Sometimes you just have to post fun stuff!
Because of my interest in Roman military history I’ll just run a Google search for various terms and then wade deep into the search to see what turns up. This link kind of cracked me up. It’s from a British Ghost website-a website that documents British ghost sightings, a land famous for the variety of ghosts that populates the various British castles and old spooky buildings.
Apparently some chap named Harry was in a basement of some sort in the City of York in Northern England. Harry first saw an apparition of an auxiliary standard-bearer (signifier) pass through the wall followed by a large horse and then followed by 20 soldiers who appeared to marching on their knees!
According to the link it was discovered later that the house was built over one of the many Roman roads that are still used in parts of Britain so the soldiers were not marching on their knees but marching on the road beneath the house flooring! Harry said they just kept coming and marched through the walls. (York btw, is a center of much history. Not only were the Romans there but also the Vikings. The Vikings at one point had conquered so much of Anglo-Saxon England that England nearly became Scandinavian. The area under Danish Viking control was called “Danelaw” because Danish law prevailed. I believe York was the capital of Danelaw.)
Anyway, back to the Roman ghosts. I dunno if I ever want to see a ghost but if I did seeing a unit of Roman auxiliary infantry in full armor would be the kind of thing to see.
Auxiliary units made up approximately half of the Roman Army and many were raised in Britain but as was the Roman habit they would have been stationed elsewhere in the empire for obvious reasons. The unit Harry reports as seeing would therefore have been raised in a place other than Britain. After 25 years of service an auxiliary would become a citizen and his sons would be eligible to be in the legions which were made up exclusively of citizens. Auxiliary service was something to be desired by the people the Romans conquered and it served the empire well by Romanizing the population.The equipment of an auxiliary differed from that of a legionary too. Both wore heavy armor but the auxiliaries armor was a mail shirt while the legions wore a type of segmented plate armor that was both elaborate and effective. Auxiliaries served as infantry, missile infantry and cavalry.
The auxiliaries often did much of the heavy lifting (fighting) on the empire’s borders. In fact Hadrian’s Wall was garrisoned by auxiliaries while the few legions were held behind the wall in reserve. Someday I’d love to take a tour of Roman Britain since there is much to see. The Romans were in Britain for about 400 years. They left behind a Romano-British culture of which King Arthur is the most well-known aspect.
As a point aside for those of you interested in biblical history. There is a passage in the Bible that mentions a centurion of the Italian Cohort (Acts 10:1) by the name of Cornelius, definitely a Latin name.
Most people think that the Roman soldiers who were involved in Jesus’ crucifixion were soldiers from a legion. This is most likely not true. Judea did not become a province of Rome until 6 A.D. Prior to this date what we call Judea was ruled by Herod the Great as a client kingdom of Rome. Herod therefore had his own small army and it was this force that killed the little babies following Jesus’ birth (Matt. 2:16).
When Judea became a province most of the force would have been disbanded or absorbed into the Roman Army as auxiliaries. While the Romans usually recruited auxiliaries from one area and sent them to serve in another this did not mean it was always true so it’s easy to speculate that Herod’s old army was simply Rome’s new army in Judea.
Not only that Judea was a bit of a second-rate province and did not rate a legionary garrison. There were four legions stationed in nearby Syria mostly because it was a wealthy province but also because if bordered Parthia one of Rome’s nastier enemies. It is possible that legion detachments did serve in Judea and there is some evidence that a legion named “Gallica” did have detachments there. However, evidence is scanty so it is much more likely that the Romans mentioned in Scripture were units of the auxilia. I’m sure to the average Judean the differences between legion and auxilia were moot.
What it may mean though is that the soldiers who were present at Jesus’ death were most likely of the auxilia and just possibly of the same Italian Cohort where Cornelius was a centurion! (A cohort numbered roughly 500 men.)
Usually, as mentioned above the auxilia was recruited from non-Romans and the name of the unit would reflect where they were recruited. Since Cornelius’ unit was an Italian Cohort it raises the issue of how could they be auxiliaries?
Well, in 9 A.D. three entire legions plus attached auxiliaries were destroyed in Germany at the Battle of the Teutoberg Wald by Arminius (Herman in German) himself a former auxiliary! The resulting loss of manpower (up to 30,000 soldiers) caused Augustus to raise three cohorts (about 1500 men) of Italian auxiliaries who were already citizens. At least one of these cohorts ended up in Judea after the crisis along the Rhine passed.
So when the Bible says Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Cohort the reference is most likely to an auxiliary unit of Italians serving in Judea and just possibly being one and the same unit present at Jesus’ death.
As for Harry and the image of 20 auxiliaries forever on patrol in Northern Britain. Who knows?