A Roman legionary with spear, sword, dagger and shieldIn the early days of the republic, only citizens (free-born Romans) who owned land were allowed to join the army. Very few of them were full-time soldiers. Once Rome began to fight wars overseas, a bigger and better army was needed. From then on, any citizen, whether a landowner or not, could enlist. Non-citizen troops, known as auxiliaries, made up half the army's fighting men. At the height of the Roman Empire, soldiers were highly trained professionals. Soldiers’ wages were good and the army paid for their food, clothing and weapons. At the time, the Roman army was the best organized, trained and equipped fighting force in the western world.
A diagram showing how a Roman legion was made up of cohorts and centuriesThe Roman army was divided into groups of about 6000 men, known as legions. The contubernium was the army’s basic unit: it consisted of eight soldiers who lived, trained and fought together. Ten contubernia (80 men) made up a century, and six centuries made up a standard cohort. Each legion had nine standard cohorts, together with one special cohort, called the prima cohort, which consisted of 10 centuries, or 800 men. Every century had its own commander (centurion) and standard bearer, the signifer. The bearer of the legion’s standard, a gold or silver eagle, was called the aquilifer. A legion was commanded by a legate, who had the assistance of six tribunes.
A soldier had to stay in the army for at least 25 years before he could retire. After retirement he was given a pension and a gift of land to farm.
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