Centuria – 80 men strong tactical unit
Centuria comes from latin word centum which stands for a hundred. It’s name implies a total number of personnel that served in this Roman unit. So, a total of 80 soldiers and 20 auxiliary servants made Roman centuria into a mighty force. After Marian reforms of 107 BC, when Roman army adopted new standards, centuria became a unit that combined 10 contibernia. Contibernium was the smallest Roman organized unit of 8 soldiers and 2 auxiliary that lived in the same tent during campaigns. All mentioned units were a part of the Roman legion.
Ranks within the Centuria
Centurion commanded the centura with the help of his two assistants: Optio (lieutenant) and Tesserarius (sergeant). Each unit had it’s own banner or signium that was carried by a Signifer. In the course of battle, Centurion and Signifer would stand at the far right side of the first row to have the best view of the battlefield. Optio stood at the rear to ensure tight formation through the rows and to prevent falling back.
One of the most important perks of the centuria was good communication. Orders had to reach every soldier within the formation. A horn was used (buccina) – different sounds and melodies stood for different orders. Centurion could command his unit more effectively this way. The importance of hearing orders is evident in the design of roman helmet, galea. Galea had ear holes which gave the legionnaire a dimension of sound on the battlefield. Helmets also played a role in identifying the officer’s rank. Higher ranking officers had crest decorations on their helmets. Tribunus, for example, had hair crest mounted transversely on their helmet, while Centurion had it mounted longitudinally.
The first cohort in the legion had most elite centuriae within their ranks. It was a unit of five 160 men strong centuriae (double the size of a regular one), also called primi ordenis – the first rank centuriae. Leader of this cohort was the most experienced Centurion – primus pillus – first file of spears, the spearhead. As already mentioned, centuria had it’s own sign. The signum (sign) represented the merits of each centuria. All kinds of decorations (phalerae) were applied to the signum. These decorations are equivalent to today’s military medals. The loss of signum in a battle would be a shame to the centuria, so they made sure that the signifier was protected at all times.
Signifier carrying a banner of the 4th legion Felix Flavia