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himself in his Commentaries. And the great victories of the Romans over
barbarians, over Gauls, over Carthaginians, over Greeks, over Syrians,
over Persians, were not the result of a short-lived enthusiasm, like
those of Attila and Tamerlane, but extended over a thousand years. The
Romans were essentially military in all their tastes and habits.
Luxurious senators and nobles showed the greatest courage and skill in
the most difficult campaigns. Antony, Caesar, Pompey, and Lucullus were,
at home, enervated and luxurious, but, at the head of the legions, were
capable of any privation and fatigue. The Roman legion was a most
perfect organization, a great mechanical force, and could sustain
furious attacks after vigor, patriotism, and public spirit had fled. For
three hundred years a vast empire was sustained by mechanism alone.

[Sidenote: The Roman Legion.]

[Sidenote: Its composition.]

[Sidenote: The infantry the strength of the legion.]

[Sidenote: Its armor.]

[Sidenote: Its weapons.]

[Sidenote: The cavalry.]

[Sidenote: Term of military service.]

The legion is coeval with the foundation of Rome, but the number of the
troops of which it was composed varied at different periods. It rarely
exceeded six thousand men. Gibbon estimates the number at six thousand
eight hundred and twenty-six men. For many centuries it was composed
exclusively of Roman citizens. Up to the year B.C. 107, no one was
permitted to serve among the regular troops except those who were
regarded as possessing a strong personal interest in the stability of
the republic. Marius admitted all orders of citizens; and after the
close of the Social War, B.C. 87, the whole free population of Italy was
allowed to serve in the regular army. Claudius incorporated with the
legion the vanquished Goths, and after him the barbarians filled up the
ranks, on account of the degeneracy of the times. But during the period
when the Romans were conquering the world every citizen was trained to
arms, and was liable to be called upon to serve in the armies. In the
early age of the republic, the legion was disbanded as soon as the
special service was performed, and was in all essential respects a
militia. For three centuries, we have no record of a Roman army
wintering in the field; but when Southern Italy became the seat of war,
and especially when Rome was menaced by foreign enemies, and still more
when a protracted foreign service became inevitable, the same soldiers
remained in activity for several years. Gradually the distinction
between the soldier and the civilian was entirely obliterated. The
distant wars of the republic, like the prolonged operations of Caesar in
Gaul, and the civil contests, made a standing army a necessity. During
the civil wars between Caesar and Pompey, the legions were forty in
number; under Augustus but twenty-five. Alexander Severus increased them
to thirty-two. This was the standing force of the empire, from one
hundred and fifty to two hundred and forty thousand men, and this was
stationed in the various provinces. The main dependence of the legion
was on the infantry, which wore heavy armor consisting of helmet,
breastplate, greaves on the legs, and buckler on the left arm four feet
in length and two and a half in width. The helmet was originally made of
leather or skin, strengthened and adorned by bronze or gold, and
surmounted by a crest which was often of horse-hair, and so made as to
give an imposing look The crest not only served for ornament but to
distinguish the different centurions. The breastplate or cuirass was
generally made of metal, and sometimes was highly ornamented. Chain-mail
was also used. The greaves were of bronze or brass, with a lining of
leather or felt, and reached above the knees. The shield, worn by the
heavy-armed infantry, was not round, like that of the Greeks, but oval
or oblong, adapted to the shape of the body, and was made of wood or
wicker-work. The weapons were a light spear, a pilum or javelin six feet
long, terminated by a steel point, and a sword with a double edge,
adapted to striking or pushing. The legion was drawn up eight deep, and
three feet intervened between rank and file, which disposition gave
great activity, and made it superior to the Macedonian phalanx, the
strength of which depended on sixteen ranks of long pikes wedged
together. The cavalry attached to each legion were three hundred men,
and they originally were selected from the leading men in the state.
They were mounted at the expense of the state, and formed a distinct
order. The cavalry was divided into ten squadrons; and to each legion
was attached a train of ten military engines of the largest size, and
fifty-five of the smaller, - all of which discharged stones and darts
with great effect. This train corresponded with our artillery. Besides
the armor and weapons of the legionaries they usually carried on their
marches provisions for two weeks, and three or four stakes used in
forming the palisade of the camp, beside various tools, - altogether a
burden of sixty or eighty pounds per man. The general period of service
for the infantry was twenty years, after which the soldier received a
discharge together with a bounty in money or land.

[Sidenote: Organization of the legion.]

[Sidenote: The Hastati.]

[Sidenote: The Principes and Velites.]

[Sidenote: The Triarii.]

[Sidenote: The Pilarii.]

[Sidenote: The Equites.]

The Roman legion, whether it was composed of four thousand men, as in
the early ages of the republic or six thousand, as in the time of
Augustus, of was divided into ten cohorts, and each cohort was composed
of Hastati, Principes, Triarii, and Velites. The soldiers of the first
line, called Hastati, consisted of youths in the bloom of manhood, and
were distributed into fifteen companies or maniples. Each company
contained sixty privates, two centurions, and a standard-bearer. Two
thirds were heavily armed, and bore the long shield, the remainder
carried only a spear and light javelins. The second line, the Principes,
was composed of men in the full vigor of life, divided also into fifteen
companies, all heavily armed, and distinguished by the splendor of their
equipments. The third body, the Triarii, was also composed of tried
veterans, in fifteen companies, the least trustworthy of which were
placed in the rear. These formed three lines. The Velites were light-
armed troops, employed on outpost duty, and mingled with the horsemen.
The Hastati were so called because they were armed with the hasta; the
Principes, for being placed so near to the front; the Triarii, from
having been arrayed behind the first two lines as a body of reserve,
armed with the pilum, thicker and stronger than the Grecian lance, - four
and a half feet long, of wood, with a barbed head of iron, - so that the
whole length of the weapon was six feet nine inches. It was used either
to throw or thrust with, and when it pierced the enemy's shield,
[Footnote: Liv. viii. 8.] the iron head was bent, and the spear, owing
to the twist in the iron, still held to the shield. [Footnote: Plut.
Mar. 25.] Each soldier carried two of these weapons. [Footnote: Polyb.
vi. 23.] The Principes were in the front ranks of the phalanx, clad in
complete defensive armor, - men in the vigor of strength. The Pilarii
were in the rear, who threw the heavy pilum over the heads of their
comrades, in order to break the enemy's line. In the time of the empire,
when the legion was modified, the infantry wore cuirasses and helmets,
and two swords; namely, a long one and a dagger. The select infantry
carried a long spear and a shield, the rest a pilum. Each man carried a
saw, a basket, a mattock, a hatchet, a leather strap, a hook, a chain,
and provisions for three days. The Equites wore helmets and cuirasses,
like the infantry, with a broad sword at the right side, and in their
hand a long pole. A buckler swung at the horse's flank. They were also
furnished with a quiver containing three or four javelins.

[Sidenote: The artillery.]

[Sidenote: The Testudo.]

[Sidenote: The Helepolis.]

[Sidenote: The Turris.]

[Sidenote: Scailing-ladders.]

The artillery were used both for hurling missiles in battle, and for the
attack of fortresses. The _tormentum_, which was an elastic
instrument, discharged stones and darts, and was continued until the
discovery of gunpowder. In besieging a city, the ram was employed for
destroying the lower part of a wall, and the balista, which discharged
stones, was used to overthrow the battlements. The balista would project
a stone weighing from fifty to three hundred pounds. The _aries_,
or battering-ram, consisted of a large beam made of the trunk of a tree,
frequently one hundred feet in length, to one end of which was fastened
a mace of iron or bronze, which resembled in form the head of a ram, and
was often suspended by ropes from a beam fixed transversely over it, so
that the soldiers were relieved from supporting its weight, and were
able to give it a rapid and forcible motion backward and forward. And
when this machine was further aided by placing a frame in which it was
suspended upon wheels, and constructing over it a roof, so as to form a
_testudo_, which protected the besieging party from the assaults of
the besieged, there was no tower so strong, no wall so thick, as to
resist a long-continued attack. Its great length enabled the soldiers to
work across the ditch, and as many as one hundred men were often
employed upon it. The Romans learned from the Greeks the art of building
this formidable engine, which was used with great effect by Alexander,
but with still greater by Vespasian in the siege of Jerusalem. It was
first used by the Romans in the siege of Syracuse. The _vinea_ was
a sort of roof under which the soldiers protected themselves when they
undermined walls. The _helepolis_, also used in the attack of
cities, was a square tower furnished with all the means of assault. This
also was a Greek invention, and that used by Demetrius at the siege of
Rhodes, B.C. 306, was one hundred and thirty-five feet high and sixty-
eight wide, divided into nine stories. Towers of this description were
used at the siege of Jerusalem, [Footnote: Josephus _B. J._, ii. 19.]
and were manned by two hundred men employed upon the catapults and rams.
The _turris_, a tower of the same class, was used both by Greeks and
Romans, and even by Asiatics. Mithridates used one at the siege of
Cyzicus one hundred and fifty feet in height. This most formidable
engine was generally made of beams of wood covered on three sides with
iron and sometimes with raw hides. They were higher than the walls and
all the other fortifications of a besieged place, divided into stories
pierced with windows. In and upon them were stationed archers and
slingers, and in the lower story was a battering-ram. They also carried
scaling-ladders, so that when the wall was cleared, these were placed
against the walls. They were placed upon wheels, and brought as near the
walls as possible. It was impossible to resist these powerful engines,
unless they were burned, or the ground undermined upon which they stood,
except by overturning them with stones or iron-shod beams hung from a
mast on the wall, or by increasing the height of the wall, or the
erection of temporary towers on the wall beside them.

[Sidenote: The advantages of defenders.]

[Sidenote: Ordinary way of capture.]

[Sidenote: Strength and advantage of fortresses.]

Thus there was no ancient fortification capable of withstanding a long
siege when the besieged city was, short of defenders or provisions. With
equal forces an attack was generally a failure, for the defenders had
always a great advantage. But when the number of defenders was reduced,
or when famine pressed, the skill and courage of the assailants would
ultimately triumph. Some ancient cities made a most obstinate
resistance, like Tarentum; Carthage, which stood a siege of four years;
Numantia in Spain, and Jerusalem. When cities were of immense size,
population, and resources, like Rome when besieged by Alaric, it was
easier to take them by cutting off all ingress and egress, so as to
produce famine. Tyre was only taken by Alexander by cutting off the
harbor. Babylon could not have been taken by Cyrus by assault, since the
walls were three hundred and thirty-seven feet high, according to
Herodotus, and the ditch too wide for the use of battering-rams. He
resorted to an expedient of which the blinded inhabitants of that doomed
city never dreamed, which rendered their impregnable fortifications
useless. Nor would the Romans have probably prevailed against Jerusalem
had not famine decimated and weakened the people. Fortified cities,
though scarcely ever impregnable, were yet more in use in ancient than
modern times, and greatly delayed the operations of advancing armies.
And it was probably the fortified camp of the Romans, which protected an
army against surprises and other misfortunes, which gave such efficacy
to the legions.

[Sidenote: The Tribunes.]

[Sidenote: The Centurions.]

[Sidenote: Gradation of ranks.]

The chief officers of the legion were the tribunes, and originally there
was one in each legion from the three tribes - the Ramnes, Luceres, and
Tities. In the time of Polybius the number in each legion was six. Their
authority extended equally over the whole legion; but, to prevent
confusion, it was the custom for these military tribunes to divide
themselves into three sections of two, and each pair undertook the
routine duties for two months out of six. They nominated the centurions,
and assigned to each the company to which he belonged. These tribunes,
at first, were chosen by the commander-in-chief, - by the kings and
consuls; but during the palmy days of the republic, when the patrician
power was preeminent, they were elected by the people, that is, the
citizens. Later they were named half by the Senate and half by the
consuls. No one was eligible to this great office who had not served ten
years in the infantry or five in the cavalry. They were distinguished by
their dress from the common soldier. Next in rank to the tribunes, who
corresponded to the rank of brigadiers and colonels in our times, were
the centurions, of whom there were sixty in each legion, - men who were
more remarkable for calmness and sagacity than for courage and daring
valor; men who would keep their posts at all hazards. It was their duty
to drill the soldiers, to inspect arms, clothing, and food, to visit the
sentinels, and regulate the conduct of the men. They had the power of
inflicting corporal punishment. They were chosen for merit solely, until
the later ages of the empire, when their posts were bought, as in the
English army. These centurions were of unequal rank, - those of the
Triarii before those of the Principes, and those of the Principes before
those of the Hastati. The first centurion of the first maniple of the
Triarii stood next in rank to the tribunes, and had a seat in the
military councils, and his office was very lucrative. To his charge was
intrusted the eagle of the legion. [Footnote: Liv. xxv. 5; Caes.
_B.C._, vi. 6.] As the centurion could rise from the ranks, and
rose by regular gradation through the different maniples of the Hastati,
Principes, and Triarii, there was great inducement held out to the
soldiers. In the Roman legion it would seem that there was a regular
gradation of rank although there were but few distinct offices. But the
gradation was not determined by length of service, but for merit alone,
of which the tribunes were the sole judges. Hence the tribune of a Roman
legion had more power than that of a modern colonel. As the tribunes
named the centurions, so the centurions appointed their lieutenants, who
were called sub-centurions.

[Sidenote: Change in the organization of the legions.]

There was a change in the constitution and disposition of the legion
after the time of Marius, until the fall of the republic. The legions
were thrown open to men of all grades; they were all armed and equipped
alike; the lines were reduced to two, with a space between each cohort,
of which there were five in each line; the young soldiers were placed in
the rear, and not the van; the distinction between Hastati, Principes,
and Triarii ceased; the Velites disappeared, their work being done by
the foreign mercenaries; the cavalry ceased to be part of the legion,
and became a distinct body; and the military was completely severed from
the rest of the state. Formerly no one could aspire to office who had
not completed ten years of military service, but in the time of Cicero a
man could pass through all the great dignities of the state with a very
limited experience of military life. Cicero himself served but one

[Sidenote: Changes under the emperors.]

[Sidenote: Pay of soldiers.]

Under the emperors, there were still other changes. The regular army
consisted of legions and supplementa, - the latter being subdivided into
the imperial guards and the auxiliary troops. The auxiliaries (Socii)
consisted of troops from the states in alliance with Rome, or those
compelled to furnish subsidies. The infantry of the allies was generally
more numerous than that of the Romans, while the cavalry was three times
as numerous. All the auxiliaries were paid by the state; the infantry
received the same pay as the Roman infantry, but the cavalry only two
thirds of what was paid to the Roman cavalry. The common foot-soldier
received in the time of Polybius three and a half asses a day, equal to
about six farthings sterling money; the horseman three times as much.
The Praetorian cohorts received twice as much as the legionaries. Julius
Caesar allowed about six asses a day as the pay of the legionary, and
under Augustus the daily pay was raised to ten asses - little more than
four pence per day. Domitian raised the stipend still higher. The
soldier, however, was fed and clothed by the government.

[Sidenote: The Praetorian cohort.]

The Praetorian cohort was a select body of troops instituted by Augustus
to protect his person, and consisted of ten cohorts, each of one
thousand men, chosen from Italy. This number was increased by Vitellius
to sixteen thousand, and they were assembled by Tiberius in a permanent
camp, which was strongly fortified. They had peculiar privileges, and
when they had served sixteen years, received twenty thousand sesterces,
or more than one hundred pounds sterling. Each Praetorian had the rank of
a centurion in the regular army. Like the body-guard of Louis XIV., they
were all gentlemen, and formed gradually a great power, like the
janissaries at Constantinople, and frequently disposed of the purple
itself. It would thus appear that the centurion only received twice the
pay of the ordinary legionary. There was not therefore so much
difference in rank between a private and a captain as in our day. There
were no aristocratic distinctions in the ancient world so marked as in
the modern.

[Sidenote: The Roman camp.]

[Sidenote: The guardianship of the camp.]

[Sidenote: The breaking up of the camp.]

Our notice of the Roman legion would be incomplete without allusion to
the camp in which the soldier virtually lived. A Roman army never halted
for a single night without forming a regular intrenchment capable of
holding all the fighting men, the beasts of burden, and the baggage.
When the army could not retire, during the winter months, into some
city, it was compelled to live in the camp. It was arranged and
fortified according to a uniform plan, so that every company and
individual had a place assigned. We cannot tell when this practice of
intrenchment began; it was matured gradually, like all other things
pertaining to the art of war. The system was probably brought to
perfection during the wars with Hannibal. Skill in the choice of ground,
giving facilities for attack and defense, and for procuring water and
other necessities, was of great account with the generals. An area of
about five thousand square feet was allowed for a company of infantry,
and ten thousand feet for a troop of thirty dragoons. The form of a camp
was an exact square, the length of each side being two thousand and
seventeen feet. There was a space between the ramparts and the tents of
two hundred feet to facilitate the marching in and out of soldiers, and
to guard the cattle and booty. The principal street was one hundred feet
wide, and was called Principia. The defenses of the camp consisted of a
ditch, the earth from which was thrown inwards, and strong palisades of
wooden stakes upon the top of the earthwork so formed. The ditch was
sometimes fifteen feet deep, and the vallum or rampart ten feet in
height. When the army encamped for the first time the tribunes
administered an oath to each individual, including slaves, to the effect
that they would steal nothing out of the camp. Every morning at
daybreak, the centurions and the equites presented themselves before the
tents of the tribunes, and the tribunes in like manner presented
themselves to the praetorian, to learn the orders of the consuls, which
through the centurions were communicated to the soldiers. Four companies
took charge of the principal street, to see that it was properly cleaned
and watered. One company took charge of the tent of the tribune, a
strong guard attended to the horses, and another of fifty men stood
beside the tent of the general that he might be protected from open
danger and secret treachery. The velites mounted guard the whole night
and day along the whole extent of the vallum, and each gate was guarded
by ten men. The equites were intrusted with the duty of acting as
sentinels during the night, and most ingenious measures were adopted to
secure their watchfulness and fidelity. The watchword for the night was
given by the commander-in-chief. "On the first signal being given by the
trumpet, the tents were all struck and the baggage packed. At the second
signal, the baggage was placed upon the beasts of burden; and at the
third the whole army began to move. Then the herald, standing at the
right hand of the general, demands thrice if they are ready for war, to
which they all respond with loud and repeated cheers that they are
ready, and for the most part, being filled with martial ardor,
anticipate the question, 'and raise their right hands on high with a
shout.'" [Footnote: Smith, _Dict. of Ant._, art. _Castra_.]

[Sidenote: Line of March.]

Josephus gives an account of the line of march in which the army of
Vespasian entered Galilee. "1. The light-armed auxiliaries and bowmen,
advancing to reconnoiter. 2. A detachment of Roman heavy-armed troops,
horse and foot. 3. Ten men out of every century or company, carrying
their own equipments and the measures of the camp. 4. The baggage of
Vespasian and his legati guarded by a strong body of horse. 5. Vespasian
himself, attended by his horse-guard and a body of spearmen. 6. The
peculiar cavalry of the legion. 7. The artillery dragged by mules. 8.
The legati, tribunes, and praefects of cohorts, guarded by a body of
picked soldiers. 9. The standards, surrounding the eagle. 10. The
trumpeters. 11. The main body of the infantry, six abreast, accompanied
by a centurion, whose duty it was to see that the men kept their ranks.
12. The whole body of slaves attached to each legion, driving the mules
and beasts of burden loaded with the baggage. 13. Behind all the legions
followed the mercenaries. 14. The rear was brought up by a strong body
of cavalry and infantry." [Footnote: Josephus, _B. J._, iii.
6, Section 2.]

[Sidenote: Excitements of military life.]

[Sidenote: Smallness of the Roman armies.]

[Sidenote: How battles were decided.]

From what has come down to us of Roman military life, it appears to have
been full of excitement, toil, danger, and hardship. The pecuniary
rewards of the soldier were small. He was paid in glory. No profession
brought so much honor as the military. And from the undivided attention
of a great people to this profession, it was carried to all the
perfection which could be attained until the great invention of
gunpowder changed the art of war. It was not the number of men employed
in the armies which particularly arrests attention, but the spirit and
genius which animated them. The Romans loved war, but so reduced it to a
science that it required comparatively small armies to conquer the
world. Sulla defeated Mithridates with only thirty thousand men, while
his adversary marshaled against him over one hundred thousand; and Caesar

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 5 of 50)