Roman Culture/Military Organization and Leadership

The Roman Military was a precisely organized and expertly led fighting force. Following the Marian Reforms of 107 BCE, the Roman army was transformed into the force that would build one of the most impressive empires in history. Large portions of modern military rank and structure can trace its roots to the Roman Army.

Rank Structure


The Roman Military had a structure similar to the organization of modern armies. It had clear distinctions between enlisted, or low-level, soldiers and officers to lead them. For example, men of low rank, known as Legionaires, would be expected to follow all the orders given to them and little else. As rank increased, so too did authority. While still expected to obey superiors, Non-Commissioned Officers, Centurions and higher, often have more front line experience, and thus are able to make some decisions; a Centurion is often consulted by their superiors because of their experience. Officers are those charged with leading a force.

Enlisted Ranks


The enlisted ranks in the Roman Army would be the equivalent of today's Privates, Privates First Class, Specialists, and Corporals.

The lowest rank was the Tiro (plur.=Tirones). The Tiro was the new recruit, and would spend six months in training to become an official soldier of Rome.

The Milites (sing.=Miles) were the basic infantrymen of the Roman military, making up the bulk of a unit's numbers. The Milites had no specializations, and would often double as the military's labor or workforce. A soldier would spend several years as a Miles before becoming eligible for advanced or specialized training.

The Immunes (sing.=Immunis) were trained specialists, such as surgeons, engineers, surveyors, and architects. They were exempt from camp and hard labor duties due to the nature of their work, and would generally earn slightly more pay than the Milites.

Non-Commissioned Officers


Non-Commissioned Officers would be the equivalent of today's Sergeants.

The Principales would be the equivalent of modern day non-commissioned officers and had the following titles from highest to lowest:

The Aquilifer was the Legion's Standard or Eagle bearer and was an enormously important and prestigious position. The next step up would be a post as a Centurion.

The Signifer was responsible for the men's pay and savings, and the standard bearer for the Centurial Signum, a spear shaft decorated with medallions and often topped with an open hand to signify the oath of loyalty taken by the soldiers. It was this banner that the men from each individual Centuria would rally around.

The Optio was appointed by a Centurion from within the ranks to act as his second in command.

The Tesserarius, or Guard Commander, acted in similar roles to the Optiones.

The Cornicen, or Horn blower, worked hand in hand with the Signifer, drawing the attention of the men to the Centurial Signum and issuing the audible commands of the officers.

The Imaginifer carried the Standard bearing the image of the Emperor as a constant reminder of the troop's loyalty to him.



The officers in a Legion were the command element of the fighting force, the equivalent of today's Lieutenants, Captains, Majors, up to the Generals.

The Legatus Legionis was the overall Legionary commander. Generally appointed by the emperor, the Legatus Legionis was usually a former Tribune and held command for three or four years, but could serve for a much longer period. In a province with only one legion, the Legatus was also the provincial governor and in provinces with multiple legions, each legion has a Legatus and the provincial governor has overall command of them all.

The Tribunus Laticlavius, named for the broad striped toga worn by men of senatorial rank, served as second in command of the legion. Usually a tribune, he was appointed by the Emperor or the Senate.

The Praefectus Castrorum was the camp Prefect, or Commandant. Generally he was a long serving veteran who had been promoted through the ranks of the centurions and was 3rd in overall command.

The Tribunus Angusticlavius was a tribune of equestrian class in Roman society. Each Legion had five Tribuni Angusticlavii. They were in many cases career officers and served many of the important administrative tasks of the Legion, but still served in a full tactical command function during engagements.

The Primus Pilus, or First File, was the commanding centurion of the first cohort and the senior centurion of the entire Legion. Service in this position allowed entry into the equestrian social class upon retirement.

The Centurions were the backbone of the professional army. They were career soldiers who ran the day to day life of the men below them as well as issuing commands in the field. Each Legion had 59 or 60 centurions, one to command each centuria of the 10 cohorts. They were generally moved up from the ranks, but in some cases could be direct appointments from the Emperor or other higher ranking officials.

The Legion


A full strength Legion consisted of six thousand men, of which approximately 5,300 were soldiers and officers, along with an attached cavalry unit, the Eques Legionis, one-hundred and twenty strong. The Roman Army was divided into units of different sizes, which added together would make up a Legion. This system is very similar to today's armies, broken down to Squads, Platoons, Companies, etc.

The Contubernium was the smallest unit of the Roman Army, consisting of eight men led by a decanus.

The Centuria was made up of ten Contubernia, totalling eighty men. The Centuria was led by a Centurion.

Cohorts consisted of six Centuriae, totaling four hundred and eighty fighting men, not including officers. The Cohorts were led by senior Centurions.

The Legio, or Legion, was made up of ten Cohorts. The Legion was led by the Legatus Legionis.

The basic designation of the ten cohorts was standardized throughout all the Legions. They were arranged in battle so that the strongest and weakest units would be mixed throughout the formation, maximizing morale and effectiveness. Cohort I was made up of the elite troops. Its direct commander was the Primus Pilus, the highest ranking Centurion. Cohorts II, IV, VII, and IX consisted of the weaker, and often newest, soldiers. It was not uncommon to find raw recruits in these Cohorts. Cohorts III and V had no specific designation. Cohort VI contained what were known as "The Finest of the Young Men." Cohort VIII consisted of "The Selected Troops." Cohort X was made up of "The Good Troops."

EDITED: by Ariel Turpin on 12/14/2011 Checked for formatting, spelling, grammar, and plagiarism.