Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Roman Centurions 753-31 BC - The Kingdom and the Age of Consuls

The history and image of the ancient Roman war machine are inextricably linked with the figure of its most famous class of officer - the centurio, marked out by the transverse crest (crista transversa) on his helmet, the decorated greaves (ocreae) protecting his legs, and the Latin vine-staff (vitis latino) in his right hand. These men were the true architects of the victories and of the triumphs of the Roman legions, both by the discipline they instilled in their men - sometimes with extreme brutality - and by the military virtues and exemplary bravery they displayed on campaign and in battle. They created the backbone of professional skills and discipline that made their army the most consistently successful, over the longest period, in history. Although their prestige and importance in ancient times faded later, the officers bearing this rank survived as an institution into the Middle Ages, until the last centuries of the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium. According to Varro (DLL, V,16), the most ancient citizenship of Rome -from perhaps 625 BC - was based on the union of three tribes: the Ramnes, the most ancient, were of Latin origin; the Tides, of Sabine origin; and the Luceres, probably of Etruscan origin. Each of these three tribes was divided into ten politico-administrative communities called curiae (from co-viria, i.e. 'men together').