Roman Army – Introduction
Army was the force that allowed the ancient Rome to gain and hold domination over whole ancient world. It carried same role through the ages of Republic, Patricians and the Empire.
Military forces of ancient Rome included land armies and fleet called “clasis”. The land armies were Rome’s most important weapon.
Army evolved through the ages and went through many transformations. It’s hard to establish manpower of the army in times of Republic because it was changing all the time but it’s known that during wars between Pompey and Julius Caesar (48-30bc) it reached 500.000 men.
After Augustus’ reforms early Empire’s army numbered 25 legions (about 150k people). Supporting troops of Romanized provinces included similar number of soldiers resulting in manpower of about 300.000. Only in special circumstances headcount was increased to 27 legions. Legions stationed in border garrisons.
Army’s structure started to heavily change in III century during the crisis in the Empire when increasing pressure of German tribes caused often breaks of the border and pillage of provinces.
First reforms were conducted by Gallienus who created big independent cavalry units. Main modification was made by tetrarchs lead by Diocletian. Army was divided to border army garrisoned in forts which responsibility was to hold the fortifications until the land army stationed in distance from the border in the heart of the country came to the rescue. Manpower was increased to 500.000 men and fortifications were enlarged. Thanks to these changes borders were protected through whole IV century.
Defenses were broken between in 407 when German tribes pressed by Huns broke through the line of Rhine. 69 years later Roman Empire has finally fallen.
Main Roman Empire army’s unit was legion with manpower between 4200 and 5000 soldiers. It also included additional 500-1000 supporting soldier who were not Roman citizens.
Legion was build of cohorts and centuriae. Typical legion contained 10 cohorts (about 4800 soldiers). First cohort contained 5 double centuriae, remaining 9 cohorts contained 6 standard centuriae each. Commander of each centuria was called centurion.
In age of monarchy (which was first political system of Empire) only the upper class citizens were recruited to the army due to very high cost of necessary equipment. Created by Romulus (legendary founder of Rome) social structure was based on stocks. Country was divided to three “tribus” and these contained curias. Each of them had to put up 1000 of infantry led by military tribune. Part of military forces was dependent directly on the king.
With constantly increasing need of more manpower this method was not efficient so it was change by Servius Tullius: army was build of classes depending on wealth of citizens – it also determined used armor and weapons.
Having organized infantry Servius Tullius created twelve cavalry centuriae of upper class citizens. Three traditional centuries created by Romulus were divided to create 6 centuriae but their names were not change since they were prediction-honored.
Structure of IV century army
IV century army contained three types of army group:
- imperial escort armies (comitatus praesentales) – usually based near capitals (Milan and Constantinople) and accompanied the emperors on campaign – their role was to provide insurance against usurpers for the emperor and protect emperor during the campaigns;
- regional field armies (comitatus) – based in strategic regions and near the frontiers – their role was to support border armies in operations in the region they were based in;
- border armies (exercitus limitanei) – garrisoned in border forts – they were supposed to protect fortification until regional field army came with relief.
Imperial escort and regional field armies were often defined as “mobile field armies”
Equipment in IV century
The basic equipment was basically the same as in the 2nd century: armor, helmet, shield pillum or spear and sword. Some evolution took place during the 3rd century.
In the 1st and 2nd centuries, a Roman soldier's clothes consisted of a single-piece, short-sleeved tunic whose hem reached the knees and special hobnailed sandals (caligae). This outfit, suitable for Mediterranean climate and was enough for northern Europe. In northern Europe, long-sleeved tunics, trousers (bracae), socks and laced boots were worn in winter from the 1st century. During the 3rd century, these cloths became more popular even in Mediterranean provinces. Late Roman clothing was often highly decorated, with woven or embroidered strips, clavi, and circular roundels, orbiculi, added to tunics and cloaks. These decorative elements usually consisted of geometrical patterns and stylised plant motifs, but could include human or animal figures.
In the III century the lorica segmentata armor appears to have been dropped and troops wore chain mail (mainly) or scale armor.
During the III century, infantry helmets adopted the more protective features of Principate cavalry helmets. Cheek-guards could often be fastened together over the chin to protect the face, and covered the ears except for a slit for better hearing. In the IV century they reverted to the more open features of the main Principate type, the "Imperial Gallic". The "Intercisa" design left the face unobstructed and had ear-holes in the join between cheek-guards and bowl to allow good hearing. Intercisa bowl was made of two separate pieces joined by a riveted ridge in the middle.
The legionary scutum, a convex rectangular shield also disappeared during the 3rd century. All troops adopted the auxiliary oval (or sometimes round) shield (clipeus).
The gladius, a short stabbing-sword was in III century replaced with spatha, a longer (about 76cm) sword that during the earlier centuries was used by the cavalry only.
Infantry acquired also a heavy thrusting-spear (hasta) which became the main close combat weapon since it could be used to stab.
In addition to his thrusting-spear, a late foot soldier might also carry a throwing-spear (verrutum) or heavy pilum (speculum) Late infantrymen often carried half a dozen lead-weighted throwing-darts (plumbatae) clipped to the back of the shield.
Wee Friends, Scottish vendor, branch of Friendship Models, offers 54mm figure sculpted by John Tassel. Figure shows Roman soldier from late period of Empire.
Soldier stands with galea (Gallic) helmet on his head, wearing long-sleeved knee-long tunic, trausers, belt and laced boots. Both hands are loose, along to body. Right hand holds a spear which is leaning against soldier’s shoulder. Left hand holds a clipeus shield. Sword is attached on the left side which suggests lower rank of soldier -officers .
Kit is packed in a clear plastic box. Inside is paper label with picture of unpainted figure made of metal. Information on company is only thing on the label beside the picture.
There is no assembly (except the picture) or painting instruction inside the box.
Parts are additionally protected with zip-lock plastic bag.
Kit contains 8 parts:
- spear’s pole
- spear heads (3 pieces on one block)
- head in galea helmet
- body (from torso and legs)
- left hand holding shield’s handle
- right hand
- sword (spatha)
- clipeus shield
Assembly and painting
Since there is no instruction of the assembly in the box the picture on the label is only assembly reference. It shouldn’t cause any problem since number of parts is low and they are also pre-prepared for the assembly: parts have assembly pins and holes so fitting and gluing operation should be quite easy.
There is on painting instruction available, so search for references is necessary. Since the rank of soldier is rather low (officers had swords attached on their right side) cloths should be simple without or with very simple ornaments. Shield may be painted with pattern of chosen unit. Shield patterns from late Empire period can be found here
Detailing and quality
Parts are made of light-cream resin. Surfaces are smooth and clean; few very delicate seam lines were spotted but they will not require much work. Very thin flash is present on some parts. Face is nicely sculpted with all details flawless. Casting block and pins may require some work (especially on the shield where casting block touches not only the edge but also some part of the inner surface).
Dry-fit check showed no fit problems.
Shield in this particular kit has ugly crack on the surface but block seems to be free of this problem and the center of shield is also intact – problem may be in the casting form (having only one kit it’s not possible to confirm it). Few bubble marks are present on the helmet including one son deep you can see through it. Face is probably placed on the bottom of form so it should be free of this kind of marks in every kit.
Figure is nicely sculpted, casting even with few minor flaws is very good and material used is also of good quality.
Equipment and arms are accurate though chain mail would be nice addition to overall look of late Empire soldier.Recommended