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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Military Reforms of Augustus

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In the previous episode in our series on the history of the Roman military, we discussed

the reforms of the famous Gaius Marius. He allowed the capite censi to join the legions,

introduced the Cohort as the standard unit, and helped to make his forces logistically

self-sufficient and swifter in their movement. Though the effectiveness of the legions was

undoubtedly increased by his actions, the republic was irreversibly damaged. In the

wake of his reforms, a series of civil wars were fought, which eventually would lead to

the rise of the Roman Empire - the most famous period of Roman history. Welcome to our video

on the Augustan Reforms and the Army of the Roman Principate.

After the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, the Final War of the Roman Republic came to an end,

beginning the period of history known as the Roman Empire. With his rival Mark Antony dead

and his other opponents gone, the new princeps Octavian - the future Augustus - inherited

a massive force of around 60 legions, swelled by the decades of civil war which had embroiled

the republic. Demobilization after this period reduced that number to 28, and was reduced

further to 25 after the Varian disaster and the Teutoburg forest. The legions would remain

near enough around this number for the next 300 years.

The reorganization of the Maniple system into the Cohort and the homogenization of Roman

legionary infantry was discussed in our previous episode, but there was an important change

which must be addressed. TheFirst Cohortof all legions were now apparently double

strength, broken into 5 centuries of 160 each and were under the leadership of a senior

centurion known as the primus pilus. He was the most veteran centurion of the entire legion

and possessed an extremely prestigious rank. His cohort also likely consisted of the crack

troops and experienced veterans of the legion, forming a strong, elite core from which it

could build. The command structure of a legion was now

laid out more clearly, with a permanent commander finally being appointed - the Legatus Legionis,

latinised as theLegate’. The stereotypical Legate was usually a senator in his early

thirties, who would usually be expected to learn on the job, on the battlefield and through

reading books. After holding the consulship, a senator would become a governor (or Proconsul)

and would be afforded the title of legatus Augusti pro praetore, if in an armed province.

This was thePraetorian League of Augustus’, who would wield imperium over the legions

in that territory on behalf of the Emperor. It was in this way that the Emperor would

govern through his legates, who held delegated power in specific regions.

Second in command of the legion was the Tribunus Laticlavius - thebroad striped tribune’.

He was usually a highborn man, or an associate of the Legate, in his late teens or early

twenties, with little prior military experience. After a few years of service in order to gain

experience, he would take the first step on the Cursus Honorum back in Rome, probably

becoming a Quaestor. Below the Legate and Broad-striped tribune

was the praefectus castrorum, theCamp Prefect’. This office was created by Augustus

and was usually occupied by an experienced veteran who possessed considerable knowledge

of the legion and its operations. He had general command of the camp, and was responsible for

logistical and engineering tasks, such as the building and maintenance of fortifications

and fieldworks, commanding the artillery during battle, distributing rations to the soldiers

and scheduling their daily duties. He therefore balanced the often inexperienced Senatorial

leadership of the legion with an expert who possessed much technical expertise.

Five further tribunes were also notable. They allocated [performed?] whatever tasks were

allocated to them but were not officially granted command over any part of the legion,

contrasting to their broad-striped counterparts. Junior officers commanded at the sub-century

level and functioned as crucial cogs in the legionary machine. Centurions were assisted

by an Optio, who was the second in command and would take command if the centurion fell.

Each century possessed a signifer - or standard bearer. The senior standard bearer of the

legion was called the aquilifer, who carried the revered legionary eagle standard into

battle. A portrait of the reigning emperor was also carried by each legions imagnifer.

When this portrait was torn down by a legion, it was a symbol that revolt was coming. The

final key position was the tesserarius - or guard commander. He would supervise the posting

of sentries at night and was responsible for distributing the watch schedule for the next

day. A fascinating and often underestimated aspect

of early Imperial legionary strength is the individual identity of each unit. Identity,

collective pride and cohesion are powerful forces, and it is possible the following factors

made the Roman legions more comradely and glued together as a unit.

Each legion was given a number, and most rapidly acquired names and titles in a manner which

was not always logical. This suggests that some legions were resistant to give up their

historical identity, which was often earned in battle. An example of this is the fact

that several legions had duplicate numbers. No less than three legions were theThird

legion’, for example. The identity, deeds and origin of a legion

was tied to its name, such as theGeminalegions, X, XIII and XIV. Gemina meanstwin’,

so it is likely these legions were formed by combining two forces together. Legion names

could also express martial virtues, such as Ferrata - meaningironsides’, or Fulminata

- meaningThunderer’. They even commonly expressed locations in which the legion had

served with bravery and distinction, such as Legio I Germanica or Legio II Parthica.

As first century progressed, Emperors also granted titles to legions for notable or brave

deeds. The Optimus Princeps, Trajan, named his Legio XXXUlpia Victrix’ - ‘Trajans

victorious thirtieth legion’, after its campaigns in Dacia. Such accolades were not

necessarily granted due to victories in combat. Legio XI Claudia pia fidelis - ‘Claudius

own, pious and faithfulwere granted the title upon the legionariesloyal refusal

to follow their mutinous commander in a coup. Standing at the side of the legionaries, the

foreign and peripheral auxiliary units serving Rome, the auxilia, were completely reorganised

and were given regular status within the standing Roman army. The heterogenous and often haphazard

Auxilia would be standardised and served in units that were as equally permanent as the

legions alongside whom they served. In contrast to the legions, however, they were instead

organised into smaller, roughly cohort sized units. This made it easier to shift these

lighter units around the empire to where they were needed, and would also give the legions

an organisational advantage against their erstwhile allies if they were to rebel.

There were three types of Auxilia unit - infantry, cavalry and mixed. The numbers in mixed units

are heavily debated, but infantry cohorts consisted of two sizes - 480 or 800 men strong.

Meanwhile, Ala were either 512 or 768 men strong.

In terms of their citizenship rights, the Auxilia were initially freeborn non-citizens

who received full Roman citizenship upon their honourable discharge after 25 years of service

under arms. Gauls, Thracians and Germans feature heavily in the auxiliary forces. In particular

the Batavi, located on the Rhine, paid no taxes but were heavily used in war. As Tacitus

tells usThey were like armour and weapons, only to be used in war.’ He describes eight

cohorts, almost 5,000 men from this small region alone serving Rome at any given time.

The Romans initially kept the auxilia units close to their homeland where the unit was

raised, but this was changed after a revolt in 68 and 69AD, and the units were consequently

sent to different areas around the Empire. Though they were fighters, the Roman soldiers

were also makeshift engineers and builders. The most common task of this type undertaken

by a legionary was the construction of roads throughout the empire. These allowed troops

to move swiftly and allowed supplies to be delivered efficiently to where they were needed,

and were therefore important additions to habitually rebellious new conquests. Units

of Roman soldiers would also erect milestones commemorating their legate or the Emperor

of the time, which had the effect of figurativelyshowing the flag’ - projecting Roman

power. Whenever a Roman army or unit would enter

hostile territory and came to a halt for the night, they would construct theirMarching

camp’. These were overnight halts for Roman contingents on campaign, and they were constructed

remarkably quickly, providing a simple but effective measure of security for the resting

legionaries. For defence, these swiftly constructed works had a low earth rampart, known as the

agger, about 1.48 metres in height and topped with a timber obstacle. Usually this was the

standard issue pilum muralia - a double-pointed stake carried by legionaries as a part of

their marching orders in order to function as a makeshift caltrop.

These makeshift fortifications would have had the effect of blunting the impact of any

surprise charge and causing chaos among the enemy.

Outside the defences was a single V-shaped ditch - the fossa - which was no more than

1.48 metres in width and 89cm deep. Entrances to the marching camp, which had

no gates, came in two types. First were the entrances defended by tituli - short stretches

of rampart and ditch set a few meters in front of the main rampart, defending the gap which

formed the entrance. Second were those defended by claviculae - orlittle keys’. These

curved extensions of the rampart and ditch had the genius effect of forcing an attackers

sword arm to face the rampart, denying them the use and protection of their shield.

Within the camp itself, tent lines were deliberately laid out and planned in advance. Each was

in its customary and usual space so that every unit knew exactly where to pitch their tents

and each man knew his place. This avoided confusion and added to the speed at which

the camp could be put up. The Roman tents were standardised and each housed an eight-man

contubernium unit. The layout of the camp was also incredibly

organised and were based on two axes. The via praetoria led from the entrance of the

same name across to the porta decumana. Intersecting this at a right angle was the via principalis.

Finally, the intersection point was known as the praetorium, housing the tent of the

general himself and the senior officials of the legion. Between the rampart and the tents

there was a wide open area known as the intervallum. This space had a dual function, both to ensure

tents were out of enemy missile range thrown from outside the camp, and to draw up in battle

formations with plenty of space. Though the marching camp was often a temporary

measure during Roman expansion, the gradual slowing of this trend gave way to a defensive

attitude and more permanent fortresses. Once an area was conquered, the Roman military

would lay down a network of turf and timber forts roughly a day's march from one another.

During the reign of Claudius, it was finally recognised that massive sweeping expansion

such as that of Caesar and Augustus would no longer occur. Therefore, the wayside forts

and temporary winter quarters which the soldiers had inhabited now began to become more permanent

holdings. For example, the garrison of the Britannic province fluctuated between 3 and

4 legions in the 1st century AD, based at their permanent camps - known aslegionary

fortresses’. Three prominent fortresses of this type were at Isca Silurum - modern

Caerleon, Deva - modern Chester and Eburacum - modern York.

Unlike the marching camp, there were notypicalRoman legionary fortresses. The layout of

each was standardised, however there were often considerable differences between individual

fortress plans depending on the terrain and the specific needs dictated by the region

in which the garrison was located. Auxiliary units would also garrison sub-fortresses between

and beyond the legionary fortresses. This network of permanent camps and fortresses

would form the framework of Roman governance, occupation and control in conquered territories.

As they were essentially now permanent homes, it was crucial that the fortresses were able

to provide a tolerable and comfortable environment for the soldiers garrisoned there. It is likely

they often succeeded in this, as Tacitus fondly called the forts thehearth and home

of Roman legionaries. The later legacy of Roman permanent entrenchments blossoming into

towns and cities was likely a consequence of the comfortable and often economically

prosperous nature of these permanent camps.

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The Description of Military Reforms of Augustus