The administrative and religious heart of the legion was its
headquarters, the principia legionis.
The principia was situated at the juncture of the via Praetoria
and the via Principalis in a camp or fort.
In the marching camps of the early Republic the principia and the
praetorium (the commander’s quarters) were combined. In
permanent installations the principia and the praetorium were
Principia in Permanent Fortifications
The front of the principia ran along the via Principalis. In a legionary fortress or an auxiliary fort it was often porticoed and had a large
main gate. They all typically had three distinct sections.
- A courtyard: The interior courtyard was paved or gravelled with a roofed colonnade that ran around the sides. The roofed areas
sheltered offices (used as scholae, etc.) and storage facilities (for the unit’s armamentaria).
- A cross hall (basilica): Directly across from the entry, on the far side of the courtyard, was a basilica. It stretched the entire width of
the principia and was typically the tallest structure in a camp. Internally it was divided by columns into three parts comprised of a
two/three storey nave flanked by aisles (each 1/3 the width of the nave). Light spilled into the interior from rows of clerestory (‘clear
storey’) windows that pierced the upper walls of the nave. On important occasions the cross hall would accommodate an
assembly of (the majority of) the unit’s troops for an address by the commanding officer. A raised platform known as a tribunal
was located at one end of the nave (sometimes at both ends) for the CO to administer justice, issue orders or speak to his men.
An area would have been designated as an auguratorium for the conduct of religious ceremonies inclusive of sacrifices and
- An array of rooms to the rear: The rear typically housed five rooms.
- The central one, the sacellum (or shrine), accommodated the chapel which contained the legionary standards and the
treasury. It was usually a stone structure, even in forts that were still in their timber phase. There was often an area for
witnesses to observe ceremonies held within through a grille near the Imperial Altar. In cohortal forts it held the Imperial
and (smaller) century altars. Altars were replaced annually, and the old ones were buried outside (i.e., in the parade
square) with reverence.
- Off to one side was the tabularium legionis, the pay and records offices of the unit. Service, promotion, decoration, transfer
and secondment records along with duty rosters, leave schedules, and illness reports were maintained here. The records
were inscribed on a variety of media, depending on local availability; slate, wooden waxed tablets, ink on papyrus, etc. The
tabularium was overseen by the cornicularius, who was assisted in his administrative duties by his deputy the actuarius
and a number of librarii.
- The offices of the signiferi were also located here.
- The CO’s office (officium) was typically situated at one end with easy access to the tribunal.
- The administrative office of the legionary cavalry was known as the tabularium equitum.
The tabularium legionis should not be confused with the Tabularium, the public repository for state records, located in the Forum
LEGION HEADQUARTERS - THE PRINCIPIA