Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Recommended Posts

I've read that there is no conclusive evidence that soldiers saluted their superiors in the Roman army. I did read that there is a few instances of mention though in the ancient literature, but mostly connected with giving an oath or pledging.

I want my soldier to acknowledge his commander in my story. I find it difficult to believe that they had no form of respectful greeting for a superior officer, especially as it seems a custom that has prevailed with modern armies. Is it possible, they bowed as in Medieval times?

 

Any opinions?

 

Cinzia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"One day, as Vespasian left his quarters, a few soldiers who stood near, instead of using the usual form with which they would salute their legate [legionary commander], suddenly saluted him as Emperor." Tacitus Histories 2.80

 

"Nor is any thing done without such a signal; and in the morning the soldiery go every one to their centurions, and these centurions to their tribunes, to salute them." Josephus Wars of the Jews bk 5.2 'On the Roman army'.

 

The caution here is that 'Salute' might be a form of verbal greeting rather than a physical sign. However, as these quotes show, the significance is the same. It is a ritualized form of greeting to show respect for rank.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The modern salute of a hand raised to eye level evolves from the middle ages where knights raised visors to reveal their faces as a matter of courtesy toward each other - Note that in the British Army it is incorrect to salute without wearing headress.

 

The 'nazi' style of salute of a raised arm is a form of acknowledgement apparently used by politicians and emperors and preserved in statues, though I don't know whether this was a standard social custom or merely an instinctive one. In any case the posture is never depicted as rigid. It's unlikely that Roman soldiers used the same salute toward their officers.

 

Clearly the Romans employed a salute as a mark of respect toward authority but I haven't seen any evidence for what form it took. Notice however that the salute could vary according to the rank of the person being honoured. There is no recorded system of gestures for this so we could reasonably assume that a verbal component is part of the ritual, so in other words, a soldier salutes and confirms his recognition of the persons rank by stating it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I assume, then, that the clenched fist to the chest is a Hollywood invention?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would assume so. Hollywood preserves many film traditions but typically doesn't like the restrictions of historical reality, which in this case we don't appear to have much information about. That's not to say the hollywood slaute is wrong, rather that it would be correct by a stroke of good fortune.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Nor is any thing done without such a signal; and in the morning the soldiery go every one to their centurions, and these centurions to their tribunes, to salute them." Josephus Wars of the Jews bk 5.2 'On the Roman army'.

 

This sounds a lot like the client/patron system and the morning visits that romans made to their social superiors, not like a form of greeting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A quick search on Wikipedia comes up with this which sounds fairly accurate..........

 

The modern gesture consists of stiffly extending the right arm frontally and raising it roughly 135 degrees from the body

Edited by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the characteristics of modern military salutes not usually understood by civilians is that it isn't a servile formality vis-a-vis lower to higher rank. The salute is to be returned by the ranking officer. Failure to return a properly given salute is a military no-no and frankly insulting. I have personally witnessed high ranking officers being corrected by NCOs for not returning a salute either to themselves or to lower enlisted ranks.

 

There's of course no proof of it among the Romans though returning a salute would be a perfectly Roman thing for a good commander to do and fits in with a general trend of good leadership exhibited by many (of course not all) good military leaders throughout the history of Western armies.

 

As an aside a peculiarities in the American army is there is no saluting permitted unless one is wearing a weapon (then headgear is worn) or reporting to an officer (often for something bad). This is an outgrowth of the old Army when paymasters would travel around and pay troops accompanied by armed escorts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem with reliefs and sculptures is that they weren't made by soldiers, so the artist often depicted things with some measure of license and then again, deliberately left off details for composition or simply to allow painters to fill in the necessary detail later. The image above is fairly typical in that it 'suggests' a scene rather than records one like a photograph. It should therefore be understood that the depictions of salutes are not necessarily military ones but might actually be civilian in origin. Also, we have little or no idea whether the salute was a formal institution or simply a gesture carried out according to prevailing social trends - did salutes remain the same for hundreds of years? Possibly, but given the relative lack of detailed information on Roman drills can we be sure of that?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suspect part of the problems is how various Latin texts have been translated particularly when you consider the context in which the word 'salute' has been interpreted. EG the Latin text of Tacitus Historia 2.80 from the Perseus Tufts site in full is:

 

Dum quaeritur tempus locus quodque in re tali difficillimum est, prima vox, dum animo spes timor, ratio casus obversantur, egressum cubiculo Vespasianum pauci milites, solito adsistentes ordine ut legatum salutaturi, imperatorem salutavere: tum ceteri adcurrere, Caesarem et Augustum et omnia principatus vocabula cumulare. mens a metu ad fortunam transierat: in ipso nihil tumidum, adrogans aut in rebus novis novum fuit. ut primum tantae altitudinis obfusam oculis caliginem disiecit, militariter locutus laeta omnia et affluentia excepit; namque id ipsum opperiens Mucianus alacrem militem in verba Vespasiani adegit. tum Antiochensium theatrum ingressus, ubi illis consultare mos est, concurrentis et in adulationem effusos adloquitur, satis decorus etiam Graeca facundia, omniumque quae diceret atque ageret arte quadam ostentator. nihil aeque provinciam exercitumque accendit quam quod adseverabat Mucianus statuisse Vitellium ut Germanicas legiones in Syriam ad militiam opulentam quietamque transferret, contra Syriacis legionibus Germanica hiberna caelo ac laboribus dura mutarentur; quippe et provinciales sueto militum contubernio gaudebant, plerique necessitudinibus et propinquitatibus mixti, et militibus vetustate stipendiorum nota et familiaria castra in modum penatium diligebantur.

 

My Latin isn't brilliant but I suspect that the salutaturi/ salutavere references can be taken as a vocal 'salute' or hail rather than the physical salute it is sometimes translated as. The confusion seems to have arisen since the 'English' word 'salute' although it may have been derived from the Latin root is more commonly taken to be a 'physical' salute rather than a 'vocal' one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In a fast search I came across this as well.

 

"An opposite depiction is the salutatio of a diogmites, a military police officer, who raises his right arm to greet his commander during his adventus on a relief from 2nd-century"

 

I've included the footnote:

 

Probably as acclamatio, note palm is perpendicular to the ground and thumb is sticking up cf. Graham Sumner, Roman military clothing: 100 BC-AD 200, Oxford 2002, p.47 pl.G3 (Diogmitoi [sic! Correct plural: diogmitai]).

 

This particular action seems similar to the form depicted in the arena when the audience votes to let a gladiator live or die. Is this another can of worms? lol

 

Also, if I'm understanding correctly, in the modern military the salute is a respectful greeting only when servicemen are wearing cover or carrying a gun and is not related to respecting a higher rank?

 

My tribune has been given an order by the commander (Master of the Soldiers Aetius) and is departing Aetius' presence, I thought a salute might be a physical action that brings the dynamic between them to a close and allows for an exit that feels military. Some of you may know how I fear the history police. Will I get a ticket? <g>

 

Cinzia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Also, if I'm understanding correctly, in the modern military the salute is a respectful greeting only when servicemen are wearing cover or carrying a gun and is not related to respecting a higher rank?

 

Well sort of, I guess I wasn't clear enough, I was merely posting some non-important addenda about modern saluting.

 

In the American army saluting takes place only outdoors the exceptions being inside with headgear/weapon or (formally) reporting to a superior.

 

Secondly it is a respectful greeting but required to be given from lower to higher rank and to be returned by the senior officer receiving it.

 

I've taken the following from my copy of Sara Phang's 2008 sociological study of the Roman army Roman Military Service; Ideologies of Discipline in the Late Republic and Early Principate.

Did the soldiers greet their of?cers with the

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Also, if I'm understanding correctly, in the modern military the salute is a respectful greeting only when servicemen are wearing cover or carrying a gun and is not related to respecting a higher rank?

 

Well sort of, I guess I wasn't clear enough, I was merely posting some non-important addenda about modern saluting.

 

In the American army saluting takes place only outdoors the exceptions being inside with headgear/weapon or (formally) reporting to a superior.

 

Secondly it is a respectful greeting but required to be given from lower to higher rank and to be returned by the senior officer receiving it.

 

I've taken the following from my copy of Sara Phang's 2008 sociological study of the Roman army Roman Military Service; Ideologies of Discipline in the Late Republic and Early Principate.

Did the soldiers greet their of?cers with the

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One other thing to consider ... .The verb 'salute' comes from the Latin word salus/salutis meaning 'health'. It is easy to connect this to a verbal salute ('long live the emperor') but harder to associate with a physical gesture. Hence the fact that any greeting in English is still called a 'salutation'.

 

In fact the verb 'salute' meaning to raise a hand in ritualized greeting to a fellow member of the military only dates to the nineteenth century. Therefore we must be cautious when imagining the Latin 'salutare' to translate as a physical gesture.

 

Why not fudge the issue slightly Cinza? Say something like 'Having been given his orders, the tribune responded with a stiff formal salute, and departed.' This ducks the question of whether the salute was physical or verbal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Why not fudge the issue slightly Cinza? Say something like 'Having been given his orders, the tribune responded with a stiff formal salute, and departed.'

 

:shocking:

 

I like Maty's idea, but something about the wording doesn't seem right.

 

Try this wording, instead: "...the tribune responded with a firm military salute, ...."

 

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×