The Roman Military relates to the combined military forces of Ancient Rome from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.
Originally consisting entirely of the Roman army, a small navy was added during the Second Samnite War and later significantly expanded. The Roman military was intertwined with the Roman state much more closely than in a contemporary Western nation.
The Romans were for long periods prepared to engage in almost continuous warfare, absorbing massive losses.
For a large part of Rome's history, the Roman state existed as an entity almost solely to support and finance the Roman military.
The military's campaign history stretched over 1300 years and saw Roman armies campaigning as far East as Parthia (modern-day Iran), as far south as Africa (modern-day Tunisia) and as far north as the then-legendary Britannia (modern-day England).
The makeup of the Roman military changed substantially over its history, from its early history as an unsalaried citizen militia to a later professional force.
The equipment used by the military altered greatly in type over time, though there were very few technological improvements in weapons manufacture, in common with the rest of the classical world.
For much of its history, the vast majority of Rome's forces were maintained at or beyond the limits of its territory, in order to either expand Rome's domain, or protect its existing borders.
Personnel of the Roman Military:
At its territorial height, the Roman Empire may have contained between 45 million and 120 million citizens. The Roman army had around 375,000" men at the Empire's territorial peak. This estimate includes only legionary and auxiliary troops of the Roman army. Initially, Rome's military consisted of an annual citizen levy performing military service as part of their duty to the state. During this period, the Roman army would prosecute seasonal campaigns against largely local adversaries. As the extent of the territories falling under Roman suzerainty expanded, and the size of the city's forces increased, the soldiery of ancient Rome became increasingly professional and salaried. As a consequence, military service at the lower (non-staff) levels became progressively longer-term. Roman military units of the period were largely homogeneous and highly regulated. The army consisted of units of citizen infantry known as legions (Latin: legiones) as well as non-legionary allied troops known as auxilia. The latter were most commonly called upon to provide light infantry or cavalry support. Military service in the later empire continued to be salaried and professional for Rome's regular troops. However, the trend of employing allied or mercenary troops was expanded such that these troops came to represent a substantial proportion of Rome's forces. At the same time, the uniformity of structure found in Rome's earlier military forces disappeared. Soldiery of the era ranged from lightly-armed mounted archers to heavy infantry, in regiments of varying size and quality. This was accompanied by a trend in the late empire of an increasing predominance of cavalry rather than infantry troops, as well as a requital of more mobile operations.
Command Structure of the Roman Military:
The nominal head of the military prior to the establishment of the Roman Republic was the king, although little else is known of the military command structure during this early period. From the Republic onwards, the Senate was the nominal head of the military, but in practice became increasingly subservient to the wishes of their leading citizens, who became known eventually as Emperors. As the Empire developed, the Emperor became the de facto head of the Roman military. The command structure grew in complexity throughout the Republic and Empire, but a simple representation is presented below:
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Culture of the Roman Military:
At least in the legions of the Republic, discipline was fierce and training harsh, all intended to instil a group cohesion or esprit de corps that could bind the men together into effective fighting units. Unlike opponents such as the Gauls, who were fierce individual warriors, Roman military training concentrated on instilling teamwork and maintaining a level head over individual bravery - troops were to maintain exact formations in battle and "despise wild swinging blows" in favour of sheltering behind ones shield and delivering efficient stabs when an opponent made himself vulnerable. Loyalty was to the Roman state but pride was based in the soldier's unit, to which was attached a military standard - in the case of the legions a legionary eagle.
Funding and expenditures of the Roman Military:
Roman coins grew gradually more debased due to the demands placed on the treasury of the Roman state by the military. Although early in its history troops were expected to provide much of their own equipment, eventually the Roman military was almost entirely funded by the state. Since soldiers of the early Republican armies were also unpaid citizens, the financial burden of the army on the state was minimal. However, since the Roman state did not provide services such as housing, health, education, social security and public transport that are part and parcel of modern states, the military always represented by far the greatest expenditure of the state. During the time of expansion in the Republic and early Empire, Roman armies had acted as a source of revenue for the Roman state, plundering conquered territories, displaying the massive wealth in triumphs upon their return and fuelling the economy. The Empire had stopped expanding in the second century, this source of revenue dried up; by the end of the third century, Rome had "ceased to vanquish." As tax revenue was plagued by corruption and hyperinflation during the Crisis of the Third Century, military expenditures began to become a burden on the finances of the Roman state. It now highlighted weaknesses that earlier expansion had disguised. By 440, an imperial law frankly states that the Roman state has insufficient tax revenue to fund an army of a size required by the demands placed upon it. Several additional factors bloated the military expenditure of the Roman Empire. Firstly, substantial rewards were paid for the demeanor of "barbarian" chieftains in the form of negotiated subsidies and for the provision of allied troops. Secondly, the military boosted its numbers, possibly by one third in a single century. Finally, the military increasingly relied on a higher ratio of cavalry units in the late Empire, which were many times more expensive to maintain than infantry units. While military size and costs increased, new taxes were introduced or existing tax laws reformed in the late Empire in order to finance it frequently. Although more inhabitants were available within the borders of the late Empire, reducing the per capita costs for an increased standing army was impractical. A large number of the population could not be taxed because they were slaves or held Roman citizenship, which exempted them from taxation in one way or another. Of the remaining, a large number were already impoverished by centuries of warfare and weakened by chronic malnutrition. Still, they had to handle an increasing tax rate and so they often abandoned their lands to survive in a city.
Readiness and Disposition of the Roman Military:
The military capability of Ancient Rome and its military preparedness or readiness was always primarily based upon the maintenance of an active fighting force acting either at or beyond its military frontiers, something that historian Luttwak refers to as a "thin linear perimeter." Because of these deployments, the Roman military did not keep a central strategic reserve after the Social War. Such reserves were only re-established during the late Empire, when the army was split into a border defense force and mobile response field units.
Power projection of the Roman Military:
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.
Sustainability of the Roman Military:
The Empire's system of building an extensive and well-maintained road network, 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, although because 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. However, border troops were usually very capable of handling enemies before they could penetrate far into the Roman hinterland. The Roman military had an extensive logistical supply chain. There was no specialised branch of the military 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 with foraging for food or purchasing food locally, this was often insufficient for their needs: Heather states that a single legion would have required 13.5 tonnes of food per month, and that it would have proved impossible to source this locally.
Policing of the Roman Military:
For the most part, Roman cities had a civil guard used for maintaining the peace. Due to fears over rebellions and other uprisings, they were forbidden to be armed up to militia levels. Policing was split between the civil guard for low-level affairs and the Roman legions and auxilia for suppressing higher-level rioting and rebellion. This created a limited strategic reserve, one that fared poorly in actual warfare.
Engineering of the Roman Military:
The massive earthen ramp at Masada, constructed by the Roman army to breach the city's wallsThe 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 endemic in Roman military culture, as demonstrated by the fact that each Roman legionary had as part of his equipment a shovel, alongside his gladius (sword) and pila (spears). This engineering prowess was, however, only evident during the peak of Roman military prowess under 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 extra-ordinary or reactionary nature. Proactive military engineering took the form of the regular construction of 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 extra-ordinary 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 ballistae, onagers 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.
International stance of the Roman Military:
Rome was established as a nation making aggressive use of its high military potential. From very early on its history it would raise two armies annually to campaign abroad. Far from the Roman military being solely a defence force, for much of its history, it was a tool of aggressive expansion. Notably the Roman army had derived from a militia of mainly farmers and gaining new farming lands for the growing population or later retiring soldiers, was often one of the campaigns' chief objectives. Only in the late Empire did the Roman military's primary role become the preservation of control over its territories.
Grand strategy of the Roman Military:
Strategy of the Roman militaryIn its purest form, the concept of strategy deals solely with military issues. However, Rome is offered by Edward Luttwak and others as an early example of a state that possessed a grand strategy which encompassed the management of the resources of an entire nation in the conduct of warfare. Up to half of the funds raised by the Roman state were spent on its military, and the Romans operated a system of grand strategy that was clearly more complicated than simple knee-jerk strategic or tactical responses to individual threats. Rome's grand strategy changed over time, implementing different systems to meet different challenges and reflecting changing internal priorities, but elements of Rome's grand strategy included client states, the deterrent of armed response in parallel with manipulative diplomacy, and a fixed system of troop deployments and road networks. Luttwak states that there are "instructive similarities" between Roman and modern military strategy.
Campaigns of the Roman Military:
Initially, Rome's military consisted of an annual citizen levy performing military service as part of their duty to the state. During this period, the Roman army would prosecute seasonal campaigns against its tribal neighbours and Etruscan towns within Italy. As the extent of the territories falling under Roman suzerainty expanded, and the size of the city's forces increased, the soldiery of ancient Rome became increasingly professional and salaried. As a consequence, military service at the lower (non-staff) levels became progressively longer-term. Roman military units of the period were largely homogeneous and highly regulated. The army consisted of units of citizen infantry known as legions (Latin: legiones) as well as non-legionary allied troops known as auxilia. The latter were most commonly called upon to provide light infantry or cavalry support. Rome's forces came to dominate much of the Mediterranean and further afield, including the provinces of Britannia and Asia Minor at the Empire's height. They were tasked with manning and securing the borders of the provinces brought under Roman control, as well as Italy itself. Strategic-scale threats were generally less serious in this period, and strategic emphasis was placed on preserving gained territory. The army underwent changes in response to these new needs and became more dependent on fixed garrisons than on march-camps and continuous field operations. In the late Empire, military service continued to be salaried and professional for Rome's regular troops. However, the trend of employing allied or mercenary troops was expanded such that these troops came to represent a substantial proportion of Rome's forces. At the same time, the uniformity of structure found in Rome's earlier military forces disappeared. Soldiery of the era ranged from lightly-armed mounted archers to heavy infantry, in regiments of varying size and quality. This was accompanied by a trend in the late empire of an increasing predominance of cavalry rather than infantry troops, as well as a requital of more mobile operations.
Equipment of the Roman Military:
Although Roman iron-working was enhanced by a process known as carburization, the Romans are not thought to have developed true steel production. From the earliest history of the Roman state to its downfall, Roman arms were therefore uniformly produced from either bronze or, later, 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 and armour was developed, discarded, and adopted from other peoples based on changing methods of engagement. It included at various times stabbing daggers and swords, slashing swords, long thrusting spears or pikes, lances, light throwing javelins and darts, slings, and bows. Roman military personal equipment was produced in large numbers to established patterns and used in an established way. It therefore varied little in design and quality within each historical period. The Roman military readily adopted types of arms and armour 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. Besides personal weaponry, the Roman military adopted team weaponry such as the ballista and developed a naval weapon known as the corvus, a spiked plank used for affixing and boarding enemy ships.
Decorations, awards and victory titles:
Military diploma - a notarized copy of an original bronze constitution issued by the emperor in Rome, granting Roman citizenship to foreign veterans who had served for 25 years or more in the Roman auxiliary forces or Praetorian Fleets:
Grass Crown- (Latin, corona obsidionalis or corona graminea} was the highest and rarest of all military decorations. It was presented only to a general or commander who broke the blockade of a beleaguered Roman Army:
Civic Crown- (Latin: corona civica) was a chaplet of common oak leaves woven to form a crown. During the Roman Republic, and the subsequent Principate, it was regarded as the second highest military decoration a citizen could aspire to (the Grass Crown being held in higher regard):
Naval crown - (Latin corona navalis), was a gold crown awarded to the first man who boarded an enemy ship during a naval engagement. In style, the crown was made of gold and surmounted with the beaks of ships:
Gold Crown - (Latin Corona Aurea) Awarded to both Centurions and apparently some principales, for killing an enemy in single combat and holding the ground to the end of the battle:
Battlements Crown - (Corona Vallaris or corona muralis) Was made of gold and decorated with the uprights (valli) of an entrenchment. It was awarded to the first soldier or Centurion to mount the wall or pallisade of an enemy town:
Crown of the Preserver - awarded to "those who have shielded and saved any of the citizens or allies":
Synonyms for Emperor:
Augustus, "Majestic" or "Venerable"; an honorific cognomen exclusive to the emperor:
Caesar, "Caesar" or "Most Noble Caesar"; an honorific name later used to identify an Emperor-designate:
Censor, a Republican office with a five year term and one coequal officeholder:
Consul, the highest magistracy of the Roman republic with a one year term and one coequal officeholder:
Dominus, "Lord" or "Master"; an honorific title popular in the Empire's middle history:
Imperator, "Commander" or "Commander-in-Chief"; a victory title taken on accession to the purple and after a major military victory; the praenomen of most Roman emperors Imperator Destinatus, "Destined to be Emperor"; heir apparent, used by Septimius Severus for Caracalla.:
Imperium maius, "greater imperium"; absolute power to a degree greater than any other, including power of enacting capital punishment:
Invictus, "Unconquered"; an honorific title:
Pater Patriae, "Father of the Fatherland"; an honorific title:
Pius Felix, "Pious and Blessed" (lit. "Dutiful and Happy"); an honorific title:
Pontifex Maximus, "Supreme Pontiff" or "Chief Priest" (lit. "Greatest Bridgemaker"); a title and office of Republican origin - could not be used by "Catholic" Emperors, while by that time only the pope had a claim on the title of highest religious authority.:
Princeps, "First Citizen" or "Leading Citizen"; an honorific title denoting the status of the emperor as first among equals:
Princeps Iuventatis, "Prince of Youth"; an honorific title awarded to a presumptive Emperor-designate:
Princeps Senatus, "First Man of the Senate" a Republican office with a five year term:
Tribunicia potestas, "tribunician power"; the powers of a tribune of the people including sacrosanctity and the veto. Victory Titles:
Victory titles were treated as Latin cognomina and were usually the name of the enemy defeated by the commander.:
Hence, names like Africanus ("the African"), Numidicus ("the Numidian"), Isauricus ("the Isaurian"), Creticus ("the Cretan"), Gothicus ("the Goth"), Germanicus ("the German") and Parthicus ("the Parthian"), seemingly out of place for ardently patriotic Romans, are in fact expressions of Roman superiority over these peoples. The most famous grantee of Republican victory title was of course Publius Cornelius Scipio, who for his great victories in the Second Punic War was awarded by the Roman Senate the title "Africanus" and is thus known to history as "Scipio Africanus". The practice continued in the Roman Empire, although it was subsequently amended by some Roman Emperors who desired to emphasise the totality of their victories by adding Maximus ("the Greatest") to the victory title (e.g., Parthicus Maximus, "the Greatest Parthian").
Decorations (Medal Equivalents):
Only after this are the military decorations presented::
Torc - gold necklet:
armillae - gold armbands:
phalerae - gold, silver, or bronze sculpted disks worn on the breastplate during parades:
hasta pura - a ceremonial silver spear awarded to "the man who has wounded an enemy":
a small silver replica of a standard or flag (the vexillum).:
a cup - presented to an infantryman "who has slain and stripped an enemy" not in the normal melee of battle but voluntarily in single combat after throwing themselves into danger:
"horse trappings" - presented to a cavalryman "who has slain and stripped an enemy" not in the normal melee of battle but voluntarily in single combat after throwing themselves into danger.
part of the booty and spoils after a conquest including slaves.
missio honesta - honorable discharge.
Ovation - a less-honored form of the Roman triumph. Ovations were granted, when war was not declared between enemies on the level of states, when an enemy was considered basely inferior (slaves, pirates), and when the general conflict was resolved with little to no bloodshed or danger to the army itself.:
Triumph - a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly honour the military commander (dux) of a notably successful foreign war or campaign and to display the glories of Roman victory.
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