Category Archives: Cohort VII Scutum Decoris

The Roman Signum

Roman Legions carried many different standards. One of the most recognizable is the signum, the decorated spear-like pole. As depicted on Trajan’s column, the standards of Legio I Minervia consisted of a wreathed open-hand symbol (manus) on top of the pole, a crossbar underneath with a strip of leather hanging from either end, and a series of discs below the crossbar. Archaeologists have found signa of other types, topped with spear heads instead of the manus, and with wreaths between the discs (Kraeling). These wreaths, as well as the one on the manus, are believed to be a symbol of an award or honor given to the standard’s unit (“Signum”).

Scene 48. Standards of Legio I Minervia. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Another set of standards on Trajan’s Column have a very different design. In between the discs are ambiguous rectangles that protrude from the column almost as if they are supposed to be representations of short cylinders. The discs themselves, instead of being plain-surfaced, have images on them. The top image is of an eagle, but the ones below almost look like a portrait. Legions in the Roman Empire would each have an image of the Emperor, but this would have been one standard only in the first cohort of the legion (“The Roman Standards”). No sources clarify whether these portraits (if that is what they are) are of the Emperor Trajan, or are other important figures or deities.

Scene 53. Roman military standards. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Roman signa were very important to the legionaries. They represented the honor of their unit and legion, and were used in religious festivals and other ceremonies. When pitching camp, the standards were staked into the ground before anything else (“The Roman Standards”). Most importantly, they were used in battle as rallying points and signals for different tactical maneuvers (Kraeling).


Works Cited

“Signum (Military Standard).” Legion XXIV Media Atlantia. Feb. 2010. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

“The Roman Standards.” Illustrated History of the Roman Empire. 19 July 2008. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

Kraeling, Carl H. “The Episode of the Roman Standards at Jerusalem.” The Harvard Theological Review 35.4 (1970): 263-289. Print.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman military standards on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Standards of Legio I Minervia on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris



Legate being saluted

The man in charge of the Roman Legions.

The role of Legatus was considered the highest rank that a legionary could strive to gain, while then it was still usually granted to a senator more often than a soldier who worked his way up through the ranks.

The Legatus was in charge of overall military strategy and campaigning. The Legatus would need to lean heavily on the other staff officers that would be surrounded by him, the business of day-to-day operations was run by these officers.

There were a few different “ranks” of Legatus in the Roman Army. There were Legatus in each province, in charge of their own regional legion, who would protect regional interests unless called upon by the Empire to go to battle, which was a common occurrence in the Roman times. (Milner)

One of the most important roles of the Legatus was to know when to press war upon his foes, and when it was time to hold back. In many cases the wisest Legate would listen to the senior “non-commissioned” soldiers who would almost always have the truest feel for what the soldiers were feeling and whether pushing the fight was wise. Vegetius was quoted, via translation, as saying that :

One should find out how soldiers are feeling before battle. Explore carefully how soldiers are feeling on the actual day they are going to fight. For confidence or fear may be discerned from their facial expression, language, gait and gestures. Do not be fully confident if it is the recruits who want battle, for was is sweet to the inexperienced. You will know to postpone it if the experienced warriors are afraid of fighting. An army gains courage and fighting spirits from advice and encouragement from their general, especially if they are given such an account of the coming battle as leads them to believe they will easily win a victory. (Keppie)

One of the largest dangers of the rank of Legatus is that they were subject to the displeasure of the Emperor. If a Legate has a bad campaign, they may not be long for the rank.

Works Cited

Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army: From republic ot empire. Lawrence: University of Oklahoma press, 1984. Print.

Milner, N.P. Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993. Print.



Leave a comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris

Legionary Life : Medicine

My induction into the role of medicus for cohort VII Scutum Decoris seemed to me to be a bit slapdash. After all, before joining the Legion I had no formal medical training. However, it was possible for a recruit  “who had demonstrated their capabilities for wound dressing and a primitive surgery, but who were not trained physicians” to fill the role of medicus. These green recruits “Probably…learned their medicine from the ‘senior’ medici present in the legion.” (Scarborough) As “Trained physicians were rare,” lack of formal instruction was hardly a deal-breaker. “Success and experience were the main, and in most cases the only, qualifications” for a legionary medicus. (Nutton)

A trained doctor coming into the legions could expect a few perks, but he was still under the rule of his commanders. “By taking the military oath he became a soldier, a miles-and until he reached the rank of centurion he was still technically a miles -his service was counted in stipendia, and he was bound by military law.” However, since he was certainly more useful alive than dead, “his duties [didn’t] necessarily include fighting.” He’d be counted as a ‘non-combattant’ in the legion and after his service could retire “into the select group of civilian doctors who possess immunity from certain taxes and civic duties” (Nutton)

Medici used tools like these to perform surgery on wounded soldiers

Many think of ancient Roman medicine as the kind of clueless bumbling used in the Dark Ages in Europe, when really they were leaps and bounds ahead of the haphazard theories of the four humors and the use of leeches and bloodletting.

Varro’s warning against building homes near swamps, which he stated bred “minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases” demonstrates that Romans had an understanding of germs centuries before blundering medieval doctors attempted to cure the Black Death by “applying a warm poultice of butter, onion and garlic.” (Alchin) Long before the doctors of the middle ages were making Plague Victim Scampi, Roman medici had a working knowledge of “painkillers such as opium and scopolamine,” and knew how to disinfect wounds with “acetum – the acid in vinegar.” (Wikipedia contributors)

Their methods may seem antiquated and a bit superstitious, but Roman medici knew more than we give them credit for. Herbal medicine can sound like hokum, but right alongside the religious plant sage, Romans used fennel for its calming properties. Modern doctors are now exploring the use of fennel as a potential treatment for hypertension. And that new fad of taking garlic supplements for heart health? Not so new; Romans used it for the exact same thing. (Wikipedia contributors)

No one can say how much a good Roman medicus could have done during outbreaks of the Black Death, or the Spanish Flu epidemic, or even against the common cold. We will never be able to measure exactly how, but the loss of Roman medical knowledge irrevocably changed the shape of our history far beyond the field of medicine.



Alchin, L.K.. “Medicine in the Middle Ages.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012.


Nutton, Vivian. “Medicine and the Roman army: a further reconsideration.” Medical History. 13.3 (1969): 260-270. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


Scarborough, John. “Roman medicine and the legions: a reconsideration.” Medical History. 12.3 (1968): 254–261. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


Varro, Marcus Terentius. De Re Rustica. 1. Loeb Classical Library, 1934. 211. Web.*.html


Wikipedia contributors. “Medicine in ancient Rome.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 feb 2012. Web. 26 Feb 2012.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris, Uncategorized

Roman Scouts

When it came to gathering intelligence for the Roman army, the exploratores and the speculatores were the units most often used. Although each unit had specific duties, their jobs did tend to overlap from time to time. Exploratores were generally used to gain information through the use of patrols at a distance from the enemy, whereas speculatores most often acquired enemy intelligence through undercover operations (Evov, 81). Both positions were important to the Roman army when it came to battle strategy and to provide protection from enemies when not in combat.

As previously mentioned, exploratores gathered information concerning the enemy by patrolling the areas around hostiles. When sent on a mission, their objectives were to provide the captain with details of enemy movement and activity. Also, they were to relay information regarding the conditions of the terrain and any strong or weak points within. They usually patrolled about a day ahead of the main army unit, constantly on the lookout for enemies and potential ambush sites (Ezov, 75). Aside from patrolling, they were used to verify information obtained from prisoners taken from the enemy or deserters. In addition to their previous duties, they were often selected to locate a camp site to be used by the army for a period of time. When choosing a site, they had a few factors to keep in mind: size of the army, location, and security from the enemy (Caesar, 2- 17).

The exploratore unit originated from the cavalry; it already had the great advantage of mobility. The typical soldier assigned to this unit would generally be native to the area due to his knowledge of the terrain. To this day, we still have little evidence regarding the size and organization of an exploratore unit; they were thought to be relatively small in size and because there was no official ranking for them, by default, they were under a centurion (Ezov, 79).

Athough the picture below contains models, it is assumed that this is how the exploratore units functioned. They traveled in small groups and on horses to remain highly maneuverable and quick.

In addition to the use of exploratores for reconnaissance missions, Caesar also used speculatores. Although they did have similar jobs, speculatores usually gathered information by working in disguise and spying on the enemy (Ezov, 80). Exploratores and speculatores both collected information about hostiles, but only speculatores were ever referred to as spies. Gathering intelligence regarding the enemy was their main duty, but in addition, they patrolled like exploratores, although they were usually involved guarding important people (Wikipedia).

Parallel to the situation of exploratores, we have little evidence to the size and organization of these units. Due to the particular missions of these men, conclusions can be drawn that most likely the units contained few men, if not alone, on a mission (Ezov, 83).

 Works Cited

Caesar, J. (1994) The Gallic Wars (trans. W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn.).

Ezov, A. (1996). The “missing dimension” of c. julius caesar. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 45(1), 64-94.

Richmond, J. (1998). Spies in ancient greece. Greece & Rome, 45(1), 1-18.

Speculatores. (2011, October 14). Retrieved from

Leave a comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris

Standard-Bearers of the Roman Legions

In the Roman Legions, standards were very important. Every century, cohort, and legion had a standard. These symbols represented their units, acted as a symbol of unity and pride, and served as a rallying point during battle (McManus). During the Roman Empire, there were many different kinds of signifers: aquilifers that bore the legion’s eagle, imaginifers that carried an image of the emperor, vexillifers who bore a banner with the legion’s name and symbol, and signifers that carried a signum, a tall pole with an open hand, the symbol of the legionaries’ oath of loyalty (Wikipedia contributors). All signifers wore animal-skin headpieces in order to be distinguished from the normal soldiers (McManus).

Scene 113. Roman standard-bearers. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Signifers had rather dangerous jobs in battle, but had relatively good jobs in day-to-day life. On the front lines in battle, a signifer could only carry a buckler (small shield) and did not have a weapon to protect himself. Polybius, when describing who is selected for the position of signifer, described them as “the bravest and most vigorous among the soldiers” (Polybius, History, Book 6). Although they would have to also be literate and good with numbers in order to act as bankers for the many members of the legion. Outside of battle, signifers were in charge of the legionaries’ pensions, meaning they had clerk-type work that would be done indoors. Matyszak suggests that putting the pension in the hands of the standard-bearer was beneficial because the legionaries would fight all the harder to protect him during battle (80).  Signifers were counted as officers, so they received twice the pay of a normal legionary (Breeze), which is not surprising, given the importance of all their duties.



Works Cited


Breeze, David J. “Pay Grades and Ranks below the Centurionate.” The Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971):130-135. Print.


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


McManus, Barbara F. “The Roman Army in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” VRoma. The VRoma Project, June 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Polybius. History: Book 6. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher. Constitution Society, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman standard-bearers on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Wikipedia contributors. “Signifer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris

The Battle of Zama: Aftermath

Carthage was reduced to a fraction of its empire at the end of the Second Punic War. (Picture in public domain.)

The Battle of Zama took place at Zama, near Carthage, in October of 202 BC. Publius Cornelius Scipio led the Roman army and extra Numidian cavalry against Hannibal and his Carthaginian troops. The Romans soundly defeated the Carthaginians, which brought an end to the Second Punic War (Wikipedia contributors).

According to Polybius, Scipio set the terms for a treaty and told the Carthaginian ambassadors. The ambassadors returned to Carthage to tell their senate, and Hannibal persuaded them to accept the “lenient terms” (Polybius). The terms of the treaty included parts beneficial to both sides, though naturally favoring the Romans. Carthage was to be a client state of Rome, but would be able to retain all territory owned prior to the war, as well as all property. Carthage would still rule itself, and no Roman garrison would be set in the city. In return, Carthage needed to return all prisoners of war and deserters to Rome, pay a tribute of 10,000 talents (200 a year for 50 years), and provide corn and pay the Roman army while they waited until Rome replied to the treaty. Also, Carthage had to give up 100 hostages (males between the age of 14 and 30), and give up their war elephants and all warships except 10 triremes. If crippling any potential land or sea force wasn’t enough, Rome forbade Carthage from making war on any nation outside of Africa, and required permission to war within Africa. F.E. Adcock suggested the Romans crippled the Carthaginian navy because they had a policy of making their states keep weak ones, so Rome wouldn’t have to build up a strong navy (118).

Masinissa, of the Numidians that had helped the Romans, was crowned as the King of greater Numidia. Scipio was given the name “Africanus”, and was proclaimed a war hero (“Results of the Second Punic War”).


Works Cited

“Results of the Second Punic War.” United Nations of Roma Victrix., 2003-2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Adcock, F.E. “‘Delenda Est Carthago.’” Cambridge Historical Journal 8.3 (1946): 117-128. Print. 6 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Histories: IV. Trans. W.R. Paton. Ed. Jeffrey Henderson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. Print.

Leave a comment

Filed under Class Stuff, Cohort VII Scutum Decoris

Battle of Zama (strategy & tactics)

The Battle of Zama took place between the Romans, accompanied by the Numidian cavalry, and the Carthaginians with Scipio as the commander of the Roman forces and Hannibal as the leader of the Carthaginian troops. This confrontation between the Romans and Carthaginians marked the end of the Second Punic War, which had been occurring for many years. It took place on the plains of Zama Regia in the fall of 202 BC.

Romans marching and making camp- Use by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

Previous to the battle, the Romans utilized diverse mental tactics to psych out their opponents and prove dominance. As they won each battle, the Romans intentionally mangled the bodies of their fallen foes to demonstrate their ruthlessness and display an example of what the next enemy could expect to occur (75 Zhmodikov). They also made a camp each night, not only out of necessity, but to show their superiority as a force. The Romans had enough sophistication to build an entire village in one night and have it taken down by morning in order to be ready to march.

Both the Romans and the Carthaginians used similar battle layouts, but each tweaked their tactics with personal techniques. Hannibal utilized a traditional phalanx line of troops consisting of three rows with a cavalry on the wings, but also had war elephants as a unique weapon of war. Scipio, on the other hand, used a maniple formation of troops consisting of three lines with a large cavalry on the wings. The first two lines consisted of lighter infantry men known as the Hastati and the Principes (67 Zhmodikov). The last row consisted of heavy infantry men called Triarii; they were only used as back-up so they rarely saw much fighting. Although the Romans had fewer infantry troops, they made up for it in number and skill of cavalry troops. This became an important factor in the outcome of the battle; the terrain highly favored cavalry troops.

As the battle commenced, Hannibal unleashed his elephants on the Roman lines, which Scipio had anticipated. Scipio then used the maniple formation in order to allow his troops to move apart and permit the elephants to run right past them; it worked. In addition, the Romans blew loud horns as the elephants approached in an attempt to scatter them from their charge (Scullard 1930). As the lines clashed, they met in deadlock and each side repeatedly gained and lost ground with their opponent. It wasn’t until the superior Roman cavalry joined the battle, victorious over the Carthaginian cavalry, that the Romans were able to surround the Carthaginians and slaughter them. Roughly 20,000 Carthaginians were killed and another 20,000 were taken prisoner, while only 5,000 Romans were slain during the battle of Zama.

Works Cited

Rockwell, P. (1999). Romans marching and making camp- trajan’s column. Retrieved from

Sabin, P. (2000). The face of roman battle. The Journal of Roman Studies, 90, 1-17.

Scullard, Howard Hayes (1930), Scipio Africanus in the second Punic war, CUP Publisher Archive .

Zhmodikov, A. (2000). Roman republican heavy infantrymen in battle. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 49(1), 67-78.

1 Comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris