Legionary Selection and Training

The Roman Army did not begin as a finely tuned fighting machine, but it did develop into one.  In the beginning it mostly consisted of Roman citizens who were farmers.  Part of the reason the leaders would choose the type of man for the legion is because they were in good physical condition because the work they did was physically demanding. In the beginning men would join part-time and then the men would return home after a summer of fighting.  Under the leadership of the Roman general Marius, the army began to be more of a profession (Gill, 2012).

The recruitment of soldiers was the foundation on which the army was built upon.  The plan for their training was geared specifically for the requirements of the work which they would be expected to do.  It would take great skill and courage to be able to leap into a trench or the opponent’s line of battle and engage in the type of combat the Romans were notorious for.  The length of time that a soldier would be in training would depend on his condition, skills, and how quickly he could master the tasks that would be required of him.  It was important for the recruits to be skillfully selected, learn to use and care for arms, be in top physical condition and strong.  In addition they had to learn about every situation they may encounter in battle and how to deal with it, as well as learn to obey orders (Stout, 1921).

  According to Vegetius the new recruits should be judged according to their strength as well as their moral characture.  He could see no benefit to training a coward.  They had strict requirements such as height (between 5’10” and 6 ft. at the minimum), good eyesight, muscular build, and long fingers.  Part of the process of becoming a soldier would be giving him a tattoo with the official mark, but the man would have to prove himself before he could truly become part of the military.  The potential soldier would have to prove his mobility and strength, as well as be able to learn to use weapons and prove he had self-confidence. After he proved himself, he would receive the mark and begin to learn the “science of arms” in his daily training (Vegetius, 1996).

The Romans were known for their ability to build military training camps.  This is where the training would take place.  It really didn’t matter if the site was a permanent installation or a place to stay for the night, the Roman military was good at it.  Vegetius wrote, “one could almost say that the Roman military carried a walled town with them were ever they went.”  New recruits would be trained in the art of building these camps as well as entrenchments (Davies, Breeze, & Maxfield, 1989).

Once the soldier was placed officially in training he would have to endure a rigorous routine of training to do many things.  Examples of things that the soldiers were required to be good at are: military step, both running and in jumping, swimming in case there was no bridge to cross a river.  They also had to train with wooden swords that were heavy and shields that were made of wicker.  They were also taught to use the point and not the edge when they were in combat, this way they would do more damage to their opponents.  They were also proficient at throwing javelins and using arrows, firing stones with slings, and using lead weighted darts.  They had to learn to vault onto horses.  This was done by practicing with wooden horses.  In addition to all of the things mentioned they were expected to carry about 60 pounds of equipment while they were marching in full armor (Vegetius, 1996).

All of this rigorous training was designed to give the soldier strength, courage, and the ability to face the enemy without fear, because the soldier would know that he was superior to his enemy.

The image below is a sketch of a what a Roman soldier may have looked like when he was getting ready to face his enemy.





Davies, R., Breeze, D., & Maxfield, V. A. (1989). Service in the roman army. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gill, N. (2012). The roman army and the roman republic. Retrieved from About.com: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/romeweapons/p/RomanArmy.htm

Stout. (1921). Training soldiers for the roman army. The Classical Journal, 16(7), 423-431. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3288082

Vegetius. (1996). Epitome of military science (2 ed.). (N. Milner, Trans.) Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.


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