About SOLDIERS’ PAY in ancient Rome

Stock exchange, salarydonations … and deductions: how and how much soldiers were paid in Rome during the Republic and Imperial centuries

by the editorial staff | Did you know that money for the army in ancient Rome was established, as Titus Livius tells us, at the end of the fifth century BC, on the occasion of capture of the rich city of AnxurTerracina today? The Senate decided that the military got a penny from the public treasury, whereas until then each had to make war at his own expense, trusting to plunder.

V.and thus a new tax was instituted it was paid, since silver coins had not yet been struck, in massive bars of solid copper, which the patricians and plebeians carried in wagons to the mint.

The measure was taken in view a new, long war against the Veii, the Etruscan city a few kilometers northwest of Rome. He needed many soldiers and especially men who could remain in the army for many months, which was impossible to achieve since the soldiers had to support themselves at their own expense.

With the institution of military pay (Salary), paid in three installments, recruitment was voluntary. It was mainly the debt-ridden farmers who swelled the ranks of the army as a result of the devastation of the war.

In addition there was the salary (which could double as a reward), an annual lump sum paid to soldiers for purchasing their ration of salt, valuable and necessary for food. The soldiers, however, were subjected to heavy restrictions: in fact, they had to pay about three-fourths of the money they received into the Treasury to provide for the food, equipment, and armaments provided.


The penny was first measured in aces and then in denarii with the classical equivalence rate of 10 aces. A small compensation for those who had to face a life full of danger, hardship and sacrifice and which often led to riots with the killing of officers and looting. The army then took it a denarius a day, that is, 16 aces (such was the value after the revaluation of 108 BC), the final license after 16 years and the cash premium.

At the end of the Republic came the annual fee fixed by Caesar at 225 dinars and as such also given by Augustus. Domitian raised the pay to 300 denarii or 12 gold a year and added a fourth salary of 3 gold or 75 dinars.


Under Septimius Severus the pocket soldier 500 dinars every year and under the son Caracalla 750 dinars. Aware of the need for soldiers to behave well, Septimius Severus, the soldier emperor, advised his children on his deathbed to “Stay united, make the soldiers rich and don’t worry about the rest.”

There were many then cash bonus (preemia militias)which was instituted by Augustus, who created a special special fund, the Military Fund, the endowment of which was initially secured from Augustus’ personal property and then from special taxes.

A traveling allowance was also provided to enable the soldier to reach his unit, often in distant countries: this allowance was called viaticumit is paid in the measure of 3 euros during the High Empire and in 6 solids under Theodosius in 375 AD.

The emperors added a donativum special by 5 gold and later by 5 solid every 5 years; other donations were distributed to celebrate the appointment of a new emperor or on the occasion of important anniversaries. Gifts and prizes made up one-third of the pay in AD 301, four-fifths in 307, and one-and-a-half times the pay in 320. The praetorians, that is, the imperial guard, enjoyed special prizes.


The soldier who wanted to get leave for military service earlier could do so by paying a certain amount of money and a part in kind: the “liberation” premium amounted to 3000 dinars under Augustus and 5000 under Caracalla.

But what was it? the purchasing power of military money compared to the wage of an unskilled worker? While the salary of the latter between the first century and 301 was multiplied by 75 and in some cases even by 150, in the same period the salary of the legionary was only by 25. But it must be borne in mind that the soldiers were paid in silver coins while the workers were with copper coins.

The amount of military pay it also varied based on grade differentiation: the pay of the centurion was twice that of the legionary and three times that of the knight. even food rations varied according to the nature of the service: knights’ rations, for example, were more plentiful and of better quality than those of infantry.


Finally while the value of food and equipment was preserved by the Roman soldiers, while food and equipment were given free to the allied troops (who, however, did not receive the pay). This difference in treatment disappeared when the whole of Italy acquired the right of Roman citizenship.

The term soldierafter all, it comes from the Latin term solidarityindicated someone “who worked for money” from ssolidify it really means “to pay.”

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