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Anonymous

I've been wondering about the 'honour' or 'glory' associated with the positions of optio, signifer and centurion. If their respective pay was an indicator of their relative status in the century, how is this reflected in the 'honour' associated with the post of optio? IIRC the optio was positioned to the rear of the century to ensure that the legionaries held their places in the battle line and did not flee. While certainly fulfilling an important role, wouldn't this mean that compared to the centurion (who led from the front) and the signifer, the optio would have seen little combat?<br>
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Given the glory and honour that the Roman military associated with 'fighting in the front lines', how was an optio viewed by his fellow soldiers? One would assume that the optio's chance of being the first man over the enemy walls, or of slaying a great number of the enemy, were comparatively small.<br>
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While the centurion was a bastion of encouragement and motivation in the front line and the signifer (fighting dangerously while being encumbered with the <i> signum</i> and only having a small <i> parma</i> for protection) was a rallying point for the legionaries, it seems as if the optio in the rear wouldn't have as much chance to distinguish himself in combat.<br>
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I would appreciate any thoughts on this matter, if only to humour my curiosity. Thanks.<br>
<p></p><i>Edited by: <A HREF=http://pub45.ezboard.com/uauxilia.showPublicProfile?language=EN>Auxilia</A> at: 9/25/02 4:14:26 am<br></i>

Anonymous

Given the casualties amongst canturiones in some battles I'd guess that many an optio got his chance of glory fairly quickly :-) <p></p><i></i>

Guest

Salve,<br>
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A soldiers career through the ranks would often have meant that individuals served in a number posts rather than holding a single position. The post of <i> optio centuriae</i> (there were other <i> optiones</i>, some not necessarily noncoms (earlier thread)) and <i> signifer</i> are thought to have been of the same pay grade as <i> duplicarii</i> (note that the evidence is largely circumstantial, but Breeze's argument seems very plausible). A number of individuals who have listed their careers held a combination of any or all of the posts of <i> optio</i>, <i> signifer</i> and <i> cornicularius</i> before the centurionate, apparently in more or less random order. Men could thus have acquired a variety of experience during their career serving in different capacties.<br>
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Promotion patterns are quite varied and this has been variously explained in modern literature as indication a variety of different systems or a lack of a single guiding line. One should take into account that only a fraction of the careers are known and the picture provided by the extant evidence might well be distorted. Various factors may have been at play disrupting any normal run of things, if indeed there was such a thing, and influenced the career of individual soldiers. Promotion in the Roman army did not depend on merit or bravery only as bribery and patronage also played an important role. All of this could govern a man's rise through the ranks, ensuring that practice did not reflect theory when it came to careers. A soldier in the imperial army would not have spent his entire stint fighting set piece battles and other tasks would have consumed the bulk of his time. As combat was generally limited, opportunities to show skill at arms and bravery could not act as the sole decisive factor in promotion and status.<br>
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An example of a quite extensive career.<br>
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<i> CIL</i> 9, 1617<br>
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C(aius) Luccius C(aii) fil(ius) | Stell(atina) Sabinus | Beneventi decurio | vivus sibi et Ofilliae | Paratae uxori et Luccio | Verecundo fratri posterisq(ue) | suis fecit militavit in coh(ortem) | <I=T> urb(anam) adlatus tribunor(um) fuit | secutor optio valetudi(narii) optio | carcaris singularis benefic(iarius) | tribuni a quaestionib(us) factus per | Annium Verum praef(ectum) urbis et | tesserarius optio signif(er) fisci | curator optio ab act(is) cornicul(arius) | trib(uni) benef(iciarius) Valer(i)i Asisatici praetor(is) | urb(is) missus ab Imp(eratore) Hadriano Aug(usto) | Serviano III et Vibio Varo co(n)s(ulibus) [3]XI[3]A[3] | MAI Erucio Claro II co(n)s(ulibus) in f(ronte) p(edes) XX in agr(o) p(edes) XX<br>
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Here the soldier has been in succession <i> secutor</i> (batman or bodyguard), <i> optio valetudinarii</i> (soldier in charge of the hospital), <i> optio carcaris</i> (soldier in charge of the prison), <i> singularis</i> (bodyguard), <i> beneficiarius tribuni</i> (soldier on staff of a tribune), <i> tesserarius</i> (soldier in charge of the watch word), <i> optio</i>, <i> signifer</i> (standardbearer), <i> fisci curator</i> (soldier responsibel for imperial property), <i> optio ab actis</i> (administrative official), <i> cornicularius tribuni</i> (head of administrative staff of tribune) and finally <i> beneficiarius praetor urbis</i> (soldier on staff of urban praetor). Note that <i> decurio</i> at the start is in this case not the military rank, but the title of a member of a town council.<br>
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The order of posts seems in this case chronological and ascending (NB a number of posts are the same rank/pay grade, just different titles). It illustrates how <i> optio</i> was a title applied to men holding different positions and ranks. Thus the <i> optio valetudinarii</i> and <i> optio carceris</i>, at least in the urban cohorts, were held by men who had not yet progressed to the position of <i> tesserarius</i> and were not yet part of the higher paid class that came to be known as the <i> principales</i>. The other <i> optio</i> (the quite similar career path of <i> CIL</i> 2, 2610 explicitly refers to an <i> optio in centuria</i>) and <i> optio ab actis</i> did rank among the NCO ranks.<br>
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Regards,<br>
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Sander van Dorst <p></p><i>Edited by: <A HREF=http://pub45.ezboard.com/bromanarmytalk.showLocalUserPublicProfile?login=sandervandorst>Sander van Dorst</A> at: 9/25/02 10:53:54 am<br></i>

Anonymous

Thank you Sander for your very helpful and in-depth reply. The earlier thread you referred me to clarified alot of things for me regarding the role of the <i> optio</i>. I had forgotten that the military posts held by the legionaries were not static; a soldier's career would naturally include the possibility of promotion (demotion even?) through the various posts.<br>
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In light of that, the <i> optio</i> 'huddling' behind the front ranks may have already distinguished himself in combat early in his career (hence his promotion, I suppose, though Sander is right that promotion wasn't always due to personal merit/valour). Also, since the <i> optio</i> was the centurion's deputy I assume that he would have had to take a fallen centurion's place in the front ranks. Is this correct? If that was the case, was another soldier appointed to take over the <i> optio</i>'s role in the century during the battle, or was the role simply abandoned?<br>
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