Ancient History & Civilisation

Daily Routine

Much of a soldier’s life was spent in barracks, and it is worth now considering this environment. For recruits from the towns and cities, life in a crowded military base will not have been entirely unfamiliar. Those men from rural areas, especially many auxiliaries who came from the less settled provinces, can only have found it a new and strange place.

It is conventional to refer to the largest of the army’s permanent bases, and in particular the establishments capable of housing an entire legion, as fortresses, whilst the smaller installations suitable for a single auxiliary unit are referred to as forts. Temporary bases, regardless of size, are known as camps. None of these terms is entirely appropriate, and they conceal the enormous variety of function within each group. Fortress and fort inevitably suggest a position which was primarily defensive, something akin to a medieval castle. In fact, the army’s bases were rarely provided with especially strong fortifications. Instead they were first and foremost barracks providing accommodation for large numbers of soldiers and storage space for the supplies required to support them.

The Legionary Fortress

Even after the Marian reform, the Roman army did not have permanent bases. It was still essentially a field army, designed to carry out mobile operations. This was a time of conquest, and the Empire continued to expand rapidly until AD 14. Yet active campaigning was normally confined to the spring, summer and early autumn, for it was exceptionally difficult for armies to find adequate food and forage in the winter months. At the end of each season of operation, a legion would retire and settle into winter quarters (hiberna). In urbanized areas this might mean being billeted on a town or city, but elsewhere it involved the construction of a far more substantial version of the marching camp. The fortifications were made more formidable, the earth and timber ramparts made higher and strengthened with towers, whilst tents were replaced by huts. Such camps provided the troops with a measure of comfort during the winter months, which should have resulted in lowering the losses to sickness. They also often had a strategic function, serving to hold down recently conquered territory or positioning the army in readiness for the next season’s campaign.

Under Augustus the army took on a new permanence and, whilst expansion continued, many legions began to spend longer periods stationed in the same part of a province. Over time, the old winter quarters evolved into more permanent bases, which acted as the legion’s depot, housing much of its records and administration, even if the bulk of the unit was away on campaign. At first such bases were simply slightly better constructed versions of the winter camp, with timber buildings and earth ramparts, but over time these were rebuilt in more substantial form. Eventually, tiled roofs replaced thatch, and wooden walls were replaced by stone. The rebuilding in stone usually occurred in stages, and the choice of buildings reflected a unit’s immediate priorities. The pace at which this process occurred was influenced by the state of the existing timber structures and the local availability of suitable masonry.

A legionary fortress was big, covering some 50-60 acres (20-25 ha). A small number, such as Vetera (modern day Xanten) on the Rhine, were even bigger, housing two legions on the same site. Many legionary' fortresses now lie beneath modern towns, such as Chester or York in Britain, and this, combined with their sheer size, has meant that detailed excavation has only been possible in small fractions of most sites. This means that our picture of a legionary fortress must to a great extent be an amalgam of many different sites. Since there appears to have been a great degree of uniformity in plan and layout, this may not present too much of a problem, but it is important to remember that each site so far excavated has displayed a few peculiar features. Some were occupied for several centuries and during that time passed through numerous phases of development.

(Above left) A plan of the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil in Scotland, which was built in the late 1st century ad and abandoned before it had been completed.

(Above) A plan of the legionary fortress at Caerleon (Isca Silurum) in South Wales was occupied for more Hum two centuries by Legio II Augusta. There are many similarities with the layout of Inchtuthil, but no two fortresses appear to be absolutely identical.

Defence was rarely of prime concern in the siting of legionary fortresses. It was far more important for these bases to have access to very good communications by road, and especially by water, so most are located next to navigable rivers. There is some variation in the earliest period, but virtually all fortresses conform to the classic playing card shape - a rectangle with rounded corners - common to marching camps. Two roads were central to the layout of any Roman base. The first, or via principalis, ran between the gateway in each of the longer sides of the fort. Joining this at a right angle was the via praetoria, which led from the most important gate of the camp, the porta praetoria, up to the headquarters building or principia which lay behind the via principia. There were other roads within the fortress, most notably the via decumana, which led from beyond the range of buildings surrounding the principia out to the porta decumana gate in the rear wall.

Internal buildings

The principia: The headquarters was the administrative and spiritual heart of the legion. Its main entrance, usually constructed on a monumental scale, lay on the line of the via praetoria. This opened into a colonnaded courtyard, usually paved, surrounded by rooms which may have served as offices. Behind this was an enormous transverse hall or basilica, some 30-40 ft (9-12 m) wide with a double row of massive columns running along its length to support the high roof. There is evidence from excavations at Caerleon and York that the hall often contained larger-than-life-sized statues of the emperor and members of his family. This area appears to have been used for formal parades and ceremonies and at one end there was a raised tribunal from which the senior officer presiding over such affairs could address the gathering.

One of the excavated barrack blocks at Caerleon. Nearest to the camera is the broad range of rooms that provided accommodation for the centurion - perhaps also for some of the other principales - and also probably some administrative space. In the distance are the pairs of rooms, each of which was allocated to an eight-man contubernium.

In the centre of the far wall was the entrance to the shrine (aedes or sacellum) where the legion’s standards, the 59 or 60 signa, the imagines (busts) of the imperial family, the vexilla (flags) used by detachments and most of all the aquila or eagle, were kept. Screens, often in part of stone, separated the shrine from the main hall, but still allowed the precious standards to be glimpsed. On either side of the shrine were ranges of offices, whilst beneath was often a cellar housing the legion’s treasury.

Although the actual dimensions and details vary from site to site, it seems that the principia in most fortresses conformed to this pattern. One exception was at Lambaesis, the depot of Legio III Augusta in North Africa, where the functions of the main hall were fulfilled instead by an open colonnaded square.

The praetorium: The commander of a legion, with the exception of the units stationed in Egypt who were led by equestrian prefects, was a Roman senator, and thus a man of considerable wealth and standing. The accommodation provided for the legate, along with quite possibly his wife and family and certainly a large household of slaves and freedmen, had therefore to be on a grand scale. The legate’s house, or praetorium, was modelled on a Roman aristocrat’s town house and consisted of a range of buildings around a central square courtyard, which provided rooms for public and social functions as well as private living space. Quite often there were other small courtyards, and the legates’ houses at both Xanten and Caerleon had on one side a long colonnaded area with semi-circular ends, most probably a garden. These houses were luxurious, with under-floor heating and their own bath houses, and were also very big. Estimates of the size of the praetorium at Caerleon suggest that it was substantially larger than the biggest house in Pompeii, which was in keeping with the status of legionary legates as senators, members of an imperial elite numbering a few hundred. Their houses were also unequivocally Roman in design and style, even when the legionary fortress lay in regions with a very different climate from the Mediterranean.

Other houses: The other senior officers of a legion were also provided with houses of their own. The tribunus laticlavius was also a senator, and lived in a smaller version of the Italian courtyard house. Similar, if possibly slightly less fine, accommodation was provided for the equestrian tribunes, and probably the praefectus castrorum. The centurions of the first cohort, the primi ordines, in turn enjoyed a higher status than the rest of the centurionate, and were allowed to live in small houses, rather than a suite of rooms at the end of a barrack block.

(Above) The principia at Lambaesis in North Africa is one of the best-preserved examples of these buildings which formed the spiritual and administrative heart of a legion. Unlike the headquarters in the colder, damper climates of Europe, much of the space was taken up by an open-air courtyard in which parades could be held.

(Below) A scene showing the fort at Vindolanda as it would have appeared near the end of the 2nd century ad. In front of the gateway is the vicus, the civilian settlement that grew up to support any permanent army base Notice the design of the strip houses, whose very narrow front facing the road was intended to provide as many dwellings as possible with road access Many of these buildings may have had shops or bars in front.

The barracks: The most common type of building within the fortress was the barrack block, providing accommodation for a century of 80 men and its officers. A legionary fortress would contain 60 such blocks, or 64 if its first cohort was milliary. In a temporary camp each century pitched its tents in a line, and the long thin barrack buildings preserved this arrangement. Instead of a tent, each eight-man con- tubernium (squad) was given a pair of rooms. One seems to have provided living and sleeping quarters, perhaps in bunk beds although there is no direct evidence for this. The other room, probably used to store equipment, was about the same size, around 50 sq. ft (4.6 sq. m) or a little smaller. There was no internal corridor, but a colonnade ran along the front of the building with perhaps a door for each pair of rooms. Finds of window glass are reasonably common around barracks, suggesting that most had windows, but it is probable that the inside of these buildings was gloomy. This was especially true of the rooms at the rear, since it was common for two blocks to be built back to back separated by a very narrow alley.

At the end of each block was a wider range of rooms, whose plan varies to a far greater extent from site to site. These seem to have provided some office and administrative space for the daily running of the century, and also a suite of rooms for the centurion. There is some evidence that these officers lived in a degree of comfort, with the walls of their rooms plastered and painted in decorative patterns. They also usually included a private lavatory and wash room with its own under-floor drain. Usually it seems that the bigger and better rooms were at the end of the block furthest from the main street and so presumably a little more peaceful.

Theoretically each barrack block ought to have consisted of the centurion s rooms and offices, and 10 pairs of rooms for the 10 contubernia. However, excavated blocks rarely if ever have 10 pairs of rooms, and 11 or 12 is far more common. The purpose of these extra rooms is uncertain, and various uses such as storage space or accommodation for the principales have been suggested. The front room in some barrack blocks were provided with hearths, although at other fortresses, such as Caerleon, ovens were built into the inner side of the main ramparts. When units were at full strength, life in barrack blocks may well have been crowded and gloomy, but such living conditions were unlikely to have been much worse than those of poorer civilians living in the blocks of flats (insulae) of the cities.

The hospital (valetudinarium): Another of the larger buildings in the fortress was the hospital, built to conform with the medical wisdom of the day. Once again, these tended to be rectangular buildings based around a central courtyard. At Inchtuthil in Scotland the hospital measured some 300 ft by just under 200 ft (91 by 56 m). It was divided into 64 wards, each about the size of a contubernium room in a barrack block. If, like the latter, these rooms were expected to accommodate from four to eight soldiers, then this would have meant that the hospital was capable of coping with a 5-10 per cent sickness or injury rate for the entire legion. The wards were built in two separate ranges, one inside the other, joined at intervals by short corridors. Hospital buildings found in fortresses in Germany lack this detail, but are otherwise similar, although the ones at Neuss and Xanten also have a single larger room at their main entrance.

(Above) The granaries at Housesteads fort on Hadrian’s Wall show one of the methods of raising the floor level of such buildings to control the temperature of stored goods and protect them from vermin. Notice the great thickness of the walls. Granaries were extremely substantial buildings.

(Above) The reconstructed timber granary at the 1st- century ad Lunt fort near Coventry. Note the windows to provide ventilation and the raised floor.

The granaries (horrea): Although conventionally referred to as granaries, these massive buildings were in reality storehouses containing a range of foodstuffs and other items apart from grain. Their remains are distinctive, because invariably the floor was raised above ground level, either by low walls or rows of posts or pillars. This helped to make the stored food less accessible to vermin, and even more importantly, along with ventilators set into the walls, permitted a freer flow of air. In stone granaries the walls are usually buttressed, in part a reflection of the height of the building, but probably also an indication that the roof projected for some distance beyond the wall, helping to ensure that rainwater drained away from the building. In these ways the grain was kept cool and dry, allowing its storage for long periods without significant loss.

The bath house: A bath house was more than simply a place to wash for the Romans, it was an important social environment. Some of the most sophisticated technology ever developed by the Romans was employed in regulating the temperatures of the different rooms in a bath house. All military bases had a bath house, and in the case of legionary fortresses these were constructed on an enormous scale, being something akin to modern sports centres.

Other buildings: Legionary fortresses were very large and included a range of other buildings. At Inchtuthil a large workshop (fabrica) was discovered. At Lambaesis a building was tentatively identified as the scholae or guild houses associated with particular ranks such as centurions. A number of buildings are known only through their plan revealed by excavations and it is impossible to do more than guess at their function. A strange elliptical building has been discovered in the fortress at Chester which is unlike any structure known from either civilian or military contexts elsewhere. In some cases there were large open spaces, perhaps because the original plans were altered. Although many legionary fortresses were occupied by the army for several centuries, this does not mean that all parts of the base were constantly maintained to a high standard. At Chester for instance, much of the fortress was abandoned during the 2nd century ad, with buildings in some areas being demolished, before the fortress was subsequently reoccupied. There is no reason to suppose that this was unique.

Fortifications

The walls surrounding a Roman base were not especially high or formidable. In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, towers normally did not project beyond the wall and so could not be used to deliver enfilading fire against attackers pressing the main wall. The height of walls is difficult to calculate, but the walkway was probably not more than 12-15 ft (3.6—4.5 m) above ground. The towers may well have been twice as high again, or higher, and it is certain that the towers forming part of the main gateways were deliberately made tall and impressive.

Outside the walls was invariably at least one ditch, and it was rare for auxiliary forts and other small outposts to have fewer than three ditches. These were usually v-shaped in section, some 6 ft (2 m) in depth, and with a small rectangular trench at the bottom to facilitate cleaning out spoil as well as making it easy for anyone attempting to cross to twist their ankle. In some cases the area in front of the ditches was covered with concealed pits, each with a sharpened stake in the middle, known to the soldiers as ‘lilies’ (lilia).

The defences of most Roman forts would have posed few problems for an army with some knowledge of siegecraft. However, for much of the Principate only the Romans possessed this technology. Against a less skilled opponent, the ditches and other obstacles would certainly have served to slow down and break up an attack, robbing it of momentum. All the while the defenders would also have been bombarding any attackers with a hail of missiles, from javelins and arrows to simple hand-thrown stones. Experiments by modern re-enactors have suggested that ditches were sighted so that they could be covered by thrown missiles from the walls and towers of a fort. Some bases may also have included artillery as part of their defences, although this perhaps only became more common in smaller forts during the 3rd century.

The reconstructed stone gateway at Arbeia fort (modern-day South Shields overlooking the mouth of the Tyne) was built on the foundations of the original Roman structure Recently discovered evidence from Egypt suggests that the towers probably had an extra storey.

(Above) The reconstructed gateway built at the Unit fort gives an impression of the entrances to earth and timber forts Once again the height of the original structure is impossible to establish.

(Above) A plan of the fort at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall, giving a good impression of the layout of auxiliary forts and their scale in comparison to the vast legionary fortresses Housesteads was a little bigger than some auxiliary forts; it appears to have been constructed fora miliary cohort.

The Romans possessed the knowledge and skill to construct far larger and greater fortifications around their bases, but under the Principate chose not to do so. Even so, an attack on a fort would have been a difficult and risky operation for most of Rome’s enemies. The defences were not made even stronger, because the army remained primarily an army for mobile operations. The Romans expected under most circumstances to move out from behind their fortifications and defeat the enemy in the open.

An aerial photograph of Housesteads today shows the praetorium, principia and hospital in the centre. A few buildings of the civilian vicus are visible outside the gateway, but this settlement was in fact far bigger, covering most of the slope to the south and west.

Auxiliary Forts

In many respects auxiliary forts were a smaller- scale version of the great legionary depots. Their plan was essentially the same, with the main via praetoria and via principalis meeting at a t-junction, behind which lay the principia building, itself a smaller version of a legionary headquarters. Beside this was the praetorium, in size more like the tribune’s houses in a legionary base, and probably a smaller version of the hospital, sometimes as a single range of rooms rather than a courtyard building. Barrack blocks were much the same size as their legionary equivalents, but there were fewer of them - a mere six for a quingeniary cohort and 10 for a milliary unit. Mixed cohorts and alae also added stable blocks, roughly similar in dimensions to the barrack buildings. Bath houses were also smaller and normally lay outside the walls of the fort.

Barracks Life

Like many other standing armies throughout history, the Romans believed in keeping their soldiers busy. The massive military bureaucracy, of which only the most minute fraction has survived, recorded where each soldier was and what he was doing. A duty roster survives for a century of one of the Egyptian legions, perhaps Legio III Cyrenaica, from the late 1st century ad. Covering the first 10 days of the month of October, it lists the tasks assigned to each of the 31 legionaries available for duty. Tasks range from guard duty at the principia, on the gates and rampart of the fortress, to patrols around and outside the base. At different times, two men spent a day with the artillery, although whether this involved training in its use or simply cleaning the weapons and their ammunition is impossible to know. There were also fatigues, such as being assigned to the bath house, presumably assisting in its running and maintenance rather than enjoying its facilities, and, even less pleasantly, cleaning out the latrines. Some men were assigned to ‘boots’, which either meant looking after their own kit, or perhaps some role in repairing the century’s footwear. Assignment to clean the centurion’s boots most probably involved acting as batman, and the men ‘in century’ may simply have been at the immediate disposal of the centurion and principales.

In many ways this duty roster would be readily familiar to the soldiers of many regular armies. It should not surprise us that the century appears to have done little or nothing as a unit whilst in camp. The men were assigned as individuals to wherever they were required. Several were posted to other centurions for tasks both inside and outside the camp. Initially there were 31 men available for duty, although this was subsequently increased to 35. The remaining nine soldiers of the century, which was thus at little more than half its theoretical strength of 80, were immunes or exempt from normal duties. These were also listed along with their specialist tasks, including a wagon repairer, keeper of weapons, and a range of administrative posts. Men with such positions, just as Julius Apollinarius had gleefully written to his father, were able to avoid heavy labour and many of the more unpleasant tasks. It was also recognized that in many units some soldiers bribed their centurions to avoid any disagreeable duty. Though obviously detrimental to discipline, this problem appears never to have been wholly eradicated.

Some documents listed the activities of every soldier in the unit. Documents survive listing the names of every soldier in Cohors XX Palmyrenorum at Dura Europus and listing their current assignments. Once again, men tended to be posted as individuals to perform a very wide range of tasks, rather than operating in their centuries or contubernia. Units also appear to have kept records of each individual, listing periods spent away from the unit. Another late 1st-century papyrus from Egypt records the absences of four soldiers of Legio III Cyrenaica over the course of seven years. During this time Marcus Papirius Rufus had been sent twice to the granary in the Mercurium quarter and once to the granary at Neapolis in Alexandria. Another man, Titus Flavius Saturninus, had spent some time dredging a harbour, and then been assigned to the centurion Timinius, and subsequently the freedman Maximus.

Parades and religious ceremonies

Although soldiers spent much of their time assigned as individuals to specific tasks, the corporate life of the unit continued, once again much as it does in many modern armies. When in barracks, the day seems to have begun with a muster parade, when the roll was called. Quite probably a senior officer would deliver the orders for the day, perhaps from the tribunal in the principia. As men were then despatched to their tasks, other parades took place after which men were enrolled as sick or returned to normal duties. At some point the guards throughout the camp would be changed and a new password for the day issued. It seems probable that this process involved considerable ceremony.

On some days further parades were required to mark important occasions. One document, known as the Feriale Duranum, from Dura Europus, lists the formal calendar of Cohors XX Palmyrenorum in the late AD 220s. Written in Latin, the calendar includes many traditionally Roman festivals, when offerings were made to the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, as well as other important Roman deities, such as the war god Mars.

Duty Roster for a Century in Legio III Cyrenaica, Egypt, Late 1st Century ad

Name

1 Oct. 2 Oct. 3 Oct. 4 Oct.

5 Oct. 6 Oct.

7 Oct. 8 Oct.

9 Oct.

10 Oct.

C Domitius Celer

 

Latrines?

 

Leave by Prefect's Permission

C Aemilius Valens

Batman to Helius

 

Cotton guard? Armoury Baths

In century/or with cattle?

C Julius Valens

Area/ Tower? Drainage Boots training

Armoury

Baths Orderly

In

century

Baths

C Julius Octavianus

as before

In Baths century

HQ Road guard Patrol

In

century

?

P Clodius Secundus

Camp market duty?

 

Gate guard Boots

Helius’ boots

M Arrius Niger

In century

Duty in

the lines/side streets of the camp

 

L Sextilius Germanus

Gate StandardsBaths Tower? Guard

Duty in D Decrius’ century

   

C Julius F...

Artillery? Watch tower

Duty with century of Serenus

   

Q Cassius Rufus

Island

     

Boots

C Julius Longus Sido

Camp market duty?

In century of Helius

 

In century

C Julius Longus Avso

As before On detachment with Asinius for boots?

     

T Flavius Priscus

 

Rampart Guard

     

T Flavius Niger

Left with tribune

       

M Antonius Crispus

Baths Stretchers In Plain century clothes

In

century

Tribune’s escort

   

MNum...

On guard at prindpia

In century

Road

Patrol

In century

Q Petronius

? Baths

Camp Market duty?

   

.Car...s

C Aemilius...

Escort to centurion Serenus

Camp market duty?

   

C Valerius...

Escort to primus pilus

Duty in D Decrius’ century

   

TFlavius...

Baths

 

Gate guard

   

Q Fabius Faber

Baths Gate guard Baths

       

M Marcius Clemens

On detachment to harbours with Aelius or discharged on medical grounds?

   

C Valerius Felix

Duty in century of Caecilius?

       

C Cerficius Fuscus

Gate guard Baths

In century

 

T Furius...

Road patrol

In In

century century

Armoury

   

L Gall...

Tower?

 

Road patrol

 

Q Annius

Street cleaning

       

Q V...co

On guard at prindpia

 

Gate guard

   

M Longinus

M Domitius...

On detachment to the granaries at Neapolis

   

M Longinus A...

 

Latrines

     

M Julius Felix

Escort to Serenus?

Gate guard

   

T Flavius Valens

C Sossius Celer

L Vi...eiusSerenus

M Julius Longus

(Above) A view across the late 1st-century AD fort guarding the desolate Hardknott Pass in the Lake District. Nearest to the camera is the granary - note the thick, buttressed wads - while beyond is the principia.

(Above) Outside Hardknott fort, which can be seen in the distance, is a wide area of flattened land, which appears to have formed the garrison’s parade ground.

Events of purely military significance were rare, being limited to the day of honesta missio, or demobilisation, on 7 January, and the rosaliae signorum, or decoration of the standards, on 10 and 31 May. A high proportion of festivals were associated with the imperial family, in this case the Severi, and evidently intended to remind the soldiers of their loyalty. Deified emperors such as Augustus, Claudius and Trajan were also remembered, as was the divine Julius Caesar and, curiously enough, Ger- manicus the grandson of Augustus who died in AD 19 and was neither emperor nor deified, but extremely popular with the army. Most of these occasions are likely to have required a formal parade of most or all of the unit and were accompanied by a sacrifice, usually of bulls, cows or oxen. Probably this was followed by feasting, when the sacrificial meat was eaten, a practice certainly followed when Titus and his army celebrated the capture of Jerusalem in ad 70.

Unit training and exercises

Vegetius declared that soldiers should train constantly so that they were always prepared for war. Josephus also contrasted the never-ending and arduous exercises undergone by the Roman army with the lack of preparation of all other nations. So hard did the Roman army train and so perfect did their skill and discipline become, that the Jewish historian claimed that ‘it would not be wrong to describe their drills as bloodless battles, and their battles as bloody drills’. It was also one of the most important features of the ideal Roman commander that even in peacetime he imposed upon his men a hard programme of fitness training and drill.

The reality often failed to live up to this perfect image. A common theme in the literature of the period was the belief that the army in the eastern provinces lived a luxurious and soft life in garrisons in or around the prosperous cities of the area, so that its soldiers were ill-disciplined and utterly unprepared for the rigours of campaigning. This was largely a myth, but what was certainly the case throughout the Empire was that the army’s other duties frequently hindered its training for war. We have already seen that surviving duty rosters suggest that soldiers spent little time within their unit training together, but were assigned to a host of tasks in and out of the camp. Other surviving documents, which we shall examine later, confirm the picture of an army whose units were often divided into many penny packets (small detachments), which can only have reduced the opportunity for them to drill together, confirming the bonds, trust and mutual understanding between officers and men. The army was required to fulfil very many roles and at times, these could become more important than maintaining a thorough preparation for war. Even so a good provincial governor, and the officers in the hierarchy at all levels, were expected to find the time to ensure that military training did occur on a regular basis, and most Emperors made it clear that this was an important part of their task. Some went beyond admonition. Hadrian spent much of his reign touring the provinces, inspecting the army in each area and looking closely at its state of training, drawing upon his own extensive knowledge of weapons and tactics.

In ad 128, Hadrian visited the army in North Africa, and observed a series of large-scale exercises performed by Legio III Augusta and the auxiliary units of the province. Afterwards, the Emperor addressed the army at a formal parade and an inscription bearing the text of his highly complimentary speech (adlocutio) was subsequently set up to commemorate the event. The language and style of such pep talks has changed little over the centuries. Hadrian spoke in a direct manner, referring to ‘my legate’ and ‘my legion’, and showed detailed awareness of the unit’s recent history. He mentioned that one cohort was away on detached service with the proconsul of Africa, and that two years earlier another cohort, along with four men from every other century, had been sent to reinforce another Legio III - either Gallica or Cyrenaica - and so they were under strength. In addition the legion had recently shifted its base on at least two occasions, and spent a lot of its time dispersed in small outposts. Having declared that these factors could have provided an excuse for poor performance, Hadrian said that no excuse was necessary for he was entirely satisfied with them, paying particular compliments to the primi ordines and other centurions. Throughout the speech the Emperor was especially keen to praise his officers, and the diligence of the Legatus Quintus Fabius Catullinus was continually noted.

Aerial view of Woden Law hillfori, Scotland. The Roman camps and siegeworks outside this Iron Age settlement have variously been interpreted as traces of training exercises or a genuine siege.

In front of Hadrian the Ala I Pannoniorum had performed a series of manoeuvres, the cavalrymen demonstrating their skill at throwing different types of javelin. They were followed by the cavalry contingent of Cohors VI Commagenorum, who, in spite of their fewer numbers and lower-grade horses and equipment, still acquitted themselves well. There were occasional criticisms, for instance that some of the cavalry had charged and pursued too rapidly and so fallen into disorder, but on the whole the comments were extremely positive.

The exercise had included elements of a mock campaign and battle. Hadrian complimented a cohors equitata on moving to a position, rapidly constructing a camp, using stone for the walls and hewing out the ditch in hard ground, setting up its tent lines and cooking a meal, before forming up again and moving off once more. Several sites in Britain, notably at Llandrindod Common in the Brecon Beacons where at least 15 small camps have been located, have revealed traces of temporary camps which were almost certainly dug by troops on exercise. There is therefore at least some physical evidence for military training, but we cannot know how common training at unit and army level was. Much must have depended on the local situation and conscientiousness of unit commanders and provincial governors. Most if not all camps had a parade ground outside their perimeter, but larger- scale exercises were carried out elsewhere, perhaps in designated training areas.

Unit Exercises

‘It is difficult for the cavalry of a (mixed) cohort to put on a pleasing display anyway, and especially difficult not to displease after an exercise performed by an ala\ the latter fills a greater expanse of plain, has more riders to throw javelins, makes frequent wheels to the right and performs the Cantabrian ride in close formation, and, in keeping with their higher pay, has superior horses and finer equipment. However, you have overcome these disadvantages by doing everything you have done energetically, in spite of the hot temperature; Added to this, you have shot stones from slings and fought with javelins and everywhere mounted quickly. The special care taken by my legate Catullinus is very obvious...’

Part of the Emperor Hadrian's speech to Cohors VI Commagenorum after exercises, North Africa, ad 128.

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