Attrition rate in Roman Legions.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

No, I’m not talking about losses in battle. Disease, famine, and lack of food in normal times were deadly in the ancient world. Not even until the American Civil War was germ theory of disease transmission a known thing.

The death rate in ancient times was terrible.

In The Roman Army – The Greatest War Machine in the Ancient World, Chris McNab provides some estimates of the rate of losses in a Roman Legion (page 152).

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Lorica Segmentata and Lorica Hamata, body armor worn by Roman Legionaries.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The body armor presented on a Roman Legionnaire, whether on ancient statues, modern re-enactors, or illustrations is usually the scaled plate armor referred to as Lorica Segmentata, a phrase that has been in use only since the 16th century.

Lorica Segmentata

The armor consists of horizontal scales, sort of like a lobster. Additional plates protect the shoulders.

Wikipedia says the insides of the plates were soft steel and the outside mild steel. The individual plates were hung on a leather harness with brass buckles. Later on rivets or hooks were used.

Lorica Segmentata. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The armor fastened in front and back.  The sections could be stored inside each other, allowing for compact storage.

Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual by Philip Matyszak explains a Legionaire would first put on a scarf to protect the neck and chest from being rubbed raw by the steel.

The plates required constant polishing to prevent rust.

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Caligae – the marching boots worn by Roman Legionnaires

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Legionnaires in the Roman army wore marching boots, called caligae (singular caliga). These may appear to be merely an open sandal. However, they were sturdy enough to wear all day, every day, even on long marches.

A thick lower sole would be attached to a mid sole with hobnails. This added strength to the boot and increased its durability. (I don’t know enough about shoe construction but that is the comment made by several sources.)

Hobnail (PSF).png has been released into the public domain courtesy of Pearson Scott Forseman.

For a conception of what hobnailed Roman caligae might look like, consider this photo of a hobnailed boot of the U.S. Union Army. The boot is thus circa 1861 to 1865.

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Balteus or cingulum- belt worn by Roman Legionnaires. Puglio – dagger carried by soldiers.

Roman Legionairre, with focus on belt, or balteus. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman soldiers would wear a belt around their waist.

I have not seen much discussion on the purpose of the belt. It would be the base for carrying some items. For example, a dagger, called a puglio, would be on the left side.  A money pouch could be carried on the belt, I suppose.

See update below for comments on purpose of a balteus.

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Equipment of a Roman Legionnaire

Fully equipped Roman Legionnaire. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The clothing and weaponry of a Legionnaire in the Roman army are described in  a series of posts. This fits well with this blog’s topic of ancient finances.

You will also find this fits well with the description of the armor of God as described by the Apostle Paul in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians.

Posts on Legionnaire equipment and weaponry:

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Gladius, sword used by Roman Legionnaires

Roman Legionnaire re-enactor wearing chain mail armor, carrying a scutum, holding a hidden Pompeii style gladius at the ready. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The gladius is a short sword, about 2 feet long, used by soldiers in the Roman army. In the hands of trained legionnaires, the gladius was a potent offensive weapon.

Roman soldiers would advance side-by-side with their shield, called a scutum, held in their left hand and a gladius in their right hand. In this position, the sharp tip of the gladius was best used as a thrusting weapon to stab the enemy, aiming for the torso. In ancient times, an abdomen wound was usually fatal.

With a two foot length and sharp double edges, the gladius could also be used as for slashing or cutting. From comments I’ve read, the main use was for thrusting.

Wikipedia describes the various sizes of Gladius:

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Roman legionnaire’s pay over time. Increases are an indication of debasement of currency.

Marching Roman legionnaire reenactors. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Pay for a legionnaire soldier in the Roman army increased substantially over time, from 225 denarii a year around the turn of the millenium to 600 denarri in the early 200s.

The amount of silver in a denarii was also steadily reduced over that same time. That is called inflation, which as we know from other reading, was driven by Roman Emperors intentionally debasing the currency as a way to help finance the empire.

A Wikipedia article, “Imperial Roman Army” provides data to analyze the gross pay and real pay over time.

First, let’s look at the declining value of a denarius. Here is the silver value of each coin, measured as the number of denarii minted from each pound of silver, along with my point estimate of the year of the change:

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Payroll cost for a Roman Legion – Part 2 of 2

The 5th Legion” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What might the payroll cost have been to staff a Roman Legion?

Previous post outlined the standard staffing of a Roman Legion in about 100 A.D.

The same Wikipedia article described earlier provided the relative pay of different positions. That allows for calculation of the total pay for a legion expressed in units of pay for a common soldier.

If we combine that calculation with the standard pay of 225 sesterces per year for a soldier, as mentioned here, we can calculate payroll for a legion.

Here is the relative pay calculation:

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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.:

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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: 

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