The first army of Rome was a simple assemblage of warriors gathered together under the
Latin tribal "banner". As far as I can find out, they didn't wear much
armor, if any, and may have used a Greek style "leaf shaped" sword in
addition to a spear, but that's about it.
The army was actually organized, I believe, by Servius Tullius, and was a combined force of Etruscans, Romans, and Latins, and were classified into "Ranks" by the level of their wealth. There were 5 ranks, from the first to the fifth, and then the Cavalry. Each "Century" contained 100 men.
Cavalry (Nobles)[a Maximum of 18 Centuries possible]
First Rank (Heavy Infantry)(Upper Middle Class)[78 Centuries total; field army would have 39]
Armed in Hoplite fashion with a Bronze Helmet, Cuirass, and Greaves; a Long spear, a Greek Style Sword for backup; and an "Argive" style shield (Round and faced either in bronze or leather)
Military Engineers (Upper Middle Class) [2 Centuries; field army would have 1]
When armored, armored as above.
Second Rank (Medium Infantry)(Middle Class)[20 Centuries; field army would have 10]
Armed in hoplite fashion with a Bronze Helmet and Greaves; leather or linen Cuirass; Spear; Sword; and a oval "Scutum".
Third Rank (Light Infantry)(Upper Lower Class)[20 Centuries; field army would have 10]
Bronze helmet; Linen Cuirass; Spear; Sword; Scutum.
Fourth Rank (Light Infantry)(Lower Class)[20 Centuries; field army would have 10]
Spear; light javelin; Scutum
Fifth Rank (Irregular troops)(Pond Scum)[30 Centuries; field army would have 15]
After the Roman got the stuffing kicked out of them by the Gauls in the 4th Century BCE and Rome was sacked, the Dictator Camillus reorganized the army into a form that was a bit more maneuverable than the standard phalanx, and laid the groundwork for the Roman army as we think of it, based on a Legion (or "levy") of about 5000 men. This was further divided into three battle lines or "Ranks" led by a front rank of lighter troops. Each rank was made up of Maniples, each consisting of 2 centuries. In battle these Ranks would be separate waves 80 meters apart.
1st Rank "Velites" (Light Infantry)(Lower Class)[10 maniples of 2 30 man centuries]
Greek Sword or Kopis (aka Spanish Falx); Pilum (Javelin); small shield (round, wood or
wicker covered in hide); bronze
helmet (perhaps covered in fur)
After the enemy was closed upon, the Velites would stop, the other ranks would move ahead of them, and the Velites would join up with the Tirari.
2nd Rank "Hastati" (Heavy Infantry)[10 maniples of 2 60 man centuries)
Bronze Helm; bronze breast plate (not large), Scutum, Pilum (light and heavy). After c200 BCE, they might wear mail* and/or carry the Gladius "Hispanicus" and/or wear the "Celtic/Itallic" helmet. (*Mail was developed by the Celts and was originally (according to an example found at Kirkburn (c300 BCE)) was 10 gauge BUTTED mail.)
3rd Rank "Princeps" (Heavy Infantry)[10 Maniples of 2 60 man centuries]
Bronze Helm; bronze breast plate (not large), Scutum, Pilum (light and heavy). After c200 BCE, they might wear mail* and/or carry the Gladius "Hispanicus" and/or wear the "Celtic/Itallic" helmet.
4th Rank "Triari" (Light Infantry)[10 maniples of 2 30 man centuries]
Lightly armored spear men.
5th Rank "Rorari" and "Accensi"
Poorly equipped "reserves" (These disappeared from the army as a concept fairly early on).
There were also "Squadrons" of cavalry of 30 men each trained to perform
close order drills. Also, a detachment of Engineers.
The General Marius restructured the Roman Army based on lessons learned in the Punic
Wars. He first did away with the social basis of the army; disposed of the Velites
and the Triari; and standardized the weapons of the troops (Pilums and Gladius). The
army was then restructured into "Cohorts" made up of 6 centuries (essentially a
legion marching in formation at you would
be 10 waves of men, each 6 men deep and 100 men wide.
Attached to the Legion were Cavalry units (still mostly noble) and foreign auxiliaries
(mostly slingers and bowmen). Also, each legion maintained a corps of Engineers.
Augustus changed very little of the army, but his was the first government to actually PAY his troops, and to maintain permanent units of auxiliaries. He reduced the number of legions from 60-288, as well as lowering the number of men in each "Century" to 80.
The regular legionaries wore, as a rule, the famous "Lorica Segmentata", which was inexpensive to make and easy to repair in the field. However, it would not be uncommon to find Mail and Scale armor in the same unit.
The emperor Gallienus tried to centralize the army, leaving the borders under the protection of the Limtanei "Border Guards" who were to merely slow down an invading force long enough for the Main Body to arrive.
At this point the troops were equipped with Mail, a pilum, a round shield and a Spatha (A form of longsword). The Imperial Itallic Helm began to be replaced by a Spangenhelm ("helm of plates") pattern that in many ways resembles the helm found at Sutton Hoo.
Under Diocletian, the army remained much the same, but training slackened as more attention was paid to the Cavalry. Also Conscription was begun for what had been for a thousand years an all-volunteer army.
The cavalry was divided into 4 "armies" each sent into a portion of the empire for "quick reaction: attacks. Each army had lightly armored lancers (Chain shirt, large round shield), lightly armored archers and heavily armored Cataphractos.
There is a debate among historians regarding the Roman Cavalry and the so-called
"Celtic" or "Roman saddle" (a frame with 4 "horns" one at
each corner). One school of thought says that the "4 Prong" Roman
saddle is just a pack saddle, and that the Roman cavalry was ineffective since it
had no stirrups on its otherwise normal rigid saddles. The other school of though
says that by experimentation they have proven that the four prong saddle diminishes the need for stirrups for cavalry actions. Take your pick (me, I lean on the side of the experimenters).
The army was further reduced in 323 when the legion was redefined from 5000 to 1000 men. They gave up the Pilum.
The Cavalry was organized into "Palatinae" (units of 500 troops, mostly
German). Fewer Romans were to be found in the army.
After 400, the legion still existed as a concept, but not really as an effective unit. Moreover, the "Cavalry" had devolved into what were essentially German war-bands, and anyone with a 1000 troops in one place had an "army".
These were essentially "Light Infantry" units locked into the "cowboy mentality" of every man for his own personal honor, and screw the team. Armor consisted of generally wool tunics and trews, and only the chieftains in chain and bronze helms.. They used large round shields, small bucklers; "long swords"; slings; bows; and spears.
This page was created by Marc Carlson
It was last edited 9 June 2004