What Made The Roman Imperial Army So Strong

2155 words - 9 pages

What lies behind the strength of the Roman Imperial Army has sparked considerable debate throughout modern scholarship, with the dominant view concluding that Rome’s Imperial military power was heavily influenced by its organisation and discipline. However, Adrian Goldsworthy has emphasised that the military’s organisation should not be exaggerated, claiming that it was flexibility that was ultimately the key to its success. The strength of the Army can explicitly be seen in its ability to maintain control over the provinces. Yet in order to assess the reason behind its power, it is essential that the importance of the Army’s organisation, frontier system and strategy as well as its training and discipline be taken into account.

The organisation of the military as a professional standing Army was introduced under Augustus in response to the civil strife that had dominated the Republic. The main function of an Army is to wage war abroad, however under the Principate it became increasingly concerned with internal security and frontier defence systems. This is reflected in its organisation. The basic structure of the Army that developed under the first Principate involved the creation of permanent units and the extension of service. Tacitus describes the Army to be a complex system consisting of the garrison, provincial troops and navy. The garrison was stationed in and around Rome and was formed initially out of 10,000 men, divided between the Praetorian Guard, Urban Cohorts and Vigiles. The Praetorian Guard was the ‘elite’ of the military, acting as bodyguards to the Emperor, but they were also responsible for overseeing security and maintaining peace. The guards characterise one of the central changes made by Augustus alongside his decision to discharge 300,000 soldiers, the change in the soldiers’ allegiance. Soldiers no longer had loyalty to a general, they now answered solely to the Emperor. This shift in loyalty had a significant impact on the strength of the Army; it produced a cohesive body of troops allied to the centre of the empire. Thus removing the threat of internal coups, which had been a regular occurrence in the republic. Loyalty to the Emperor was of considerable importance during the Principate, however the guard was depended on by the Emperor primarily for political means. It is instead within the provincial troops that the military strength of the Roman Army is brought to the fore.

The provincial troops were composed of legions and the auxilia. Legions numbered around five thousand men, but this figure is often debated. Within each legion there were ten squads to a century, six centuries a cohort and ten cohorts a legion. Legions were commanded by a legatus augusti pro preator, who was appointed directly by the Emperor, therefore reinforcing the relationship between the Emperor and his troops. The legionaries are generally viewed as the more dominant of the two forces, since the auxiliary units are often...

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