The Latin word castra, with its singular castrum, was used by the ancient Romans to mean buildings or plots of land reserved to or constructed for use as a military defensive position. The word appears in both Oscan and Umbrian (dialects of Italic
Italic languages
The Italic subfamily is a member of the Indo-European language family. It includes the Romance languages derived from Latin , and a number of extinct languages of the Italian Peninsula, including Umbrian, Oscan, Faliscan, and Latin.In the past various definitions of "Italic" have prevailed...

) as well as in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

. It may have descended from Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 to Italic
Italic languages
The Italic subfamily is a member of the Indo-European language family. It includes the Romance languages derived from Latin , and a number of extinct languages of the Italian Peninsula, including Umbrian, Oscan, Faliscan, and Latin.In the past various definitions of "Italic" have prevailed...

. In classical Latin the word castra always means "great legionary encampment", both "marching", "temporary" ones and the "fortified permanent" ones, while the diminutive form castellum was used for the smaller forts, which were usually, but not always, occupied by the auxiliary units and used as logistic bases for the legions, as explained by Vegetius
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what he tells us in his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris , and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to...

. A generic term is praesidium ("guard post or garrison"). The terms stratopedon ("army camp") and phrourion ("fort") were used by Greek language
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 authors, in order to designate the Roman castra and the Roman castellum respectively. In English, the terms "Roman fortress", "Roman fort" and "Roman camp" are commonly used for the castra. However the scholars' convention always requires the use of the word "camp", "marching camp" and "fortress" as a translation of castra and the use of the word "fort" as a translation of castellum and this type of convention is usually followed and found in all the scholarly works.


According to Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch, page 586 under kes- (palatal k), Oscan castrous (genitive case) and Umbrian castruo, kastruvuf (nominative case) have the same original meaning as castrum, which was an estate, or a tract of land. Being the term used to designate a private estate, in Latin the word castrum was probably then the term for an estate or a tract of land enclosed by a fence or a wooden or stone wall of some kind, as seems to be used in a few passages in Cornelius Nepos
Cornelius Nepos
Cornelius Nepos was a Roman biographer. He was born at Hostilia, a village in Cisalpine Gaul not far from Verona. His Gallic origin is attested by Ausonius, and Pliny the Elder calls him Padi accola...

' works.

The American Heritage Dictionary, following Julius Pokorny
Julius Pokorny
Julius Pokorny was an Austrian linguist and scholar of the Celtic languages, particularly Irish, and a supporter of Irish nationalism. He held academic posts in Austrian and German universities.-Life:...

, lists *kes-, "cut", as the root. One castrum was a reservation of land "cut off" for military use. It could be an entire base, such as castrum Moguntiacum, or it could be a single fortified building. From the latter use came the English word castle (castellum, a diminutive of castrum).

In Latin the term Castrum is much more frequently used as proper name of geographical locations: e.g. Castrum Album, Castrum Inui
In ancient Roman religion, Inuus was a god, or aspect of a god, who embodied copulation. The evidence for him as a distinct entity is scant. Servius says that Inuus is an epithet of Faunus , named from his habit of intercourse with animals, based on the etymology of ineundum, "a going in,...

, Castrum Novum, Castrum Truentinum, Castrum Vergium.

Castra in the plural refers to a collection of structures. Considering that the earliest structures were tents, which were cut out of hide or cloth, one castrum may well be a tent
A tent is a shelter consisting of sheets of fabric or other material draped over or attached to a frame of poles or attached to a supporting rope. While smaller tents may be free-standing or attached to the ground, large tents are usually anchored using guy ropes tied to stakes or tent pegs...

, with the plural meaning tents. All but the most permanent bases housed the men in barracks of tents placed in quadrangles and separated by numbered streets. The term castra then means Marching Camp, Temporary Camp, Permanent Camp, Fortified Camp and Fortress, always designating a great legionary encampment.

The Plural was also used as Geographical place proper name, as Castra Cornelia, and from the plural come the English place-name suffixes such as -caster and -chester; e.g., Winchester, Lancaster.

The commonest Latin syntagmata for the term castra are:
  • castra stativa: permanent camp/fortress
  • castra aestiva: summer camp/fortress
  • castra hiberna: winter camp/fortress
  • castra navalia or castra nautica: navy camp/fortress

Castrorum Filius was one of names used by the emperor Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 and then also by other emperors.

Castro (surname)
Castro is a Romance surname coming from Latin castrum, a fortification...

", also derived from "Castrum", is a common Spanish
Spanish people
The Spanish are citizens of the Kingdom of Spain. Within Spain, there are also a number of vigorous nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history....

 family name, as well as a name-place in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, Italy and the Balkan, either by itself or in various compounds such as Argyrocastro (see Castro).

Types of castra

The best known type of castra is the camp
Military camp
A military camp or bivouac is a semi-permanent facility for the lodging of an army. Camps are erected when a military force travels away from a major installation or fort during training or operations, and often have the form of large campsites. In the Roman era the military camp had highly...

, a military town
Military town
A military town is a civilian municipality which is economically dependent upon or receives its greatest economic impetus from a nearby military installation, such as a military base or military academy.-United Kingdom:...

 designed to house and protect the soldiers and their equipment and supplies when they were not fighting or marching. Regulations required a major unit in the field to retire to a properly constructed camp every day. " soon as they have marched into an enemy's land, they do not begin to fight till they have walled their camp about; nor is the fence they raise rashly made, or uneven; nor do they all abide ill it, nor do those that are in it take their places at random; but if it happens that the ground is uneven, it is first leveled: their camp is also four-square by measure, and carpenters are ready, in great numbers, with their tools, to erect their buildings for them." To this end a marching column ported the equipment needed to build and stock the camp in a baggage train of wagons and on the backs of the soldiers.

Camps were the responsibility of engineering units to which specialists of many types belonged, officered by architecti, "chief engineers", who requisitioned manual labor from the soldiers at large as required. They could throw up a camp under enemy attack in as little as a few hours. Judging from the names, they probably used a repertory of camp plans, selecting the one appropriate to the length of time a legion would spend in it: tertia castra, quarta castra, etc., "a camp of three days", "four days", etc.

More permanent camps were castra stativa, "standing camps". The least permanent of these were castra aestiva or aestivalia, "summer camps", in which the soldiers were housed sub pellibus or sub tentoriis, "under tents". Summer was the campaign season. For the winter the soldiers retired to castra hiberna containing barracks of more solid materials, public buildings and stone walls.

The camp allowed the Romans to keep a rested and supplied army in the field. Neither the Celtic nor Germanic armies had this capability: they found it necessary to disperse after only a few days; meanwhile, their open camps invited attack when they were least prepared.

Plan of the fort

Sources and origins

Even from the most ancient times Roman camps were constructed according to a certain ideal pattern, formally described in two main sources, the De Metatione Castrorum or De Munitionibus Castrorum by either Hyginus Gromaticus
Hyginus Gromaticus
Hyginus Gromaticus, was a Latin writer on land-surveying, who flourished in the reign of Trajan . Fragments of a work on legal boundaries attributed to him will be found in C. F. Lachmann, Gromatici Veteres, i...

 or Pseudo-Hyginus
De Munitionibus Castrorum is a work by an unknown author. Due to this work formerly being attributed to Hyginus Gromaticus, its author is conventionally called "Pseudo-Hyginus". This work is the most detailed description that survives about Roman military camps De Munitionibus Castrorum (About the...

 and the works of Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

. Vegetius
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what he tells us in his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris , and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to...

 has a small section on entrenched camps as well. The terminology varies some but the basic plan is the same. To readers of the Rig Veda the pattern is strikingly familiar, as it is essentially the same as that described as being used by the Aryans invading Iron Age India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 to lay out a village . That is not to say non-Indo-European peoples did not use it either. The hypothesis of an Etruscan
Etruscan language
The Etruscan language was spoken and written by the Etruscan civilization, in what is present-day Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria and in parts of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna...

 origin is a viable alternative.


The ideal enforced a linear plan for a camp or fort: a square for camps to contain one legion or smaller unit, a rectangle for two legions, each legion being placed back-to-back with headquarters next to each other. Laying it out was a geometric exercise conducted by experienced officers called metatores, who used graduated measuring rods called decempedae ("10-footers") and gromatici who used a groma
Groma surveying
The Groma or gruma was the principal Roman surveying instrument. It comprised a vertical staff with horizontal cross pieces mounted at right-angles on a bracket. Each cross piece had a plumb line hanging vertically at each end...

, a sighting device consisting of a vertical staff with horizontal cross pieces and vertical plumb-lines. Ideally the process started in the centre of the planned camp at the site of the headquarters tent or building (principia). Streets and other features were marked with coloured pennants or rods.

Wall and ditch

The Castra's special structure also defended from attacks.

The base (munimentum, "fortification") was placed entirely within the vallum
Vallum is a term applied either to the whole or a portion of the fortifications of a Roman camp. The vallum usually comprised an earthen or turf rampart with a wooden palisade on top, with a deep outer ditch...

("wall"), which could be constructed under the protection of the legion in battle formation if necessary. The vallum was quadrangular aligned on the cardinal points of the compass. The construction crews dug a trench (fossa), throwing the excavated material inward, to be formed into the rampart (agger). On top of this a palisade of stakes (sudes
Sudis (stake)
The sudis is a Latin word meaning stake. It was the name given to stakes carried by Roman legionaries for employment as a field fortification, sometimes also called valus...

or valli) was erected. The soldiers had to carry these stakes on the march. Over the course of time, the palisade might be replaced by a fine brick or stone wall, and the ditch serve also as a moat. A legion-sized camp always placed towers at intervals along the wall with positions between for the division artillery.


Around the inside periphery of the vallum was a clear space, the intervallum, which served to catch enemy missiles, as an access route to the vallum and as a storage space for cattle (capita) and booty (praeda). Legionaries were quartered in a peripheral zone inside the intervallum, which they could rapidly cross to take up position on the vallum. Inside of the legionary quarters was a peripheral road, the Via Sagularis, probably "service road", as the sagum
The sagum was a garment of note generally worn by members of the Roman military during both the Republic and early Empire. Regarded symbolically as a garment of war by the same tradition which embraced the toga as a garment of peace, it was slightly more practical in any event, consisting of a...

, a kind of cloak, was the garment of slaves.

Streets, gates and central plaza

Every camp included "main street", which ran unimpeded through the camp in a north-south direction and was very wide. The names of streets in many cities formerly occupied by the Romans suggest that the street was called cardo or Cardus Maximus. This name applies more to cities than it does to ancient camps.

Typically "main street" was the via principalis. The central portion was used as a parade ground and headquarters area. The "headquarters" building was called the praetorium
- Etemology :The praetorium, also spelled prœtorium or pretorium, was originally used to identify the general’s tent within a Roman Castra, Castellum, or encampment. The word originates from the name of the chief Roman magistrate, known as Praetor...

because it housed the praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

or base commander ("first officer"), and his staff. In the camp of a full legion he held the rank of consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

or proconsul
A proconsul was a governor of a province in the Roman Republic appointed for one year by the senate. In modern usage, the title has been used for a person from one country ruling another country or bluntly interfering in another country's internal affairs.-Ancient Rome:In the Roman Republic, a...

but officers of lesser ranks might command.

On one side of the praetorium was the quaestorium, the building of the supply officer, or quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

("seeker"). On the other side was the forum
Forum (Roman)
A forum was a public square in a Roman municipium, or any civitas, reserved primarily for the vending of goods; i.e., a marketplace, along with the buildings used for shops and the stoas used for open stalls...

, a small duplicate of an urban forum, where public business could be conducted. Along the Via Principalis were the homes or tents of the several tribunes in front of the barracks of the units they commanded.

The Via Principalis went through the vallum in the Porta Principalis Dextra ("right principal gate") and Porta Principalis Sinistra ("left, etc."), which were gates fortified with turres ("towers"). Which was on the north and which on the south depends on whether the praetorium faced east or west, which remains unknown.

The central region of the Via Principalis with the buildings for the command staff was called the Principia (plural of principium). It was actually a square, as across this at right angles to the Via Principalis was the Via Praetoria, so called because the praetorium interrupted it. The Via Principalis and the Via Praetoria offered another division of the camp into four quarters.
Across the central plaza (principia) to the east or west was the main gate, the Porta Praetoria. Marching through it and down "headquarters street" a unit ended up in formation in front of the headquarters. The standards of the legion were located on display there, very much like the flag of modern camps.

On the other side of the praetorium the Via Praetoria continued to the wall, where it went through the Porta Decumana. In theory this was the back gate. Supplies were supposed to come in through it and so it was also called, descriptively, the Porta Quaestoria. The term Decumena, "of the 10th", came from the arranging of manipuli or turmae from the first to the 10th, such that the 10th was near the intervallum on that side. The Via Praetoria on that side might take the name Via Decumena or the entire Via Praetoria be replaced with Decumanus Maximus
Decumanus Maximus
In Roman city planning, a decumanus was an east-west-oriented road in a Roman city, castra , or colonia. The main decumanus was the Decumanus Maximus, which normally connected the Porta Praetoria to the Porta Decumana .This name comes from the fact that the via decumana or decimana In Roman city...



In peaceful times the camp set up a marketplace with the natives in the area. They were allowed into the camp as far as the units numbered 5 (half-way to the praetorium). There another street crossed the camp at right angles to the Via Praetoria, called the Via Quintana, "5th street". If the camp needed more gates, one or two of the Porta Quintana were built, presumably named dextra and sinistra. If the gates were not built, the Porta Decumana also became the Porta Quintana. At "5th street" a public market was allowed.

Major buildings

The Via Quintana and the Via Principalis divided the camp into three districts: the Latera Praetorii, the Praetentura and the Retentura. In the latera ("sides") were the Arae (sacrificial altars), the Augur
The augur was a priest and official in the classical world, especially ancient Rome and Etruria. His main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds: whether they are flying in groups/alone, what noises they make as they fly, direction of flight and what kind of...

(for auspice
An auspice is literally "one who looks at birds", a diviner who reads omens from the observed flight of birds...

s), the Tribunal, where courts martial and arbitrations were conducted (it had a raised platform), the guardhouse, the quarters of various kinds of staff and the storehouses for grain (horreae) or meat (carnarea). Sometimes the horreae were located near the barracks and the meat was stored on the hoof. Analysis of sewage from latrines indicates the legionary diet was mainly grain. Also located in the Latera was the Armamentarium, a long shed containing any heavy weapons and artillery not on the wall.

The Praetentura ("stretching to the front") contained the Scamnum Legatorum, the quarters of officers who were below general but higher than company commanders (Legati). Near the Principia were the Valetudinarium (hospital), Veterinarium (for horses), Fabrica ("workshop", metals and wood), and further to the front the quarters of special forces. These included Classici
Roman Navy
The Roman Navy comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. Although the navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman legions...

("marines", as most European camps were on rivers and contained a river naval command), Equites ("cavalry"), Exploratores
Speculatores and Exploratores were the scouts and reconnaissance element of the Roman army.In both the legions and in the praetorian camp, speculatores were initially scouts but became bodyguards, couriers, law-enforcers, and sometimes executioners. Exploratores were tasked to keep watch on enemy...

("scouts"), and Vexillarii (carriers of vexillae, the official pennants of the legion and its units). Troops who did not fit elsewhere also were there.

The part of the Retentura ("stretching to the rear") closest to the Principia contained the Quaestorium. By the late empire it had developed also into a safekeep for plunder and a prison for hostages and high-ranking enemy captives. Near the Quaestorium were the quarters of the headquarters guard (Statores), who amounted to two centuries
Centuria is a Latin substantive from the stem centum , denoting units consisting of 100 men. It also denotes a Roman unit of land area: 1 centuria = 100 heredia...

 (companies). If the Imperator
The Latin word Imperator was originally a title roughly equivalent to commander under the Roman Republic. Later it became a part of the titulature of the Roman Emperors as part of their cognomen. The English word emperor derives from imperator via Old French Empreur...

was present they served as his bodyguard.


Further from the Qaestorium were the tents of the Nationes ("natives"), who were auxiliaries of foreign troops, and the legionaries themselves in double rows of tents or barracks (Strigae). One Striga was as long as required and 18 m wide. In it were two Hemistrigia of facing tents centered in its 9 m strip. Arms could be stacked before the tents and baggage carts kept there as well. Space on the other side of the tent was for passage.

In the northern places like Britain were it got cold in the winter they would make wood or stone barracks.The Romans would also put a fire place in the barracks. They had about 3 bunk beds in it. They had a small room beside it where they put their armour, it was as big as the tents. They would also make these barracks if the fort they had was going to stay there for good.

A tent was 3 by 3.5 meters (0.6 m for the aisle), ten men per tent. Ideally a company took 10 tents, arranged in a line of 10 companies, with the 10th near the Porta Decumana. Of the c. 9.2 square meters of bunk space each man received 0.9, or about 0.6 by 1.5 m, which was only practical if they slept with heads to the aisle. The single tent with its men was called contubernium
The contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries. The men within the contubernium were known as contubernales. Ten contubernia were grouped into a centuria...

, also used for "squad". A squad during some periods was 8 men or fewer.

The Centurio, or company commander, had a double-sized tent for his quarters, which served also as official company area. Other than there, the men had to find other places to be. To avoid mutiny, it became extremely important for the officers to keep them busy.

A covered portico might protect the walkway along the tents. If barracks
Barracks are specialised buildings for permanent military accommodation; the word may apply to separate housing blocks or to complete complexes. Their main object is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training and esprit de corps. They were sometimes called...

 had been constructed, one company was housed in one barracks building, with the arms at one end and the common area at the other. The company area was used for cooking and recreation, such as gaming. The army provisioned the men and had their bread (panis militaris) baked in outdoor ovens, but the men were responsible for cooking and serving themselves. They could buy meals or supplementary foods at the canteen. The officers were allowed servants.


For sanitary facilities, a camp had both public and private latrines. A public latrine consisted of a bank of seats situated over a channel of running water. One of the major considerations for selecting the site of a camp was the presence of running water, which the engineers diverted into the sanitary channels. Drinking water came from wells; however, the larger and more permanent bases featured the aquaductus
An aqueduct is a water supply or navigable channel constructed to convey water. In modern engineering, the term is used for any system of pipes, ditches, canals, tunnels, and other structures used for this purpose....

, a structure running a stream captured from high ground (sometimes miles away) into the camp. The praetorium had its own latrine, and probably the quarters of the high-ranking officers. In or near the intervallum, where they could easily be accessed, were the latrines of the soldiers. A public bathhouse for the soldiers, also containing a latrine, was located near or on the Via Principalis.


The influence of a base extended far beyond its walls. The total land required for the maintenance of a permanent base was called its territoria. In it were located all the resources of nature and the terrain required by the base: pastures, woodlots, water sources, stone quarries, mines, exercise fields and attached villages. The central castra might also support various fortified adjuncts to the main base, which were not in themselves self-sustaining (as was the base). In this category were speculae, "watchtowers", castella, "small camps", and naval bases.

All the major bases near rivers featured some sort of fortified naval installation, one side of which was formed by the river or lake. The other sides were formed by a polygonal wall and ditch constructed in the usual way, with gates and watchtowers. The main internal features were the boat sheds and the docks. When not in use, the boats were drawn up into the sheds for maintenance and protection. Since the camp was placed to best advantage on a hill or slope near the river, the naval base was usually outside its walls. The classici and the optiones of the naval installation relied on the camp for its permanent defense. Naval personnel generally enjoyed better quarters and facilities. Many were civilians working for the military.

Modifications in practice

This ideal was always modified to suit the terrain and the circumstances. Each camp discovered by archaeology has its own specific layout and architectural features, which makes sense from a military point of view.

If, for example, the camp was built on an outcrop, it followed the lines of the outcrop. The terrain for which it was best suited and for which it was probably designed in distant prehistoric times was the rolling plain. The camp was best placed on the summit and along the side of a low hill, with spring water running in rivulets through the camp (aquatio) and pastureland to provide grazing (pabulatio) for the animals. In case of attack, arrows, javelins and sling missiles could be fired down at an enemy tiring himself to come up. For defense troops could be formed in an acies, or "battle-line", outside the gates, where they could be easily resupplied and replenished, as well as being supported by archery from the palisade.

The streets, gates and buildings present depended on the requirements and resources of the camp. The gates might vary from two to six and not be centered on the sides. Not all the streets and buildings might be present.

Quadrangular camps in later times

Many settlements in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 originated as Roman military camps and still show traces of their original pattern (e.g. Castres
Castres is a commune, and arrondissement capital in the Tarn department and Midi-Pyrénées region in southern France. It lies in the former French province of Languedoc....

 in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and the capital of Catalonia, with a population of 1,621,537 within its administrative limits on a land area of...

 in Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

). The pattern was also used by Spanish colonizers in America
Spanish colonization of the Americas
Colonial expansion under the Spanish Empire was initiated by the Spanish conquistadores and developed by the Monarchy of Spain through its administrators and missionaries. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Christian faith through indigenous conversions...

 following strict rules by the Spanish monarchy for founding new cities in the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...


Many of the towns of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 still retain forms of the word castra in their names, usually as the suffixes "-caster" or "-chester" -- Lancaster, Tadcaster
Tadcaster is a market town and civil parish in the Selby district of North Yorkshire, England. Lying on the Great North Road approximately east of Leeds and west of York. It is the last town on the River Wharfe before it joins the River Ouse about downstream...

, Chester
Chester is a city in Cheshire, England. Lying on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales, it is home to 77,040 inhabitants, and is the largest and most populous settlement of the wider unitary authority area of Cheshire West and Chester, which had a population of 328,100 according to the...

, Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 and Ribchester
Ribchester is a village and civil parish within the Ribble Valley district of Lancashire, England. It lies on the banks of the River Ribble, northwest of Blackburn and east of Preston.The village has a long history with evidence of Bronze Age beginnings...

, for example. Castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

 has the same derivation, from the diminutive castellum or "little fort".

Camp life

Activities conducted in a castra can be divided into ordinary and "the duty" or "the watch". Ordinary activity was performed during regular working hours. The duty was associated with operating the installation as a military facility. For example, none of the soldiers were required to man the walls all the time, but round-the clock duty always required a portion of the soldiers to be on duty at any time.

Duty time was divided into vigilia, the eight watches into which the 24-hour day was divided so they stood guard for 3 hours that day. The Romans used signals on brass instruments to mark time. These were mainly the buccina
A buccina or bucina , anglicized buccin or bucine, is a brass instrument used in the ancient Roman army similar to the Cornu. An aeneator who blew a buccina was called a "buccinator" or "bucinator" ....

or bucina, the cornu
Cornu (horn)
A cornu or cornum was a type of brass instrument similar to the buccina used by the Roman army of antiquity mainly for communicating orders to troops in battle. It is a Latin word literally meaning horn. The instrument was about long and took the form of a letter 'G'...

and the tuba
Roman tuba
The tuba of ancient Rome is a military signal trumpet, quite different from the modern tuba. The tuba was produced around 500 BC. Its shape was straight, in contrast to the military buccina or cornu, which was more like the modern tuba in curving around the body. Its origin is thought to be...

. As they did not possess valves for regulating the pitch, the range of these instruments was somewhat limited. Nevertheless the musicians (Aenatores, "brassmen") managed to define enough signals for issuing commands. The instrument used to mark the passage of a watch was the buccina, from which the trumpet derives. It was sounded by a buccinator.

Ordinary life

Ordinary camp life began with a buccina call at daybreak, the first watch of the day. The soldiers arose at this time and shortly after collected in the company area for breakfast and assembly. The centurion
A centurion was a professional officer of the Roman army .Centurion may also refer to:-Military:* Centurion tank, British battle tank* HMS Centurion, name of several ships and a shore base of the British Royal Navy...

s were up before them and off to the Principia where they and the Equites
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

were required to assemble. The regimental commanders, the Tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

, were already converging on the Praetorium. There the general staff was busily at work planning the day. At a staff meeting the Tribunes received the password and the orders of the day. They brought those back to the Centuriones, who returned to their company areas to instruct the men, already breakfasted.

For soldiers, the main item of the agenda was a vigorous training session lasting about a watch long. Recruits received two, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Planning and supervision of training were under a general staff officer, who might manage training at several camps. According to Vegetius
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, commonly referred to simply as Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what he tells us in his two surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris , and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to...

, the men might take a 32 km hike or a 6 to 8 kilometers jog under full pack, or swim a river. Marching drill was always in order.

Each soldier was taught the use of every weapon and also was taught to ride. Seamanship was taught at naval bases. Soldiers were generalists in the military and construction arts. They practiced archery, spear-throwing and above all swordmanship against posts (pali) fixed in the ground. Training was taken very seriously and was democratic. Ordinary soldiers would see all the officers training with them including the Praetor or the Emperor if he was in camp.

Swordmanship lessons and use of the shooting range probably took place on the campus, a "field" outside the castra, from which English camp derives. Its surface could be lightly paved. Winter curtailed outdoor training. The general might in that case have sheds constructed, which served as field houses for training. There is archaeological evidence in one case of an indoor equestrian ring.

Apart from the training, each soldier had a regular job on the base, of which there were a large variety from the various kinds of clerks to the craftsmen. Soldiers changed jobs frequently. The commander's policy was to have all the soldiers skilled in all the arts and crafts so that they could be as interchangeable as possible. Even then the goal was not entirely achievable. The gap was bridged by the specialists, the optiones or "chosen men", of which there were many different kinds. For example, a skilled artisan might be chosen to superintend a workshop.

The supply administration was run as a business using money as the medium of exchange. The aureus
The aureus was a gold coin of ancient Rome valued at 25 silver denarii. The aureus was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century, when it was replaced by the solidus...

 was the preferred coin of the late republic and early empire; in the late empire the solidus
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

 came into use. The larger bases, such as Moguntiacum, minted their own coins. As does any business, the base quaestorium required careful record keeping, performed mainly by the optiones. A chance cache of tablets from Vindolanda
Vindolanda was a Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Located near the modern village of Bardon Mill, it guarded the Stanegate, the Roman road from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth...

 in Britain gives us a glimpse of some supply transactions. They record, among other things, the purchase of consumables and raw supplies, the storage and repair of clothing and other items, and the sale of items, including foodstuffs, to achieve an income. Vindolanda traded vigorously with the surrounding natives.

Another feature of the camp was the military hospital (valetudinarium, later hospitium). Augustus instituted the first permanent medical corps in the Roman army. Its physicians, the medici ordinarii, had to be qualified physicians. They were allowed medical students, practitioners and whatever orderlies they needed; i.e., the military hospitals were medical schools and places of residency as well.
Officers were allowed to marry and to reside with their families on base. The army could not extend the same privileges to the men, who were not allowed to marry. However, they often kept common law families off base in communities nearby. The communities might be native, as the tribesmen tended to build around a permanent base for purposes of trade, but also the base sponsored villages (vici) of dependents and businessmen. Dependents were not allowed to follow an army on the march into hostile territory.

An enlistment was for about 25 years. At the end of that time the veteran
A veteran is a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field; " A veteran of ..."...

  was given a diploma, or certificate of honorable discharge (honesta missio). Some of these have survived engraved on stone. Typically they certify that the veteran, his wife (one per veteran) and children or his sweetheart were now Roman citizens, which is a good indication that troops, which were used chiefly on the frontier, were from peoples elsewhere on the frontier who wished to earn Roman citizenship. However, under Antoninus Pius
Antoninus Pius
Antoninus Pius , also known as Antoninus, was Roman Emperor from 138 to 161. He was a member of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty and the Aurelii. He did not possess the sobriquet "Pius" until after his accession to the throne...

, citizenship was no longer granted to the children of rank-and-file veterans, the privilege becoming restricted only to officers.

Veterans often went into business in the communities near a base. They became permanent members of the community and would stay on after the troops were withdrawn, as in the notable case of St. Patrick's family.


Conducted in parallel with the ordinary activities was "the duty", the official chores required by the camp under strict military discipline. The Legate was ultimately responsible for them as he was for the entire camp, but he delegated the duty to a tribune chosen as officer of the day. The line Tribunes were commanders of Cohort
Cohort (military unit)
A cohort was the basic tactical unit of a Roman legion following the reforms of Gaius Marius in 107 BC.-Legionary cohort:...

and were approximately the equivalent of colonels. The 6 tribunes were divided into units of two, with each unit being responsible for filling the position of officer of the day for two months. The two men of a unit decided among themselves who would take what day. They could alternate days or each take a month. One filled in for the other in case of illness. On his day, the tribune effectively commanded the camp and was even respected as such by the Legate.

The equivalent concept of the duties performed in modern camps is roughly the detail. The responsibilities (curae) of the many kinds of detail were distributed to the men by all the methods considered fair and democratic: lot, rotation and negotiation. Certain kinds of cura were assigned certain classes or types of troops; for example, wall sentries were chosen only from Velites. Soldiers could be temporarily or permanently exempted: the immunes. For example, a Triarius was immunis from the curae of the Hastati.

The duty year was divided into time slices, typically one or two months, which were apportioned to units, typically maniple
Maniple may refer to:* Maniple , a division of a Roman legion* Maniple , a liturgical vestment worn on the left arm....

s or centuries
A century is one hundred consecutive years. Centuries are numbered ordinally in English and many other languages .-Start and end in the Gregorian Calendar:...

. They were always allowed to negotiate who took the duty and when. The most common kind of cura were the posts of the sentinels, called the excubiae by day and the vigilae at night. Wall posts were praesidia, gate posts, custodiae, advance positions before the gates, stationes.

In addition were special guards and details. One post was typically filled by four men, one sentinel and the others at ease until a situation arose or it was their turn to be sentinel. Some of the details were:
  • guarding, cleaning and maintaining the principia.
  • guarding and maintaining the quarters of each tribune
    Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

  • tending the horses of each cavalry turma
    A turma was a cavalry squadron in the Roman army of the Republic and Empire. In the Byzantine Empire, it became applied to the larger, regiment-sized military-cum-administrative divisions of a thema....

  • guarding the praetorium.

List of castra

The street plan of various present-day cities still retains traces of a Roman camp, for example Marsala
Marsala is a seaport city located in the Province of Trapani on the island of Sicily in Italy. The low coast on which it is situated is the westernmost point of the island...

 in Sicily, the ancient Lilybaeum, where the name of the main street - the Cassaro - perpetuates the name "castrum".

Due to an unbounded enthusiasm for local archaeology, the locations and layouts of Roman castra are rapidly becoming known. Both amateurs and professionals are involved in excavation and publication. Internet sites giving photographs and the texts of inscriptions are numerous.

See also

  • Fortification
    Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defence in warfare and military bases. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs...

  • List of topics related to ancient Rome
  • Military history of ancient Rome
    Military history of ancient Rome
    From its origin as a city-state in Italy in the 8th century BC, to its rise as an empire covering much of Southern Europe, Western Europe, Near East and North Africa and fall in the 5th century AD, the political history of Ancient Rome was typically closely entwined with its military history...

  • Roman legion
    Roman legion
    A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

Primary Sources

* (Latin text.) Web publication on Bill Thayer's Polybius site. Legion xxiv website. Selections, Latin and English juxtaposed by paragraph. Translator unknown. Books I-III only. The unknown editor altered the translation "to conform to modern usage" and abbreviated the text. Access is by subtitle. Search only within subsection.

External links

Below are a number of links to sites reporting or summarizing current research or thinking. Many are reprints of articles made available to the public at no charge. The historical researcher will find their bibliographies of great interest.


Links to a Glossary.

Forts and fortifications

. Article republished on Bill Thayer's LacusCurtius site, which has the advantage of linking to ancient texts cited by Smith.
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.