Monday, December 14, 2020

Serving in the Roman navy

 I've been catching up on my reading and thoroughly enjoyed the article "Roman Fleet Personnel" by Duncan Campbell in Volume XIV, Issue 2 of Ancient Warfare Magazine.

So today's featured "Antiquities Alive" artwork are the frescos of Roman galleys found in the porticus of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii.

Campbell points out that the Roman navy was crewed by fleet soldiers/marines termed "milites classiarii", sailors known as "nautae" and oarsmen called remiges.  However, on funerary monuments these men referred to themselves as just milites.  They were commanded by a centurion just as they would have been if a regular member of the legions.  The main distinction found on recovered gravestones is the mention of the name of the ship on which they served, although some men just recognized the name of their centurionate, such as "member of the centuria of Antonius Priscus."

Two uniquely naval officers were the trierarchus, captain of the a ship, and navarchus, a title thought to be that of a naval administrative post as it was usually not mentioned in the context of a ship but of overall naval operations.  Only a dozen or so navarchs have been identified and the tombstone of Publius Petronius Afrodisis informs us that he progressed from the position of trierarch to navarch, and ultimately to the head of the Praetorian Fleet of Ravenna. It is Galen who tells us that the position of trierarch originally meant the captain of a trireme but it eventually came to be used for any vessel's captain. 

Although sailors thought of themselves as milites (soldiers) they were usually non-citizens who were granted Latin status upon enlistment but not full Roman citizenship.  Therefore  their promotional prospects were thereby limited.  Campbell relates the example of Claudius Terentianus who joined the Roman navy at Alexandria but longed for service in an auxiliary cohort where he might at least rise in rank to a centurion.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Miguel Hermoso Cuesta and ArchaiOptix

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