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Rank Insignia of Imperial Legions

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Recently Decanus_Canada asked...


Good Afternoon

I am trying to track down the crest / rank insignia for a Decanus or Contubernium

A ten man tent commander (section commander in the present day commonwealth military) I believe - and I am only learning at this phase - is called a Decanus. 

I once held the rank of a section commander - ten man commander - and my name is Dean. 

I had once found a crest (I will see if I can dig it up) that was reportedly that of a Decanus (Legionnaire-type body with armour, roosters head, snake for a leg, holding I believe something like a Trident on a circle). 

the significance of my name and Mil service has not escaped me 

Any help would be greatly appreciated[/quote]

Part of the problem here is attempting to describe the ancient Roman legion as a modern military unit. They had some similarities, but a great many differences, and rank was one of them. The Decanus was not a rank. The Romans describe it as 'spokesman' for the conterburnium and there's no evidence that the Romans ever used so small a unit. Below Century, the Romans tended to use ad hoc vexillations, groups, or assigned individuals as required. This was an era when numbers counted. Unlike today, when modern arms require a unit disperses for safety, the ancient warrior would normally congregate for safety. Men left exposed were hugely vulnerable especially by cavalry who loved picking off stragglers and routing infantry.

The lowest actual commander rank is Centurion. Although we often describe the inner gradations of the Centurionate as ranks, that's not how it worked. They were levels of status, not authority, since all centurions more or less did the same thing, although senior centurions did command cohorts at times (as did tribunes or prefects). Principales are often mistaken for NCO's too. The non-commissioned officer is an invention of the gunpowder and musket era so does not apply to the ancient world. Principales were men with special jobs that allowed them double-pay, not commanders with stripes on their arm. There was no guarantee of retaining their position, and no ladder of promotion until one was selected for the Centurionate (and a soldier might well have to be patient for that, as promotion from the ranks might not happen for ten or fifteen years).

Therefore many of the roles of modern NCO's are conducted by men with temporary privileges and pay. Since small units were not required, there was little need for low level authority and indeed the whole point of a Centurion was that he was the commander who held control over as many men as was practicable. I know unit sizes and so forth are remarkably similar to our time but this has more to do with human psychology and communication ability than actual organisation details. If you like, the Centurion is delegating administration and control tasks to lesser men but on a restricted basis. A soldier did not climb a ladder of promotion as we do, but accumulated a CV with the special roles he had been awarded during his career.

Centurions had transverse plums on their helmets to distinguish themselves from senior officers, plus a harness upon which they affixed their honours. The lowly Decanus had no particular delineation - he was merely a legionary without rank, but offhand I don't know if he qualified for double pay. Becoming a spokesman showed responsibility so I guess if not then it was demonstrating ability for selection as principals or better. A vlued role was Optio ("Chosen Man") who was the centurion's right hand man. Not a promotion in the modern sense, since technically anyone could be selected, but definitely something worth having on your CV. It did not guarantee elevation to the Centurionate, but it most certainly suggested you might well be suitable. Elevation to the Centurionate was done to make up numbers when required or if the applicant could supply letters of recommendation from an elite Roman. Others were voted in by their colleagues, though I'm still not clear whether this was a centurion vote or a more democratic soldiers decision.

Edited by caldrail

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