On both land and sea, the Roman Empire dominated warfare for centuries, invading large portions of Europe and making significant inroads into Africa and Asia Minor.
The Romans outwitted their opponents using expert battle tactics and perfectly engineered weapons and armour. Soldiers were divided into legions that served different territories and swore an oath of loyalty to the centurions.
One of the main reasons why the Romans consistently beat their enemies (and what links them to today’s military) is the fact that the army was a professional conscripted force.
A full-time operation, a soldier was one of the highest-paid and most-respected occupations in the empire.
Sea and land
On the high seas of the Mediterranean, the Romans enjoyed even more dominance than on land. Using triremes and galleys propelled by teams of over 100 men, ships attacked either by ramming the opposition or boarding their ships.
The senior arm of the Roman navy was known as the Classis Misenensis and except for internal civil wars, achieved total marine dominance for Rome after the Punic Wars.
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Roman military facts
Organisation – 180 legionnaires were in a century. Together, six centuries made a cohort of 480 men. A legion had ten cohorts and the entire army contained 30 legions, a total of around 150,000 soldiers.
Pay – A legionnaire would earn a basic 225 denarii for a year’s service. Out of this wage packet were deductions for equipment, food and even a regiment savings bank.
Sacrementum – Each soldier would swear a ‘sacrementum’ when they began their service, pledging their allegiance to the emperor and vow never to abandon comrades or desert a battle.
Equipment – Armour was light but sturdy. The helmets and armour could repel projectiles while the military-issue tunic was comfortable enough to wear on long marches.
Fast – Soldiers had to be able to march 32km (20mi) in five hours while carrying around 20.5kg (45lb) of equipment.
Cavalry – Roman cavalry riders supported the legionnaires by attacking an army’s flanks. They could also chase down any enemies that tried to escape.
Formation – Legionnaires would form a defensive front using their rectangle scutum shields, which was a progression on the Greek phalanx formation.
Auxiliaries – Auxiliaries (non-citizen soldiers) formed the rest of the Empire’s militia and could only be granted citizenship after 25 years’ service.
Discipline and tortoise – The strict Roman ranks were extremely effective against the barbarian hordes, who had no effective response to the Testudo (tortoise) formation.
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