Now for the legions’ real authority– The Centurion


Thank you Centurion Marcus of the Legio X Fretensis

No one messed with these men-the Centurions. They were the experienced strength of Rome’s legions.  While the  officers were politically appointed by the Senate, these men- these centuirions-had THE EXPERIENCE. They had earned it by climbing through the ranks of the legion and were elected to their position by their unit. Every officer with the sense of two denarii knew to listen to these men. However some didn’t and came to wish they had.

Each legion had about 5,500 men. (The Roman Army, Peter Connolly)centurio3  This mass  was broken down into ten ‘cohorts’ or units of men, each with a  centurion in charge. The senior centurion or primus pilus-‘first spear’ of the largest and First cohort was the most senior of all the centurions. Each cohorts were made up of ‘centuries’ of approximately 80 men, and each century had its own centurion–thus the namesake of this position.

All centurions moved the might of the legion especially  when in battle. Just imagine a consul seeing a breach open up between the Forth and the Fifth cohorts. This situation made me question how an officer would know and how could he remedy  it?


This centurion holds his ‘vitrus’ or oak stick. The symbol of his rank and his means of discipline.

It was then I realized the value of centurions wearing their crests across their helmets–transverse or from ear to ear. Wearing crests this way, the officer could easily see where the cohorts were moving. But how would he be able to distinguish which cohort, I asked.  Now,  if each of the ten cohorts had a distinctive crest, the officer would easily know. Thus I assigned the following crest colors to my ten cohorts.

So here is my designation:crests and calls 2014-12-30

Let’s break this down. Each cohort  had one senior centurion  and ten or so remaining centurions  wearing identical  crests. When they were lined up  on a battlefield, it was according to  the number of  their cohort. Meaning…All the centurions of the First cohort would wear a white crest. All the Second cohorts’ centurions  had two black sections in their crests. The Third had three black sections. and so on until the Tenth centurions wore completely black crests. Thus, when viewing the field, the officers would know exactly where each cohort was and how it was moving…forward or backward.

So  how could the consul use this  visual on a battle field?   Suetonius Paulinus watched his legionceltss confront Boudica’s horde of 200,000 warrios charge his 80,000 soldiers. His battle line stretched before him according to his white crests of his First cohort,  shifting per unit to the black crests of his Tenth cohort.  Now, as long as this arrangement remained in this gradation of white to black, all was proceeding perfectly.

However, if this gradation did not remain in tact, as it didn’t for Petillius Cerealis when Boudica’s warriors attacked his  Ninth Legion, then there was trouble.This legate could easily see this crest gradation of centurions shift  into a blend of ‘salt and pepper’ with no distinction. Then, when his soldiers moved into a  circle formation, Cerealis knew  that he’d best get the ‘hell outta Dodge,’ and he did. He fled with his guard while his legion was almost destroyed.

These crest distinctions  not only showed  the consul or legate how his line was moving, he could also note the weaknesses in the ranks. For example, he would know if a cohort was moving ahead too quickly or not quick enough or where  a breach was forming and where the line held solid. RomanCastra08

In Red Fury Revolt,  during the assault on Angesely, Julius Agricola faced a breach situation
between the Eighth cohort and his Ninth cohort. He knew exactly where this was occurring by the obvious crest designation. But how did  Agricola manage to close this breech without disturbing  the other units.

How could Agricola communicate to just his Ninth in all this mayhem? It was a matter of having his musicians sound the order for his Ninth cohort to  move left.

Oh sure. How?Think a band. Wind instrument

Stay tuned. This is coming soon.


JF Ridgley, enjoys writing about this fascinating world of ancient Rome and the equally amazing world of ancient Celts.  If you have questions or comments, please message her at





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