Monthly Archives: November 2016

Legionnaires on Leave or Looking for Leisure

Whether a Roman legionnaire during the first century or an American soldier in 2016, people are people—as a species, we’re inclined toward leisure activities. As active military members today are awarded periodic leave from the battlefield, so too were Roman legionnaires. As today’s soldiers devise distractions to pass the time between tours (and undoubtedly indulge in a little debauchery to take the edge off after days of intense training or active combat), Roman legionnaires too sought a little R&R between martial responsibilities.

Gaming, Gambling, and Girls: Vice in Ancient Rome

“So intense was the Roman love for games of hazard,” said Italian Archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani, “that whenever I excavate the pavement of a portico, of a basilica, of a bath, or any flat surface of accessible to the public, I have always found gaming tables engraved or scratched on the marble or stone slabs [see figure 1], for the amusement of the idle men, always ready to cheat each other out their money” (98). These gaming tables are found in most excavated Roman barracks—as far away from the empire’s heart as Numidia and Mauritania—and many soldiers appear to have taken these heavy tables with them when units relocated (99).


Fig. 1. Floor tile incised with lines for use as a game board, with various bone game counters, excavated from Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester). Reading Museum. Retrieved from:

Paintings from Pompeii depict games of dice and those involving chess piece-like objects. Playing boards often exhibit boastful graffiti (e.g., “If you have a chance in your favor, I will win by skill”), as well as graffiti inviting members to play and others warning against such vice (Lanciani 99; “Romans”). Lanciani states that Roman taverns were frequented more often by gamblers than drinkers, remarking, “Mercury was worshipped in those dens more than Bacchus” (99).
Even Emperor Augustus was an admitted gambler, as were Claudius; Caligula (though, this should come as no surprise); and, above all, Lucius Verus—and, yes, the pastime was illegal in most parts of the empire (102-104). Lanciani mentions that emperors would wager sesterces (quarter denarii) in amounts that would equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in modern American currency.
If the riches won in games of chance didn’t slake a traveling legionnaire’s thirst for pleasure, should he be more interested in that of the carnal variety, prostitution was rampant across Rome—sex cubicles beneath the arches of countless buildings, elegant brothels (see figure 2), even women who conducted their sexual business in cemeteries and in tombs for legionnaire clientele who liked their eroticism a little macabrely charged (Matyszak 93-95).


Fig. 2. Roman work, c. 1st century CE, likely a prostitute with her lover. Glyptothek Munic. Retrieved from:

When in Rome

Seeing the sights

Legionnaires visiting the Roman capitol would first have to orient themselves to the seven distinct hills that made up the city. The Quirinal Hill, home to Rome’s middle-class citizenry and once hometown of Emperor Vespasian, features the Forum, as well as “…the finest shopping arcades” (Matyszak 26). On the Capitoline Hill, west of the Quirinal, was “…the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus Optimus Maximus—Jupiter of the Capitoline Hill: Best and Greatest,” which was rebuilt time and time again between the reign of the Tarquins and that of Domitian (29).

On the adjacent peak, the Arx, existed both the temple of Juno and the auguraculum, where Rome’s priests and mystics came to divine the will of the gods by observing the patterns of birds in flight or shooting stars (29). Near here existed the Tarpeian Rock, the infamous height from which the city’s “criminals and traitors” would be flung to their deaths—a cheap, thrilling spectacle, albeit a little barbaric (29).

Location, location, location

Finding accommodations while visiting could be accomplished by either staying with a hospes—a friend who had invited lodging at their town house—or by locating vacancies to be rented out by the day, the week, or (if the sordid need arose) by the hour (31). To the east of the Quirinal, along the Esquiline Hill, travelers could find reasonable accommodations at the top of the slope but would have been wise to avoid traveling further downhill, as it was held to be one of Rome’s rougher neighborhoods—a kind of Classical Mediterranean Detroit, if you will (27).

Your Chariot Awaits

For spectacles both gruesome and grand, Legionnaires visiting Rome could find no greater displays than in the Colosseum or the Circus. These mesmerizing blood sports—namely gladiatorial matches and chariot races—were so popular that the Colosseum was constructed to accommodate around 50,000 audience members, the Circus Maximus five times as many (“Prometheus”). But for those less inclined toward the savage delights of the arenas, theater was also alive and well in Rome, though most of the Classical Attic Dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles still performed in their traditional Greek language, so less-schooled visitors would have been better off attending the performances of the more contemporary Latin playwrights, like Terence and Plautus (Matyszak 90-91).

A Long Soak in a Large Tub

Common across the Roman world were both thermae (large-scale, imperial bath complexes) and balneae (small-scale, common bath complexes) (“Thermae”). While serving an obvious utilitarian function, these complexes were also centers of socialization. These complexes were luxurious and multifaceted, the modern equivalent being “…a combination of a library, art gallery, mall, restaurant, gym, and spa” (“Thermae”). Some housed ancient scrolls and masterpieces of sculpture and employed masseurs and masseuses as well; ancient Romans believed wealth was achieved through eating, exercising, and enjoying massages—and bathing (“Thermae”).


Figure 3. The Roman Baths at Bath, England. Retrieved from:,_Bath,_England.jpg

Works Cited

Luciani, Rudolfo. “Gambling and Cheating in Ancient Rome.” The North American Review 155.448 (1892): 97-105. Print.

Matyszak, Phillip. Rome on Five Denarii a Day. London: Thames and Hudson (2008). Print.

“Prometheus Unbound.” Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

“Romans: Leisure.” BBC. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

“Thermae.” Wikipedia. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

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Soldiers and Officers: Family Life

Imperial Rome (1-150 CE)

Subtopics: Women/Marriage, Religion, & Children


Why we chose the topics and time period that we did:


“Soldiers and Officers: Family Life” interested our group because it seemed like a topic commonly overlooked when discussing Rome. Typically, we focus on the military might of Imperial Rome, the campaigns and conquest, or on the political system and rule of law that has been admired ever since. However, less often do we look deeper into what life was like for the typical man or woman, what their roles and rights were, or what may have fueled their actions. Thus, we decided to focus on the family life of those in the Roman military, specifically women and their roles both independently and with regard to their family units. We also decided to look at religion as both a social tool, as well as a motivating factor for action on the state level, as well as the individual household. Children also, seem to be overlooked when casually learning about Rome, seemingly forgotten until they become old enough to become statesmen or soldiers. As such, these topics were our focus.  


Subtopic 1: Women/Marriage


As women began to rise in importance and presence in Roman society, as opposed to Greece, they enjoyed an expanded role in public life as they became artists, shopkeepers, doctors, and even gladiators (Burns, 2007). As their roles changed, I became interested in how their influence and presence affected the soldiers and armies in the Imperial Rome.  Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, was a great advocate for political, social, and moral reforms in Rome.  As a self-proclaimed “Restorer of the Republic”, he introduced reforms to improve society and create a new government and lifestyle for Rome (Fife, 2012).  Augustus agreed with the statesman Cicero, who believed that the Republic’s decline was due to the degradation of the public’s morals and traditional virtues (Wasson, 2016). In response, Augustus introduced the moral legislation to the Lex Julia in 23 BC (Wikipedia, 2016).  


 Augustus statue as a younger Octavian (Wikipedia, 2016)

These laws, which continued for two centuries, encouraged marriage and having children.  It offered “inducements to marriage and imposed disabilities upon the celibate” (Wikipedia, 2016).  These inducements included financially rewarding families with three or more children, particularly sons.  The punishment for not being properly married included an additional tax that was not imposed on those who were married (Fife, 2012).  Those marriages who were childless could only receive half of an inheritance.  Socially undesirable marriages were banned as well as freeborn persons marrying socially degraded persons (Phang, 2001). In his presentation to the senate of his legislation, Augustus stated, “If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure.” (Fant & Lefkowitz, 2016)

Being a soldier in the legion, however, made marriage different and almost impossible to accomplish.  Under the rule of Augustus, the term of service rose from sixteen to twenty years and later to twenty-five years (Scheidel, 2005).  As the length of military service lengthened, it became increasingly impractical for soldiers to get married and keep a family.  Through the Lex Julia, soldiers were banned from getting married as ordinary citizens were (Scheidel, 2005).  The soldiers, however, were not prevented from cohabiting with women or raising children when possible.  Since there was a ban that denied soldiers from the legal entitlements of unions, they simply settled for legally non-recognized marriages.  In 44 AD, Claudius finally granted soldiers the conventional legal privileges of married citizens (Scheidel, 2005).

Being a wife to a soldier did not grant many privileges either.  Demographically, epigraphic record shows that about 90% of all recorded wives of soldiers or veterans have Roman names.   This suggests little interaction outside of the military and civilian circles in the areas where they were deployed (Scheidel, 2005).  Evidence has been found from seven legal cases on papyrus documents from Roman Egypt of the disadvantages.  The wives of soldiers lacked the legal entitlements from marriage and could not sue for the return of their dowries despite the fact that they had been made for the purpose of circumventing around the marriage ban (Scheidel, 2005).  There is much debate about the exact purpose of the marriage ban on soldiers.  One argument states that it was created to use the pool of illegitimate sons who grew up in the military environment to build a strong army.  However, there is no evidence that these soldiers would gain citizenship upon enlisting.  Another argument is that the marriage ban was meant to “emphasize the masculine qualities of the professional army, restore order”, and separate from the soldiers from civilians (Scheidel, 2005).  This point seems the most plausible but there are still several questions as to the actual benefit for the soldiers themselves.  

With the ban of marriage in the army, some soldiers chose to be sexually promiscuous throughout their service with the local women.  In fact, some reports show that soldiers in Spain fathered as many and 4,000 children with the local women (Scheidel, 2005).  Because of the lack of women in the areas that the armies were, some argue that they were high rates of polygyny in the towns.  The famous will of C. Longinus Castor freed two of his slavewomen, made them heirs, and made four males, are who assumed to be his children, substitute heirs (Scheidel, 2005).  Another consequence of the lack of women in the imperial army is the appearance of homosexual relationships with male slaves and military subordinates (Scheidel, 2005).  Women were a continual influence not only to men in the army, but as they rose to prominence in society and became contributing members to the the growing nation.  


Subtopic 2: Religion

Parker Langeveld

The Romans, like other aspects of their lives, viewed religion in the practical sense highly governed by logic and reason of the human mind, and such views led them to difficulties in seeing one single, all powerful God. The Romans did not have religion based upon a central belief, but rather a mix of fragments, superstitions, and ideas that humans had created over the years. Because of this viewpoint, religion was less of a spiritual experience and more of an interconnection between humans and their relation to the natural forces around them.

Ideas trickled down from ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Latin influences. Often times the Latin and Etruscan names survived but the deities became seen as the prominent Greek deities. Thus, Roman And Greek pagan Gods appear very similar, but with different names. Because of this constant shifting towards Greek God influence, it often occurred that a God was worshipped and nobody could really remember why. Such it was with the god Furrina. Every year on the 25th of July a festival was held in her honor. However, by the middle of the first century BC nobody could actually remember what she was the god of.

Roman religion was also divided into two levels, namely domestic and state. At the state level, the greater gods were worshipped for the greater good. However, the patriarch of each home also conducted his private prayer and worship within the walls of his own home to his own individual domestic gods to bless and protect his individual family.


Subtopic 3: Children


Imperial soldiers often had long term relationships with women, but their unions were not given legal recognition because of Augustus’ marriage ban. Therefore, their children were considered illegitimate (Scheidel). These children were in their fathers’ paternal authority (patria potestas in Latin). This meant that fathers’ had absolute power over their children.“…in the Imperial period, patria potestas was less oppressive and chiefly determined the children’s property rights and inheritance rights” (Phang). However, if an illegitimate child’s soldier father died and did not have a will, the child would have no claim to his property (Phang).

The wives and children of these soldiers often suffered, due to problems stemming from a union without legal recognition. However, they found ways to adapt and deal with these issues (Phang). The soldiers also suffered because of the same reason, but in A.D 44, emperor Claudius allowed the soldiers to have the same rights as married men, because they couldn’t be married according to the law (Phang).

At the soldier’s honorable discharge, they were given the right to marry, so their unions then became legitimate marriages (Scheidel). The soldier’s discharge rights were established through military diplomas. In these diplomas, “auxiliaries, sailors, and other noncitizen troops were granted Roman citizenship and the right to marry (conubium) at discharge; their children were also granted Roman citizenship” (Phang).



Burns, J. (2007). Great women of Imperial Rome: Mothers and wives of the Caesars. London and New York: Routledge.  

Fant, M. & Lefkowitz, M. (2016). Women’s life in Greece and Rome: A source book in translation. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Fife, S. (2012). Augustus’ political, social, & moral reforms. Retrieved from Ancient History: Encyclopedia November 9th, 2016 from

Phang, S. (2001). The marriage of Roman soldiers (13 B.C. – A.D. 235): Law and family in the imperial army. Boston, USA: Brill.

Scheidel, W. (2005). Marriage, families, and survival in the Roman imperial army: Demographic aspects. Forthcoming Article. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. Retrieved on November, 9, 2016.

Wasson, D. (2016). Reforms of Augustus. Retrieved from Ancient History: Encyclopedia November 9, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (n.d). Augustus. Retrieved from Wikipedia November, 9, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (n.d). Lex Julia. Retrieved from Wikipedia November, 9, 2016 from

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Leisure in Imperial Rome (1-150 CE)

The Roman Empire of 1-150 CE was at its greatest. It had conquered much to the east, and under Emperor Claudius, the empire seized land in Britain and the rest of the west. But the Romans knew other skills besides fighting and conquering. In their spare time, the Roman soldiers would view the imperial games (gladiatorial battles and chariot racing) and gamble. We chose this time period because we wanted to know more about iconic Rome. We chose this topic because we wanted to know what the soldiers spent their time doing.

Gladiator Contests

The reason why we choose gladiator contests as one of our subtopics is because it is probably the most iconic type of roman activities.  They were probably the most popular type of Roman entertainment.  Everyone has heard of the gladiators and automatically associates them with the Romans and the Colosseum.


The gladiators were professional fighters that provided entertainment for thousands and thousands or Romans by fighting to the death in large arenas.  They estimate that gladiator battles took place for over 500 years in Roman society. (Cartwright) The most famous arena in which these battles took place was the Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre.  Up to 50,000 people could fit into this arena to watch the battles. (Lendering) I’m sure many roman soldiers attended these events regularly on their free time.  

There were usually around 10 to 12 gladiator battles a year in Rome.  These battles provided regular entertainment for all types of Roman citizens from the poor to the rich and the soldiers to the civilians.  Soldiers that were on leave were sure to attend such events and relieve stress from their daily lives in the legion.        

    (Photo: Dennis Jarvis, published on 02 November 2012)

Chariot Races

We chose the subtopic of chariot races because it is also a common and famous Roman activity.  Chariot races is one of the first things I think of when I think about Ancient Rome. 


The Romans loved participating in large public events such as chariot races. In the races they usually divided up the racers into four factions- Blues, Greens, Reds, and Whites- and the people followed these teams similar to sport fans today. (Cartwright) Roman soldiers on there free time or leave were sure to participate in such social events and also have their own favorite team.  The most famous arena in which these races took place is called the Circus Maximus.  It could hold up to 250,000 spectators.  As you can see in the image to the left, there were center dividers in the arena and the chariot racers would race around those in a big loop.  I would imagine that Roman soldiers would be big fans of these races and love to go to these events and cheer on their favorite faction.  

(Photo: B. Fletcher,  published on 12 June 2013)



We chose gambling because it isn’t something we normally associate with Roman life and wanted to explore its hold on their society. Participation in this activity happened in every class in Ancient Rome. School kids as well as emperors enjoyed this form of entertainment. Emperor Claudius enjoyed it so much that he attached a gameboard to the side of his coach so he could play on the move. Gaming tables were carved into practically every flat surface in the area including sites such as the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum, the Basilica Julia, and the entrances to the temples of Venus and Rome. Gaming tables were “particularly abundant in barracks” (Toner). Soldiers in Christ’s time are said to have cast lots on his clothes (St Matthew).

Soldiers and peasants, along with enjoying the imperial games, placed bets on them against their friends and neighbors. They would look at advertisements and programs to determine the fighters’ capabilities and found the pedigrees of horses to decide whom to bet on. Participants (in the games) were divided into four groups, each represented by a color, as mentioned previously. The red and white teams were on the same level, while the blues and greens were deemed superior (but equal to each other). The red and white teams could have odds of 6:1 where the blue and green teams could have odd of 2:1.

Gambling was as much a financial matter as it was a social one.  J.P. Toner said “the size of each wager in relation to individuals’ social position and wealth reflected the degree to which they were prepared to risk their control over their lives.” In this honor/shame society, unfortunate bad luck could quickly ruin your reputation and lead to exile. One example of gambling’s all-consuming presence was Emperor Augustus. During the Sicilian War when Augustus was facing military defeat, he is said to have gambled “all the time in the hope of winning one victory.”

In short, gambling was an activity enjoyed by many in Imperial Rome. It pervaded social class and occurred at many levels of play. From the Roman Colosseum to the military barracks, one person’s success was another man’s failure.

In conclusion, the Roman soldiers (and other people for that matter) loved their glory and their bloodshed. In their free time, soldiers flocked to the imperial games to view and bet on the gladiatorial battles and the chariot races. Once leave was over, it was time to conquer.


(marathonblogger2016 wrote the intro, the gambling paragraph, and the conclusion. Philippedes26 wrote about the gladiators and the chariot racing.)


Mark Cartwright. “Roman Games, Chariot Races & Spectacle,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified December 04, 2013. /article/635/.

Lendering, Jona. Rome, Amphiteatrum Flavium. 21 July 2010. 4 November 2016. <;.

Toner, J. P. “Gambling.” Leisure and Ancient Rome. Cambridge: Polity, 1995. 89-101. Print.

The Holy Bible. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979. Print. King James Version.

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The Roman Legion’s Recruitment, Training, & the Weaponry Involved During 1-150 CE

By: chaoticblackcat


Vegetius asserts in his Epitome of Military Science that part of the Roman Empire’s strength lay in its legions (31). He writes “proof of this [strength] is the great size of the Roman State, which always fought with legions and conquered as many enemies as either it wished or the nature of the world permitted” (Vegetius 32). This idea is echoed by Josephus who writes that anyone who notices “their military discipline…will be forced to confess that their obtaining so large a dominion hath been the acquisition of their valor, and not the bare gift of fortune”.

Overall, both seem to conclude that Rome’s status in history as a leading empire is connected to the Roman legions. If their statements are to be believed, it leads to the question of what gave these legions such an advantage in the field. This section will investigate the claim Vegetius makes in his Epitome of Military Science that an legion’s strength lies in its “careful selection of recruits, instruction in the rules, so to speak, of war, toughening in daily exercises [and] prior acquaintance in-field practice with all possible eventualities in war and battle” (3). This section will investigate the types of recruitment, weaponry, and overall training implemented in the Roman legions.

However, due to the broad time period in which the Roman legions operated, it is crucial for the sake of clarity to narrow this study down to a smaller range of time. The time period of 1-150 CE was picked because it was a period where imperial power was increasing. I have always understood it to be a time period where the power shifted from the senate more firmly into the hands of the emperors. This shift in power has always interested me, and I was curious as to how it might have impacted the legions.

Overall, this particular section will focus on the recruitment, training, and weaponry associated with the Roman legions during the early Imperial time period of 1-150 CE. As G.R. Watson writes in his book The Roman Soldier, information regarding this topic largely originates from three main types of evidence (25). First is the literary evidence such as “works specifically written on military institutions, legal codes….and general histories” (Watson 26). Second is the epigraphical evidence of which Watson mentions two primary types related to the legionaries: “tombstones and so called diplomata militaria” such as Trajan’s column (28). Third and final is papyrological evidence which consisted of preserved parchment and papyri (Watson 29). This section will use all three types of evidence during its study.


Vegetius asserts that the Roman Empire’s strength depended upon “the initial examination of the levy”, the recruitment process in other words (Epitome of Military Science 8). Most of the original recruits were Italian, but Watson writes that, based upon what he gained from studying Tacitus’s work, by 23 CE “the legions were distributed mainly along or near the frontiers”, information (13-14). Lawrence Keppie observes how this positioning of the legions affected their recruitment. Though legionaries were originally recruited from Rome, “the need to leave troops in distant provinces for long periods” combined with the civil war of BC changed this (Keppie 89). Keppie writes that the earlier recruitment of the legions was done “in anticipation of fresh conquests, and new areas to be garrisoned”, and these past recruits typically hailed from Italy (99). However, based upon the work of other scholars, Keppie notes that there seems to have been a decrease in Italian volunteers (98). An example of this can be seen in Keppie’s reference to Tacitus.

“In AD 23 Tiberius announced before the Senate that he would make a visit to the provinces, a visit prompted by the need to release legionary veterans whose stipendia were complete, and to replace them with recruits, to be obtained by means of formal levies. Volunteers within Italy had been coming forward in insufficient numbers, he said, and in any case were of unacceptably low quality: the old courage and military discipline were lacking” (Keppie 94).

Overall, Keppie concludes that due to a lack of Italian volunteers the legions began recruiting more and more from the provinces where they were posted (97). Adrian Goldsworthy agrees, arguing that the many of the legions would have recruited people from nearby areas (80). Furthermore, this idea of legionary recruits being drawn from the provinces is, according to Keppie, “in itself no longer a novelty for scholars” (Keppie 96). Keppie believes it became a necessity because of the Empire’s sheer size and diversity (Keppie 101).

This enlistment process included the probatio or interview (Goldworthy 78). Its initial concern was to ensure that the applicant was a Roman citizen (Watson 38-39). Philip Matyszak notes that the interviewers also would have been interested in the recruit’s letter of recommendation, preferably written by a veteran soldier (11). There was also a medical examination as shown by a papyrus dating from 52 CE that records a man’s discharge due to the fact that cataracts hindered his eyesight (Goldworthy 78-79). Goldworthy writes that this is not a strict example because it is uncertain if it was the army he was being discharged from, but he asserts that it is likely that the military would have operated in a similar fashion (79). Sometime after successfully passing their probatio, the new recruit would have been sent to training (Goldworthy 80).

Training: Exercises, Weaponry, & Application


The training of a legionary was diverse. According to S.E. Stout, the training would include learning to run, jump, climb and swim (427). Indeed, Vegetius ecstatically urges soldiers to become accustomed “to executing jumps and blow at the same time, rushing at the shield with a leap and crouching down again, now eagerly darting forward with a bound, now giving ground jumping back” (57-58). In addition, they would have been trained to use their weapons. Philip Matyszak makes the humorous observation in his book Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual that each stage of training is “arranged so that just as a trainee believes he has just got past the worst, his instructors raise the bar to a whole new level” (70). Indeed, Watson also notes that some aspects of the initial training were carried out in stages. Exercises such as marching “were practiced first without arms and equipment” (Watson 55). Meanwhile the recruit would become familiar with employing their weapons (Watson 55). When the recruit was deemed satisfactorily proficient, the earlier exercises would then be repeated with the addition of weaponry, effectively combining the two (Watson 55).

The legionaries carried a wide range of armor and weaponry. This information about the types of weapons that the legions used is based upon epigraphical sources like Trajan’s column.There is other epigraphical evidence available that reveals some of the nuances of legionary equipment like “1st century tombstones” where “legionaries carry the pilum and curved body shield” (Bishop & Coulston 255). This confirmation from multiple sources adds credibility to the association between this weaponry and the legions. This section will briefly focus on only a few of the pieces that were associated with the legionaries namely the type of the pilum, shield, and armor and how they would have been implemented during training.

Matyszak makes the interesting comparison between legionary training with weapons and gladiator training with weapons (70-71). Goldsworthy also made the connection between the two (81). Recruits often practiced using weapons against a wooden post with weapons that were heavier than the real versions (Matyszak 71). This cumbersome extra weight was intended to strengthen the recruit’s arm (Watson 58). This idea of extra weight was extended to practice pila and practice shields.

Pilum (plural: pila)

The pilum was “a short range, armor-piercing shock weapon” which would have been thrown at the enemy before the two lines meet in close combat on the battlefield (Bishop & Coulston 257). The weapon is comprised of a wood base with an attached iron shaft ending in a “tiny triangular tip” (Matyszak 65). An example can be seen in the image to the right.


“Pilum.” Wikipedia:The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.


Matyszak asserts that this was a tool designed for a specific purpose and was built “to be used once per battle” (65). If thrown correctly, it proves to be a deadly weapon which could be problematic for the enemy considering legionary units were trained to “throw their pila in perfect synchronization” resulting in a shower of impaling objects (Matyszak 66). The art of throwing this weapon at a target would have been practiced during the training phase (Goldworthy 81). The pilum the legions used in the field was heavy in its own right due to its design (Matyszak 65). The distinct training pilum was heavier but with the small mercy of a soft leather end made to cushion blows (Goldworthy 81). Training with this weapon was divided into throwing and receiving the pilum (Matyszak 71).


Vegetius makes the interesting assertion that the shields were painted with signs associated with specific cohorts in an attempt to avoid confusion on the battlefield (Vegetius 50). He also makes the practical suggestion of inscribing the soldier’s name and cohort on the shield (Vegetius 50). The particular shield used by the legions was rectangular and curved (Bishop & Coulston 92). The shields consist of “three layers of wood” (Matyszak 60) which needed regular waxing in order to maintain the quality of the wood and the painted colors (Matyszak 61). Practicing with a shield was usually done alongside the sword during combat with the post (Matyszak 71). Like the pila, the practice shield was usually heavier than the version that would be implemented in battle (Matyszak 71).

Body Armor: The ‘Lorica Segmentata’

The ‘Lorica segmentata’ was the legion’s primary wear (Bishop & Coulston 259). It was made of snug “iron bands mounted on a leather frame” (Matyszak 56). Its production cost less than the production of chain mail and it had the further advantage of being more resilient and weighing less (Matyszak 56). The lorica segmentata also had the advantage of absorbing “the force of the blow” (Bishop & Coulston 98). However, Matyszak notes that a scarf should be worn with the lorica segmentata because during long marches “the heavy chest band [grinded] into the top of the sternum” which could prove to be hazardous to the wearer’s skin (Matyszak 58). The recruits would have had to learn to maneuver with this on (Goldworthy 80-81). They are expected to be able to climb ladders leaping over the vaulting horse (Matyszak 72) Marches, drills, and mock battles would have been done in full armor (Goldworthy 80-81).

Training for the Battlefield

Now, it was crucial that the recruit learn how to apply these new skills and how to conduct themselves on the battlefield. The tactical organizing and maneuvering of the men on the field was naturally one of the greatest advantages in the warfare of this time (Stout 423). As a result, the typical recruit’s training included being trained to conduct themselves properly so they were prepared for the battlefield (Stout 427).

“Each recruit learns his place in the formation, what to do if he ends up in the wrong place, how to change formation from a line to a wedge, or (Jupiter forbid!) if the line is broken, how to fall into a defensive circle, or fall back through lines of relieving troops without disordering them. Then the unit learns how to do all of the above while moving forwards, backwards or sideways at high speed over broken terrain” (Matyszak 72).

A similar statement is made by Vegetius who urges the use of mock-battles in order to teach soldiers to “learn how to keep ranks and follow their ensign through” complex maneuvers (57). The hope is that this practice will familiarize the soldiers with the strategy required on the battlefield and reduce the risk of confusion when the time comes (Vegetius 57).


All in all, by 150 CE the recruitment process had evolved so that the legions would likely have drawn on their provincial areas for soldiers. This recruitment process was intent on selecting physically capable men who would then be rigorously trained. It might seem strange to make the jump between this detailed training and the Roman legions’ success. However, Vegetius writes that “recruits and novice soldiers were trained morning and afternoon in all types of arms, but veterans and trained soldiers also exercise with their arms once a day” indicating that training was not just a phase of a legionary’s life but a constant (57). Indeed, Josephus attributes this daily training to contributing to the Roman soldier’s stamina writing that it was “why they bear the fatigue of battles so easily”. Adrian Goldworthy wrote that the commanders were required “to keep their units well drilled and prepared for actual war” (Goldsworthy 81). It seems that this strenuous and meticulous training gave the Romans the advantage by adequately preparing soldiers for war. As Matyszak asserts, a well-trained army places “the odds comfortably on your side” (74).

Works Cited

Bishop, M.C. “From Augustus to Hadrian.” Roman Military Equipment: From Punic Wars to Fall of Rome, 2nd edition, Oxbow Books, 2009, pp. 73-123.

Bishop, M.C. “Study of Military Equipment.” Roman Military Equipment: From Punic Wars to Fall of Rome, 2nd edition, Oxbow Books, 2009, pp. 253-278.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. “Joining the Roman Army.” The Complete Roman Army, Thames & Hudson, 2003, pp. 76-81.

Flavius Josephus. “Book III. Chapter 5.” The Jewish War, Translated by William Whiston. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.

Keppie, Lawrence. “The Changing Face of the Roman Legions (49 BC-AD69).” Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. 65, 1997, pp. 89-102. Accessed 18 Oct. 2016.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual, Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2009.

“Pilum.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29, Nov. 2014. Image from web. Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.

Stout, S.E. “Training Soldiers for the Roman Legion.” The Classical Journal, vol. 16, no. 7, 1921, pp. 423-431. Accessed 16 Oct. 2016.

“Trajan’s Column.” University of St. Andrew’s. Image from web. Accessed 13 Oct. 2016.

Vegetius. Epitome of Military Science. Translated by N.P. Milner, 2nd edition, Liverpool University Press, 1996.

Watson, G.R. The Roman Soldier. Cornell University Press, 1995.

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Legionary Life: A Soldier’s Family Life

By: [honorstudent2016]


The time period is first and second century Imperial Rome, specifically 1-150 A.D.. The Roman Empire is continually expanding and gaining more territory, from scorching deserts to humid marshes. Rebellions and revolts are common occurrences, and a constant army is present (Matyszak 6). Soldiers of the Roman army are known for being ruthless, disciplined fighters. However, there is more to a Roman soldier besides life off to war. The family life of soldiers, specifically relationships with parents, “marriage,” and children will be examined.

Leaving Behind Parents

The relationship between soldiers and their parents will be considered, because when a man enlisted in the Roman army, he left his parents behind. There is no question these soldiers missed their families much like modern-day soldiers do. Julius Apollinarius, a soldier in 107 AD, wrote to his father this message: “If you love me, do your very best to write and tell me about your health…as soon as the commander starts granting leave, I’ll come to you at once” (Michigan Papyrus 466). Also, tablets from Vindolanda, which date between 90-105 A.D., have similar messages directed to family members back home.

Although the men decided to leave for the army, they still made correspondence back home to stay close to their families.Homesickness and anxiousness were seen in messages like these. These messages show how Roman soldiers valued their relationships with those they left behind, and longed for their company while they were gone.


The idea of “marriage” is interesting to discuss due to bachelor status being mandatory for members of the Roman army during this time period. Bachelor status may have been enforced to ensure a Roman soldier’s first and utmost obligation is to the Roman army and not to his wife and children. If a man was married prior to him joining the Roman army, his recruitment also declared him a bachelor and granted him a divorce from his wife. If a man was not married before he joined the Roman army, then he must remain unmarried while he is in the army (Matyszak 10).

Nonetheless, Roman soldiers were intimate with and devoted to women (Phang 353-8). After life on the road and in battle, soldiers desired a taste of normalcy. This normalcy included a good washing, having tasty wine, and spending time with a woman. Whether these women were prostitutes, devoted “wives” who lived outside of camp, or both, they were a major part of a Roman soldier’s life (Matyszak 125-6).  The “wife” outside of camp was not a legal wife of the soldier she was devoted to. Nevertheless, she may have followed behind her “husband’s” legion and steadfastly waited until he left the army to marry her legally.

Soldiers were commanded to live a life of singleness while in the Roman army. Nonetheless, soldiers had relations with women. Some of these relations led to more committed relationships that morphed into pseudo-family units, with the “wife” and children following behind the soldier’s camp.

These women who depended on their pseudo-husbands in the army were risking their futures; these risks are presented in the next section.


The topic of children of Roman soldiers will be examined as children are usual accompaniments of romantic relationships between men and women. Soldiers may have left children back home with their divorced wives, or perhaps fathered children while in the army. In Roman society, the father, paterfamilia, was the head of the household and was given ultimate authority (“The Roman Empire”). However, the mother, materfamilia, was with the children more often, and the responsibility of raising good, Roman citizens was on her shoulders (“Women in ancient Rome”).


A carving of a Roman mother nursing a child while in the presence of the Roman father is displayed. Photographed by: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009), CC BY 3.0,

The women who had a divorce from their husbands received their dowry back in full, which may have either helped care for the children while the father was gone, or enable her to marry another. However, some soldiers fathered children while in the army, and most soldiers claimed fatherhood over the children they fathered outside of marriage. Unfortunately, the mothers and the children did not have legal financial protection if the father was a Roman soldier. If a soldier died without a will dictating where his property should be distributed, the woman and the children would not receive anything. Also, a soldier could legally decide to not take care of the woman and children, especially if she wronged him in some way, e.g. committing adultery (Phang 363-4).

Even though prohibited, soldiers fathered children while in the army. These children were not fully protected under inheritance law and paternity. Although most soldiers accepted and claimed their children, the illegitimate family unit was at his complete mercy.


The Roman soldier had a complex family life. Roman soldiers valued the relationship they had with their parents, still writing to them while away. Varying degrees of homesickness are observed in these messages addressed to those back home. Although the law prohibited Roman soldiers from marrying women, these marriage-like relationships were still formed. The woman who decided to engage with a Roman soldier and wait for him to marry her depended fully on his goodwill. As a result, the children were also in a state of limbo, with no solid future without a legal inheritance from their father.

The rest of the group blog posts will be posted individually. The other posts for this assignment are titled:

“1-150 CE Roman Legion’s Recruitment, Training, & Weaponry” – by [chaoticblackcat]

“For Leisure and When on Leave” – by [berossusofbabylon]


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