The Life and Times of the Typical Roman Legionaire The Life and Times of the Typical Roman Legionaire The life of a typical Roman Legionaire was a hard one. The combination of brutal training, discipline and organization, and long forced marches with many pounds of equipment all contributed to this, but because of these, the Roman Legions were a force to be reckoned with in the ancient world. The purpose of this website is to demonstrate that though the life of a Legionaire was a tough one, it is because of this that the Roman Empire was so succesful. This website will describe the hardships of training, discipline and organization, and the marches that contributed to the hard life of a legionaire. The brutal training of the Roman Legionaire was tough, but very neccesary in order to make the lethal war machine of the Empire function properly.
First of all, to even become eligible for the army, you had to be a 5’8″ Roman citizen, you could be another nationality but you would be classified as an auxilliary, and you had to be in good health. You would then be rigorously trained by the Centurions whom you would fear worse than the enemy, for they would be swift and brutal with punishments. Forced marches while in precise formation and carrying all your equipment and armour would all be part of a normal day. You would be expected to be able to swim with and without your armour on, and be able to march for 20 miles with 60-80 lbs of equipment without breaking formation. The soldiers were trained relentlessly in fighting in formation with different types of weapons, and also single combat.
The standard drill involved using a sword against a post embedded in the ground, or against a real opponent, over and over again so a soldier could learn where to hit, and to hit that point accurately. The Armatura, or Gladiatorial drill, was also used to allow to equally, or otherwise, matched opponents to spar against each other. All this training lead to the final orginization of the legion. The training, coupled with the orginization and discipline of the legionaires made them the premiere fighting force of the ancient world. The Roman army was divided up into ranks, much like a modern military is today, which allowed a great amount of control to be used in a tough battle situation.
A new soldier accepted into the army was given the rank of hastati and was assigned to a contubernium, the smallest unit in the Roman army, which was comprised of 8 men, a tent and an ass. The hastati were the front lines in battle, so high death rates were to be expected, but these were much less than that of the other armies the legions fought, due to the training the hastati got before battle. The next rank, principe, was given to the soldier who had survived 2 or more battles, and was deemed worthy by his Centurion, and these soldiers comprised the second rank. The job of the principe was to make sure that the formation stayed together, and to deal swift punishment by means of death if any hastati broke ranks and began to run away. The final rank given to a mile (ordinary soldiers) was that of triarii, or the most vetran soldier of the unit.
This rank was obtained through sheer determination and skill displayed on the battlefield, and was often the highest rank awarded to a soldier not of noble blood. The job of the triarii was the same as the principe, but was also to keep the principes from running and to help fend off flanking and rear attacks. Because they were the most battle hardened troops, triarii could enforce punishments given by the centurion of the unit, and to punish anyone who did not follow orders. The rank given to soldiers of noble blood, or to triarii who had proven themselves, was the rank of Centurion. The Centurion was the commander of a unit, similar to a Battalion Commander in modern day militaries.
They had the job of not only fighting alongside his men, but also dealing punishments, such as decimation, where one soldier out of ten was selected for the wrongdoings of another, and the other nine soldiers would stone the luckless soldier to death. If a Centurion was found worthy, he might even be promoted to general, but the common Centurion had no hope of this. The Centurion was also in charge of making sure that all his mens’ equipment and armour was ready to go for the next march out of camp. The men of a Roman Legion were the best equipped soldiers in the world – being well protected but still possessing considerable freedom of movement. Their equipment was heavy, but lighter than the rest of the armies at the time.
This allowed the Romans to march up to 20 miles a day in full armour, and still set up a large fortification at night when they stopped to make camp. Overall about 70% of a legionnaire’s naked flesh was covered by armour, mostly being a type of banded armour called lorica segmentata, but mobility was seen as the best defense, so the armour was kept quite light, allowing a large amout of movement in quite rigid armour. The legionaires also carried a heavy body shield, called a suctus, which tended to weigh about 20 lbs, but offered a large amount of defense. The legionaires also had a helmet, usually in the Etrusco-Corinthian style made popular by Hollywood, which despite its’ looks, kept the heads of the legionaires quite cool. Finally, the legionaires carried 2 types of swords and a spear. The swords were the pugio, which is a short dagger that allows small thrusts into the abdomen of an enemy, or was used as an utility knife.
The Gladius Hispaniensis, or Spanish Sword, was the legionaires main weapon of destruction. It was used mainly as a jabbing and piercing weapon that could be used behind the relative safety of a shield. The legionaires were also issued a spear, called a pila. This spear, or javelin if it was thrown, was used to keep enemies at bay, and also as a missile weapon to wreak havoc among the ranks of their enemies. When thrown or jabbed into a shield, the pila would bend near the tip of the spear, and make it useless to throw back, and also would weigh down the shield of the enemy, who would most likely discard the now usless sheild. The legionaires would also carry a turf cutter and a stake, which would be used to set up camp after a march.
All of these items, when combined with the armour weigh in at about 70 lbs, which is quite a load to carry. All this equipment was required to be carried by the legionaire for long marches, which could range from 10 miles up to 20 miles in a day, and then the legionaires would set up camp, which included making a fort that would offer some protection if the Romans were attacked at night. Thus, it is easy to see that the marches weren’t ment for the lazy or the faint of heart. In conclusion, it is easy to see that the life of the legionaire was a tough one, it was needed to gain territory and glory for the Empire. The training of the legionaire was essential for orginization and discipline, to allow the Legions to be formidible in combat. The orginization and disipline was essential for the long marches with heavy equipment, and the setting up of camp, to run smoothly.
Moreover, had the Romans not been so strict about their military, they would never have come out of the obscurity that shrouded them before their rise to power, and thus would not be the potent symbol of military strength that we recognize them to be today.