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For the gastropod of Costellariidae family, see Vexillum (gastropod).
A modern re-enactor holding a vexillum with a scorpion, the sign of the Praetorians which was used to honor the Emperor Tiberius for building the Praetorian Camp in Rome. Tiberius' Astrological sign was Scorpio.
Photo: Associazione Culturale Cisalpina — Cohors III Praetoria

The vexillum (/vɛkˈsɪləm/; plural vexilla) was a flag-like object used as a military standard by units in the Ancient Roman army.

Use in the Roman army[edit]

The word vexillum is a diminutive of the Latin word, velum, meaning a sail, which confirms the historical evidence (from coins and sculpture) that vexilla were literally "little sails" i.e. flag-like standards. In the vexillum the cloth was draped from a horizontal crossbar suspended from the staff; this is unlike most modern flags in which the 'hoist' of the cloth is attached directly to the vertical staff. The bearer of a vexillum was known as a vexillarius or vexillifer.[1]

Just as in the case of the regimental colors or flag of Early Modern Western regiments, the vexillum was a treasured symbol of the military unit that it represented and it was closely defended in combat. It was the main standard of some types of unit, especially cavalry; however, it was regarded as less important than a legion's aquila or eagle, and may have represented a sub-division of a legion, though this is not entirely clear from surviving sources (see vexillatio).[2]

General and later use[edit]

Modern reproduction of a Roman cavalry vexillum

The term "vexillum" (plural "vexilla") is used more generally for any object such as a relic or icon used as a standard in battle, & may be considered the offensive equivalent of the more defensive palladium in this context.[3]

Vexillology, or the study of flags, derives its name from this word, and a vexilloid is a standard that is not of conventional flag form.

Nearly all of the present-day regions of Italy preserve the use of vexilla. Many Christian processional banners are in the vexillum form; usually these banners are termed labara (Greek: λάβαρον) after the standard adopted by the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine I which replaced the usual spearpoint with the "Chi-Rho" symbol . For example vexillum is used by the Legion of Mary as the term for its standards. A small version is used on the altar and a larger one leads processions. In the Middle Ages the type of banner draped from a horizontal crossbar became known as a gonfalon.

See also[edit]

  • Vexilla Regis, early Christian hymn whose first line uses this word, referring to the Cross as a standard

In taxonomy[edit]


  1. ^ Vexillum., retrieved March 18, 2011
  2. ^ Vexillum., retrieved March 18, 2011
  3. ^ Ryan, William Francis,The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia, pp. 237-239, 1999, Penn State Press, ISBN 0271019670, 9780271019673