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Trajan's Legions Advance (Figures by Essex)

Early Imperial Romans (25 BC - 193 AD)
(DBA 64)

The Early Imperial armies of Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius expanded Rome's borders to the furthest extent of empire in Britian, Scotland, and the Middle East. During the Early Imperial period, Rome also successfully resisted increasing pressure on the Rhine and Danube frontiers brought by the Early Germans, Sarmatians, and Dacians, while supressing countless rebellions and mutinies within her borders. This period also saw one of the most notorious civil wars of the ancient period in 69 AD, which is referred to as the Year of the Four Emperors.

The Early Imperial Emperors and their wars during this period were:

  • Octavian (Augustus) (31 BC - 14 AD) -- Cantabrian War (Spain, 26-25 BC), Parthian Campaign (20 BC), Danube Campaigns, Balkan Revolt (6 AD), Battle of Teutoburg Wald (vs. Early Germans, 9 AD)

  • Tiberius (14 - 37 AD) -- German campaigns by Germanicus (16-19 AD)

  • Gais Caligula (37 - 41 AD) -- German campaigns and abortive invasion of Britian (39-40 AD)

  • Claudius (41 - 54 AD) -- Invasion of Britian (43 AD-). Annexation of Britian, Thrace, Lycia, Mauretania and Noricum

  • Nero (54 - 68 AD) -- Armenian campaign (58 AD), Boudicca's Revolt (61-62 AD), Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD), Vindex' Revolt (68 AD)

  • Galba (68 - 69 AD) -- Civil War, deposed by Otho, 69 AD

  • Otho (69 AD) -- Civil War, deposed by Vitellius, 69 AD

  • Vitellius (69 AD) -- Civil War, deposed by Vespasian, 69 AD

  • Vespasian (69-79 AD) -- Civil War (69 AD, Battle of Cremona), Jewish Revolt (69-74 AD, Fall of Masada), campaigns in Britian, annexation of Commagene (72 AD), invasion of Scotland by Agricola (78 AD).

  • Titus (79-81 AD)

  • Domitian (81-96 AD) -- German campaign vs. Chatti (83 AD), war with Dacia (85-89 AD, Battle of Tapae), mutiny by the Rhine legions under Saturninus (89 AD), defense of Danube frontier (vs. Quadi/Marcoomanni, 89 AD and vs. Iazyges Sarmatians, 92 AD)

  • Nerva (96-98 AD)

  • Trajan (98-117 AD) --1st Dacian War (101-102 AD), 2d Dacian War (105-106 AD), annexation of Arabia (106 AD), Parthian War including conquest of Armenia (114 AD) and Mesopotamia campaign (115-117 AD, fall of Ctesiphon, seige of Hatra), minor Jewish Revolt (117 AD)

  • Hadrian (117-138 AD) -- Jewish Revolt (132-135 AD)

  • Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) -- Campaign in Scotland (142 AD), Mauretanian War (145 AD), Egyptian Rebellion (152 AD), minor rebellions in Judaea and Greece plus renewed conflict with the Dacians and Alans on the Danube frontier.

  • Marcus Aurelius (161-180, with Lucius Verus, 161-169 AD) -- Parthian War (162-165 AD, capture of Ctesiphon), German frontier battles (166-167 AD), 1st German War (170 AD), 2nd German War (178-180 AD)

  • Commodus (180-192 AD) -- Campaigns against the Sarmatians (183 AD), mutiny in Britian (184 AD), defense of the Rhine Frontier against Germans (188 AD)

  • Pertinax (193 AD)

  • Didius Julianus (193 AD) -- Civil War vs. Septimius Severus

The Early Imperial list ends with the beginning of the Severan Dynasty, which continues with the Middle Imperial Roman (DBA 69) list.


Although built around a solid core of professional Roman legionary Blades and allied Auxilia, the Early Imperial Roman army offers considerable flexibility with options to field Cavalry and Psiloi, as well as elements of Warband, Light Horse, and Artillery.

1x 3Cv Equites. Each Legion had 4 Turmae of cavalry (30 men each) for use as messengers and scouts that could be combined as a single unit for battle. Auxiliary cavalry was organized as Alae (wings). There were two main types: Ala Quingenaria (16 Turmae or 480 men) or Ala Milliaria (24 Turmae or 720 men). Variations included the Ala Peditata, which include an unspecified number of light infantry, and the Ala Dromedaria, which included some camelry and was used on the Egyptian frontier. Although not provided as an option, it was not uncommon for cavalry to dismount to fight on foot as Auxilia. Perhaps the most famous unit of this period was the Ala Singularis, an elite regiment of German imperial guards whose long hexagonal shields reputedly featured four scorpions.
4x 4Bd The Imperial Legionaries.
3x 4Aux Auxilia were organized a Cohors comprised of 6-10 Centuriae of 80 men. Cohors Equitata included 4 or 8 Turmae of attached cavalry. Auxilia were officered and disciplined much like the Roman legionaries, but were given lighter weapons, shields and body armour to give them greater mobility and flexibility for fighting in bad going. The historical Roman auxilia also include some specialized units such as the Cohors Sagittari comprised of Syrian archers.
1x4 Bd or 2Lh Blades are additional legionaries. For color, they can alternatively be depicted as Praetorian Guards, Roman Marines, or possibly even units of freed gladiators, who appeared in several Civil War (esp. 69 AD) armies. Light Horse are allies or mercenaries, such as Moors, Gauls, Britons, Thracians, Cappadocians or Illyrians near the end of the Early Imperial period.
1x4 Aux or 3Wb Barbarian Symmachiarii; what later would be referred to as foederati. Could include Sarmatians, Commagenes, Nabateans, Judeans, Armenians, Gauls, Germans (esp. Batavians), Britons (during the Scottish invasions), Moors, or others.
1x 3Cv or 2Ps Additional Roman cavalry units might include allies such as Germans/Gauls, the Praetorian cavalry (an Alla Milliaria worth), or unique units such as the Equites Sagitarri (horse archers) or the Equites Contariorum (horsemen armied with the long Kontos or lance). Psiloi are typically treated as generic eastern or western auxiliary archers, but may be represented by such specialized types as Baleric, Jewish or Breton, Numidian, or Greek slingers or Pontic, Syrian, Greek, Cretan or Hamian archers.
1x 2Ps or Art During the Imperial period, each centuriae was equipped with a light bolt-thrower transported on a two-wheel donkey cart (carro-ballista) and each cohort had a heavier stone thrower (catapult) primarily for use in seige work. Men were taken from the ranks to man the artillery.


The enemies of Early Imperial Rome are numerous as Rome fought both to expand and to defend its extensive borders during this period. Included are the Early Armenians (#44), Parthians (#51), Numidian (#53), Early Rhoxolani Sarmatian (#55a), Bosphoran (#55B), Siracae, Iazyges or Later Rhoxolani Sarmatian (#55c), Early German (#57), Ancient British (#60), Scots-Irish (#61), Blemye or Nobades (#63), fellow Roman Imperials (#64), Moors (#65), Jewish Revolt (#66), Caledonians/Picts (#67) and Dacians (#68).


The Early Imperials faced a wide variety of opponents from the Knight-heavy Sarmatians to the Warband-heavy Germans. Against all, they must rely on the discipline of their highly professional Roman legionary Blades. However, making effective use of the Roman Auxilia and selecting the right combination of optional elements requires considerable tactical skill and experience. The possible combinations are too numerous to describe in detail here. The key to success, however, is picking a combination that increases the number of potentially favorable match-ups against a particular historical opponent and then deploying your troops so as to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.


A hasty Roman march camp is always appropriate. A hasty camp consisted of an earthen/turf embankment and ditch, with a wooden pallisade if time permitted. You might choose to model a row of Roman tents, which were typically stitched together squares of tanned leather. For the more adventurous, you might try a section of Hadrian's Wall, a frontier fort on the Danube frontier or even a Roman watch-tower.

Foundry Praetorians
Foundry 25mm Praetorians with VVV Shield Transfers

Painting Tips

The standard early Imperial legionary was equipped with an iron helmet, with horse hair crest for show (but apparently not worn in the field except perhaps by officers and Praetorians, who often dyed the crest red or white), a gladius (short sword), pilum (heavy throwing spear), a scutum (semi-cylindrical shield), and body armor consisting of either Lorica Hamata (mail corselet) or Lorica Segmenta (banded iron plates). Lorica Segmenta was the primary Roman armour in western armies by the early 2nd century. The legionary wore a leather or padded coat under his armor with double rows of dangling leather strips (pteruges) that protruded at the shoulders and waist for extra protection. A colorful (often patterned) scarf (focale) was worn around the neck to prevent chafing. A metal plated belt with metal studded pteruges (the Cingulum) was worn around the waist to protect the genitals. During Trajan's Dacian wars, some legionaries were also equipped with bronze greaves, lorica hamata, and laminated armour for the right arm as defense against the Dacian falxmen.

Auxiliaries were equipped variously. The lightest might be supplied with only a bronze helmet, cingulum and narrow flat shield. Heavier auxilia were issued the lorica hamata (reissued from down-sized Augustan legions) and a larger flat oval shield. In the later 2d Century, lorica hamata gave way in some units to scale corselets to aid mobility (and as the reissued lorica hamata wore out). Instead of the heavy pilum, auxilia were typically issued lighter lancea suitable for thrusting or throwing. Some units carried a supply of even lighter javelins; German auxiliaries may have carried longer spears, and the auxiliary Cohors Gaesatorum Rhaetorum is named for its heavy barbed spear (gaesum).

The main points of controversy when painting an Imperial Roman army is how to paint the legionary cloak and tunic, and what color and pattern to apply to the shield. The standard tunic colors are unbleached linen (off-white) or red (more properly reddish brown after the most readily available dye). Whether colors within a unit were uniform is not known. It is likely that units in the field dressed themselves as best they could using locally available cloth, either undyed or colored with whatever dye was locally prevalent, and possibly even the occasional checked pattern. Other colors are also popular on the gaming table, including blue, green and even black, based on sketchy historical references. Expensive red cloaks (sagums) may have been preferred by higher-ranking officers; the balance of the men making do with cloaks of natural wool color or light yellow-browns.

In his painting tips for Foundry, Adrian Garbett suggests that "Cohores, Legio and Auxilia, have similar colours, which may include red, but are more likely to be shades from off-white, cream and beige to oatmeal and possibly a faded black.....Officers and (Praetorian) Guards would probably have red tunics although those in Legiones could have any colour they wanted."

As for shields, specific patterns and colors are noted for specific units in the later (3-5th century) Roman army by Vegetius and the Notitia Dignitatium, including a wide variety of thunderbolts, unicorn horns, stars and moons, feathered wings, entwined dolphins, and eventually even Christian symbols. The shields of early Imperial Legionaries and Auxilia units carved on Trajan's Column show patterns, however, there is no other hard evidence on which to base shield colors or conclude that shield patterns were uniform. That said, it is standard practice to paint shields with a colorful base color (red, pale blue, white, green, etc.) and add a shield pattern, such as the legionary thunderbolt or the auxiliary laurel wreath. Whether this is historical or not is perhaps secondary to the expectation of how Early Imperial Roman soldiers should look based on generations of Hollywood movies.

Roman shield patterns can be a challenging task for the painter. Many gamers opt to use shield transfers instead, such as those distributed by Veni Vidi Vici.


Early Imperial Rome is clearly one of the more popular ranges of ancient miniatures judging by the wide variety of choices available in all scales. A.B. miniatures (carved by Anthony Barton) draws particular praise for the detail in their Circa AD 19 range, although they are a bit large on the 15mm scale. Other popular 15mm choices include: Essex, Chariot, Irregular, Lanchasire, Donnington, Miniature Figures (MiniFigs), Museum, SimCast USA, and Warrior. In 25mm, Foundry is an outstanding source. 25mm Early Imperials are also available from Old Glory, Matchlock, Sabre, and Warrior. Baccus, Irregular and Heroics & Ros all offer 6mm Imperial Romans. See the Miniatures Sources page for links to manufacturer information and figure reviews.

Other Resources

Visit the Historical Resources page for links to on-line resources on the Imperial Roman army.

Also visit the De Bellis Bookstore for references to book titles on Rome and her Enemies.

The standard gamers reference for this period is Phil Barker's "The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome," 4th Ed. (Wargames Research Group, 1981). Osprey also offers volumes for the Early Imperial Roman army in their Men-at-Arms series, including color plates for gamers, from Caesar to Trajan and from Hadrian to Constantine.

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Last Updated: August 31, 1999

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.