 5.8, 6); for the standards were held as sacred
(Plin. Nat. 13.23
), and regarded as
constituting an asylum (ib. 1.39).
The Form of the Standards.
--The, signa of the legions were in
the main essentials similar to one another. The pole was a lace with a point
at the lower end for fixing into the ground (οὐρίαχος,
App. BC 2.62
Suet. Jul. 62
) and a cross-piece of wood a
little above this point to prevent the pole sinking too deep into the
ground; sometimes, too, the pole had a handle. The pole was plated with
silver (cf. Dexippus ap. Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec.
3.682: ἐπὶ ξύστων ἠργυρωμένων
the top of the pole was a transverse bar with ribands, sometimes of purple,
hanging from it; and these often had at their ends silver ornaments shaped
like ivy-leaves. Along this transverse bar there appears to have been placed
a plate containing the name of the legion, cohort, and maniple to which the
belonged. Below the transverse bar
came a series of discs, probably of silver (Plin. Nat. 33.58
), like the phalerae.
Hence we can readily believe the statements concerning
the [p. 2.674]
great weight of the standards: τὰ τῶν στρατοπέδων σύμβολα . . . . μόλις ὑπὸ τῶν
γενναιοτάτων στρατιωτῶν φερόμενα
(Herodian, 4.7, 7). There
were military orders given to the maniple or century; for we know from
) that these orders were given to
whole troops as well as to individuals (οὐ κατ᾽
ἄνδρα μόνον ἀριστεύσαντα ταῦτα ἐδίδοτο, ἀλλὰ καὶ λόχοις καὶ
στρατοπέδοις ὅλοις πρείχετο
). This accounts for the fact
that the number of discs varies, sometimes being as many as seven, sometimes
only two. We hear that in early times a (φιάλη
was given as a meed of value to a foot-soldier, and
to a horse-soldier (Plb. 6.39
were given to both horse-and
foot-soldiers; but we may perhaps assume that the (φάλαρα
given to the infantry were of the shape of a φιάλη
: and just as the alae
of cavalry got torques
accordingly called torquata
C. I. L,
6.3538), so the troops
of infantry got saucer-shaped phalerae.
discs could be taken off the pole; and poles without them were called
and appeared as such at
military funerals (Tac. Ann. 3.2
). Ornare signa
) seems to have been the expression used for putting these discs on
the pole, though in this passage it is said of the eagle, not of the
properly so called. Below these
discs, generally acting as a support, was a crescent moon, which was
probably a kind of amulet to avoid ill-luck (cf. Plaut. Epid.
5.1, 38 (638); Hesych. sub voce
). Above the transverse box was
sometimes a corona aurea,
sometimes a small
shield--both probably kinds of orders, though one cannot feel at all sure in
the case of the latter--sometimes a small vexillum,
which was certainly an order (Sal. Jug. 85
), sometimes an
upstretched hand, the token of fidelity. Again beasts, especially the
capricorn, are sometimes found below the discs, chiefly on the military
coins of Gallienus, Victorinus, and Carausius. They were of the nature of
amulets (cf. Saglio, Dict. des Antiq.
1.253). For further
details on this point see Domazewski, pp. 54-56.
Two representatives are given above of legionary signa.
The first is from a tombstone in Mayence (Domazewski, fig.
12): the knobs under the crescent have no special significance. The second
(ib. fig. 23) is a signum
taken from Trajan's
Column: note the hand and the vexillum.
coins below (ib. figs. 34, 35) are consular
Signa. Coin of B.C. 83. Coin of B.C. 49.
coins of B.C. 83 and B.C. 49, with an aquila
between two signa.
The standards of the auxiliary cohorts are so very like those of the maniples
that there is no need to give a special representation of them.
The standards of the numeri
noticeable, as they appear to have had figures of animals on the top: cf.
Tac. Hist. 4.22
veteranorum cohortium signa, inde depromptae silvis lucisque ferarum
imagines ut cuique genti inire proelium mos est.” One surmounted
by a bull taken from a relief in the Museum at Chesters(the ancient Cilurnum
on the Roman wall) is given by Dr. Bruce (Lapidarium sept
930 = Doma--zewski, fig. 90).
Praetorian Standard (1).
The standards of the praetorians had, like the signa
of the legions, the transverse bar and the ribands and
their ivyleaves--sometimes above the bar, occasionally separated by a crown,
or a shield, an upright crown, or an
image of a god. The most remarkable difference between these standards and
those of the legions was that crowns
(aurea, muralis, classica,
see CORONAE) take the
place of the phalerae.
In the middle of the
pole was placed a medallion containing a portrait of the emperor, or
medallions if there were more emperors than one; the most important crown
belonging to the maniples was placed between the medallions if there were
two. Above and below the medallions were generally crowns. Above are two
praetorian standards from Trajan's Column. On the top of the first is a
figure of perhaps Victory before a vexillum,
then a crown, the eagle surrounded by a crown, the transverse bar and one of
its ribands with the ivy-leaf at the end, a crown, an imago,
a corona classica
beaks are quite plain), a crown, another imago,
a crown, and a knob as a support. On the top of the other is the point of
the lance, next a vexillum,
surrounded with a crown, transverse bar with ribands, crown, imago, corona muralis,
another crown, another
a crown, and a knob.
Praetorian Standard (2).
The standards of the speculatores,
as far as we
can make them out, consisted of an upright hand or a crown above the
transverse bar. The latter had pendent ribands and ivy-leaves; under it [p. 2.675]
was a phalera,
crescent, and the rostrum of a ship: the latter is especially noticeable.
The annexed cut is a coin of Galba.
Standards of Speculatores.
--The chief feature of the vexilla
was, that hanging down from the transverse
bar was a rectangular fringed piece of cloth which bore the name of the
legion and probably that of the emperor. The cloth was sometimes white,
sometimes red, sometimes purple (Serv. on Aen.
8, 3). Occasionally above this piece of cloth,
which was the vexillum
proper, is found a
statue of Victory. Annexed is such a vexillum
from Trajan's Column.
Vexillum, from Trajan's Column.
--These were medallions of the
emperors affixed to poles (προτομὰς Καί σαρος, αἳ
ταῖς σημαίαις προσῆσαν,
J. AJ 18.3
D. C. 63.25
65.10, 3; Tac. Hist. 3.13
), though probably the imagines
were destroyed in a revolution are not merely those on the standards, but
also the statues and busts of the emperor which were in the camp. That
medallions of other emperors than the reigning one--no doubt those of the
--were carried on the
standards, is plain from Tac. Hist. 4.62
“revolsae imperatorum imagines.”
Aquila, from a relief at Verona.
--The eagle was placed on the top of
a long pole--sometimes immediately, sometimes resting on a metal plate. It
generally held a thunderbolt in its claws, and had its wings extended for
flight; we know that it was considered a good omen for an army when starting
to see an eagle in flight (Tac. Ann. 2.17
1.62). Occasionally the eagle was
represented as holding an oak-leaf in its beak. It was made generally of
silver (Cic. Cat. 1.9
sometimes of gold (D. C. 40.18
; Herodian, 4.7, 7). The pole had a spike,
generally a cross-piece of wood above the spike to prevent it sinking too
far, and sometimes a handle in the middle for pulling it up. If the legion
as a whole had gained any especial distinction or ornament, that ornament
was affixed to the pole, as in the case of the signa.
The annexed aquila
relief at Verona (Domaz. fig. 4) gives a good idea of the standard, though
unfortunately the eagle's head is broken off.
Nearly all the material necessary for discussing the signa
is given by Domazewski, op. cit.
Besides that, some further assistance may be got from articles by Rein in
Pauly, 6.1179-1182, 2542-3, and Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung,
ii.2 345, 353-7, 438-9.