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Full Version: The Imagnifer and the Aquilifer
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I was reading Goldsworthy's The Complete Roman Army the other day, and when I read his lecture on the standards, I was left with a few questions. I understand that the position of the Aquilifer was one that commanded great respect (perhaps the most respected position of any legionary?), but who was this man, and do we have any ancient sources that give qualifications for the position? Besides that, was the imagnifer on (nearly) equal footing with the Aquilifer, or was he just another standard bearer? Finally, where were these two positioned in the order of battle, and who would these two presumably important people bunk with?
Interesting question!

I just had a quick browse through the inscriptions database searching for aquilifers and imaginifers, to see if I could work out how they fitted into the hierarchy - not much luck though.

Surprisingly, very few men of either sort give positions either before or after that of standard bearer - one aquilifer was a former signifer, and two (I think) went on to be centurions. Other than that, all of them seem to have retired or died in the same role.

We might ask what the qualifications would be for one of these prestigious positions. Could it be that the aquilifer, for example, was actually chosen as a veteran soldier of proven loyalty, but without the necessary abilities to rise into the centurionate? They didn't have the clerical duties of the signifers, so could even have been illiterate. Less charitably, the biggest, dumbest man in the legion, perhaps!

As for where they lived - would it be absurd to imagine that the aquilifer actually lived in or next to the shrine of the standards in the headquarters building? They surely wouldn't have wanted to be too far from their sacred charge...
Quote:As for where they lived - would it be absurd to imagine that the aquilifer actually lived in or next to the shrine of the standards in the headquarters building? They surely wouldn't have wanted to be too far from their sacred charge...
The sacred charge of the entire unit, I should say. I think the central position of the aedes (and a hefty locked gate) would be security enough. As with most of the sub-centurion hierarchy, I'd expect them to live in the barracks and find nothing especially unusual about that...
I believe I read somewhere that a wounded Aquilifer was supposed to, if he was able, deliver the Legate before retiring. Also, I believe the same passage mentions that an Aquilifer was expected to commit suicide if he lost the eagle. I would assume the same for the imagnifer would apply-as losing the imagio would certainly cause that legion to lose the favor of the emperor, who could disband the entire Legion (if he so wished). The reference for this is lost on me.
The recovery of the image of the Emperor doesn't seem to have the significance in ancient writings as the recovery of the Aquilla. This may be due to the change in Emperors as time past from the date of loss. The position and traditions of the Aquilifer predates that of Imagnifer by more than a century which may well mean the Aquilifier was the senior position in rank as well as precedence.
Does anyone know where the Aquilifer and imaginifer were placed in the order of battle?
for what it's worth, I also found this: The aquilifer plays an important role in the landing of Roman soldiers in Britain, as accounted by Julius Caesar. In De Bello Gallico IV.25, as the legionaries are delaying their disembarkation from the ships onto a shore held by barbarians --warriors who know their turf-- the aquilifer of the tenth legion shouts out that the soldiers must jump unless they want to sully the reputation of the legion. The aquilifer himself says that he certainly would have fulfilled his office for the public (pūblicae) thing (reī) (i.e. for the republic) and immediately jumps from the ship and makes his way to the shore with the eagle so that others may follow. Unfortunately for the Romans, chaos ensues as soldiers from different divisions group themselves to the closest standard rather than their assigned one, disturbing battle formation greatly.
-Caesar's Gallic War

Appearantly, Aquilifers had to be intrepid and brave men, who were unquestionably loyal to the legion. I would also imagin that he would be an older veteran. Also, I would imagine he would be the legion's head clerk, as he was still a member of the signiferi.
Wasn't the Aquilifer always with First Cohort?

I seem to have read that one of the tasks of First Cohort was to protect standard and thus was composed of best troops.
Quote:Wasn't the Aquilifer always with First Cohort?

I seem to have read that one of the tasks of First Cohort was to protect standard and thus was composed of best troops.


I was always under the impression that the Aquila was in the first century of the first cohort. Would the imaginifer also be there?
Quote:I was always under the impression that the Aquila was in the first century of the first cohort. Would the imaginifer also be there?
Ancient Warfare magazine, Vol. III.6 covered this general topic. See especially "Eagles, flags and little boars: The Cult of the Standards in the Roman army".

Vegetius indicates that the aquila was attached to the first cohort, and the primus pilus thus shared responsibility for it (Veg., Mil. 2.8 ). The altar from Novae dedicated "to the excellence of the sacred aquila" (ILS 2295) was set up by the primus pilus, not by the aquilifer.

We don't know -- as far as I am aware -- which centuries carried the aquiliferi and imaginiferi (or imaginarii -- "the imaginary ones" -- as Vegetius mistakenly calls them!) on their books; but, like the musicians, it probably didn't matter much where they were accommodated in camp, provided they knew where to position themselves in action.

As Nathan discovered (above), both the aquilifer and the imaginifer seem to stand apart from the usual career structure of the principales (those promoted men beneath the rank of centurion). This was probably because of the prestige involved, which (I imagine) would encourage men to remain in the post for as long as possible. For example, Publius Carsidius Calvus served as aquilifer for 18 years before he died at the age of 41, so he must have been made aquilifer soon after enlistment (CIL XIII, 14995). In fact, we know of "trainee aquiliferi", so they were perhaps marked out from the start -- perhaps, as (I think) Nathan suggested, by their height or general demeanour: the biggest, baddest recruit?! Wink

Sextus Sammius Severus was eagle-bearer from enlistment until his thirteenth year, when he was promoted to centurion (ILS 2342) -- this is odd, as he wouldn't have gathered the skills and experience that other prospective centurions were expected to gather from holding the various posts in the centuria. On the other hand, the only promotion that an aquilifer could hope for was to become centurion -- there's nothing "in between" -- so it's nice to see that some of them made it!
Quote:[ For example, Publius Carsidius Calvus served as aquilifer for 18 years before he died at the age of 41, so he must have been made aquilifer soon after enlistment (CIL XIII, 14995). In fact, we know of "trainee aquiliferi", so they were perhaps marked out from the start -- perhaps, as (I think) Nathan suggested, by their height or general demeanour: the biggest, baddest recruit?! Wink

Sextus Sammius Severus was eagle-bearer from enlistment until his thirteenth year, when he was promoted to centurion (ILS 2342) -- this is odd, as he wouldn't have gathered the skills and experience that other prospective centurions were expected to gather from holding the various posts in the centuria. On the other hand, the only promotion that an aquilifer could hope for was to become centurion -- there's nothing "in between" -- so it's nice to see that some of them made it!


That's rather suprising that they would trust such an awesome responsablility to a fresh recruit. Im certain that would be cause for immense jealousy from older standard-bearers. I wonder if being the Aquilifer had any special command rank within the legion.
Also, the point about an aquilifer being appointed to centurion helps confirm my belief that Aquilifers had to be literate as well as the legion's head clerk; because as we all know, centurions had to be literate.
Quote:I was always under the impression that the Aquila was in the first century of the first cohort. Would the imaginifer also be there?
Aquilifer
AE 1991, 1572
D(is) M(anibus) / Felsonius Verus / aquilifer leg(ionis) II Par(thicae) / Gordianae P(iae) F(idelis) Aet/ernae (centuria) primo pil(i) / qui mil(itavit) ann(os) XI na/tus in Thusc(i)ae / vix(it) ann(os) XXXI qui pos{i}uit Fl(avia) Ma/gna coniunx eius / memoria coniugi / bene merenti

Imaginifer
CIL III, 6178 (listing those discharged from leg V Macedonica c. AD 134)
. . . Coh(ors) I . . . [V]al(erius) Valens ex imag(inifero) . . .
Quote:AE 1991, 1572: D(is) M(anibus) / Felsonius Verus / aquilifer leg(ionis) II Par(thicae) / Gordianae P(iae) F(idelis) Aet/ernae (centuria) primo pil(i) / qui mil(itavit) ann(os) XI na/tus in Thusc(i)ae / vix(it) ann(os) XXXI qui pos{i}uit Fl(avia) Ma/gna coniunx eius / memoria coniugi / bene merenti
Thanks, Michael. Another aquilifer who must have attained the position soon after enlistment. I'm sure we're maybe missing the enormous sanctity that went with the role -- is it too much to imagine a youth dedicating his life to the service of the eagle?

Edit: And logically, as the aquila belongs to the first centuria, so does the aquilifer. Can't imagine how I missed that! :roll:
Quote:Aquilifers had to be literate as well as the legion's head clerk; because as we all know, centurions had to be literate.

Do we know they had administrative duties? The signifer appears to have kept the records at centuria level, mainly because there was nobody else to do it. He would have passed the records up to the tribune, who had a cornicularius tribunis to do his paperwork; this man would in turn have reported to the headquarters office, headed by the cornicularius legati or consularis, aided by a staff of exacti and actuarii (clerks and finance officers).

So as I understand it there appears little need for the Aquilifer to involve himself in admin work at all. As the effective figurehead of the legion, with apparently no duties except carrying and protecting the eagle, he could be chosen from the biggest and strongest men in the legion - not necessarily the most literate!
Thank you, Nathan.

Do we have any idea what sort of animal pelt the Aquilifer would have worn? I would think that the Aquilifer should have been distinguishable in some manner.
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