Welcome to my first of (hopefully) many lectures I will be giving here in The University! As I am relatively new to EMN, I feel an introduction is an order. I’m Matan, but lots of people call me Rando Or RandomDiscordUser. I’ve been involved in a few regions before, and I really think I’ll enjoy EMN! This series of lectures will be about the Roman military. Its structure, politics, and maybe even some history if you guys wish it . This first lecture will be about the structure of the Roman military. After all, this is the most crucial part of the Roman military machine. It’s hard to comprehend the significance of the huge battles if you don’t first know the building blocks that make those battles happen! We will cover both the big and the small units of the Legion. Each spoke moved perfectly in place to provide a smooth road for which the wagon of war could travel. While it’s easy to look at Caesar and Augustus and see their great military strategy, it’s lost on many the men who executed that strategy. Without further ado, I present the composition of the Roman military.
The smallest unit of the Roman military was the Contubernium. The Contubernium consisted of eight soldiers, each a Roman citizen. These men slept, marched, ate, and fought together. A Contubernium was like a small family, each of these men knew each other by name and watched each other’s back. The Contubernium was lead by the Decanus. Now, with eight men, the name Decanus may sound a bit odd. Why not Octanus if he leads eight men? However, what we don’t see on the battlefield are the two other men, usually servants or slaves, who would assist the Contubernium in their duties. The Decanus of a Contubernium would be elected by the Contubernium in which he resides. He was usually the most senior member of the Contubernium, but he held no large amounts of power. He would fight, train, and march with all the other soldiers.
The next unit of the Roman military was the Century. A Century consisted of 10 Contubernium or about 80 soldiers. These 80 soldiers, along with the 20 servants from the Contuberniums, combined to make 100 men, the namesake for the Century. Each Century had its own standard and traditions, and members of one Century would openly joke about their unit’s superiority to another. A Century had a number of appointed officials that contributed to the overall function of the unit. Signifiers held the Century’s battle standard, the symbol of the unit. The Tesserarius was the commander of the watch, and oversaw this post with diligence. The Century was tactically led by the Centurion, who gained his position via promotion by his superiors. This position, unlike many in the lower parts of the military, was achieved up-down, rather than down-up. The Centurion’s second-in-command was the Optio, who would oversee the training and discipline of the soldiers.
Six Centuries formed a Cohort. The Cohort was the smallest unit to actually fight in battle as one. If a general was commanding individual units in a battle, he is most likely commanding a Cohort. The most experienced Centurion of the Cohort’s six Centuries would lead the Cohort. He would still lead his individual Century, but would also give orders to the five other Centurions, who would advise him. If the leading Centurion died in battle or retired, another Centurion would be right in order to replace him. Each Cohort had a unique trumpet call that it could use to order its soldiers without having to use verbal orders. All Cohorts in a Legion were the same, except for the first. The first Cohort in a legion was always made up of 5 double-strength Centuries, with 160 men instead of 80, for a total of 800 men. The first Cohort was made up of the most experienced soldiers, and also housed the Aquilifer, the signifier of the Legion, who bore the Roman Eagle as his standard. The Centurions of the Centuries of the first Cohort were called the Primi Ordines, and they outranked the other Centurions. The most experienced Primi Ordines and the leader of the first Cohort was called Primus Pilus and was the highest ranking Centurion in the Legion.
The Legion was the largest unit in the Roman military. A Legion was formed of 10 Cohorts, numbering about 5200 men, about 5000 infantry and a small division of 200 cavalry called the Equities Legiones. A Legion was so important that it had three official men in the order of command in the Legion and one unofficial man. Fourth in command of the Legion, while technically unofficial, in dire circumstances the Primus Pilus, the most senior Centurion, could command the Legion. The third in command officially was the Camp Prefect. The Camp Prefect oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Legion, such as supply lines and the construction of defensive forts. A Camp Prefect had to have previously served as Primus Pilus to be appointed as Camp Prefect. Second in command of the Legion was the Military Tribune. These were usually young men from rich families, who used the position as a stepping stone to becoming a senator. While young and inexperienced, these Military Tribunes could still take full command of a Legion. However, the first commander of the Legion was the Legatus. The Legatus led his men into battle, and while he received most of the glory, he also received lots of the blame when things went poorly. The Legatus was usually a Senator, one of the 600-strong ruling elite back in Rome, but here he is appointed by his compatriots to lead the Legion.
Auxiliary troops are the second kind of soldier that was fielded by the Roman military. The main difference is that Legionaries were Roman citizens, but Auxiliaries were not. They were residents of the far-off provinces of Rome and served as many of the specialty troops for the army. They were the Horse Archers of Numidia, the archers of Crete, and the elite cavalry of the Gauls. These men brought together their unique talents in service of Rome. There were units such as the Alae, a 400-strong group of cavalry. There were also part-mounted cohorts with cavalry fighting alongside the footsoldiers. Some Auxiliary were just normal infantry, organized like the Legions. Contubernium, Century, Cohort. However, the similarities stop at the Cohort. There were no Auxiliary legions, with no Legatus to lead them. These Auxiliary infantry served as more compact, maneuverable units. Once an Auxiliary soldier had served the Roman military for 25 years, he would be allowed to retire and given a small plot of land, a pension, and Roman citizenship for himself and his posterity.
The Roman military was a marvel of logistics in the ancient world. To be able to control and effectively implement such a large amount of troops truly was a challenge for many, and in this as, in most things, no man rules alone. Many people make up the might of the Roman military, and as history shows us time and time again, these people did not fail Rome. The Roman infantry’s ability to quickly get into formation and fight as a unit helped them tremendously in their conquests. The Romans ability to draw upon their vast lands for more specialized troops allowed them to be dynamic and deal with unique threats that many peoples simply would not be able to overcome. This is just the first of many lectures, but I hope this helps you grasp how the Roman military was able to accomplish such great things. They truly put their collective intelligence together and formed something greater than themselves.
To receive a credit for this course, please answer one of these questions. Feel free to discuss!
How would one become a Legatus?
Who leads a Contubernium?
Do you think 25 years is too long for an Auxiliary to serve to gain citizenship?
Ask a question.