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Gravestone for the signifer Oclatius.
Relief in the Arch of Constantine depicting several signiferes

A signifer was a standard bearer of the Roman legions. He carried a signum (standard) for a cohort or century. Each century had a signifer (thus, there were 59 in a legion) and within each cohort the first century's signifer would be the senior.

Signifer as the standard-bearer[edit]

The signum he carried was the military emblem of that unit. It comprised a number of philarae (disks or medallions) along with a number of other elements mounted on a pole. The pole could be topped with a leaf-shaped spear head or a manus (open human hand) image denoting the oath of loyalty taken by the soldiers. It sometimes included a representation of a wreath, probably denoting an honour or award.

The task of carrying the signum in battle was dangerous as the soldier had to stand in the first rank and could carry only a small buckler. It was this banner that the men from each individual century would rally around. A soldier could also gain the position of discentes signiferorum, or standard bearer in training.

Signifer as the banker[edit]

In addition to carrying the signum, the signifer also assumed responsibility for the financial administration of the unit and functioned as the legionaries' banker. He was paid twice the basic wage.

Signifer in the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire[edit]

In the Roman Republic the term signifer probably applied to all standard bearers, but in the Empire the signifer was just one of a number of types of signiferi, which also included aquilifers, imaginifers, duplicarii, vexillarii and draconarii.


Zehetner, S. 2011: Der Signifer. Stellung und Aufgaben in der Kaiserzeitlichen Armee. VDM Verlag, Saarbrücken.

See also[edit]