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Full Version: Primus Pilus - First File Leader not First Javelin
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Hello,
I tried to find an old thread on this topic. The discussion was that Primus Pilus actually means 'First File Leader' instead of the more common translation 'First Javelin.' Does anyone recall the source of this claim?
thanks,
Jeff
Quote:Primus Pilus actually means 'First File Leader' instead of the more common translation 'First Javelin.'
Nobody really knows why the primus pilus was called that. If he were the "first spear", as some insist on calling him, he'd be a primum pilum; no Roman would confuse primus pilus with the word pilum. (Pilus literally means a "hair", not a spear.)
Simple, "pilum" is javelin, while "pilus" is file. As a comparison, the triarii of the earlier Republic were also known as "pilani". Different words can look very similar! Insisting that "primus pilus" means "first spear" is like saying that a "leader" is called that because of the metal that the bullets in his gun are made out of...

Matthew
Quote:Simple, ... "pilus" is file.
Can anyone remind me how we know this? Are we just theorising from the word pilanus, which Varro gives as an alternative for triarius? I genuinely cannot remember.
First Hair. Hmm. Cogitating on that one. The shades of meaning are many.

Ordo, or Agmen are usually used to mean "file" in the context of people or things lined up one behind the other.

Sometimes Ordo evidently means "rank" as people standing shoulder to shoulder. More often, though, Acies is used to represent a face-on row of men, (though it means edge, like the edge of a sword). And to complicate things more, "Rank and File", which we use to mean "all the common troops in both directions", is just Gregarii milites, meaning common footsoldiers.

On that basis, it would seem that Agmen and Acies would be the more used words for our modern words "row/rank and column/file"

I make no claim as to being a Latinista, but I have a dictionary. :roll:
Quote:Simple, "pilum" is javelin, while "pilus" is file.
I am just reminding myself of the etymology.

Caesar writes about the "primus pilus" as if it were a subdivision of the legion. He mentions various centurions who had previously "led the primus pilus": e.g., in 48 BC, Crastinus "had in the previous year led the primus pilus of the Tenth Legion under Caesar" (BCiv. 3.91: superiore anno apud eum primum pilum in legione X duxerat); in 54 BC, Titus Balventius is described as the man "who, in the previous year, had led the primus pilus" (BGall. 5.35: qui superiore anno primum pilum duxerat); in 56 BC, Publius Sextius Baculus is described as "the centurion of the primus pilus" (BGall. 3.5: primi pili centurio); and there are others.

Even Vegetius writes about the centurio primo pilo, "centurion (belonging to) the primus pilus" (although it's clear from inscriptions that the men referred to themselves simply as primus pilus).

Logically, Caesar's usage ought to mean the "first century", but he never explains quite how pilus comes to mean centuria or ordo. Is there another source that I have forgotten?