The Roman Legion

The individual legions were in the Roman Empire independently operating large associations which usually consisted of 3,000 to 6,000 soldiers, riders and auxiliaries and consisted of 6/5. Century before Christ until the early 7th century.


The introduction of a professional army, the continuous development of weapons and equipment, as well as a high degree of education and discipline, made the legions an essential factor in the spread of the Roman Empire and its preservation.




The beginnings:

In the early days of the Roman Empire, the term legion referred to the entire military army of Rome. Only through the growth of the empire and the establishment of several armies, the army was divided into individual legions, which can be compared with today's divisions.

At the beginning, the legions were mainly equipped with conscripts, but this was changed by the army reform of Emperor Augustus around 107 BC. who made of the army a standing professional army, which was stationed mainly at the borders of the empire.

The origin of the Legion was marked by the Greek Hoplite phalanxes, whose main weapon lances were and in three thousand under three tribunes (tribuni militum) moved into the field. In addition, there were 300 riders (centuriae) among the three department leaders (tribuni celerum). So the legions initially consisted of 3,300 men, after the union of the Palatine mountains with the hill tribes of Quirinal the legion was doubled to 6,600 men. At that time there was only 1 legion in Rome, which designated the whole army.

In the Legion served the citizens of the first squad from the age of 18 to 46 years. The older vintages had to occupy the city fortifications at home. In addition to the Romans, troops of allies, the so-called Latin allies of Rome (socii), were already deployed at the beginning.

After the enlargement of the Roman sphere of influence became from the 4. Century v. Chr. Several legions have already been set up in the 3rd century BC.


Organisationsschema einer Legion

Organization pattern of a Legion


Organisationsschema der Hilfstruppen

Organization pattern of the auxiliary troops




Legions at the time of the Roman Republic until 27 BC.

At the time of the Roman Republic, the legions still existed as a citizen militia. Thus, in the event of war, the citizens of Rome were called to arms, which was quite common. Every five years, citizens were censored into five classes based on their assets, which also determined the type of service in which each citizen was employed. Since every citizen had to pay for his own equipment, the privileged genera were only accessible to those who had the necessary money to afford it. So wealthy citizens were put into the cavalry and called equites, the less wealthy came to the infantry and there were also divided into three classes, with the poorer came to the light infantry.

The poorest citizens, called capite censi (Latin: those numbered in the head because they had no other possessions), did not have to serve.

After the army reform by Emperor Augustus, the legions consisted increasingly of volunteer professional soldiers. At that time, the entire Roman army embraced about 25 legions, which were, however, mostly far below their target strength of 6,600 men by the Civil War.

In addition to the legions, which consisted mainly of Roman citizens, so-called auxiliary troops were often used the numerically equivalent to a legion. These were used as reinforcement of the foot troops or special units, which often exceeded the Roman infantry and cavalry in quality and even replaced with time. For example, the unerring archers from Crete, the slingers from the Balearic Islands or the cavalry of Gallic and Germanic origin.

The mission of the Legion's own cavalry was thus mainly divided on reconnaissance and courier and reporting services.
As grooms and drivers served usually slaves. The number of grooms was estimated at 700 per legion, the driver at 300. So a legion were about 1,200 pack animals available.




The army reform of Marius 104 BC.

Due to the increasing defeats against the Cimbri, Teutons and Ambrons reform of the army had become inevitable. Although numerous changes in the experience gained through the last wars resulted, however, the Refom changed by Gaius Marius from 104 BC. decisive in both positive and negative sense the structure, equipment and future of Roman legions.

Among other things, Marius lowered the minimum income (census) for recruits, which was later completely abolished. In return, the soldiers no longer had to pay for their own equipment, so that accession to the army was made possible even poorer citizens and the entire army could be gradually equipped uniformly.

In addition, the legion eagle was introduced to increase the motivation of the troop.

As a result of which the soldiers had to carry their own luggage from now on, see report on the Roman legionary "Click here!" The speed of the march could be increased drastically, because now no more consideration had to be taken on the slow escorts. Thus, the load animals per legion reduced to about 540 animals.

A decisive turning point was the omission of the classification of the weapon classes into the respective asset class of the citizen. Instead, from then on the seniority was authoritative, so that the most experienced soldiers could lead the troupe.
A new addition was that after a 16-year service, the pensions of the soldiers was taken over by the state. These were awarded after leaving the army a piece of land on which they could settle down. Due to the fact that the claims of the veterans were to be enforced politically by the respective army commander, a very close dependence on the respective army commander, the so-called army clientele, developed. Thus, the loyalty of the soldiers to their army leader came more into focus than the loyalty to the state, which later developed into the civil wars to the detriment and will have a part to the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire result.

From an organizational point of view, the division of legions by Marius was also adjusted.
Thus, a legion then existed as follows:
- 1 legion out of 10 cohorts = 3600-6000 men
- 1 cohort of 3 manipules = 360-600 men
- 1 maniple of 2 centurias = 120-200 men;
- 1 centuria with 80 men
- Each legion was also assigned to 300 equites.

The command led a legate, often for political reasons, to whom six (mostly very young) military tribunes were assigned as legionary officers.


Legionsstandorte um 190

Legion locations around 190 AD.




The legion of the early and early imperial period until 284 AD.

The structure and structure of the legions were hardly changed during the early and high imperial period.
One focus was on the construction and deployment of Auxiliartruppen who, according to their specific Archers or their origin were divided.
The Roman legions fell during this time mainly administrative tasks, border security tasks and infrastructure development.


Römische Legionäre um 70 n. Chr.

Roman legionaries around 70 AD.


Auxiliarsoldat um 175 n. Chr.

Auxiliary soldier around 175 AD.




The legion in late antiquity until 602 AD.

The beginning of late antiquity was marked by heavy defeats against the Goths and Sassanids in the period between 244 and 260. In addition, the civil war continued to rage within the empire, so that countless legionaries were killed, whole legions were destroyed and then could not be repositioned.

For this reason, the army was reformed by 260 by Emperor Gallienus. Thus, the command of the legions was withdrawn from the senators and professional soldiers transferred, also the proportion of the cavalry was increased and reduced the tactical infantry units.
Through this restructuring and adaptation to the new antagonisms, the legions were then able to win important battles for decades, pushing back Goths, Franks and Alemanni and successfully reintegrating renegade parts of the empire. Likewise, the legions even managed to plunder the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon.

The military reform of Diocletian in the period 284 to 305 again crucial changes were carried out. Thus, the number of legions was increased to about 60, in turn lowered the target strength to 1,000 soldiers. The equipment of the soldiers changed seriously. Thus the throwing spear (pilum) was replaced by a barbed lance (hasta), the short sword (gladius) by the longsword (spatha), the panzer armor disappeared, the rectangular shield was replaced by the round shield widely used by the auxiliaries.
After the defeat 378 at Adrianople also the heavy armor was exchanged for a lighter chain mail to increase the mobility of the army.
There was also an increase in the number of non-resident mercenaries (foederati) who fought under their own leaders in the Roman army.


Römischer Legionär gegen Ende des 3. Jahrhunderts

Roman legionary at the end of the 3rd century


The imperial army was finally subdivided around the year 320 in
- border army (Limitanei)
- Marsh army (Comitatenses)
- Guards (Palatini)

The strategic role of the cavalry increased steadily over time, which was particularly noticeable in the fight against the Persian Sassanids with their armored riders. In turn, the infantry lost more and more importance, but never disappeared from the battlefield.

After the Battle of Adrianople in 378 the East Roman army could be brought back to nominal strength with difficulty, in the Western Roman Empire, however, already 351 were completely destroyed in the Battle of Musra and in 394 in the Battle of Frigidus several legions and not new established.
Due to the decay of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century, the Western Roman legions dissolved accordingly, if they had not been destroyed before. In the Eastern Roman Empire, however, the legions continued to exist and were only dissolved in the fighting with the Sassanids and Arabs in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. One of the last legions is e.g. the legio IV Parthica which is mentioned under Emperor Mauricius (582-602).


Frühe römische Kavallerie

Early Roman cavalry


Römische Offiziere

Roman officers


Römische Speerkämpfer

Roman spearmen






You can find the right literature here:


Legions of Rome: The Definitive History of Every Imperial Roman Legion

Legions of Rome: The Definitive History of Every Imperial Roman Legion Hardcover – July 3, 2012

The complete history of every Imperial Roman legion and what it achieved as a fighting force, by an award-winning historian

In this landmark publication, Stephen Dando-Collins does what no other author has ever attempted to do: provide a complete history of every Imperial Roman legion. Based on thirty years of meticulous research, he covers every legion of Rome in rich detail. In the first part of the book, the author provides a detailed account of what the legionaries wore and ate, what camp life was like, what they were paid, and how they were motivated and punished. Part two examines the histories of all the legions that served Rome for three hundred years starting in 30 BC. The book's final section is a sweeping chronological survey of the campaigns in which the armies were involved, told from the point of view of the legions. Featuring more than 150 maps, photographs, diagrams and battle plans, Legions of Rome is an essential read for ancient history enthusiasts, military history experts and general readers alike.

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The Complete Roman Legions

The Complete Roman Legions 1st Edition

The legions of Rome were among the greatest fighting forces in history. For almost half a millennium they secured the known world under the power of the Caesars. This pioneering account gathers together the stories of each and every individual legion, telling the tales of their triumphs and defeats as they policed the empire and enlarged its borders.

• Part I examines the legions of the Republic from Rome’s foundation to Caesar’s legions and those of Octavian and Mark Antony in the civil wars.

• Part II provides “biographies” of all forty-five legions from 31 BC to the third century AD.

• Part III discusses the legions of Late Antiquity in the declining years of Rome’s hegemony.

• Datafiles on each legion and detailed box features on major topics complement the text.

212 illustrations, 204 in color

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The Roman Army: The History and Legacy of the Military that Revolutionized Ancient Warfare and Made Rome a Global Empire

The Roman Army: The History and Legacy of the Military that Revolutionized Ancient Warfare and Made Rome a Global Empire Paperback – November 29, 2017

*Includes pictures
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
The Roman army is one of the most famous fighting forces in history. Through its power and prowess, a once obscure Italian city forged an empire that encircled the Mediterranean and covered half of Europe. The physical remains of its presence can be traced from the mountainous borders of Scotland to the arid deserts of Egypt, but its legacy is far greater and more enduring, as Rome's influence continues to shape the political, legal, and cultural landscape of Europe to this very day.
While the Roman army is rightly famed as an institution, the image of the individual legionary is also an iconic one. The uniformed, disciplined soldier of the late Republic and early Empire is one of the first things many people imagine when they think of Rome. They are the ultimate image of the ancient soldier, their arms and armor instantly recognizable. Their abilities, not only as warriors but also as engineers and administrators, have made them role models for other soldiers through the centuries. In the same vein, their commanders are still celebrated and studied, and generals the world over have tried to emulate the likes of Julius Caesar.
Of course, recruiting and equipping the Roman army were hardly easy tasks. Gathering new recruits wasn’t difficult since service in the military was a requirement for social advancement, but new soldiers had to be trained to fight as heavy infantry and work together. For these men to be trained properly, however, they needed to have equipment, including swords, shields, javelins, helmets, and assorted armor. In addition to this, the new recruits had to be clothed, fed and paid, while commanders had to be found.
Moreover, one of the key ingredients to Rome’s success was the military’s complete willingness to incorporate discovered technologies. If a different weapon, type of armor, or basic equipment or artillery worked better than what they were using, the Romans were not afraid to adopt that piece of military hardware for their own uses. Thus, the Romans were almost always using the finest military equipment in the world, all of which had long since proven effective on the field of battle.
The Roman Army: The History and Legacy of the Military that Revolutionized Ancient Warfare and Made Rome a Global Empire examines the history of one of the most famous fighting forces in the world. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about the Roman army like never before.

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An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Uniforms of the Roman World: A Detailed Study of the Armies of Rome and Their Enemies, Including the Etruscans, ... Gauls, Huns, Sassaids, Persians and Turks

An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Uniforms of the Roman World: A Detailed Study of the Armies of Rome and Their Enemies, Including the Etruscans, ... Gauls, Huns, Sassaids, Persians and Turks Hardcover – February 16, 2013

An unprecedented visual reference of the fighting men of the period from 8th century BC to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, with over 670 expert images of military dress, weaponry, artillery, ships, siege engines and fortifications.

Click here!



The Roman Army: The Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World (General Military)

The Roman Army: The Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World (General Military) Paperback – May 22, 2012

The image of the Roman legionary is as familiar today as it was to the citizens - and enemies - of the vast Roman Empire two thousand years ago. This book goes beyond the stereotypes found in popular culture to examine the Roman Army from the first armed citizens of the early Republic through the glorious heights of the Imperial legions to the shameful defeats inflicted upon the late Roman Army by the Goths and Huns. Tracing the development of tactics, equipment and training, this work provides a detailed insight into the military force that enable Rome to become the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

As well as describing the changes in the army over the centuries, The Roman Army also sheds light on the talented men who led these soldiers in battle and the momentous battles fought, including Cannae, Pharsalus, and Adrianople. Illustrated with detailed maps, artwork and photographs, this volume provides a complete reference to the Roman Army from the 8th century BC to the period after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.

Click here!






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