Soldiers of the Roman Legions

In the first two centuries AD the legions were the backbone of the Roman army. They each consisted of around 5000 heavily-armed infantrymen who were highly trained and strictly disciplined. Recruits had to be Roman citizens and generally signed up at the age of 18-20 for a period of twenty-five years service. High rates of pay, good promotion prospects and a substantial grant of land or money on retirement ensured a constant supply of recruits.

Each legion consisted of a general (legatus Augusti legionis), a man of senatorial rank selected by the emperor himself, six subordinates (tribuni), and sixty centurions, each of whom led a 'century' of eighty men. There was also a range of specialists within the legion such as musicians, smiths, and medical personnel.

The most distinctive items of legionary equipment were the heavy javelin (pilum), and curved rectangular shield (scutum). The segmented or strip armour would have provided better protection than mail tunics against downward blows from long swords. Various types of helmet were worn, either of bronze or iron or a combination of the two. All these had a neck guard to protect the neck and shoulders. Many soldiers marked their equipment with their name, and some appear to have commissioned decorative parts for their equipment, which allowed them to express their individuality.

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