A quick look at the sometimes overlooked

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Sorry there wasn't a blog post last month but Happy Easter and I can't believe April is almost at an end - where is the time going?!

I haven't had a lot of time this month, so this post won't be as long as some of my previous blogs, but I thought I'd offer a quick look at an element of the Roman military that can often get overlooked in media and popular culture. The Auxilia.

The auxilia had been a concept since the Republic and aided the legions through providing additional weapons, skills and fighting tactics that were not routine to the legions (Webster, 1969). Generals upon facing an enemy, if impressed with their fighting style or skill, would, on occasion, readily integrate them into the army such as the Gallic and Moorish horsemen. The auxilia, though, were not legionaries and thus were not equipped in the same way as the citizen soldiers (Goldsworthy, 2003). This knowledge along with material evidence can lead to the assumption that not only were auxilia not represented as ‘Roman’ soldiers but rather their military dress and equipment allowed them to retain a form of cultural identity within the army. 

The majority of auxilia were foot soldiers and whose equipment was varied and, as some would argue, simpler in design particularly helmets as less detailed or decorative helmets discovered have often been attributed to auxiliaries (Goldsworthy, 2003). Although many depictions show auxilia with a gladius and a facale such as on Trajan’s Column; these are the only ‘Romanised’ features. The cultural identity is in design and appearance. Auxilia infantryman carried an oval, flat shield and a spear (Hasta) like those seen on Trajan’s column and a relief found at Mainz. Decoration on the shield varied incredibly unlike the uniformed design of the legionary Scuta (Webster, 1969). It may be that the variety of decoration allowed the individual to present a tribal or cultural symbol. There is also variation in the appearance of auxilia cavalry. Moorish cavalry also appear on Trajan’s column and are represented with a hairstyle that was a characteristically African style (Webster, 1969. 143). This African style could be seen as an attempt of presenting a cultural or regional identity through style and not equipment design. 

Archers were one of the most numerous forms of auxilia whose clothing, based on material evidence, shows an eastern style (Goldworthy, 2003). Depictions on Trajan’s Column shows archers in long robes that were associated with the East and the image of an archer on a tombstone found at Hadrian’s wall, although only in a tunic, still has the same design helmet and bow. Even without patterns, the design alone gives the archers a unique appearance and possibly identifies the culture they were recruited from.

Through the use of equipment design such as shield patterns and symbols and through native dress and styles it is possible to assume that these features allowed men of the auxilia to retain a part of their cultural identity even though they have been assimilated into the army of Rome. The diversity of the army across the empire also meant that particular native features of the auxilia could travel and reach the universal. For example the Batavians, when recruited into the auxilia, were used on the Rhine and in Britain (Woolf. 1998). It was not just Batavians who were present in Britain either as the auxilia was drawn from a variety of different provinces and cultures, for example, Thracians were present in Britain also (Cool. 2006).

I hope you enjoyed this little snippet into the incredibly important factor or the Rome's military might, and I hope to expand on this in a later blog. I'm sorry again that it's not as extensive as some of my others. We have some fantastic Auxilia of our own in the group; if you are at one of our shows and spot them (they do look different to our normal troops), then do come and say hi and they can tell you all you need to know about one of Rome's greatest military conceptions!

Until then, as always, valete.

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