Ancient History & Civilisation

The Rewards of Service

Pay Parade, ad 70

For the appointed day having arrived for the distribution of the soldiers’ pay, he ordered his officers to parade the forces and count out the money to each man in full view of the enemy. So the troops, as was their custom, drew forth their arms from the cases in which till now they had been covered and advanced clad in mail, the cavalry leading their horses which were richly caparisoned. The area in front of the city gleamed far and wide with silver and gold, and nothing was more gratifying to the Romans, or more awe-inspiring to the enemy than that spectacle’. Josephus, The Jewish War 5.349-351 (Loeb translation).

Josephus' account of the Roman army’s pay parade during the siege of Jerusalem, ad 70.

Legionary pay

Tradition maintained that the Roman Republic first began to pay its soldiers during the 10-year siege of Veii at the beginning of the 4th century вс. Polybius provides us with the rates of pay for Roman cavalrymen and infantrymen in the mid-2nd century вс. Cavalrymen received higher pay than the infantry, which in part reflected their higher status, but was also intended to cover the cost of fodder for their horse, for some pay was deducted to cover the cost of grain issued to each man. Allied soldiers were not paid by Rome, but received their grain ration free. Polybius gives equivalent values in Greek currency and says that a centurion received 4 obols, an infantryman 2 obols, and a cavalryman 1 drachma per day. It is now very difficult to calculate the original sums in Roman coinage, since we do not know on what basis Polybius made his calculation, but it is possible that he assumed a rate of 1 drachma = 1 denarius. This pay was not intended to provide a soldier with his main income, but to cover his expenses until he returned to civilian life.

Caesar doubled the pay of his legionaries so that they received 225 silver denarii (9 gold aurei) a year, which implies that before this reform they were receiving something like 112.5 denarii. The rate set by Caesar was maintained until the end of the 1st century ad. It was issued in three instalments (stipendia), each of 75 denarii (symbolically 3 gold coins or aurei, but probably paid in more practical silver), probably on 1 January, 1 May and 1 September. On campaign such regular issues were not always possible, but Titus called a pause in the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 to pay his army. This was done with great ceremony, the troops parading in their finest equipment, and lasted for four days, one for each of the four legions in the army. The pay was probably overdue, for the parade was held at the end of May and beginning of June. It occurred when a series of reverses had shaken the legionaries’ confidence and was intended to boost their morale.

At the end of the 1st century Domitian increased legionary pay to 300 denarii (or 12 aurei). This probably involved adding a fourth stipendia. Just over a century later, Septimius Severus increased legionary pay once again, perhaps to 450 denarii, which seems to have been paid once again in three stipendia. His son, Caracalla, increased pay by a further 50 per cent, an indication of the spiralling inflation of the 3rd century ad.

The pay received by officers of all ranks in the legion is not known with any certainty. Dio tells us that under Augustus praetorian guardsmen received double the salary given to legionaries, but it is more than possible that this is a rough approximation.

Auxiliary pay

It is clear that not all auxiliary soldiers were paid at the same rate. We know that a cavalryman received higher pay than an infantryman, so that a transfer to the cavalry section in a cohors equitata was considered promotion. Hadrian’s speech from Lambaesis further tells us that the men of an ala received higher wages than the horsemen of a mixed cohort. Some men, including the principales and those in other junior posts, received pay and a half (sesquiplicarii) or double pay (duplicarii). However, there is no clear evidence for the amount of basic pay for any branch of the auxilia. Opinion is divided over whether non citizen infantrymen received the same salary as legionaries, or were paid less. One of the most recent studies arguing for a lower rate of pay suggested that under Augustus, when a legionary received 225 denarii per year, an auxiliary infantryman got 187.5 denarii, a cavalryman in a cohort 225 denarii and a cavalryman in an ala 262.5 denarii. All commentators seem to believe that each branch of the auxilia - the cavalry in an ala, the horsemen of a mixed cohort and the ordinary infantryman - were paid at a universal rate throughout the Empire. This may have been true, but it is also possible that rates of pay sometimes varied from unit to unit, and was influenced by each unit’s origins.

In this scene from Trajan's Column the Emperor is shown rewarding auxiliary soldiers for conspicuous service Under the Principate all decorations came nominally from the Emperor even if they were actually presented by the provincial legate

Stoppages and savings

All of these figures represent gross pay, and the amount actually received by the soldier was considerably less. In Tacitus’ description of the mutiny in the Rhine army following the death of Augustus in ad 14, he has the mutineers complain of their low pay, from which was deducted charges for clothes, equipment and tents. A small number of surviving documents dealing with the pay, stoppages and savings of individual soldiers provide more concrete examples. One of the best-preserved documents lists the accounts of two soldiers in Egypt in the year ad 81. Their unit is unknown, but it is usually assumed that they were auxiliaries, since each instalment of pay is less than a legionary stipendium. Payment was made in drachmas, one of which was probably equivalent to 1 sestertius. This has been taken to mean that their standard stipendium was 250 sesterces (or 62.5 denarii), but that 2.5 sesterces were deducted as a charge for converting the pay into locally used drachmas. The account of the first man is as follows:

In the consulship of Lucius Asinius (ad 81)

QUINTUS JULIUS PROCULUS from DAMASCUS received the first salary instalment of the third year of the Emperor, 247.5 drachmas, out of which:

hay

10 drachmas

for food

80 drachmas

boots & straps (poss. socks)

12 drachmas

Saturnalia of the camp

20 drachmas

?

60 drachmas

expenditure =

182 drachmas

balance deposited to his account

65.5 drachmas

and had from before

136 drachmas

making a total of

201.5 drachmas

received the second instalment of the same year 247.5 drachmas, out of which:

hay

10 drachmas

for food

80 drachmas

boots & straps (poss. socks)

12 drachmas

to the standards

4 drachmas

expenditure=

106 drachmas

balance deposited to his account

141.5 drachmas

and had from before

201.5 drachmas

making a total of

343 drachmas

received the third instalment of the same year 247.5 drachmas, out of which:

hay

10 drachmas

for food

80 drachmas

boots & straps (poss. socks)

12 drachmas

for clothes

145.5 drachmas

expenditure=

247.5 drachmas

balance deposited to his account

343 drachmas

The other man’s account is similar, but he suffered an additional charge of 100 drachmas for clothing in his first stipendium, and also started off with less money saved so that his final savings were only 188 drachmas. Most of the other entries were identical, which suggests that the charges, such as 80 drachmas for food per stipendium, were standard and incurred by all soldiers. It is unclear why the men paid for hay, since they do not appear to have been cavalrymen. Perhaps it was used for bedding, as in some form of palliasse, or required by the contubernium’s mule. Both men paid 145.5 drachmas for clothing in the third stipendium, which suggests that certain items were issued annually in the expectation that they would wear out in this time.

A similar document was found at Masada in Judaea and appears to record the expenses incurred by a soldier serving as part of the fortress garrison after its recapture. The man, Gaius Messius, was a Roman citizen, most probably serving in Legio X Fretensis. In this case all sums are in denarii, 20 of which - equal to 80 drachmas - were deducted for food, which once more suggests a standard rate. The document also appears to record the purchase of items, in one case a cloak and in the other a white tunic, from other named individuals, probably fellow soldiers. The man also paid for barley, which has led some to believe that he was a legionary cavalryman, although it may instead equate to the hay in the Egyptian papyrus. What is curious is that his salary is listed as 50 denarii in the first instalment and 60 in the second. This has variously been interpreted as referring to the total deductions, or implying earlier stoppages made before the unit’s signifer came to issue money. Both views are plausible enough, but this oddity should warn us against generalizing about pay from a tiny sample of specific documents.

Domitian banned soldiers from banking more than 250 denarii with the unit funds, after a provincial governor had tried to employ these to fund a rebellion. Other records on papyrus suggest that at least some men were able to save as large, or even larger, sums, and it is more than probable that this restriction soon lapsed.

Donatives

On his death, Augustus bequeathed 250 denarii to every praetorian, 125 to soldiers in the urban cohorts, and 75 to legionaries and the members of the cohortes civium Romanorum (units of freedmen raised in the crises of AD 6 and 9). Successive emperors repeated this practice, and other substantial donatives were made on accession or to mark key events. The loyalty of the praetorians was essential, and as a result these men always received considerably more money than any other part of the army. Claudius owed the throne entirely to the praetorians and as a result gave each guardsman 3,750 denarii. In the second half of the 2nd century, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus marked their accession and confirmed the support of the praetorian guard by presenting them with 5,000 denarii apiece. The amounts given to legionaries increased, though not as rapidly. Auxiliaries seem to have been excluded from such bounties until Late Antiquity.

Decorations

Not all rewards given to soldiers were financial. Polybius believed that one of the most important reasons for Rome’s military success was the care she took to reward brave soldiers. At the end of a campaign the army was paraded and the general addressed them from a tribunal. He then ‘calls forward those he considers to have shown exceptional courage. He praises them first for their gallantry in action and for anything in their previous conduct which is particularly worthy of mention and then distributes gifts.’ Josephus described how Titus presided at such a parade after the fall of Jerusalem in ad 70:

The 1st-century ad tombstone of Gnaeus Musius, aquilifer (eagle-bearer) of Legio XIV Gemma, shows him wearing a harness decorated with a targe number of dona, including phalerae and torques

'Calling up each by name he applauded them as they came forward, no less exultant over their exploits than if they were his own. He then placed crowns of gold upon their heads, presented them with golden neck-chains, little golden spears and standards made of silver, and promoted each man to a higher rank; he further assigned to them out of the spoils silver and gold and raiments and other booty in abundance.’ (Loeb translation)

Listed are some of the most common decorations (dona), including the blunt-headed, miniature spear (hasta pura), the miniature standard (vexillum), and a torque worn around the neck. Smaller, torqueshaped medals, along with disc-shaped decorations (phalerae), were often worn on a harness over a man’s armour, whilst arm-bands (armillae) were worn on the wrists. The most important decorations were various types of crowns. The oldest, and most hallowed, was the civic crown (corona civica), which was awarded for saving the life of a fellow citizen. Traditionally, that man had to acknowledge the debt he owed to his comrade, and himself make a simple crown from oak leaves. The siege crown (corona obsidionalis), made from twisted grass, was only awarded on a handful of occasions to men who had relieved a besieged garrison. The other crowns were of gold - the mural crown (corona muralis) and the rampart crown (corona vallaris), given to the first man over an enemy wall or rampart respectively. Leading an assaulting party on an enemy-held fortification was extremely dangerous, but brought a man considerable fame. After the capture of New Carthage in 209 вс, Scipio Africanus had to arbitrate between rival claims from the fleet and legions that one of their men had been first over the wall. Ultimately, he gave both claimants the crown.

It was extremely rare for the Romans to make any sort of posthumous award, although Caesar seems to have honoured one of his centurions who fell at Pharsalus in 48 BC. A soldier had normally to survive to claim a tangible reward. Perhaps inevitably, officers were more likely to receive recognition for their bravery. The regular pattern of awards to senior officers such as tribunes and legates under the Principate suggests that most were automatic decorations and did not require any conspicuous behaviour.

At Jerusalem, the soldiers receiving decorations were also promoted and given a larger share of the spoil. These tangible rewards were doubtless very important, but we should not underestimate the deep emotional importance of the medals themselves. Soldiers who won such awards had proved their gallantry and received the respect and admiration of their comrades. In 47 вс, during the civil war between Caesar and his enemies, the general Metellus Scipio initially refused to present gold armillae to a cavalryman because the man was an ex-slave. The soldier’s immediate commander, Labienus, offered to reward him instead with gold coins. When the soldier refused this, Metellus relented and delighted the man by presenting him with silver armillae of considerably less intrinsic worth. Dona were important, so much so that they were frequently mentioned, and often physically depicted, on the recipient’s tombstone. Understanding the deeply emotional importance of decorations, all emperors ensured that these were presented in their name, helping to confirm the loyalty of the army.

By the late 1st century AD, decorations were rarely if ever presented to ordinary soldiers in auxiliary units, although they were still received by officers. Instead, conspicuous gallantry was rewarded by honours paid to the unit. In some cases the soldiers received Roman citizenship before their discharge, as happened with Cohors I Brittonum milliaria after active service in Trajan’s Dacian Wars. Such units usually kept the title civium Romanorum (of Roman citizens), even after all the men who had actually received the grant had left the army. Several of the battle honours awarded to auxiliary units echoed the names of individual dona, so that units received such titles as torquata or bis torquata, armillata, or coram laudato (usually abbreviated to C.L.). The unit of Britons mentioned earlier eventually gathered a long list of such honours, to become Cohors I Brittonum milliaria Ulpia torquata p.f. (pia fidelis) c.R. (civium Romanorum).

Diet and rations

During a campaign, the need to keep his army adequately supplied was one of the greatest concerns of a Roman commander. Even in peacetime, considerable effort was needed to provide for the army in its garrisons. As we have seen, the cost of his food was a standard deduction from a soldier’s pay, and it was important both for morale and the health and efficiency of the army that proper rations were actually issued. Literary sources suggest that the basic components of the military diet were grain (usually wheat), meat (especially bacon), cheese, and sour wine (acetum) as opposed to proper, vintage wine (vinum), often vegetables and notably lentils.

Much of the ration was issued unprepared, for there were no real equivalents to the communal canteens or mess-halls of modern armies. Soldiers were issued with their individual ration and then prepared it with their contubernium, either in ovens set into the fortress walls or built into the barrack blocks. The army had two basic meals in the day, breakfast (prandium) in the morning and dinner (cena) at the end of the day. The grain ration was usually issued in its basic form - although on campaign it might be provided in the form of hard-tack biscuit (bucellatum), and was then ground by the soldiers into flour. The Emperor Caracal la was eager to live the simple life of an ordinary soldier when on campaign, and it is said that he used an army hand mill to grind his own grain ration. Quern stones have been found at some military sites. Once turned into flour, the ration was frequently baked into wholemeal bread (panis militaris). A bread- stamp from the legionary fortress at Caerleon suggests that a baker and two assistants were responsible for making a century’s bread in an oven. There seems also to have been a higher-quality military loaf, which was perhaps eaten by officers. Alternatively, the grain ration could be used to make porridge or soup, the latter possibly in combination with vegetables and meat, or turned into one of the forms of pasta known from Pompeii.

The north-east corner of the legionary fortress at Caerleon. On the right is a barrack block and on the left the rampart, between them the roadway or intervallum. Set into the rampart are ovens while in the comer is a tower.

A scene from Trajan's Column showing a row of Roman fortlets and watchtowers along the River Danube On the left two auxiliaries unload stores from a boat. In the ancient world it was usually far easier to transport bulky items over water than on land.

There is an enduring myth that Roman soldiers were essentially vegetarian. It rests largely on the misreading of a few passages where a historian notes that Roman soldiers were reluctantly forced to exist on an overwhelmingly meat diet. Yet it is clear that whenever possible the troops wanted a balanced and varied diet. Bacon and pork are often mentioned in our literary sources, and formed an important part of the diet of Italian civilians. Interestingly, pig bones turn up far more frequently in the excavation of legionary fortresses than auxiliary forts, especially in northern Europe, which suggests that citizen soldiers had a greater fondness for this meat. They are especially common in early legionary bases such as Nijmegen in Holland, occupied under Augustus, when the legions consumed pork in similar quantities to Italians. Thereafter, probably reflecting the decline in the number of Italians serving in the legions, the proportion of pig bones from legionary sites drops, although it rarely falls below 20 per cent and on the Upper Danube tends to be considerably higher.

Instead of pork, the legionaries seem to have eaten a good deal of beef. Cattle provided not only meat, but leather which the army required for a range of purposes, most notably the manufacture and repair of tents. The bone finds from auxiliary forts also suggest that these troops consumed large numbers of cattle, but there is usually a much higher proportion of sheep and goat bones from these sites in comparison to legionary bases. It may be that this difference had as much to do with availability as dietary preference. In Britain the inhabitants of the simpler villages and farms which changed little from the pre-Roman Iron Age seem to have kept and eaten more sheep and goats, whereas the more ‘Romanized’ sections of the population dwelling in towns or villas ate far more beef. Auxiliary forts tended to be located in the less developed areas and the meat component of their diet reflected that of the local population in type, although it was usually greater in quantity. It is also probable that the difficulty of transporting pigs, as opposed to cattle or sheep, over long distances made these more readily available in the centrally located legionary bases.

The rations issued by the army appear in general to have been adequate, if inclined to be somewhat monotonous, and were evidently often supplemented by private purchases. Food is a common theme in the surviving correspondence of Roman soldiers. One document from Vindolanda appears to be an account from a firm of civilian traders who supplied both grain and loaves to units and individuals, both military and civilian. Letters from Egypt reveal soldiers writing to their families requesting that they send them extra food. Food is the main theme of the many ostraka (potsherds with messages on them) written in the 1st century by soldiers garrisoning the rather desolate post at Wadi Fawakhir on the road from Coptos to the Red Sea. These mention bread, barley, oil, various vegetables, including onions, radishes and cabbages, salted fish, wine and meat. Inevitably officers with their higher pay were able to purchase a great number of luxury items, from oysters to sauces and fine wines. Some of the Vindolanda tablets give an impression of the requirements of the household of a senior officer, although the actual purchasing was usually the task of slaves. One slave, Severus, wrote to another slave, Candidus owned by the prefect Genialis, arranging for him to purchase goods which included radishes. Another letter, again probably from slave to slave, gave instructions for the purchase of a range of goods needed by a large household, including ‘bruised beans, two modii [17.5 litres, or 30.8 pints], chickens, twenty, a hundred apples, if you can find nice ones, one hundred or two hundred eggs, if they are for sale at a fair price ... 8 sextarii [4.4 litres, or 7.7 pints] of fish sauce... a modius of olives..

Apart from purchase, additional food could be supplied by hunting and there is considerable evidence for soldiers indulging in this. Deer, especially red and roe dear and elk, were commonly hunted for food as well as sport in the northern provinces. The German provinces seem to have offered better hunting grounds than Britain, for the bone evidence from military sites in this area attests to the hunting of a very wide range of animals, many of which, such as bear, wolf and aurochs, are now extinct in the region. Fishing was another source of additional food, and bones and fishhooks have been found at a number of sites.

Beer (cervesa) is mentioned on several occasions at Vindolanda, and may well have formed part of the basic ration. There is some evidence to suggest soldiers brewing beer at Caerleon, and this drink was probably very common, especially in the northern and western provinces. It is likely that there were other regional and period variations affecting the military diet, but such trends are hard to discern. Certain foods may have been taboo on religious grounds to men recruited from some ethnic groups. The garrison of Bearsden on the Antonine Wall appears to have eaten little meat, but we cannot say who they were or why this was so.

Apart from the soldiers, the army had also to meet the needs of the many animals they maintained as mounts or beasts of burden. A late 1st-century ad document from Carlisle lists the allocation of wheat and barley to the 16 turmae of a cavalry ala. Wheat was intended for the soldiers and the barley for their horses. The huge quantities of grain, as well as meat, required by the army were provided from a range of sources, which included taxation. Local supply was not always possible, and indeed could rarely provide all the requirements of a unit, and large quantities of grain and other material were often transported considerable distances. Depots, consisting primarily of rows and rows of large granaries, were often established at ports or on navigable rivers, such as the base at Arbeia (South Shields) near the mouth of the Tyne in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. From such points, grain could be distributed as required to individual units.

Health and medical facilities

The continued good health and fitness of its soldiers was essential for maintaining the army’s effectiveness. Roman bases and temporary camps were supposed to be sited in as healthy a location as possible. Bath houses were provided to keep the soldiers clean, and drains and latrines to ensure reasonable standards of hygiene. The latrine at Housesteads is particularly well preserved. Men sat on wooden seats above stone lavatories, the waste dropping into a drain which was kept constantly flushed by flowing water. Other channels of flowing water were provided to wash out the sponges which the Romans used instead of lavatory paper.

Some temporary camps may have included a sizeable tented hospital, usually laid out as a square around a central open space, a design which was to a great extent preserved in the permanent buildings of the later fortresses. Even when there was no large-scale campaigning, the base hospitals seem often to have been occupied. A strength report of Cohors I Tungrorum stationed at Vindolanda around AD 90 listed 31 men as unfit for duty, namely 15 sick, six wounded and 10 suffering from inflammation of the eyes. This represented almost 12 per cent of the 265 men actually at the base, and just over four per cent of the entire unit. Records from units elsewhere usually include a number of men incapacitated by disease or wounds. One of the letters written by the legionary Claudius Terentianus to his father apologized for failing to meet him. He explained that ‘at that time so violent and dreadful an attack of fish poisoning made me ill, and for five days I was unable to drop you a line, not to speak of going to meet you. Not one of us was able to leave the camp gate.’ After returning to duty he seems to have been injured whilst policing a riot in Alexandria and returned to hospital.

A view of the internal buildings at Housesteads, showing the hospital on the far right. A strength report from nearby Vindolanda includes men hospitalized because of unspecified illnesses, eye inflammation, and wounds.

(Above) A range of Roman medical equipment. Some army doctors were highly skilled by the standards of the day, and the Medical Manual of Celsus contains much information about the treatment of wounds. Soldiers received better medical care than was available to the poorer classes in civilian life.

(Below) In one of the battle scenes on Trajan's Column, a legionary and an auxiliary are shown lowing their wounds treated by medical orderlies.

There were a range of medical staff supporting the legions. The most important was the doctor (medicus), at least some of whom seem to have ranked with centurions (medicus ordinarius). A good number of these men appear to have been from the Hellenistic provinces, and some at least were highly skilled. The great medical writer Galen mentions with approval a headache cure devised by an army doctor called Antigonus, as well as an eye- salve made from a range of ingredients including mercuric sulphide which was the work of an oculist in the British fleet (classis Britannica) named Axius. Another army doctor, Pedanius Dioscurides, had written Materia Medico, a text which was cited by Galen and used for a considerable period of time. Such men were clearly amongst the best army doctors, and the skill of the average medicus may well have been far lower, although another medical writer, Celsus, notes that they, like the surgeons at the gladiatorial schools, had far more opportunity to study anatomy than their civilian peers.

Beneath the medici were a range of personnel, including the optio valetudinarii, who seems to have overseen the administration of the hospital. Men known as capsarii, after the round first-aid/bandage box or capsa, provided more basic treatment than the senior medical staff. Celsus’ manual provides detailed descriptions of treating various wounds, methods which were only a little less advanced than any employed until recent centuries. Some surgical implements have also survived and attest to quite sophisticated operations. The army provided a level of medical care which was far greater than that normally accessible to poor civilians.

Discipline and punishment

The Roman army’s system of discipline had been severe even when the legions were raised from wealthy citizens serving out of their sense of loyalty to the state. If anything, its punishments became even more brutal when the army became a professional force. From the very beginning of a recruit’s training, the army made it clear how they expected a soldier to behave. Those who conformed to this pattern of behaviour were rewarded, but those who failed to do so faced punishment. A Byzantine military manual, the Strategikon, dates to well after our period but preserved drill commands in Latin which probably had changed little from the days of the Principate. Silence and rigid discipline were constantly stressed, and the optiones walking behind the rear rank of the formation had long staffs with which to strike any man who dropped out of place or spoke. The vitis, the centurion’s vine cane, was frequently used to inflict beatings, leaving scars on many a soldier’s back. This corporal punishment appears to have been inflicted entirely at the whim of these officers, and such martinets were invariably the first targets in a mutiny. Tacitus tells us that in AD 14 the mutinous legions on the Rhine lynched a centurion nicknamed ‘Fetch me another!’ (cedo alteram) from his habit of snapping his cane over a legionary’s back and bawling out for another to continue his punishment.

The death penalty probably required the sanction of more senior officers, but was inflicted for a range of offences. Sentries found asleep on guard - the old soldiers’ trick was to prop up their long shield with their pilum and then lean on it, dozing off whilst still standing up - were, as under the Republic, clubbed to death by the comrades whose lives they had put at risk. Soldiers who fled from battle could be condemned to be crucified or thrown to the wild beasts, penalties reserved normally for criminals from the lowest sections of society, and not inflicted on citizens. Probably the most famous punishment was decimation imposed on a unit which had fled ignominiously from battle. One tenth of the soldiers were selected by lot for execution. The remaining 90 per cent of the unit suffered a more symbolic penalty, for they were ordered to set up their tents and sleep outside the rampart of the camp, and were issued barley instead of wheat. As with the medals which demonstrated a man’s warrior status, these public humiliations were deeply felt. Augustus is said to have punished not only soldiers but even centurions, by ordering them to stand at attention outside his tent for an entire day, wearing only their unbelted tunic and perhaps holding a pole or clod of earth.

An altar dedicated to Discipline, the personified deity of military discipline, by Legio II Augusta. The cult of Disciplina flourished fora white in some provinces during the 2nd century.

Soldiers had no opportunity to appeal against any penalty. In the 4th century AD the historian and soldier Ammianus Marcellinus claimed that avoidance of punishment was the commonest reason for a man to desert. This may well have also been true under the Principate, and certainly our sources attest to desertion as an ever-present problem for the professional army. Many enemy leaders, including Jugurtha, Tacfarinas and Decebalus are said to have recruited their best men from Roman deserters. In the 1st century ad Corbulo, renowned as a strict disciplinarian, routinely executed men captured after deserting for the first time. Normally, only men who had run two or three times suffered the death penalty. Yet even so, he did not eradicate the problem altogether, and his army simply suffered a lower than average rate of desertion.

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