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What we have yet to do is show how a Legionary soldier has acted in a non-military role. Well that ends now.
Today we are going to explore some civilian positions done by those still in service to the Roman State!
A Praetorium (Headquarters of a Governor) was essentially a military affair. All of the staff there was taken from armed units under the Governor’s command, detached from their usual units to serve under the most senior commander in the region (aka the Governor himself).
Some of these men still had quasi-military roles, such as bodyguards for the Governor and his senior staff. But many, more acted as various kinds of administrators.
There were Cornicularii (Clerks) who oversaw the smooth running of the administration. Exceptores and Notarii were the men who filled roles similar to what we now think of as an Administrative Assistant.
Exacti and Librarii kept track of growing archives of documents and kept the books. Commentarienses made and maintained records of what was going on in the provincia.
There were assistants in the form of Adiutores. At the top of the heap were more senior positions with titles such as Beneficiarii, Frumentarii and Speculatores, who were all part of the bureaucratic instrument.
Officers in charge of local garrisons also acted as administrators. The representatives of Rome in their local areas, they were a natural point of contact for locals, and natural choices for their superiors to turn to when anything needed to be organized.
As a result, these men were involved in work such as gathering census reports, while playing the role of the local bureaucrat.
The Legionary also served as a Builder since the Roman way of war relied heavily on men with the skills needed for building projects. There were specialists such as the Engineers who created siege machines and the Architects who oversaw the construction of siege works.
There were also craftsmen who had plied another trade before joining the Legios, or who had developed practical skills while carrying out work on military construction projects. Even when not undertaking a siege, life on a campaign was full of construction.
A Roman Legion on the march would build a defended camp every night, digging ditches and using the earth to build ramparts. The business of getting the Roman Army from one place to another meant a lot of construction.
It was, therefore, natural that Legionaries would be used for large-scale construction projects even when these could have been done by civilians. Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aelium) was built by the 3 Legions stationed in Britannia at the time: II Augusta, VI Victrix and XX Valeria Victrix.
As in battle, the unit structure of the Legions came in handy here, with the work being split into parts that could each be assigned to a century.
Road construction was also sometimes jobs for the Legionary. Roads provided better transport networks when the military needed them, as well as helping with the civilian economy.
In addition there were projects of purely civilian purpose, such as restoring the aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima in Judea or digging a canal near Antioch. The Legions had the skills and manpower to make these projects a reality.
The Legionary would also serve as a Manufacturer. Like construction work, the industrial role of the Legios arose from their military needs.
Similarly, the Legions needed cooking vessels. Like the tiles used in constructing permanent barracks buildings, there were produced in potteries owned and staffed by the Legios.
Tiles stamped with the mark of military units have been found on civilian sites. This would indicate that these items weren’t just used by the military.
It was natural for Rome’s Army to supervise sites such as the lead mines of hazardous western Britain or the quarries from which the Legions took their stone. Sometimes a Governor would even use soldiers for the hard labor of mining.
It was easy for Emperors, Governors or Army Commanders to rely upon the work machine that was the Roman Army. Since Legionaries typically signed on for contracts lasting at least 20 years, there was a wealth of well experienced men at the beck and call of those in charge.
We hope you enjoyed today’s exploration into the non-combative lives of Rome’s soldiers. Come back soon to see what we have in store.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Cowan, Ross, and Angus McBride. Roman Legionary: 58 BC – AD 69. Osprey Publishing, 2003.
Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: the Roman soldier’s (unofficial) manual. Thames & Hudson, 2009.
Watson, G.R. The Roman Soldier. Cornell University Press, 1993.
“4 Civilian Jobs Done by Roman Legionaries”. War History Online.