Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Roman Military Standards

The Romans utilized a number of different standards in battle. These standards served a function similar to the battle flags carried by more modern armies. The Romans used standards in conjunction with the horn (cornu) to coordinate commands. As well as being utilitarian, these standards held a semi-religious significance. The practice of the standard bearer wearing an animal skin may be related to the standard’s role as a spiritual object. It was a tremendous dishonor to loose one to the enemy, especially the eagle standard of the entire legion (the aquila). Here I have listed the officers charged with carrying these dfferent standards. The illustrations I drew myself using Osprey Military books as reference for armor, uniforms, and standard appearances. Only fragments of Roman standards survive, so historians rely on sculpture and written accounts.

During the early Republic the eagle, wolf, boar, horse, and boar were used as the standards of roman legions. In 104 BC the consul, Marius, made the aquila (the eagle) the universal standard used for each of the legions. There was one officer in each legion charged with carrying the aquila. An aquilifer could strap on a round parma into battle rather than a larger shield, as his hands were already full. Judging from sculpture, the aquilifer of the elite Praetorian Guard wore a lion skin rather than the bear or wolf skin typically worn by the legionary standard bearers. (see left illustration, top)

The draco was predominantly a cavalry standard originated by the Sarmations. It made its way into the Roman armies when Sarmations were used as auxiliaries in the early 2nd century AD. Wind flowed though the bronze dragon mouth and billowed out the cloth tail much like a modern wind-sock. (see left illustration)

The imaginifer carried a standard with an image of the emperor. After Augustus the emperor began to be regarded as divine. This is when the imagio came into use. It was carried only in the leading cohort. (see first, illustration top image)

Each cohort of the legion had its own standards besides the aquila. A signifer carried a signa. (see middle illustration, top image)

This typically red or purple flag was suspended from a crossbar which was attached to a pole or lance. It carried the name and/or emblem of the legion. It could be used by infantry or cavalry. (see last illustration, top image)

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