Roman Army

Junior (College 3rd year) ・History ・Harvard ・7 Sources

Many ancient societies had well-organized military systems for protection and preserving order. Rome had a military system that included the king, bodyguards, clan members, and retainers from its earliest days as a village. They employed a variety of leather and metal-based tools during this time. Early Roman emperors required and rewarded people for serving in the military. The creation and upkeep of the Roman Empire benefited greatly from the Roman troops. As a result, the discourse explores how the Roman legions prepared for combat and engaged in it while using cutting-edge gear, weapons, and fighting strategies to protect their city. The focuses on the life of a Roman soldier, his training, pay, free time, equipment, and his defense tactics. This discussion covers the period between 753 BC and 44 BC.

The military prowess of Rome came at a huge price. The empire never adopted diplomacy in its strategy. Both citizens and non-citizens sacrificed a significant number of years serving in the legions. Romans believed that two brothers found the empire in 753BC. They also believe that the Roman military stemmed from tribal warfare that involved cattle rustling and stealing of grains. Consequently, three tribes united forming the first military structure. During the early years of the army, the soldiers used simple equipment.

Archaeologists provide proof of the weapons that the Roman soldiers used. Their military armor consisted of iron and leather. During the Venetic period, the soldiers used the bronze equipment. They engaged in rigorous training and preparation before going to any battle. After the Camillan era, Rome started fighting its battles in the far fields leaving farmlands bare. This action resulted in severe loss of agricultural land. The presence of peaceful moments and a decrease in the number of recruits resulted in the reduction of experience of the Roman military. Consequently, Romans neglected their vigorous preparation and experienced humiliating defeats after the Pax Republica (peaceful period). They struggled at battles resulting in the establishment of the professional military system.

Unlike in modern times where women are soldiers, the ancient Roman army considered only men. Although the rules required the soldiers to be of Roman citizenship, a majority of the soldiers originated from other countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The requirements during this period did not allow the soldiers to get married while serving in the army. The Roman state had the responsibility of taking care of the veterans. The soldiers were to offer military service for at least 25 years. After retirement, the Roman leadership would offer significant pension and gifts. Moreover, the state would offer them land in military colonies or give them cash to help them settle. Moreover, the law exempted them from various taxes and allowed the non-Romans to receive Roman citizenship.

The new military system that came after the peaceful period introduced new ideas such as the recruitment of the urban poor into the military. The new system changed the demographic structure of the Roman army. This system also gave a chance to volunteers with interest in military service. The Roman army now had almost 30 legions with almost five thousand soldiers in each legion. One legion comprised of ten cohorts with six troops and about 4800 infantry in each cohort. These six troops included almost 80 centuries with a centurion as the leader. The legionaries were the best soldiers that Rome had. As such, their salaries were higher in comparison with other soldiers. These other soldiers included non-roman citizens who received a third of what the legionaries earned. Moreover, this group fought in the most dangerous front lines in fierce battles. Other responsibilities include guarding frontiers and forts. The new system also changed the spacing of the battle lines to increase flexibility.

The military service members had various types of weapons. During the period between 753 and 44 BC, the Roman Empire used standardized military equipment and weapons. These weapons helped them to attack their enemies and to protect themselves from attacks. The soldiers used leather and iron to make protective gears that they wore during battles. They used a galea, a Latin word for metal helmet to cover their heads. They covered their bodies using a scutum, Latin for a rectangular shield. This shield was curved to protect their bodies effectively. Wood and leather were the major components of this shield.

The soldiers carried a gladius, Latin for a short sword. They used the sword to stab their enemies. They also carried a long spear or pilum (javelin) to throw at distant enemies. The javelin’s tip was a piece of sharp iron and a bendy shaft to hit the shield of the enemies and to make it difficult for the enemies to separate it from his shield. As such, this feature forced the enemies to throw their shields once hit by the javelin.

The soldiers went through rigorous training. Each day they matched about 20 miles while carrying their gear. Matching was a significant exercise in the Roman army. The soldiers received training on how to march at high speed. Matching enabled them to avoid trundling at different speeds during battles. The training helped in reducing the vulnerability of the Roman soldiers to attacks. Moreover, the soldiers also performed the physical exercise as part of military training. They participated in running, high jump, and carrying weighty packs. During summer, soldiers participated in swimming as part of their military training.

Training also included practice fighting to help them keep fit at all times in preparation for war. They swam, crossed rivers, and constructed bridges. They also practiced how to smash themselves in forts. Moreover, every soldier carried his weaponry, food, shield, and camping equipment. The camping tools included cooking pots, axe, spades, and clothes. Roman soldiers also went through training of handling their weaponry. They used dummy weapons that were two times the real weaponry. This training increased the effectiveness of the soldiers in battlefields. This form of training was significant to the empire. The Roman state awarded he weapons instructor double rations to appreciate their efforts.

The soldiers had high discipline and followed all the orders. They fought in lines depending on their category in the army. During battles, they aligned themselves in their respective sides marching ahead to face their adversaries. They learned to protect themselves from enemies attacking from above through a testudo formation. This formation helped them protect their heads and made them resemble a tortoise.

Although all men in the Roman Empire had military obligations, the state introduced a payment formula for the soldiers. The soldiers started receiving their pay around 405 BC. The introduction of such incentives made military service an attractive career in Rome. The state offered significant rewards to those who chose the service. The soldiers lived a social life because they interacted with individuals from different societies. Moreover, military service enabled soldiers to increase their social status. The service provided privileges that made it easy for the soldiers to enjoy political careers. Participating in foreign battles during the period between 753 and 44 BC gave soldiers opportunities to enjoy significant power status. The soldiers used various symbols such as the horse and the eagle to express their pride in their work. Soldiers always looked forward to receiving their awards through promotions and badges.

During the period between 753 and 44 BC, the Roman state lacked a definite system of paying the soldiers. The pay depended on the amount of loot and the bravery of individual soldiers. The system failed to recognize the ranks and the period of service for the soldiers. However, the most senior personnel in the service received the most prestigious awards. Other individuals below the centurion received less prestigious awards such as bracelets and round decorations. The soldiers would wear their decorations during public occasions to express their pride.

Soldiers used music to pass their free time. Although commanders used military music to pass commands to their soldiers, the soldiers and civilians used the music as a form of entertainment. Moreover, soldiers used various musical instruments such as trumpets to encourage themselves and scare their enemies. Historical records also indicate that when not in the battlefields or training, soldiers took part in maintaining order in their respective provinces. During this period, the provinces lacked police officers relying on the soldiers to maintain order. While some took secretarial responsibilities in their military bases, others took up security duties in other outposts. Soldiers also participated in the development of public facilities during their free time. A majority of the soldiers had special skills in construction that they used to install various public utilities such as bridges.

Soldiers embraced local life in various ways. They lived in different bases in the various provinces within the Roman state. Although a majority of the soldiers produced various commodities, they lacked other important commodities. As such, soldiers stimulated the growth of markets that ensured an adequate supply of their needs, especially when in transit. Traders would supply the most needed commodities to the military camps within their localities.

As mentioned earlier, the rules during this historical period forbade soldiers from getting married. However, no rule permitted them from getting into liaisons with women and having children. As such, some soldiers decided to get families and considered themselves married. While they lived in the military bases, their families lived in neighboring settlements. Emperors had challenges solving the issue of military marriages. The existing laws made it difficult for them to decide on issues such as inheritance.

The Roman army between 753 and 44 BC was an organized entity. From the discussion, it had various features that enabled it to maintain success in battlefields. The soldiers were in different categories and enjoyed various incentives. They used standard weaponry and went through vigorous training to sharpen their military skills.


Baker, John. "Developments in the Roman Military from Romulus to Caesar." Journal of the Upsilon-Upsilon, (2005), 21-31.

BBC. 2014. Romans: The Roman Army. Accessed July 15, 2017.

Campbell, Brian. The Roman Army, 31 BC–AD 337. London: Routledge, (2006).

Feugere, Michel. "Weapons of the Romans." Tempus, (2002), 1-98.

Matthew, Christopher Anthony. On the Wings of Eagles: The Reforms of Gaius Marius and the Creation of Rome’s First Professional Soldiers. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, (2010).

The Army. n.d. Military Training: Marching and Physical Training. Accessed July 15, 2017.

Tomczak, Juliusz. "Roman military equipment in the 4th century BC: pilum, scutum, and the introduction of manipular tactics." Folia Archaeologica, (2012), 38-65.

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