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28 April 2010 12 Comments

When we think of the Roman soldiers, unless we are particularly fond of that period of history, most likely our images and impressions come more from Hollywood than from anywhere else. However, what the film industry does not show is the background of the common Roman soldier. Did you know that the soldiers were stationed far from home to dissuade desertion and that they took their living quarters with them when they traveled? The average warrior was trained for war, but rarely fought. Instead, they were expert in multiple trades and used them to build roads, aqueducts, coliseums, forts, etc. Their tools were as important to them as were their weapons and their precious tools of the trade traveled with them. The average soldier was constantly on the move and was trained to march as quickly as four miles an hour for five hours a day – wearing sandals.

It wasn’t until the end of the Roman Empire that the Roman soldier was allowed to marry. Until then, bachelorhood was a strict requirement. Women were not allowed in the army group, but were allowed to set up tents outside the encampments. Most of these women were prostitutes.

If you think a four year requirement in the military is stiff today, how about the duty requirement of the Roman soldier – twenty-five years. They were decently compensated during their conscription and received a regular pension upon retirement.

What about you? Do you know anything about the Roman soldier that I didn’t cover? What about any soldier in any war – Civil War, WW I and II, Viet Nam War (did you know that U.S. soldiers in Viet Nam were trained to use the pendulum, an ancient dowsing tool, to locate mines and hidden caves)? I would love to hear from you.


  • Tess said:

    Fascinating blog, Kathleen! I love the part where they couldn’t marry. The men had no business marrying then leaving! And wow…25 years!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    I know…25 years with only prostitutes. Well, at least they didn’t have anyone telling them, “not tonight, honey, I have a headache.” 🙂

  • Rebecca Lynn said:

    This was a fascinating post, Kathleen. Thanks for letting us know at HHRW. I’m in the midst of writing a historical piece set in ancient Rome, so it was a really exciting post for me to read today. It made me all excited to work on my wip!!

    Thanks again for the great post.

  • Kris Kennedy said:

    Great blog, Kathleen. And no, I had no idea that soldiers in VietNam were trained to use pendulums to dowse for mines and caves! That is fascinating. Any idea how effective they were?

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Rebecca, I am so glad the timing was right for you! Keep us posted on your WIP. Thanks for stopping by.

    Kris, from the info I have on using pendulum’s for dowsing in the Viet Nam war, they were more effective than any modern equipment they had and easy to carry in their pocket. My husband used to build homes in San Antonio and his plumber used a pendulum as a better way of finding water. Currently the Vatican is using pendulums to conduct archeological explorations in Rome. Many years ago they were used as a means of finding fossil fuels and water for sheer survival in Europe until a church official declared it evil. Many still use it today. I was fascinated with the use in Viet Nam to route out the enemy and locate mines.

  • Terry Irene Blain said:

    There is an old Navy saying “If the Navy had wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one in your seabag*.”

    And what do you want to bet that some of those women outside the Roman army camp were the ‘wives’ without the actual title or rights? They probably followed their men from camp to camp.

    *seabag – all the gear (clothing, shoes, etc.) issued to you in boot camp, all in a big canvas bag.

  • Anna said:

    Thank you Kathleen for this stimulating blog !

    Roman soldiers were trained to march up to 30 km a day wearing sandals.That’s true !These sandals had iron studs attached to the bottom of leather soles.It must have been a torture to walk and fight .
    BTW ,the shoe fashion for the coming season Summer 2010 revived this kind of sandals for women, in their worst possible form!:)
    Another fact – a centurion who carried a stick to show his importance could also use this stick to beat any soldier who disobeyed an order. Something officially unacceptable in the modern army !

  • Victoria said:

    Fascinating post, Kathleen. Who would have guessed enlistments were 25 years! Wow, I bet most of them didn’t even live long enough to fulfill their enlistments…especially with no wives and relations with prostitutes. What a dismal life!

  • Victoria Gray said:

    Fascinating post, Kathleen. Who would have guessed enlistments were 25 years! Wow, I bet most of them didn’t even live long enough to fulfill their enlistments…especially with no wives and relations with prostitutes. What a dismal life!

  • Donna Goode said:

    Great post, Kathleen! Life as a soldier–or sailor–has always been difficult. My husband is a retired Navy officer and I can speak feelingly. He had to go out to sea for the first time on the day I brought our daughter home from the hospital. Several years later he was gone for nine months–and never left the city we lived in, having had to stand “port and starboard” duty (12 hours on and 12 hours off) for nine straight months. On his “off” hours he had to attend to division officer and department head duties–he had to do both. It left him with about 5 hours to sleep each day. However…did you ever hear of the movie Hunt For Red October? My husband was the “spare” officer aboard U.S.S. Henry M. Jackson who showed the Hollywood film crew over the boat and explained the difference between American and Soviet submarines. Cool, huh? But, no…no wives were issued in his seabag. Still and all, it was a wonderful life during which I’ve made lasting friendships.

  • Donna Goode said:

    BTW, I love your beautiful website!

  • kathleen (author) said:

    Thank you everyone for stopping by. I’ll bet Rebecca Lynn appreciates the added info from Anna about the studded sandals! Geez, Donna, I got a rush of emotion when you wrote that your husband had to leave the day you brought your daughter home! How difficult is that? Wonderful words. Such interesting responses.

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