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The Legions of Rome

The Legions of Rome

The Legions of Rome

The Roman legions were first established during the Roman Republic, which lasted from 509 BCE to 27 BCE. It is believed that the first Roman legion, the Legio I, was established by the Roman king Servius Tullius in the 6th century BCE. However, the Roman Republic’s military system was not solely based on the legions, and it relied on a mix of different units, including cavalry, archers, and skirmishers.

It was during the Roman Republic’s later period, particularly in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, that the Roman legions became the dominant military force of Rome. During this time, the legions evolved into a standardized, professional standing army consisting of heavy infantry soldiers, trained and equipped to fight in a particular formation, known as the manipular formation.

The Roman legions continued to be the backbone of the Roman military throughout the Roman Empire’s history, which lasted from 27 BCE to 476 CE. The legions were gradually replaced by other military units, such as the comitatenses and the limitanei, as the Roman Empire declined and underwent various military reforms.

A Roman legion typically consisted of around 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers, including both infantry and cavalry. The composition of a legion changed over time, but during the height of the Roman Empire, a legion was generally organized as follows:

  1. Legatus Legionis: The legion commander, a senatorial appointee who was responsible for the overall command of the legion.

  2. Tribune: Six staff officers who assisted the legion commander and were responsible for administrative duties.

  3. Centurions: 60 to 80 officers who were responsible for the command of individual centuries (units of 80 soldiers).

  4. Optio: An officer who served as a centurion’s second-in-command.

  5. Decurions: Officers who commanded the cavalry units.

  6. Auxiliaries: Non-Roman soldiers who provided support to the legion, such as archers, slingers, and light infantry.

  7. Standard Bearers: Soldiers who carried the legion’s standards, including the eagle standard, which was a symbol of the legion’s honor and loyalty.

  8. Legionaries: The backbone of the legion, consisting of heavy infantry soldiers who were equipped with a short sword, a rectangular shield, and a pilum (a type of javelin).

  9. Contubernium: The smallest unit of the legion, consisting of eight legionaries who shared a tent and fought together in battle.

  10. Support Personnel: Non-combatants such as cooks, medics, and blacksmiths who provided logistical support to the legion.

Each legion was also supported by a train of pack animals, such as mules and horses, that carried the legion’s supplies and equipment.

The Roman Empire had many legions throughout its history, and the number of legions and their names changed over time. Here are some of the most famous Roman legions:

  1. Legio I Adiutrix
  2. Legio I Germanica
  3. Legio I Italica
  4. Legio I Macriana liberatrix
  5. Legio I Maximiana
  6. Legio I Minervia
  7. Legio I Parthica
  8. Legio I Traiana Fortis
  9. Legio II Adiutrix
  10. Legio II Augusta
  11. Legio II Italica
  12. Legio II Parthica
  13. Legio II Traiana Fortis
  14. Legio III Augusta
  15. Legio III Cyrenaica
  16. Legio III Gallica
  17. Legio III Italica
  18. Legio IV Flavia Felix
  19. Legio IV Macedonica
  20. Legio IV Scythica
  21. Legio V Alaudae
  22. Legio VI Ferrata
  23. Legio VI Victrix
  24. Legio VII Claudia
  25. Legio VII Gemina
  26. Legio VIII Augusta
  27. Legio IX Hispana
  28. Legio X Fretensis
  29. Legio XI Claudia
  30. Legio XII Fulminata
  31. Legio XIII Gemina
  32. Legio XIV Gemina
  33. Legio XV Apollinaris
  34. Legio XVI Gallica
  35. Legio XVII
  36. Legio XVIII
  37. Legio XIX
  38. Legio XX Valeria Victrix
  39. Legio XXI Rapax
  40. Legio XXII Deiotariana
  41. Legio XXIV
  42. Legio XXX Ulpia Victrix

Note that this is not an exhaustive list, as there were many other legions throughout Roman history. The numbers of legions were also reused and reassigned over time.

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