SENIOR COMMAND STRUCTURE OF THE LEGIONS (1ST & 2ND CENTURIES A.D.)
The legati Augusti legionis (legionary commanders) were senators, ex-praetors around thirty years of age who typically served a 3 (sometimes up to 7)
year tour of duty. Legati Augusti pro-praetore governed Imperial provinces. Those provinces with one legion were commanded by ex-praetors (who also
acted as legionary COs) and those with more by ex-consuls. The latter commanded all of the provincial legates and their troops (i.e., Britain had four
The second-in-command, a tribune and a senatorial designate around the age of 25, served for one year. Although command ‘technically’ defaulted to the
Tribunus Laticlavius in the absence of the Legatus, it is more probable that the Praefectus and Tribuni Angusticlavii (see below) assumed control.
Each legion had five Tribuni Angusticlavii, equestrian tribunes, who served 3-4 years and then assumed command of a cavalry ala. They were generally
young men (former magistrates and/or auxiliary cohors peditata/equitata commanders). During the Republic each tribune commanded two cohorts but in
the Principate they occupied staff positions with an administrative/judicial focus.
Tacitus reported that they monitored the performance/reliability of the centurions. Their staff (officium) was comprised of clerks (cornicularii and
secutores) without military responsibilities who recorded casualties, maintained current lists of men serving, processed furlough applications and
dispensed discharges to retiring veterans. Tribunes often commanded vexillations, detachments of one or more cohorts on special assignments.
Tribuni Semestres were part of H.Q. staff and served 6 months before resuming civilian life. Following the Flavian era they were placed in direct
command of the legion’s 120 man cavalry contingent (four turmae of 30 horsemen). The cavalrymen were ranked as non-combatants along with the
headquarters staff. They were attached to specific centuries (as opposed to forming individual units) and served as messengers and scouts.
The third-in-command was an equestrian, a former head centurion in his late 50s with 30 plus years of experience. He was basically a quartermaster
responsible for choosing camp sites and overseeing their construction inclusive of entrenchments. He inspected tent lines in temporary camps. During
war he supervised the legion’s baggage train, and if siege operations were anticipated he managed the battering rams and ammunition supplies. In
permanent installations he oversaw the construction of barracks-blocks, internal buildings, wells and aqueducts.
He was the officer in command of the doctors (medici), the surveyors (mensores) and the horologiarius, the man responsible for the camp clock. He
oversaw the supply of construction and surveying equipment, furnishings, fabrica supplies (inclusive of wood, iron and coal) and medical equipment for
the legion’s hospital (valetudinarium).
The fourth-in-command was the senior centurion and leader of the 1st century of the 1st cohort. He held his post for one year. Parker believes that there
were two primi pili, one who commanded troops in the first cohort and one who served in the Legion’s headquarters.
The centurion commanding the second century of the first cohort was next in line, and he was responsible for the headquarters’ staff as well as training.
Ranked below him were the remaining centurions of the first cohort in the following order - hastatus, princeps posterior and hastatus posterior.
THE CENTURIONATE AND BELOW (1ST AND 2ND CENTURIES A.D.)
He carried the legion’s silver (subsequently gilded) eagle and ranked just below a centurion. He was entrusted with the legion’s pay chest.
Principales and Immunes:
Below the rank of centurion men were designated as either principales or immunes. Principales assisted the centurions and were exempt from normal
fatigues (optio, signifer and tesserarius). Immunes, men who were excused from regular fatigues by virtue of special skills (blacksmiths, carpenters,
surveyors, medical assistants, etc.), comprised almost 20% of each unit.
Centurions in cohorts 2-9 were equal in rank with seniority determined by years of service. They were recognized by their transverse helmet crests,
swords worn on the left and their swagger sticks (vitus) with which they dispensed discipline. They typically rode when a legion was on the march.
Centurions tended to die in service as opposed to retiring to civilian life.
The standard bearers handled the paperwork at century level. Vegetius says that the garrison was managed by the signiferi who were directly responsible
for finances. They recorded financial transactions, issued receipts, documented account activity and dispensed pay.
He was a ‘chosen man’, a centurion-in-training who assumed field command if the unit's centurion was incapacitated or killed. He carried a staff of office
known as a hastile.
The tesserarius controlled the daily watchword and was responsible for sentries and other fatigues.
He was responsible for centurial equipment, repairs, and weapons.
A century was composed of 10 mess units (contubernia) of six to ten men who shared a tent and a mule; each was commanded by a decanus.
The basic foot soldier served for 20-25 years (depending upon the time period).