Category Archives: Legio Romanus

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!



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!



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”.

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!



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!

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!



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!



Casson, Lionel. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-691-01477-7.

Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0.

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.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265–146 BC. Cassell, 2000. ISBN 0-304-36642-0.

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.

Gruen, Erich S. The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome: Volume IIUniversity of California Press, 1984. ISBN 0-520-04569-6.

Lewis, Archibald Ross; Runyan, Timothy J. European Naval and Maritime History, 300-1500. Indiana University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-253-20573-5,

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

Meijer, Fik. A History of Seafaring in the Classical World. Routledge, 1986. ISBN 978-0-7099-3565-0.

Potter, David. “The Roman Army and Navy”. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-521-00390-2.

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.

Saddington, D.B. “Classes. The Evolution of the Roman Imperial Fleets”. A Companion to the Roman ArmyBlackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007. ISBN 978-1-4051-2153-8.

Starr, Chester G. The Roman Imperial Navy: 31 BC-AD 324 (2nd Edition). Cornell University Press, 1960.

Starr, Chester G. The Influence of Sea Power on Ancient History. Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-505667-9.

Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. Salamander Books Ltd., 2004. ISBN 0-8061-2794-5.

Webster, Graham; Elton, Hugh. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries AD. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8061-3000-8.

Workman-Davies, Bradley. Corvus: A Review of the Design and Use of the Roman Boarding Bridge During the First Punic War 264 -241 BC., 2006. ISBN 978-1-84728-882-0.

The Roman Fleet,

The Roman Navy: Masters of the Mediterranean,

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!

The Roman Navy: Unsung Champion of the Ancient Seas

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 Making It Happen: The Military of Ancient Rome – Part I & Part II. Although the men of the Roman Legions did a lot of the work, the burden was not theirs alone.

That is why today we are exploring the Roman Navy, the unsung champions of the ancient seas!

The Roman Navy (Classis) comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. The Navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, but it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman Legions.

Throughout their history, the Romans remained a primarily land-based people and relied partially on their more nautically inclined subjects, such as the Greeks and the Egyptians, to build and man their ships. Partly because of that, the Navy was never wholly embraced by the Roman state, and deemed somewhat “un-Roman”.

In Antiquity, navies and trading fleets did not have the logistical autonomy that modern ships and fleets possess. Unlike modern naval forces, the Roman Navy even at its height never existed as an autonomous service but operated as an addition to the Roman Army.

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

During the course of the First Punic War, the Roman Navy was massively expanded and played a vital role in the Roman victory and the Roman Republic‘s eventual ascension to supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea. In the course of the first half of the 2nd Century BC, Rome went on to destroy Carthage and subdue the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, achieving complete mastery of the inland sea, which they called Mare Nostrum.

The Roman Fleets were again prominent in the 1st Century BC in the wars against the pirates, and in the Civil Wars that brought down the Republic, whose campaigns ranged across the Mediterranean. In 31 BC, the great naval Battle of Actium ended the Civil Wars culminating in the final victory of Augustus and the establishment of the Roman Empire.

Drawing of Julius Caesar as he is held captive by Mediterranean Pirates.

During the Imperial period, the Mediterranean seemingly became a Rome’s peaceful lake. In the absence of a maritime enemy, the Navy was reduced mostly to patrol, anti-piracy and transport duties.

The Navy also manned and maintained craft on major frontier rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube for supplying the Army. On the fringes of the Empire, in new conquests or in defense against barbarian invasions, the Roman Fleets were still engaged in open warfare.

The decline of the Empire in the 3rd Century took a heavy toll on the Navy, which was reduced to a shadow of its former self, both in size and in combat ability. As successive waves of the Völkerwanderung crashed on the land frontiers of the battered Empire, the Navy could only play a secondary role.

In the early 5th Century, the Roman frontiers were breached, and barbarian kingdoms appeared on the shores of the western Mediterranean. The Vandal Kingdom even raised a navy of its own and raided the shores of the Mediterranean sacking Rome.

The Imperial Ensign (Basilikon Phlamoulon) with the tetragrammic cross, carried by Byzantine warships.

Diminished Roman fleets were incapable of offering any resistance. With the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th Century, the Navy of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Navy.

The generic Roman term for an oar-driven galley warship was navis longa (long ship), as opposed to the sail-driven navis oneraria (merchant vessel), or the navigia minora (minor craft) like the scapha. The Navy consisted of a wide variety of different classes of warships, from heavy polyremes to light raiding and scouting vessels.

Unlike the rich Hellenistic Successor kingdoms in the East however, the Romans did not rely on heavy warships, with quinqueremes, and to a lesser extent quadriremes and triremes providing the mainstay of the Roman Fleets from the Punic Wars to the end of the Civil Wars.

Roman Quadrireme

The heaviest vessel mentioned in Roman Fleets during this period was the hexareme, of which a few were used as flagships. Lighter vessels such as the liburnians and the hemiolia, both swift types invented by pirates, were also adopted as scouts and light transport vessels.

During the final confrontation between Octavius (before he became Augustus) and Mark Antony, the fleet of Octavius was composed of quinqueremes, together with some “sixes” and many triremes and liburnians, while Antony, who had the resources of Ptolemaic Egypt to draw upon, fielded a fleet also mostly composed of quinqueremes, but with a sizeable complement of heavier warships, ranging from “sixes” to “tens”.

Roman Liburna

Later historical tradition made much of the prevalence of lighter and swifter vessels in Octavius’s fleet. Fourth Century Roman writer Vegetius even explicitly ascribed Octavius’s victory to the liburnians.

This prominence of lighter craft in the historical narrative is perhaps best explained in light of subsequent developments. After Actium, the operational landscape had changed.

For the remainder of the Principate, no opponent existed to challenge Roman maritime control and no massed nautical confrontation was likely. The tasks at hand for the Roman Navy were now the policing of the Mediterranean waterways and the rivers along the Empire’s borders, suppression of piracy, and escort duties for the grain shipments to Rome and for Imperial Army expeditions.

Baroque painting of the Battle of Actium by Laureys a Castro, 1672 (Maritime Museum of Greenwich, UK).

Lighter ships were far better suited to these tasks, and after the reorganization of the Fleet following Actium, the largest ship kept in service was a hexareme, the flagship of the Classis Misenensis. The bulk of the Fleets was composed of the lighter triremes and liburnians.

In addition, there were smaller oared vessels, such as the navis actuaria, with 30 oars (15 on each bank), a ship primarily used for transport in coastal and fluvial operations, for which its shallow draught and flat keel were ideal. In late Antiquity, it was succeeded in this role by the navis lusoria (playful ship), which was extensively used for patrols and raids by the Legionary Flotillas in the Rhine and Danube frontiers.

Roman ships were commonly named after gods (MarsJupiter, MinervaIsis), mythological heroes (Hercules), geographical maritime features such as Rhenus or Oceanus, concepts such as Harmony, Peace, Loyalty, Victory (Concordia, Pax, Fides, Victoria) or after important events (Dacicus for the Trajan’s Dacian Wars or Salamina for the Battle of Salamis).

Bronze figurehead from Roman ship, circa 1st Century BC-1st Century AD.

They were initially distinguished by their figurehead (insigne or parasemum). During the Civil Wars at least, they were identified by the paint schemes on their turrets, which varied according to each fleet.

In Classical Antiquity, a ship’s main weapon was the ram (rostra), which was used to sink or immobilize an enemy ship by punching a hole in its hull. Use of a rostra, though, required a skilled and experienced crew and a fast and agile ship like a trireme or quinquereme.

In the Hellenistic period, the larger navies came instead to rely on greater vessels. This heavier and sturdier construction lessened the effects of ramming, but also allowed for the placement of deck-mounted ballistae and catapults.

Romans using the corvus

Being initially inexperienced at sea combat, the Romans relied upon boarding actions through the use of the corvus. Its use was cut short, however, because it tended to unbalance the quinqueremes in high seas.

During the Civil Wars, a number of technical innovations attributed to Agrippa took place. The most significant were the harpax, a catapult-fired grappling hook used to reel in an enemy ship like a fish, and the use of collapsible fighting towers placed one apiece bow and stern, which were used to provide the boarders with supporting fire.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Rome’s 1st simultaneous General and Admiral.

During the Republic, command of a fleet was given to a serving Magistratu (Magistrate) or Pro Magistratu (Promagistrate) of either Consular or
Praetorian rank. In the Punic Wars for instance, one Consul would usually command the Fleet, and another the Army.

In the subsequent wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, Praetors would assume the command of the Fleet. However, since these men were political appointees, the actual handling of the fleets and of separate squadrons was entrusted to their more experienced Legati (Legates) and subordinates.

It was therefore during the Punic Wars that the separate position of Praefectus Classis (Fleet Prefect) originally appeared. At first subordinate to the Magistrate in command, after the Fleet’s reorganization by Augustus, the Praefectus Classis became a Procurator in charge of each of the permanent Fleets.

These posts were initially filled either from among the Equestrian class, or, especially under Claudius, from the Emperor‘s freedmen, thus securing Imperial control over the Fleets. From the period of the Flavian Emperors, the status of the Praefectura was raised, and only Equestrians with military experience who had gone through the Militia Equestri were appointed.

Nevertheless, the Prefects remained largely political appointees, and despite their military experience, usually in command of Auxilia (Auxiliary Units), their knowledge of naval matters was minimal, forcing them to rely on their professional subordinates. The difference in importance of the Fleets they commanded was also reflected by the rank and the corresponding pay of the commanders.

A sestertius of Nero, struck at Rome in 64 AD.

The Prefects of the 2 Praetorian Fleets were ranked Procuratores Ducenarii, meaning they earned 200,000 sesterces annually, the Prefects of the Classis Germanica, the Classis Britannica and later the Classis Pontica were centenarii (earning 100,000 sesterces), while the other Fleet Prefects were sexagenarii (earning 60,000 sesterces).

The bulk of a galley’s crew was formed by the Remiges (Rowers). Despite popular perceptions, the Roman Fleet, and ancient fleets in general, relied throughout their existence on Rowers of free status, and not on galley slaves.

Slaves were employed only in times of pressing manpower demands or extreme emergency, and even then, they were freed first. In Imperial times, non-citizen freeborn Provincials (Peregrini), chiefly from nations with a maritime background such as Greeks, Phoenicians, Syrians and Egyptians, formed the bulk of the Fleets’ crews.

During the early Principate a ship’s crew, regardless of its size, was organized as a Centuria. Crewmen could sign on as Marines (Marinus), Rowers/Seamen, Craftsmen and various other jobs, though all personnel serving in the Imperial Fleet were classed as Milites (Soldiers), regardless of their function.

Naval personnel were considered to hold a lower social status, considered inferior to the Auxilia and the Legionaries. Emperor Claudius originally gave legal privileges to the Navy’s Crewmen, enabling them to receive Roman citizenship after their period of service.

This period was initially set at a minimum of 26 years (1 year more than the Legions), and was later expanded to 28. Upon honorable discharge (honesta missio), the Sailors received a sizable cash payment as well.

Roman Naval Centurion, note this Marine is armed just like his land-based counterpart.

As in the Army, the ship’s Centuria was headed by a Centurion with an Optio as his deputy, while a Beneficiarius supervised a small administrative staff. Among the crew were also a number of Principales (Junior Officers) and Immunes (specialists exempt from certain duties).

An inscription from the island of Cos, dated to the First Mithridatic War, provides us with a list of a ship’s officers (Nautae): the Gubernator (helmsman or pilot), the Celeusta (Rower Supervisor), a Proreta (Look-Out stationed at the bow), a Pentacontarchos (Junior Officer), and an Iatros (Ship’s Doctor).

Each ship was commanded by a Trierarchus, whose exact relationship with the ship’s Centurion remains unclear. Squadrons, most likely of 10 ships each, were put under a Nauarchus, who often appears to have risen from the ranks of the Trierarchi. The post of Nauarchus Archigubernes or Nauarchus Princeps appeared later in the Imperial period, and functioned either as Commander of several squadrons or as an Executive Officer under a Civilian Admiral, equivalent to the Legionary Primus Pilus.

Until the reign of Antoninus Pius, all careers of these Officers were restricted to the Fleet. Only in the 3rd Century were these Officers equated to the Legionary Centurions in status and pay, and from this time forth could be transferred to a similar position in the Legions.

Naval operations on the Rhine (357 AD).

After the end of the Civil Wars, Augustus (formerly Octavius) reduced and reorganized the Roman Military, including the Navy. A large part of the Fleet of Mark Antony was burned, and the rest was withdrawn to a new base at Forum Iulii (modern Fréjus), which remained operative until the reign of Claudius.

However, the bulk of the Fleet was soon subdivided into 2 Praetorian Fleets at Misenum and Ravenna, supplemented by a growing number of minor ones in the provinces, which were often created on an ad hoc basis for specific campaigns. This organizational structure was maintained almost unchanged until the 4th Century.

Roman Bireme with a tower on the front.

We hope you enjoyed today’s voyage and look forward to having you back again soon. There’s lots more about the Roman Navy to discuss, but who knows where or what we’ll experience next?

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Casson, Lionel. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-691-01477-7.

Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0.

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.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265–146 BC. Cassell, 2000. ISBN 0-304-36642-0.

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.

Gruen, Erich S. The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome: Volume IIUniversity of California Press, 1984. ISBN 0-520-04569-6.

Lewis, Archibald Ross; Runyan, Timothy J. European Naval and Maritime History, 300-1500. Indiana University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-253-20573-5,

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

Meijer, Fik. A History of Seafaring in the Classical World. Routledge, 1986. ISBN 978-0-7099-3565-0.

Potter, David. “The Roman Army and Navy”. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-521-00390-2.

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.

Saddington, D.B. “Classes. The Evolution of the Roman Imperial Fleets”. A Companion to the Roman ArmyBlackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007. ISBN 978-1-4051-2153-8.

Starr, Chester G. The Roman Imperial Navy: 31 BC-AD 324 (2nd Edition). Cornell University Press, 1960.

Starr, Chester G. The Influence of Sea Power on Ancient History. Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-19-505667-9.

Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. Salamander Books Ltd., 2004. ISBN 0-8061-2794-5.

Webster, Graham; Elton, Hugh. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries AD. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8061-3000-8.

Workman-Davies, Bradley. Corvus: A Review of the Design and Use of the Roman Boarding Bridge During the First Punic War 264 -241 BC., 2006. ISBN 978-1-84728-882-0.

The Roman Fleet,

The Roman Navy: Masters of the Mediterranean,

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

Making It Happen: The Military of Ancient Rome – Part II

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If this is your initial visit with us, thanks for stopping by. If you are back for further adventures with us, then you’re in for a treat.

For those not aware, the growth of Ancient Rome was put onto the backs of its soldiers. Last week we pulled on our caligae (military boots) and grabbed our gladiī (swords) as we joined the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) in Making It Happen: The Military of Ancient Rome – Part I.

Today we are journeying back to when, and where, it all went down as we continue with how the Military of Ancient Rome made it all happen!

Reenacters portraying the Roman Legionaries of Legio XV Apollinaris.

The Roman Military was keen on the doctrine of power projection. It frequently removed foreign rulers by force or intimidation and replaced them with puppets.

This was facilitated by the maintenance, for at least part of its history, of a series of client states and other subjugate and buffer entities beyond its official borders, although over which Rome extended massive political and military control. On the other hand, this also could mean the payment of immense subsidies to foreign powers and opened the possibility of extortion in case military means were insufficient.

Showing the vast amount of land held by the Roman Empire (c. 125 AD).

The Empire’s system of building an extensive and well-maintained network of Viae (Roman Roads), as well as its absolute command of the Mediterranean for much of its history, enabled a primitive form of rapid reaction, also stressed in modern military doctrine. Since there was no real strategic reserve, this often entailed the raising of fresh troops or the withdrawing of troops from other parts of the border.

The Roman Military had an extensive logistical supply chain. There was no specialized branch devoted to logistics and transportation, although this was to a great extent carried out by the Roman Navy due to the ease and low costs of transporting goods via sea and river compared to over land. There is archaeological evidence that Roman Armies campaigning in Germania were supplied by a logistical supply chain beginning in Italy and Gaul, then transported by sea to the northern coast of Germania, and finally penetrating into Germania via barges on inland waterways.

Forces were routinely supplied via fixed supply chains, and although Roman Armies in enemy territory would often supplement or replace this by foraging for food or purchasing food locally, this was often insufficient for their needs. For instance, a single Legio (Legion) would have required 13.5 tons of food per month, which would have proved impossible to source locally.

For the most part, Roman cities had a Civil Guard used for maintaining the peace. Due to fear of rebellions and other uprisings, the guards were forbidden to be armed at militia levels.

Roman Cavalry from a mosaic of the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily (4th Century AD).

Policing was split between the Civil Guard for low-level affairs and the Roman Legions and Auxilia for quelling higher-level rioting and rebellion. This Civil Guard created a limited strategic reserve, but fared poorly in actual warfare.

Literacy was highly valued in the Roman Military, thus literacy rates in the military far exceeded that of the Roman society as a whole. Being able to read, led to creativity, which made the military engineering of Ancient Rome‘s armed forces was of a scale and frequency far beyond that of any of its contemporaries.

Indeed, military engineering was in many ways institutionally widespread in Roman military culture, as demonstrated by the fact that each Legionarius (Legionary) had as part of his equipment a shovel, alongside his gladius and pila (spears).

This engineering prowess was, however, only evident during the peak of Roman military prowess from the mid-Republic to the mid-Empire. Prior to the mid-Republic period there is little evidence of protracted or exceptional military engineering, and in the late Empire likewise there is little sign of the kind of engineering feats that were regularly carried out in the earlier Empire.

Roman military engineering took both routine and extraordinary forms, the former a proactive part of standard military procedure, and the latter of an extraordinary or reactionary nature. To make this happen, soldiers learned to build, and build quickly, as a standard element of training.

The massive earthen ramp at Masada, designed by the Roman army to breach the fortress’ walls.

Proactive military engineering took the form of the regular construction of Castra (Fortified Camps), in road-building, and in the construction of siege engines. The knowledge and experience learned through such routine engineering lent itself readily to any extraordinary engineering projects required by the Army, such as the circumvallations constructed at Alesia and the earthen ramp constructed at Masada.

This engineering expertise practiced in daily routines also served in the construction of siege equipment such as ballistaeonagers and siege towers, as well as allowing the troops to construct roads, bridges and fortified camps. All of these led to strategic capabilities, allowing Roman troops to, respectively, assault besieged settlements, move more rapidly to wherever they were needed, cross rivers to reduce march times and surprise enemies, and to camp in relative security even in enemy territory.

Rome was established as a nation by making aggressive use of its high military potential. From very early on in its history, Rome would raise 2 forces annually to campaign abroad.

The Roman Military was far from being solely a defense force. For much of its history, it was a tool of aggressive expansion.

The evolution of the Roman Legionary.

The Roman Army had derived from a militia of mainly farmers, and the gain of new farm lands for the growing population or later retiring soldiers was often a chief objective for a campaign. Only in the late Empire did the preservation of control over Rome’s territories become the Roman Military’s primary role.

The remaining major powers confronting Rome were the Kingdom of AksumParthia and the Hunnic Empire. Knowledge of China, the Han Dynasty at the times of Mani, existed and it is believed that Rome and China swapped embassies about 170 AD.

In its purest form, the concept of strategy deals solely with military issues. Up to half of the funds raised by the Roman State were spent on its Military, and the Romans displayed a strategy that was clearly more complicated than simple knee-jerk strategic or tactical responses to individual threats.

Roman soldiers battling barbarian troops on the Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus (250-260).

Rome’s strategy changed over time, implementing different systems to meet different challenges that reflected changing internal priorities. Elements of Rome’s strategy included the use of client states, the deterrent of armed response in parallel with manipulative diplomacy, and a fixed system of troop deployments and road networks.

When in doubt, Rome would rely on brute force and sheer numbers. Soldiers were trained to memorize every step in battle, so discipline and order could not break down into chaos, thus leading to lots of successful Roman outcomes.

Although Roman iron-working was enhanced by a process known as carburization, the Romans were not thought to have developed true steel production. From the earliest history of the Roman State to its downfall, Roman arms were uniformly produced from either bronze or iron.

As a result, the 1300 years of Roman military technology saw little radical change in technological level. Within the bounds of classical military technology, however, Roman arms & armor was developed, discarded, and adopted from other peoples based on changing methods of engagement.

Typical weapons carried by the Legions of Rome.

It included at various times stabbing daggers and swords, stabbing or thrusting swords, long thrusting spears or pikes, lances, light throwing javelins and darts, slings, and bow and arrows. Roman military personal equipment was produced in large numbers to established patterns and used in an established way, so it varied little in design and quality within each historical period.

Roman arms & armor gave them an advantage over their barbarian enemies who were often, as Germanic tribesmen, completely unarmored. However, whilst the uniform possession of armor gave Rome an advantage, the actual standard of each item of Roman equipment was of no better quality than that used by the majority of its enemies.

The relatively low quality of Roman weaponry was primarily a function of its large-scale production. Later factors, such as governmental price fixing for certain items, gave no allowance for quality and incentivized cheap, poor-quality goods.

The Roman Military readily adopted types of arms and armor that were effectively used against them by their enemies. Initially Roman troops were armed after Greek and Etruscan models, using large oval shields and long pikes.

On encountering the Celts they adopted much Celtic equipment and again later adopted items such as the gladius from Iberian peoples. Later in Rome’s history, it adopted practices such as arming its Cavalry with bows in the Parthian style, and even experimented briefly with niche weaponry such as elephants and camel-troops.

Bas relief of a Roman Ballista Roman on Trajan’s Column.

Besides personal weaponry, the Roman Military adopted team weaponry. Items such as the Ballista and the naval corvus, a spiked plank used for affixing and boarding enemy ships, used multiple troops to achieve a singular goal.

The expansion of the Roman Empire was achieved through military force in nearly every case. Roman culture as a whole revolved around its Military for both expansion and protection.

Geographic areas on the outskirts of the Empire were prone to attack and required heavy military presence. The constant barrage of attacks and the increase of expansion caused several casualties.

Augustus Caesar

Due to attack there was a need for specialized medical care for these soldiers, in order to keep them in operational status. The specialized form of care, however, was not created until the time of Augustus (31BC-14AD).

Prior to this there is little information about the care of soldiers. It is assumed soldiers were self-reliant, treating their own wounds and caring for other ailments encountered.

They would also turn to civilians for help throughout the villages they would come across. This was considered a custom of the time, and was quite common for households to take in wounded soldiers and tend to them.

As time progressed, there was an increase in care for the wounded as hospitals appeared. The idea was held by the Romans that a healed soldier was better than a dead one and a healed veteran was better than a new recruit.

With the need for soldier health a growing concern, places for the sick to go in the Army were starting to show up. Dates ranged from AD 9 to AD 50, but this is when initial evidence of hospitals was seen in archaeological remains.

General set up of Ancient Roman Military Hospital at Novaesium (near Dusseldorft, Germany).

These hospitals were specific places for only military members to go to if they were injured or fell ill, a similar situation was used for slaves. Military hospitals were permanent structures set up in forts, with clear patient rooms designed to accommodate a large numbers of soldiers.

The size of these hospitals varied based on their location. Some of the large facilities, such as the hospital in Hod Hill England, could accommodate roughly 12% of the force within the hospital.

In more stable areas such as Inchtuthil in Scotland, there was room for as little as 2% of the force within the hospital. Areas with more conflict obviously had larger medical facilities as they saw more casualties.

These hospitals were solely designed for the use of the military. If a civilian fell ill or needed surgery they would likely go to the physician’s home and stay, not a hospital.

Establishing field hospitals during battle.

Prior to these permanent structures there were tents set up as mobile field hospitals. Soldiers suffering from severe wounds were brought to a field hospital for treatment, as the structures were assembled and disassembled as the Army moved.

Doctors serving in the Army were considered to be a member of the Roman Military. Just like everyone else, Army Physicians would take the military oath and be bound by the military law.

They would also start among the lower fighting ranks. Even though they took the military oath and were among the lower ranks, it did not mean they would be fighting among the masses.

These doctors were not always professionals or career physicians. Oftentimes they were slaves who were forced into that career.

The Medici was also a group that treated wounded soldiers on the battlefield. These men were not trained physicians even though they played the role of one.

Roman surgical instruments found at Pompeii (Museo di_Napoli).

Typically they were soldiers who demonstrated they had knowledge in wound treatment and even simple surgical techniques. These men were used before the actual trained doctors were largely implemented.

Physicians got their knowledge from experience and information being passed down from person to person. Likely Physicians never used medical texts, as it was not common place even in the civilian field to do so.

Generals and Emperors were exceptions, as they would typically have their own personal physician with them. This was a common occurrence as Emperors such as Julian employed famous physicians such as Galen.

By the time of Trajan (53AD-117AD), the Medical Corps was well on the way to being an organized machine. At this time, Physicians were attached to nearly every Army and Navy Unit in all the Roman Military.

Mural of a Roman soldier removing an arrow from a fellow soldier’s leg with a pair of pinchers.

By this time the Army was massive, consisting of 25 to 30 Legions, each of which contained nearly 6,000 men. Each Legio included both soldiers and physicians.

At this point all physicians were either self-taught or learned their trade through an apprenticeship. Despite this, there was an attempt at organization, as the Army did have a medical manual that was passed out to its Physicians.

The Medici were used on both the front line as emergency care providers and in the rear as the main physicians. The Capsarii were mainly used as the front line care providers and bandagers, but also assisted the Medici behind the lines.

Romans received their medical knowledge largely from the Greeks that came before them. As Rome started to expand, it slowly embraced the Greek culture, causing an influx of medicinal information in Roman society.

This influx of medicinal information allowed knowledge to become the foundation of all western medical tradition. The Greek theories were kept alive and their practices continued well into the future.

Showing where various Roman Legions were stationed (212 AD).

This knowledge was also the foundation used in the military medicine since it contained the overarching ideas of their medical knowledge. As time progressed these medical texts would be translated into Arabic and then back into Latin as the flow of information changed.

We can presume that some of the information in these texts has been lost in translation. Despite this, we are still able to illustrate a clear picture of what military medicine was like during the reign of the Roman Empire.

As is the case with any large number of people being in close quarters, there was a constant threat of disease. When one individual in a large group gets sick with a communicable disease, it spreads to others very quickly.

This premise remains true even today in the modern military. The Romans recognized the difference between disease and wounds, each requiring separate treatment.

Drainage of excess water and waste were common practices in camps as well as the later, permanent medical structures. As the medical corps grew in size there was also specialization evolving.

Physicians surfaced that specialized in disease, surgery, wound dressing and even veterinary medicine. Veterinary physicians were there to tend to livestock for agricultural purposes as well as combat purposes.

Parade of Ancient Roman Cavalry on the column of Antoninus Pius (Rome, Italy).

The Cavalry was known for their use of horses in combat and scouting purposes. Because of the type of injuries that would have been commonly seen, surgery was a somewhat common occurrence.

Tools such as scissors, knives and arrow extractors have been found in remains of both human and animal alike. In fact, Roman surgery was quite intuitive, in contrast to common thought of ancient surgery.

The Roman Military Surgeons used a cocktail of plants, which created a sedative similar to modern anesthesia. Written documentation also showed Surgeons would use oxidation from metal such as copper and scrape it into wounds, which provided an antibacterial.

Doctors had the knowledge to clean their surgical instruments with hot water after each use. Wounds were dressed, and dead tissue was removed when bandages were changed.

Honey and cobwebs were items used to cover wounds, and have even been shown today to increase healing. Most major advancements in knowledge and technique came from military medicine rather than civil practice.

Roman Soldier marching pack

Diet was an issue that is often discussed as an aspect of medical care. Since our idea of modern technology did not exist, diet was a simple way for Romans to attain a healthy life.

This was true in the Roman Military as the soldiers required appropriate nutrition in order to function at high activity levels. There were often unique circumstances in attempting the acquisition of food for everyone.

During a campaign the soldiers would often forage food from their enemies land. In fact as part of the standard kit, Roman soldiers would carry a sickle, which would be used to forage food.

They would carry a 3-day ration of food in case they were in a situation where foraging was not available. A typical Roman Army diet consisted of items such as wheat, barley, bacon, cheese, vegetables, and sour wine to drink.

The soldier was given a ration, which was taken from his pay, and were well fed in times of peace. If the soldiers were well fed, they were healthier and able to maintain a high level of physical activity, as well as stave off disease.

Roman Soldiers on the offensive end of a siege.

Disease is still something that is easier to prevent rather than treat. This idea holds true in the event a fort was under siege, where certain food items were rationed.

Poultry was a rationed item since it was very inexpensive to maintain and, in the event of a siege, it did not require a lot of resources to maintain. It was also noted that poultry had benefits for those who were sick.

This demonstrates the idea was present that the Army needed to maintain the health of its members regardless of happenings. These discoveries were made while looking at the remains of Roman Military sites.

From the excavation of Trimontium Fort.

By excavating these sites and looking at fecal matter found, scientists were able to determine what was eaten. The variety of food found shows the Romans were not focused on just caloric intake, as they knew a variety of food was important to health and their combat readiness.

We appreciate you stopping by today. Hopefully you enjoyed today’s adventure and will come back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



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