signa militaria

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Roman military standards. The earliest standard (Lat. signum) of the Roman army was that of the maniple. When the cohort superseded the maniple as the tactical unit, the standard of the leading maniple became the chief standard of the cohort. The century had no separate standard. The basic form of a Roman standard was a hand on the top of a pole decorated with metal discs, crescents, laurel wreaths, mural crowns, and other emblems representing the battle honours won by the unit.

In the pre‐Marian army (see marius) there were also five legionary standards (see legion), which were placed for safety in battle between the first two lines. Marius replaced these by giving each legion an eagle (aquila) of silver or gold, with wreaths as its sole decoration. The eagle embodied the spirit of the legion and was the object of religious veneration. Its loss was the worst form of disgrace, and sometimes entailed the disbandment of the legion. Under the Principate the legion retained its eagle and standards, and to these were added standards bearing the portraits of the reigning and deified emperors. The cavalry standard was a vexillum, a square piece of cloth attached to a crossbar, borne on a pole.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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