Details and Equipment of Centurions

Rank Structure of Centurions within the Legion  

Making a Centurion Subarmilis with Pteruges

Centurion Phalerae Award Harness


November  24,  2005


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The Commander's first appearance as a Centurion on November 14, 2003.   The occasion was for a school room demonstration at the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athen, PA.  Note the transverse crest on his helmet and the "Vitis" or  vine- stick in his left hand, with which a Centurion would enforce his will!   Also note that he wears no apron straps suspended from his cingulum waist belt.   Missing from this first impression are the usual pteruges (leather or linen tabs) extending from the subarmilis at the shoulders and waist and the twin torcs suspended around the neck.

At Right - A closer view of the Phalerae (military award discs) that were worn by the Centurion on behalf of his unit.  At the top of the harness, above the Phalerae, is the icon of a boar (wild pig).  Animal icons such as bears, bulls, wolfs, lions and boars were often depicted on pole standards, banners and other items carried or used by Roman military units.  The top six phalerae discs depict the Imperial Family of Augustus and his Heirs to the Throne , top to bottom, left to right: Tiberius, Augustus, Livia, Caius, Germanicus and Lucius.  The bottom three commemorate, left to right:  Hercules, Leo (lion) and Medusa (head topped with serpents).  The phalerae were provided by Terry Nix of  Nix Imperial Creations   www.niximperial.com   niximperial@aol.com  and the harness was made-up by the Commander, soon to be a Centurion.

A Centurion was in command of a so-called "Century" of 80 to 90 men.   They were most always career soldiers who had risen up through the ranks.   Centurions were like senior non-commissioned officers,  senior "Non-Coms" or "Top Sergeants" in our modern military lexicon.  Their command authority was similar to that of a Company Commander "Captain" or Platoon Leader "First Lieutenant" in a modern day army.  The Legatio (Colonel in charge of a Legion) or Tribune (Major in charge of a Cohort) may have given the orders and commands; but like in a modern army, it was the Centurions (Sergeants) who saw that those orders and commands were carried-out and executed!  It was the aspiration of most recruits and/or career legionaries to someday become a Centurion. 

The rank of "Centurion" goes back to the early times of Roman military organization in the Etruscan Period.  At first, Centurions were elected by the troops in their Century.  Later, it appears they were appointed by the Tribune Commander of their Cohort with approval of the Legatio (Legion Commander).  Sometime later during the Principate the Governor of the Province where the Legion or Cohort was stationed could appoint Centurions, probably with the consent of the Legion Commander and his subordinate Tribunes.  The old adage of  "Its Who You Know" also applied in Ancient Rome, as the Emperor and/or friends with influence could also help to have a Centurion selected.      


Centurion Marsallas in his first centurion dress subarmilis, with traditional centurion pturges and neck torcs, May 2004.  This first subarmilis was superceded by a second subarmilis in March 2005.  Details of subarmilis construction are below in SUBARMILIS Section

There were a total of 59 Centurions that served in an Imperial Legion.  The most senior Centurion in the Legion was termed the Primus-Pilus "First Spear" and he was in command of the First (double-size) Century of the Legion.  The other four Senior Centurions serving under him in the First Cohort, composed of four additional "double centuries",  would be, in descending rank, the Princeps, Hastatus, Princeps-Posterior and Hastatus-Posterior.  These five Senior Centurions out-ranked all of the other more "Junior" Centurions of the Legion and were known as the Primi-Ordines "First (top) Line/Order". 

The other 54 more Junior Centurions each commanded one of the six standard size Centuries in the 2nd through 10th Cohorts of the Legion and were termed, within their Cohort, in descending rank, as  Pilus-Prior, Princeps-Prior, Hastatus-Prior,  Pilus-Posterior, Princeps-Posterior and Hastatus-Posterior.  The number of the Cohort was placed before each of these titles; such as  Secundas-Pilus-Prior,   Secundas-Princeps-Prior,  Secundas-Hastatus-Posterior (2nd Cohort);   Sextus-Pilus-Posterior (6th Cohort) or Decimus-Hastatus-Prior (10th Cohort).  The attainment of the rank of Primus-Pilus was the aim of every "career minded" legionary soldier.  The position was generally held for one year, when the Primus-Pilus, who could then be over 50 years old, would retire as a Primipilaris (ex Primus-Pilus) from military service or be appointed as a Tribune or Praefectus Castraorum (superintendent of the camp) responsible for the units equipment and transport.

The other senior officers were the Tribunes in charge of the Cohorts and the Legatio in command of the Legion.   The  Legatio and Tribune,  along with a  Legate and  Prefect,  were generally appointed by the Senate and they may or may not of had much military experience.  Their respective ranks today would be  General,  Colonels and Majors. 


Dan Peterson of Leg XIIII in his exquisite "Plumata" armor with centurion phalerae.  He is the well-known author of the "The Roman Legions in Colour" book, that has become a prime reference for Roman Reenactors.    


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Centurion Marcus Germanicus Hadrianus (Joe Perz) of Amherstburg, Ontario, 2002 (left) and with improved kit in 2004 (right). 


Praefectus Castraorum (superintendent of the camp) Aulus Julius Avisianius (J.D. Feigelson) of Leg-VI Victrix.   


Views of the Commander's Centurion Cingulum, showing the method and enhanced style of mounting the Pugio.  On this belt, the pugio is mounted for placement on the right hip, as Centurions wore their gladius and pugio opposite from that of legionary soldiers, with the  gladius on the left and the pugio on the right.  Note also that there are no groin guard apron straps, as centurions generally did not have them.  


STRUCTURE  OF  A  LEGION  -  Showing the Title and Order of Rank (#) of the its Centurions

          FIRST COHORT  -   composed of  Five Double-Size Centuries   + 160 men

PRIMI -        Primus-Pilus (1)  -  First Century                    

     ORDINES              Princeps (2)  -  Second Century       

          "First                               Hastatus (3)  -  Third Century        

                 Line                                        Princeps-Posterior (4)  -  Fourth Century   

                       Order"                                            Hastatus-Posterior (5)  -  Fifth Century    

             Second through Tenth Cohorts each composed of Six normal size Centuries   + 80 men

                                     SECOND   COHORT                                THIRD   COHORT                             FOURTH   COHORT

First Century      Secundas-Pilus-Prior (6)                      Tertius-Pilus-Prior (7)                  Quartus-Pilus-Prior (8) 

Second Century      Secundas-Princeps-Prior (15)               Tertius-Princeps-Prior (16)          Quartus-Princeps-Prior (17)

Third Century              Secundas-Hastatus-Prior (24)              Tertius-Hastatus-Prior (25)         Quartus-Hastatus-Prior (26)

Fourth Century                Secundas-Pilus-Posterior (33)             Tertius-Pilus-Posterior (34)         Quartus-Pilus-Posterior (35)

Fifth Century                        Secundas-Princeps-Posterior (42)       Tertius-Princeps-Posterior (43)       Quartus-Princeps-Posterior (44)

Sixth Century                           Secundas-Hastatus-Posterior (51)      Tertius-Hastatus-Posterior (52)       Quartus-Hastatus-Posterior (53)


                                       FIFTH   COHORT                                     SIXTH   COHORT                               SEVENTH   COHORT

First Century      Quintus-Pilus-Prior (9)                        Sextus-Pilus-Prior (10)                      Septimus-Pilus-Prior (11)

Second Century      Quintus-Princeps-Prior (18)                 Sextus-Princeps-Prior (19)                Septimus-Princeps-Prior (20)

Third Cenutry              Quintus-Hastatus-Prior (27)               Sextus-Hastatus-Prior (28)               Septimus-Hastatus-Prior (29)

Fourth Century                Quintus-Pilus-Posterior (36)              Sextus-Pilus-Posterior (37)              Septimus-Pilus-Posterior (38)

Fifth Century                        Quintus-Princeps-Posterior (45)        Sextus-Princeps-Posterior (46)         Septimus-Princeps-Posterior (47)

Sixth Century                           Quintus-Hastatus-Posterior (54)       Sextus-Hastatus-Posterior (55)        Septimus-Hastatus-Posterior (56)


                                       EIGHTH   COHORT                                NINTH   COHORT                                  TENTH   COHORT

First Century      Octavus-Pilus-Prior (12)                     Nonus-Pilus-Prior (13)                       Decimus-Pilus-Prior (14)

Second Century      Octavus-Princeps-Prior (21)                Nonus-Princeps-Prior (22)                  Decimus-Princeps-Prior (23)

Third Century              Octavus-Hastatus-Prior (30)               Nonus-Hastatus-Prior (31)                Decimus-Hastatus-Prior (32)

Fourth Century                Octavus-Pilus-Posterior (39)              Nonus-Pilus-Posterior (40)               Decimus-Pilus-Posterior (41)

Fifth Century                        Octavus-Princeps-Posterior (48)        Nonus-Princeps-Posterior (49)          Decimus-Princeps-Posterior (50)

Sixth Century                           Octavus-Hastatus-Posterior (57)       Nonus-Hastatus-Posterior (58)         Decimus-Hastatus-Posterior (59)






View of the completed Subarmilis # 1 and Phalerae Chest Harness that is worn with it.  The top six phalerae discs depict the Imperial Family of Augustus and his Heirs to the Throne , top to bottom, left to right: Tiberius, Augustus, Livia, Caius, Germanicus and Lucius.  The bottom three commemorate, left to right:  Hercules, Leo (lion) and Medusa (head topped with serpents).  More details below in the PHALERAE Section.


Details of the shoulder pteruges construction.  Left to Right * Completed tab with fringe and brass weight disc applied.  Two discs, (front and back of tab), are used for additional weight to get the tab to hang more readily down along the upper arm. * Raw 2 inch wide tab before application of fringe. * Tab with glue applied for placement of fringe and the fringe cut to about 4 1/4 inch length to fully wrap around the 2 inch wide tab. * Tab folded back to show fringe strip wrapped around the tab with one half glued and the other half un-glued. * Tab with fringe applied and only one half of fringe wrapped and glued to the rear of the tab. * Completed tab without "weight" disc.  The same method was used to mount the bullion fringe to the lower waist pteruges, except that the brass discs were not used.   centdress-003


Front and Back of completed pteruges shoulder sections cut from about 3 ounce weight  brown leather, backed up with glued-on wool muslin.  Only 3 of the "weight" discs, on the front and back of the tabs, have been applied to show the difference with and without them.  Note the greater separation of the tabs in the center.  This larger angle of separation is required to allow the center tabs to hang evenly over the shoulder without having them overlap each other.  The "compound curve" pattern for the shoulder pteruges is probably the most difficult part of making the Centurion subarmilis, as the pteruges must fluidly hang over and around the shoulder in both a vertical and horizontal direction.  The Mantra for doing this is  -  Plan and Measure Twice! - Before Cutting Once!  The Commander had a pattern from another outfit to copy and refer to, but as the tabs were longer and narrower for the this Centurion piece,  He Still had to  re-design and  Do It Over!   centdress-001,006 


LEFT - The upper portion of the subarmilis showing the one shoulder section splayed-out.  The shoulder sections are fastened with rivets through the wool garment fabric and another piece of leather on the inside for reinforcement.  These sections could also be sewed-in place using a heavy-duty sewing machine.  A piece of sheep's wool pelt is glued to the inside leather piece for shoulder comfort under the 25 pound maile armor worn with the outfit.  The two pieces above are samples of the inside leather piece and the wool pelt section.  The garment is 100% wool fabric.  RIGHT - The shoulder pad turned-out to show its orientation to the pteruges.  There are three 1 inch brass discs (2 outside and 1 on back side of each shoulder tab) to provide extra weight to help make the pteruges hang downward over the shoulder.   




This subarmilis, made entirely of about 3 ounce weight (0.2 cm thick) leather, supercedes the Commander's first centurion subarmilis, which was made with a wool torso section and muslin-backed  3 ounce leather.  This first garment did not prove completely satisfactory, hence its replacement.  The lessons learned from the first garment have been applied to the second subarmilis endeavor.  The #2 subarmilis features a collar opening with the leather wrapped around and under the opening for more comfort and better appearance.  This #2 garment is probably more historically correct, as there is no evidence for composite subarmilia using both wool or fabric and leather construction.  


Waist section of short outer pteruges, which are  2.75 inch (7 cm) wide and 8.5 inches (21.6  cm) long.  This section is placed on top of the long pteruges section below, with the top edges of both aligned, so that the long section extends downward from behind the short section.  During construction, one inch was cut from the top edge of both sections to provide the proper length extending to just above the knees.  The total section height is 11.5 inches (29.2 cm).


Waist section of long inner pteruges with gold bullion (curtain fringe) applied to the end of each 2.75 inch (7 cm) wide pteruge tab.  The tabs are 11 inches (27.9 cm) long with the the fringe glued to the lower 0.5 inch (1.27 cm) of each tab.  The fringe tassels are 2.25 inches (5.7 cm) long.  The total section height is 18.75 inches (47.6 cm).  Note the far left hand tab which has no fringe applied showing full length of the raw tab.  


Rear view of the subarmilis, without shoulder pteruges sections, but with the waist pteruges in place, showing the staggered relationship of the short pteruges overlaying the long pteruges section.  A row of rivets secures the two waist sections to the interior of the torso portion.  A two inch (5 cm) wide vertical strip joins and covers the rear seam of the garment.  The  rivets are shown here initially placed at 3 inch (7.6 cm) intervals, which will later have additional rivets set between them at 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) spacing.  


Display of shoulder components - Pteruges section, wool pelt cushion pad, with its mounting leather piece above.  The order of placement, outside to inside is:  the pteruges section placed outside the garment shoulders  -  the cushion pad mounting leather and the cushion pad itself, which rests on the wearer's shoulders, being placed within, and secured to the garment shoulder area.  The cushion pelt is glued to the mounting leather, which is secured with double-headed rivets to the garment shoulders and all being covered by the outside pteruges section.  The pieces above were later trimmed to smaller sizes when installed in and around the garment shoulder portion.  The photo at right shows the cushion pelt placed inside the garment shoulder area.  The cushion mounting leather is missing here, but would cover the cushion pelt and be secured to the garment shoulder area.   

Detail of rear shoulder yoke attachment, showing the center seams tucked under the 2 inch (5 cm) wide strip, which joins and covers the rear vertical garment seam.  Note that one of the yoke tabs is untucked to show how it was notched to fit in and around the rivets already in place.  1/8 inch (0.3 cm) diameter, 1/4 inch (0.63 cm) long shank double-cap rivets were used, as opposed to sewing and stitching the sections together.  Note that the shoulder sections are wrapped around and under the collar opening for comfort and better appearance.  


View showing the wool pelt shoulder cushions and the outer leather edges wrapped into the collar opening and secured with rivets.  


View with the shoulder pteruges splayed out to illustrate the stages of applying the fringe and to show the different brass decorations that were considered to dress-up the pteruges and add weight to help make them hang downward over the shoulder.  Note the yellow sheep's wool pelt shoulder cushioning peeking out from under the shoulder on the right.  Note that the fringe is glued and wrapped around both sides of the pteruge end to provide a thicker and fuller appearance.  About 3.5 yards (320 cm) of bullion curtain fringe was required for the shoulder and waist pteruges.  




LEFT - Front view of the Phalerae Harness.  Note the "Boar" icon mounted on the upper cross strap and the 1 inch discs used to dress-up the exposed harness strap connections.  The inside of the rear buckle strap is shown with riveted connections.   RIGHT - Backside of the harness showing the top cross strap with decorative 1 inch discs and the period buckle on the horizontal securing strap with discs at the connection points.  Note that the  securing strap with buckle is mounted behind the middle row of phalerae.  The lower row of medallions floats above or overlaps the regular waist belt with the pugio.  Non-period screws imbedded into the cold-cast phalerae medallions and square nuts are used to secure the phalerae to the 1 inch wide harness straps.  The phalerae medallions were vacuum plated with metal.  

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