Legion – Roman war machine
Legion was the largest unit in the Roman army that had the strength of 3000 personnel in the early times up to 6000 personnel in later periods of Roman empire. It was the most advanced military unit in the Ancient world (well, in Europe at least) that played a major role in Roman expansion throughout Western and Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Legion was an army of conscripts (the Latin term legio means conscription) and professional soldiers that had a strict organizational structure. This feature made it into a frightening weapon at the disposal of Ancient Roman generals. The structure was truly remarkable at that time as it is today. In this article, you will get an insight of the 1st century BC Roman organisational structure.
Cohort was a standard tactical military unit of a Roman legion, though the standard changed with time and situation, and was composed of between 360-800 soldiers. Each legion was broken down into 10 cohorts. The first cohort was made up of five double-strength centuries (160 men) and gathered the most experienced legionaries, while the legionaries in the tenth cohort were the least experienced.
Cohort was broken down into centuriae – Centuria is a unit made of 80 fighting men and circa 20 auxiliary servants commanded by a Centurion. The name gives a clue of unit’s size as Latin centum stands for a hundred. Centuria, again, was broken up into contuberniums.
The centurion of its first century automatically was the most senior in the legion and was known as the primus pilus.
Contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman legion. It consisted of eight legionaries led by a Decanus. Soldiers of a contubernium shared a tent, and could be rewarded or punished together as a unit. Ten contubernia formed a centuria.
This article gives a rough insight on the ancient Rome’s prime military unit – the legion. Legion owes its power and its legacy to the strict structure and high level of discipline, which combined with trained soldiers and skilled generals gave us almost undefeatable Roman war machine.