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Шиманович А.А.

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Legion (Lat. legio) - the main military unit of the army of Ancient Rome, which had its own unique structure. Powerful and indefatigable, it was the legions that became the driving force that allowed Rome to establish its hegemony in most of the countries of modern Europe and the East, and it was the legionaries who built the greatness of Roman civilization on their shoulders.

Legionnaires of Legio X Fretensis. Reconstruction

The historical path of the Legions

The Army of Imperial Rome

From a certain point of view, it can be argued that the legions existed from the very dawn of the Roman state. In the era ofIn imperial Rome , an irregular militia of 3 thousand infantry and a small number of horsemen was called a legion - from the Latin lego-to collect. The formation of the militia at that time took place on a tribal basis, each of the 33 Roman curia fielded 100 infantry men and 10 horsemen, which, presumably, allows us to calculate the exact number of infantrymen as 3300 and riders-330. It is not known for certain whether they existed before the VI century BC. certain battle formations that could be used by the Romans in battles, the first organizational reforms known to us were carried out by a semi-legendary Roman king Servius Tullius (578-535 BC).

Reforms of Servius Tullius

According to the Constitution introduced by Tullius Servius, such reforms were made as universal military service, including for Plebeians, to whom the Constitution granted citizenship, the introduction of the highest military command-two military tribunes, property qualification, and the age division of the population when recruiting for the army: the division was made into juniors-male citizens from 18 to 46 years, and senior citizens who are over 46 years old. Juniors could form the basis of the army in campaigns and battles, while seniors were intended for service as part of the garrison and reserves. In the same period, centuries are mentioned for the first time, and the main battle order is the phalanx.

The property qualification in this case assumed that citizens were required to set up equipped centuries for service in the legion. Thus, all citizens were divided into 6 classes, the first of which was made up of the richest citizens, and which were required to put up 80 centuries, in which each warrior was equipped with a bronze helmet, armor, shield and sword, greaves. Warriors of this class formed the basis of the army - the front. Members of the lower classes fielded a smaller number of centuries, the warriors in which were equipped with weaker equipment, for example, the warriors of the fourth class carried spears and javelins into battle, the warriors of the fifth-only slings and stones. It is worth noting that the centuries of different classes themselves also differed in size, without having a clearly defined organizational structure.

Legions of the Early Republic

A further step in the development of the legions took place already during the early Republic - the legion, still a single army, was divided into two separate divisions, each of which was subordinated to one of the consuls. The legionnaires were given a small salary. In the future, due to the increasing number of wars that the young Republic entered, the total number of legions was increased to 4, two for each consul.

From about the middle of the fourth century BC, a military tribune was appointed at the head of each legion. In the same period, there is a transition from the tactics of phalanxes to manipulas, possibly adopted from the Samnites during the time of the war.The Samnite Wars. During this period, the legion reads approximately 5,000 warriors, divided into 30 maniples, which in turn each consist of two centuries of 80-100 legionnaires. Each century was governed by a centurion. The Legion's cavalry still numbered 300 Equites, divided into 10 turmas of 30 men each. During this period, for the first time, the units of allied forces assigned to the legions are mentioned - the auxiliaries ' alas, units recruited from non-citizens who joined the auxilia for the sake of earning money and the possibility of obtaining citizenship at the end of their service life.

The type and equipment of the soldiers themselves are also changing - instead of hoplites , new classes of Roman infantry appear-principles, hastati, and heavy triarii, light infantry velites. Equipment and armor of the Greek model are also being replaced - instead of the hoplon , the main shield for some warriors is the scutum, and for the first time the mass use of pilums begins.

Order of battle of the legions of the early Republic

A new order of battle is being introduced - the manipulas are staggered in three lines, the first of which was occupied by hastats, the youngest warriors, then principles, warriors who already had some combat experience, and in the last line-triarii, who were elite veteran warriors, and entered the battle only in case of an extremely desperate situation in the city. in combat, when there is a threat of defeat. The popular Latin expression "Res ad triarios redirect" - "Reached the triarii.", meaning a desperate situation that requires decisive action, has survived to this day. In front of the Hastati, as a rule, Velites were located, who were supposed to throw pilums at the approaching enemy and retreat. On the flanks were Equites, divided into two detachments of 150 people.

With such an organization, the Roman legions participated in the first and second legions.In the Third Punic War (149 - 146 BC), a new tactic was introduced to the legions - the cohort tactic

Legionnaires of the early Republic - Hastatus, Velitus, Triarius, princip

Legions of the Late Republic

From the end of the second century BC as a result of the general's reforms Gaius Marius (158-86 BC) the legions were divided into cohorts. The legate was placed at the head of the legion , and there were six tribunes directly subordinate to him. One cohort initially included two manipuli and about 400 legionnaires, then in the course of development, the division was simplified to 6 centuries in one cohort, and to about 480 legionnaires. The exact numerical composition of the legion's units is difficult to determine with high accuracy, since it was very often changed by various reforms, and depended on the possibility of replenishing the legion with new recruits. It is known that the number of legionnaires could vary from 4,800 to 6,000. The tactics of three chess lines are gradually replaced by a continuous formation in several lines, and the equipment, weapons and armor of legionnaires are gradually unified. The division into Hastati-principia-triarii ceases, the most inexperienced legionaries are placed in the sixth century of the tenth cohort, while the most experienced are the first century of the first cohort, under the command of the primipil (senior centurion).

Diagram of legionary divisions from the late Republic to the beginning of the third century AD

At the same time, the general conscription is abolished, and the legions become a professional army. Only citizens who have expressed their own desire to join the ranks of legionnaires are accepted . The appearance becomes more unified - all legions have more or less similar uniforms and equipment, with minor differences. This was due to the transition from independent purchase of equipment by legionnaires to centralized state supply. Legionnaires start wearing hamatu, finally the scutum is fixed as the main shield, now absolutely all legionnaires wear a pilum.

Legionnaires of the Principate period

The legions were also affected by the upheaval of the end of the Republic. Their total number increased to about 70, many of them stationed on the borders, were more loyal to their generals than to the central authority emanating from Rome.

Octavian Augustus - first Roman Emperor

Emperor Octavian Augustus (63 BC - 14 AD) sought to change this situation - he reduced the number of legions to 25, while increasing their number to about 7,000. All legions were given numbers and names, usually according to the place and order of their formation, or for military merit. Subsequently, the legionnaires ' equipment was significantly upgraded, the lorica segmentata appeared, and the shape of the skutums changed somewhat.

Legionnaires of the I-II century period on a campaign. Reconstruction

In general, without taking into account some changes in the administrative and command structure, the legions existed in this form until the beginning of the third century AD. This period can be safely called the "golden age". The Roman Empire, which reached the greatest power and peak of its territorial size, and the legions themselves, which were practically invincible during this period, and the most developed combat units in the world both in terms of their weapons and armor, as well as in training and logistics. In campaigns, legions could cover huge distances in a fairly short time for foot troops, thanks to paved roads. roads that were built by legionnaires in peacetime. Castrums built by legions guarded the borders of the Empire, and sometimes contributed to the growth of entire cities.

Legions of Late Rome

A series of crop failures, epidemics, external and civil wars, known as the crisis of the third century, led to major changes in all aspects of the life of the Roman state, not least in the armed forces. You can read more about the reasons for this in the corresponding article, below we will briefly describe the equipment, organization and tactics of the Roman legions of the dominant era .

By the beginning of the fourth century AD, the armament and equipment of the legions had changed significantly. Helmets acquired a simpler design, in an obvious imitation of the Persian ones, the lorica segmentata fell out of use, being replaced by long-sleeved and long-hemmed chain mail or scaly armor. However, at the same time, the scutum was replaced by a round or oval shield with a lenticular profile, which is more difficult to manufacture. The main melee weapon was the gasta, the gladius was replaced by the spata, which is longer and more difficult to produce. The first rank soldiers, according to Vegetius, also wore greaves. Legionnaires were still able to apply pilums (somewhat simplified design, in some sources called spiculum), lighter darts-lanceae, or plumb-half-meter long darts, weighted with lead.

By the fourth century AD, the legions numbered about 1,000-1,200 foot soldiers, including heavy infantry, archers, and skirmishers. Cavalry and projectile weapons were separated into separate army units and assigned to legions as needed.

Late Roman legionnaire with spear and shield
Legionnaire of late Rome with a bow

The number and combat capability of cavalry, which increased dramatically in the third century, made it possible to assign it most of the maneuvers on the battlefield that required initiative and mobility. The Roman infantry now served as the mainstay of the army's combat formation and fought mainly in a defensive battle. The legionnaires rained arrows and javelins down on the attacking enemy, then took the blow against a wall of shields and spears.

Roman legions of late Rome in battle

The tactics, organization and equipment described above fully met the needs of their time, as evidenced by the numerous victorious wars of Rome in the second half of the third and almost all of the fourth centuries. By the middle of the fifth century, however, the economic decline of Western Rome deprived its army of the physical ability to realize its military potential and ultimately led to the collapse of the state. Eastern Rome, on the other hand, preserved and multiplied the legions ' legacy until the femal reform of the sixth century A.D.

Legion officers

The officers may have changed at different times, but to understand the general structure of the legion's management, you can look at the officers of the period I-II centuries AD.

Senior officers

At the head of the legion was The legate. This position could mean both a military tribune, who directly commanded the legion, and the governor of the province, who led the territory on which his legion was located (legate propraetor). The legate had five military tribunes of the equestrian class, and one tribune, Laticlavius , a young senator appointed by the Senate or the Emperor. Despite having less experience in the military trade, Tribune Laticlavius was second in command to the legate. In addition to the tribunes, the highest officers were prefects-natives of veteran soldiers who received this position after serving as centurions.

Average officers

1. Primipil (primus pilus) - senior centurion, who headed the first double century of the first cohort. Like the centurion, the primipil himself led the legionaries into battle, being in the same formation with them. After the dismissal, the primipiles were entitled to the award of equestrian status and the opportunity to enter the civil service.

2. Centurion - the commander of a century, an officer who lived the daily life of his subordinates, and directly led them on the battlefield. Centurions were chosen from veteran soldiers, but there could be exceptions. In total, the legion had 58 centurions, according to the number of centuries, and one centurion primipil.

Junior officers

1. Option - the right hand of a centurion, the option could replace a wounded or dead commander in battle. He was chosen as a centurion from among the legionnaires of the century.

2. Tesserary is an assistant to the option, mainly engaged in organizing the protection of the castrum during parking.

3. The dean , the commander of the 8 or 10 soldiers who made up the contubernium, lived in one tent with his subordinates.

4. Decurion - commander of the Turma, a legion cavalry unit of 30 horsemen.

Special Legion Squad

1. Aquilifer -bearer of the eagle. A very important position for which an experienced legionnaire was elected. The task of Aquilifer was to protect the legion eagle at all costs, because the loss of an eagle was equal to the loss of a legion genius, and was considered a terrible disgrace that led to the disbanding of the legion. Aquilifer was paid handsomely for his service.

2. Vexillary - bearing standard. He wore a vexilla-a standard with the name and symbol of the legion.

3. Signifer -bearer of the signum. Every unit from the century up had Signifiers. Signum-a shaft decorated with phalerae - battle awards of the unit, thus telling about its combat path. At the top of the shaft was a palm, a symbol of the oath of allegiance taken by legionaries. For special merits of the unit, the palm could be framed with a laurel wreath. Moreover, Signifer could play the role of treasurer.

4. Bucinator -a trumpeter who played on a twisted copper pipe-bucine. They were with the standard bearer, passing orders with a bugle call.

5. Tubutsen was a trumpeter who played the tuba, an elongated straight bronze trumpet. It was attached to the legate, transmitting a signal of advance or retreat.


The legate. Reconstruction
Primipil. Reconstruction
Option. Reconstruction
Aquilifer. Reconstruction
A bill of exchange. Reconstruction
Tubucene. Reconstruction

Related topics

Auxiliaries, Century, Cohort, Castrum, Legionnaire, Legion Banner Group, Roman Army, Royal Rome, Soldiers of the Roman Empire of the Dominant era, Dominant

List of literature

Polybius. Universal history.

Titus Livy. The history of Rome.

Scriptores Historiae Augustae — - (Translated by S. N. Kondratiev)

Mattesini Silvano. Roman legions. All about the most powerful army of the Ancient world / Translated from Italian by I. E. Andronova. - Moscow: Astrel, 2012. - 216 p.

Makhlayuk A.V., Negin A. E. Roman legions. The most complete illustrated encyclopedia, Moscow: Eksmo, 2018, 416 p.

Parker Henry Michael. History of the Legions of Rome. From the military reform of Gaius Marius to the ascension to the throne of Septimius Severus / Translated from English by L. A. Igorevsky. - Moscow: ZAO "Tsentrpoligraf", 2017. - 224 p.

The Roman Army in the IV century. From Constantine to Theodosius. A.V. Bannikov

Armies of the Late Roman Empire. AD 284 to 476. History, Organization and Equipment. G. Esposito

Rerum Gestarum, Ammianus Marcellinus