The Roman Army in Britain
Roman Military Glossary
- senior clerk's deputy Assisted the cornicularius with his duties in the tabularium, and was himself assisted perhaps by several librarii.
- 'wing(s)' Auxiliary cavalry squadron(s) commanded by a praefectus and consisting nominally of either five-hundred or one-thousand horsemen. The name ala
means 'wing' in Latin, and refers to their being used during battle
deployed on the flanks of an army. In a second-century census of the
Roman military, the alae quingenariae outnumbered the alae millariae by ninety units to ten. A single cavalry ala would be subdivided into several turmae, which likely varied in size depending on the size of the parent unit.
- ala quingenaria
- 'five-hundred strong wing' A squadron of auxiliary cavalry containing a nominal 500 horsemen, subdivided into 16 turmae. The number of cavalrymen in each troop is generally believed to be 32, though this figure is not proven. Each turma was commanded by a decurio, who was certainly not to be numbered among the ordinary cavalrymen, though it is uncertain whether his junior officers, Arrian's duplicarius and sesquiplicarius
should be included. If we settle for a troop strength of 32 and include
the sub-officers in this figure, the quingenary auxiliary cavalry
cohort would contain 512 troopers, 16 decurions and a prefect.
- ala milliaria
- 'one-thousand strong wing'
A squadron of auxiliary cavalry containing a nominal 1,000 horsemen,
though the actual figure is almost certainly less. This unit is known to
have consisted of 24 turmae, each commanded by a decurio, but the actual number of cavalrymen in each troop is uncertain. If there were 32 troopers per turma, which is thought to be the case in the smaller alae quingenariae,
the unit size would be only 768 troopers, rather small for a nominal
'one-thousand strong wing'. It has been suggested - by Eric Birley -
that the turmae in a milliary cavalry unit each had 42 men, which gives 1,008 troopers per unit. As in the smaller cavalry unit, the decurio
was not numbered among the ordinary troopers, and would be in addition
to whatever troop-size proves to be correct. Given our current
knowledge, the milliary auxiliary cavalry cohort contained anything
between 768 to 1,008 troopers plus 24 decurions and the praefectus alae.
I am inclined towards a figure of 40 men per milliary troop, based on the premise that an extra contubernium
of eight men were simply added to the four already thought to exist in a
quingenary unit, which would increase the troop strength from 32 to 40.
If we then accept this figure of 40 troopers to each turma, the total strength of an ala milliaria including all it's officers would be 985 men, which is closer to the mark. The only milliary cavalry fort excavated is that of Ala II Flavia pia fidelis
at Heidenheim in Germany, which was the largest fort in the Roman
province of Raetia. The floor-plans of the timber-built triple
barrack-blocks uncovered in the retentura here, suggest that there were six contubernia
per milliary troop, though the irregular plan of the rooms adjacent to
the officers quarters at each end of the blocks perhaps indicate that
these rooms formed part of the officer's accommodation, and were not
used to house ordinary troopers.
- armoury/arsenal Weapons stores containing ballistae and bolts, onagri and slingshot, caches of gladii and pilae and other items of weaponry. They were sometimes built in long ranges along both sides of the courtyard in the principia, and in other forts they have been identified as separate buildings within the latera praetorii. The armamentaria were often subdivided into several rooms with access from the courtyard of the principia, in these cases it is probable that one or more of the rooms were used by the custos armorum or even a curator operis armamentarii.
- 'Purification of the Armaments'
A military festival held annually on October 19-20th to celebrate the
conclusion of the campaign season, during which captured arms were
dedicated to Mars, and the standards purified.
- staircases These gave access to the rampart walk on the vallum (ascensi valli) from the interior of the fort or intervallum,
notably in the immediate area of the gates, though usually found at
regular intervals around the defences. Unless in a temporary tactical
encampment where they were of turf, ascensi were usually of
wooden construction, sometimes with stone foundations and at other times
entirely of stone, especially if the defences themselves were of stone.
- 'place of augury' In the camp of Hyginus this was an area in the latera praetorii
where religious sacrifices were made and the auspices taken. In the
later forts, they were probably incorporated within the cross-hall of
- the goddesses of the parade ground
These deities were revered by cavalry troopers rather than infantry
soldiers, and in some instances may have been honoured with shrines
erected on or beside the campus, such as at Benwell (RIB1988).
- parade ground Beside each
auxiliary fort there was an open area of ground, cleared of vegetation
and often topped with gravel, on which weapon training and military
drill would be practiced.
- cardo decumanus
- dorsal axis The
longer of the two principal axes upon which a Roman fort was laid out,
crossed at right-angles in the centre of the camp by the cardo maximus, and providing the line of both the via praetoria at the front and via decumana at the rear of the camp.
- cardo maximus
- lateral axis The shorter of the two principal axes of a Roman fortification which provided the line of the via principalis in the completed camp, the centre of which was termed the groma and was crossed at right angles by the cardo maximus.
- provision rack Described by several classical authors usually in a culinary context, a carnarium was a framework with hooks upon which provisions could be hung, particularly joints of meat. It is possible that carnaria of some description were utilised by the Roman military to store provisions in the roof-spaces of the horrea, above the grain bins.
- ¹ 'company of one-hundred men' / century
A primary unit of manpower in a legion; there were six centuries in
each legionary cohort, and ten cohorts per legion, therefore, sixty
centuries per legion. In antiquity the count of men in each century was
exactly one-hundred, which was in late republican times reduced to
eighty men and subdivided into ten contubernii of eight men each. The centuriae in the first cohort of an imperial Roman legion were of double strength, each numbering one-hundred and sixty legionaries.
² barrack-blocks In the marching camp of Hyginus each legionary century was housed in eight leather tents or papiliones, which were pitched in a straight line (hemistrigium) with the centurion's larger tent at the end nearest to the vallum. Each tent would house a contubernium
of eight men, the remaining sixteen men from each century which were
currently posted on guard duty would not require accomodation; the tents
in a Hyginian camp were used, therefore, on a rota-basis. The eight papiliones per century of the Hyginian marching camp would be translated in a permanent fort into ten contubernia.
- century commander / centurion The officer in charge of an individual centuria. He was assisted by his subordinate officers; the signifer, the optio and the tesserarius.
All these officers would be housed in separate quarters at the end of
each barrack-block, in comparative luxury to the common legionaries. In
the Roman legions - also in the auxilia - there were different
grades within the rank of centurion, which also determined which century
within the cohort the centurion would command:
Table of Ranks of Legionary Centurions
|Century||First Cohort||Other Cohorts|
|1st||primus pilus||pilus prior
|4th||princeps posterior||princeps posterior
|5th||hastatus posterior||hastatus prior
- obstacle trenches These were long pits or fossae,
5 feet deep, perhaps with a W-like profile, inside which were fixed
obstacles of sharpened tree branches; they are described by Caesar (De Bello Gallico, VII.73-80).
- 'steering' obstacles These are extensions to the vallum of a camp in the area of the portae,
forming a defended passageway which permitted egress to the camp by an
enemy only from his right, thus exposing the unshielded sword-arm to the
defenders on the rampart on approach. There are two types; the external
clavicula was an extension of the right-hand rampart, angled obliquely outwards then in front of the gateway, whilst the internal clavicula was an extension of the left-hand rampart which curved inwards behind the gateway.
- ¹ eight man tent-section The smallest unit into which a legionary force was divided, comprising eight soldiers, all of whom shared a papilio on campaign, or a contubernia
in garrison. These men would eat, sleep, drill and march together,
fight the enemy side by side, go on duty at the same time, share their
ablutions, and also spend much of their off-duty moments in each-others
company. It is apparent from a pottery graffito found in the Neronian
fortress at Usk, that each contubernium
had a leader appointed from among its members - probably based on the
length of military service - who was presumably responsible for the
general conduct of the men in his tent-section, and would also ensure
that the rooms allocated for their use in the barrack-block were kept in
² section quarters There were ten contubernia to each barrack-block in a legionary fortress or auxiliary infantry fort, each holding an eight-man tent section or contubernium. They were divided into two areas; the forward area or arma where personal equipment and weapons would be stored, and a rear area or papilio
where bunks were installed, meals were prepared, board games were
played, and the men generally lived when off duty; the entrance to the
section quarters was usually through a covered portico running along the
length of the barrack-block. In the auxiliary cavalry forts there were
eight contubernia to each barrack-block, where it appears that the troopers from two turmae were housed together. The contubernia in cavalry barracks were appreciably larger than those of the infantry units, as befitting their enhanced status.
- senior clerk Chief official in charge of the administrative paperwork in the tabularium, assisted by the actuarius and perhaps several librarii.
- custos armorum
- armourer Literally 'Keeper of the Armaments', was the official entrusted with the keys to the armamentarium,
drawn from among the most experienced centurions, he ranked very high
in the administrative hierarchy of a Roman military encampment.
- workshop A Roman legion held
within its ranks a formidable array of artisans, whose skills excused
them from normal duties, they were thus termed immunes. Vegetius lists several skills - 'engineers, carpenters, masons, wagon-makers, blacksmiths, painters and other artificers' (epitoma rei militaris, II.11) - all of which would have been employed in the fabrica of a legionary camp under the command of a praefectus fabrum, the probable auxiliary equivalent for this post being the optio fabricae. Many buildings containing iron-smelting furnaces, large water cisterns and hypocausti have been identified as fabricae.
They have been found in many of the legionary fortresses throughout the
Roman empire, but few have been positively identified in auxiliary
forts. It is probable that the workshop in an auxiliary fort was used
maintenance rather than production, thus the heavier industries such as
iron smelting, which would help to identify the site of the auxiliary fabrica would not be present, giving the false impression there were none. Hyginus places the fabrica in the praetentura, as far away from the valetudinarium as possible, so as not to disturb the sick soldiers, however, a large workshop has been identified in the retentura of the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil, where almost one-million iron nails had been buried, and there seem to be no hard rules for placement of the fabrica in practice.
- Feriale Duranum
- Timetable of Festivals
A list of military religious festivals which were observed by every
unit in the Roman army. The list includes the festivals of the cultus signorum, the Rosaliae Signorum and the festival of natis signorum, all of which honour the regimental standards.
- ditches Although the typical Roman military ditch had a regular V-like profile, termed by Hyginus a fossa fastigata, there were other types of ditch employed. Ditches with a W-like profile may either be of the cippus type, or represent subsequent recuttings of a normal V-profile ditch on a slightly different line. The fossa punica is another well-known variant. In the marching camp of Vegetius
the single ditch was a regulatory 5 feet wide and 3 feet deep, but
auxiliary forts and legionary fortresses could have any number of
ditches, depending on the local topography; all had at least one, many
had two, and several had more, sometimes varying in number on different
sides of the camp. The average dimensions for individual fossae
of auxiliary forts ranged from 7 to 20-odd feet in width and between 4
to 10 feet deep. The actual width of the surrounding defensive system,
however many individual ditches it contained, was obviously limited by
the effective range of the garrison's weapons hurled from the vallum.
- fossa fastigata
- 'slope-sided ditch'
The classic V-profile ditch used by the Roman Military in their
fortifications, is often found with a narrow slot in the bottom,
variously interpreted as either an 'ankle-breaker' or as an aid to ditch
drainage, probably a design feature, but possibly due simply to
frequent clearance with a standard square-edged excavation tool.
- fossa punica
- 'Punic ditch' This was a popular variation of the regular V-profile fossa fastigata,
which, if present, was usually placed outermost in any ditch system
surrounding a permanent fort or legionary fortress. This type of ditch
had an irregular profile, the innermost slope closest to the vallum
was quite shallow while the outer slope was almost vertical. This
design has been interpreted as a type of 'man-trap'; anyone foolish
enough to venture inside its perimeter would be forced to turn his back
in order to climb the steep outer-wall, thus exposing himself to the
defenders on the ramparts as an easy javelin target. It is probable that
the shallow inner slope was merely to enable the bottom of the ditch to
be seen from the rampart, but may also have served to lure any
attackers into the 'killing zone' by the seemingly easy appearance of
its inner slope.
- ¹ survey tool A groma was the singular most important instrument of the mensores, or Roman military surveyors, and their commander the praefectus castrorum. The groma was used to mark-out the two main axes of the camp; the cardo decumanus which pointed in the direction from which the main danger would arise, and the cardo maximus which lay at right-angles to it. The groma
consisted of a cruciform metal frame, set at meticulous right angles,
with plumb-lines suspended from the extremities of each arm. The
instrument was suspended from a tall staff set slightly off-centre,
which would allow the surveyor to make sightings along the plumb-lines
unimpeded by the pole itself. The main axes of the camp would then be
measured by the mensores - using accurately cut poles perhaps ten feet in length - and marked-out using coloured flags, along the line indicated by the groma.
² focus of the camp The word groma is also thought to name
the point where the two main streets crossed before the entrance to the
headquarters building - where the like-named surveying instrument was
initially placed. There has been evidence of small, temporary altars
erected at this position at several forts, particularly in Germany, and
it is thought that these altars were used during a religious ceremony
conducted by the commander of the regiment, which conferred the blessing
of the martial gods upon the camp itself.
- training ring / animal corral Also identified as a vivarium, the only known example of an auxiliary fort containing a purpose-built gyrus/vivarium throughout the whole of the Roman empire is 'The Lunt' fort at Baginton
near Coventry. The structure was formed from fifty semicircular cut
timbers set upright in a circular trench, probably supporting a
framework of cross-timbers. A single entrance passage adjoined the
structure on the north-east, which had gates at both ends, presumably to
control the animals entering or leaving the main structure. It is
probable that both horses and men were trained within the gyrus, the
instructor most likely remained in the centre of the ring, while the
trainee was walked around the perimeter on the end of a leash.
- granaries The staple diet of the
Roman army was corn, and great care was taken to ensure that the
grain-supply was secure - soldiers tend to mutiny if they are not fed.
The graneries in an auxiliary fort were generally placed in the latera praetoria beside the principia, though in the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil the granaries were arranged beside the barrack-blocks of each cohort, in the retentura and praetentura.
The floors of the granaries were raised off the ground by various
means, to allow the free circulation of air around the building and thus
to reduce humidity, which would cause the stored grain to spoil. The
walls of the buildings were heavily buttressed, to compensate for the
lateral pressure exerted by the 'semi-fluid' grain. The interior was
protected from intrusion by insects and rodents with amurca, the
residue left over from the processing of olives, which was pasted into
any cracks in the walls and floor, and also mixed into the plaster used
to seal the room. The floors of the granaries were taken up by large
wooden storage bins to hold the corn, perhaps with carnaria in the roof-spaces from which to hang more provisions. In some timber-built forts, for example the antonine fort at Bearsden,
the granaries are the only buildings built of stone, which underlines
how important these buildings were to the Roman military.
- 'the exempt' These were men who
were excused the routine tasks such as ditch-digging and patrolling the
ramparts because they posessed some specialised skill or trade which
qualified them for special duties. Vegetius lists several skills which
would qualify a soldier among the immunes; 'engineers,
carpenters, masons, wagon-makers, blacksmiths, painters and other
artificers'. Other trades included farriers, surveyors, shipwrights,
glaziers, fletchers, armourers, hunters, butchers, grooms, plumbers,
bronze-smiths, lime and charcoal burners, and keepers of sacrificial
animals. Many of these technical specialists were employed in the
buildings of the latera praetorii of the camp, primarily the valetudinarium, the veterinarium, and especially the fabrica. It is very likely that these men were seconded to other units on a temporary basis when required.
- 'within the ramparts'
Polybius records that a 200 foot wide gap should be left between the
ramparts and the tents, forming an annular space all around the camp,
this was known as the intervallum; Hyginus reduces this to only 60 feet. The purpose of this gap was to allow the soldiers unhindered access to the ascensi leading to the vallum
itself, and also to ensure that burning missiles hurled into the camp
interior should fall short of any buildings. A road named the via sagularis ran through the intervallum
around the entire camp perimeter. The barrack-blocks within many Roman
camps were built with the centurion's quarters closest to the intervallum,
so that the officers could quickly answer any call to arms and
coordinate the manning of the ramparts. In many forts the camp ovens
were placed in the intervallum, either embedded into the rear of
the rampart, or in covered cook-houses. Rainwater was directed away from
the centre of the camp along covered drainage channels, into culverts
running along the edges of the intervallum, along which the
rainwater was ultimately diverted into the fort ditch. In many forts the
ablutions were situated in the lowest part of the intervallum,
adjacent to the rampart, where the water draining from the camp interior
would be used to flush the latrines, a prime example in Britain being Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall.
- latera praetorii
- 'beside the praetorium' This was the cental range of the camp, separated from the praetentura at the front of the fort by the via principalis, and from the retentura at the rear of the camp by the via quintana. The main buildings of the camp were built in the latera praetorii; the principia
or headquarters building was almost always located at the physical
centre of the fort in this area, surrounded to the rear and sides by the
praetorium (commanding officer's house), the horrea (granaries), the valetudinarium and veterinarium for sick men and animals, and in some forts a fabrica (workshop).
- legate The men who filled the office of Legate were drawn from among the senatorial class of Rome. There were two main positions; the legatus legionis was an ex-praetor and the man in command of one of Romes elite legions, while the legatus pro-praetore was an ex-consular, who was given the governorship of a Roman province with the magisterial powers of a praetor, which in the case of Britain gave him overall command of up to four legions.
- office clerks Assisted the cornicularius with his duties in the tabularium.
- 'lilies' These obstacles were described by Caesar (G.W.
VII.73), and consisted of a three foot deep pit with tapering sides, at
the bottom of which a sharpened stake was fixed upright and concealed
with brushwood and leaves. These man-traps were named 'lilies' because
of their resemblance to that flower, and were generally deployed in a quincunx pattern.
- military tent(s) Made of sewn leather sections and measuring 10 x 10 Roman feet, they housed a contubernium of eight legionaries when on campaign. The eight tents allocated to each centuria were pitched close together in a straight line (hemistrigium) with the centurion's tent at the end of the line closest to the vallum.
Arms and equipment were stored in the areas immediately before each
tent, and the baggage animals tethered in the spaces between each centuriae, which were, according to Hyginus, erected facing each-other in pairs.
- gates In a classical Roman encampment there were six gates; the porta praetoria at the front of the camp, the porta decumana at the rear, the two portae principales, one at each end of the via principalis, and the portae quintanae at each end of the via quintana; in many forts some of these gates would be omitted, particulaly the portae quintanae. The gateways of the camp were generally built out of the same materials as the vallum, and the methods used in their construction are discussed in the Roman Military Introduction.
- porta decumana
- rear gate It was
from this gate that soldiers convicted of serious crimes, such as
desertion, were led out from the camp to be executed, likely by being
stoned to death.
- porta praetoria
- 'praetorian gate' This gate lay at the opposite end of the via praetoria from the principia in the centre of the camp - in republican times called the praetorium. According to both Hyginus and Vegetius, the porta praetoria should lie closest to the enemy.
- portae principales
- 'principal gates' These gates lay at either end of the via principalis, which ran in front of the principia and the praetorium in the center of the camp.
- portae quintanae
- side gates These portals lay at either end of the via quintana
in the rear portion of the camp. They were often omitted, their
positions in the ramparts frequently being taken by interval towers
- praefectus alae
- 'prefect of the wing'
This was the commander of one of Rome's cavalry units, the auxiliary
elite, and was the highest military rank normally achievable by the
Roman equestrian class, the Knights of Rome. The prefect of an ala milliaria ranked above all other auxiliary commanders.
- praefectus annonae
- 'commissioner of the grain supply [of Rome]' Another name for the curator annonae,
a position initially offered to Pompey by the Roman senate to counter
the famine of 57BC, and offered as a honorary title to Augustus in 22BC.
Augustus had in 29BC decreed that the post of praefectus annonae be filled from among the equestrian order.
- praefectus castrorum
- 'prefect of the camp' Sometimes known as the praefectus legionis
this rank was the third-in-command of a legion, recruited from among
its senior centurions, and was the highest rank achieveable by the Roman
plebian class. The men who served in this position had spent their
entire lives in the army, working their way up through the ranks, and
were granted equestrian status on completion of their term of service.
The praefectus castrorum was concerned with all the stages of
construction of the Roman military camp, and usually responsible for
choosing the site, though we are told by Tacitus that the legate Julius
Agricola preferred to explore and choose the site himself. His other
duties included directing the entrenchments, inspecting the lines of
tents in the temporary camp and supervising the construction of
barrack-blocks and internal buildings in permanent forts, sinking wells
and building aqueducts, and ensuring the supply of saws, entrenching
tools, turf-cutters and all the instruments of the military engineer. He
was also responsible for the furnishings in the interior buildings, the
supply of wood, iron and coal to the fabrica, and the medical supplies used in the valetudinarium.
- praefectus cohortis
- cohort commander These were lower ranking prefects, in charge of the least prestigious auxiliary units the cohors quingenaria peditata ('cohort of five-hundred foot [soldiers]'), or the cohors quingenaria equitata ('cohort of five-hundred [soldiers] with horse') were both commanded by a praefectus.
- praefectus praetorio
- 'praetorian prefect'
This rank represented the epitome of equestrian power, being the man in
charge of the Praetorian Guard stationed outside Rome itself.
- praefectus urbi
- 'prefect of the City'
This was a consular post, 'the highest dignity of the senate' (Dio
lxxix.14.2), who was in command of the City of Rome whenever the two
consuls were not present. His jurisdiction extended to the countryside
surrounding Rome for a distance of one hundred miles. The appointment of
Adventus to the position by emperor Macrinus in 217 caused considerable
dissent among the senate because he had not yet served as consul, a
condition fulfilled since the time of Augustus. We are told (Dio
liii.33.3) that in 23BC at least, two Prefects of the City presided over
each day of the Feriae Latinae, and that one of them had not yet
attained adulthood. Earlier references record that during the republic,
there were several urban prefects in office at the same time, and it is
also known that Claudius appointed his sons-in-law Pompeius and Silanus
to the position to preside over the Latin Games of 41AD.
- praefectus vigilum
- 'commander of the night watch' Augustus decreed in 29BC that the posts of praefectus vigilum and praefectus annonae, both highly prestigious offices in Rome, be filled from among the equestrian order.
- 'forward extent' This was the front part of the camp, between the via principalis and the porta praetoria, and bisected by the via praetoria.
This area was generally filled with the tents or barrack-blocks of the
garrison, the first cohort of a legion being always housed here. In the
camp described by Hyginus, this area also contained the valetudinarium and veterinarium, the tribunes' houses, the scholae of the officers, and the fabrica; most of these building being transferred to the latera praetorii in the auxiliary forts.
- ¹ general's tent In the temporary marching camps described by Polybius and Hyginus the praetorium
is the area reserved in the centre of the camp for the tents of the
legionary commander, before which the legionary eagles were grounded
along with the standards of each century. In the Polybian camp it was
flanked on one side by the quaestorium and on the other by the forum, with the tribune's tents arranged in front of it along the via principalis. The Hyginian plan places the praetorium in the latera praetorii, with the auguratorium and the general's tribunal, flanked along one side by the centuriae of the first cohort. The praetorium in temporary marching camps therefore comprised both the living accommodation of the unit commander and the administrative headquarters of the unit.
² commander's house In the permanent camps the praetorium of the unit commander was displaced from the centre of the camp and located in the latera praetorii, adjacent to the administrative offices of the garrison which were retained at the centre of the fort in the prinicipia. Whether it was a legion of highly-trained citizen troops or a numerus
of auxiliary foot soldiers, the commander of one of Rome's military
units was a highly respected man, and a large area was set aside for his
personal residence. The praetorium generally took up about a third of the area of the latera praetorii,
or about ten percent of the entire space within the ramparts. This not
only befitted his status in the military hierarchy, but was also
required to accommodate his personal entourage of family members,
friends, clients, advisors, lackeys and domestic slaves, and also in
order to receive visitors. The praetorium was almost invariably based around a central courtyard, and is closely similar in layout to the traditional Roman domus.
The building could contain the same luxury structural features as many
of the wealthy town-houses, which included hypocaust heating systems,
bath-suites, latrines, kitchens and stables. In some forts, for example Hod Hill, separate smaller praetoria have been identified, often in the praetentura, which may indicate a garrison comprised of several units.
- headquarters building The literal, administrative and religious centre of the later Roman forts, situated in the centre of the latera praetorii, fronting onto the via principalis and facing down the length of the via praetoria, the building was thus visible as soon as one entered the porta praetoria.
The building consisted of three distinct parts; a collonaded courtyard,
an isled cross-hall and a rear range of rooms. The collonaded courtyard
was surfaced with gravel or paved with stone, and may be fronted by a
portico or even a separate entrance hall spanning the via principalis, the side ranges of this area may also contain armamentaria, scholae,
or other store-rooms and offices. The cross-hall beyond the courtyard
extended across the entire width of the building, and was usually the
tallest structure in the interior of the camp, having celestory windows
in rows, to provide light for the commander's tribunal and auguratorium
which it housed. Beyond the cross-hall was a rear range of rooms,
usually five in number, the central room of which housed the regimental
standards and treasury, and was named the sacellum, flanked on one side by the tabularium and on the other by the offices of the signiferi.
- 'aquisition area' Polybius places this section near the centre of his camp, adjacent to the commanding officer's tents in the praetorium, on the opposite side from the forum. In the Hyginian model, the quaestorium was placed in the retentura at the rear of the camp between the praetorium and the porta decumanus.
This area was where prisoners and booty were kept under guard, where
supplies were organised and distributed, and also where the artillery
and heavy baggage was stored. The area was under the direct supervision
of the praefectus castrorum, the Prefect of the Camp, who was possibly also quartered here.
- 'holding area' This was the rearward portion in the tripartite camp of Hyginus, alongside the latera praetorii in the centre of the camp, and opposite the praetentura at the front, lying between the via quintana and the porta decumana. In a marching camp this area housed the tents of the least experienced troops, the quaestorium of the Camp Prefect and also the tents of any accompanying auxiliary brigades. The buildings found in the retentura of the permanent forts were mainly centuriae (barrack-blocks), stabuli (stables) and cellae (storehouses). The retentura was sometimes omitted in the smaller forts and fortlets, especially if no rear gate was provided. The Antonine fort at Newstead in lowland Scotland had a wall erected across the width of the retentura parallel with the via quintana, which apparently was to separate two legionary cohorts stationed in the praetentura from a quingenary cavalry wing housed at the rear. There are several examples of bath-houses built within the retentura of auxiliary forts, especially in Germany.
- regimental shrine Located on the cardo decumanus close to the geometric centre of the camp, this building was visible through the portals of the principia at the terminus of the via praetoria
as soon as one entered through the main gates. The importance the
Romans placed on this building is backed-up by field-evidence, for in
many modern excavations the sacellum has proved to be the only
internal building constructed of stone, or at least, the first to be
rebuilt in stone. Centrally located in the rear range of the principia, the sacellum was flanked on one side by the tabularium and on the other by the offices of the signiferi.
The building often projected out from the rear of the building or was
apisdal in plan. It housed the images of the emperor, the signa of the unit and the vexilla of its constituent companies, and the garrison's altars, which were often dedicated 'to the genius of the unit'. The sacellum
also housed the regimental pay-chest which was placed directly on the
floor in many of the the timber-built forts, or else located in a sunken
strongroom beneath the floor of the shrine. The strongroom was lined in
timber or stone and accessed either through a trapdoor in the ceiling
from the sacellum above or along a stair-passageway often leading from the cross-hall of the principia, but in some instances from the offices of the signiferi next door. A guard was normally posted outside the sacellum, and was a honoured duty.
- officer's clubs Hyginus places the scholae in the praetentura
or forward part of the camp, alongside the tents of the military
tribunes and legionary legates. Evidence has been recovered from the
legionary fortress at Lambaesis, which suggests that rooms opening out
into either end of the cross-hall of the principia were used as scholae
by the officers of the garrison. No comparable evidence of this
activity has been recovered from any Roman auxiliary fort, but this does
not preclude the existence of scholae within the auxilia. Considering the lack of evidence to the contrary, it is quite possible that scholae were provided with purpose-built offices in the principia
of many auxiliary forts, most likely in the rooms surrounding the
central courtyard or off the cross-hall. In the Agricolan fortress at Inchtuthil, a collonaded courtyard building with ranges of rooms along three of its sides has been tentatively identified as the scholae. This building lies in the praetentura of the fortress and opens out onto the via praetoria just behind the row of tribunes houses, evidently following Hyginus' pattern.
- standards The standards of all Roman
military units were held to be sacred, thus they were stored in the
most holy of places within the fort's defences, the sacellum, or military shrine in the rear range of the principia. The signa or regimental standards were housed alongside the vexilla
or flags of the individual centuries or decuries of the garrison. There
were at least two religious ceremonies which revered the standards
themselves; the Rosaliae Signorum, where the standards were decorated with crowns of roses, before the entire garrison assembled in the courtyard of the principia, and the festival of the natalis signorum
also, was held exclusively in their honour. Vegetius states that half
of the emperor's donatives to the soldiers were to be deposited ad signa or 'with the standards'.
- standard bearer(s) Vegetius states that the signiferi were directly responsible for the finances of the garrison. Their offices lay in the rear range of the principia, to one side of the sacellum which housed the actual treasury, and the signa
themselves. They kept records of all financial transactions, receipts,
and accounts, and were directly accountable for all the coinage in the
regimental funds, which was held in small bags or baskets, and stored in
the paychest under lock and key in the sacellum. They were also
responsible for paying each soldier his salary, after taking deductions
for his food, kit, retirement pension, burial fund contributions, etc..
- stable ...
- records office This normally consisted of two rooms in the rear range of the prinicipia, to one side of the sacellum.
It contained records of the day-to-day activities of the fort, such as
duty rosters, service records, leave schedules, illness reports and
records of promotions, decorations, transfers and secondment. The
records were inscribed on a variety of media, depending on local
availability; slate, wooden waxed tablets, written in ink on papyrus,
etc. The tabularium was the office of the cornicularius, who was assisted in his administrative duties by his deputy the actuarius and a number of librarii.
- 'by thirds' Hyginus suggested
that ratio between the long and short sides of an encampment should be
3:2, and by the Flavian period almost every new fort or fortress was
built to this format, which gives the classic 'playing card' outline.
The interior of the camp was also divided into thirds, the forward part
which lay closest to the enemy was called the praetentura, the rearward section was named the retentura and the middle third was labelled the latera praetorii.
- bath-house ...
- 'staggered' obstacle This was a
short length of ditch with an inner bank built in front of a camp
gateway to protect the gates from frontal assault. The gates of the
Hyginian camp were protected by tituli which were roughly the same length as the corresponding gap in the vallum and placed at a distance of 60 feet in front. A modification of the titulum which allowed egress from one side only, was termed a clavicula.
- water-lifter A device for
lifting water from a well where the water table is high, consisting of a
long pivoted pole with a bucket at one end and a counterweight at the
other. The poet Martial used a tolleno to water his garden, and
his description suggests it was similar in form and function to a shaduf
or shadoof, used nowadays in Egypt and throughout the near eastern
- judicial platform A tribunal
is a raised platform from which a magistrate hears evidence and
pronounces judgement. Within a Roman military camp, this was where the
camp commander would stand to address his men, issue orders, hear
complaints, conduct court-martial proceedings, also to perform the
necessary military ceremonial and religious duties. In the Hyginian camp
the commander's tribunal was situated in the latera praetorii, in later camps it was housed at one end of the cross-hall of the principia, usually on the right-hand side as one enters, and facing towards the rear of the building. A tribunal
was also the name given to any raised platform, sometimes hastily
constructed from cut and stacked turves, from which a Roman general
would deliver speeches or review troops on parade; tribunal mounds of
this type have been found beside the parade-grounds at Hardknott,
Maryport, South Shields and Tomen-y-Mur.
- cavalry troop(s) An operational section of an auxiliary cavalry ala, commanded by a decurio, whose size may have depended in turn on the size of its parent wing. In an ala quingenaria the size of each turma was probably 32 troopers, besides the troop commander, but a troop size of 42 cavalrymen has been suggested for those turmae in an ala milliaria.
- hospital The hospital in a Roman camp was placed by Hyginus in the praetentura alongside the Scholae and the veterinarium, though in many forts the valetudinarium occurs in the latera praetorii alongside the granaries and the principia
in the centre of the camp. Hospitals were present in almost all
legionary fortresses, but seldom provided in auxiliary forts, notable
exceptions in Britain being Housesteads and Wallsend, both on Hadrian's Wall. The hospital administration was under the control of an optio valetudinarii, though the actual medical practice was under the charge of a Chief Medical Officer or medicus ordinarius,
both of which appear to be equal in rank to a centurion. The hospital
was manned by a number of medical orderlies bearing the title miles medicus,
who were presumably under the direct command of the administrator, and
responsible for the day-to-day running of the hospital. The dressing of
wounds was carried out by capsarii, similar in rank to the
orderlies though commanded by the Chief Medical Officer. The soldiers
who worked in the hospital were numbered among the immunes, men who were excused normal duties in order to work in specialized jobs. The valetudinarium
building has a fairly distinct profile in legionary fortresses, in the
form of an open courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a double row of
individual cubiculae, separated by an ambulatory corridor
illuminated through celestory windows. The layouts of hospitals in
auxiliary forts is more varied, with the central courtyard design often
featured, though scaled down, perhaps with a single row of cubiculae
surrounding a small courtyard, separated by an ambulatory or peristyle;
the hospitals in the forts on Hadrian's Wall are of this type. Another
form often seen in the smaller forts is that of a rectangular building
with two rows of cubicles separated by a central corridor running along
its main axis, such as at Corbridge.
- ¹ rampart A Roman encampment was always enclosed by a defensive system comprising at least three components; a ditch or fosse, an inner bank or agger containing the ditch outcast, and a palisade or vallum surmounting the bank; the rampart then, contained both the agger and vallum elements. In the Polybian camp, the vallum
is described as a linear mound of earth and turf surmounted by a
palisade of wooden stakes. Hyginus says that it should be built of
earth, turf or stone, eight Roman feet wide and six feet high. The
method of construction varied greatly, depending on the size of the
unit, the local military situation, and most importantly, the locally
available resources. In temporary marching camps the rampart would be
simply constructed using the Polybian method, whereas the ramparts of
auxiliary forts, campaign forts and legionary fortresses were built
using an astonishing variety of methods. Many auxiliary forts were built
using the 'turf and earth' method, where the turves cut from the areas
above the fossae were stacked up into two rows, with the space between being filled with the outcast from the ditches; on top of this basic agger foundation, the defensive structures forming the vallum were then added. The various methods of rampart construction are discussed in the Roman Military Introduction.
² defensive system The Antonine Itinerary uses the word vallum
to denote the massive frontier defences of Hadrian's Wall across the
north of England; in this context the word should more properly be
translated as 'fortifications' or 'defensive system'. Hadrian's frontier
system consisted of several component, one part of which is nowadays
known as 'The Vallum'. This massive structure was built behind the line
of the Wall, and followed along its course for almost its entire length;
the function it served is unknown.
- animal station In the Roman camp of Hyginus, this building was placed in the praetentura next to the valetudinarium for sick soldiers. The word veterinarium
is often interpreted as 'horse hospital', though a better translation
may be 'baggage animal park'. This building or area housed the pack
animals, mules and oxen, the cavalry mounts, the sacred chickens meant
for sacrifice in the principia, in fact every type of animal
which the Romans required to run their military machine, and was not
only for sick horses. The men working in the veterinarium were known as veterinarii and classed among the immunes who were excused normal duties. The single tombstone of a Hippiatros or 'Horse Doctor' serving in a cohors equitata,
proves that such a rank existed, though it cannot be said from this
lone evidence that every mixed cavalry cohort had one in attendance, or
even that the elite cavalry squadrons posessed them.
- roads A Roman military encampment was posessed of many roads, set out in a precise pattern, all of which served a specific function:
- via decumana
- 'way of the tenth' This road lay along the camp's major axis, on the same line as the via praetoria. It ran from behind the Principia at the centre of the camp, at right-angles away from the mid-point of the via quintana, and passed out through the porta decumana at the rear, bisecting the retentura.
The road was so named because it separated the Tenth Cohort from the
Ninth in the legionary encampment. In the camp described by Hyginus this road was sixty feet wide.
- via praetoria
- 'the praetorian way' This road branched off at right-angles from the centre of the via principalis immediately before the entrance to the principia, and bisected the praetentura along the line of the cardo decumanus. The point at which this road pierced the fort's defences marked the main entrance to the camp, unsurprisingly named the porta praetoria. The via praetoria
was so named because in the legionary marching camp it led from the
tent of the legionary commander to the front gateway; the commander of a
Roman legion being an ex-praetor in rank. According to Hyginus, this road should be made sixty feet wide.
- via principalis
- 'the principal way' This street lay across the cardo maximus, the shorter axis of the camp, and passed in front of the principia in the centre of the fort. The via praetoria ran at right-angles from the groma marking the central point of the via principalis to the main gates of the fort, directly opposite the entrance to the principia. The via principalis generally continued through the defenses where gateways were maintained, the porta principalis sinistra and porta principalis dextra, to left and right of the principia. In the camp of Hyginus this road was sixty feet wide.
- via quintana
- 'way of the fifth' The via quintana was so called because in the legionary camp it separated the Fifth Cohort from the Sixth. Hyginus stipulates that it should be forty feet wide.
- via sagularis
- 'way of the cloak' This road is sometimes called the 'intervallum road' as it lay in the space between the rampart and the buildings in the interior of the fort, the intervallum. The via sagularis
thus ran around the entire perimeter of the camp within the rampart,
encircling the interior buildings. The etymology of its name seems to
derive from the sagulum or small military cloak worn by the
soldiers when on guard duty. The road may be so named because it
'encloaks' the interior of the camp in the same manner the sagulum encircles the shoulders, or possibly, because the soldiers were required to wear the sagulum when on patrol in the interior of the camp along this road.
- viae vicinariae
- 'local ways' Minor
roads running between the barracks, stables, granaries and other
buildings in the camp interior. In the legionary camp of Hyginus they were twenty Roman feet wide between the rows of tents.
- Vide 'gyrus' supra.
For further information on the Roman military, the standard classical works are; de munitionibus castrorum, 'the fortifications of the camp' by Hyginus, and epitoma rei militaris, 'the epitome of military science' by Vegetius. Excellent works by modern authors include; Roman Forts by Anne Johnson, The Roman Imperial Army by Graham Webster, The Roman Cavalry by Karen R. Dixon and Pat Southern, and The Roman Army 31BC - 337AD a Sourcebook by Brian Campbell.