Polybius (c. 200 – c. 118 BC)

Polybius was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period noted for his work The Histories, which covered the period of 264–146 BC in detail. Polybius’ father, Lycortas was one of the 1,000 Achaean nobles who were transported to Rome as hostages in 167 BC. In Rome, by virtue of his high culture, Polybius was admitted to the most distinguished houses and befriended Scipio Aemilianus. Polybius went on campaign with Scipio to Africa, and was present at the Sack of Carthage in 146, which he later wrote about. in order for his Greek countrymen would understand his work he described even the smallest details — something that Caesar, another great source did not.

Book 6 of his Histories

Although before the time of the Roman Invasion of Britain Polybius provides an excellent description of the Roman army and its layout and organization in Book VI of his Histories.

The only thing I have done to the text is edit it a little for clarity and added emphasis to some words, mainly putting most of the Latin titles in italics and adding headings.

On the Roman Army

19 After electing the Consuls they proceed to elect military tribunes,—fourteen from those who had five years’, and ten from those who had ten years’, service. All citizens must serve ten years in the cavalry or twenty years in the infantry before the forty-sixth year of their age, except those rated below four hundred asses. The latter are employed in the navy; but if any great public necessity arises they are obliged to serve as infantry also for twenty campaigns: and no one can hold an office in the state until he has completed ten years of military service…

The Levy

When the Consuls are about to enrol the army they give public notice of the day on which all Roman citizens of military age must appear. This is done every year. When the day has arrived, and the citizens fit for service are come to Rome and have assembled on the Capitoline, the fourteen junior tribunes divide themselves, in the order in which they were appointed by the people or by the Imperators, into four divisions, because the primary division of the forces thus raised is into four legions. The four tribunes first appointed are assigned to the legion called the 1st; the next three to the 2d; the next four to the 3d; and the three last to the 4th. Of the ten senior tribunes, the two first are assigned to the 1st legion; the next three to the 2d; the two next to the 3d; and the three last to the 4th.

A Roman senior officer (centre), of the time of Polybius, as depicted on a bas-relief from the Altar of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, c. 122 BC.

20. This division and assignment of the tribunes having been settled in such a way that all four legions have an equal number of officers, the tribunes of the several legions take up a separate position and draw lots for the tribes one by one; and summon the tribe on whom it from time to time falls. From this tribe they select four young men as nearly like each other in age and physical strength as possible. These four are brought forward, and the tribunes of the first legion picks out one of them, those of the second another, those of the third another, and the fourth has to take the last. When the next four are selected the tribunes of the second legion have the first choice, and those of the first the last. With the next four the tribunes of the third legion have the first choice, those of the second the last; and so on in regular rotation: of which the result is that each legion gets men of much the same standard. But when they have selected the number prescribed,—which is four thousand two hundred infantry for each legion, or at times of special danger five thousand,—they next used to pass men for the cavalry, in old times after the four thousand two hundred infantry; but now they do it before them, the selection having been made by the censor on the basis of wealth; and they enrol three hundred for each legion.

21. The roll having been completed in this manner, the tribunes belonging to the several legions muster their men; and selecting one of the whole body that they think most suitable for the purpose, they cause him to take an oath that he will obey his officers and do their orders to the best of his ability. And all the others come up and take the oath separately, merely affirming that they will do the same as the first man.

At the same time the Consuls send orders to the magistrates of the allied cities in Italy, from which they determine that allied troops are to serve: declaring the number required, and the day and place at which the men selected must appear. The cities then enrol their troops with much the same ceremonies as to selection and administration of the oath, and appoint a commander and a paymaster.

Fourfold Division of the Legionaries

The Military Tribunes at Rome, after the administering of the oath to their men, and giving out the day and place at which they are to appear without arms, for the present dismiss them. When they arrive on the appointed day, they first select the youngest and poorest to form the Velites, the next to them the Hastati, while those who are in the prime of life they select as Principes, and the oldest of all as Triarii. For in the Roman army these divisions, distinct not only as to their ages and nomenclature, but also as to the manner in which they are armed, exist in each legion. The division is made in such proportions that the senior men, called Triarii, should number six hundred, the Principes twelve hundred, the Hastati twelve hundred, and that all the rest as the youngest should be reckoned among the Velites. And if the whole number of the legion is more than four thousand, they vary the numbers of these divisions proportionally, except those of the Triarii, which is always the same./

Arms of the Velites

22. The youngest soldiers or Velites are ordered to carry a sword, spears, and target (parma). The target is strongly made, and large enough to protect the man; being round, with a diameter of three feet. Each man also wears a head-piece without a crest (galea); which he sometimes covers with a piece of wolf’s skin or something of that kind, for the sake both of protection and identification; that the officers of his company may be able to observe whether he shows courage or the reverse on confronting dangers. The spear of the velites has a wooden haft of about two cubits, and about a finger’s breadth in thickness; its head is a span long, hammered fine, and sharpened to such an extent that it becomes bent the first time it strikes, and cannot be used by the enemy to hurl back; otherwise the weapon would be available for both sides alike.

Arms of the Hastati, Principes, and Triarii

23. The second rank, the Hastati, are ordered to have the complete panoply. This to a Roman means, first, a large shield (scutum), the surface of which is curved outwards, its breadth two and a half feet, its length four feet,—though there is also an extra sized shield in which these measures are increased by a palm’s breadth. It consists of two layers of wood fastened together with bull’s-hide glue; the outer surface of which is first covered with canvas, then with calf’s skin, on the upper and lower edges it is bound with iron to resist the downward strokes of the sword, and the wear of resting upon the ground. Upon it also is fixed an iron boss (umbo), to resist the more formidable blows of stones and pikes, and of heavy missiles generally. With the shield they also carry a sword (gladius) hanging down by their right thigh, which is called a Spanish sword. It has an excellent point, and can deal a formidable blow with either edge, because its blade is stout and unbending. In addition to these they have two pila, a brass helmet, and greaves (ocreae). Some of the pila are thick, some fine. Of the thicker, some are round with the diameter of a palm’s length, others are a palm square. The fine pila are like moderate sized hunting spears, and they are carried along with the former sort. The wooden haft of them all is about three cubits long; and the iron head fixed to each half is barbed, and of the same length as the haft. They take extraordinary pains to attach the head to the haft firmly; they make the fastening of the one to the other so secure for use by binding it half way up the wood, and riveting it with a series of clasps, that the iron breaks sooner than this fastening comes loose, although its thickness at the socket and where it is fastened to the wood is a finger and a half’s breadth. Besides these each man is decorated with a plume of feathers, with three purple or black feathers standing upright, about a cubit long. The effect of these being placed on the helmet, combined with the rest of the armour, is to give the man the appearance of being twice his real height, and to give him a noble aspect calculated to strike terror into the enemy. The common soldiers also receive a brass plate, a span square, which they put upon their breast and call a breastpiece (pectorale), and so complete their panoply. Those who are rated above a hundred thousand asses, instead of these breastpieces wear, with the rest of their armour, coats of mail (loricae). The Principes and Triarii are armed in the same way as the Hastati, except that instead of pila they carry long spears (hastae).

Election of Centurions

24. The Principes, Hastati, and Triarii, each elect ten centurions according to merit, and then a second ten each. All these sixty have the title of centurion alike, of whom the first man chosen is a member of the council of war. And they in their turn select a rear-rank officer each who is called optio. Next, in conjunction with the centurions, they divide the several orders (omitting the Velites) into ten companies each, and appoint to each company two centurions and two optiones; the Velites are divided equally among all the companies; these companies are called orders (ordines) or maniples (manipuli), or vexilla, and their officers are called centurions or ordinum ductores. Each maniple selects two of their strongest and best born men as standard-bearers (vexillarii). And that each maniple should have two commanding officers is only reasonable; for it being impossible to know what a commander may be doing or what may happen to him, and necessities of war admitting of no parleying, they are anxious that the maniple may never be without a leader and commander.

When the two centurions are both on the field, the first elected commands the right of the maniple, the second the left: if both are not there, the one who is commands the whole. And they wish the centurions not to be so much bold and adventurous, as men with a faculty for command, steady, and of a profound rather than a showy spirit; not prone to engage wantonly or be unnecessarily forward in giving battle; but such as in the face of superior numbers and overwhelming pressure will die in defence of their post.

Officers and Arms of the Equites

25. Similarly they divide the cavalry into ten squadrons (turmae), and from each they select three officers (decuriones), who each select a subaltern (optio). The decurio first elected commands the squadron, the other two have the rank of decuriones: a name indeed which applies to all alike. If the first decurio is not on the field, the second takes command of the squadron. The armour of the cavalry is very like that in Greece. In old times they did not wear the lorica, but fought in their tunics (campestria); the result of which was that they were prompt and nimble at dismounting and mounting again with despatch, but were in great danger at close quarters from the unprotected state of their bodies. And their lances too were useless in two ways: first because they were thin, and prevented their taking a good aim; and before they could get the head fixed in the enemy, the lances were so shaken by the mere motion of the horse that they generally broke. Secondly, because, having no spike at the butt end of their lance, they only had one stroke, namely that with the spear-head; and if the lance broke, what was left in their hands was entirely useless. Again they used to have shields of bull’s hide, just like those round cakes, with a knob in the middle which are used at sacrifices, which were useless at close quarters because they were flexible rather than firm; and, when their leather shrunk and rotted from the rain, unserviceable as they were before, they then became entirely so. Wherefore, as experience showed them the uselessness of these, they lost no time in changing to the Greek fashion of arms: the advantages of which were, first, that men were able to deliver the first stroke of their lance-head with a good aim and effect, because the shaft from the nature of its construction was steady and not quivering; and, secondly, that they were able, by reversing the lance, to use the spike at the butt-end for a steady and effective blow. And the same may be said about the Greek shields: for, whether used to ward off a blow or to thrust against the enemy, they neither give nor bend. When the Romans learnt these facts about the Greek arms they were not long in copying them; for no nation has ever surpassed them in readiness to adopt new fashions from other people, and to imitate what they see is better in others than themselves.

Assembly of the Legions

26. Having made this distribution of their men and given orders for their being armed, as I have described, the military tribunes dismiss them to their homes. But when the day has arrived on which they were all bound by their oath to appear at the place named by the Consuls (for each Consul generally appoints a separate place for his own legions, each having assigned to him two legions and a moiety of the allies), all whose names were placed on the roll appear without fail: no excuse being accepted in the case of those who have taken the oath, except a prohibitory omen or absolute impossibility. The allies muster along with the citizens, and are distributed and managed by the officers appointed by the Consuls, who have the title of Praefecti sociis and are twelve in number. These officers select for the Consuls from the whole infantry and cavalry of the allies such as are most fitted for actual service, and these are called extraordinarii (which in Greek is ἐπίλεκτοι). The whole number of the infantry of the socii generally equals that of the legions, but the cavalry is treble that of the citizens. Of these they select a third of the cavalry, and a fifth of the infantry to serve as extraordinarii. The rest they divide into two parts, one of which is called the right, the other the left wing (alae).

These arrangements made, the military tribunes take over the citizens and allies and proceed to form a camp. Now the principle on which they construct their camps, no matter when or where, is the same; I think therefore that it will be in place here to try and make my readers understand, as far as words can do so, the Roman tactics in regard to the march (agmen), the camp (castrorum metatio), and the line of battle (acies). I cannot imagine any one so indifferent to things noble and great, as to refuse to take some little extra trouble to understand things like these; for if he has once heard them, he will be acquainted with one of those things genuinely worth observation and knowledge.

Layout and Organization of a Roman Legionary Camp

27The manner in which they form their camp is as follows. When the site for the camp has been chosen, the position in it giving the best general view and most suitable for issuing orders is assigned to the general’s tent (praetorium). Fixing an ensign on the spot where they are about to pitch it, they measure off round this ensign a square plot of ground each side of which is one hundred feet distant, so that the total area measures forty-thousand square feet. Along one side of this square in the direction, which seems to give the greatest facilities for watering and foraging, the Roman Legions are disposed as follows. As I have said, there are six Tribunes in each Legion; and since each Consul always has two Roman Legions with him, it is evident that there are twelve Tribunes in the army of each. They place the tents of these all in one line parallel to the side of the square selected and fifty-feet distant from it, to allow room for the horses, mules, and baggage of the Tribunes. These tents are pitched with their backs turned to the praetorium and facing the outer side of the camp, a direction of which I will always speak as “the front.” The tents of the Tribunes are at an equal distance from each other, and at such a distance that they extend along the whole breadth of the space occupied by the Legions.

A Roman camp at the time of the Roman invasion of Spain. From  Las Glorias Nacionales. Volume I, Madrid-Barcelona edition, 1852

The Principia & Quarter

28 They now measure a hundred feet from the front of all these tents (the tents of the Tribunes), and starting from the line drawn at this distance parallel to the tents of the Tribunes they begin to encamp the Legions, managing matters as follows. Bisecting the above line, they start from this spot and along a line drawn at right angles to the first, they encamp the cavalry of each Legion facing each other and separated by a distance of fifty feet, the last-mentioned line being exactly half-way between them. The manner of encamping the cavalry and the infantry is very similar, the whole space occupied by the Maniples and squadrons being a square. This square faces one of the streets and is of a fixed length of one-hundred feet, and they usually try to make the depth the same except in the case of the allies. When they employ the larger Legions (sometimes a Legion was 5,000 men instead of 4,200) they add proportionately to the length and depth.

29 The cavalry camp is thus something like a street running down from the middle of the Tribunes’ tents and at right angles to the line along which these tents are placed and to the space in front of them, the whole system being in fact like a number of streets, as either companies of infantry or troops of horse are encamped facing each other all along each. Behind the cavalry, then, they place the triarii of both Legions in a similar arrangement, a company next each troop, but with no space between, and facing in the contrary direction to the cavalry. They make the depth of each company half its length, because as a rule the triarii number only half the strength of the other classes. (Remember that there are only 600 triarii at all times while the principes or hastati could number 1200 or more men depending on the strength of the Legion) The depth varies so that even when there are unequal numbers of men, the length of the formation is always the same. Next at a distance of fifty-feet on each side they place the principes facing the triarii, and as they are turned towards the intervening space, two more streets are formed, both starting from the same base as that of the cavalry, i.e. the hundred-foot space in front of the Tribunes’, and both issuing on the side of the camp which is opposite to the Tribunes’ tents and which we decided to call the front of the whole. After the principes , and again back to back against them, with no interval they encamp the hastati. As each class by virtue of the original division consists of ten maniples, the streets are all equal in length, and they all break off on the front side of the camp in a straight line, the last maniples being here placed to face to the front.

Via Quintana

30 At a distance again of fifty-feet from the hastati, and facing them, they encamp the allied cavalry, starting from the same line and ending on the same line. As I stated above, the number of the allied infantry is the same as that of the Roman Legions, but from these the extraordinarii must be deducted; while that of the cavalry is double after deducting the third who serve as extraordinarii. In forming the camp, therefore, they proportionately increase the depth of the space assigned to the allied cavalry, in the endeavour to make their camp equal in length to that of the Romans. These five streets having been completed, they place the maniples of the allied infantry, increasing the depth in proportion to their numbers; with their faces turned away from the cavalry and facing the agger(embankment) and both the outer sides of the camp. In each maniple the first tent at either end is occupied by the Centurions. In laying the whole camp out in this manner they always leave a space of fifty-feet between the fifth troop and the sixth, and similarly with the companies of foot, so that another passage traversing the whole camp is formed, at right angles to the streets, and parallel to the line of the Tribunes’ tents. This they called quintana, as it runs along the fifth troops and companies.

The Space between the Principia and the Agger

31 The spaces behind the tents of the Tribunes to right and left of the praetorium, are used in the one case for the market and in the other for the office of the quaestor and the supplies of which he is in charge. Behind the last tent of the Tribunes on either side, and more or less at right angles to these tents, are the quarters of the cavalry picked out from the extraordinarii, and a certain number of volunteers serving to oblige the Consuls. These are all encamped parallel to the two sides of the agger, and facing in the one case the quaestors’ depot and in the other the market. As a rule these troops are not only thus encamped near the Consuls but on the march and on other occasions are in constant attendance on the Consul and quaestor. Back to back with them, and looking towards the agger are the select infantry who perform the same service as the cavalry just described. Beyond these an empty space is left a hundred feet broad, parallel to the tents of the Tribunes, and stretching along the whole face of the agger on the other side of the market, praetorium and quaestorium , and on its further side the rest of the equites extraordinarii are encamped facing the market, praetorium and quaestorium . In the middle of this cavalry camp and exactly opposite the praetorium a passage, fifty-feet wide is left leading to the rear side of the camp and running at right angles to the broad passage behind the praetorium. Back to back with these cavalry and fronting the agger and the rearward face of the whole camp are placed the rest of the pedites extraordinarii. Finally, the spaces remaining empty to right and left next to the agger on each side of the camp are assigned to foreign troops or to any allies who chance to come in. The whole camp thus forms a square, and the way in which the streets are laid out and its general arrangement give it the appearance of a town. The agger on all sides is at a distance of 200 feet from the tents, and this empty space is important in several respects. To begin with, it provides the proper facilities for marching the troops in and out, seeing that they all march out into this space by their own streets and thus do not come into one street in a mass and throw down or hustle each other. Again, it is here that they collect the cattle brought into camp and all booty taken from the enemy, and keep them safe during the night. However, the most important thing of all is that in night attacks neither fire can reach them nor missiles except a very few, which are almost harmless owing to the distance and the space in front of the tents.

Provision for Extra Numbers

32 The number then of foot-soldiers and cavalry being given (at the rate, that is to say, of four thousand or of five thousand for each legion),and the length, depth, and number of the maniples being likewise known, as well as the breadth of the passages and roads, it becomes possible to calculate the area occupied by the camp and the length of the aggers. If on any occasion the number of allies, either those originally enrolled or those who joined subsequently, exceeds their due proportion, the difficulty is provided for in this way. To the overplus of allies who joined subsequent to the enrolment of the army are assigned the spaces on either side of the Praetorium, the market-place and Quaestorium being proportionally contracted. For the extra numbers of allies who joined originally an extra line of tents (forming thus another via) is put up parallel with the other tents of the socii, facing the agger on either side of the camp. But if all four legions and both Consuls are in the same camp, all we have to do is to imagine a second army, arranged back to back to the one already placed, in exactly the same spaces as the former, but side by side with it at the part where the picked men from the extraordinarii are stationed facing the rearward agger. In this case the shape of the camp becomes an oblong, the area double, and the length of the entire agger half as much again. This is the arrangement when both Consuls are within the same agger; but if they occupy two separate camps, the above arrangements hold good, except that the market-place is placed half way between the two camps.

Guard Duty

33. The camp having thus been laid out, the Tribuni next administer an oath to all in it separately, whether free or slave, that they will steal nothing within the agger, and in case they find anything will bring it to the Tribuni. They next select for their several duties the maniples of the Principes and Hastati in each legion. Two are told off to guard the space in front of the quarters of the Tribuni. For in this space, which is called the Principia, most of the Romans in the camp transact all the business of the day; and are therefore very particular about its486 being kept well watered and properly swept. Of the other eighteen maniples, three are assigned to each of the six Tribuni, that being the respective numbers in each legion; and of these three maniples each takes its turn of duty in waiting upon the Tribune. The services they render him are such as these: they pitch his tent for him when a place is selected for encampment, and level the ground all round it; and if any extra precaution is required for the protection of his baggage, it is their duty to see to it. They also supply him with two relays of guards. A guard consists of four men, two of whom act as sentries in front of his tent, and two on the rear of it near the horses. Seeing that each Tribune has three maniples, and each maniple has a hundred men, without counting Triarii and Velites who are not liable for this service, the duty is a light one, coming round to each maniple only once in three days; while by this arrangement ample provision is made for the convenience as well as the dignity of the Tribuni. The maniples of Triarii are exempted from this personal service to the Tribuni, but they each supply a watch of four men to the squadron of cavalry nearest them. These watches have to keep a general look out; but their chief duty is to keep an eye upon the horses, to prevent their hurting themselves by getting entangled in their tethers, and so becoming unfit for use; or from getting loose, and making a confusion and disturbance in the camp by running against other horses. Finally, all the maniples take turns to mount guard for a day each at the Consul’s tent, to protect him from plots, and maintain the dignity of his office.

Construction of the Fossa and Agger

34. As to the construction of the foss and vallum, two sides fall to the lot of the socii, each division taking that side along which it is quartered; the other two are left to the Romans, one to each legion. Each side is divided into portions according to the number of maniples, and the centurions stand by and superintend the work of each maniple; while two of the Tribunes superintend the construction of the whole side and see that it is adequate. In the same way the Tribunes superintend all other operations in the camp. They divide themselves in twos, and each pair is on duty for two months out of six; they draw lots for their turns, and the pair on whom the lot falls takes the superintendence of all active operations. The prefects of the socii divide their duty in the same way.

Orders of the Day

At daybreak the officers of the cavalry and the centurions muster at the tents of the Tribunes, while the Tribunes go to that of the Consul. He gives the necessary orders to the Tribunes, they to the cavalry officers and centurions, and these last pass them on to the rank and file as occasion may demand.

The Watchword

To secure the passing round of the watchword for the night the following course is followed. One man is selected from the tenth maniple, which, in the case both of cavalry and infantry, is quartered at the ends of the road between the tents; this man is relieved from guard-duty and appears each day about sunset at the tent of the Tribune on duty, takes the tessera or wooden tablet on which the watchword is inscribed, and returns to his own maniple and delivers the wooden tablet and watchword in the presence of witnesses to the chief officer of the maniple next his own; he in the same way to the officer of the next, and so on, until it arrives at the first maniple stationed next the Tribunes. These men are obliged to deliver the tablet (tessera) to the Tribunes before dark. If they are all handed in, the Tribune knows that the watchword has been delivered to all, and has passed through all the ranks back to his hands: but if any one is missing, he at once investigates the matter; for he knows by the marks on the tablets from which division of the army the tablet has not appeared; and the man who is discovered to be responsible for its non-appearance is visited with condign punishment.

Night Watches

35. Next as to the keeping guard at night. The Consul’s tent is guarded by the maniple on duty: those of the Tribuni and praefects of the cavalry by the pickets formed as described above from the several maniples. And in the same way each maniple and squadron posts guards of their own men. The other pickets are posted by the Consul. Generally speaking there are three pickets at the Quaestorium, and two at the tent of each of the legati or members of council. The vallum is lined by the velites, who are on guard all along it from day to day. That is their special duty; while they also guard all the entrances to the camp, telling off ten sentinels to take their turn at each of them. Of the men told off for duty at the several stationes, the man who in each maniple is to take the first watch is brought by the rear-rank man of his company to the Tribune at eventide. The latter hands over to them severally small wooden tablets (tesserae), one for each watch, inscribed with small marks; on receiving which they go off to the places indicated.

Visiting Rounds

36. The duty of going the rounds is intrusted to the cavalry. The first Praefect of cavalry in each legion, early in the morning, orders one of his rear-rank men to give notice before breakfast to four young men of his squadron who are to go the rounds. At evening this same man’s duty is to give notice to the Praefect of the next squadron that it is his turn to provide for going the rounds until next morning. This officer thereupon takes measures similar to the preceding one until the next day; and so on throughout the cavalry squadrons. The four men thus selected by the rear-rank men from the first squadron, after drawing lots for the watch they are to take, proceed to the tent of the Tribune on duty, and receive from him a writing stating the order and the number of the watches they are to visit. The four then take up their quarters for the night alongside of the first maniple of Triarii; for it is the duty of the centurion of this maniple to see that a bugle is blown at the beginning of every watch. When the time has arrived, the man to whose lot the first watch has fallen goes his rounds, taking some of his friends as witnesses. He walks through the posts assigned, which are not only those along the vallum and gates, but also the pickets set by the several maniples and squadrons. If he find the men of the first watch awake he takes from them their tessera; but if he find any one of them asleep or absent from his post, he calls those with him to witness the fact and passes 489on. The same process is repeated by those who go the rounds during the other watches. The charge of seeing that the bugle is blown at the beginning of each watch, so that the right man might visit the right pickets, is as I have said, laid upon the centurions of the first maniple of Triarii, each one taking the duty for a day.

Each of these men who have gone the rounds (tessarii) at daybreak conveys the tesserae to the Tribune on duty. If the whole number are given in they are dismissed without question; but if any of them brings a number less than that of the pickets, an investigation is made by means of the mark on the tessera, as to which picket he has omitted. Upon this being ascertained the centurion is summoned; he brings the men who were on duty, and they are confronted with the patrol. If the fault is with the men on guard, the patrol clears himself by producing the witnesses whom he took with him; for he cannot do so without. If nothing of that sort happened, the blame recoils upon the patrol.

Military Punishments: the Fustuarium

37. Then the Tribunes at once hold a court-martial, and the man who is found guilty is punished by the fustuarium; the nature of which is this. The Tribune takes a cudgel and merely touches the condemned man; whereupon all the soldiers fall upon him with cudgels and stones. Generally speaking men thus punished are killed on the spot; but if by any chance, after running the gauntlet, they manage to escape from the camp, they have no hope of ultimately surviving even so. They may not return to their own country, nor would any one venture to receive such an one into his house. Therefore those who have once fallen into this misfortune are utterly and finally ruined. The same fate awaits the praefect of the squadron, as well as his rear-rank man, if they fail to give the necessary order at the proper time, the latter to the patrols, and the former to the praefect of the next squadron. The result of the severity and inevitableness of this punishment is that in the Roman army the night watches are faultlessly kept. The common soldiers are amenable to the Tribunes; the Tribunes to the Consuls. The Tribune is competent to punish a soldier by inflicting a fine, distraining his goods, or ordering him to be flogged; so too the praefects in the case of the socii. The punishment of the fustuarium is assigned also to any one committing theft in the camp, or bearing false witness: as also to any one who in full manhood is detected in shameful immorality: or to any one who has been thrice punished for the same offence. All these things are punished as crimes. But such as the following are reckoned as cowardly and dishonourable in a soldier:—for a man to make a false report to the Tribunes of his valour in order to get reward; or for men who have been told off to an ambuscade to quit the place assigned them from fear; and also for a man to throw away any of his arms from fear, on the actual field of battle. Consequently it sometimes happens that men confront certain death at their stations, because, from their fear of the punishment awaiting them at home, they refuse to quit their post: while others, who have lost shield or spear or any other arm on the field, throw themselves upon the foe, in hopes of recovering what they have lost, or of escaping by death from certain disgrace and the insults of their relations.


38. But if it ever happens that a number of men are involved in these same acts: if, for instance, some entire maniples have quitted their ground in the presence of the enemy, it is deemed impossible to subject all to the fustuarium or to military execution; but a solution of the difficulty has been found at once adequate to the maintenance of discipline and calculated to strike terror. The Tribune assembles the legion, calls the defaulters to the front, and, after administering a sharp rebuke, selects five or eight or twenty out of them by lot, so that those selected should be about a tenth of those who have been guilty of the act of cowardice. These selected are punished with the fustuarium without mercy; the rest are put on rations of barley instead of wheat, and are ordered to take up their quarters outside the vallum and the protection of the camp. As all are equally in danger of having the lot fall on them, and as all alike who escape that, are made a conspicuous example of by having their rations of barley, the best 491possible means are thus taken to inspire fear for the future, and to correct the mischief which has actually occurred.

Military Decorations

39. A very excellent plan also is adopted for inducing young soldiers to brave danger. When an engagement has taken place and any of them have showed conspicuous gallantry, the Consul summons an assembly of the legion, puts forward those whom he considers to have distinguished themselves in any way, and first compliments each of them individually on his gallantry, and mentions any other distinction he may have earned in the course of his life, and then presents them with gifts: to the man who has wounded an enemy, a spear; to the man who has killed one and stripped his armour, a cup, if he be in the infantry, horse-trappings if in the cavalry: though originally the only present made was a spear. This does not take place in the event of their having wounded or stripped any of the enemy in a set engagement or the storming of a town; but in skirmishes or other occasions of that sort, in which, without there being any positive necessity for them to expose themselves singly to danger, they have done so voluntarily and deliberately. In the capture of a town those who are first to mount the walls are presented with a gold crown.

Mural Crown & Civic Crown.

So too those who have covered and saved any citizens or allies are distinguished by the Consul with certain presents; and those whom they have preserved present them voluntarily with a crown, or if not, they are compelled to do so by the Tribunes. The man thus preserved, too, reverences his preserver throughout his life as a father, and is bound to act towards him as a father in every respect. By such incentives those who stay at home are stirred up to a noble rivalry and emulation in confronting danger, no less than those who actually hear and see what takes place. For the recipients of such rewards not only enjoy great glory among their comrades in the army, and an immediate reputation at home, but after their return they are marked men in all solemn festivals; for they alone, who have been thus distinguished by the Consuls for bravery, are allowed to wear robes of honour on those occasions: and moreover they place492 the spoils they have taken in the most conspicuous places in their houses, as visible tokens and proofs of their valour. No wonder that a people, whose rewards and punishments are allotted with such care and received with such feelings, should be brilliantly successful in war.

The pay of the foot soldier is 5-1/3 asses a day; of the centurion 10-2/3; of the cavalry 16. The infantry receive a ration of wheat equal to about 2/3 of an Attic medimnus a month, and the cavalry 7 medimni of barley, and 2 of wheat; of the allies the infantry receive the same, the cavalry 1-1/3 medimnus of wheat, and 5 of barley. This is a free gift to the allies; but in the cases of the Romans, the Quaestor stops out of their pay the price of their corn and clothes, or any additional arms they may require at a fixed rate.

40. The following is their manner of moving camp. At the first bugle the men all strike their tents and collect their baggage; but no soldier may strike his tent, or set it up either, till the same is done to that of the Tribuni and the Consul. At the second bugle they load the beasts of burden with their baggage: at the third the first maniples must advance and set the whole camp in motion. Generally speaking, the men appointed to make this start are the extraordinarii: next comes the right wing of the socii; and behind them their beasts of burden. These are followed by the first legion with its own baggage immediately on its rear; then comes the second legion, followed by its own beasts of burden, and the baggage of those socii who have to bring up the rear of the march, that is to say, the left wing of the socii. The cavalry sometimes ride on the rear of their respective divisions, sometimes on either side of the beasts of burden, to keep them together and secure them. If an attack is expected on the rear, the extraordinarii themselves occupy the rear instead of the van. Of the two legions and wings each takes the lead in the march on alternate days, that by this interchange of position all may have an equal share in the advantage of being first at the water and forage. The order of march, however, is different at times of unusual danger, if they have open ground enough. For in that case they advance in three parallel columns, consisting of the Hastati, Principes, and Triarii: the beasts of burden belonging to the maniples in the van are placed in front of all, those belonging to the second behind the leading maniples, and those belonging to the third behind the second maniples, thus having the baggage and the maniples in alternate lines. With this order of march, on an alarm being given, the columns face to the right or left according to the quarter on which the enemy appears, and get clear of the baggage. So that in a short space of time, and by one movement, the whole of the hoplites are in line of battle—except that sometimes it is necessary to half-wheel the Hastati also-—and the baggage and the rest of the army are in their proper place for safety, namely, in the rear of the line of combatants.

Encampment on the March

41. When the army on the march is approaching the place of encampment, a Tribune, and those of the centurions who have been from time to time selected for that duty, are sent forward to survey the place of encampment. Having done this they proceed first of all to fix upon the place for the Consul’s tent (as I have described above), and to determine on which side of the Praetorium to quarter the legions. Having decided these points they measure out the Praetorium, then they draw the straight line along which the tents of the Tribunes are to be pitched, and then the line parallel to this, beyond which the quarters of the legions are to begin. In the same way they draw the lines on the other sides of the Praetorium in accordance with the plan which I have already detailed at length. This does not take long, nor is the marking out of the camp a matter of difficulty, because the dimensions are all regularly laid down, and are in accordance with precedent. Then they fix one flag in the ground where the Consul’s tent is to stand, and another on the base of the square containing it, and a third on the line of the Tribunes’ tents; the two latter are scarlet, that which marks the Consul’s tent is white; the lines on the other sides of the Praetorium are marked sometimes with plain spears and sometimes by flags of other colours. After this they lay out the viae between the quarters, fixing spears at each via. Consequently when the legions in the course of their march have come near enough to get a clear view of the place of encampment, they can all make out exactly the whole plan of it, taking as their base the Consul’s flag and calculating from that. Moreover as each soldier knows precisely on which via, and at what point of it, his quarters are to be, because all occupy the same position in the camp wherever it may be, it is exactly like a legion entering its own city; when breaking off at the gates each man makes straight for his own residence without hesitation, because he knows the direction and the quarter of the town in which home lies. It is precisely the same in a Roman camp.

42. It is because the first object of the Romans in the matter of encampment is facility, that they seem to me to differ diametrically from Greek military men in this respect. Greeks, in choosing a place for a camp, think primarily of security from the natural strength of the position: first, because they are averse from the toil of digging a foss, and, secondly, because they think that no artificial defences are comparable to those afforded by the nature of the ground. Accordingly, they not only have to vary the whole configuration of the camp to suit the nature of the ground, but to change the arrangement of details in all kinds of irregular ways; so that neither soldier nor company has a fixed place in it. The Romans, on the other hand, prefer to undergo the fatigue of digging, and of the other labours of circumvallation, for the sake of the facility in arrangement, and to secure a plan of encampment which shall be one and the same and familiar to all.

Such are the most important facts in regard to the legions and the method of encamping them….

Polybius mentions neither the number nor the names of the gates; but it may be incidentally gathered from Livy and other writers that they were normally four, and were known as the portae principales (dextra and sinistra), the porta praetoria, and the porta decumana or quaestoria. Such a camp as described above was for a consular army consisting of two legions, and if there was need for two of these armies to be encamped within the same lines, Polybius directs that two such camps should be applied back to back with the intervening ramparts suppressed, the result being an oblong enclosure with six gates.

Roman Sites to visit in South East England