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Full Version: Who Commanded a Cohort in an Imperial Legion?
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I haven't been able to figure it out - who was the officer that commanded a cohort within a Roman legion? Or did the centuries of a cohort operate independently? I would think somebody - maybe a tribune, or a senior centurion - would have overall command of a cohort in battle at least. Since vexillations consisted of one or two cohorts, that would also suggest that one man was in charge of a cohort (since I can't imagine that vexillations didn't have commanders).
There's a theory that each of the five equestrian tribunes commanded two cohorts, although I don't think there's any real evidence for this other than the numbers! More probably, the senior centurion was in overall charge of each individual cohort - the pilus prior, or the primus pilus in the case of the first cohort. If a cohort was split from its parent legion then it became in effect a vexillation, and vexillations were commonly commanded by primipilares, or sometimes tribunes; there's a brief thread about that here.

- Nathan
Thank you for your response. You have helped to clear this up for me some :wink:
The likely real reason that there was no cohort commander is the straightforward one that in battle, the level of noise etc was such that the commander/centurion could not be heard/seen beyond the 20 X 10 yards or so area occupied by his century - even with the aid of his cornicen/trumpeter and signifer. The 60 yards or so of frontage occupied in battle by a cohort could not be effectively commanded by a single person.

Off the battlefield, if a cohort ever needed a single commander e.g. for administrative purposes, then as has been suggested, it is likely the senior centurion had the final decision.
I never thought about the restrictions on a centurion's senses and abilities to take orders in the heat of battle. That was enlightening Big Grin
Quote:... Since vexillations consisted of one or two cohorts, that would also suggest that one man was in charge of a cohort (since I can't imagine that vexillations didn't have commanders).
The composition of vexillations seems to be a bit more complex than that.

You are maybe thinking of the adlocutio Hadriani, where an entire cohort was detached as a vexillation, but even then, it was supplemented by soldiers from all of the other cohorts.

Besides the half-dozen cohortal building stones from Hadrian's Wall (which simply state, e.g., LEG(ionis) II AUG(ustae) COH(ors) II), presumably recording a building squad drawn from a particular cohort, I can't think of a single example of a detached legionary cohort -- can anyone else?
Quote:I can't think of a single example of a detached legionary cohort -- can anyone else?

Hmm, good point. I'd thought that Caesar might have used single cohorts, but a look through the Gallic Wars reveals that he only used cohorts in detachments of two and above as separate tactical units. No commanders are mentioned, from what I can make out.

I considered that the single cohort left as a garrison at Jerusalem might have been legionary, but as they originally formed part of the force of the procurator Florus, auxiliary is more likely. There's a note in Josephus, Jewish Antiquites XVII.10.7, about the rebel Athronges (late 1st BC) attacking a 'company' of Romans bringing supplies to the army at Emmaeus - in certain translations 'company' is rendered as 'cohort'. The commander was a centurion called Arius, so perhaps a century is intended?

The only other reference in Josephus is Jewish War 2.I.3, where Archelaus sends a 'tribune with his cohort' against a mutinous mob during Passover. Archelaus was, I believe, supported by Roman troops at this point, so the cohort could have been legionary. Again, though, this is in the republican era and may not reflect later practice.

One problem with this might be that vexillations are so often described merely as 'vexillatio legionis XIII Geminae' (for example), but we don't know how many cohorts of the legion were in the detachment. Perhaps it could have been only a cohort, or any number of cohorts... :?

- Nathan
Quote:One problem with this might be that vexillations are so often described merely as 'vexillatio legionis XIII Geminae' (for example), but we don't know how many cohorts of the legion were in the detachment. Perhaps it could have been only a cohort, or any number of cohorts... :?
Bizarrely, for those vexillations that we do have information about, the personnel were drawn, not only from several different cohorts, but from different centuries, too!
I have read suggestions (although I do not believe they are based on any ancient source) that a century's artillery piece might have been the responsibility of a particular contabernium, who would have been responsible for crewing and maintaining the machine. Although it is a modern theory, if this sort of thing might actually have been the case, one might imagine that other contabernia might have had specialities as well, in which case a commander wanting particular specialist troops for a particular campaign might strip a legion of all the soldiers with those particular specialities to include them in his force, which would therefore lead to men from all centuries in the legion being included in the vexillation. Just an idea.

Crispvs
An age old problem for commanders tasked to send some of their troops; Do you send the best you have or the slackers and goof ups to get rid of them? In a Roman context is the
gaining command your patron or his friend or is it that guy you despise? Surprising that at least one letter complaining about or praising troops sent as a Vexalation isn't known.