RECRUITMENT AND BASIC TRAINING
THE BENEFITS OF ENLISTMENT
The Roman legions offered a career in which you could:
- learn a trade that you could transfer into civilian life,
- receive excellent health care,
- enjoy a great and varied diet,
- travel to distant parts of the world and
- have access to bath houses and exercise facilities.
After 25 years of service soldiers:
- were granted an honorable discharge
- received a cash/land donative (3,800 denarii from Augustus to Claudius and 5,000 under Caligula)
- could marry.
Approximately half of all soldiers survived to collect retirement benefits.
Note: unlike the legions, auxiliary units were manned by non-citizens; their veterans were issued bronze diplomas in which their citizenship was formally confirmed, and they were granted the right (conubium) to marry citizens or non-citizens.
THE INDUCTION PROCESS
Probatio – An inspection/ interview was conducted under the authority of the governor.
- Criminals, slaves and non-citizens were prohibited from enlistment in the legion although non-citizens were later allowed.
- In times of need, the citizenship requirement was waived. These inductees were recognized as being born in castris, accorded membership in the Pollian tribe and given a Roman name. (Recorded in accordance with the lex Iulia municipalis as nomen, praenomen, father (or former master if a freedman), tribe, and cognomen.) Non-citizens who were granted citizenship assumed the nomen of the reigning emperor i.e., a man inducted in the reign of Tiberius might be named Tiberius–Aulus–in-castris–Pollian–Longinus.
- The minimum age for recruits was 17 and over (as per the legislation of Gaius Gracchus in 123 BC), although exceptions were made.
- Candidates bearing letters of recommendation/introduction (from their fathers or someone with prior/current service) were more favourably received.
- A medical examination was conducted, and Vegetius says that “the young soldier…ought to have a lively eye, should carry his head erect, his chest should be broad, his shoulders muscular and brawny, his fingers long, his arms strong, his waist small, his shape easy, and his legs and feet rather nervous than fleshy.” Defects that did not hinder one’s ability to fight were ignored.
- A minimum height of 6 feet was preferred for the 1st Cohort 5 feet 10 inches for all others [modern equivalents are 5 feet 10 inches and 5 feet 8 inches]. Distinguishing marks (scars, etc.) were noted and recorded.
- Serving soldiers could not be married and recruits had their marriages annulled.
- Reading, writing, and mathematics skills (i.e., bookkeeping) were prized.
The oath – Eligible recruits then took a military oath or sacramentum.
An individual, generally an officer of high rank, recited the oath aloud (praeiuratio – to swear). The recruits came forward and repeated it. Most recruits were sworn in as part of a large group at the annual renewal of the oath.
The text of the pledge to the emperor has not survived. The obligatory oath was renewed annually on January 03 under the Flavians. In general, it included promises:
- to obey orders
- not to break the law
- not to desert
- not to flee the battlefield or to abandon one’s place in the battle-line except to recover or fetch a weapon, save a friend or strike an enemy and
- to brave death in the service of the state/emperor
The oath was repeated by one soldier and the others present all said “idem in me”.
Although it has been suggested that recruits were issued with a signaculum (a precursor of the modern-day dog tag) comprised of a leather pouch worn around the neck with an inscribed lead tablet. No signacula have ever been found, with the exception of those related to physical property (inclusive of slaves).
Vegetius states that inductees received an indelible military mark (perhaps a tattoo or brand on the hand) to discourage desertion.
- Recruits received a pay advance (viaticum), typically three pieces of gold, to finance travel to their designated units.
- They were generally escorted in groups by military detachments.
- Recruits were assigned to specific units. The unit leaders were notified by a letter which introduced the recruit(s) and identified any distinguishing marks. The names of the recruits were then formally inscribed on a nominal role, and they were recognized as soldiers.
Training varied and was conducted in all types of weather over a four month period.
- Marching: The first concept that new soldiers learned was the military pace;. This was taught by marching twenty Roman miles (18.4 miles/29.6 km) in five summer hours. Units that marched at a uniform speed were less vulnerable to attack. The quick time pace was 24 Roman miles in five summer hours (with occasional ten minute breaks).It is important to know how the Romans treated time. Days were 24 hours long, equally split between day and night. However, the number of minutes assigned to each hour fluctuated depending upon the season and geographical latitude. In Italy, the daylight winter hour averaged 45 minutes whereas in the summer a daylight hour was 75 minutes.
- Physical Exercise: Exercise consisted of running, jumping and carrying heavy packs.
- Swimming: Recruits swam during the summer if their camps were adjacent to water.
- Vaulting onto a horse: This part of physical training involved all recruits and employed a wooden horse. Exercises were initially performed without weapons and equipment.
- General: As the recruits improved, they were issued weapons to use during physical training. Exercises increased in difficulty until military pace was achieved.
- Sword: The soldiers employed wooden swords and round wickerwork shields, both double the weight of normal service equipment. Practice involved attacking six foot wooden stakes. As a recruit’s experience grew, standard service swords and shields were issued.
- Pilum: Soldiers trained with a heavier than normal weight pilum. They developed arm strength and marksmanship by targeting stakes. After the soldiers had become comfortable with their practice pila, they were issued service models.
- Armatura: Once they were proficient with a gladius and pilum, the men were paired to train in individual combat and mock engagements using wood weapons equivalent in weight to service weapons. When real swords and pila were finally employed, the tips were shielded with leather buttons to prevent injury.
- Bow: 25-33% of recruits received bow training using stakes as targets.
- Sling: The art of throwing stones by hand and with a sling was taught.
- The final type of basic training involved field action. Under the supervision of an officer, soldiers in full equipment (66 lbs/man) and 17 days of rations marched at a military pace on unfamiliar routes, and established practice camps with fossa and valum.
Ambulatura: Battle formations were practiced on 10 mile marches thrice monthly. They included forming single and double lines, wedges, squares, and circles. Recruits continued practicing until they were able to march at military pace and often faster.