at the Rear of the Column
also another reason why the Legions have become attenuated: The
labour of serving in them is great, the arms are heavier, the duties
more frequent, the discipline more severe; to avoid this many flock
to the Auxilia to take the oaths of service, where the sweat is
less and the rewards come sooner". Vegetius.
For as long as
I can remember I have been interested in Roman history. As a result
members of my family often had to endure trips to some inhospitable
site at the back of beyond. They usually failed to appreciate however
that the few earthen banks before them, were anything more exciting
than those in the back garden. As I lived in North Wales and had
relatives in Cumbria those earthen banks generally belonged to an
Auxiliary fort or fortlet. My first job in Archaeology,involved
the production of illustrations depicting the fort at Manchester
and its Auxiliarygarrison. So my interest in the Auxiliaries grew.
Upon joining 'The Ermine Street Guard', I naturally entered the
Auxiliary branch of the service. Not the glamour of the Legions
for me! Having thus consigned myself to years of good natured abuse,
such gems from the public like "you're the cannon fodder then"
or as one newspaper put it "the British plebs, in other words".
I feel somewhat obliged to offer a few words of my own in defence
of my calling. If others feel the same way afterwards then my effort
will have been worthwhile.
dealing with the Auxilia alone appear as frequently as the Guards
Auxiliary contingent before a T.V. film crew. Cheesemans "The
Auxilia of the Imperial Roman Army" published in 1914 is still
the best general account.
In recent years
however the Auxilia have received some academic attention. Most
notably as regards pay and equipment. A pay receipt discovered at
Vindonissa seems to confirm that Auxiliaries received five sixths
Legionary pay rather than one third. M.A. Spiedel now suggests basic
Auxiliary infantry pay in the early first century A.D. was 250 Sestertii
each pay day. This compares with 300 Sestertii each pay day for
a basic legionary and Auxiliary cavalryman. I have of course put
in a request for ten years back pay.
salary explains how Auxiliaries could afford such elaborate tombstones,
often more so than their Legionary counterparts. It also provides
an explanation of the transfers between Legionary and Auxiliary
units and why the Auxiliary service was increasingly attractive
to Roman Citizens. We can now see how an average Auxiliary could
keep a wife, sometimes a mistress and often a servant!
theory was put forward that there was no clear cut distinction between
Legionary and Auxiliary equipment. This was an answer to the surprising
number of 'lorica segmentata associated finds discovered in forts
with known Auxiliary garrisons. Roman iconography and literature
unfortunately does not seem to bear this out.
On first century
tombstones, in particular when the figures are unarmoured, at first
glance there may appear to be no difference. Closer examination
however reveals consistent differences.
pila and curved shields, either oval or rectangular, are Legionaries.
Figures with spears and flat shields either oval or rectangular,
are conversely Auxiliaries. This scenario is reinforced by Trajan's
column and the Adamklissi tropaeum. Here although Legionaries may
appear in 'lorica segmentata' or mail, Auxiliaries never appear
in anything other than mail.
Tacitus, during Otho's revolt against Galba, "weapons were
hastily grabbed.Tradition and discipline went by the board. The
troops disregarded the distinctions of equipment between Praetorians
and Legionaries and seized helmets and shields meant for Auxiliaries".
types of equipment employed by Auxiliaries and Legionaries are described
in the account of the defeat of the British chieftain Caractacus.
The hapless Britons are driven from one form of death to another.
There are problem
areas however and some questions remain to be answered. It is known
that on occasions some Legionaries and Auxiliary cavalry both wore
scale armour for example. The increasing specialisation and independence
of Auxiliary units could have drawbacks in the absence of Legionary
troops and their equipment and tactics. Does this explain the existence
of at least one Cohors Scutata, and the cavalrymen on the sculpture
from Arlon in Belgium who appear to wear 'Lorica Segmentata' shoulder
Amongst the figures
on Trajan's Column is a lone Auxiliary carrying a Legionary scutum.
This may be the only pictorial evidence for the Cohors Scutata,
but is generally regarded as an error on behalf of the artist.
Reasons for the
high cost of military expenditure towards Rome's Auxiliary forces
is not hard to find. In a largely volunteer army attracting recruits
was one reason, maintaining their loyalty was another. Would the
image of poorly paid and ill equipped troops have achieved this?
of Roman military history quietly forget that if led by an aristocratic
buffoon, even the invincible Roman army suffered defeat. The fact
that the army could also contain within its ranks the eccentricities
of the reigning Emperor is regarded as heresy. However one Emperor
recruited a unit of seven footers while another raised what can
best be described as a Macedonian Phalangite re-enactment group,
for his eastern campaign.
also contains within its reliefs a few oddities. One group of Auxilia
appear wearing animal skins over their helmets. The attitude of
their arms and the regular oval shields they carry implies they
are not standard bearers; however to suggest otherwise is tantamount
to treason. So who are they, another error or an attempt to recreate
Republican Velites perhaps?
Next to a slinger
another auxiliary prepares to throw a stone. Historians blame the
much maligned artist here for another mistake. They say he should
have been another slinger. Yet Greek armies employed Thracian "psiloi"
stone throwers to considerable effect, and Thrace is not to far
from Dacia scene of Trajan's war. Vegetius also describes how recruits
should learn to throw stones as part of their training.
When the "Guards"
Auxiliary detachment changed the colour of their tunics, to match
the red of the Legionaries, this was greeted with horror from some
quarters. "They look just like us!" was the cry from one
dismayed Legionary. Equally however the Auxilia can now claim that
the Legionaries look like them, as more and more Legionaries adopt
mail shirts and bronze helmets!
From the public
(or the enemies) point of view the argument is irrelevant. The shield
either Legionary or Auxiliary completely obscures the tunic and
the distinction between troop types is maintained. The above quote
from Tacitus, seems to imply that if Legionaries wore Auxiliary
helmets and carried Auxiliary shields, they might indeed by mistaken
for Auxiliaries. So perhaps in the colour of their tunics there
was no difference. In style at least we know this to be correct.
equipment found on Auxiliary sites could be explained by the presence
of Legionary elements attached to Auxiliary units, either for garrison
duty or construction work on the fort itself.
Friend or Foe!
The record of
loyal service by the Auxilia in the Roman Army is an impressive
one. In times of emergency both Provincial Governors and Emperors
had to rely on their Auxiliary forces. In Britain for example, the
Governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, had to suppress a rebellion
by the Iceni tribe, using Auxiliaries alone. The Iceni stronghold
was stormed by infantry supported by dismounted cavalrymen.
On another occasion
Auxi iary troops were sent to uphold the regime of the client queen
Cartimandua during the Brigantian civil war. Although the force
was insufficient to defeat the hostile forces, it did succeed in
When Vanius king
of the Suebi and a loyal ally was driven from his kingdom by his
sister's sons, helped by Hermandurii tribesmen, immediate action
was necessary. The Emperor Claudius ordered the Governor of Pannonia
to dispatch a picked force of Auxiliaries to "protect the losers
and intimidate the winners!"
Secundus, Governor of Upper Germany, defeated a dangerous incursion
by the Chatti employing only German levies and Auxiliary cavalry.
Not only were the Chatti repulsed but the Auxiliaries also effected
the rescue of some Roman prisoners. These turned out to be survivors
of the Varan disaster of forty years earlier! One wonders what the
reaction was on both sides?
drew their infantry and cavalry bodyguard from amongst the Auxiliaries
stationed in their province. Those belonging to a British Governor
were implicated in a plot against the Emperor Domitian. They were
transferred, later to redeem themselves in the wars of the Emperor
of how a local commander would operate is an action described by
Tacitus against the Silures of South Wales. Auxiliary cavalry were
sent to the aid of a Roman foraging party (Legionary?) which was
cut off and surrounded. Unfortunately the cavalry too got into difficulties
and Auxiliary infantry were dispatched. Finally, the Legionaries
arrived to tip the balance in favour of the Romans.
Often seen as
innovative, for its exclusive use of Auxiliaries, the battle of
Mons Graupius can now be seen as almost typical. Here Gn Julius
Agricola sent in four Batavian and two Tungrian cohorts to fight
the enemy in Roman fashion, i.e. with the sword! On the flanks Auxiliary
cavalry defeated the enemy charioteers then joined in the melee.
When the enemy reserve tried to outflank the Auxilia, they were
instead defeated in turn by fresh Auxiliary cavalry which Agricola
had held back just in case. The enemy broke and fled pursued by
the cavalry and closely followed by the infantry, who rooted out
pockets of resistance.
The under strength
Legions, present at the battle, were held deep in reserve and had
taken no part, much like a guard display really! Amongst the 360
Auxiliary casualties was one Aulus Attius, a Prefect, who, according
to Tacitus, had been carried by "youthful impetuosity and mettlesome
horse deep into the ranks of the enemy".
impetuosity" of other Prefects may perhaps explain the disaster
which befell two cohorts that were wiped out by the Silures. Although
Tacitus, not adverse to pointing out Roman abuse, blamed it on the
greed of their commanders.
The courage and
fortitude of the Batavian Cohorts mentioned above was well known.
These warriors recruited from the marshlands of Holland and Belgium
became the commando troops of their day.
were famous for crossing rivers fully armed, such as the Ems during
Germanicus' campaigns in Germany and the Po in the civil wars of
A.D.69. Although no evidence exists, it is more than likely that
the Auxiliaries referred to as crossing the river Medway during
the Claudian invasion of Britain, were the Batavians. The task on
this occasion was to disable the enemy's chariots and horses while
their attention was distracted elsewhere.
One also suspects
it is the Batavians who crossed the Menai Straits into Anglesey
to destroy the Druid stronghold there. Tacitus describes how "some
(the cavalry) utilised fords but in deeper water the men swam beside
This feat is
somewhat surpassed by the achievement before the Emperor Hadrian
of Soranus, a trooper in Cohors III Batravorum Milliaria Equitata.
Soranus' epitaph records that in A.D. 1 18 he was " . . . the
man who, once very well known to the ranks in Pannonia, brave and
foremost among one thousand Batavians, was able, with Hadrian as
judge, to swim the wide waters of the deep Danube in full battle
kit. From my bow I fired an arrow, and while it quivered still in
the air and was falling back, with a second arrow I hit and broke
it. No Roman or foreigner has ever managed to better this feat,
no soldier with a javelin, no Parthian with a bow. Here I lie, here
I have immortalised my deeds on an ever mindful stone which will
see if anyone after me will rival my deeds. I set a precedent for
myself in being the first to achieve such feats."
puts my own triumph of hitting a four foot target with a six inch
Ballista missile at twenty yards into perspective. Soranus must
surely rank amongst the great marksmen of history, like William
Tell, Robin Hood or at the very least Kevin Costner.
Dio Cassius adds
that the Batavians, presumably this includes Soranus, "struck
the barbarians with amazement and turned their attentions to their
erected in Rome as a monument to that Emperor's victories in the
Dacian wars, contains within its spiral reliefs hundreds of anonymous
soldiers, many of them Auxiliaries.
discovery in northern Greece of a tombstone brought history and
archaeology to life. When Decebelus king of the Dacians, his armies
broken, fled for safety, Trajan sent Auxiliary cavalry in pursuit.
Finally cornered, Decebalus chose suicide rather than surrender.
In graphic detail the column relief shows the king about to plunge
a knife in his throat. Arriving on the scene too late, an Auxiliary
cavalry man throws out an arm in a desperate attempt to stop the
It was pure chance
that the tombstone discovered belonged to this very cavalryman,
one Tiberius Claudius Maximus. His tombstone likewise proudly depicts
a similar scene, the highlight obviously of a long and distinguished
Maximus was highly
decorated by Trajan himself. However it seems it was not normal
Imperial policy to reward individual Auxiliaries. The case of Maximus
is unusual although not unique. The fact that he was a Roman Citizen,
who had served in a Legion before transferring to an Auxiliary Ala,
was perhaps influential. Today many Guard Legionaries also see the
benefit of moving into the Auxilia (the comfy armour club!) despite
the absence of flashy trinkets and baubles!
For acts of bravery
it was more likely that Citizenship, either for individuals, or
for the unit as a whole, was awarded. Cohorts and Alae, like the
Legions, could be given honorary awards such as "VICTRIX"
or carry an Imperial family name. Some units for example COHORS
1 BRITTONUM MILLIARIA ULPIA TORQUATA PIA FIDELIS CIVIUM ROMANORUM,
could obviously amass a load of titles!
In 128 A.D. Hadrian‘s
Empire-wide inspection of the armed forces took him to North Africa.
Here he was impressed by the standard of some Auxiliary units during
a series of large scale manoeuvres. The sixth cohort of Commagenians
for instance made a good impression even by themselves. " The
First Cohort of Pannonians " . . . did everything in orderly
fashion" and their " javelin hurling was not without grace"
and pleased Hadrian "uniformly throughout the whole exercise".
I am sure similar words spring into Chris Haines' mind when he sees
the Guard Auxiliary contingent on parade!
not have been so uniformly pleased if he had come across the Syrians
as described by Fronto. For they were "mutinous, disobedient,
seldom with their units, straying in front of their prescribed posts,
roving about like scouts, tipsy from one noon to the next, unused
even to carrying their arms, and one man after another from dislike
of toil laid them aside, like skirmishers and slingers half naked.
Apart from scandals of this kind they had been so cowed by unsuccessful
battles as to turn their backs at the first sight of the Parthians
and to listen for the trumpet as the signal for flight!"
This leads us
neatly on to the other side of the coin, the series of alarming
revolts led or organised by Auxiliaries and which the Guards legionary
contingent should take good note of. Many of these revolts follow
a similar pattern. Generally an individual, - perhaps a native chieftain,
rebels while serving, or after service, as an Equestrian Officer
in the Auxiliary forces. The troops at their disposal could be auxiliaries
also from their own tribe, but even natives trained and organised
along Roman lines. The available Roman forces often lack local knowledge
and are further handicapped by the reliability of their own Auxiliaries,
many of whom maybe sympathetic to, or even related to, the tribesmen
they are opposing!
these rebellions is that of Julius Civilis and the Batavians. Civilis
had served as an officer in command of some Batavian Auxiliaries,
perhaps in Britain under Vespasian. When Vespasian made his bid
for Imperial power his supporters encouraged Civilis to revolt on
their behalf and in the rear of his opponents.
the Batavians themselves had grievances of their own. Chief amongst
these were the Roman methods of recruitment and how according to
Tacitus young good looking lads were dragged off to satisfy the
lusts of the recruiting officers!! A problem thankfully not encountered
when joining the Guard, well, not to my knowledge anyway.
won over the Batavians stationed in their own country and others
recently arrived from Britain. In one of the early engagements against
Roman land and naval forces, a Tungrian Cohort along with some Batavian
sailors deserted the Roman side. A Legionary detachment was later
forced to retreat when its Batavian cavalry deserted and the Ubian
and Treviran Auxiliaries ran away, showing the same turn of speed
demonstrated by certain Guard members at mealtimes!
The legate of
the First Legion, Herennius Gallus, tried to surround, some Batavian
emissaries outside his camp. But the Batavians were veterans and
although out-numbered managed to form up into squares and beat off
the way, the pretence of acting on behalf of Vespasian was cast
aside and the Batavians were soon in open rebellion. Along with
other disaffected Auxilia such as Julius Classicus commander of
some Treviran cavalry, the revolt attracted German tribesmen and
Romano-Gauls as well.
rebellion however the Batavians still played a prominent role. They
took part in sieges, building siege engines and manning artillery,
perhaps with the help of prisoners and deserters.
and the Twenty Second Legion almost suffered the indignity of annihilation
outside their own fortress! Ironically they were saved by the timely
arrival of some Basque Auxiliaries who were mistaken for a much
larger relief force. The Batavian infantry suffered heavily in the
ensuing defeat although the bulk of the cavalry escaped with a number
of captured standards.
of the Batavians as recruits into the army was such however, that
not long after the rebellion was put down, Batavian Cohorts were
once again serving with distinction in the Roman army.
of valuable recruits into the army were the Moorish horsemen from
North Africa, famous for riding bare back and their unarmoured appearance
on Trajan's Column. During Trajan's wars in Dacia and Parthia, a
Moorish chieftain Lucius Quietus commanded a large force (vexillation)
of these warriors. They quickly earned themselves a reputation as
one of the Empire's elite units.
himself rose in rank to become a Roman Consul and one of Trajan's
top Generals. He was eventually removed by Trajan's successor, Hadrian,
who saw Quietus as a possible Imperial rival. This and the disbandment
of his troops led to their fermenting rebellion in their homeland.
Earlier in African
history another former Auxiliary commander Tacfarinas proved to
be a thorn in the side of more than one of Tiberius' Generals. Tacitus
cynically comments that they celebrated his defeat more than once.
a nucleus of his Numidian Auxiliaries, Tacfarinas modelled his armies
on Roman lines. However he also utilised the traditional guerrilla
tactics employed by his own kinsmen. This lethal cocktail led to
the embarrassing defeat of a Legion at the battle of the river Pagyda.
The Roman survivors of which suffered the extreme penalty of decimation.
The Roman Generals
faced problems not unlike those encountered by the British in the
Boer war, and they responded in a similar fashion. They resorted
to the construction of fortified outposts and the use of loyal Auxiliary
cavalry to constantly wear down the forces of Tacfarinas.
A notorious exploit
by another group of Auxilia is recorded in Tacitus' "Agricola".
A Cohort of Usipii from Germany had been transferred to Britain.
Here they were undergoing training under the supervision of a Centurion
and some veterans. Perhaps not unnaturally this Cohort mutinied
and murdered their instructors.
warships they attempted to reach home by sailing round the coast
of Britain. They frequently failed to obtain supplies during their
excursions ashore and so were reduced to a state of cannibalism.
They also proved
to be less than accomplished sailors. Instead of arriving home safely
they were shipwrecked along the coast of Holland. The survivors
were captured by hostile tribes and sold into slavery. Ironically
some eventually passed into the hands of Roman traders, who thereby
leamt of their ordeal. Their future fate is not recorded; remember
they were guilty of mutiny.
have suggested that the initial success of the gladiator rebellion.
led by Spartacus and the victory of Arminius, in Germany, were both
attributable to the same cause. That is at one time they had both
served in Rome's auxiliary forces. Indeed Arminius had been granted
Roman Citizenship and was given Equestrian status as rewards for
former loyal service. Scholars believe he may have held the rank
of Prefect or Tribune in command of German Auxilia. Had he not revolted
Arminius may well have enjoyed a career like that of Lucius Quietus!
of two Auxiliary cavalrymen in 1993 has added a new dimension to
the Guard display, not least in bringing the existing Auxiliary
infantry contingent more sharply into focus. On occasions the Auxilia
have even fielded their own Centurion, courtesy of a very brave,
although less well decorated, member of the Gemina Project from
Holland. It is hoped that this brief introduction to a few characters
and events will have stimulated an interest in other Guard members
towards Rome's Auxiliary forces, past and present. It should also
serve as a warning to those Legionaries who still persist in thinking
that the Auxiliaries are nothing more than "THE GENTLEMEN AT
THE REAR OF THE COLUMN!"
Bishop. M. &
Coulston. J. (1993) "Roman Military
(1914) "The Auxilia of the Roman Imperial Army".
(1988) "Tiberius Claudius Maximus the Cavalryman".
Curle. J. (191
1) "A Roman Frontier Post and it's People. The Fort of Newstead
in the Parish of, Melrose".
Davies. J. (1977)
"Roman Arrowheads from Dinorben and the Sagittarii of the Roman
Army". Davies. R. (1 968) "The Training Grounds of the
Davies. R. (1
976/77) "Roman Scotland and Roman Auxiliary Units".
Davies. R. (1977)
"Cohors 1 Hispanorum and the Garrison of Maryport".