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Units of Roman army

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The military strength of Rome resulted from his excellent military organization and detailed structure. The division of the army into individual units, which specialized in specific tasks on the battlefield, gave a great advantage to the Romans.
Armed forces consisted of a land army and a fleet called classis. It was the land forces that constituted the main strength of the Romans. The army has evolved over the centuries, undergoing a series of reforms and changes. It is difficult to determine the number of troops in the time of the Republic, as it has constantly changed. In the times of the Pompey’s wars with Caesar, and Octavian with Antony in the years 48-30 BCE army reached up to 500,000 soldiers.

The Roman army was characterized by a multitude of positions, units and functions. There were garrison doctors (medici) and paramedics (seplasiarii – literally “people from the ointment”). There were also veterinarians (veterinarii) basically taking care for horses, draft animals, oxen and mule, and in general the entire livestock belonging to the ward. Cornicorn – trumpeter – also had obvious responsibilities, while tesserarius was responsible for the “sign” with the password of the day (tessera). He was graded third in centurii or squadron, after centurion and decurion and their next deputy. Beneficiarius could represent his commander fulfilling various functions; cornicularius, whose title referred to a small corner attached to his helmet, was the older among the “scribe” serving in the commander’s office. Finally, signifer, a bearer, is described, like vexillarius, who took care of the vexillum of the unit, when he was away from his home unit.

We also meet various other descriptions of soldiers presenting the duties assigned to them and not related to pay additions, for example: Lucius scutarius (“making shields”); Tulio carpentarius (“wheel manufacturer”); Vitalis balniator (“bathroom”) and Atrectus cervesarius (“brewer”). However, these were not units. More positions or functions.

The army also included the so-called exploratores – scouts who had to check where the water intake was located in the new area, where food can be gathered, where it is worth to camp, whether the roads are passable, or there is enough trees to build fortifications. A frumentaris created something similar to today’s military intelligence. Frumentarius officially was a grain merchant and acted as a buyer, spinning around the local trade fair among traders and farmers. Buying grain, fruit, vegetables and dealing with other matters, he effectively drew from the local information needed by the command.

There was also a semaphorosis function – this legionary was giving signs by flags at a distance. Another interesting unit was hydraulius, who was a musician in the army.

It can be clearly stated that Rome possessed the most powerful army in the world. Fantastically organized, trained and equipped according to all the rules and regulations of the martial arts of the ancient world. But legions are not just war. In the ranks of the legions there were, apart from soldiers, which is understandable, phenomenal architects, engineers and builders. Roman legionaries built bridges, aqueducts, roads and even whole cities; for which they even burned tiles or bricks, as evidenced by the findings from the mid-1960s made by Polish archaeologists in the former Roman province – Moesia Inferior, which lay on the border between present Bulgaria and Romania (Danubian lowland). There, in Novae, the legion I Italica stationed – near the Bulgarian city of Svisht. To this day, tiles from legio stove with the inscription: Leg I Ital have been preserved. Legionaries also dug tunnels in the mountains, and without the possibilities that today’s builders have. They did not have dynamite, TNT, or powerful drilling machines, and yet they could accomplish architectural wonders. They were eminent builders what is testified by the remains of their works that have survived to this day.

Illustration showing the attacking Roman cavalryman.

This is also confirmed by the written accounts, how big professionals they were. For example, letter from soldier to the family:

If you want to have a job done well, ive it to the army. […] The troubles of civilians increased significantly when they set about building a tunnel through the hills. Digging was started on two sides. I measured both tunnel inlets and it turned out that after the addition, their width would be greater than the width of the entire hill1.

Historia armii rzymskiej, Wydawnictwo Hachette, Paryż 1986

This letter written by a Roman soldier, perhaps an engineer, sounds so modern today that someone who would not know who wrote it would think that it was written yesterday and refer to the engineering troops of a country, and yet it has been 2000 years old. This letter has survived so many years, like the Roman buildings built by legionaries, the best soldiers of the ancient world.

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