March: The Whole Army


In the previous section the elements that would constitute a single legion were explored.  When several legions were assembled into an army there would be some additional units that are described here.


auxiliary-cavalry-form.jpg (73718 bytes)At least by the late republic the commander employed professional body guards made up of paid mercenaries.  It seems that the number of bodyguards was not standard but depended on the general.  For this model I have used a strength of one cohort, 480 soldiers.  The bodyguards are footsoldiers but travel   mounted so that they can keep up with the general. Since they are footsoldiers, not cavalry, they are organized into a cohort.  The cohort strength, 480 men, is equal to just under 15 turmae, about 1 1/2 alae of cavalry.   The bodyguard unit depicted here is composed of  6 centuries of 80 men each, as illustrated below.

The small units at the top represent the commanding officer of the bodyguards, his signiferi, aeneatores and pack train.  See below for a detailed illustration.

Following the commander is one century of 80 men.  Immediately behind the 3 aeneatores of the commander is the officer rank (detail below)  followed by 13 ranks of soliders. The column on the right makes up the balance of the 80 men. See detail below.


. bodyguards-commander.jpg (14352 bytes)

The illustration at the right is a detail of the commander of the bodyguards.  The first figure on the right is the commander, followed by a vexillarius and then three aeneatores (left to right): a cornicen, tubicen and bucinator.

On the left is the commander's baggage: a tent, two mule packs of personal gear, a tent for his servants and his extra horse.





bodyguards-officer.jpg (7834 bytes)This illustration is a detail of the officer commanding the century, the center figure in the column on the left.  He is flanked on his left by a cornicen and on his right by a vexillarius.  Behind him and to his right are the ranks of the 80 members of his century, shown here with spears.


bodyguards-baggage.jpg (12314 bytes)

This is a detail showing just the baggage train for the century itself.

Since the bodyguards would travel in a battle-ready mode, their personal gear would have to be carried by pack mules.  I have followed the standard I used above, 1 mule for each five soldiers. There are 9 mules with tents for the 8 contubernia of soldiers and their officer. Then there are 18 mules carrying the personal gear of the century, and finally  4 tents for the servants.





The illustrations above show only one century of the bodyguards.  The entire cohort of 6 centuries is illustrated below.


bodyguards-cohort.jpg (77615 bytes)


The bodyguards escorted the commanding general as a unit.  Their march and baggage train formations are shown below.  The guards are in red, the baggage train is is blue.

bodyguards-form-unit.jpg (11679 bytes)



The evocati were retired soldiers who came back to serve at the specific request of the commander. They sometimes formed part of the bodyguard, otherwise served as special units at the service of the general.  They are described as foot soldiers who each had a horse.   I have not found any indication of the numbers of evocati; it seems probable that there was no "typical" number but that it would depend on circumstances and generals.  I used a total strength of one cohort,  and used the the same formation and baggage model as for the bodyguards.

evocati-form.jpg (9744 bytes)


Noble Youth

(contubernales, comites praetorii)\

It was the custom for young men of noble families to accompany the Legions as a part of their education process.  It is assumed that each youth had a personal servant and tent.  The servants could have shared a single tent. For 8 youth there would be one additional tent for servants.


8-youth.jpg (48005 bytes)











Under the republic the army would be commanded by either a consul or a praetor.  A consul would be accompanied by 12 lictors, a praetor by 6.  For a consular army of 2 legions and 2 allied units the 12 lictors would require 2 tents, three mules for their personal gear which they could not carry themselves, and one tent for the servants.   The lictors are illustrated in the following section, walking, carrying the vine rods over their left shoulders, wearing a plain white tunic..

lictors.jpg (24131 bytes)


The General

(Consul, Praetor, promagistrate or imperial general)

general.jpg (29319 bytes)The commanding officer of the army certainly had more elaborate accommodations than the other officers.  If the general's tent was the size Connolly indicates it would take 4 mules just to carry the poles and tent leather.  In addition the general is allotted 20  personal pack animals and 1 extra riding horse led by servants, and 4 tents for servants. 

The pack train did not move with the general.  The entourage that would have moved with the general on the march is shown below.








The General's entourage


general-entourage.jpg (18996 bytes)The general, consul or praetor, is described as moving with a large entourage accompanying him.  The illustration to the left shows one version of this. 

The figures are, from top to bottom: 

    1 vexillarius

    12 aeneatores (mounted)

    12 lictors (walking)

    The general (alone in his rank)

    8 contubernales

    8 mounted scribes (green tunics)

    4  mounted servants.



Details of the General's Entourage

general-detail-sigaen.jpg (7686 bytes)This illustration shows the general's vexillarius and three of the12 aeneatores.   All are shown mounted so that they could keep up with the general should he choose to move rapidly. I have no particular authority for assigning these men to the general, the only descriptions I have found relate the number of signiferi and aeneatores to the legion. However, it seems reasonable that the commanding general would have also had a vexilla of his own.  It seems essential that he would have had a contingent of aeneatores to relay signals to the rest of the army.  I chose to give him 4 tubicines, 4 cornicines and 4 bucinatores; one for each of the 4 legions. 




general-detail-general.jpg (18520 bytes)

The commanding officer of the army may have been a dictator, consul, praetor, promagistrate or imperial general.  For this illustration I have depicted a consul with his 12 lictors. A dictator would have had 24 lictors, a praetor only 6. Imperial generals would not have had lictors.



This illustration also  shows the first three of the 8  contubernales who are escorting the general.   These nobles are sometimes described as serving as personal aides to the commander so I assembled them here as escorts and companions to him on the march.

In fact it seems that they were used in many capacities and may not have occupied this particularly place in the order of march.


I assigned the general 8 mounted scribes.  It seems that at least some of the commanders, Caesar, for example, were quite active in their use of scribes to maintain correspondence and keep journals.  I show the scribes as mounted so that they could keep up with the general. 

I also show 4 mounted personal servants accompanying the general and his entourage. 

I have no authority for either the scribes or the servants,but it seems reasonable to provide some of each as part of the entourage.


The entourage was also accompanied by the general's bodyguard which was described above.  The following illustration shows the general's bodyguard (blue) followed by the general and his entourage (red) in the order of march.

general-entourage-form.jpg (92873 bytes)






I have allowed 250 feet between the last unit of the bodyguards and the general's entourage. This was done in part to make the units easier to see.  But a gap like this would have served the useful purpose of letting the dust settle for the general and his staff.



  quaestor.jpg (32845 bytes)

The army, at least under the republic, had a quaestor assigned to it to keep the accounts. 

The quaestor is assigned a large tent the same size as the general's; a 4-mule load.   He has 2 mounted personal servants.

The quaestor would have required a  number of clerks, but no specific numbers are given.  I assigned 6 clerks: a chief clerk,  1 for each of the 4 legions,   and 1 for the auxiliary troops.  However I assume that the clerks would be aided by the scribes assigned to the legions. 

The pack train consists of 4 mules for tents, 10 mules for the quaestor's personal gear, 6 mules for the tents of the clerks (one each as an office), 7 mules with official documents and equipment (two for the chief clerk, one each for the others), 4 mules for the servants tents, and an extra riding horse for the quaestor.





Auxiliary Cavalry 

  The number of auxiliary cavalry varied greatly from army to army.  It seems that Caesar may have employed the greatest numbers, 4,000 to 5,000. Other armies may have employed almost none.  For the purpose of the model a moderate force of 8 alae, 2,640 cavalry is used.   There were also 4 Roman alae (one per legion) for a total cavalry force of  3,960 men.


auxiliary-cavalry-8-turmae.jpg (13327 bytes)

The illustration above shows the 8 alae of auxiliary cavalry assembled altogether.    During the actual march the cavalry was used as scouts and to protect the flanks and rear. 

Distribution of the cavalry and other mounted units during the march

The mounted soldiers in this army are: 4 alae of Roman cavalry, 8 alae of auxiliary cavalry, 1 cohort of bodyguards and 1 cohort of evocati.  The sources I have used indicate that various parts of the column were protected by cavalry but do not give unit identifications or numbers.  For the purposes of guarding the column I am considering the mounted footsoldiers, the bodyguards and evocati, as cavalry.  The mounted units are distributed:   Roman cavalry:  4 alae: 1to the  vanguard, 1 as guard for the officers, 2 to the  army equipment and supply baggage;  auxiliary cavalry: 8 alae:  1 to the scouts, 1 to the vanguard, 2 to the rearguard, 2  to each flank;  evocati: to guard the officers baggage train; bodyguards:  to guard the general.  This arrangement puts three alae in front of the column (one with the scouts, two with the vanguard), two on each flank and two with the rearguard.  It distributes the remaining 3 alae and the two mounted cohorts at intervals along the column of march.




Iron Supply, Forge and Smithing

The army in any extended campaign would have to provide  for the repair and replacement of its weapons. The wood parts could be manufactured from materials found through forage or manufactured on site but iron would have to be either captured from enemy stockpiles, recovered from broken Roman weapons or recovered enemy weapons, or drawn from a supply taken with the Army. 

This is highly speculative but it does seem likely that the army would take some supply of bronze and iron with it and not rely solely on recovered or found supplies of these essential materials. Each soldier must have carried a minimum of 10 to 15 pounds of metal in armor and weapons.  In addition there would be tools, parts of harnesses, artillery fittings, arrow points, sling shot (often made of lead).

An army of roughly 20,000 soldiers would carry, then, something like 200,000  to 300,000 pounds of metal weapons and tools.  If as little as 1% of the total weight of metal were taken as a reserve that would be 2,000 to 3,000 pounds.  With an average mule-load of 200 pounds it would take a train of 10 to 15  mules. 

The repair of weapons would require a small forge and smithing tools. I have not been able to find any information on portable Roman forges. Given the difficulty of wheeled transport, the ideal forge would be carried by mules.  It may be possible that a simple portable forge could consist of a dozen or so fire bricks and a bellows. The loose bricks and bellows could be carried on a single mule, the smithing tools on another.   A small 200 pound anvil could consist of two or more parts that, when disassembled, could be loaded another mule.  Thus a very small, primitive, but workable   blacksmith setup could be transported on as few as 3 mules. 

If the forge consisted of these small parts -- bricks, small anvils, tools -- it would look much like any other mule load.  I have no information about other types of forges that could be wagon-loaded and transported with the army. Because of the lack of information about the forge I have not made an allowance for it in either the pack mules or in the wagons associated with the legion.   Since each legion has a supply train of 288 mules, over a thousand for the whole army, it seems adequate to assume that some of these supply train mules were used to transport the necessary quantities of metal and materials for portable forges.


Spoils of War

The spoils of war figured large in the army's activities.  Some campaigns netted enormous quantities of precious metals, objects of art and slaves.   The quantity of spoils actually accompanying an army in the field would be highly variable:   none at the beginning of a campaign, perhaps a great deal at certain times.   Some of the booty would have been transported to secure forts in rear areas. At some times, certainly, the acquired spoils would have had to travel with the army itself. It is likely that an important part of the  spoils of war would be the transport necessary to move it -- wagons, horses, mules.  Spoils did not constitute a regular part of the army as it moved so no special  allowance for them has been made in the baggage train.


Links to the nine parts of the March section:
March: Introduction
March: Basics
March: Components 
March: Baggage 
March: The Army 
March: Order 
March: a Day's 
March: Attack
March: Supplemental

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2003, Gary Brueggeman. All rights reserved world wide. No part of this work may be reproduced in part or whole, in any form or by any means, without permission from the author.