Average pay for Roman Legionnaire

Silver Roman denarius. About one and a half day’s pay for a Legionnaire. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Another indication of average pay for Roman foot soldiers can be found in Wikipedia’s article Imperial Roman Army.

This pay rate applied during the reigns of Emperors Augustus and Vespasian, which means until about 81 A.D. After that point, debasement of the currency led to inflation and rising pay for soldiers. More on that later.

For general framework, this is the pay structure in effect during the time of the New Testament.

Here is a recap: 

Legionnaire Auxiliary
Gross pay, annual 225 188
Less food deduction 60 60
Less tent & misc deductions 50 50
Net pay, annual 115 78
Average bonus, spread over 3 years 25
Average annual net pay during 25 year career 140 78
Discharge bonus, spread over 25 years at 50% probability 60
Net pay, averaged over 25 years 200 78

Above data derived from “Imperial Roman Army” by Wikipedia; therefore others are licensed to use the table under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.

 

Average pay was 2.5 sesterces per day. There were 4 sesterces to a Denarius. So 2.5 times 365 days divided by 4:1 equals 228.1. So the more precise gross pay is 2.47 sesterces per day.

From that, soldiers were charged for their food and had to buy their own equipment. They were also charged for the hay eaten by the squad’s mule. That would leave disposable income of about 115 denarii a year.

Emperors knew they had to give their troops bonuses every once in a while to make sure they were happy and would remember who was in charge. That was typically around 75 denarii every three years, or an average of about 25 denarii a year.

There was a huge bonus paid out at the end of a 25 year career. The bonus, 3,000 denarii, was around 13 years wages. Of course, the average life expectancy of a soldier was such that only about 50% lived to see retirement. Thus I adjusted that 120 denarii a year average down by 50%.

Wikipedia article says a soldier’s life expectancy was lower than the average for someone in the Roman era.

Troops in the auxiliary forces did not get the bonuses or retirement pay. They averaged 188 denarii a year gross and 78 denarii disposable.

 

Source data

To fully credit the Wikipedia article and so you can double-check my table, here is the data I used, under Creative Commons license:

 

REMUNERATION OF ROMAN COMMON FOOT SOLDIERS (about AD 70)[152]
Remuneration
item
legionary pedes:
amount (denarii)
(annualised)
XXX auxiliary pedes
amount (denarii)
(annualised)
Stipendium (gross salary) 225 188
Less: Food deduction 60 60
Less: Equipment etc. deductions 50 50
Net disposable pay 115 78
PlusDonativa (bonuses)
(average: 75 denarii every three years)
25 none proven
Total disposable income 140 78
Praemia (discharge bonus: 3,000 denarii) 120 none proven

Source: “Imperial Roman Army” by Wikipedia is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.

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