What Was Life Like in the Roman Army

The Roman army was the largest fighting force in the ancient world. One reason Rome became so powerful was because of the strength of its army. It conquered a vast empire stretching from Britain to the Middle East. The soldiers were the best trained, with the best weapons and armor.

Only men served in the Roman Army. There were two types of Roman soldiers: legionaries and auxiliaries. The legionaries were the elite soldiers. A legionary had to be over 17 years old and a Roman citizen. Every new recruit had to be physically fit. Legionaries signed up for at least 25 years' service. Upon completion of their service, they received land to farm. Old soldiers often retired together in military towns. An auxiliary was a soldier who was not a Roman citizen. He received only a third of a legionary’s wage. Auxiliaries guarded forts and frontiers. They fought in the front lines, which were the most dangerous.

The Roman army had about half a million soldiers at its peak. The army was divided into groups called legions, each between 4,000 and 6,000 soldiers. A legion was further divided into groups of 80 men called centuries. The man in charge of a century was known as a centurion, and he carried a short rod to beat any disobedient soldiers.

Soldiers shot bows and arrows, flung stones from slingshots, or swam rivers to surprise an enemy. Roman soldiers usually lined up for battle in a tight formation. After a terrifying burst of arrows and artillery, they marched at a slow steady pace towards the enemy. They hurled their javelins and drew their swords just before charging the enemy. They used cavalry on horseback to chase enemy troops who tried to escape.

A Roman soldier was well trained. He could march 20 miles a day, wearing armor and carrying equipment. He could swim, build bridges, and smash his way into forts. After a long day’s march, Roman soldiers had to build a camp, complete with a ditch and a wall of wooden stakes.

A Roman soldier almost always followed orders. Anyone who didn't, faced tough punishments. A soldier who fell asleep on duty could be sentenced to death.

Roman soldiers spent most of their time training for battle. They practiced fighting in formation and man-to-man. Legionaries also patrolled the conquered territories and built roads, forts, and aqueducts.

Source: What Was Life Like in the Roman Army
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