In the 200 years between the reforms of Augustus and the rise of Septimius Severus the Roman army fought to expand the Empire and saw action in the dark forests of Germany, the baking heat of Syria, the mists of Britain and the mountains of Dacia. That they conquered so many different peoples in such different terrain is amazing in itself; that they did it using basically the same organisation and troops doubly so. Their enemies had to contend not only with Roman weaponry but with their morale and discipline as well.
This army is instantly recognisable even to non gamers and has possibly become the ‘classic’ ancient army, rivalled only by Greeks and Egyptians. The organisation of the Roman Army is well documented and you can collect anything from a basic Legion with supports to a massed invasion force employing all sorts of exotic allies.
Our Imperial Romans were sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry, with a few additions to the range by Steve Saleh that are listed seperately.
Click on one of the following links to see the range or scroll down for an article on the Early Imperial Roman army by Adrian Garbett:
THE EARLY IMPERIAL ROMAN ARMY 25BC to 197AD
by Adrian Garbett
The Legions were the backbone of the Roman army; if they did not break then the battle could always be won. These had evolved from earlier Marian organisation to become self contained units which could operate as detachments, as full Legions, or in concert with other Legions. This flexibility was unique to the Romans at this time and gave them an added advantage over their less organised enemies. An example of this flexibility can be found in the defeat of Boudicca’s Revolt in 61 AD, when a mere 10,000 Roman troops, assembled from several garrisons and a field force returning from a campaign in Wales, beat five to ten times their number of confident and highly motivated British warriors. The feats of the Roman armies of this period are a study in themselves and even today lessons are still applied from their military manuals.
The organisation of the Legions was built from the bottom up, with progressively larger units building into a cohesive whole, with the emphasis on flexibility of role, tactical competence, high morale, and implicit obedience. The smallest unit was the contubernium of eight men (housed in a single tent on campaign), the largest was the Legio itself with a paper strength of 5,120 Legionarii. The Legio was made up of ten cohortes, nine of 480 men plus a senior cohors of 800 men. These numbers would be lower in the field, with a Legio fielding on average around 4,000 Legionarii. It was often the case that only part of the Legio actually went on campaign, some of its cohortes remaining in garrison. The basic cohors had six centuriae, each commanded by a centurio, while the senior cohors had just five double strength centuriae and was commanded by the most senior centurio in the Legio, called the Primus Pilus, who had overall authority. In command of the entire Legion was a Senator, the Legatus Legionus, who was assisted by six Tribuni.
The Legionarius was a professional soldier. He signed up for a virtual lifetime (25 years) in the hope that he would survive and receive a land grant at the end of his service (on top of his pay and any booty). Only full Roman citizens were allowed to enter the ranks during this period, although this would later change. Training and discipline were rigorous and brutal, with soldiers executed for indiscipline and fined heavily for loss of equipment. It has often been said that fighting men should be more afraid of their superiors than the enemy and this certainly held true for the Romans. This level of discipline and organisation was unique at the time and, combined with a logistical base geared for conquest by arms, made the Roman army a terrifying military machine.
Armour and weaponry were a combination of the generically practical and purposefully specialised. It was during this period that we see the use of loricasegmentata, the banded metal armour so readily identified with the Legiones. However, the troops of Augustus’ reign would still have worn mail corselets. The flexible and relatively light lorica segmentata was never universal amongst the Legiones, with eastern troops continuing to wear mail well beyond the end of this period and raw recruits (especially in civil wars) being issued with anything available. Another piece of armour unique to this period was the cingulum, a set of small studded straps that hung from the belt to cover the groin. While they would probably have been of little practical worth the morale advantages are obvious!
Helmets were variations on the theme of the Gallic types developed during the preceding centuries. Basically they consisted of an iron bowl covering the skull, with large close-fitting cheek-pieces, a reinforced brow band, and a horizontal neck protector. All these parts were of differing design, complexity, and ornamentation, but followed a general pattern combining excellent protection (which improved morale) with minimum interference to vision, hearing, or mobility (which increased efficiency).
The shield, or scutum, was of another distinctive design, being a semi cylindrical rectangle that covered the Legionarius from shoulder to knee and partially wrapped around him. Scuta were intricately painted to denote individual Legiones, each of which had its own name and army number (e.g. Legio I Minerva). Thunderbolts and stars are often shown in pictorial sources, but wreaths, moons and wings also occur. There is no evidence that these were anything more than painted designs, but unfortunately we have no definite colour schemes for the shields of individual Legiones (but see suggestions under ‘Painting’).
Weaponry was specialised and complementary in that the Legionarius carried two pila, which were javelins with around half the upper length replaced by an elongated iron shaft that easily penetrated armour or shield, weighing down the latter to leave the enemy open to attack from the gladius, a short, well-balanced sword primarily used in a fencing style. His opponent also had to watch out for a blow from heavy metal boss of the Legionary’s scutum or, in extremis, from his knife-like pugio, a heavy dagger.
Figures representing Legionarii can be used to produce several different types of wargames army. The basic pack gives several different poses which, with the command packs (see below), easily produce effective and attractive units for most theatres of operation. However, I would recommend planning your army before you start buying. What unit are you representing — a cohors, a campaign detachment, or a full Legio? If you are going to represent smaller units it is worth looking at the packs of identical figures which will allow you to show front and rear ranks in action and support with a few from the mixed pack for interest. The figures with armoured sword arms and greaves represent those Legionarii — often drawn from gladiatorial schools — issued with additional protection during the Emperor Trajan’s Dacian campaign (see Dacian range for more details). These would probably have formed separate detachments to combat the dreaded falx wielders. Other Legionarii in mail (lorica hamata) and scale (lorica squamata) armour with additional arm and leg defences can be mixed in to show the potentially diverse sources of this extra armour. Alternatively they can be used to represent complete cohortes and Legiones drawn from the eastern half of the Empire (Syria, Egypt, etc) for the Dacian campaign.
This was included in the organisation of a Legio, with each centuria possessing a bolt thrower and each cohors a large stone throwing engine. These could be used on the battlefield in support of the main battle line. Some bolt throwers, crewed by two men, were mounted on light two wheeled carts pulled by a pair of mules, which would make an interesting conversion.
These were a feature of the army at this time, with each Legionarus trained in the art of fortification. A high proportion of battles took place within sight of their camps and it was often the case that the end of a battle was signalled by the storming of the enemy camp. Using the usual modelling techniques for hills etc it is relatively easy to produce a convincing ditch with a bank of turf’s surmounted by a palisade.
THE COMMAND ELEMENT
Different formations within the Roman army were distinguished by their standards, which acquired almost divine status over the years and were revered by the troops.
The premier standard was the Aquilia (eagle), which was the responsibility of the senior cohors. If only a small detachment went on campaign then a vexillum would be substituted as the Legio’s standard. In addition to their usual standards, images of the reigning Emperor, called Imagines, could be carried by individual cohortes. These would be carried by experienced Legionarii wearing richly decorated gear. Officers would also have expensive and distinctive equipment (see the section on ‘Appearance’ below), with impressive helmet crests, etc. The Roman Command packs depict a Legion’s high command, most important standards, and centuriones. The Aquiliferi (eagle-bearers) could also be bareheaded, as they are usually depicted without helmets or animal skin coverings — a fairly easy conversion, grafting a spare head and an Aquilia onto the marching Imaginiferi and his standard pole respectively.
The Signum was the standard carried by a Legion’s individual cohortes, and is readily recognisable by its open hand at the top of the pole (Auxilia substituted a spearhead) and the disc-shaped battle honours running down its length. Some added cloth and tasselled decorations. Possibly the most splendid sight were the Signiferi who carried these standards. They wore a bearskin hood (complete with face) draped over their helmets and down their shoulders. With a little conversion (poles from wire, hands from spare figures, discs and decorations from epoxy putty, etc) each of your cohortes can have an individual Signum. You can even award battle honours as you go along! The Centurio who carries the vine stick used to beat discipline into lazy Legionarii wears phalarae (disc-like medals) on his chest — a senior centurio for certain. The cornicen (military musician) is playing his cornu, which was used in conjunction with the standards to signal manoeuvres on the battlefield.
These were essential to every Roman field force because of the varied nature of the terrain and opponents they faced. The only time a Roman army seems to have encountered tactical difficulties was when its various arms (Legiones, Auxilia, and cavalry) failed to co-operate and thus to complement each other, as the failure of one could normally be covered by the success of another.
The Auxilia were the main support troop-type at this time. They could outnumber Legionarii at times if flexibility, speed, and rough terrain capabilities were required. They too were organised into cohortes (usually 480 strong, but with the variations detailed below), but rather than being grouped into Legiones they were used more flexibly. Sometimes individual cohortes were split to garrison several small strongholds, while on other occasions they were concentrated in large numbers for a specific campaign (Trajan took some 39 cohortes of Auxilia to Dacia). It has often been said that the Auxilia were not as well equipped or well trained as the Legionarii, but this is not borne out by their actions. They wore body armour (usually mail, but parts for loricasegmentata have been found at Auxilia sites) and a simpler but equally effective bronze Imperial-Gallic style helmet and carried a substantial scutum that was a flat oval. They were armed with a pair of spears (lancea), plus lighter javelins at times. Secondary armament was a gladius-style sword. However, variations in equipment were numerous in Auxiliary cohortes, with some units — designated Scutata — carrying the oblong cylindrical shield of the Legionarii. Animal skins could be worn over helmets, and a single 8 ft (2.4 m) spear or a longer thinner type of pilum (both of which can be made from wire) might be carried.
Auxilia figures are in similar packs to the Legionarii, with a mixed pack and six packs of identical figures. Formation of your cohortes should follow the same suggestions as for Legiones. Auxilia shields may have had simpler designs but they were still colourful, featuring wreaths (for victory), stars, crescent moons, flowers, eagles, wings, and linear swirling patterns. Reliefs from Trajan’s Column provide examples of Legionarii, Auxilia and Equites or cavalry shields.
Auxilia archers were a much more uncommon troop-type, but there are records of bow-armed cohortes of Sagittarii and depictions of them can be found on Trajan’s Column. They would be organised as other cohortes but would certainly be rare. Archers from the East served all over the Empire, including Hadrian’s Wall, and were recognisable by their long-skirted tunics. They served on campaign along with more conventionally dressed bowmen from the West. These troops could fight as skirmishers or provide concerted volleys of arrows when drawn up in a closer formation.
Auxilia organisation was slightly less rigid than that of the Legiones, as their cohortes were not all of one size. The commonest was the cohors quingenaria of six centuriae (480 men), but there were also some cohortes milliaria of ten centuriae (800 men). Cohortes equitata included in addition a detachment of cavalry — four turmae (120 men) if the unit was a cohors quingenaria equitata, and eight turmae (240 men) if it was a cohors milliaria equitata. The rarest unit, but the most fun for a wargamer, was a cohors dromedaria, which added 24 camel riders to the formation. Obviously, these can only be used in the eastern portion of the Empire! Each cohors was commanded by a Praefectus Cohortis if it was a quingenaria unit (although some of these were given the status of Civium Romanorum, equal to Legiones, and were commanded instead by a Tribunus), and by a Tribunus if it was a milliaria. Apart from these differences, and the fact that Auxilia were not Roman citizens, organisation was the same as for a Legio cohors.
AUXILIARY CAVALRY OR EQUITES
Rome’s cavalry arm steadily grew during this period. The Equites were organised into alae (literally ‘wings’), with their basic sub-unit being the 30 strong turmae. An ala quingenaria had 16 turmae (480 troopers) and an ala milliaria 24 turmae (720 troopers. In addition there were a few ala peditata which included some centuriae of Auxilia infantry (the exact number is not known but could equate to a cohors equitata and have an infantry strength equal to a quarter of the cavalry), as well as the very rare ala dromedaria (yes, those camels again), which was either all camelry (unlikely) or a normal ala with a small unit of camelry attached. On the battlefield the Equites of mixed cavalry/infantry units would normally be combined to produce ala sized formations, so your army can have a cavalry unit with two different shield patterns. It was not uncommon for Equites to dismount and fight on foot, when they would be the equivalent of Auxilia and can thus be represented by Auxilia figures.
Equites shield patterns were very similar to those of the Auxilia, as was their equipment. ‘Chopped oval’ shields can be substituted for the usual pattern by taking a normal oval shield with a round boss and cutting off the top and bottom until they are half the width of the centre. The mixed Roman cavalry pack provides the troops needed for turmae and alae. Officers can be found in Cavalry Command, which includes a vexilla standard, which would have the ala’s designation on it (e.g. a Roman numeral — II or VI would be appropriate). The pack containing the scale armoured trooper can be mixed in but can also be used to distinguish Guard regiments (see below). A simple officer conversion is to model a crest on a trooper’s helmet, as Auxilia officers dressed like rankers most of the time. The musician plays a version of the Roman tuba favoured by mounted troops.
Unusual cavalry types found in service at this time were the equites sagittarii and contariorum. Both were rare but were interestingly armed. The Sagittarii were horse archers, fighting as either open order skirmishers/scouts or in close order like other equite alares. If you wish to depict a few of these use Late Romans [LR025 in particular] with their tunic decoration carefully sanded off, but left otherwise as they are if used as scouts, or with helmeted head swaps if intended as closer order troops (I believe they should be mail armoured really, and it is possible to convert a couple of the Auxiliary cavalry figures to hold bows). Contariorum carried a lance called the contus or kontos (literally ‘bargepole’) and are easily produced by arming Roman cavalry with a 10–12 ft (3.0–3.6 m — in scale 44– 55 mm) lance and omitting the shield.
The Praetorians must be one of the most famous guard formations in military history and few wargamers can resist the urge to depict them as crack troops. Unfortunately the reality was somewhat different. While it is true that the Praetorians were lavishly equipped and paid, they quickly became more interested in politics and their own purses than in necessarily fighting well. Their morale was questioned on more than one occasion and some garrison-bound units could be a liability in battle. However, in their early days they were a magnificent sight and would make a splendid addition to any Early Imperial army. The Praetorian packs with the Command pack allow you to recreate their formations.
Praetorian organisation was as for the Legiones, with six centuriae of 80 men forming a cohors praetoria with the addition of three turmae of 30 cavalry (the cavalry would form up with other Praetorian Equites or Auxiliaries to form ala milliaria-sized units). Praetorian shield patterns would have been even more ornate than those of the Legiones, with one reconstruction from the late 1st century being midnight blue with gold thunderbolts and lightning flashes, silver stars and crescent moons, and eagles wings in white or silver. Praetorian cavalry shields were straight-sided and equally colourful.
German guards also became popular during this period and they formed the elite Ala Singularis cavalry regiment, which was an ala milliaria commanded by a Tribunus. Their long hexagonal shields featured four scorpions just in case anyone needed reminding of the vicious reputation of German warriors. For these, and Praetorian cavalry shields, I would use a Celtic shield with the surface detail filed off and a small round boss added.
The appearance of the Early Imperial Roman Army has been a subject of debate for many years now. The original view held was that Legionarii wore red tunics and Auxilia and Equites wore unbleached or dyed wool, but current thinking is that all soldiers would have worn the same regulation issue undyed type except officers, Praetorians, and the Equites Singularis. However, as uniforms wore out they were replaced using local materials, so while a Legionary cohors would appear pretty uniform it could differ markedly from one returning to the Legionary base after a long campaign. I therefore suggest that cohortes, whether Legio or Auxilia, are dressed in uniforms of similar colours which may include red but are more likely to be shades ranging from off-white, cream and beige to oatmeal and possibly even faded black (try lightening black with flesh paint for a realistic effect). This would go for other items of equipment too, especially belts, which would start out as regulation issue but then to be replaced as time went by. Gladius scabbards were personalised quite readily, as were helmets, which could be plain bronze or iron, have contrasting sheets of metal applied, or be tinned to give a high shine. The focale scarf worn by Legionarii could be any colour or even patterned.
Officers and Guards would probably have red tunics, although those in Legiones could have any colour they wanted. Crests seem to have been red or white, although black or dual coloured examples would not have been unknown.
MISCELLANEOUS AND UNUSUAL TROOP TYPES
Rome’s civil wars threw up some strange troops, and none more so than in 69 AD, when a Roman army included a band of Gallic noble volunteer cavalry [use Celtic cavalry], a band of Gladiators [the more heavily armed and armoured types] and stone throwing peasants.
Native infantry and cavalry from Roman provinces were generally used only in small numbers, probably because the Imperial Army was now a fully complementary force in its own right. However, Numidian and Moorish skirmishing cavalry were used throughout the Empire and British Celtic warriors and Balearic slingers fought in the western half of the Empire. These would have been few in number and should not be over represented in your army.
Elephants and camels were used in the 43 AD invasion of Britain, Emperor Claudius using them to scare the natives. They were not strictly military beasts so could be depicted without towers, saddles, etc, being led by nervous civilian handlers and an equally worried punishment detail! I hasten to add this is only a suggestion.
Allied contingents fighting under their own leaders were rare in the west of the Empire, consisting of bands of wild Sarmatians, while in the east the Hellenised Commagenes, the Arabs of Nabatea, the Judaean client kingdom, and independent Armenians all fought for Rome at some time.
Rome’s enemies in the west included the Sarmatians, Germans, British Celts, Scots-Irish, Caledonians, and Dacians, and in the east Armenians, Parthians, Numidians/Moors, Blemmye, and Jews (in revolt). Apart from these the Romans had a nice line in civil wars which could be particularly deadly considering the opponents were both equally highly trained and equipped. In fact the Legionarii sometimes refused to fight each other, which seems eminently sensible to me.