The Great Ancient Roman Empire relied heavily on its army which was one of the greatest fighting forces of all time. Indeed the Roman Empire would not have existed had it not been in part due to the fact that the Roman Army was a well-trained highly skilled fighting force. Let's take a look at how the Roman Army existed and lived plus explore how or if they had a family life at all.
When it came to the home life of a Roman soldier there simply wasn't one! Roman soldiers were expected to stay single and they relied heavily on their mother and sisters to keep their spirits up by way of letter writing when they were away fighting. It wasn't until the year 197 AD that the no marriage rule was lifted. Only men were allowed into the army and they had to be a Roman citizen of twenty years of age to join up. Soldiers were expected to stay in the army for twenty five years after which they could retire from active service and receive a pension or alternatively some land that they could settle on and farm.
Many former soldiers would live together in communities probably for companionship once they retired. Many poor Romans joined the army as a means of escape or to better themselves. This is similar to today where people join up because they find it hard to find employment. A Roman soldier earned around three hundred denarii a year, while non Romans could also join the army to serve as auxiliary soldiers so gaining citizenship and a retirement pension.
When planning to engage an enemy in battle the day of the Roman soldier would begin very early. Before day light they would pack up their tents and equipment that weighed around forty pounds, and carry them while marching to the location specified. If a soldier was a cavalry scout they would ride out ahead in order to ascertain where the enemy were and what they were doing. Scouts would also look for the perfect location in which to set up camp.
Once the troops arrived at the camp site they would then set about digging a ditch around the camp in order to build a rampart which was a defensive structure. On top of the rampart the troops would erect sharpened stakes making the structure similar to that of a fort offering protection for the legionnaires.
Roman Army Hierarchy
The lowest level of Roman soldier was the legionnaire. There were around six thousand legionnaires in a legion, while the whole legion was under the command of a Legatus. Training to become a legionnaire was intense with often brutal exercises to follow, while legionnaires relied on one another totally and the whole legion could be punished if just one soldier underperformed especially if the battle was lost. This kept the Roman soldiers on their toes plus it created a formidable fighting force.
The Roman army had around thirty legions with each legion divided into a cohort of six troops each with eighty legionnaires. These in turn were called centuries and were under the command of a centurion. The centurion in charge ruled supreme and was able to punish a legionnaire by beating him with his rod if he was out of line. The Legatus was however the overall head of the legions.
A Legionnaire's Armour and Weaponry
A Roman soldier carried three main types of weapon the Pilum, the Gladius and the Pugio. The Scutum was the Roman soldier's defensive weapon.
The Pilum was very much like a javelin that we would see being thrown at the modern Olympics. The Pilum was not used in close hand to hand battle but was thrown at the enemy as the soldiers ran towards them. The Pilum was used as a diversion in that armies that were trying to avoid the Pilums being rained down on them would not be concentrating on the attacking men heading towards them.
The Pilum caused untold damage to anyone that was unlucky enough to have one sink into their body, while the head shape made it difficult to pull the weapon out of the victim without inflicting even more damage. When the tip of the Pilum was lost or buried in a victim the Roman soldier could remove the wooden shaft to use once again when a new head was fitted.
The Gladius was a short sword that was used in close combat. The shortness of the handle made it ideal for fighting at close quarters as it offered plenty of accuracy and control. The Gladius was as sharp as a razor therefore inflicted horrendous injuries to the victim or enemy and was one of the most important weapons a Roman soldier possessed.
The Pugio was a small dagger that Roman soldiers would use in battle if they had lost all their other weaponry. Not as useful as the Gladius the Pugio was fine as a last resort!
The Scutum or shield was a very important part of the Roman soldier's armoury. Used as a defensive weapon the soldiers would sometimes raise the Scutum above their heads to make one huge shield to protect them against incoming fire. The curved shape of the shield offered great body protection.
The armour a Roman soldier would wear was made from a combination of leather and strips of sturdy iron. He wore a metal helmet called a Galea to protect his head. Soldiers wore leather sandals with iron studs and leather soles. These were impractical as many soldiers would slip and slide on the muddy battle field when wearing them.
Battering Rams were used along with siege towers, while battering rams had a cover made of animal hides and wood. The cover offered protection from attack from above although could not defend against fire.
Catapults or Onagers as they were known were used to fire enormous boulders at walls in order to break them down. The Romans would also fire iron bolts via catapult at advancing troops inflicting horrific injuries.
Roman soldiers were very fit and they trained intensely in order to keep so. They would run for miles, march for miles sometimes up to twenty per day and practise fighting each other. Roman soldiers were able to confront any obstacles they encountered due to their superb prowess. This included swimming across rivers, building bridges and breaking their way into defensive forts. The Roman soldier always carried his weapons and armour along with food and even cooking pots. Roman soldiers were taught to obey orders without question. They would train in lines marching forward as this was how they formed shape going into battle.
Training for the Roman soldier was fierce, vicious and aggressive with new recruits put through their paces intensely. New recruits would always be placed up front when going into battle in order to give them confidence, stop them deserting the line if courage failed them plus soldiers on the front line were more likely to be killed which meant the experienced soldiers coming up the rear would be more likely to survive to fight another day. Should the new recruit survive they too would become an experienced soldier and follow new recruits from behind.
Legionnaires would be supported in battle by the cavalry who would usually lead an onslaught on the flanks not only creating a diversion but also destroying the enemy around the sides of the battle field. Cavalry was also useful when chasing a retreating army making the enemy that was running away more vulnerable as cavalry charges caused great panic. Roman cavalry rode without stirrups too a fact that seems to be overlooked in many movies.
Centurions were responsible for the training of their troops and were tasked with ensuring their century became a formidable fighting machine. Any century that underperformed was punished with every tenth man singled out and killed. This punishment was known as the Decimus and became a warning to other units that if they too underperformed many of their men would die in this often used ritual.
The Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard were the elite soldiers who protected the emperor and were a prestigious military unit. This special force also quelled rioters and were used as security during gladiator events and chariot races. The Praetorian Guard became a formidable force that had a lot of influence when it came to the everyday working of Imperial Rome. The Guard appeared around 27 BC soon after Augustus Caesar became emperor and was responsible for the protection of many Roman leaders thereafter. The Praetorian Guard consisted of some ten thousand men and would guard Roman rulers for over three hundred years becoming great political players along the way.
The Advantages of Becoming a Praetorian Guard
Serving as a Praetorian Guard offered elite status to a Roman soldier with many pluses and benefits the regular Roman soldier did not have. Praetorian Guard soldiers only served sixteen years rather than the twenty five a regular soldier served. Members of the guard could expect to win promotion easier with the prospect of reaching the rank of centurion a positive one.
The wages of a Praetorian Guard soldier were also one and a half times more than that of a regular soldier. In fact a Praetorian Guard could expect to be considerably richer than the average Roman citizen. The guards were paid bonuses for their loyalty, while their retirement pot was much larger than the regular Roman soldier as they received five thousand denarii, a land settlement and military diploma. Many guards were politically active wielding great power as the years passed. They could make or break emperors and even murder them if they wished. The guard would swap allegiances to whomever they thought was more likely to succeed demonstrating that a powerful force in great numbers must not only be managed but feared too!
Further Duties of the Praetorian Guard
Secret Police Force
The Praetorian Guard would work under cover to root out enemies of the emperor. They would attend gladiator contests disguised as Roman citizens in order to pick out anyone who spoke ill of the emperor. They would spy on people who were considered to be enemies of the emperor and in some cases perform executions of individuals without formal trial or representation.
There were many fires in Ancient Rome with blazes breaking out on a regular basis. Rome did have a fire fighting force but when a fire was particularly fierce and there were fears that it may spread quickly the Praetorian Guard were called in to assist. The emperor encouraged his guard to get involved with firefighting as this displayed to Roman Citizens that their emperor was indeed a caring considerate ruler.
Performers at the Games
The Praetorian Guard not only went to the games in order to spy but would occasionally join in the entertainment. The soldiers would fight wild animals to demonstrate their skills and prowess. They even took part in a naval battle sequence in 52 AD hosted by Emperor Claudius where over one hundred boats and thousands of men performed in a mock battle on the Fucine Lake. The guard armed with catapults battled against men who were prisoners and slaves stopping them from escaping.
The Final Hurrah!
In the 4th century AD the Praetorian Guard chose to back Maxentius pretender to the throne of the Emperor Constantine. The army of Maxentius was defeated by Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. Constantine decided that he could no longer trust the Praetorian Guard and had them disbanded. The soldiers of the guard were divided up and sent to all corners of the Roman Empire. The Castra Praetoria in Rome which was home to the guard was destroyed ending three hundred years of service by the Praetorian Guard.