Category Archives: Legio Romanus

Caesar´s Germanic Cavalry: An Elite Fighting Force

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If this is your initial time joining us, we appreciate you stopping in to check us out. If you’ve been here before, thanks for thinking enough of us to come back for more.

On a site dedicated to the History of Rome and traveling to various regions to discover cool places and amazing things within what was the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), we couldn’t not discuss one of the most polarizing and charismatic people to grace the pages of antiquity. Love him or hate him, Gaius Julius Caesar was a man known among everyone in Ancient Rome.

How was it that Germanic tribesmen began so trusted upon by one of Rome’s greatest Generals? When did their use come into fashion for Rome? Let’s find out!

Caesar’s German Auxiliary Cavalry

Time and again, Caesar’s German Cavalry had more than proven their worth. In Gallia, they gave Caesar the advantage over hostile horsemen while alongside siege craft in Alesia they helped bring about Caesar’s victory.

In Greece, Caesar’s Germans proved that they could fight as well on foot as they could on horseback, then in Egypt they helped clinch the victory over Ptolemy XII Auletes.

Bronze statue of Julius Caesar (Rimini, Italy).

Few in number, Caesar treated his German Cavalry as elite, often holding them in reserve until the situation became desperate. It was then, that Caesar’s elite German warriors could decisively influence the course of a war.

But it this wasn’t always the case. Of course, the Romans had used neighboring people as Auxilia though never in such an esteemed role as Caesar held his non-Romans.

By the time of Julius Caesar’s Gallic War (58-51 BC), it appears that the typical Equites Romani  (Roman Cavalry) may have disappeared altogether, and that Caesar was entirely dependent on allied Gallic contingents for his cavalry operations. This is deduced from an incident in 58 BC when Caesar was invited to a parley with the German king Ariovistus and needed a cavalry escort.

Since he didn’t yet trust the allied Gallic cavalry under his command, Caesar instructed them to lend their horses to some members his Legiōnēs. Thus was the beginning of the Legio X Equestris (10th Mounted Legion).

The infamous Legio X Equestris

After Caesar had beaten back German tribal intrusions into Gallia in 58 and 55 BC, the Germans decided to join Caesar. Four hundred strong, they were there as a both a show of goodwill and trust as well as for the loot and glory in battle.

Julius Caesar’s Germanic tribesmen were tall, muscular men with skin toughened by the elements and scarred from battle wounds. Hailing from the Usipetes and from the Tencteri, these tribesmen were built for war armed with spears, swords, shields, and helmets.

That the Germans would fight for former foes was not at all unusual. What mattered to them was that they got the spoils promised or deserved.

The Roman troops of Julius Caesar prepare to face the Helvetii and their allies at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC.

Caesar was impressed by the martial spirit of the Germans.  He wrote that, though in the past the Gauls had been more warlike than the Germans, the Gauls had come to “not even pretend to compete with the Germans in bravery”.

Caesar valued his German warriors so highly, that he replaced their pony-like horses with the larger steeds of his bodyguard, Tribunus Militum (Military Tribunes), and Equites (Knights). It was in 52 BC, during the final and most critical year of Caesar’s Gallic War, when his fortunes would fall to an all time low, that his German Cavalry would rise to the occasion.

As Caesar was accepting the surrender of the town of Noviodunum Biturigum, the cavalry of Gallic King Vercingetorix appeared. Caesar ordered his Allied Gallic Cavalry to take the field.

Caesar’s Cavalry Charge

Caesar’s Gauls had the worst of the ensuing fight, prompting Caesar to commit his 400 Germans. With a furious charge, the Germans scattered the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties.

Vercingetorix, however, regained the initiative with a defensive victory at Gergovia. With many of his Gallic allies having switched sides, Caesar recruited another 600 German tribal cavalry and light troops from across the Rhine.

In Gallia Narbonensis, Vercingetorix again attacked Caesar. The sudden appearance of Vercingetorix caught Caesar unprepared, but the Gallic cavalry failed to close in for combat with the Romans.

North face of the Mausoleum of the Julii in Glanum, southern France, showing a cavalry battle (c. 40 BC).

Meanwhile, Caesar’s Auxiliary Cavalry kept the enemy at bay which allowed his Legionaries to form a defensive square. It was at this moment when Caesar’s German Cavalry gained the summit of a nearby hill.

Never content with being on the defensive, Caesar’s Germans routed a body of Gallic horsemen and hurled them back upon their own infantry. The rout caused the entire Gallic cavalry to flee like rats from a sinking ship.

The Gauls placed the greatest reliance on their cavalry, and with its defeat their spirits sank. Vercingetorix retreated to the stronghold town of Alesia.

Perched on a plateau and surrounded by hills and streams, Alesia seemed impervious to assault. In addition to its supreme defensive location, there were ramparts below the town, a 6-foot wall, and a trench to enclose the Vercingetorix’s camp.

The Fortifications built by Caesar in Alesia according to the hypothesis of the location in Alise-Sainte-Reine.

Caesar surrounded the Alesia with over 14-miles of 2 concentric rings of earthworks, ditches, ramparts, spikes, stakes, covered pits, forts, and camps. An inner ring of fortifications faced the defenders of Alesia, while an outer ring protected the Romans from the anticipated Gallic relief army.

Construction of the Roman fortifications was still going on when Vercingetorix’s cavalry sallied out of the Gallic camp. Numbering close to 10,000 men, the Gauls were met in battle by Caesar’s Cavalry.

Romans vs Gauls in the Battle of Alesia.

The fighting swept over a 3-mile stretch of plains between the hills. The Gallic horsemen gained the upper hand over Caesar’s Auxiliary Gallic and Spanish Cavalry, but once again Caesar had kept his Germans in reserve.

Just as before, Caesar’s Germans turned the tide and harried the Gauls back against either their outer wall or trench. Behind the attacking Germans, the Roman Legions readied for battle.

Below them at the camp ramparts, frantic Gauls jammed up the narrow gates as they abandoned their horses to scramble across the trench and up the wall. The Germans were right behind them, swords slashing and spears thrusting.

Riding down their panicked foes and capturing a number of horses into the bargain, Caesar’s German Cavalry galloped on. Vercingetorix was forced to remain on the defensive, and even sent out his own cavalry to raise a relief army among the nearby tribes.

Roman Cavalry counter attacks a Celtic force which is attacking the Romans that are laying siege during the Battle of Alesia.

As the siege dragged on, the rebellious Gauls and non-combatants of Alesia were reduced to near starvation. Their spirits rose with the sighting of the arrival of the Gallic relief army under Commius, King of the Atrebates, who had an army estimated at 120,000 men (or 3-times larger than Caesar’s worn down men).

With his Legionaries defending against Vercingetorix’ men, Caesar sent his Cavalry to engage Commius’ troops. The hard fought battle lasted until the sun neared the horizon.

Caesar’s Germans then massed all their squadrons for a charge. The German Cavalry struck Commius’ Gallic horsemen like lightning, causing the Gallic cavalry to flee and thus allowing his archers to be easily cut down.

Vercingetorix Throws Down his Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar by Lionel Royer (1899).

A second Gallic assault at night died in the fire of Roman siege engines, and a third attack saw Caesar’s Cavalry seemingly destroy Commius’ infantry from the rear. With no help left, Vercingetorix surrendered more or less bringing an end to the Gallic Wars.

Caesar plunged the Roman Republic into the Great Civil War of 50 BC, when he marched his Legions across the Rubicon and into Italy. For 4 years, Caesar’s Gallic and Germanic Cavalry accompanied his Legions through the Civil War against the Pompeians and the interludes of the Egyptian and Pontic wars.

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon

In 48 BC, Caesar blocked Pompey from reaching his supply base at Dyrrachium only to find his own supply route to Italy severed by Pompey’s naval dominance of the Adriatic. When Pompey tried to break through Caesar’s entrenchments, the Germans fought on foot beside Caesar’s Legions.

The German sortie slew several Pompeians before returning back to Caesar’s camp. Nevertheless, Pompey eventually managed to pierce the blockade.

Caesar’s force was demoralized, low on supplies, and forced to withdraw into Thessalia. Caesar stormed the defiant town of Gomfoi and gave it over to be ransacked by his half-starved troops.

Battle of Pharsalus

The whole army, especially the Germans, embarked on an orgy of gluttony and drinking. At Pharsalus, Caesar overthrew Pompey’s initially successful cavalry charge and inflicted a crushing defeat.

Pompey fled to Egypt where the ministers of Ptolemy XII assassinated him. After a lightning campaign against Pharnaces II of Pontus, who had occupied Armenia and Cappadocia, Caesar returned to Italy.

In 46 BC, Caesar continued the war against the followers of Pompey in North Africa. At first Caesar was vastly outnumbered, but after being reinforced he was able to bring the campaign to a victorious end at Thapsus.

Caesar rallying his Tenth Legion at Munda.

The Great Civil War was brought to an end in 45 BC, when Caesar faced the last Pompeius’ forces at Munda. Caesar possessed 8 Legions with over 8,000 cavalry, including his veteran Gauls and Germans, plus King Bogud of Maurentia with his corps of Moorish horsemen.

The Legio X Equestris caved in the enemy’s left flank. The Cavalry, with Bogud in the lead, vanquished the enemy horsemen and fell upon the enemy’s flank and rear.

Caesar returned to Rome and became Dictator. For their allegiance and service to him, Caesar rewarded his veteran Legionaries with a generous gift of gold coins equal to 27 years pay (not too shabby).

Caesar disbanded his Praetorian Guard and his Spanish Cohortes (Tactical Military Units). Likely his Gallic and German Cavalry disbanded as well, with plunder and coin, and maybe even the coveted Roman citizenship.

Rome’s German Warriors

Upon the Assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, a new civil war erupted. No doubt, this gave many of Caesar’s Germans a chance for more military service for the Romans.

Fierce, fast, and ferocious, the Germanic Cavalry of Julius Caesar inspired those who would become Emperor to charge the Germans with their protection. This trend would last until the Sack of Rome by the Visigoths (Germanic peoples), and ultimately lead to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire.

While it lasted, the Germanic Auxilia of was a thing of beauty. We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure and look forward to having you back again.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Appian, Appian’s Roman History. Vol. III. Trans. Horace White. William, Heinemann LTD, 1964.

Caesar. The Conquest of Gaul. Penguin Books, 1982.

Cowan, Ross. ‘Head-Hunting Roman Cavalry‘, Military Illustrated 274 (March 2011).

Delbrück, Hans. The Barbarian Invasions. trans. Walter J. Renfroe. University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Dyke, Ludwig. ¨Caesar’s Elite Germanic Cavalry¨. War History Online, 8 June 2016.

Fuller, J.F.C. Julius Caesar, Man, Soldier, and Tyrant. Da Capo Press, 1965.

Goldsworthy, Adrian Keith. The Roman Army at War 100 BC-AD 200. Oxford Claredon Press, 1998.

Macdowall, Simon. Germanic Warrior 236-568 AD. Osprey Publishing, 1996.

Macdowall, Simon. The Late Roman Cavalryman 236-565 AD. Osprey Publishing, 1999.

McCall, Jeremiah. The Cavalry of the Roman Republic. Routledge, 2002.

Wilcox, Peter and Trevino, Rafael. Barbarians Against Rome. Osprey Publishing, 2000.

The Sling: The Gun of the Ancient World

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Many of articles here speak of people or places from Classical Antiquity, and we even discuss the ancient buildings that remain there or the battles fought. While we even venture to know the process of how the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) was victorious (for the most part), but we have usually overlooked the weaponry involved.

Today that’s not the case as we explore the gun of the Ancient World, the classic sling!

A sling is a projectile weapon typically used to throw a blunt projectile such as a stone, clay, or glandes plumbeae (lead sling-bullet). Also known as the Shepherd’s Sling, this personalized weapon has a small cradle or pouch in the middle of 2 lengths of cord.

The sling was inexpensive and easy to build. It has historically been used for hunting game and in combat. Today the sling is of interest as a wilderness survival tool and an improvised weapon.

Roman Slingers wore no armor and carried only a shield aside from their sling and ammunition.

Known to Neolithic peoples around the Mediterranean, the sling is likely much older. It is possible that the sling was invented during the Upper Paleolithic at a time when new technologies such as the spear-thrower and the bow and arrow were emerging.

Whereas sling-bullets are common finds in the archaeological record, slings themselves are rare. This is both because a sling’s materials are biodegradable and because slings were lower-status weapons, rarely preserved in a wealthy person’s grave.

The oldest known extant slings from the Old World were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, who died about 1325 BC. A pair of finely plaited slings were found with other weapons, probably intended for the departed pharaoh to use for hunting game.

Artistic depiction of one of the famous slingers from the Balearic Islands.

A classic sling is braided from non-elastic material. The traditional materials are flax, hemp or wool; those of the Balearic Islands were said to be made from a type of rush.

Flax and hemp resist rotting, but wool is softer and more comfortable. Braided cords were used in preference to twisted rope, as a braid resists twisting when stretched and thus improving accuracy.

The overall length of a sling varied based on the range a slinger needed to hit, with a longer sling being used when greater range was required. An average sling would be about 2 to 3.28 ft in length.

At the center of the sling was a cradle or pouch. This was either formed by making a wide braid from the same material as the cords or by inserting a piece of a different material such as leather.

Typically diamond shaped, the cradle would fold around the projectile in use. Some cradles have a hole or slit that allows the material to wrap around the projectile slightly, thereby holding it more securely.

At the end of one cord (called the retention cord) a finger-loop was formed, while at the end of the other cord (the release cord,) it was a common practice to form a knot or a tab. The release cord will be held between finger and thumb to be released at just the right moment.

The simplest projectile was a stone, preferably well-rounded, and most likely from a river. The size of the projectiles can varied dramatically, from pebbles massing no more than 1.8 oz to fist-sized stones massing 18 oz or more.

Projectiles could also be purpose-made from clay, which allowed for very high consistency of size and shape to aid range and accuracy. Many examples have been found in the archaeological record.

Roman cast bullets

The best ammunition was cast from lead (looking like an almond) which were widely used in the Greek and Roman world. For a given mass, lead, being very dense, offers the minimum size and therefore minimum air resistance.

Why the almond shape was favored is not clear, but it may provide some aerodynamic advantage. Itś just as likely that the shape was easy to extract from a mould, or it would rest in a sling cradle with little danger of rolling out.

Almond shaped leaden sling-bullets were typically about 1.4 inches long and about 0.79 inches wide, massing approximately 0.99 oz. Very often, symbols or writings were moulded into lead sling-bullets.

Ancient Greek lead sling bullets with a winged thunderbolt molded on one side and the inscription DEXAI meaning “take that” or “catch” on the other side (4th Century BC).

As a reminder of how a sling might strike without warning, examples of symbols included a stylised lightning bolt, a snake, and a scorpion. Writing might include the name of the owning military unit or commander or might be more imaginative: “Take this,” “Ouch,” and even “For Pompey‘s backside” added insult to injury, whereas dexai (“take this” or “catch!”) was merely sarcastic.

Julius Caesar writes in De bello Gallico, Book 5, about clay shot being heated before slinging, so that it might set light to thatch.

A skillful throw requires just one rapid rotation. Some slingers would rotate the sling slowly once or twice to seat the projectile in the cradle.

One made an overhand throw in a motion similar to bowling a cricket ball. This is relatively accurate, instinctive and quite powerful.

Facing 60 degrees away from the target, with slinger stood with his non-throwing hand closest to the target. With the target at the 12 o’clock position, a right-handed thrower would orient his body toward 2 o’clock, with the arm rotating vertically in the 12 o’clock plane.

The coordinated motion was to move every part of the body (legs, waist, shoulders, arms, elbows and wrist) in the direction of the target in order to add as much speed as possible to the stone. The slinger released the projectile near the top of the swing, where the projectile would proceed roughly parallel to the surface of the earth.

There were also sideways releases, in which the swing goes around. However, these throws made it very easy to release the projectile at a slightly wrong time and miss the target.

David and Goliath

Ancient peoples used the sling in combat. Armies included both specialist slingers and regular soldiers equipped with slings.

As a weapon, the sling had the advantage of its bullet being lobbed in excess of 1,300 ft. A bow and arrow could also have been used to produce a long range arcing trajectory, but ancient writers repeatedly stress the sling’s advantage of range.

The sling was light to carry and cheap to produce, while stones for ammunition were readily available and often to be found near the site of battle. The ranges the sling could achieve with molded lead sling-bullets was only topped by the strong composite bow.

Slingers on Trajan’s Column.

Representations of slingers can be found on artifacts from all over the ancient world, including Assyrian and Egyptian reliefs, the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, on coins, and the Bayeux Tapestry.

The sling was mentioned by Homer and by other Greek authors. Xenophon in his history of the retreat of the Ten Thousand, 401 BC, relates that the Greeks suffered severely from the slingers in the army of Artaxerxes II of Persia, while they themselves had neither cavalry nor slingers, and were unable to reach the enemy with their arrows and javelins.

Various ancient peoples enjoyed a reputation for skill with the sling. Thucydides mentions the Acarnanians and Livy refers to the inhabitants of three Greek cities on the northern coast of the Peloponnesus as expert slingers.

The late Roman writer Vegetius, in his work De Re Militari, wrote:

Recruits are to be taught the art of throwing stones both with the hand and sling. The inhabitants of the Balearic Islands are said to have been the inventors of slings, and to have managed them with surprising dexterity, owing to the manner of bringing up their children. The children were not allowed to have their food by their mothers till they had first struck it with their sling. Soldiers, notwithstanding their defensive armor, are often more annoyed by the round stones from the sling than by all the arrows of the enemy. Stones kill without mangling the body, and the contusion is mortal without loss of blood. It is universally known the ancients employed slingers in all their engagements. There is the greater reason for instructing all troops, without exception, in this exercise, as the sling cannot be reckoned any encumbrance, and often is of the greatest service, especially when they are obliged to engage in stony places, to defend a mountain or an eminence, or to repulse an enemy at the attack of a castle or city.

According to description of Procopius, the sling had an effective range further than a Hun bow and arrow. In his book Wars of Justinian, he recorded the felling of a Hun warrior by a slinger:

Now one of the Huns who was fighting before the others was making more trouble for the Romans than all the rest. And some rustic made a good shot and hit him on the right knee with a sling, and he immediately fell headlong from his horse to the ground, which thing heartened the Romans still more

Less than 2 decades after the Romans attacked Burnswark and occupied part of the Scottish Lowlands, they retreated south to Hadrian’s Wall. Some archaeologists thought the Roman Army had used Burnswark as an ancient firing range and training camp, while other researchers regarded the hill fort as the scene of a lengthy siege.

Roman lead bullets found at Burnswark.

Trained metal detectorists then combed Burnswark’s hill sides and summit, producing more than 2,700 hits. Then excavations revealed that 94% of the metal detector hits were in fact Roman bullets (more than 400 Roman sling bullets and 2 spherical sandstone missiles known as ballista balls).

The archaeological then discovered a concentration of lead bullets across the entire 500-yard-long southern rampart of the Scottish hill fort, directly above one of the Roman camps. A second, smaller concentration lay to the north, along what may have been the defenders’ failed escape route.

The Trimontium Trust is directing a year-long archaeological investigation of Burnswark Hill.

The Roman slingers would have exacted a heavy toll, for recent experiments conducted in Germany showed that a 50-gram Roman bullet hurled by a trained slinger has only slightly less stopping power than a .44 magnum cartridge fired from a handgun. Other tests revealed that a trained slinger could hit a target smaller than a human being from 130 yards away.

In context to the Scottish siege, that is exactly the distance from the front rampart of the south Roman camp to the front rampart of the hill fort. Studies have found that the bloody assault took place around AD 140, early in the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius.

The Romans were quite effective at coming up with new inventions or, at the very least, improving upon something other people had already created. No matter what, we know that the Romans made good use of the ancient world’s version of a gun.

Thanks for stopping today, we hope you enjoyed the adventure. Please make sure to Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Burgess, E. Martin. “An Ancient Egyptian Sling Reconstructed”. Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, June 1958.

Cunliffe, Barry. Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest (4th ed.). Routledge, 2005. ISBN 978-0-415-56292-8.

Dohrenwend, Robert. “The Sling. Forgotten Firepower of Antiquity”. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 2002.

Pringle, Heather. ¨Ancient Slingshot Was as Deadly as a .44 Magnum¨. National Geographic, 24 May 2017.

Pritchett, W. Kendrick. The Greek State at War: Part V. University of California Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-520-07374-6.

Richardson, Thom, “The Ballistics of the Sling”. Royal Armouries Yearbook, Vol. 3, 1998.

“Bullets, ballistas, and Burnswark – A Roman assault on a hillfort in Scotland”. Current Archeology. 1 June 2016.

Porolissum: A Military Camp in Roman Dacia

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Many of you may not know that I am trying to be a teacher for Grades 4-8. I really want History (obviously) but would enjoy Language Arts as well.

That being said, for the past month I have been studying for my certification exam. That leaves only 1 more test to take before I can become a certified teacher here in Texas.

Today we bring you brand new content as we head to Roman Dacia and uncover Porolissum!

Porolissum was an Ancient Roman city in Dacia. Established as a military camp in AD 106 during Trajan’s Dacian Wars, the city quickly grew through trade with the native Dacians and became the capital of the Provincia (Province) Dacia Porolissensis in AD 124.

The site is one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in modern-day Romania. It is almost 5 miles away from the modern city of Zalău, in Jac village, Creaca Commune, Sălaj County.

On the Limes Daci (Dacian Frontier Boundary) in the north-west of Romania, in the center of Porolissum, an underground building was discovered in 1984. From the excavations thereafter we have come to discover a once healthy Roman castrum (fort).

Roman Legionaries at Porolissum Fest

In AD 106, at the beginning of his Second Dacian War, Emperor Trajan established a military stronghold at the site to defend the main passageway through the Carpathian Mountains. The castrum, initially built of wood on stone foundations, was garrisoned with 5,000 Auxilia (Auxiliary) troops transferred from HispaniaGallia and Britannia.

Set on the Pomet Hill and the adjacent Citera Hill, the earliest phase of occupation consisted of the administrative headquarters, military barracks, and storage facilities constructed in timber. A massive defensive system surrounding the city was fabricated in a series of concentric rings consisting of earthen mounds, ditches, and wooden palisades.

Reconstruction of Porolissum

The name Porolissum appears to be Dacian in origin, and was thought to be an already established village. However, archaeologists have not been able to uncover any evidence of a Dacian settlement preceding the Roman fort.

In the following decades, possibly under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the castrum was enlarged and rebuilt in stone. A Canaba, a civilian settlement developed around the military center, was also added at this point.

Altar dedicating Porolissum

In AD 124 when Hadrian created the new province Dacia Porolissensis, named for the now sizable city, Porolissum became the administrative center of the province. Under Emperor Septimius Severus, the city was granted municipium status, allowing its leaders and merchants to act independently.

Although the Romans withdrew from Dacia around AD 271 under Aurelian, Porolissum may have been gradually abandoned in the course of the 260’s. Evidence from the excavations and research is still being conducted to prove this.

Even though the city was founded as a military center in the middle of a war, the garrison of Porolissum seems to have lived in peaceful coexistence with their Dacian neighbors. Several Dacian villages that were apparently founded after the city of Porolissum have been uncovered by archaeologists on the surrounding hills.

There are also some inscriptions mentioning city officials with Romano-Dacian names. This would indicate a close cooperation on a political level.

The temple of Nemesis

The sanctuary of Porolissum was built in the 2nd Century AD. Probably it was a place of worship of other deities, it seems that the primary deity would have been Nemesis (goddess of justice, fortune and destiny).

Said to influence the fate of those who frequently faced death and danger, Nemesis was especially worshiped by Legionarii (Legionaries) and gladiators. The goddess was also closely linked to world of amphitheaters, and due to this places of worship dedicated to Nemesis are near amphitheaters or even embedded in the building.

The amphitheater (157 AD)

The amphitheater of Porolissum was built as a wood structure during the reign of Hadrian. Later, in 157 AD, it had been rebuilt in stone.

The aim of the teaching excavation has been the careful clearing of the building and clarification of its function. All work has been integrated into an international university community of interest of teachers and students, composed of archaeologists, architects, archaeobotographers, restorers and surveyors.

ERASMUS supports the work within an intensive program, whereby it is possible to bring together students of different disciplines and to provide them with an in-depth, interdisciplinary education for archaeological field work.

The temple of Liber Pater

Limited archaeological work at Porolissum began in the 19th Century, but it was not until 1977 when Romanian archaeologists began larger-scale, systematic excavations. The excavations by a number of teams have uncovered remnants of both the military installations and the civilian city, including public baths, a customs house, a Templum (Temple) to Liber Pater, an amphitheatre, Insulae consisting of 4 buildings, and a number of houses.

The Porta Praetoria (Main Gate) of the stone fortress has been rebuilt. A joint American-Romanian team, the Porolissum Forum Project, excavated an area of the civilian settlement from 2004-2011 but the team confirmed that while this area served a public function, it was not necessarily a forum.

The rebuilt Praetorian Gate (Porta Praetoria)

In the 1980s, Nicolae Gudea carried out extensive investigations in the Roman fort, which had previously been known by excavations at the fortifications and the headquarters building. Gudea clarified the building structures, and came across an underground building west of the staff building.

The finds from the then discovered cellar were very unusual for a simple building: statuette fragments, inscription fragments and wall plastering were indicative of a construction with a special function. It seemed possible that it was a meeting room for followers of the Mithras cult.

In 2008, a new project was set up to examine in detail the building and to clarify the architecture, age and function. Before the excavation, the area was surveyed and used geophysics.

The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus

After the protective building was erected and a surveying network was installed, 4 sections were created, in which participants participated in international teams. Here, all the excavation steps, such as large-scale and fine earthworks, surveying, the graphic, photographic and written documentation of the findings and the expert collection of finds were learned.

Architecture students and study students measured the building’s own buildings, and the restoration of the restoration ensured fragile materials. All participants were encouraged to work in the other working groups in order to gain practical insights into the post-biodiversity.

Roman road leading to Porolissum

The excavations have shown that the floor of the building has been preserved approximately 13 feet below the present surface. It consists of carefully laid-out brick slabs.

The walls of the walls, which are up to 5.6 feet upright, are curved in the upper part and probably have supports for a wooden roof structure. Since there are no traces of a roofing tile, despite the good judgment, the question of roofing is still open.

With the southernmost section, the south end of the basement building could be reached, so that its total expansion of 18 x 72 feet (inside) is now fixed. In the interior, massive rubble layers were again found from the collapse of the stone walls of the building and its neighboring building.

It was confirmed that the floor was made of interlocked brick slabs. On the south side of the building a clay pipe was discovered, which had been laid across the southern wall.

As in the previous year, parallel to the excavation, a survey was made, in which ceramics were washed, sighted, registered, drawn and photographed, and small finds were restored and documented. In addition, soil samples from the interior of the building were used for palaeobotanical investigations, the samples were slurried and paleobotanic residues were sorted out.

Excavation of the fort’s Headquarters

In 2011, the final state of the investigations in the underground building located west of the Principia (Fort Headquarters) was recorded in a 3D laser scanner. The start of construction of the 24.6 x 82 feet plant is made possible by a building sacrifice, consisting of a play stone, an iron object (perhaps a trowel), a half bovine mandible and 3 coins that have a terminus post quem in the reign of Antoninus Pius.

The cistern with a well-connected well to the south was rebuilt several times, and may not have been used continuously as water storage. This is indicated by various, not water-resistant, plasterings of the room.

Dacian combatants at Porolissum Fest

In the filling, which fell into the building immediately after its task, there were plenty of ceramic vessels, above all drinking utensils, as well as numerous round-cut ceramic pieces, which were to be interpreted as playing stones in the context of glass and leg sketches as well as 2 dice. The found material, which is characteristic of Tabernae, probably comes from a space above the water storage.

From 2006 until 2011, another project, “Necropolis Porolissensis”, was running focused on the cemetery of the municipium Porolissum, on the spot known as “Ursoies”. From 2008 to 2011 a Romanian-German-Hungarian team was excavating an underground-building in the center of the castle, probably a water cistern.

In 2015, archaeologists from Zalău County Museum unearthed a stone sarcophagus containing skeletal remains of a young person. The sarcophagus is unusual because it was not found in the cemetery, rather it was discovered by chance during restoration of another part of the ruins.

Magura Moigrad as seen from Porolissum.

The limestone lid has carvings that were common in Roman times. A hole in the lid suggests that the grave was robbed in antiquity.

A contemporary use of “Polissum” is the primary setting of Gunpowder Empire, a science fiction novel by Harry Turtledove, set in Dacia Province. It is unclear whether the name change is a mistake or a deliberate obfuscation.

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure and look forward to having you back again soon. Be sure to keep track of us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Gudea, N. Dacia: A Roman province between the Carpathians and the Black Sea. Mainz, 2006).

Gudea, N.; Tamba, D. “Sanctuaries and Military in Porolissum”. Proceedings of the XIXth International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies held in Pécs, Hungary, September 2003.

Schütte, Gudmund. “Ptolemy’s maps of northern Europe, a reconstruction of the prototypes”. The Royal Danish Geographical Society, 1917.

Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites – Entry for Porolissum.

Romanian-German-Hungarian excavation inside the castle

Porolissum Forum Project

How Did The Romans Beat The Greek?- Legions Vs Phalanx, Gladius Vs Sarissa

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Whenever we have the opportunity to watch a video about something from Ancient Rome, we jump at the opportunity. If it has the ability to showcase anything regarding Ancient Greece versus the Romans in a military capacity, well that’s just icing on the cake.

Today we get that opportunity as we explore How Did The Romans Beat The Greek?- Legions Vs Phalanx, Gladius Vs Sarissa!

Roman Legion on the march

Ancient Rome was originally an Italic settlement dating from the 8th Century BC that grew into the city of Rome, and which subsequently gave its name to the Empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilization the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants and covering 1.9 million square miles at its height in AD 117.

Ancient Roman civilization has contributed to modern government, law, politics, engineering, art, literature, architecture, technology, warfare, religion, language and society. Rome professionalized and expanded its military and created a system of government called Res Publica, the inspiration for modern republics such as the United States and France.

 

Rome achieved impressive technological and architectural feats, such as the construction of an extensive system of aqueducts and viae (roads). The construction of large monuments, palaces, and public facilities was perfected under Roman rule as well.

Augustus and his Legions

By the end of the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic) in 27 BC, Rome had conquered the lands around the Mediterranean and beyond. Its domain extended from the Atlantic to Arabia and from the mouth of the Rhine to North Africa.

The Roman Empire emerged with the end of the Republic and the dictatorship of Augustus Caesar. In 92 BC, the initial war against Parthia would spark 721 years of Roman-Persian Wars.

Rome, Parthia and Seleucid Empire in 200 BC.

It would become the longest conflict in human history, and have major lasting effects and consequences for both empires. Under Trajan, the Roman Empire reached its territorial peak.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Mare Nostrum: Known to by all non-Romans as the Mediterranean Sea

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you’ve ever heard of a thing called the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire), then you’re probably at least familiar with the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army). However, we recently gave the Classis Romanus (Roman Navy) some love in the following articles: The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas, The Roman Navy: From Rivers to Oceans, and Warfare of Classical Antiquity: Republican Fleet Tactics (Roman Navy).

As the Masters & Commanders of the Ancient World, the Romans were not shy about their dominance over the Mediterranean Sea. Today we explore the Roman way as we see why it was Mare Nostrum!

The Roman Empire at its farthest extent in AD 117. Note, however, that the Sea is called Mare Internum “Inner Sea” here.

Mare Nostrum was a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea. In Latin, it literally translates to Our Sea.

The term Mare Nostrum originally was used by Romans to refer to the Tyrrhenian Sea, following their conquest of SicilySardinia and Corsica during the Punic Wars with Carthage. By 30 BC, Roman domination extended from the Iberian Peninsula to Egypt, and Mare Nostrum began to be used in the context of the whole Mediterranean Sea.

The Roman Navy at war

Other names were also employed, including Mare Internum (The Internal Sea). However, the Romans did not include Mediterraneum Mare (Mediterranean Sea), which was a Late Latin creation only attested to well after the Fall of Rome.

An Italian Empire view of the Mare Nostrum (by Hendrick Van Minderhout L’embarquement).

In the years following the unification of Italy in 1861 Italian nationalists, who saw Italy as the successor state to the Roman Empire, attempted to revive the term. The rise of Italian nationalism during the “Scramble for Africa” of the 1880s led to calls for the establishment of an Impero Italiano (Italian Empire).

The Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio was the first to revive the phrase. Italian writer Emilio Lupi said the following about the Mare Nostrum:

Even if the coast of Tripoli were a desert, even if it would not support one peasant or one Italian business firm, we still need to take it to avoid being suffocated in mare nostrum.

Starboard / Bow view of the Italian Battleship Roma in 1940.

The term was again taken up by Benito Mussolini for use in fascist propaganda, in a similar manner to Adolf Hitler‘s lebensraum. Mussolini wanted to re-establish the greatness of the Roman Empire and believed that Italy was the most powerful of the Mediterranean countries after World War I.

Axis Italy’s Invasion of Spain

Mussolini declared that “the twentieth century will be a century of

Italian power”. He then created one of the most powerful navies of the world in order to again control the Mediterranean Sea.

When World War II started Italy was already a major Mediterranean power that controlled the north and south shores of the central basin. After the fall of France removed the main threat from the west, the British Mediterranean Fleet (with UK-controlled bases in GibraltarMaltaCyprusEgypt, and Mandatory Palestine) remained the only threat to Italian naval power in the Mediterranean.

Patrol of the Axis navy

The invasions of AlbaniaGreece and Egypt, and the Siege of Malta sought to extend Axis control over the Sea. This policy was so great, it threatened neutral nations like Turkey, a threat that İsmet İnönü, the president of Turkey at the time of war, countered by only promising to enter the war if the Soviet Union joined the Allies.

Mussolini dreamed of creating an Imperial Italy in his Mare Nostrum and promoted the fascist project of an enlarged Italian Empire, stretching from the Mediterranean shores of Egypt to the Indian Ocean shores of Somalia and eastern Kenya. This was obviously to be realized in a future peace conference after the anticipated Axis victory

He referred to making the Mediterranean Sea “an Italian lake”. This aim, however, was challenged throughout the campaign by the Allied land & naval forces.

RN Vittorio Veneto in the Battle of Cape Spartivento.

For example, Greece had easily been incorporated into the Roman Empire, but the new Greek state proved to be too powerful for Italian conquest, and Greece remained independent until German forces arrived to assist the Italian invasion. Despite periods of Axis ascendancy during the Battle of the Mediterranean it was never realized, and ended altogether with the final Italian defeat of September 1943.

The term Mare Nostrum was chosen as the theme for the Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture, being held in June 2012 at the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law, Sardinia, Italy (La Conferenza Inaugurale della Società di Diritto e Cultura del Mediterraneo). In this contemporary usage, the term is intended to embrace the full diversity of Mediterranean cultures, with a particular focus on exchanges and cooperation among Mediterranean nations.

From November 2013 Fenice (F 557), a corvette of Minerva class, took part in the Operation Mare Nostrum rescuing the boats of illegal immigrants coming from North Africa.

Operation Mare Nostrum was a year-long naval and air operation commenced by the Italian government on 18 October 2013 to tackle the increased immigration to Europe during the latter half of 2013 and migratory ship wreckages off Lampedusa. During the operation at least 150,000 migrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, arrived safely to Europe. The operation ended on 31 October 2014 and was superseded by Frontex‘s Operation Triton.

In a completely different way, Mare Nostrum is an empire-building game in which 3-5 players [or 2-6 with the ‘Atlas’ expansion] lead their individual ancient empires to dominion of Mare Nostrum. Players grow their fame and glory of their empire by expanding influence into new Provinces, then extending their Trade Caravans, building Markets, and founding new Cities and Temples.

Mare Nostrum: Empires, a modern game set in ancient times.

You can recruit Heroes and create Wonders to help your cause. But beware of your “friends” because they may look upon your gains with envy and greed.

Mare Nostrum is a re-introduction by Academy Games and Asyncron of the original 2003 release with updated rules, counters, and map board. This edition includes many new components and multiple new ways to win.

In more detail, you choose an empire to lead, which begins with three Provinces. You can lead with Caesar of Rome and its powerful Legions, or with Pericles, the prominent Greek statesman and orator, with the great Babylonian lawgiver and healer King Hammurabi, or with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, whose engineers led in the development of grain storage and irrigation, or with Hannibal, leader of the Carthaginians, whose merchants thrived on trade and commerce. Now you decide how you will grow your empire.

We hope you enjoyed our brief excursion to explore Mare Nostrum, and maybe you’ll even go out for your own voyage someday. Thanks again for stopping by and we look forward to having you back soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Fleming, Thomas. The New Dealers’ War. Perseus Books,2001.

Lowe, C.J. Italian Foreign Policy 1870–1940. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-27372-2.

Rhodes, Anthony. Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II. Chelsea House Publishers, 1976.

Talbert, R.; Downs, M. E.; McDaniel, M. Joann; Lund, B. Z.; Elliott, T.; Gillies, S. “Places: 1043 (Internum Mare)”. Pleiades.

Tellegen-Couperus, Olga. Short History of Roman Law. Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-07251-4.

“Mare Nostrum Operation”Ministry of Defence of Italy.

“IOM Applauds Italy’s Life-Saving Mare Nostrum Operation: “Not a Migrant Pull Factor””International Organization for Migration. 31 October 2014.

“Mare Nostrum: Empires”. BoardGameGeek.com

Signaculum: The Dog Tag of Ancient Rome’s Fighting Forces

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since the formation of humans into social groups there has been fighting. From the fighting, more often than not there have been deaths.

But if the fighting, and possibly dying, occurred far away from where one’s family lived how would they know what happened to you? That’s part of the reason the modern Dog Tag came into existence, to solve this problem.

How and when Dog Tags were created is what we shall explore today as we take a closer look at the Signaculum!

The Signaculum was a means of identification given to the Roman Legionnaire at the moment of enrolment. The Legionnaire Signaculum was a lead disk with the name of the recruit and the indication of the Legio (Legion) of which the recruit was part.

The disk was put in a leather pouch with a leather string around it so as to be worn around the neck of the Roman Soldiers. This procedure, together with enrolment in the list of recruits, was made at the beginning of a 4-month probatio (probationary period).

The recruit got the military status only after the Sacramentum (Oath of Allegiance). At the end of probatio, meaning that from a legal point of view the Signaculum was given to a subject who was no longer a civilian, but not yet fully in the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army).

Acting to identify a body the same way a modern dog tag does, the Signaculum was stamped with a seal  to authenticate it. Similar items for identifying civilian goods and equipment have been found as well.

Signacula of this variety were not discs that were carried on one’s person, as with the Roman Army equivalent, but were more like modern-day product labels. They gave information on an item’s manufacturer and affiliates.

Although the origins of exactly when or why the Exercitus Romanus decided to use the Signaculum for their men are not clear, regardless, there are references to its use in some historical documents. Said pages indicate its composition, as well as the fact that it was given after it is determined a man is fit to serve the Legio.

In a document from AD 295, Maximilianus, an early Christian martyr, is being recruited as an Officer in the Roman Army against his wishes:

When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied: ‘I cannot serve as a soldier. I cannot do evil. I am a Christian.’ Dio the Proconsul replied, ‘Let him be measured.’ When he had been measured, his height was read out by an equerry. ‘He is five feet, ten inches.’ Dio said to the equerry, ‘Give him the Signaculum.’ Maximilianus resisted and replied, ‘I do not accept the Signaculum. I will break it, because it has no validity. I cannot carry a piece of lead around my neck after the sign of my Lord.’ Dio said, ‘Remove his name.’

In the film Gladiator, Maximus (Russell Crowe) cuts out his Signaculum from his upper arm.

There is some evidence suggesting that by the time of the late Roman Army, it became common practice to instead give soldiers that were found to be fit for service in the Legio, an indelible Soldier’s Mark (like a brand or tattoo). This was feasibly to discourage desertion by making any former or deserting Soldiers clearly identifiable in the public.

In De Re Militari (390 AD), one of the few writings of Roman Military writer Vegetius Renatus, it is stated that, after the initial selection process, a recruit is then placed through a 4-month testing period to ensure his physical capability.

De re militari edition bound in goatskin (Republic of Venice c. 1486–1501).

many, though promising enough in appearance, are found very unfit upon trial. These are to be rejected and replaced by better men; for it is not numbers, but bravery which carries the day. After their examination, the recruits should then receive the military mark, and be taught the use of their arms by constant and daily exercise.

Slaves were also known to wear tags on their person, typically in the form of an irremovable metal collar. Said collars would typically be inscribed with messages such as:

If you find this slave, he has run away. Please return him to his owner at the following address. You will be rewarded.

These, along with branding and tattooing, were common ways for Roman slaves to be separated from the rest of the Roman social system. Again, it made for an easy punishment should they make their escape.

In more recent times, Dog Tags were provided to Chinese soldiers as early as the mid-19th Century. During the Taiping revolt (1851–66), both the Imperialists (i.e., the Chinese Imperial Army regular servicemen) and those Taiping rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden tag at the belt, bearing the soldier’s name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle.

From a soldier in the 13th New Hampshire Regiment in the American Civil War.

Manufacturers of identification badges recognized a market and began advertising in periodicals. Their pins were usually shaped to suggest a branch of service, and engraved with the soldier’s name and unit.

Machine-stamped tags were also made of brass or lead with a hole and usually had (on one side) an eagle or shield, and such phrases as “War for the Union” or “Liberty, Union, and Equality”. The other side had the soldier’s name and unit, and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated.

Some tags (along with similar items such as MedicAlert bracelets) are used also by civilians today to identify their wearers and specify them as having health problems that may
(a) suddenly incapacitate their wearers and render them incapable of providing treatment guidance (as in the cases of heart problems, epilepsydiabetic coma, accident or major trauma) and/or
(b) interact adversely with medical treatments, especially standard or “first-line” ones (as in the case of an allergy to common medications) and/or
(c) provide in case of emergency (ICE) contact information and/or
(d) state a religious, moral, or other objection to artificial resuscitation, if a first responder attempts to administer such treatment when the wearer is non-responsive and thus unable to warn against doing so.

Military personnel in some jurisdictions may wear a supplementary medical information tag.

A pair of blank Dog Tags on a ball chain ready to be customized.

Dog Tags have recently found their way into youth fashion by way of military chic. Originally worn as a part of a military uniform by youth wishing to present a tough or militaristic image, Dog Tags have since seeped out into wider fashion circles.

They may be inscribed with a person’s details, their beliefs or tastes, a favorite quote, or may bear the name or logo of a band or performer. Since the late 1990s, custom dog tags have been fashionable amongst musicians (particularly rappers), and as a marketing give-away item.

Rapper Nelly showcasing his fashion Dog Tags (2009).

Numerous companies offer customers the opportunity to create their own personalized Dog Tags with their own photos, logos, and text. Even high-end jewelers have featured gold and silver Dog Tags encrusted with diamonds and other jewels.

All of this started with a simple lead disk used to identify you as a Roman Soldier. My have things evolved since then.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you join us again soon. Maybe you’ll even have your own Signaculum to showcase.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Clarke, John. The Military Institutions of the Romans, 1767.

Macmanus, Barbara. “Bronze Stamp of Coelia Mascellina”.

Southern, Dixon. The Late Roman Army. Batsford, 1996.

Wooley, Captain Richard W. “A Short History of Identification Tags”Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, December, 1988.

“Il Giuramento romano”. Imperium Romanum.

“A Battlefield Souvenir?” – The Story of a Union Identity Disk in the Civil War´.

Decimatio: The Most Severe Punishment of the Roman Army

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

MattRod
Our stylish Chief of Technology

Awhile back I received a message from Matthew Rodriguez, Chief of Technology at RAE. Thus far he had been a bit shy to contribute articles, but apparently he just could not resist this one.

Just like myself, MattRod is a tad obsessed with proper grammar usage. The budding-teacher in me felt it was best we share it, and this is what we got.

Today we shall venture deeper into this previous discussion as we explore the punishment of Decimatio!

Etching of a Decimatio by William Hogarth in Beaver’s Roman Military Punishments (1725).

Decimatio comes from the Latin Decem (Ten). This form of military discipline was used by Senior Commanders in the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as mutiny or desertion.

The word decimation is Latin meaning Removal of a Tenth. The procedure was a matter-of-fact attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the realities of managing a large group of offenders.

Contrary to historical usage, the word decimation is often used to refer to an extreme reduction in the number of a population or force, much greater than the a tenth. It is frequently used as a synonym for the annihilation or for devastation (get a definition for either here).

Roman Legion in action

For those that are unfamiliar with the setup of the Roman Army, let us quickly explain. The Roman Army was divided into Legiōnēs (Legions) consisting of 10 Cohortes (Cohorts) (about 5,000 men), each of 4 Manipulī (Maniples) of 120 Legiōnāriī (Legionaries).

Casting lots

Decimatio was inflicted upon a selected Cohort (between 480-500 soldiers) that was then divided into groups of 10. Each group drew lots (Sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his 9 comrades, often by stoning or clubbing.

The remaining soldiers were often given rations of barley instead of wheat (the latter being the standard soldier’s diet) for a few days, and required to camp outside the fortified security of the camp. Since the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in a group sentenced to Decimatio were potentially liable for execution, regardless of individual degrees of fault, rank, or distinction.

Decimatio depicted on Trajan’s Column

The earliest documented Decimatio occurred in 471 BC during the Roman Republic‘s early wars against the Volsci, and was recorded by Livy. In an incident where his forces had been scattered, Consul Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis had the perpetrators punished for desertion.

Roman soldier with a flagellum or scourge.

Centuriōnēs (Centurions), Signiferī (Standard-Bearers) and Soldiers who had cast away their weapons were individually scourged and beheaded. The remainder were chosen by lot (1 in 10) and executed.

Polybius gives one of the earliest descriptions of the practice in the early 3rd Century BC:

If ever these same things happen to occur among a large group of men… the officers reject the idea of bludgeoning or slaughtering all the men involved [as is the case with a small group or an individual]. Instead they find a solution for the situation which chooses by a lottery system sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of these men, always calculating the number in this group with reference to the whole unit of offenders so that this group forms one-tenth of all those guilty of cowardice. And these men who are chosen by lot are bludgeoned mercilessly in the manner described above.

Decimatio during the Third Servile War against Spartacus.

The practice was revived by Marcus Licinius Crassus in 71 BC during the Third Servile War against Spartacus, and some historical sources attribute part of Crassus’ success to it. The number of men killed through Decimatio is not known, but it varies anywhere between 48-50 killed (from a Cohort of around 480-500 men) up to 1,000 killed (used on 10,000 men).

Banner of the Legio IX Hispana

Julius Caesar threatened Decimatio on the Legio IX Hispana (Spanish 9th Legion) during the Great Roman Civil War against Pompey, but never did. Maybe Caesar should have acted upon his threat for the Legion disappears from surviving Roman records after AD 120, and there is no extant account of what happened to it.

Plutarch describes the process in his work Life of Antony. After a defeat in Media:

Antony was furious and employed the punishment known as ‘decimation’ on those who had lost their nerve. What he did was divide the whole lot of them into groups of ten, and then he killed one from each group, who was chosen by lot; the rest, on his orders were given barley rations instead of wheat.

Decimatio was still being practiced during the time of the Roman Empire, although it was very uncommon. Suetonius records that it was used by Emperor Augustus in 17 BC and later by Galba, while Tacitus records that Lucius Apronius used Decimatio to punish a full Cohort of the Legio III Augusta (3rd Augustan Legion) after their defeat by Tacfarinas in AD 20.

The Martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion.

According to legend, led by Saint Maurice, the Theban Legion was decimated in the 3rd Century AD, thus becoming known to history as the Martyrs of Agaunum. The Legion had refused, to a man, to comply to an order of the Emperor, and the process was repeated until none were left.

In his Strategikon, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice forbade Decimatio and other brutal punishments. According to him, punishments where the rank and file see their comrades dying by the hands of their own brothers-in-arms could lead to a collapse of morale. Moreover, it could seriously deplete the manpower of the fighting unit.

Decimatio was not just a practice from Ancient Rome. Apparently, those from many centuries after looked to the past for inspiration and found this form of discipline appealing.

Medival illustration of Decimation

During the Battle of Breitenfeld (1642), near Leipzig, one of the many battles of the Thirty Years’ War, Colonel Madlon’s cavalry regiment was the first to flee the battleground without striking a blow. This was followed by the massive flight of other cavalry units, which was the final turning point in the battle.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Swedish army under the command of Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson over an Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire under the command of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and his deputy, Prince-General Ottavio Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi. Archduke Leopold Wilhelm assembled a court-martial in Prague which sentenced the Madlon regiment to exemplary punishment.

Battle of Breitenfeld

Six regiments, which had actually fought bravely in the battle, drew up arms and surrounded Madlon’s regiment. Having been severely rebuked for its cowardice and misconduct, Madlon’s regiment were ordered to lay down its arms as their ensigns were torn in pieces.

The general, having mentioned the causes of their degradation, erased the regiment from the register of the imperial troops. The agreed upon sentence from the council of war was thus: Colonel Madlon, his captains and lieutenants were to be beheaded; ensigns (junior officers) were to be hanged; the soldiers to be decimated; and the survivors to be driven in disgrace out of the army.

Ninety men (chosen by rolling dice) were executed at Rokycany, in western Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, on 14 December 1642 by Jan Mydlář (junior), the son of Jan Mydlář, the famous executioner from Prague. Their mass grave is said to be on the Black Mound in Rokycany, which commemorates the decimation to this day.

On 3 September 1866, during the Battle of Curuzu of the Paraguayan War, the Paraguayan 10th Battalion fled without firing a shot. President Lopez ordered the decimation of the battalion, which was accordingly formed into line and every 10th man shot.

Tunisian Lieutenant and tirailleur from the 4th RTA during the First World War.

In 1914, in France, there was a case in which a company of Tunisian tirailleurs (colonial soldiers) refused an order to attack and was ordered decimated by the divisional commander. This involved the execution of 10 men.

Italian General Luigi Cadorna allegedly applied decimation to underperforming units during World War I. However, the military historian John Keegan records that his “judicial savagery” during the Battle of Caporetto took the form of the summary executions of individual stragglers rather than the formalized winnowing of entire detachments.

One specific instance of actual decimation did occur in the Italian Army during the war, on 26 May 1916. The 120 men strong company of the 141st Catanzaro Infantry Brigade, which had mutinied, saw the execution of 1 in 10 soldiers including its officers and carabinieri.

Execution of 2 Varkaus Reds.

Decimatio can be also used to punish the enemy. In 1918 during the Finnish Civil War, after conquering the Red city of Varkaus, the White troops summarily executed around 80 captured Reds in what became known as the Lottery of Huruslahti.

According to some accounts, the Whites ordered all the captured Reds to assemble in a single row on the ice of Lake Huruslahti, selected every 10th prisoner, and executed him on the spot. The selection was not entirely random though, as some prisoners (primarily Red leaders) were specifically selected for execution and some good workers were intentionally spared.

We realize that this was a bit intense in its content, but that’s history. The story was already written and we simply chose to share it.

Hopefully you learned something new today. Maybe you were even inspired to be a better person or leader because of it.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Fogarty, Richard. Race and War in France. Johns Hopkins Press, 2008.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. Caesar: Life of a Colossus. Yale University Press, 2006.

Keegan, John. The First World War. Vintage, 2000. ISBN 0 09 1801788.

Titus Livius. Ab Urbe Condita, Book 2, Chapter 59.

Polybius Histories, Book 6, Chapter 38.

Richardson, S.; etc. The Modern Part of a Universal History: From the Earliest Account of Time (VOL. XXX) Compiled from Original Writers. London, 1761.

Strachan, Hew. The First World War. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2003.

Thompson, George. The War in Paraguay. Longmans Green and Co, 1869.

Watson, G. R. The Roman Soldier. Cornell University Press, 1969.

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives: “Antony”. Internet Classics Archive.

“Decimate”. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.

Top 10 Horrifying Facts Horrifying Facts about the Roman Legions

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you have made it this far, then it seems you love interesting facts or are simply curious about how “horrifying” things were.

As you are probably aware, the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) was divided into smaller units called Legiōnēs (Legions). The many Legiōnēs could then be dispersed to handle conflicts as needed.

Miniatures representing a 1st Century Roman Legion

Let’s replace “horrifying” with “cool” and check out the (in)famous Legions of Rome!

We hope you enjoyed today’s video. If you care to know more about the Legio Romanus click here.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

The Roman Navy: From Rivers to Oceans

Ahoy and welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Throughout our time here we have covered various battles and the expansion of Rome from city-state to Empire. During our travels, we have relied upon the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to carry the load of Rome’s development and expansion.

Most recently we shared the prowess of Rome’s military might in The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas. Now that we are familiar with what the Roman Navy actually was, it’s now time to explore its scale.

That is why today we are discovering the Roman Navy various Fleets and Ports of Call!

Roman bireme depicted in a relief from the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste (Palastrina), c. 120 BC (Museo Pio-Clementino in the Vatican Museums).

Upon destroying Carthage and subduing the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, Rome went on to achieve complete mastery of the inland sea, which they called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea). On “Their Sea” the Romans would set up major ports at Portus Julius (Misenum, Southern Italy), Port of Ravenna (Ravenna, Northern Italy), Alexandria (Egypt), Leptis Magna (Roman Libya), Ostia Antica and Portus (Central Italy), and the Port of Mainz (Rhine River, Germania).

The 2 major Fleets (Ostia Antica and Portus) were stationed in Italy and acted as a central naval reserve, directly available to the Emperor. In the absence of any seafaring threat, their duties mostly involved patrolling and transporting.

These duties were not simply confined to the waters around Italy, but throughout the Mediterranean. There is epigraphic evidence for the presence of sailors of the 2 Praetorian Fleets at Piraeus and Syria.

Classis Misenensis Roman Quinquereme

The larger of the 2 Fleets was the Classis Misenensis, which was established in 27 BC and based at Portus Julius. Later its name was changed to Classis Praetoria Misenesis Pia Vindex to which detachments of the fleet served at tributary bases, such as Ostia, PuteoliCentumcellae and other harbors.

The smaller of the 2 Fleets was the Classis Ravennas, which was made in 27 BC and based at Ravenna. Later its classification was changed to Classis Praetoria Ravennatis Pia Vindex.

Replica of a trireme, the main ship operated by Classis Ravennas (Mainz, Germany).

The various Provincial Fleets were smaller than the Praetorian Fleets, composed mostly of lighter vessels. Nevertheless, it was these Provincials that saw action in full campaigns or raids on the fringe of the Empire.

The Classis Pannonica, another fluvial fleet controlling the Upper Danube from Castra Regina in Raetia (modern Regensburg) to Singidunum in Moesia (modern Belgrade). Its exact date of establishment is unknown, but some trace it to Augustus’ campaigns in Pannonia circa 35 BC.

River biremes and triremes of the Classis Pannonica on the Danube.

The Fleet was certainly in existence by 45 AD, for under the Flavian Dynasty it received the cognomen Flavia. Its main base was probably Taurunum (modern Zemun) at the confluence of the river Sava with the Danube.

The Classis Alexandrina, based in Alexandria, controlled the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Founded by Augustus around 30 BC, the Classis Alexandrina was most likely comprised of ships that fought at the Battle of Actium, and was manned mostly by Greeks of the Nile Delta.

Depiction of a typical Roman ship from the Classis Alexandrina.

Having supported Emperor Vespasian in the Civil War of AD 69, it was awarded of the cognomen Augusta. The fleet was responsible chiefly for the escort of the grain shipments to Rome (and later Constantinople), and also apparently operated the Nile river patrol.

Ship of the Classis Flavia Moesica.

The Classis Flavia Moesica was established sometime between 20 BC and 10 AD, and was based in Noviodunum. The honorific Flavia was awarded to this Fleet as it controlled the Lower Danube from the Iron Gates to the northwestern Black Sea as far as the Crimea.

The Classis Germanica was established in 12 BC by Drusus at Castra Vetera. It controlled the Rhine and was mainly a fluvial Fleet, although it also operated in the North Sea.

Replica of a ship from the Classis Germanica.

It is noteworthy that the Romans’ initial lack of experience with the tides of the ocean left Drusus’ Fleet stranded on the Zuiderzee. After around 30 AD, the Fleet moved its main base to the castrum of Alteburg, some 2.5 miles south of Colonia Agrippinensis (modern Cologne).

Later, the Classis Germanica granted the honorifics Augusta Pia Fidelis Domitiana following the suppression of the Revolt of Saturninus.

The Classis Britannica, established in 40 or 43 AD at Gesoriacum (Boulogne-sur-Mer). It participated in the Roman invasion of Britain and the subsequent campaigns in the island.

The Roman Fleet landing on the coast of Britain for the Emperor Claudius’ invasion, earning the title Classis Britannica.

The fleet was probably based at Rutupiae (Richborough) until 85 AD, when it was transferred to Dubris (Dover). Other bases were Portus Lemanis (Lympne) and Anderitum (Pevensey), while Gesoriacum on the Gallic coast likely remained active.

During the 2nd-3rd Centuries, the fleet was chiefly employed in transport of supplies and men across the English Channel. The Classis Britannica disappears (at least under that name) from the mid-3rd Century, and the sites occupied by it were soon incorporated into the Saxon Shore system.

The Classis Perinthia was established after the annexation of Thracia in 46 AD, and was based in Perinthus. Probably based on the indigenous navy, it operated in the Propontis and was united with the Classis Pontica at a later stage.

The Classis Pontica, founded in 64 AD from the Pontic royal fleet, was based in Trapezus. Although, on occasion, it was moved to Byzantium and Cyzicus.

This Fleet was used to guard the southern and eastern Black Sea, and the entrance of the Bosporus. According to the historian Josephus, in the latter half of the 1st Century, the Fleet numbered 40 warships and 3,000 men.

Ship from Vespasian’s Classis Syriaca.

The Classis Syriaca was probably established under Vespasian (69-79 AD), and based in Seleucia Pieria (hence the alternative name Classis Seleucena) in Syria. This Fleet controlled the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

The Classis Mauretanica, based at Caesarea Mauretaniae (modern Cherchell), controlled the African coasts of the western Mediterranean sea. This fleet was established on a permanent basis after the raids by the Moors in the early 170s.

The Classis Nova Libyca, first mentioned in 180 AD, was most likely based at Ptolemais on the Cyrenaica.

The Classis Africana Commodiana Herculea was established by Commodus in 186 AD after the model of the Classis Alexandrina. Its creation was to help secure the grain shipments (annona) from North Africa to Italy.

Banner of the Legio X Fretensis

In addition, there is significant archaeological evidence for naval activity by certain Legions, which in all likelihood operated their own squadrons. Legio XXII Primigenia was active on the Upper Rhine and Main Rivers, while Legio X Fretensis patrolled the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, as several Legionary Squadrons were stationed on the Danube frontier.

The best source for the structure of the late Roman military is the Notitia Dignitatum, which matches the situation of the 390s for the Eastern Empire and the 420s for the Western Empire. Notable in the Notitia is the large number of smaller squadrons that have been created, most of these fluvial and of a local operational role.

The Classis Pannonica and the Classis Moesica were broken up into several smaller squadrons. There was the Classis Histrica which had authority of the frontier commanders (duces), with bases at Mursa in Pannonia SecundaClassis Florentia in Pannonia ValeriaClassis Arruntum in Pannonia Prima; Classis Viminacium in Moesia Prima; and Classis Aegetae in Dacia Ripensis.

Two-banked lburnians of the Danube fleets during Trajan’s Dacian Wars (Trajan’s Column, Rome).

Naval units were complemented by port garrisons and Marines (Muscularii), drawn from the Exercitus Romanus. In the Danube frontier these were:

In Pannonia Prima and Noricum Ripensis, Naval Detachments (Milites Liburnarii) of Legio XIV Gemina and Legio X Gemina at Carnuntum and Arrabonae, along with Legio II Italica at Ioviacum.

In Pannonia Secunda, Legio I Flavia Augusta (at Sirmium) and Legio II Flavia are listed under their Prefects.

In Moesia Secunda, 2 units of Sailors (Milites Nauclarii) were stationed at Appiaria and Altinum.

In Scythia Minor, Marines of Legio II Herculia were at Inplateypegiis along with Sailors at Flaviana.

Roman Marine units

In the West, and in particular in Gaul, several fluvial Fleets had been established. These came under the command of the Magister Peditum of the West, and were:

The Classis Anderetianorum which was based at Parisii (Paris) and operating in the Seine and Oise Rivers.

The Classis Ararica was based at Caballodunum (Chalon-sur-Saône) and operated in the Saône River.

Classis Barcariorum was composed of small vessels docked at Eburodunum (modern Yverdon-les-Bains) at Lake Neuchâtel.

The Classis Comensis, stationed at Lake Como, truly made the lake their own.

Painting of a ship from the Classis Misenatis.

The old Praetorian Fleets, the Classis Misenatis and the Classis Ravennatis are still listed, albeit with no distinction indicating any higher importance than the other fleets. The Praetorian surname is still attested until the early 4th Century, but absent from Vegetius or the Notitia.

The Classis Fluminis Rhodani was based at Arelate and operated in the Rhône River. It was complemented with a Marine Detachment (Milites Muscularii) based at Massalia.

The Classis Sambrica was based at Locus Quartensis (unknown location) operating on the Somme River and the Channel. It came under the command of the Dux Belgica Secunda.

The Classis Venetum, based at Aquileia, operated in the northern Adriatic Sea. This Fleet may have been established to ensure communications with the Imperial Capitals in the Po Valley (Ravenna and Milan) and with Dalmatia.

It is notable that, with the exception of the Praetorian Fleets (whose retention in the list does not necessarily signify an active status), the old fleets of the Principate are missing. The Classis Britannica vanishes under that name after the mid-3rd Century, but its remnants were later incorporated in the Saxon Shore system.

Barbarians crossing of the Rhine

By the time of the Notitia Dignitatum, the Classis Germanica had ceased to exist, most probably due to the collapse of the Limes Germanicus (Germanic Frontier) after the Crossing of the Rhine by the barbarians in winter 405-406 AD. The Mauretanian and African Fleets had been disbanded or taken over by the Vandals.

As far as the East is concerned, we know that the Classis Alexandrina and the Classis Seleucena continued to operate, and that around 400 AD the Classis Carpathia was detached from the Syrian Fleet and based at the Aegean island of Karpathos. A Fleet is known to have been stationed at Constantinople itself, but no further details are known about it.

We hope you enjoyed setting sail with the various Fleets of the Roman Navy. We wish you safe passage on future journeys, and look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

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Cleere, Henry. “The Classis Britannica”CBA, 1977.

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill, 1998.

Gardiner, Robert. AGE OF THE GALLEY: Mediterranean Oared Vessels since pre-Classical Times. Conway Maritime Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-85177-955-3.

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Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Complete Roman Army. Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2003. ISBN 0-500-05124-0.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. “A Roman Alexander: Pompey the Great“. In the name of Rome: The men who won the Roman Empire. Phoenix, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7538-1789-6.

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MacGeorge, Penny. “Appendix: Naval Power in the Fifth Century”. Late Roman WarlordsOxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-925244-2.

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Rodgers, William L. Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries: A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design. Naval Institute Press, 1967. ISBN 978-0-87021-487-5.

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The Roman Fleet, Roman-Empire.net

The Roman Navy: Masters of the Mediterranean, HistoryNet.com

Port of Claudius, the museum of Roman merchant ships found in Fiumicino (Rome)

Warfare of Classical Antiquity: Republican Fleet Tactics (Roman Navy)

Ahoy and welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The Roman Fleet landing on the coast of Britain for the Emperor Claudius’ invasion, earning the title Classis Britannica.

Throughout our time here we have covered various battles and the expansion of Rome from city-state to Empire. During our travels, we have relied upon the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) to carry the load of Rome’s development and expansion.

The Romans were late to the naval game but soon dominated the Mediterranean. If you care to dive into more depth on Rome’s maritime force, check out The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas.

Today THFE Productions helps us set sail and explore the weapons and tactics employed by the Roman Navy!

We appreciate THFE Productions for their hard work and efforts in creating this wonderful visual presentation. Gratias for stopping by and we hope you join us on further adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!