Order of March

An ordinary day's march for the Roman army consisted of 15-18 miles done in 7 of our hours (or 5 of the Roman summer hours).

The order of march followed is likely to have been some variation of that reported for legions in by Polybius (100-118 BCE), by Josephus (37-94 CE), and by Vegetius (4th century CE):

  • Cavalry, light infantry, and archers running point
  • A vanguard consisting of auxiliary troops, cavalry, heavy infantry, standard bearers, engineers, and the color party.
  • The command group consisting of the commander, a bodyguard of picked troops, mules carrying artillery and battering rams, legion commanders, standards, and trumpeters
  • The main body consisting of the legions, six men abreast
  • The baggage trains, consisting of wagons carts and pack animals, and slaves
  • The rear guard consisting of auxiliary troops and cavalry
  • Cavalry also guarded the flanks of the column.

However, the order of march for legions within the army was changed daily, to equalize the labor of the legionaries.

If a retreat were necessary, the order of march was somewhat reversed: the baggage train went first–with the vanguard–to remove it from danger soonest, followed by the main army, then the rearguard.

After marching all day, the army would pitch camp, which involved digging ditches; raising a palisade to surround the camp; pitching their tents and those of their officers; and digging latrines. A day of rest was customary after every three or four days of marches.

Other Facts

  • For an army of six legions, the baggage train alone–if the animals were to march in pairs and the carts were to move singly–would have been approximately twelve and a half miles long. The head of the army would almost be pitching camp for the day as the tail of the same army would have just left their previous camp.
  • It's been estimated that there were 1250 pack animals/legion plus 250 pack animals for staff officers' gear. For an army of six legions that would imply about 7500 pack animals to handle all the army's gear.
  • The soldier's step (gradus) was two and a half Roman feet long (the Roman foot, during the Late Roman Republic, was .97 of ours). The Romans marched about as quickly as our modern day armies: their route step has been estimated at 100/minute; their quick step has been estimated at 120/minute. The pace (passus) was two steps from right heel to right heel.
  • Roman armies were often followed by a rather sizable contingent of camp followers, suttlers, and slaves.