Legionary Living

Introduction: Preston Hodson

Our group has chosen to base our blog on the Roman Legions during the High Imperial Age. This group includes some of what are referred to as the Classic Legions, and also includes the legions formed by Julius Caesar, which is why it was particularly interesting for us.

Recruitment and Physical Training: Nathan Blue

Joining the Roman army was not the easiest of tasks. There were many common traits on what a recruit would have been judged, including racial prejudice, background, and a rural origin to an urban origin. Tall soldiers would have been preferred to shorter men, but shorter men of exceptional physical condition would have had a chance to join a well. Average age of most recruits was late teens to mid-20’s. Criminals of exile and other serious crimes could not join the army.

Otherwise, all Roman citizens required to serve military service whenever the need was great enough. Conscription was widely unpopular with most Romans including emperors. There were three kinds of recruits, voluntarii (volunteers) which were the citizen army, lecti (conscripts) who were recruited by local authorities, and vicarii (substitutes) people who had been sent by conscripted citizens in their charge.

Once a recruit joined the army they went under a medical test and a physical test, and some may have brought letters of recommendation to make the process easier during basic training.

Slaves, surprisingly, could not serve in the military as they were not considered loyal. (Campbell page 11) If the slave was recruited as a conscript, the system was considered at fault and they were bared entry. If the slave was sent as a substitute, then the person who sent them was considered in the wrong. If the slave volunteered falsely as a free Roman, they were executed if enough evidence was there against them.

Discipline and Punishment: Josiah Oldham

As someone currently taking a course in Supervisory Management, the idea of reinforcement and discipline, and how it has changed over the years is an interesting one for me. How do you get people to do what you want them to, while at the same time molding them into mean, lean, systematic killing machines (well, nowadays just good workers)? This is why I chose discipline as a sub-topic.

While today, fear is generally seen as an inappropriate method of reinforcement, it was common in these times for soldiers. Fear was a necessity, for it kept soldiers alive longer. As Flavius Josephus notes, “They are moreover hardened for war by fear; for their laws inflict capital punishments, not only for soldiers running away from the ranks, but for slothfulness and inactivity, though it be but in a lesser degree…” (Josephus).

Josephus is correct. Deserters were worthy of death. Mutineers were worthy of death. Guards who were caught asleep at their posts were left to the mercy of their fellow soldiers, often resulting in death. A deserter is one fewer man in the fight, and one man can turn the tide of a battle. A sleeping soldier will miss the enemy, not sound the alarm, and bring death to the entire unit. A mutinous group is just not acceptable. Better to live and fear your commanders, than to bring your entire company to the grave with you.

Of course, death is not the only punishment, not by a long shot. Executing soldiers left and right for the smallest offense is illogical- your army has to come from somewhere. Rather than kill them, it is much easier to beat them with a switch (known as ‘castigato’). Pain is a very important biological trigger, and punishment in this sense sends a very strong ‘don’t do that again’ response to the brain.

There are also several psychological punishments for the discerning centurion who prefers his men un-bruised. The drudgery and monotony of extra undesirable tasks (who wants to clean out the toilets?), or a decrease in pay (gear and food aren’t cheap!) are additional methods of conditioning to keep soldiers in line and always, always ready for anything that might happen on the battlefield.

The method of reinforcement by fear and punishment is cruel, and perhaps unfair to the soldiers. However, it is undeniable that this same method, combined with intense training made the Roman Legions into the unstoppable force of nature they were known as. They were disciplined into an intense focus on their commanders, as Josephus again notes:

“…the readiness of obeying their commanders is so great, that it is very ornamental in peace; but when they come to a battle, the whole army is but one body, so well coupled together are their ranks, so sudden are their turnings about, so sharp their hearing as to what orders are given them, so quick their sight of the ensigns, and so nimble are their hands when they set to work; whereby it comes to pass that what they do is done quickly, and what they suffer they bear with the greatest patience.” (Josephus)

With discipline but no training, the Romans would have been perfect at following orders, but wholly ineffective in any fight. Similarly, with training but without discipline these soldiers would act powerfully, but recklessly in anarchy, and be likewise ineffectual. The techniques used by the Roman Empire to keep their soldiers in check are a critical part of high imperial history.

Uniforms and Armor: Preston Hodson

My specific topic is the Uniform and armor which I have have subsequently divided into two sub topics: Main Armor and Weaponry, and Other Clothing and additional items. Various resources have been utilized in these descriptions, which are cited below. A photographic representation is also included for your personal benefit as a viewer.

Main Armor and Weaponry

A typical Roman uniform would’ve consisted of several main pieces.

Helmet. The style and shape varied slightly over the first century as improvements were made, with both the Coolus and the Gallic style helmets being used. A common addition to a normal military helmet during this period was the neck guard, used to protect the neck from gladius strikes. (Goldsworthy 122-123)
Body armor.Popular styles ranged from typical mail cuirass, to scale mail which was harder to maintain and therefore less popular, to the preferred segmented plate armor, made of iron plates, bronze fittings and leather straps which created a layered method of bodily protection. This version came into play specifically in the Imperial era. (Connoly, 228-230)

Shield(Scutum). They were made of reinforced wooden strips, and contained designs including the name and symbol of the Legion. Large and durable, but light enough to be carried extremely long distances, weighing in at about 15 or so pounds. It had a wooden grip in the middle, covered by a metal plate, and played an essential role in the safety of each Legionnaire. (Kelly, et al.)

Click to enlarge (Kelly, et al.)

Sword(Gladius). A slightly tapering blade with a large point made this weapon extremely lethal. Usually short, approximately 15- 22 inches in length, it was excellent for jabbing, and could be easily removed from it’s sheath in a closed proximity, allowing the wielder to remain protected behind his scutum and draw his weapon at the same time.

Spear(Pilum). Another main weapon of Legionary was the pilum. These spears were mainly used for throwing. Many of them featured a butt spike, and were made of a wooden shaft with an iron heads. Apart from being used to kill enemy soldiers, it was also used to render their shields less effective as the spears were very flexible and difficult to remove. (Goldsworthy 131-133)

Other Clothing/ Additional Items

Aside from the aforementioned items, a Legionary would’ve also typically been equipped with:

Open toed boots were typically worn, as well as socks depending on the occasion. These items are mentioned in the Vindolanda tablets and were used increasingly in colder climates and seasons.
Soldiers also wore decorated belts or aprons, mostly as a status symbol, to distinguish them from citizens.
Another necessary item was a pack, usually made of piece of fabric fastened to a wooden pole which was then fastened to the aforementioned pilum. These packs were typically used to carry cooking equipment, personal items etc.
A typical addition to the tops of the helmets would’ve been a wide crest of hair. Although originally used solely by high ranking officials, the practice became more common during the reign of Julius Caesar.

(Cavvazi, F.)

“Borrowing” from other cultures: Troy Esquibel

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Summary: Josiah Oldham

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Works Cited

Campbell, J. B. The Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 337: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Josephus, Flavius. (trans. 1737). The War of the Jews. Whiston, William (trans). http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/war-3.htm. Accessed October 24, 2016.

Goldsworthy, Asdrian. The Complete Roman Army. Thames and Hudson, 2003. Print.

Connoly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books, 2012. Print.

Kelly, Patrick, et al. “The Shield: An Abridged History of its Use and Development.” myArmoury.com. Ed. Patrick Kelly. myArmoury.com, 2012. Web. 23 October 2016.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames and Hudson, 2009. Print.

Cavvazi, F. The Roman Army. 4 June 2008. http://www.roman-empire.net/army/army.html. Accessed 23 October 2016.

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