Full Version: The Legion\'s Enginneers
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Most of are aware of the Legion's remarkable abilities to build everything from roads, buildings and bridges to large scale artillery and siege machines and works. But what is known about the men in Legion who planned and directed this work? Were they all simply extra pay soldiers or were specialist engineer officers or civilians part of the Legionary headquarters staff? Would a particularly skilled Centurion be a supernumerary attached to the headquarters as the Legion's chief engineer? Do any gravestones or ancient literary sources give us any clues?
Pliny discusses the need for an engineer in his letters to Trajan. They were writing to each other about building a canal in Pliny's province. This isn’t in regards to an army project, but it might give a hint about the rarity and value of skilled engineers, and perhaps on how they were used and shared.

Quote: It only remains then to send hither, if you shall think proper, a surveyor or an architect, in order to examine whether the lake lies above the level of the sea; the engineers of this province being of opinion that the former is higher by forty cubits…
Pliny to Trajan, L

You may apply to Calpurnius Macer for an engineer, and I will also send you from hence some one skilled in works of this nature.
Trajan to Pliny, LI

These, however, and many other particulars, will be more skilfully examined into by the engineer, whom, indeed, Sir, you ought to send, according to your promise, for it is an enterprise well worthy of your attention and magnificence. In the meanwhile, I have written to the illustrious Calpurnius Macer, in pursuance of your orders, to send me the most skilful engineer to be had.
Pliny to Trjan, LXIX

Calpurnius Macer will furnish you, no doubt, with an engineer, as artificers of that kind are not wanting in his province.
Trajan to Pliny, LXX
Quote:Were they all simply extra pay soldiers or were specialist engineer officers part of the Legionary headquarters staff?
A bit of both, John. The legions and Praetorians (though not, apparently, the auxilia) had architecti on the books (in the ancient world, an "architect" was more like an all-round engineering specialist), some of whom appear to have had the status of centurion, while others were simply seconded soldiers (according to Tarrutienus Paternus' list of immunes).

Best known is probably Caius Vedennius Moderatus (ILS 2034), who crops up in every book about catapults, because his tombstone shows a very fine frontal view of a euthytone arrow-shooter (i.e. a scorpio). He is doubly interesting because his career can probably be slotted into a historical context. He began life as a legionary in XVI Gallica Legion, and having served for 10 years he transferred to the IX Praetorian Cohort. The circumstances seem very likely to have been linked to the events of AD 69, so we can place his birth around AD 40. He served out his time as a Praetorian, achieving honesta missio after a further 8 years, whereupon he re-enlisted as an evocatus. His inscription seems to imply that he was actively head-hunted (revocatus ab Imperatore) and personally reinstated (factus evocatus Augusti), probably by Vespasian (who, if we are correct in our historical context, had transferred him to the Guard in the first place). Evocati, as you probably know, usually served in specialist roles. Moderatus served a further 23 years as architectus armamentarii Imperatoris, "engineer in the emperor's armoury", which means that he finally retired under Trajan in AD 100 (or thereabouts).

Fascinating subject -- I feel an Ancient Warfare magazine proposal coming on ... :wink:
Of course, this was an era when you could simply buy an architect or engineer. A staff of skilled and educated slaves would be an excellent investment for any legion.
Quote:A staff of skilled and educated slaves would be an excellent investment for any legion.
And yet they appear to be soldiers.

"Super-architects" like Vitruvius and Apollodorus, who do not appear to have followed a military career but became briefly attached to an emperor's staff, fall into a different category: they are hired as needed (imho).
I sure would like to see a Ancient Warfare special issue devoted to Engineering. Perhaps the title could be "Building an Empire - The Legion's Engineers"
Certainly there has to be enough material to fill an issue and more!