A legionary had to be recommended by someone connected with the army in
order to be recruited. He would receive a small amount of money if accepted
by the army and this sum would cover his travelling expenses to the camp.
All new recruitments had to be trained properly before they could fight; he
would be taught in everything that a working legionary would need to know
in battle and survival.
He was taught to march. He was taught how to build camp and basic survival
skills. He was also given a general training in stone slinging, swimming
and riding. However his main lesson was in the art of physical combat!
The legionary would practise his weapons skills on a large wooden stake
about the size of a man. He would attack the stake with his sword and he
would learn how to throw a spear (or pilum), using the stake as his target.
There would be mock battles set up between the men as well so they could
practise in more realistic conditions.
The Pay and the Rules
A legionary would serve for around 25 years and they were paid far more
than auxiliaries. Large rewards were paid after victories or when a new
emperor came into power. It was a rule that soldiers were not allowed to
marry however they disobeyed this rule and the rule was soon forgotten. On
retirement a legionary would have the choice in receive land or a sum of
A roman soldier would often worship many gods including the local god of
the area where the camp was. Some religions were more popular than others.
There is no evidence of Christianity before the 1st century A.D possibly
because of the Christians being strict pacifists (anti-war).
The legionary was often recruited from the urban population and the men
tried to bring the leisure with them. For example the roman bath buildings
are found on or near most camps. There were also exercise and massage rooms
and all camps also seemed to have had an amphitheatre within or just
outside their walls.
The Roman Army
The legion was the basic unit of the Roman army. It was divided into the
1 legion (6000 men) = 10 cohorts
1 cohort (600)= 3 maniples
1 maniple (200) = 2 centuries
1 century (100 men)
Six thousand was the normal strength of a legion, however because of the
killed, wounded, sick, etc., it was usually a bit smaller.
The imperator (general) had a number of legions under his command. A
legaius was the commanding officer of one legion. And the tribuni militum
were junior officer who were in the army to gain experience and they had
little military responsibility. The officers were always men from noble
Roman families. The general would usually be an important and well-known
man who had been given his position after holding high political office in
The soldiers were mainly Roman citizens who had dedicated their lives to
their country and the army. Their career lasted for over twenty years. They
were paid reasonably well at 230 denarii’s a year.
The highest rank an ordinary soldier could rise to be was a centurion.
There were sixty centurions to a legion (one for each century). A man could
rise up ranks until he became centurion of the first century. He would then
become primus pilus, the equivalent of a sergeant major today.
The discipline of the Roman army depended greatly on the centurions who
could enforce obedience with the stick they carried. In a battle the
centurion led his own men around and would have to retain his men’s respect
by his own actions and braveness as well.
A woollen tunic reaching almost to the knees.
A leather doublet, sometimes with metal plates for additional protection,
worn over the tunic
A heavy cloak, which could also be used as a blanket.
A Heavy hob-nailed sandals, but no covering for the legs unless he was
fighting in a very cold country.
Armour and Weapons
A shield made of leather 4 foot tall and 2.5 foot wide with a metal rim and
a central metal guard for added protection.
A crested helmet made of metal.
A metal greave on his right leg, left unprotected by his shield.
A two edged sword, 2 foot ling for close fighting.
A soldier would also carry a javelin and sometimes even a dagger.
The Roman legionary carried a lot of gear in a sort of knapsack. The weight
was enormous, as we are told that it carried their armour, a saw, a basket,
a spade, an axe, a sickle, a chain, cooking utensils, three days rations
and his personal kit. The other heavier equipment was carried in wagons
closely guarded on the march.
On the march and in battle
The average days march was 20 miles. This was done early in the morning and
when they stopped they would set up camp for the rest of the day. There
would be men ahead of the march who decided where to set up camp. They
would put in four posts marking the area when they found a suitable site.
The soldiers would then come dig a ditch and a palisade, they would also
set up the generals tent in the centre of the camp. The soldiers would then
set up camp around the general’s, however there would be space reserved for
two main roads running through the centre (from east to west and south to
The reason for the troops setting up a new camp every day was so they could
get a good night sleep knowing that they were well protected. They would
also be able to retreat to their previous camp if they were under attack.
The camps were extremely good ideas because they boosted the troops moral
as well as doing their original job.
The method of fighting varied but a common arrangement was the triplex
acies. This consisted of the 10 cohorts drawn in three lines (4, 3 and 3).
The three in the second line would cover the spaces between the four in the
first, and the third line consisted of veteran soldiers.
The front line would attack first throwing their spears then going into
close quarter fighting. The second line would be there also if the first
line needed help. If this second line got into trouble also then the third
line would come through allowing the first two to retreat. If even this was
not successful then the veteran soldiers would ensure a orderly retreat
back to camp were they could take refuge or consider a counter attack.
Attacks on towns
The Romans preferred to take their enemy by surprise, but sometimes the
towns were surprisingly well protected and other methods of attack were
necessary. The Greeks invented some of these.
The testudo. Soldiers with shields interlocked above their heads provided
shelter from enemy attacks and they allowed others to undermine the wall or
prepare a scaling attempt.
The agger. This was a huge tower, which was rolled up to the wall. Then the
Romans could attack from the top of the tower. They would then drive the
defenders away from the wall, which enabled the attackers to cross to over.
The aries. A battering ram tipped with iron. It was often of great weight
and was either swung on ropes or moved on a wheeled frame.
Catapults and ballistae. These were used in attack or defence. The former
was for arrows and the latter was for stones or beams. They were like giant
crossbows in which the missiles were propelled by torsion or ropes.