Legio III Augusta
Legio tertia Augusta (Third Augustan Legion) was a Roman legion raised in the year 43 BCE most likely by the consul Gaius Vibius Pansa and the emperor Augustus who served the Roman Empire in North Africa until at least the late 4th century CE. It is possible that it fought in the battle of Philippi against the murderers of Caesar. It is probable that the Legion served Augustus while he waged war against Sextus Pompeius who threatened the grain supply from Africa to Rome. After he had won, Augustus turned on Lepidus and defeated him, winning the province of Africa in the process. The next movement of the legion is unclear but “it is certain that from 30 BCE on, the Third was permanently in Africa, although it was not always stationed in the same camp." The increasing importance of the grain supply from Africa made the presence of the legion all the more important. The legion suffered several wars, constant border skirmishes, rebellions, disbandment, reformation, and yet, it managed to defend Northern Africa for a period of 500 years. During this time, it was a military force but more so, it was a building and cultural force that was a major mover in the urbanization of the province.
- 1 Urbanization
- 2 History and Troop Movements
- 3 Lifestyle and Culture
- 4 The Rebellion of Tacfarinas
- 5 Tactics
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
The Third Augustan Legion was not only a source of protection for the Roman Empire, but it was also largely responsible for the urbanization of the North African provinces. The Legion was initially stationed in Ammaedara (modern day Haidra) where they built their first military camp. From there they invested part of their time in the construction of roads, beginning expansion. These new connections led to the development of new towns and cities for civilians, camps for the military and even colonies for the veterans. These were usually distinct from each other, but as time progressed they began to merge. The Legion did not always build up the entire town; civilians often assisted in the building of some projects. The most common projects for soldiers were aqueducts, fortifications and amphitheaters. Typically their work was for more “monumental projects” rather than “pure architecture.” The legion was not therefore solely a military force but also undertook engineering and surveying functions requiring an advanced mix of skills.
The first instance of military roads was in 14CE. The Legion built a road from their base at Ammaedara, through Thelepte, to the Oasis of Gafsa. Further expansion occurred under the rule of Tiberius with a road from the Oasis of Gafsa to the Oasis of Gabes. Between these two cities the Legion stopped for rest and created five stations.
The Legion sometimes followed the old dirt tracks from the previous Punic towns, but they mainly created new roads. Their construction followed a distinct system. Since these roads were commonly built for the use of military movement, the roads needed to be kept as simple as possible. Therefore, the roads tended to be on higher grounds, avoided valleys and remained as straight as possible. The soldiers were even able to construct the roads to drain water. It is calculated that the total length of roads in North Africa reached about 12,000 miles!
Other important roads for the Legion included the road from Tebessa to the port of Hippo Regius. Its construction was imperative for more efficient delivery of supplies to the Legion and town. Another was the road from Tebessa to Carthage. Both roads were built during Vespasian’s reign. Finally, a road built under Trajan ran south across the mountains of Gulf Syrte. This was important because there were a series of forts along it.
Some Emperors really encouraged the building of roads. One in particular was Hadrian. He was deeply involved with the work of the Third Augustan Legion and sought to make sure they were engaged in building projects. It was beneficial to stimulate the construction of these roads because they also happened to create positive externalities. For example, the long roads built in Leptis helped open up the interior lands. Farmers seized this opportunity to plant more olive groves and therefore more oil was able to be exported to Rome.
Once the birth of towns occurred in the locations near the military camps, marks of separation were needed. Typically arches were used to mark this distinction on the roads (or across from the roads) that connected the town and camp. One famous road that used this tactic was the Via Septimiana—a road built under the reign of Septimius Severus in the town of Lambaesis. On the road the Triple Arch was built and it created a boundary for where the Third Augustan Legion could march.
The members of the Third Augustan Legion did not solely consist of military men. The Emperors actually made an effort to recruit some men that were experts in surveying and the mathematics of construction. There is good evidence of this from emperors like Augustan, Hadrian and Trajan, who all held engineers responsible for both construction and the military. There were not always many of these talented men in Northern Africa so it was important to train other men for the job. Thus over time the army became a place to learn the technical skills of engineering and surveying. These men would become involved in the construction of the big duties like canals or aqueducts.
The construction of aqueducts was not an easy job. It was very difficult to make sure all the pipes were level and that the pressure was correct at both ends. The surveyor was responsible for calculating all these measurements beforehand and then leaving the directions with the procurator. They would most likely be handed off to an officer known as the mensor, whose position was comparable to that of a contractor, and he was in charge of overseeing the production. His main purpose was to assist in the layout of Roman camps and towns, and he directed the use of measuring instruments. One of the most commonly used devices was a groma which helped with the measurement of right angles.
However, the mensor and the legionaries were not always experts so the accuracy of the groma only helped to a certain extent. When this happened, surveyors had to be recalled for recalculations. There is a well preserved inscription depicting exactly this situation in Africa. The surveyor, Nonius Datus, wrote about his encounters with the Third Augustan Legion and how he had carefully surveyed, taken the measures of all the mountains and mapped out the axis for which the tunnel would need to be excavated. This he gave to the procurator. He even gave the information to the contractor just to be sure everything was done correctly. As Datus’ skills were so widely needed, he had to leave the Legion for four years expecting the construction would go along smoothly without him. The construction did not go according to plan. The legionaries were unable to dig the tunnels at the right measurement causing them to be completely off the intended line. It was up to Datus to fix the situation.
The surveyors knew exactly how to properly construct these aqueducts. If they stayed to monitor the actual construction, the operation ran successfully. This can be witnessed by the vast number of aqueducts that withstood hundreds of years. Some of them even lasted for thousands of years. For example, the water springs from Jebel Zaghouan still take water all the way to Tunis today. Historian E. Lennox Manton says, “...A large new pipeline takes it through those same conduits in the hills which were originally excavated by the legion." Although the pipes may be changed, the original layout is still used.
The Third Augustan Legion's camp bases
Augustus officially stationed his Third Legion in 30 BCE at Ammaedara (present day Hadria) which was located in the Aures Mountains. There they protected the North African provinces for 105 years. Not much remains today, but there are ruins of theaters and churches that are quite recognizable. There is also a large military cemetery, most of which occupies the legionaries. During their time stationed at Ammaedara, the Legion discovered the town of Sbeitla. Many soldiers were recruited from this town. Then in 75 CE the Legion’s camp was moved to Theveste (present day Tebessa). However, many of the veterans stayed behind and were able to settle in town, several becoming farmers.
The move to Theveste in 75 CE was not very far—just a bit west of Ammaedara. They relocated for purely strategic reasons. It was believed that if they moved they would be closer to the enemy—the local tribes who had been uprising often. The Legion was dedicated to its protection so they wanted to make sure they were in the best place possible to do so. They settled the area and built their own town. This town was physically constructed according to the principle of Hippodamus, the grid layout. The few remains in modern time include just a few pieces of architecture: the arch to Caracalla, a temple to Minerva and ruins of an amphitheater. On the arch “medallions of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna still survive on its faces” and the temple is “…one of the three or four best-preserved temples of the Roman world,” says John Ferguson, archaeologist, who explored the area. It is uncertain whether or not the Legion participated in the construction of these buildings, but it is clear that they were once in the town of their home base.
The Legion was moved a third and final time to station at Lambaesis in 128 CE. Once again this move was for strategic reasons as it was located in the Aures Mountains. This placement was the optimal location for control over the tribes. Originally they built their camp to be about 220 square yards following the same grid plan as they did at Theveste. As historian E. Lennox Manton describes the construction, he says it was built “to a rectangular plan with military precision." By the middle of the 2nd century, the town grew perhaps to four times its original size.
Throughout their stay at Lambaesis, columns, pillars with rounded niches and statues were all built around the town. They even paved a courtyard that was surrounded by porticos with rooms on three sides. Some of these rooms were just for the military guards and the Commander-in-chief. The fourth side consisted of a basilica. Probably one of the most “impressive” and “the most dominant memorials of Roman military might” was the praetorium built in Lambaesis. This praetorium served as the house of the commander—most likely the procurator. They also had baths and an amphitheater outside the camp. After some time civilians began to settle close by, but their area was marked off by an arch.
One veteran town from the Third Augustan Legion (and actually other legions in the Empire) was Thuburbo Maius. Here colonies were arranged granting veterans with, at the most, ¾ an acre of land. Although they were considered retired, these veterans were still involved in the protection of the provinces. Therefore their colonies were spread out according to the Legion’s strategic plan, and members actually guarded the areas. They sometimes built towers or ditches to be even more secure. Regardless of the militaristic constructions in the town, there were still beautiful public buildings such as a forum, mosaic floors, baths, churches and temples.
Another town founded by Nerva especially for veterans was Cuicul (now Djémila), “the beautiful” in the 1st century. The Legion also helped protect this town just as in Thuburbo Maius. The town is located on a hill and the lower part was the original foundation. It was later extended up the hill as more and more commercial activity occurred. Originally, at the end of the 1st century, there was a forum built. This later became known as the North Forum because another was built in the 3rd century. The second forum included a beautiful temple to Septimius Severus. The staircase in the temple was wonderful, “…the most impressive flight of steps ever to be built to such an edifice in North Africa."  There was a paved road that connected the two forums and upon walking, temples, buildings, homes and even the old market area could be seen. The wealthier veterans were able to construct baths and mosaics around the town. This made the area even more beauteous.
Thamugadi, or modern Timgad, was a town founded for the sole purpose of resettling veterans. Original inhabitants were given a small plot of land inside the city to build on and a small plot of land outside the city to farm. The city grew rapidly, fueled by the security provided by the nearby army camp and the economic prosperity of the mid-2nd century. Over the following generations, crops were sold to Rome and the economic status of the cities inhabitants shifted; some became wealthy while others remained in comparative poverty. The wealthy were not only able to build better homes for themselves, but also contributed to the town of Timgad by donating money for public monuments. The presence of a library within the town signifies a high standard of learning and indicates a high level of prosperity within this veteran settlement. Life after the military was apparently not as harsh as life in the military. The town’s paved streets can still be walked on today, and it is possible to see the numerous public buildings as well. A library, a large theater (seating between 4000-5000 people) and most notably an amazing forum are all still standing. Trajan’s arch is also visible. This was built to replace the Lambaesis Gate—a monument built on the street that led to Lambeasis. The town itself was most likely a very clean place. There are many baths throughout, probably close to 12-14.
History and Troop Movements
The Legio III Augusta was placed in Africa to ensure a steady grain supply to Rome. Under Augustus, the African Proconsul had command over it and several other legions. By the end of Tiberius’s reign, it was the only legion in Africa. Under Caligula, command of the army was withdrawn from the proconsul and given to a Propraetorial legate who answered directly to the emperor. The Legio III Augusta first set up camp at Haidra before 14. The base at Haidra was not large enough to support an entire legion; this suggests that the legion was split up. Desert warfare required a small and highly mobile fighting force and it was not unheard of for the emperor to split a legion into several vexillations and place them at separate fortresses. For the most part, whole legions were not moved into Africa but rather, small vexillations were formed from the armies of Germany and Pannonia and were sent to help when needed.
However, the legion was self-sufficient in protecting the African provinces for the majority of the time. Most threats that required reinforcements arose in Mauretania, as this was where the Moors were the most dangerous. The Third Augustan had around 5000-6000 men with about 10000-15000 auxiliary men stationed close by. Almost half of these soldiers were stationed in Mauretania Tingitana; the rest were positioned based on the military needs of that time. The Emperor Vespasian reunited the legion in a single fortress at Theveste, most likely in 75. In 115 or 120, the Legio III Augusta established their camp at Lambaesis where it remained for two centuries apart from the period 238-253.
The legion was disbanded in 238 CE "because of its role in putting down an African-based revolt against the emperor Maximinus in favor of the provincial governor Gordianus. " In 252, Valerian reformed the legion to deal with the "five peoples", a dangerous coalition of Berber tribes. The legion prevailed in 260 but the threat remained and the fortifications of Lambaesis were increased over the following years. In 289, the struggle began again and the emperor Maximianus took personal control of the legion. The war lasted until 297 at which point the legion was victorious.
In the early 4th century, Diocletian personally put down a rebellious governor and immediately afterward, transferred the Legio III Augusta from Lambaesis to another, unknown base within the region. Diocletian often worked with the legion during the period of military anarchy from 235 to 284. He was particularly prolific with his building projects, many of which were in Africa. Most of the projects were aimed at either replacing earlier works destroyed during the period of military anarchy or repairing public improvements, which had been allowed to fall into decay. The Legion was the main labor resource for these projects. The legion was still mentioned as late as the early 5th century but the actual date of its final disbandment is unknown.
Lifestyle and Culture
Composition of the Legion
Originally, the Legion was composed mainly of Italian soldiers, but by the 3rd century CE the legion was almost entirely of Punic and Libyan origin. Italy and Gaul were hard-pressed to cope with the demand for troops during the 2nd century. As a result, the African Legions had to get manpower from eastern and local sources.
When the Legion was not campaigning, it was engaged in vast public works projects across North Africa. There was very little serious fighting between the end of Tacfarinas’ rebellion in CE 24 and the assassination of Severus Alexander in 235. It is believed that a soldier in the Third Augustan during this time spent his days securing food, fuel, fodder, and completing general duties of camp-life. They rebuilt structures, built roads, and repaired equipment. It is likely that they went out on routine patrols of the countryside. The Legio III Augusta built the thirty-nine kilometers of the Lambaesis aqueduct in eight months, and the Legion or its temporary successor kept the roads in repair throughout the period of military anarchy. The Legion built and fortified Lambaesis and a military colony at Thamugadi, which was settled largely by veterans of the legion.
Roman Military Clubs
The basic purpose of military clubs, or collegia, was to help their members cover their funeral expenses. Average soldiers in active duty could not form clubs or be a member of one. To provide financial aid to soldiers in case of retirement or death, the government established special savings banks. Half of the money from donatives went into individual accounts for each legion and the money was received after a soldier left the service. Officers and personnel assigned to special duties were not forbidden to join clubs. These associations began to appear during the Severan dynasty when unions, both commercial and industrial, became widespread and the government turned its attention to improving standards of living within the army. Inscriptions at Lambaesis date the formation of Third Legion military clubs to the reign of Septimius Severus and indicate that they were formed by petty officers and specialists attached to the various services of the legion. Membership in a collegium gave the officer insurance against unforeseen events requiring any substantial financial investment. Gathering places for these collegia have been identified within Lambaesis.
Marriage of Soldiers
As was the case throughout the empire, soldiers of the Third Augustan Legion were forbidden to marry. A mobile army might have been in state of forced celibacy but this was not possible or practical for soldiers in fixed frontier posts. Inscriptions from Lambaesis often mention women companions of soldiers, which indicate that although they did not marry during active duty, they did form relationships with local women.
The Rebellion of Tacfarinas
The Roman military presence in North Africa was not always accepted or welcomed. Most notably in opposition to the Roman institution was Tacfarinas, a former Roman soldier turn Musulamii guerrilla leader. Tacfarinas is an example of the multiple rebellions against the expansion of the Roman Empire through military establishment and geographical positioning as well as the adequate and tactful response by the Third Augustan Legion.
Tacfarinas attacked the Augustan Legion when they were particularly vulnerable. It is reported that the first attacks were in 14 BCE when the Legion had just completed its first building project. The timing suggests that the Third Augustan Legion had not yet established its roots or an approving reputation. The guerrilla warfare tactics combined with Tacfarinas’ novel approach to attack from the rear, created additional difficulties for the Third Augustan Legion in their efforts to defeat Tacfarinas.
The manner in which Tacfarinas led his rebellions was of particular concern to the Third Augustan Legion. At first, Tacfarinas did not appear to be a great threat; his initial band of fighters was composed mainly of robbers and rebels. However, Tacfarinas’ band of robbers soon gained the expertise and precision of the Roman Army. Tacfarinas traveled through North Africa collecting Roman soldiers left behind by the Third Augustan Legion; Tacitus describes this process as a “cherry picking ” of sorts, using soldiers who had already been trained by the Roman army and using their skills against their creator. Tacfarinas created a new coalition from the collected Roman soldiers and North African citizens looking to rebel against the expansion of the Roman Empire into the Musulamii people, under his sole command.
Tacfarinas army was ultimately defeated and Tacfarinas himself committed suicide, however his revolts and rebellious efforts should not go unnoticed. The Third Augustan Legion had to master the revolutionary techniques of Tacfarinas’ band of robbers and ex-soldiers to succeed in conquering Tacfarinas. The guerrilla warfare strategies that Tacfarinas displays are one of the many ways the Third Augustan Legion had to alter its defense techniques in order to settle rebels throughout North Africa. The Musulamii gang under leadership and control of Tacfarinas was just one example of rebellions that the Legion had to settle, however no army of rebels proved as difficult, incessant, or resilient as the guerrilla army under Tacfarinas.
The Third Augustan Legion was responsible for multiple building projects and the forced establishment of the Roman Empire in North Africa for over three hundred years. However, they influenced the frontier in ways other than through expansion and urbanization. Militarily, they reformed the structure of the frontier through cultural changes and their mere presence throughout Africa.
The tactics of the Roman military depended on the discipline of the soldiers, the equipment of the soldiers, the formation of the cohorts of a legion on the battlefield, and the terrain of the battlefield.
Structure of the Legion
The Roman army in the 2nd century CE contained around 175,000 legionnaires, organized into around 25 legions. The legions themselves contained around 5,200 troops plus an equal number in auxiliaries. The legions were split up into 10 cohorts, 9 of which were made up of 480 men and one made up of 800. When in battle, the legions would be separated into their cohorts. Four of the cohorts would line up on the battle line and lead. The other six would follow behind the first four as reserves should many men fall in battle. If cavalry is involved, they would be placed on the sides of the main cohorts. The soldiers would march forward until they met the enemy, and proceed to attack.
A regular soldier of the Roman army was outfitted with :
- One pilum and one verutum; javelins of differing size and weight that would either kill or bend upon impact with heavy armor or a shield, rendering the pila useless for an enemy who would otherwise throw it back at the roman lines.
- A gladius; a short double edged sword for cutting and stabbing,
- A pugio; a short dagger with a wide and flat blade
- A galea; an iron or brass helmet of which the design varied greatly across the legions.
- Lorica segmenta, hamata or squamata; armor: segmented plate, mail or scale depending on the legion.
- A scutum; a large, mostly rectangular shield made of wood with a metal boss in the middle for hand protection. Approximate shapes and colour schemes varied across the legions.
One of the principles of the Marian reforms was that a soldier was expected to carry his personal equipment with him when marching, thus reducing the size of the baggage train of the legion while also decreasing its transit time between locations. As such, each marching soldier also carried, alongside all the weapons listed above a sarcina pack, containing generally brass cooking and eating utensils, a waterskin, 14 days rations and a further satchel for carrying personal effects.
The formation of the soldiers in a legion allowed for the soldier to use his weapons successfully and without doing harm to his fellow soldiers around him.
The initial formation of soldiers is dictated by the enemy’s formation, the terrain of the battlefield, and the troops of which the legion is made up. To soften up the enemy before the main infantry, the soldiers would throw pilum, or shoot arrows. On occasion, a legion would have ballista, or a piece of field artillery that threw large arrows. To instill fear into their enemy, the soldiers of a legion would march onto an enemy completely silent until they were close enough to attack. At that point, the entire army would utter a loud battle cry to frighten their enemy. When their tactics did not initially work, commanders would often mold their strategy to what was necessary.
Breakdown of Tactics with Tacfarinas
With the traditional tactics used by the Roman army, the enemy was expected to attack in formation, as the Roman legions did. With the rebellion of Tacfarinas, Roman commanders had to change their mode of attack. The general of the Third Augustan Legion split up the army into small units of men that took orders from a commanding officer. These units of men were constantly battle ready, mobile, and trained to fight in the desert, anticipating attacks from Tacfarinas and his rebels. With this change in traditional tactics, Tacfarinas was defeated in a matter of years.
||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (June 2010)|
- Livius: Articles on Ancient History. http://www.livius.org/ta-td/tacfarinas/tacfarinas.html
- Yann Le Bohec, The Imperial Roman Army (New York: Hippocrene, 1994), Print.
- Ramsay MacMullen, “Roman Imperial Building in the Provinces,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 64 (1959): 216.
- E. Lennox Manton, Roman North Africa (London: Seaby, 1988), 80-81.
- Ibid., 85.
- A.L. Fronthingham, "The Territorial Arch," American Journal of Archaeology 19 (1915): 166.
- MacMullen 214.
- Ibid., 215.
- Manton, 87.
- C.E.M. Bromehead, "The Early History of Water Supply (Continued)," The Geographical Journal 99 (1942): 187.
- MacMullen, 215.
- Bromehead, 187.
- Manton, 88.
- Ibid., 80-84.
- Ibid., 84-85
- John Ferguson, "Roman Algeria," Greece & Rome, Second Series 13 (1966): 177-178.
- Manton, 89.
- Ibid., 91.
- Ibid., 96.
- Ferguson, 172.
- Homer F. Pfeiffer, "The Roman Library at Timgad." Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 9 (1931): 157-65.
- Ferguson, 174-175.
- Yann Le Bohec, 174-175.
- David J Mattingly, Tripolitania (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994), 79.
- H. M. D Parker, Roman legions (Cambridge: Heffer, Barnes and Noble, 1958), 165.
- David Cherry, Frontier and Society in Roman North Africa (Oxford: Clarendon, Oxford UP, 1998), 53.
- Le Bohec, 175.
- Mattingly, 55.
- C. E. Van Sickle, "The Public Works of Africa in the Reign of Diocletian." Classical Philology 25.2 (1930): 173-79.
- Parker, 83-84.
- Cherry, 55.
- Paul Lachlan MacKendrick, North African Stones Speak (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1980), 43. Parker, 224-228.
- Michael Ginsburg, "Roman Military Clubs and Their Social Functions." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 71 (1940): 149-56.
- Peter Garnsey, "Septimius Severus and the Marriage of Soldiers," California Studies in Classical Antiquity 3 (University of California Press, 1970), 45-53.
- Tacitus. The Works of Tacitus. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. 1864-1877.
- Susan Raven, Rome in Africa (New York: Routledge, 1993), 60.
- Tacitus, 2.52.1.
- Raven, 61.
- John H. Hartwell, "Legio III Augusta: A Brief History." Abstract, Tripod. http://hauburn.tripod.com/LegIII.html
- Brian Campbell, War and Society in Imperial Rome(New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 48.
- Ibid., 51-53.
- Ibid., 56-57.
- Ibid., 53-57
- Ibid., 59-60.
- Ibid., 53.
1. John Hartwell, unlike many other creators of Legion websites, provides an accessible outline of the important facts and figures. Hartwell categorizes the three hundred years into sections that read easily and provide reliable information found from primary sources. http://hauburn.tripod.com/LegIII.html
2. This website provides a chronologically accurate timeline of the Legion. However, the author of this website does not appear to use any primary sources in their bibliography. http://www.livius.org/le-lh/legio/iii_augusta.html
3. The author provides a basic interpretation and timeline for the events and doings of the Legion, but does not provide a bibliography. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/intro/legion.htm