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A ''vexillatio'' (plural ''vexillationes'') was a detachment of a
Roman legion The Roman legion ( la, legiō, ) was the largest military unit of the Roman army The Roman army (: ) was the armed forces deployed by the Romans throughout the duration of , from the (to c. 500 BC) to the (500–31 BC) and the (31 BC– ...

Roman legion
formed as a temporary task force created by the
Roman army The Roman army (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in ...
of the
Principate The Principate is the name sometimes given to the first period of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republ ...
. It was named from the standard carried by legionary detachments, the ''
vexillum The ''vexillum'' (; plural ''vexilla'') was a flag-like object used as a War flag, military standard by units in the Ancient Roman army. Use in Roman army The word ''vexillum'' is a derivative of the Latin word, ''velum'', meaning a sail, w ...
'' (plural ''vexilla''), which bore the emblem and name of the parent legion. Although commonly associated with legions, it is likely that ''vexillationes'' included
auxiliaries Auxiliaries are personnel that assist the military or police but are organised differently from such forces. Auxiliary may be volunteers undertaking support functions or performing certain duties such as garrison troops, usually on a part-time bas ...
. The term is found in the singular, referring to a single detachment, but is usually used in the plural to refer to an army made up of picked detachments. ''Vexillationes'' were assembled
ad hoc Ad hoc is a Latin phrase __NOTOC__ This is a list of Wikipedia articles of Latin phrases and their translation into English. To view all phrases on a single, lengthy document, see: * List of Latin phrases (full) The list also is divided alpha ...

ad hoc
to meet a crisis on Rome's extensive frontiers, to fight in a
civil war A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war between organized groups within the same Sovereign state, state (or country). The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independen ...
, or to undertake an offensive against Rome's neighbours. They varied in size and composition, but usually consisted of about 1000
infantry Infantry is an army specialization whose military personnel, personnel engage in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry, artillery, and armored warfare, armored forces. Also known as foot soldiers, infantrymen or infanteer, i ...

infantry
and/or 500
cavalry Historically, cavalry (from the French word ''cavalerie'', itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldier A soldier is a person who is a member of a professional army An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via O ...

cavalry
.


Purpose

Most of the
Roman Army The Roman army (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in ...

Roman Army
(around 400,000 strong at the beginning of the 3rd century) was stationed along the frontiers from the time of
Hadrian Hadrian (; la, Caesar Traianus Hadrianus ; 24 January 76 – 10 July 138) was from 117 to 138. He was born into a Roman Italo-Hispanic family, which settled in Spain from the Italian city of in . His father was of senatorial rank and was ...

Hadrian
, if not earlier. This placed the empire in a precarious position when serious threats arose in the interior or along a remote frontier. There was no central reserve and it was rarely possible to take a full legion, or even a major portion of one, to a troubled area without leaving a dangerous gap in the frontier defences. The only logical solution was to take detachments from different legions and form temporary task forces to deal with the threat. As soon as it was taken care of, these ''vexillationes'' were dissolved, and the detachments returned to their parent legions. The Roman emperors from the time of Augustus had at their disposal units in Italy and in the city of Rome. Over time these units would increase. Augustus created the praetorians who at the time of
Domitianus
Domitianus
constituted a force of ten cohorts, each of 1000 men strength on paper and who supplied a disputed number of horsemen.
Traianus Trajan ( ; la, Caesar Nerva Trajanus; 18 September 538August 117) was Roman emperor from 98 to 117. Officially declared by the Roman Senate, Senate ''optimus princeps'' ("best ruler"), Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who ...

Traianus
created the Imperial horseguards, the Equites Singulares Augusti, formed from his proconsular horseguard he had when he was the legate of Germania Inferior of about 1000 horsemen. Septimius made many changes in the Roman military. He doubled the number of the horseguards to 2000 horsemen. He filled the ranks of the Praetorians with provincial soldiers. He levied a new legion,
Legio II Parthica Legio II Parthica ("Parthian-conquering Second Legion") was a legion Legion may refer to: Military * Roman legion The Roman legion ( la, legiō, ) was the largest military unit of the Roman army The Roman army (Latin Latin (, or , ...
, and for the first time in Roman history stationed it on the outskirts of Rome, making it more clear that the Roman emperor was a military dictator. Whenever the emperor went on campaign these guards units stationed in the city of Rome would accompany him. Added to these came the vexillationes of the border legions.


Impact

The ''vexillatio'' system worked initially, due to the mobility provided by the empire's excellent roads and to the high levels of discipline, cohesion and ''
esprit de corps Morale, also known as esprit de corps (), is the capacity of a group's members to maintain belief in an institution or goal, particularly in the face of opposition or hardship. Morale is often referenced by authority figures as a generic value ...
'' of these units and the legions from which they came. But during the
Crisis of the Third Century The Crisis of the Third Century, also known as Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis (235–284 AD), was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed. It ended due to the military victories of Aurelian and with the ascension of Dioclet ...
(a turbulent period from 235 to about 290) ''vexillationes'' were shifted so rapidly from one area to another that units became hopelessly mixed up and became practically independent. Legions that would proclaim a commander as emperor could have a vexillatio in the real emperor's field army or garrisoned on the frontier. This was a major cause of disorganization in the Roman Army which resulted in sweeping military reforms under
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
and
Constantine I Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Constantinus; ; 27 February 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). Th ...

Constantine I
where the basic army unit became the size of one (Quingenaria=500 Soldiers) or two (Milliaria=1000 Soldiers) cohorts instead of the 5000-man legion.


Units

From the time of
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
and the
Tetrarchy The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by Roman Emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Often when ...
, and possibly as early as the reign of
Gallienus Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus (; c. 218 – September 268) was Roman emperor The Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of ...

Gallienus
, ''vexillationes'' were the usual cavalry units found on campaign though the ''ala'' remained. In the 4th century the ''Vexillationes palatinae'' and ''Vexilationes'' ''
comitatenses The comitatenses and later the palatini were the units of the field armies of the late Roman Empire. They were the soldiers that replaced the legionaries, who had formed the backbone of the Roman military since the Marian reforms. Organizati ...
'' of the Roman field armies are thought to have been either 300 or 600 men strong. The ''
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'' lists 88 ''vexillationes''. Other units, such as infantry ''cohortes'' and ''centuriae'', and cavalry ''alae'' and ''turmae'', may have had their own ''vexilla''. In addition, ''vexillationes'' with their own ''vexilla'' would have designated units of special troops outside the usual military structure, such as ''vexillarii'' (re-enlisted veterans), who may have served separately from the cohorts of their ordinary comrades.


References


Sources

* * {{cite news, authors=Southern, Pat & Dixon, Karen , work=The Late Roman Army, date=1996, title=Chapter 2, isbn=0-415-22296-6 Roman legions Infantry units and formations of ancient Rome Military units and formations of the Roman Empire Roman auxiliaries