List of Roman Auxiliary Regiments - Introduction - Ethnic Composition of Regiments

Ethnic Composition of Regiments

The rule of the founder-emperor Augustus (30 BC - AD 14) saw the foundation of the majority of the regiments attested in Hadrian's time. In the earlier part of this period, regiments were raised from, and named after, individual tribes e.g. Campagonum, Trevirorum and Bessorum. Later, units were raised from and named after broad national groups e.g. Hispanorum, Gallorum, Thracum.

There is very little evidence concerning the organisation and policies of auxiliary recruitment. The ethnic origins of auxiliary recruits are attested in only a tiny fraction of cases. For example, the Cohors II Gallorum veterana equitata must have recruited ca. 8,000 effectives over its probable lifespan of ca. 250 years (assuming an average performed service of 15 years). But the origins of only 2 rankers are known. Conclusions about auxiliary recruitment drawn by scholars from the available evidence must therefore be regarded as tentative.

According to Holder, during the Julio-Claudian era (14-68), a regiment's ethnic identity was preserved to some extent, with evidence of continued recruitment from the original people. By the time of Hadrian, however, a regiment's name, in most cases, probably represented the ethnic origin of few, if any, of its members. This is because in the Flavian era (69-96), as a matter of deliberate policy, most regiments were deployed in provinces far from their original home and drew the majority of their recruits from local natives and the rest from all parts of the empire. In most cases, therefore, a regiment's name had become an identification tag devoid of ethnic significance. A regiment deployed long-term in the same province would thus, over time, acquire the ethnic character of its host population.

There are exceptions to this rule:

  • A minority of regiments remained stationed in their original home province, e.g., cohors I Delmatarum mill eq, still attested in Dalmatia in 130.
  • Regiments founded a relatively short period before 130, e.g., the cohors I Aelia Dacorum stationed in Britain in 130 would probably still have contained mostly Dacian recruits at this time, as it had been established by Hadrian only about a decade earlier.
  • Some specialised regiments (e.g., Syrian archers) and the elite Batavi show some evidence of continued preferential recruitment from their original province.

Read more about this topic:  List Of Roman Auxiliary Regiments, Introduction

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