Legionary Life on Commemorating a Soldier

Tombstones laid for deceased soldiers were methods of displaying personal success and individual identity especially within the legion. The tombstones were often erected and executed by their comrades in arms. As most who received them either had purchased their burial rites before their death or were given to them by fellow soldiers (Hope, 87). A Roman soldier could pay into a burial fund while he was in the service. Likewise, a soldier could commemorate his life by having one constructed for him by his heir as a tribute to a life of service for Rome(Matyszak, 192-193).  These acts of recognition were dually a private affair and received for those servicemen who died off the battlefield. Hope asserts:

Rome and its empire were littered with reminders of battles, but it needs to be emphasized that theses ‘war memorials’ celebrated conquest, victory, and power, rather than death, grief, and individuality. In general, communal expressions of military loss, sacrifice, and mourning were not a feature of the Roman landscape.

On the battlefield death was to be dealt with as opportunity dictated. Burial was a matter of convince and practicality. Corpses on the field were unsightly as well as unhealthy. Most fallen soldiers were cremated and some given shallow graves. Precautions were taken by the surviving troops to limit desecrations to the graves but ultimately practicality gave way. Few corpses were transported home and permissions were only given for the elite. One reason being the large numbers of dead soldiers would deter future enrollment. Any mention of the soldier was likely praiseworthy, as funeral processions were to celebrate the glory and honor of Rome (Hope,87-88).

Hopes research helps us construct a society different than our own. But like she suggests we must be critical of our assertions and assumptions reasons being: incomplete evidence, different contexts with in the empire, and personal points of view. 

Tribute to Rome was ultimately paid to her conquering generals and emperors.  Monuments and structures such as Trajan’s Column were built to honor a successful campaign. The epitome of the emperors boasting was a triumph. A triumph as listed by Matyszak was parading of jovial generals and soldiers in which the roman civilians celebrated the success of the emperor and the army was congratulated by the people and by the emperor himself. After the parading the soldiers participate in rituals and later would spend a week partying. Hope states, “A triumph was a celebration of and for the living rather than the dead” (82). On both the scales of mega and micro, tribute was paid for success.

Scene 54. Trajan rewarding his troops. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via http://www.stoa.org/trajan/images/hi/5.48.h.jpg

Contrasting the triumph as we learn from Livy, a Roman soldier’s death on the battlefield was to remain hushed, silent, and private (22.55).  As Hope puts it, “Trophies and triumphs were about forgetting the dead rather than remembering them” (84). The life of a slain soldier was likely meant to be forgotten and the people to move on. Death of a soldier on the battlefield was in no way a public affair.  Rather it was and isolated moment in which the family of the soldier could find solace. Not to say that death on the battlefield received no public attention for it did, but its recognition was fostered in a private and silent way.

Works Cited

Hope, Valerie M. “Trophies and Tombstones: Commemorating the Roman Soldier.” World Archaeology, Vol. 35, No. 1, The Social Commemoration of Warfare (Jun 2003), pp. 79-97  JSTOR  Web. Feb. 28 2012. 

Livy, Titus. “Livy’s History of Rome: Book 22 The Disaster of Cannae.” The History of Rome, Vol. III  http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=Liv3His.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=2&division=div1  Web. 18 Feb. 2012.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual.London: Thames andHudson. 2009. Print.

Rockwell, Peter. Trajan rewarding his troops. Trajan’s Column. Photograph. The McMaster Trajan Project.  1999. 28 Feb. 2012. Web.


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2 responses to “Legionary Life on Commemorating a Soldier

  1. E. M.

    Bibliography: Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual.
    Roman counterweight machines in times of Roman empire (!?). 700 years tradition of military “doctors” in times of Trajanus (!?), etc… Please look for another and serious bibliography.

    • luxcaelum

      Did this blog mention a counterweight machine in the Roman period or 700 years of tradition of military doctors? I understand that Philip Matyszak book is not a primary source for this information. It was not intended to be used in any other way than a secondary source for ideas on this blog.

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