Payroll cost for a Roman Legion – Part 1 of 2

Line of Roman soldiers advancing in battle formation. Shields up, swords drawn. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What was the payroll cost to staff a Roman Legion?

Earlier post discussed that until around 81 A.D. a Legionnaire was paid 225 sesterces a year.

With the help of a Wikipedia article, we can make a guess at the total payroll for a Legion. (A side note, amusing to me, is that several of the sources of this article are books I’ve previously read.)

As the first step, let’s look at the estimated staffing of a Roman Legion in about 100 A.D. Keep in mind this is assuming the Legion is fully staffed, which was never the case, as I’ve read in several places. This is also for a legion with 50 centuries instead of the authorized strength of 60 centuries earlier.

Staffing for Roman Legion in about 100 A.D.:

total 59 centuries legion staff
infantryman 5,120 5,120
hornblower 59 59
officer of the watch 59 59
centurion deputy 59 59
standard bearer for century 59 59
standard bearer for emperor 1 1
standard bearer for legion 1 1
centurion 45 45
senior centurion 13 13
chief centurion 1 1
legion staff officer 5 5
legion quartermaster 1 1
legion deputy commander 1 1
legion commander 1 1
—- —- —-
total 5,425 5,417 8
divided by 59 centuries 59
  —-
average staffing per century 91.8

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

 

The typical operating unit of a Legion was a century, consisting of 10 squads of 8 soldiers. That would put a century, which is comparable to a company today, at 80 soldiers plus the centurion (commander). I’m not sure why the Wikipedia article shows a century at 92 soldiers. Much earlier that unit had 100 soldiers and was thus called……a century.

Most of the comments I’ve read indicate 60 centuries (companies) to a Legion. At some time before 100 AD the authorized staffing was changed from 60 to 59.

Notice the sparse staffing for the headquarters? Only 8 senior staff positions. A military unit of about 5,500 soldiers would require a lot of administrative work, especially when considering the Romans were good at keeping records.

Philip Matyszak wrote a fun book, Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual, which is written in the novel point of view as a guide to a young man wanting to enlist in the military. Book describes training, career paths, battle techniques, and what to expect during a career as a legionnaire. Picture an ancient officer’s guide for junior officers today.

In the book, Prof. Matyszak describes there were a large number of staff jobs in the headquarters. These far more desirable jobs were filled by soldiers who had special skills. If you could read, write, shoe horses, or had any medical skill at all, you would be assigned to the headquarters instead of pulling watch and all the other dreary tasks of camp life. Those soldiers would also receive premium pay, which is not reflected in the above analysis.

That means the administrative duties would be performed by infantrymen officially assigned to some century.

I’ve read elsewhere that each squad, or contubernium (probably incorrect for being singular), was assigned one mule to carry the tent and other supplies for the squad. It may have been Prof Matyszak’s book, but I don’t feel like looking it up. In addition, there was one mule wrangler per squad to tend to the mule on travel and feed the mule all the time.

If my recollection is correct, that would put 10 mule wranglers per century, or 60 per cohort (6 centuries), or 590 in a legion. Assume another 30 for legion records and supplies, which would probably be higher. That leaves my guess of 620 mule handlers.

Total staffing, including the mule wranglers, would then get to just over 6,000 authorized positions for a legion with 59 centuries:

  • 5,425 – tally of soldiers above
  • 620 – lower status mule wranglers
  • 6,045 – approximate total staff

Next post will quantify the payroll for the above standard staffing.

 

Source data

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

 

LEGIONS: Ranks, Role and Pay (c. AD 100)[146]
Pay-scale
(X basic)
Legionary rank
(ascending order)
Number
in legion
Role Auxilia
equivalent:
cohors
 (ala)
Social
rank
Approx. modern
rank-equivalent (U.K.)
1 pedes 5,120 infantryman pedes (eques) commoner private
1.5 cornicen
tesserarius
59
59
horn-blower
officer of the watch
cornicen
tesserarius (sesquiplicarius)
commoners corporal
2 optio
signifer
imaginifer
aquilifer
59
59
1
1
centurion’s deputy
centuria standard-bearer
bearer of emperor’s image
legion standard-bearer
optio (duplicarius)
signifer
vexillarius- – – – (curator)
commoners sergeant
16 centurio 45 centurion centurio (decurio) commoner company sergeant-major
n.a. centurio primi ordinis 13 (9 pilus prior
+ 4 1st Cohort)
senior centurion centurio princeps
(decurio princeps)
commoner regimental sergeant-major
n.a. centurio primus pilus(1) 1 chief centurion none commoner(1)
50 tribunus militum angusticlavius 5 legion staff-officer praefectus auxilii
(regimental commander)
knight colonel
n.a. praefectus castrorum 1 legion quartermaster
(executive officer to legatus)
none knight
n.a. tribunus militum laticlavius 1 legion deputy commander none senatorial
(senator’s son)
70 legatus legionis 1 legion commander none senator general

Notes: (1) Elevated by emperor to equestrian rank on completion of single-year term of office

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

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