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Pay of Roman legionary

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Legionnaires' column
Legionnaires' column


Roman army during the republic was a popular mobilization in the event of a threat. After winning the war, the army was dismissed home without reward, as service was compulsory. Wage (stipendium) appeared as a salary at the turn of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. probably during the battles between Rome and the city of Veii. The Romans besieged Veii for 10 years, all the time keeping the army under arms, which required paying for the soldiers discouraged by the long struggle.

The real changes came after Gaius Marius’ military reform in 102 BCE. It was then that, with the introduction of the professional army, regular wages were paid to soldiers. At that time it was usually around 5 aces a day.

Centurion usually earned five times more than a regular soldier.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

No salary changes were made until 6 CE when Octavian Augustus created a special military treasure – a fund for the maintenance of the army, the provision of war invalids and pensions for veterans, called Aerarium Militare. This fund functioned basically throughout the entire period of the empire. He was supported by the proceeds from public sales and the succession obligation. It was managed by three prefects – praefecti aerarii militaris. Initially, they were chosen by lot by the emperor from senators, the rank of praetors, for a period of three years. The fund was to be responsible for paying the pay of active soldiers, which was established on the so-called 3 stipendia of 75 denarii each. So every year legionaries received 225 denarii in their purses. The riders had similar earnings. A foot soldier from auxilia received 3 stipends for 25 denarii a year, while a soldier of the city cohorts was entitled to 3 x 125 denarii. The income of the praetorians was noticeably higher because 250 denarii came to the guardsman’s apartment every 4 months. Thus the praetorians received 750 denarii for the orderly service each year.

During the rule of Domitian, the basic height of the stipendium did not change, however a fourth was added which increased the amount of the pay to 300 denarii per year for an ordinary legionary and rider; for a member of the city cohort up to 500; and for the praetorians, up to 1,000 denarii. Thus, military salaries during the reign of Domitian increased by 1/3.

At the same time, since the times of emperor Claudius (Octavian Augustus also had a large role), a system of remuneration for soldiers leaving the service: a veteran of the city and praetorian cohorts received 5,000 denarii and a plot of land in Italy, a veteran of legions 3,000 denarii and a plot of land in the provinces, a veteran of auxilia 1 thousand denarii and Roman citizenship. These amounts did not change until the 3rd century CE, to the emperor Caracalla, who raised the basic allowance to 5,000 denarii. The retirement severance pay was generally called praemia. A private legionary always received the lowest severance pay compared to non-commissioned officers, officers and other specialists who received 1.5-2 times higher severance; not to mention the praetorians whose rates were different. After his retirement, the centurion of the 1st cohort (primus pilus) was automatically transferred to the Ekvik state. He could also become the prefect of the camp of one of the legions. Primus pilus becoming equine could also get a high function in the provincial administration of the province. In addition, when he retired, he received a much greater severance pay than other centurions lower in the command hierarchy.
In addition, there were also donativa, which were one-off sums paid to soldiers by the new emperor ascending the throne.

A further increase in pay was for Emperor Commodus, who added 5 stipendium to the soldiers in the year so: annual auxiliary income were 125, legionaries 375, city cohorts 625, and praetorians 1,250 denarii. The material situation of the soldiers was gradually improving.
On the other hand, emperor Septimius Sever raised the army’s pay again, this time by raising the height of the stipendium itself: stipendium of the legionary and auxiliary (during the reign of Severus the differences between these formations disappeared) was 100 denarii1, and the praetorians and members of the city cohorts were 350 denarii. Thus, for example, a praetorian received 1,500 denarii a year. At the same time, Severus allowed the soldiers to marry during the service and introduced the principle that the veteran is released from all burdens for the benefit of the state treasury for life. At the same time, he simplified the path of promotion, centorions automatically became equites and could advance further in the hierarchy. At the same time, it changed the way of recruiting praetorians – before that, Italians who wanted to join the army remained so. From Severus, the most distinguished soldiers from the legions and auxiliary became praetorians. So it was a form of promotion and a reward for showing off on the battlefield.

It also happened many times that the emperors gave their soldiers individual raises. They were the so-called “occasional” salaries. Caligula, for example, after the successful campaign in Brittany, paid each legionary an additional 100 denarii. Claudius, in turn, started the situation of rewarding the Praetorian Guard for helping them gain the throne. Later emperors even felt obliged to follow this custom.

Evocati these were soldiers of the Roman army veteran status who voluntarily re-enrolled in military service after receiving such an offer from the commander. Evocati were better paid than regular legionaries and did not have to fulfil some common soldier duties (such as building roads or fortifications).

In addition to the pay, the legionaries could count on additional income (praemia) related to victories on the battlefield, which they obtained in cash or in kind, i.e. land. Emperor Augustus set the value of this income up to 3,000 denarii, while Caracalla raised this to 5,000 denarii2.

Centurions are believed to receive at least five times the pay of ordinary foot soldiers. Here, however, there are some differences among the categories of centurions that commanded more or less important centurions.

  • Primus ordo earned twice as much as a regular centurion.
  • Primus pilus earned four times as much as a regular centurion.

An infantry soldier in auxiliary divisions earned around 100 denarii a year, while a rider earned 225 denarii.


The usual stipendium, however, was not enough for the average soldier who for 16-25 years was still risking his life in combat. He needed tangible material benefits, i.e. the spoils of war that constituted additional income. One of such ways to obtain valuables was to take part in the looting and plundering of conquered cities. Latin writers rendered the activity of plundering the city with the verb diripio and its verbal noun direptio. What was understood by the term direptio is presented in the complaint of the inhabitants of Locrians against the Roman crew, addressed to the Senate in 204 BCE. In the translation of Livius:

All plunder, spoil, beat, wound, and slay; all defile matrons, virgins, and free-born youths torn from the embraces of their parents. Our city is captured daily, plundered daily. Day and night, every place indiscriminately rings with the lamentations of women and children, seized and carried away.

Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, XXIX.17

The fullest and most detailed description of direptio in Latin literature is left by Tacitus on the occasion of Flavian’s capture of Cremona in 70 CE:

Forty thousand armed men burst into the town; the number of camp-followers and servants was even greater; and they were more ready to indulge in lust and cruelty. Neither rank nor years protected anyone; their assailants debauched and killed without distinction. Aged men and women near the end of life, though despised as booty, were dragged off to be the soldiers’ sport. Whenever a young woman or a handsome youth fell into their hands, they were torn to pieces by the violent struggles of those who tried to secure them, and this in the end drove the despoilers to kill one another. Individuals tried to carry off for themselves money or the masses of gold dedicated in the temples, but they were assailed and slain by others stronger than themselves. Some, scorning the booty before their eyes, flogged and tortured the owners to discover hidden wealth and dug up buried treasure. They carried firebrands in their hands, and when they had secured their loot, in utter wantonness they threw these into the vacant houses and empty temples. In this army there were many passions corresponding to the variety of speech and customs, for it was made up of citizens, allies, and foreigners; no two held the same thing sacred and there was no crime which was held unlawful. For four days did Cremona supply food for destruction. When everything sacred and profane sank into the flames, there stood solitary outside the walls the temple of Mefitis,​7 protected by either its position or its deity.

Tacitus, The Histories, III.33

  1. Zasady wynagradzania (żold, nagrody pieniężne, odprawy emerytalne), "LEGIO XIIII"
  2. Philip Sabin,Hans van Wees,Michael Whitby, The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, Tom 2
  • Campbell J. B., The Emperor and the Roman Army: 31 BC - AD 235
  • Erdkamp Paul, A Companion to the Roman Army
  • Malinowski Janusz (praca doktorska), Opieka socjalna w Starożytnym Rzymie
  • McNabb Chris, The Roman Army The Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World
  • Rankov Boris, The Praetorian Guard

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