The Roman Army

When researching while writing Vengeance of a Slave, I learned quite a bit about the Roman army. I thought I’d share it with you. Most people know about centuries and centurions, but not much about the rest, so here it is. I hope you enjoy this brief account.


The Roman army as a whole was composed of a number of Legions, each made up of around 5500 men. The legions were then divided into 10 cohorts, which were in turn divided into centuries. The Legion stationed in Eberacum (York) in Vengeance of a Slave, was the IX Legion.

This legion became something of a mystery after it left Britain. It seems to have disappeared from records. I’ll post more about it in a later post.

Nine of the cohorts had 480 soldiers, but the 1st cohort had 800 men. These cohorts were divided into centuries of 80 men. This fact surprised me, because I assumed that a century was 100 men, like, I suspect, most people.

The first cohort was made up of 5 centuries, the extra men being blacksmiths, builders etc.

Each century was commanded by a centurion, and also had a tesserarius, a signifer, a cornicen and an optio.

Tessarius.   He got 1.5 pay and was in charge of guard duties.
Signifer.      This man bore the standard of the century.
Cornicen.    A junior officer. His job was to signal salutes to the officers and orders to the                            legion He played a brass instrument called a cornus.
Optio.           He was the second in command of the century.

The centurion of the first century was known as the Primus Pilus and was the supreme commander of all the centuries.

Each century was further divided into 10 contubernia. The eight men in this unit did everything together, eating, sleeping, etc. They were led by an officer known as a decius.

The legion as a whole was led by the Legatus Legionis. His second in command was the Praefectus Castrorum.

There were other officers who helped the Legatus Legionis, one of whom was the Aquilifer. He carried the legion’s eagle standard. If this standard were lost, then the whole legion could be disbanded, such was it’s importance. There was also an imagifer who carried the image of the emperor.

Occasionally, one or more centuria were sent out from the legion for a specific task. These carried a standard called Vexillum, and these groups were known as Vexillatio.
I hope you enjoyed this little insight into how the Roman army was organised. Please leave a comment in the comments box.

I am going to try to post each Saturday, so look out for the next one.



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