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Curiosities of ancient Rome (Army)

The world of ancient Romans abounded in a number of amazing curiosities and information. The source of knowledge about the life of the Romans are mainly works left to us by ancient writers or discoveries. The Romans left behind a lot of strange information and facts that are sometimes hard to believe.

Roman military diplomas – path to Imperial citizenship

In ancient Rome, during its many years of existence, the army played a key role in conquests, maintaining order, and spreading the empire’s influence. However, with Rome’s expansion, the need to recruit soldiers from various regions and cultures led to the formation of special auxiliary units. These soldiers, often not Roman citizens, had their own path to citizenship through receiving a Roman military diploma.

Roman legions became a model for the later organization of tactical associations in the army

Roman army – bloody, brutal, vengeful…

While we marvel at Rome’s achievements – architecture, mosaics, frescoes, literature and law – the truth is painful: the vast empire was not created by extraordinary coincidence, and the peoples incorporated into it were not consulted. Therefore, although later millions of people living in the Mediterranean basin benefited from the benefits of the Pax Romana and relatively rarely rebelled, this happened only after their ancestors paid with their own blood for the “privilege” of living under the heel of the Romans.

In the photo, a reenactment group of "Roman legionaries" during a historical picnic at the Maxentius Hippodrome in October 2018

Latrine in Roman camp

According to archaeologists, in Britain, as many as 40% of Roman military camps have preserved traces of latrines. The most famous toilet is the one made of stone in Housesteads, England, at Hadrian’s wall, which could accommodate more “military”. This type of latrine was most often placed close to the place where the hill fell (the Romans located their camps on elevated terrain), which enabled the natural outflow of waste, relative hygiene and removal of bad smells.

Latrine in Roman camp

Roman camp – work of soldier

Roman camp (castrum Romanum) was characterized by excellent workmanship. It was built of wood, and the work force was legionnaires. It should be noted that the Romans were characterized by excellent building skills.

Drawing showing the marching camp of the Romans. Illustration in Florián de Ocampo's book from 1852

Duel to end the war?

In the years 421-422, the Eastern Roman Empire waged another war with the Sassanid State. The troops, led by magister militum per orientem Ardabur, entered Persian Mesopotamia but were quickly driven back by superior Persian forces.

Photo showing a Parthian cataphract from the 2nd century CE and Armenian from the 3rd century CE

Fimbrian legions

In 67 BCE Lucius Licinius Lucullus was recalled to Rome, and Pompey the Great became the commander of the Roman armies fighting in the east. Lucullus was disliked by the soldiers for being stingy and for limiting their ability to plunder. Most of all, however, he was hated by the Fimbrian legionnaires – veterans with more than 20 years of service behind them.

Roman legionary from the 1st century BCE

Invasions of Getae and Dacians

Dacians and Getae were related barbarian tribes that had rivalled the Romans many times throughout history. They inhabited the territory of present-day Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and even Ukraine. Their greatest advantage was sudden raids on Roman territories, which used the element of surprise, including extremely effective cavalry.

Dacian village from the 1st century CE

Round or square formation

Roman legion (or individual legion units) when defending, when things went too far and the enemy was gaining the upper hand, they adopted defensive formations like orbis – a circle or agmen quadratum – a quadrilateral. Vegetius (4th century CE) also mentions aciesquadrata, i.e. an empty quadrilateral.

Roman orbis formation on a smaller scale

Great defensive structures of Romans

Romans were able to build great defensive structures. High walls and mighty towers were mainly of psychological importance, because the barbarians with whom the Romans fought often had no idea at all about the art of besieging fortresses, and the sight of such fortifications aroused fear and respect in them.

Reconstruction of Castrum Biriciana

How was scutum kept?

To protect against rain scutum – a Roman shield – was hidden during the march in a special cover with goatskin or cowhide. For convenience, the scutum was worn while marching by hanging it over the shoulder or on the back with an attached strap.


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