Centurions: The Practice of Roman Officership Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • September 6, 2022
  • Ward, Graeme A.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation examines the military and social roles of legionary centurions in the Roman legions during the late Republic and Principate. It combines textual accounts of centurions from such authors as Caesar, Tacitus, and Cassius Dio, as well as epigraphic and archaeological evidence, including funerary monuments, dedicatory inscriptions, and the physical remains of legionary camps. By evaluating this evidence with reference to contemporary military and critical social theory (which integrates concepts of civil-military relations, compliance, social structures, and symbolic systems), I argue that centurions were crucial to defining and preserving important Roman military practices, and that an analysis of their position reveals important developments in Rome's military hierarchy and imperial administration. The dissertation is organized into six chapters. The first chapter addresses the centurion's disciplinary role in the legions, and reasserts the significance of corporal punishment in Roman military culture. Chapter Two investigates the centurion's idealized behaviour in combat, and how it affected views of his leadership and personal authority. The third chapter demonstrates how in the Roman world these practices in asserting authority were complementary rather than contradictory. Chapter Four evaluates centurions' place in the legion's command structure, including career structures, military expertise, and corporate identity, and identifies them as the singular corps of officers in the legions. The fifth chapter explains their intermediate position in the legion's social hierarchy between soldiers and aristocratic commanders, and how this position was important to integrating soldiers into the Roman military community. Finally, Chapter Six assesses political and administrative roles of centurions, arguing that they were the chief representation of Roman imperial authority among local populations. My dissertation has two fundamental goals. The first is to combine and analyze textual, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence for centurions in order to establish their military, political, and cultural roles in the Roman Empire. In doing so, the dissertation provides the first comprehensive study of the duties, characterizations, and expectations of the Roman legions' intermediate officers. The second goal is to demonstrate that this analysis of centurions is crucial to understanding how attitudes toward violence, military discipline, social status, and personal authority were manifested both within the Roman military community and throughout the Roman Empire.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History.
  • Talbert, Richard J. A.
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This work has no parents.