Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Standards/Banners/Colors III.

This is coolbert:


Standards as carried by the Roman legions were not a set of flags as the modern colors. Were a pole with a golden eagle atop. An Aquila [eagle]. As with modern colors, the aquila were consecrated, devotion to them of a religious nature being more profound, the Romans of course being pagans. The aquila would have been thought to have a spirit actually present within the golden image itself?

Again, as with modern colors, the Roman legions would have taken the most extraordinary and even desperate measures to safeguard an aquila during battle. To lose a standard to an enemy would have been the ultimate disgrace, death before dishonor being the watchword!

"The Roman Standards"

"the Romans commonly considered it a point of honour to preserve their standards . . . A wounded or dying standard-bearer delivered it, if possible, into the hands of his general, from whom he had received it signis acceptis."

"Roman standards were held in awe. They were symbols of Roman honour. So much so that to recover lost standards Roman leaders might engage on campaigns"

There are several significant defeats in Roman military history where the standards of multiple legions were lost. A catastrophe of this nature was taken with the utmost seriousness by the rulers of Rome. Redemption was essential in these instances, the recovery of the standards being an undertaking pursued with the greatest resolve.

Defeats to include:

(1) Belgica. "In the winter of 17/16 [B.C.], the governor of Gallia Belgica, Marcus Lollius, was defeated by the Sugambri, and the Fifth legion Alaudae lost its eagle standard: the ultimate disgrace to a Roman army unit."

"It seems that at least one military standard was returned [more than one was lost?], because a coin minted by a man named Lucius Caninius Gallus in 12-11 [B.C.]"

(2) Carrhae. NO further elaboration needed here. Carrhae was one of the two "high-water" marks in Roman military history. Defeat of the legions [commanded by Lucinius Crassus] at the hands of the Persian Parthians. NO additional eastward expansion of the Roman Empire became possible after Carrhae.

"The Battle of Carrhae was fought in June 53 BC.

"Rome was humiliated by this defeat, and this was made even worse by the fact that the Parthians had captured several Legionary Eagles [Aquilae]."

"The legionary standards lost at Carrhae were not recovered until 20 BC [that is thirty-three years after the initial loss], when Augustus negotiated their return from the Parthians, a diplomatic triumph celebrated the next year by the dedication of the Arch of Augustus."

"The capture of the golden Aquilae (legionary battle standards) by the Parthians was considered a grave moral defeat and evil omen for the Romans. It required a generation of diplomacy before the Parthians returned them. Their return was considered a great triumph by Augustus, and celebrated like a military victory."

(3) Teutoburger Wald. As with Carrhae, no elaboration required with regard to the Teutoburger Wald. Further Roman eastward expansion into the lands of the Germanii and even eastward of that if possible was forever stymied. Three legions annihilated, two standards being captured and desecrated by the barbarians.

"Battle in the Teutoburg forest (German Teutoburger Wald): the defeat of the Roman commander Publius Quintilius Varus against the Germanic tribesmen of the Cheruscian leader Arminius in 9 CE [common era]. Three legions were annihilated"

"Of the three Eagle standards [aquilae ]of the legions - XVII, XVIII, and XIX - two were captured. The standard bearer with the third plunged with his standard into the swamp."

[that standard bearer of the third standard may have very well lost his life in the process of hiding the Eagle. But THE AQUILA WOULD NOT HAVE FALLEN INTO THE HANDS OF THE BARBARIANS!! Death before dishonor!!]

"Florus, quoting a source written between 17 and 40 [C.E.] . . . says that one standard-bearer was able to escape with an eagle, which he buried in the bog."

NOT ONLY were the Roman standards captured, but DESECRATED AS WELL!! An offering from the barbarians to their gods! Such desecration must have been that even more traumatic and humiliating to the Romans. The Germanii understood full well the devotion and sanctity given to the aquila by the Romans and sought the ultimate debasement possible for the icons of the hated invader [the Romans]!

"according to Tacitus, that 'In the groves of Germany were still to be seen the Roman standards which he had hung aloft to the Gods of their fathers'"

"Tacitus, quoting Pliny the Elder, mentions . . . that the eagle standards had been desecrated."

Such was the response to the loss of standards at the Teutoburger Wald that the Romans embarked on a special military expedition to recover the lost standards!

"a special campaign was launched against the Germans to recover the standards lost by Varus in the Teutoburger Wald."

An expedition that was only partially successful [?], if at all, one standard alone being recovered, and that thirty-two years after the initial loss!!

"In 41, one of the Roman eagle standards was recovered among the Chauci"

In the process to recover lost standards, the Romans were certainly persistent!!




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