Roman Legions: The Time of Caesar

General Organization in Gaul; Divisions; Infantry of the Legions


Caesar’s legion was a body of infantrymen with a full strength of some 6,000-6,500 men. Actually, as in modern armies, the effective strength was at times much less, because of detachments, desertions, disease and death. The strength of some legions fell as low as 2,500.


Whatever its strength, the legion was the main tactical and administrative unit of the Roman army and bore the brunt of most of the fighting. Although the legal military age was from seventeen to forty-six, most recruits were between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five.

Volunteer “Professional” Soldiers

Composed exclusively of some drafted, but more Roman citizen volunteers, recruited from Italy and mainly from the valley of the Po, members of the legions became professional soldiers who, enlisted for a definite term of years, looked forward to a share in all booty taken and retirement allowances of land and money.

Cohorts, Maniples, and Centuries

The legion, a body somewhat like our division, was divided into ten tactical units called cohorts, resembling our modern battalions. The cohorts were divided into three maniples or companies and the maniples into two centuries or platoons. Thus there were sixty centuries in a legion, each at full strength with a complement of one hundred men. Cohorts, maniples and centuries were commanded by centurions. The first cohort of a legion was occasionally doubled in strength and was always composed of the most experienced and best-trained soldiers, if possible, men of over eight years’ service (cohors veterana) . All legionaries, like good soldiers anywhere, could at any time in addition to fighting, build, construct, design, erect and fortify.


In 58 B. C., Caesar had six legions, eight in 58-57 B. C., and ten in 53 B. C. All legions, like our divisions, were numbered according to date of enlistment and, in the time of the Empire, received in addition distinguishing names such as “Victrix”, in much the same manner that we speak of the “Black Watch,” “The Foreign Legion,” “The Rough Riders,” and “The Red One” etc.

Reserves (Auxiliary Infantry Troops)

Auxiliary Slingers and Archers

These auxilia – and their very name indicates that they were not called upon to bear the brunt of the fighting – were not Roman citizens. In Caesar’s army they were mostly Gauls, and were furnished by friendly or allied states or requisitioned from dependent and subject states. Good archers (sagittarii) came from Numidia and Crete and good slingers from the Balearic Isles. Caesar also had detachments from Illyricum and in 52 B. C. had a special task force of 10,000 Aeduan infantrymen.

Native Organization

Some units retained their native officers, dress, weapons and methods of fighting. Others were formed into cohorts, armed, trained and disciplined in Roman fashion and commanded by Roman praefects.

Equipment, Armor, and Weapons

They were armed with little protective armor and that quite light (milites levis armaturae); carried light round shields (parmae), and bore spears (hastae) much lighter than the heavy Pila issued to the legionaries. Slingers and archers had very light or no armor and no helmets, and the latter, from the nature of their weapon, could not use shields. Their standards were vexilla, red or flame-colored banners.


While, like the auxiliary cavalry, of doubtful use in emergencies, they could because of their light armament be used for speed and not for shock against small enemy groups. They were also used to make a show of force to alarm the enemy, to forage, to assist in fortifying, to fight delaying actions, to screen and to assist the cavalry in pursuit. Other uses were as skirmishers, as flank guards in battle and as raiders.

The Cavalry (Equitatus)

Alae, Turmae, and Decuriae

Under Caesar, legions did not have cavalry integrally assigned, as had been the case previously. Roman citizens able to possess, equip and feed horses were now members of the officer class. So that Caesar’s cavalry was ordinarily furnished by friendly, allied or conquered states, Spanish, Gallic and German. The Aedui and others furnished 4,000 horse for the first campaign against the Helvetii. The next year the Treveri furnished an additional supply. Probably Caesars total cavalry strength rarely exceeded 5,000 and sometimes went as low as 1,000, for example, in the Civil War. This cavalry was organized on a Roman basis into alae or regiments of about 480 men. Alae were subdivided into sixteen turmae or troops, each of thirty men. The lowest tactical unit was the decuria of ten men.

Conditions of Service

Being foreign mercenaries and serving for pay, the troopers were dismissed, furloughed to the reserve and allowed to go to their homes in the fall after the completion of the campaign and were reassembled in the spring. They were generally commanded by Roman officers, Praefecti Equitum. Troop commanders were known as Decuriones, and all subordinate officers were ordinarily natives. Standards were vexilla and were perhaps sea-blue in color.


Metal helmets (cassides) were worn, light shields (parmae) carried and darts, or light lances or spears, were issued. With this equipment the cavalry was no match for good infantry and in fact did not have too fine a fighting record. It was at times not trusted, and occasionally in battle was unreliable and lacked discipline and courage. For example, at the battle of Neuf-Mesnil, the discouraged Treveran cavalry quit cold. In another campaign, 5,000 Gallic cavalrymen were put to flight by a mere 800 men.


Nevertheless the cavalry was put to a variety of uses Napoleon and Caesar were alike in their use of mounted troops similar to those prescribed for modem horse cavalry. The cavalry would sometimes open a campaign by close-in and distant reconnaissance, by scouting, screening and making preliminary tests of the enemy strength. It was used for skirmishing, to make surprise attacks, to engage the enemy cavalry, to hold the enemy ground troops in check until the legions could arrive and to attack the enemy’s flank. Other uses were as raiders and foragers, as flank guards both on the march and in battle and sometimes to begin the actual battle itself. But above all its main use was that sought by and reveled in by all true cavalrymen, the pursuit, the onset of hard-ridden, sweating, lathered horses and cutting, slashing, hacking, yelling troopers.

Re-enlisted Veterans


At the request of the commander, certain courageous and experienced soldiers who had earned distinction because of exceptional ability and loyalty, voluntarily re-enlisted for further active duty after their twenty-year retirement. Such men were known as Evocati. They were of course treated with marked consideration and accorded many special privileges, including a mount while on the march and exemption from all fatigue duty. They were given extra pay and could be promoted directly to the grade of centurion. They helped sustain the morale of the troops and were in general held up as models for all enlisted men to follow.

Special Troop Units

Engineers and Artificers

In the early Roman army there had been a separate corps of engineers (Fabri), but this organization had been abandoned before Caesars time. Ordnance and engineer work was performed by specially trained legionaries under the direction of men detailed to these tasks because of their skill. Their work included the construction of camps, fortifications, siege works and materiel, bridges, ships and ship repair; the repair of equipment, armor, weapons and artillery, and the building of winter quarters. The chief of engineers or the senior engineer officer was the Praefectus Fabrum.

Intelligence Personnel – Spies and Scouts

Individuals detailed for this service, known as speculatores; sometimes could speak the Gallic language and occasionally used disguise. Trained scouts, generally mounted and acting in reconnaissance patrols, were called exploratores.

Praetorian Cohort – Bodyguard

From the earliest times, when the commanders were Praetors to the end of the Republic, it was customary for each general to have a small body of picked and higher-paid men as his immediate personal bodyguard and escort. Such a group was called the Cohors Praetoria. Caesar does not appear to have had this guard, as he once told his favorite 10th Legion that it would be his Praetorian cohort. But under the Empire, the Praetorian Cohorts were organized into a definite corps of Household troops, the famous Praetorian Guard.

Noncombatant Civilian Personnel (Camp-Followers)

Army Slaves

Officers’ servants and grooms were slaves known as calones and were under military discipline. In addition other slaves were pack-masters, wagoners and mule-skinners (muliones).

Sutlers, Traders, and Hucksters

These (mercatores or lixae) were freemen or freedmen who sold extra food, provisions, clothing, and supplies not government issue, and purchased booty and prisoners from the men, paying cash on the spot. Their “canteens” had to be set up outside of the camp rear gate, except in times of danger. On one occasion raiding Germans caught them while outside the camp walls and massacred them to a man.

Officers and Men of the Legions, Staff Officers, the General Officer, Commander-in-Chief


In early times, the commander of an army of two or more legions was the consul, succeeded later by the proconsul or the propraetor in charge of a province. Caesar was the commanding general by virtue of his authority as Proconsul. Like the consuls, the proconsul had the military imperium or supreme power when outside the city, possessing absolute military authority. Only after expiration of his term of office could he be called to account for his acts as governor. At the beginning of his term the chief officer was called “Dux Belli”.


After his first important victory, his soldiers would usually hail him as Imperator or General-in-chief. The title was then officially confirmed by the Senate, if the victory added territories to the Republic. This occurred in Caesar’s case after his victory over the Helvetii in 58 B. C. Thereafter he was addressed as “Imperator” and wore the paludamentum, or cloak of reddish purple, a long flowing garment of fine wool, decorated with gold embroidery, perhaps fringed and easily distinguished.

The Quartermaster General – Quaestor

The office of quaestor, one of senatorial rank, was only quasi-military. The quaestors were elected by the people at Rome each year and were assigned to provinces by lot, each provincial governor and each army commander or imperator having one. In respect to the provinces they were in charge of its finance and revenues and acted as treasurers. In respect to the army they may be compared to our Quartermaster generals’s and Chiefs of Finance. They purchased and were charge of supplies, provisions, clothing, arms, equipment, and shelter for the troops. In addition they guarded and supervised the sale of all booty and prisoners and paid the troops, having general administrative authority over all units. Ranking next to the commanding general, the Quaestor was one of his principal staff officers and in camp had special quarters (Quaestorium) near those of the commander (Praetorium or Principia). Sometimes put in command of troops, one commanded a legion in the first German campaign. Crassus and Antony were quaestors for Caesar.

Lieutenant Generals – Legati

The legati (lego, depute or commission) were men nominated by the proconsul and deputed or commissioned by the Senate as lieutenant or major generals under him. Caesar was allowed ten. This gave the commanding general a useful and efficient staff of general officers of experience who could be intrusted with the responsibility of command and military government or used as ambassadors. They were of senatorial rank, persons who had held at least a curule magistracy, i.e., been quaestors at Rome. The highest in rank, pro praetore, “for the commander”, commanded the army in the absence of the General, could be put in charge of an independent force greater than one legion, and in general acted as chief of staff. Caesar, in the first German campaign introduced the custom of using his legati as legionary commanders, a duty previously exercised by the tribunes, but thereafter always performed by the lieutenant generals. Other duties might be in charge of recruiting, of all the cavalry, of constructing a fleet or commanding the winter camps of the troops. Among Caesar’s outstanding lieutenant generals were the able and efficient Labienus, young Crassus, Aurunculeius Cotta, Quintus Cicero and Mark Antony. At different times during the years 58-52 B. C., Caesar had eighteen men who were his lieutenant generals.

Tribuni Militum – Tribunes

There were six of these officers in a legion, and to Caesar’s time they had been in command of this body, either alone or in pairs for two months. Caesar’s tribunes were young men, well educated and of good social position, but in some cases inexperienced and owing their appointment by the general to political influence or personal friendship. They were of equestrian rank at least, having a property rating of 400,000 sesterces or about $20,000. Although some were experienced and capable officers, among whom was Caius Voiusenus, they usually were given less responsible duties, mainly of an administrative sort. They provided and looked after arms and equipment under the quaestor, tried military offenders, selected sites for the camps, superintended the building of same, sometimes commanded detached cohorts or groups of cohorts and were even placed in command of ships. They also discharged men, could be used as adjutants and staff officers for the general and the lieutenant generals, and were in charge of marches, interior guards and camp discipline.

Praefecti – Praefects

In Caesar’s time the term is ill-defined and consequently loosely applied. It usually means the commanding officer of auxiliaries, slingers, archers, cavalry or infantry organized in cohorts. Some were chiefs of countries fumish ing the contingents, and some were Romans. The Roman praefects were, like the tribunes, in some cases young men who had seen little military service. These two grades constituted the lowest “commissioned” officers, and like all officers were distinguished from the men by cuirasses made of gilded bronze metal and shaped to fit the contours of the body. There was a Praefectus castrorum in charge of locating, surveying, and policing the camp.

Immediate Commanders, the Centurions

Senior Warrant Officers

The real commanders of the men at drill, on the march or in battle were the men in charge of the centuries, the sixty centurions of each legion. They were, in the main, expert swordsmen and professional soldiers, promoted from the ranks by the Imperator as men of conspicuous sobriety, loyalty, courage, and capacity for leadership. They may be compared to our higher noncommissioned officers and warrant officers in station and education and to our captains in respect to command. There were different grades or classes in their own hierarchy to and from which they could be promoted. Being plebeians, they were generally ineligible for advancement to the higher commissioned grades, because of lack of social standing, i.e., either that of equestrian rank or senatorial rank.

Order of Rank

Each cohort, as we know, was divided into three maniples. Of these the men of one were called triarii or pili, of another principes and of the third, hastati. Pili were the highest, hastati the lowest. These names were once applied to the position of the troops in battle formation, but long before Caesars day they had lost tactical significance and were only convenient designations of rank for the maniples of the cohort. In each cohort there was one maniple of pili, one of principes and one of hastati. Each maniple was further divided into two centuries, and it was these centuries that the centurions led. Of the two centurions in a maniple, one was known as the centurio prior and the other as the centurio posterior. The former commanded the whole maniple and ranked the centurio posterior. So we find thirty priores and thirty centuriones posteriores in a legion.


There were different methods of promotion. Then, as now, men of special bravery and ability were sometimes promoted over the heads of superiors. Caesar tells of advancing one man from the eighth to the first cohort. The cohort to which a centurion belonged usually was indicated by prefixing the proper numeral. Thus the lowest centurion of the whole legion was the decimus hastatus posterior and the lowest group of centurions was the group in the tenth cohort or the centuriones infimorum ordinum. A centurion who occupied a middle position in the legion was the quintus pilus posterior or the quintus princeps posterior. The junior centurion of the first cohort was the primus hastatus posterior.


The highest in rank was the centurion of the first century of the first maniple of the first cohort, the primus pilus prior, usually known as the primipilus, This grade ranked next to that of the tribunes and praefects, and was as high as could ordinarily be attained. It was a position of the greatest importance and responsibility. In battle the first cohort was habitually on the right or exposed flank and sometimes doubled in strength so that its commander, the primipilus, could be considered as leading the fighting of the whole legion. In addition the Eagle of the legion, that sacred emblem, was ordinarily under his care. Such very brave men as Publius Baculus and Titus Balventius are mentioned by Caesar as being of this rank.

Centurions of the First Class

It has now been generally accepted that the nine pili priores centurions or commanders of the other cohorts and all the six commanders of double centuries of the first cohort formed a special class, the centuriones primorum ordinum or primi ordines, and ranked all other centurions in the legion. Undoubtedly, too, any centurions who had attained this rank and after retirement had returned to active duty as evocati were still included in the primi ordines.

Councils of War

These fifteen men were privileged to participate in all the deliberations of all councils of war with the lieutenant generals, the quaestors, tribunes, and praefects. This body could merely advise, and the commanding general could if he liked go contrary to their judgment.


The centurions enforced strict discipline. Flogging seems to have been frequently used as a punishment for misconduct, and was administered by the centurions themselves. A vine, laurel or myrtle cane or stick, which they carried as an emblem of rank, was the usual instrument. Their armor, too, was somewhat different from that of the privates, as well as their helmets.


Just as we say now that an army is as good as its platoon commanders, so in battles the conduct of the centurions was vital. It virtually rested with them to win or lose the day. Hence, only men of character and forceful personality were chosen, individuals whose courage and hope never flagged and whose natural capacity for leadership inspired hope and courage in their men. The Commentaries abound in repeated commendatory illustrations of the faithful, important services and the magnificent heroism and gallantry of these men. Much of Caesar’s success was due to them.

Decurions – Troop Commanders

While decurions, as their name implies, may have been originally commanders of decuries, or squads of ten horsemen, they were in actual fact commanders of troops or turmae and, as we should say now, captains of cavalry. Their position in the cavalry was similar to that of the centurions in the infantry.

Optiones – Executives

Each centurion and perhaps each decurion was assisted by a subordinate executive officer or adjutant called an optio because he was appointed (opto) by the centurion himself.


These were men who, exempted from certain duties and otherwise privileged for some meritorious service, were attached to the persons of “commissioned officers”, lieutenant generals, tribunes and praefects for special staff duties. They acted as aides, adjutants or executives.


History of the Legions

In the early history of Rome the army was a militia of citizens in arms, fighting in time of war, but in peace engaged in agriculture and commerce. Only men of definite property qualifications were eligible for military service, which was considered a privilege as well as a duty. They were expected to serve in ten campaigns between the ages of seventeen and forty-six. The poorest citizens were not permitted to serve. However, by the late second century B. C., there appeared a growing disinclination for, and avoidance of, military service in the ranks by members of the wealthier classes, who would enter the army only as officers. Yet foreign conquests and civil wars demanded large and permanent armies. So eventually by tacit consent young an vigorous citizens of the lower classes were admitted to the army. Especially had this been true since the time of Marius, who also introduced many changes and improvements into the service. Under Caesar these plentiful volunteers from the lower strata composed the bulk of the troops. The men had become thoroughly drilled professionals who had taken up arms as a career.

Term of Service

The term of enlistment was uncertain, but after Caesar it became definitely twenty years and probably was that in his time, too. Under the Empire, the term of service was extended to twenty-five years.


Pay (Stipendium)

Privates were paid 225 denarii per year or about $48, in three installments. This was more than a workman at Rome could earn, and it must be remembered that the purchasing power of money was far greater then than now. Centurions received perhaps three times as much as a private, and the auxilia less than the legionaries. From the privates’ pay was deducted the cost of rations, clothing and equipment. And many a Roman soldier must have sung a chorus similar to that of our United States prewar privates, “All we do is sign the pay roll and we never draw a god-damned cent!”.


Nevertheless, prices were low and the soldier could no doubt, if he desired, save a considerable part of his pay for deposit in military banks. Under the Empire such saving was compulsory. Booty and plunder (praeda), consisting largely of captives, increased his remuneration, and upon honorable retirement (honesta missio) he usually received as a provision for his old age a grant of land and a retirement allowance or pension which under the Empire amounted to 3,000 denarii. Occasionally Caesar gave his troops money realized from the sale of booty (Praemia). Thus after the conquest of the Bituriges in 51 B. C. the men received two hundred sesterces and the centurions a much larger sum. Men were also retired for physical disability (missio causaria), discharged at the convenience of the Government (missio gratiosa), and dishonorably discharged (missio ignominiosa). Sometimes colonies of retired soldiers were founded in conquered territory as outposts of empire. Some of these colonies were the bases of large modern cities.

Recruits (Tirones)

Of aspirants for enlistment were required good eyes and sound and vigorous bodies; but no definite height, certain units excepted, seems to have been prescribed. Caesar’s men were always considered undersized when compared with the tall Germans. After taking the oath (sacramentum), the recruits entered upon an intensive and apparently endless course of training. The success of Roman arms, like all others, came from drill, discipline and training. Man for man their barbarian enemies were doubtless more than a match for the Romans, but against the organized and disciplined legion – one of the most effective battle machines the world has ever seen – they were almost powerless. By this legion Rome conquered the world.

Dress, Arms, Protective Equipment


All legionaries, close cropped and, in garrison at any rate, clean shaven, were clothed alike. Next to the skin they wore a coarse, thick, woolen, belted, russet shirt-like tunic that reached nearly to the knees (tunica). The short sleeves covered half of the upper arm. About the waist went a leather belt (cingulum) bound with metal and with strips of protective metal on leather, hanging in front.


The sagum or sagulum; distinct from civilian garments, was a short, but wide loose cloak or cape for rough weather, fastened on the right shoulder with a clasp (fibula), leaving the right arm free. Like the tunic it was brownish red in color, but was used at night as a blanket and was never worn in action. Officers and ratings sometimes carried a larger and heavier hooded cloak, the paenula.


High and heavy shoes or sandals (caligae), with thongs and straps (fasciae) laced up to the ankle and capable of being loosened over swollen feet, completed the outer uniform. These shoes, with thick leather hobnailed soles that usually left the toes bare, were again quite distinct from civilian shoes. Higher officers wore shoes known as calcei.


Tight-fitting short breeches (braccae) extending to the calf of the leg were worn in the winter in cold countries, such as Holland, Belgium and Germany, certainly in the time of the Empire and perhaps in Caesar’s time too.

Defensive Armor


A helmet of leather strengthened by iron, bronze or brass (galea) and decorated with a detachable crest (crista) of horsehair or feathers, generally colored red, was worn by all legionaries. While protecting the head and back of the neck, this helmet, held in place by cheek-pieces (bucculae), left the face exposed. The crest was fitted on for battle and for full-dress ceremonies only. On a march not in the presence of the enemy, helmets were sometimes carried in the supply trains. Otherwise. they were suspended by a cord running through a ring on the top and hung on the right breast.


A coat of mail (lorica) consisted of a leather doublet with small metallic breast and back plates and overlaid with strong, but flexible metal bands or strips across breast, back and shoulders, designed to protect the vital parts. Men with some kind of a rating sometimes wore the lighter chain mail (hamata) or armor made of overlapping steel, bone or bronze scales (squamata).


Perhaps a bronze greave (ocrea) was worn over the right shin, the left being sufficiently protected by the shield.


Known as the scutum, this was semicylindrical and oblong, with four square comers. It was built of two layers of wood covered with canvas and rawhide; its edges were protected by metal rims. In size about two and a half feet by four, it weighed from sixteen to twenty pounds. Handles on the inside enabled it to be carried on the left arm. There was a metal boss (umbo) in the center from which metal strips radiated to the comers, representing thunderbolts. On a march not in the presence of the enemy, shields were carried in leather cases (tegumenta} to protect the polish from the deather, and were slung on the back. Covers were taken off just before going into action. On the inside of the shield was painted the name of the man to whom it was issued. On the outside different colors probably distinguished the different cohorts. Each legion probably had a distinctive symbol, such as an eagle or laurel wreath. The cavalry had metal helmets (cassides). Cavalry and auxilia had small round shields (parmae) upwards of three feet in diameter or small oval shields (clipei).

Arms and Offensive Weapons


The pilum, a heavy javelin improved by Marius, was used for hurling and not thrusting. Strong enough to pierce shield and armor, it consisted of. a thin soft iron rod (ferrum) between two and three feet long, securely fastened in a round or square wood shaft, four to four and a half feet long and more than an inch in thickness. At the tip of this rod was a barbed steel point. The length of the weapon was just short of seven feet. Except for the steel tip, the soft iron rod was easily bent, which made the pilum unfit for further immediate use after striking with force the shield of an enemy. After a battle the pila were collected and straightened by the fabri. The shaft end was of pointed metal to enable the weapon to be stuck upright in the ground. The javelin weighed from three to twelve pounds, more often near the latter figure, and the cast varied with the weight, the skill and strength of the thrower and the slope of the ground, extreme ranges running from about seventeen to forty yards. Some javelins had thongs which enabled the thrower to give the weapon a rotary motion, so increasing their accuracy. Extra supplies of pila were carried in the supply trains. The light-armed troops carried lighter javelins (hastae).


After throwing the pila, the legionaries had recourse to the sword (gladius) often called “Spanish” because it was made from Spanish patterns after the Second Punic War. It was a short, broad, heavy, straight, double-edged, sharp pointed weapon that could be used for both thrusting and cutting, although preferably the former. By means of a sword belt (balteus) over the left shoulder, it was carried in a metal-mounted scabbard on the right hip out of the way of the shield. Higher officers with no shields wore their swords on the left. The blade was short, not over two feet, and from two to four inches in width. Presentation swords had sheaths and hilts richly ornamented. The gladius must have been a very effective arm because after the javelins were hurled it was the legionaries’ sole reliance. Indeed, in the hands of a trained man, this was a terrible weapon, murderous and deadly. In the time of the Empire and probably in Caesar’s day, too, a dagger (pugio) was attached to the waist belt and worn on the left side.

Baggage (Impedimenta). Soldiers’ Packs and Kits

Marius’ Mules

On the march, the soldier carried all his personal belongings which included rations (cibaria) for periods of three days to periods of fifteen or even twenty days. Also he carried tools, saw, pickax, spade, and sickle, a basket, extra clothing, and a mess kit, cooking spit or rack, pot, and cup (vasa). According to the amount of rations the whole weighed between thirty and seventy pounds, approximately the weights of modern packs. To facilitate the carrying of these sarcinae a compact arrangement of their contents was made and they were fastened to the end of a forked pole carried over the shoulder, called from the name of the inventor, Marius’ mules (muli Mariani). Before battle, the packs were deposited together under guard and in case of sudden attack could, of course, be dropped at once. With his pack on, the soldier was said to be in heavy marching order or impeditus (burdened) and without it, expeditus. Under hard rains, the shields could be carried over the heads of the men.

Heavy General Supply Train

Pack Animals

The heavy baggage belonging to the army consisting of tents, mills (molae) for grinding grain, blankets, clothing, extra pila, artillery (tormenta), and, when the column was not in the presence of the enemy, shields and helmets, was hauled by pack animals (iumenta) and in carts (carri), the whole forming regular supply trains, quartermaster and ordnance.


If we assume one pack mule and one tent for each squad (contubernium) of eight soldiers sleeping in that tent at night (two men being on guard) (contubernales, “bunkies”) a legion of 6,000 would have six hundred pack animals, beside private mounts and officers’ pack animals. There were also four-wheeled wagons (raedae) to carry forage and for use as ambulances for the sick and wounded.

Standards and Standard-Bearers of the Legions


This was an eagle of bronze or silver reduced to the size of a dove and mounted on a staff. Under the Empire the eagle was of gold. The wings of the eagle were generally uplifted ready to lead the whole legion to victory and often gold or silver thunderbolts were held in the talons. The bird was dedicated to Jupiter, the legion’s god of victory.


The eagle was carried by the aquilifer, and on the march and in battle was under the direction of the primipilus. Often there was a small vexillum underneath the eagle with the name and number of the legion. As the eagle was a sacred objeCt before which the oath was taken and as its loss was regarded as a calamity and disgrace, in camp it was kept in a shrine or sanctuary in a chapel (sacellum) near the commanding officer’s quarters. To some extent the eagle is still used as a military emblem in the United States and France. Witness the discharge emblems on men from the armed services.

Cohort (Battalion) and Manipular (Company) Standards

These were standards (signa) generally with the figure of an open hand enclosed in a wreath, the symbol of fidelity, at the top. Below were a transverse bar with small streamers attached to each end; then two metallic half moons, crowns, or wreaths, one just above the other and several small metal disks or medallions, increasing slightly in size down the pole (probably phalerae presented to the maniple for distinguished service or meritorious conduct). Then might come a metal plate indicating by letters and numbers the place of the maniple in formation and finally one or two circular coloured tassels. The disks were thus like our “battle streamers”. Such a signum is a more or less typical one. Each maniple had one of these standards, and the senior or ranking manipular standard which was perhaps larger than the others was regarded as the standard of the whole cohort.


Good men were chosen to be aquiliferi and signiferi (color-sergeants) as the tactical movements of the army were largely directed by the movements of the standards and by bugle calls. They wore as part of their uniforms bear or lion or other animals’ skin over the head and shoulders.


On the march the standards were generally in front of their organizations; in battle, in the rear. Roman commands were possibly such phrases as “Standards, forward, march”, “Standards to the rear, march”, “On the standards extend intervals”, “On the standards, fall in”, “From the standards, as skirmishers”, just as now on parade we say, “Guidons out”, or “Guide right”, in which case the guidon is on the right.

Banners on Flags


These were the standards carried by the auxiliaries and the cavalry and any detachments, the word for “detachment” being vexillatio. They were rectangular cloth banners hanging from a cross piece surmounting the staff. The commanding general had special large, crimson, flame-colored, or white vexilla, one of which when hoisted at his headquarters was the “call to arms” or the signal for immediate formation under arms prepared for battle. Those for the cavalry may have been sea-blue.

Signal Instruments and Musicians

Field Music

Instruments were the bugle (bucina), trumpet (tuba), horn (cornu), and the clarion (lituus), all of brass or oxhorn fitted with metal mouthpieces. They were used exclusively for signals and not as a band.


The only one actually mentioned by Caesar in the Commentaries is the tuba, but the others were very probably in use. The deep-toned tuba was about three feet long with a funnel or bell-shaped flaring opening.


This, a large, curved, almost circular instrument often placed about the neck, had a loud, shrill, and sharper note than the tuba. Both of these instruments were in general for tactical movements to be executed in battles or drills.


This instrument, also curved, had a hoarse tone, higher too than the tuba. It was used principally in camp for guard mount and to change reliefs of the guard.


This clarion was a cavalry instrument, straight, about four feet long, but with a curved joint or crook at the end. Its note was shrill.


As the changes of position, etc., in battle were regulated by these instruments and then by the standards, orders were given the field musicians (aeneatores) for all changes. There was probably one tubicen, one cornicen, one buccinator per maniple. These men, like the standard-bearers, wore bear or lion skins over their helmets and shoulders, a practice which has descended to us in the huge bear-skin shakos worn by drum majors.


All field musicians assembled together each evening in front of headquarters, blew the “classicum” or general’s call which officially marked the end of the evening mess period, the mounting of the night guards, and summoned various individuals to headquarters to receive orders, etc. It was a combination of our “call to arms”, “assembly”, “retreat”, “officers’ call”, “flourishes”, “guard mount”, “tattoo”, “call-to-quarters”, and “taps”.


Rations and Provisions (Res Frumentaria)

Coarse flour (cibaria) or unground wheat (frumentum) was the ordinary food, about two pounds being the daily ration. It was usually issued for two weeks, rarely for three. The grinding and cooking was done by the men themselves or by men selected by them. A variety was obtained by trading with the sutlers or by foraging. Along with reserve rations, the baggage train carried a small hand mill for each man to grind his half-bushel of wheat, or thirty pounds, which had to last two weeks. The cooking was simple. Flour was mixed with water and boiled into a thick paste, or porridge, or baked into bread without yeast. There must occasionally have been fruit and vegetables from neighboring farms. If wheat was scarce and only then, barley (hordeum) was issued as a substitute, and sometimes a whole unit would be put on barley rations as a punishment. Sour wine (posca) was the common drink.


The cost of the ration, four modii or four pecks per month, at a rate of three fourths of a denarius per modius would thus be about thirty-six denarii per year (about $7.50). This cost was charged against the man’s pay ($48.00) and deducted therefrom.


Caesars soldiers and the soldiers of the early Empire were not by choice eaters of meat, and so while it usually could be obtained without too much difficulty, it was rarely eaten.

Rewards for Good Conduct and Valour

Rewards (praemia) took the form of commendations, extra pay, promotion and the dona militaria or insignia, possibly brooches (fibulae), but more often disk-shaped decorations of metal for the breast (phalerae); neck chains (torques, catellae), armlets (armillae), and much higher in distinction, the wreaths of honor (coronae). These latter were awarded to men who had distinguished themselves by energy and gallantry, such as the “triumphalis” for the general, or the “civica” given for saving the life of a citizen in battle, or perhaps the “muralis” – “castrensis” given to the first men scaling the walls of a besieged city or fortified camp.


These consisted of extra fatigue, forfeiture of pay, in making men spend the night outside the camp walls, reduction in rank, increase in length of service, corporal punishment (whipping, the pillory, etc.), dishonorable discharge and dismissal from the service; and for flagrant offenses, death. Many of these punishments were not rarely inflicted and were swiftly applied. Entire units were punished for mutiny and cowardice by decimation, the choosing by lot of one man out of every ten who was flogged to death.


In times of peace or in winter quarters, incessant drill was carried on, both in marching and in the use of weapons. Maneuvers were a regular part of this training, and three times a month a practice march of at least ten miles was held. A high standard of horsemastership was required of mounted troops. As with us, gymnastic exercises kept the men physically fit, and they were further hardened by proficiency in the use of spade, shovel, and the simpler building and engineering tools. Under the Empire, troops were put to work on the construction of public works, canals, roads, bridges, amphitheaters and the like.

This versatility of training controlled by rigid discipline had to be thorough, for, strange as it may seem, up to the era of the atomic bomb, it has to be admitted that, in proportion to the number of men engaged, ancient warfare was far more deadly than modern. One example is sufficient. At the battle of Dyrrachium not one of Caesar’s soldiers came out of that battle unwounded. No casualty list such as that has resulted from any regular modern battle fought between so-called “civilized” nations, before the events at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

“The great contributions of Rome to military science were organization, discipline, attention to details, far-sighted preparation, the realization that battles cou]d be won before they were fought.”


Dress and Equipment of Gauls and Germans

Because the Gauls wore long trousers (braccae) which the Romans considered barbaric, they were contemptuously referred to as “braccati”. The Gallic military cloak, the sagulum, closely resembled the Roman cloak and received the same name. The Gallic infantry used large oblong or oval shields of wood or metal which probably received the name “scuta” because of their resemblance to the Roman scuta in size, if not otherwise. Helmets were of metal and very often adorned with animal horns. The Gallic weapons of offense were a long sword, inferior to the Roman, javelins, gaesa, spears, matarae, and darts, tragulae or veruta. The standard was in many cases the image of the Gallic wild boar, mounted on a pole. Commands in the Gallic army were sounded by a curved war trumpet, the carnyx, which terminated in the head of an animal or serpent. The clothing of the more barbaric Germans consisted largely in skins, but those somewhat advanced wore trousers like the Gauls and confined their long hair in a kind of a knot. Their principal weapons were shield, spear and sword, the latter a long single­edged weapon.