Two thousand years ago the Romans were the most powerful nation in Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea. Their empire began when a tribe called Latins took over the city of Rome in Italy and the lands around them. All these lands became part of Roman Empire when they were conquered by the Roman Army.

The Roman Army was considered the most advanced and strongest of its time. It invaded many new countries, guarded the empire, and acted like police force to keep Roman law.

The Romans had really good soldiers, machines and animals to use during the war.


Structure of the Army

The most important fighting unit of the Roman Army was the legion commanded by a legatus. This consisted of between 5000 to 6000 legionnaires. 500 to 600 legionnaires made up a cohort while between 80 to 100 soldiers were a century commanded by a centurion. Each legion had a commander called a legatus, who had six officers called tribunes serving him.


Name Men How Many
Legion 5,000 One Army
Coborts 800 One army = 6 Coborts
Centuries 80 One Cobort = 10 Centuries
Contubernia 8 One Century = 10 Contubernia

The heavy infantry of the legion divides into 30 maniples. Each maniple had from 60 to 120 soldiers. Dividing legions to maniples helped in fighting over hill terrain.

Also each legion had 120 horsemen which helped communicate and catch traitors.

Attacking technique

For tactics of a field battle the Romans used a tried and tested attacking technique. Legionnaires would run forward at the enemy and throw their pila at them. While this caused disarray among the enemy, the legionnaires would move in for close quarter fighting using their swords.


In a battle, new rookies were always placed at the front of the more experienced soldiers in the army. There were three reasons for this. The first was to give them confidence as behind them were experienced soldiers who had fought in battles before. Secondly, it stopped the new soldiers running away if their courage deserted them. Finally, those who were more likely to be killed in the initial phase of a battle were at the front. The hardened and experienced legionnaires were at the rear.


The Roman Army could ill afford to lose experienced legionnaires whereas if a new legionnaire came through a battle alive, he would be blooded and experienced and a valuable addition to the army. If he was killed, then the loss of his inexperience would not be too great.


For tactics of a castle siege the Romans invented the “turtle“.

The “turtle“ structure was where the soldiers in the front had to put their shields in front of them, the soldiers at the sides had to put their shields sideways and all the other soldiers in the middle had to put their shields upwards creating the protective roof which protected the soldiers from arrows, stones, and hot oil poured from the walls of the castle. Sometimes another “turtle“ climbed on it so it would be easy to siege fairly low walls.

The Romans also invented the “crane“ machine. It was like a seesaw with a basket at the end of it with soldiers in it. It was put beside a wall and the basket was lifted into the air and over the wall then the soldiers with bows in the basket shot the soldiers on the wall. For attacking a city Romans used ballista’s and catapults a ballista’s flung rocks like a mortar and catapults shot huge arrows.

However for defending from the enemy the Romans built a wall around the city then a moat then piles of trees then traps in the form of covered holes with spikes in it in a chess structure then a wall of thick sticks and in front of that another moat.






Interesting fact

The Romans put paintings of the eye of Osiris on their ships   to prevent disease.


During the period of the Roman Republic it was compulsory military service where soldiers had to join the army for a period of 20 to 25 years and when a soldier retired he got a piece of land beside the castle where he could build his house. However at the end of II BC the army turned professional where soldiers could join if they like. Being a soldier was a good career. The army offered a steady, full time job and good pay.  The only disadvantage was that it was only for a certain time because they would get killed or wounded.

The soldiers had to pay for their food, weapons and armor.

In peacetime, soldiers helped build roads and forts across the empire.


Ordinary soldiers were called legionaries.

Soldiers wore woolen tunics with a metal breast plate and helmet in cold places soldiers also wore thick cloaks. They were armed with a short sword, a javelin, a shield, and a dagger.


All over the Roman Empire there were stone or timber forts built for permanent units of the army. Inside the forts soldiers lived in barrack blocks. These were long buildings divided into ten pairs of rooms. One room had bunk beds for eight soldiers and a fire place for cooking their meals. The other room had their equipment and weapons.

Interesting fact

Rome’s Capitoline Hill survived capture by Gauls in 390 B.C   because the holy geese there raised an alarm and woke up the legionaries.

When not fighting soldiers had to march long distances with heavy packs on their backs. It was like carrying an adult golden retriever (66 pounds or 30 kilograms) on your back when roman soldiers put on their full backpacks. In their backpacks they had their rations and tools for making a camp.

On a march in wartime the soldiers set up a camp to sleep and eat every night. A camp was made of a ditch and a wall of earth around the leather tents.


The Roman Army developed fighting techniques that were linked to a ferocious training regime. All new recruits to the army became very fit and disciplined. Training was harsh, as were punishments for failure. A soldier learned how to swim and ride fully armed. He was trained in javelin throwing and stone slinging. The new rookies practiced hand-to-hand combat with a wooden sword and shield. The soldiers were trained by centurions. The Romans invented the test dummy and their practice swords were twice as heavy as the real ones.



The pilum (plural pila) was a javelin commonly used by the Roman Army in ancient times. It was about two meters long. The total weight of a pilum was between two and five kilograms, with the versions produced during the Empire being a bit lighter than those dating from the previous Republican era. Most importantly, if the pilum struck the shield of an enemy it would get stuck into the shield’s fabric, and this would cause the shield to become use less, forcing the enemy to discard it. Pila were divided into two models: heavy and light. A pilum range is approximately 30 meters although the effective range is up to 15–20 m. The effect of the pila throw was to disrupt the enemy formation causing gaps to appear in its protective shield wall. Pila could also be used in hand-to-hand combat and also the pila could be used against cavalry charges.


The three most important things I want people to know about the Roman Army is that the Romans created the most complete efficient professional army of the ancient era. That they had really harsh training. And that they had at first compulsory military service and then a professional army.

1. Julius Caesar versus consul Pompeii. Pompeii’s army was 2 times bigger than Caesar.

2. Pompeii put his army in three lines. On the left bowman and rock slingers and on the right horses. Pompeii wanted to attack caeser’s right and back flank and force them into the river.

3. Caesar guessed Pompeii’s plan. And he put light infantry and cavalry on the right flank. But his main secret was that he hid a group of most experienced soldiers undercover.

4. The battle began and Pompeii’s cavalry attacked Caesars. Casers cavalry started to retreat and made Pompeii’s cavalry run after them and come straight to the hidden soldiers. With a sudden strike casers soldiers destroyed Pompeii’s cavalry. The left flank of Pompeii was then not defended. Then the cavalry that was ‘retreating’ along with the group of experienced soldiers attacked Pompeii’s army and destroyed it.

5. After that battle Caesar became the emperor of Rome. And the most important thing that he was the first one to use a hidden group of soldiers which was then called the reserve.

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