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Roman Military Equipment

Legionary Eagle / Vexilium/ Signum / Military Awards & Decorations / Signal Horns / Beneficari

"In front of the eagles marched the prefects of the camp, the tribunes and the centurions of the first rank, all dressed in white, the other centurions marched with their respective centuries, bearing their arms proudly and showing their decorations, as for other ranks they sparkled with phalerae and neck torcs"
Tacitus Hist II.49

Legionary Eagle / Signum:

No legionary eagle, thought to have been of guilded silver or bronze, has actually ever been found. We know what they must have looked like only from coins and from sculptures such as Traian's column.

Signum bearer grave stones, from Bonn (left) and Mainz (right)

Vexilium: the vexilium was a small square of cloth attached to a lance by a square piece. It was carried by cohorts and alae when the main troops stayed in camp. On it were in bright colors symbols and possibly the name of the unit. One example was preserved in Egypt was 47 x 50 cms and showed a victory on a globe. Additional medals attached to the vexilium showed the units faithful suppport to the emperor. E.g Tacitus writes in Hist I.41:  " Seeing a band of armed men approaching the standard bearer of the cohort accompanying Galba tore off the Galba medal and threw it to the ground, at his signal all the soldiers showed their support for the new emperor Otho."

Large silver disc from Niederbieber,  and Cohort Standards for COH VII RAETORUM,  Landesmuseum Bonn

various military signum types, including under number 6 a draco
Drawings from Roman Military Equipment by Bishop & Coulston, Edition 2, 2006 © M.C. Bishop

Signumhanger with portrait of Nero. Private Collection. Currently on display at Museum Carnuntinum ( Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg)
Published: Exhibition catalogue "Legionsadler und Druidenstab, F. Humer, 2006," ISBN 3854602294"

The Beneficari

The beneficari are thought to have been a kind of road police, staffed by legionary soldiers.

Beneficarius applique (image from a CNG auction in 2006)


Leiden Museum, NL, 3 scabbard decorations, the left two for Mainz and the lower one for a Pompeianus gladius.
To the right a balteus decoration showing amongst neo-celtic trumpets also a beneficarius signum head (in silver)

Balteus and belt fittings showing various beneficarius signa

Drawings from Roman Military Equipment by Bishop & Coulston, Edition 2, 2006 © M.C. Bishop

Seal capsule in the shape of a beneficarius signum lance

Military Awards & Decorations: Phalera and Torques:

Below grave stone is now in the Bonn Museum. The text reads:
"To Marcus Caelius, son of Titus, of the Lemonian voting tribe, from Bologna, a centurion in the First Order of legio XVIII,
aged 53; He fell in the Varian War. His bones - if found - may be placed in this monument. Publius Caelius, son of Titus, of the Lemonian voting  tribe, his brother, set this up."
This centurio had several military decorations like torques and phalerae proudly displayed on his breast armour:

A Phalera, a medal of honor given to the bravest soldiers:

Set of silver Phalera from Lauersfort, RGZM Mainz :

Bronze Phalera, Carnuntum

Young prince in glass ? Köln Museum

Emperor Augustus, Vindonissa Museum, CH

Open work phalerae from the Guttmann collection

Image courtesy David S. Michaels / Julian Dendy, Legio VI VPF USA and Legio XIIII R.M.R.S. UK

A balteus decoration showing Hercules defeating the lion, similiar to the two pieces shown in the image above in the lower left

Coins were also used for decorative and award purposes, below an aureus of Caracalla, Landesmuseum Bonn; also a Septimius Severus and a second Caracalla

Constantinus Magnus, British Museum London

later bronze buttons with stylized emperor heads

Signal Horns:

A signal trumpet from the Bonn  Landesmuseum

Mouthpiece from the Scottish National Museum, Edinburgh


Related Sections of the Roman Numismatic Gallery: