The Roman Empire grew to such a great extent mostly because of the skills and strength of the soldiers. At first men were asked to leave their farms for short periods of time to fight. Later men stayed in the army full time.
The Roman army was well organized. Each main section of the army was called a legion. A group of eight soldiers shared a tent and ate together. This group of eight was called a contubernium. Ten contubernia made a century. Centuries were grouped into cohorts and ten cohorts made a legion.
The life of a Roman soldier was very difficult. The men were disciplined by flogging. The general could even have a soldier beheaded for not following orders. Deserters got their right hands cut off.
While traveling, the diet of a soldier consisted mostly of unleavened bread. Unleavened bread was made without yeast so it was flat. The soldiers also ate porridge and what vegetables they could find. They got a little wine. Meat was so rare that many of the soldiers didn't even like to eat it.
At times soldiers were paid, but often they were given no money except for their share of the booty. At times months would go by without any booty to share.
Soldiers had to carry a huge amount of gear. Marching with so much to carry was hard on the men. After a long day's march the men would have to make camp. This consisted of digging a ditch around the outside of the camp. The extra dirt from digging the camp was thrown around the outside of the camp. Next the soldiers put up a wall of stakes on the pile of dirt. The stakes were often carried from camp to camp. This protective wall of wooden stakes was useful when marching through enemy territory.
The soldiers were always looking for a fight. Fighting was easier than all the marching and camp work.
The Roman soldier dressed in a helmet, mail breastplate, leg and arm guards, belt, tunic, and boots.
The Roman helmet was made of iron, bronze, or brass. The helmet was bowl-shaped with a neck guard. The inside was lined with leather to protect the soldier's head. The helmet also had cheek guards to protect the face. Many helmets had fittings for crests.
The mail breastplate of the Roman soldier was made from iron. The shoulders were reinforced. Rings ran horizontally around the body. These rings were wired together then sewed to a fabric or leather backing.
Leg and arm guards were used. These mainly consisted of iron plates sewn to leather. The metal leg protectors were called greaves.
The soldier's tunic was probably red and white although historians are unsure of this point. It was made from linen or wool. The tunic was worn above the knee. Only soldiers and slaves were allowed to show their knees. Around the waist the soldier wore a belt. The belt's main purpose was for holding the daggers and swords. Sometimes two belts were worn, one for the sword and one for the dagger.
The boot looked more like a sandal. The upper portion consisted of one piece of leather cut into many narrow strips. The top was attached to a sole. The sole contained a nail design. The boot was laced up the front.
The Roman soldier carried shields, swords, daggers, spears, and javelins. The Roman shield was made from double or triple plywood and edged with copper. They were curved and usually oval or rectangular. Shields were carried in the soldiers’ left hands. The soldiers learned to lock their shields together to make a formation called a tortoise. This made a protective barrier against the enemies' arrows and stones. The soldiers used a long, double-edged sword. This sword was carried on the soldier's right side. The spear was cone-shaped so the soldier could stick the head into the ground without causing damage to the spear. Javelins were used with a throwing strap to improve the distance it could be thrown.
The catapult, first invented by Philip II of Greece, was also used by the Roman army. The catapult was fired by winding down a huge beam, which had a sling at one end. A man called a loader lifted a large round stone and fit it into the sling. Stones weighing as much as 66 pounds were flung into the air. They landed up to 100 feet away and could easily make holes in the walls of the enemy's fort.