South African Military History Society



The MGH short this month dealt with the recent one day tour to the sites of the actions of the Jameson Raid. Members again learnt to their cost that a certain camera is ever present.

Professor D.B. Saddington was the main speaker on the subject "The Legionary and the auxiliary in the Roman Army". He initially set the scene of the enormous task facing the Roman army in guarding the Empire - a truly remarkable feat when one considers the lack of modern day communications.

The Roman army consisted of some 180,000 to 200,000 legionaries plus a similar number of auxiliaries. There was no commander in chief of the Roman army - the appointed consuls fulfilled a dual political and military role. Governors were placed in control of the various provinces where they had a force of sometimes as many as 3 or 4 legions under their command. The legion consisted of some 5000 to 6000 men divided into 10 cohorts, each consisting of 6 centuries. The legion was commanded by a legate who was assisted by 6 military tribunes. These tribunes were from the upper class - wealthy and possibly the sons of senators. The centurions, i.e, the officers in command of the centuries, were however the backbone of the Roman army. These men had risen from the ranks and were truly professional soldiers. The legionaries were expected to serve for 16 years, and later, this was extended to 20 years. On their discharge the legionaries were given a piece of land. Often complete colonies of veterans were established in border areas thus establishing a potential military force in times of trouble.

The Roman legion was entirely composed of heavy infantry. It's cohort and manipular formation gave it great depth and flexibility. Apart from his weaponry the Roman soldiers also carried their stores and provisions - to the extent that they became known as the "Mules of Marius".

Although the Romans lost their share of battles they were good at winning wars. Two factors considerably assisted this success, namely their use of fortified camps and their road building ability.

In addition to the legions the Roman army also employed a similar number of auxiliaries. The auxiliaries were recruited from different parts of the Empire. Generally, the auxiliaries were experts in various types of weaponry e.g. cavalry, archers etc. They were not Roman citizens and, as a result, were paid half of the amount paid to legionaries. They were commanded by native chieftains or young Roman officers. The period of service was 25 years. During this time they learnt Latin, and on discharge they became full Roman citizens.

Prof. Saddington concluded his lecture with a fascinating series of slides illustrating Roman military tombstones, details of various monuments and examples of parade armour.

Mr. Will Carr thanked the speaker on the Society's behalf for an extremely interesting and well presented lecture. The prolonged question time was evidence of the interest generated.

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