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Organization of the Roman Republican Legion

There were 3 principal infantry classes within the Republican system, augmented with the basic skirmishing class, and a small detachment of cavalry. The Republican legion was generally comprised of between 4,000 and 6,000 men, in various levels of infantry, with 4,200 apparently being the optimal number. Unfortunately, Polybius, who provides one of the best accounts from an ancient perspective, is terribly inconsistent, but the basic concept can be determined from his contributions. Additionally, the cavalry consisted of between 200 and 300 troopers in total. The fighting strength and even the organization of units within the Republican legion evolved in various forms over the years, but in this example, the common legion from the Punic Wars through the time of Marius will be illustrated.

Under this system the Legion was made of the Maniple formation, which generally consisted of 2 centuries of men. The centuries were organized as a base unit of 60 men, but these numbers fluctuated depending upon the type of infantry. Hastati had 60 men augmented by 20 skirmishing Velites, bringing the total to 80 per century. The Principes seem to have used 60 men centuries, and the Triarii Maniples were made up of single centuries of 60, rather than two separate centuries. Under this system the basic formation was as follows:

10 Maniples of Hastati - 20 centuries of 60 Hastati, with an additional 20 Velites.
10 Maniples of Principes - 20 centuries of 60 men.
10 Maniples of Triarii - 10 centuries of 60 men.

In formation the Hastati with their Velite attachments occupied the front of the formation, with the Principes and Triarii following behind. Therefore:

1,200 Velites, attached to Hastati centuries for organization purposes but occupying their own line on the battlefield.

Hastati - 1,200 men in 10 Maniples, comprised of two centuries of 60 men each.

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Principes - 1,200 men in 10 Maniples, comprised of two centuries of 60 men each.

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Triarii - 600 men in 10 Maniples, comprised of single centuries of 60 men each.

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Each Century of the Maniple was under the command of a centurion (with the unit on the right under the command of the senior centurion) who was assisted by an optio, and other 'enlisted officers' as detailed in the Imperial system. The Maniple allowed greater flexibility than the older phalanx in that these separate units of men within the entire formation could be split off from one another to meet various battlefield challenges.

The cavalry of the Republican legion was limited to a rather small force by comparison to the infantry. The 200 to 300 man cavalry wings were organized in decuriae of 10 men each under the command of a decurion.

Three units of decuriae were organized together as a turma consisting of 30 men, and the senior decurion of the three had total command.


Did you know?

The life of Julius Caesar was deeply influenced by one of Rome's most famous generals and politicians - and Caesar's uncle by marriage - Gaius Marius.



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Organization of the Roman Republican Legion - Related Topics: Legio II Augusta - Legio VI Victrix


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