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The Roman Soldier: Training in the Roman Empire
March 25th, 2023

The Roman military was a dominant force in the ancient world, thanks to their complex and intricate military system. This system focused on the recruitment and training of soldiers to create an ideal legionary. The Early Roman Empire saw the peak of military dominance and many, such as Vegetius, argue that the deterioration of the empire was due to straying from this strict recruitment and training system.


The Romans preferred recruits from certain areas and nations based on climate and culture. They generally preferred men from the countryside as they were more accustomed to the struggles of life, knew how to use tools, and were more resilient to hunger. City dwellers were also recruited but had to undergo a different, more rigorous training program.

Desirable traits for recruits included physical fitness, good eyesight, wide shoulders, a small waist, and a minimum height of 5.7 Roman feet for infantry. Other traits, such as lively eyes, good manners, a reputable family, sense of humor, and literacy, were also considered.


Once chosen, recruits began a four-month trial period. They were not taken into battle until they completed this trial. Training focused on several key areas:

  • Marching: Recruits were taught coordination and unit cohesion through synchronized marches. They would perform long marches carrying equipment, learning to maintain straight ranks and proper distance from each other.
  • Swimming: All recruits were taught to swim, which strengthened their muscles and immune systems. It also had strategic benefits in crossing rivers and dealing with floods.
  • Combat: Recruits practiced with wooden Gladii and Scuta, learning various drills and techniques for stabbing rather than slashing. They trained with professional gladiators and fellow recruits to hone their skills.
  • Missile Training: Every legionary was taught to use a sling and a javelin, with practice versions being heavier than the originals to improve accuracy and muscle development. A quarter of the youngest and fittest legionaries were also trained to use bows.
  • Cavalry Training: Cavalry recruits practiced vaulting on and off horses, learning to do so even while fully armored. They also performed small drills and practiced maneuvers while marching with infantry.


Roman recruits underwent extensive training to become effective legionaries. Many did not make it past the initial four-month trial, but those who did would swear a military oath, receive a brand on their hand, and become legionaries. They would continue to train throughout their 20-year service, refining their skills and becoming the ideal Roman soldiers who brought the empire to its peak of military dominance.


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