Within a legion of the Roman army, a centurion was responsible for the command of a unit consisting of 80 to 100 men (Latin “centum” = “hundred”). His military rank can be compared to an officer nowadays, but it was not a standardised rank. The rank of a centurion depended on what position his century (“centuria”) held within the legion. Centurions could come from the rank of Roman citizens and it was only with higher ranks that it was necessary to have the status of knighthood or to be a senator. A centurion’s rate of pay was about twenty times higher than that of a legionary, and after his term of service he was not dismissed. He often remained in the army until his death.
Centurions were considered to be the backbone of the Roman army. They represented discipline, order and bravery and were responsible for the training and equipment of the legionaries in their centuries. A centurion had the right to honour or to punish his legionaries. He was provided with his own room in the sleeping quarters, he had his own tent, his own horse and his own pack animal. His equipment was also different from that of an ordinary legionary. The wearing of metal greaves was reserved for centurions and other high-ranking members of the army, which also had to do with the high costs of purchase. The centurion wore flexible body armour made of metal strips and leather straps, and at the front it was decorated with medals. The centurion wore his sword on the left side. His helmet was decorated with a striking plume, mainly dyed red. The plume was made either of horsehair or feathers and in battle was worn across the helmet. This enabled the legionaries to recognize their commander easily and quickly during battle. As the best soldier, the centurion always stood in the front line. That way the army was so powerful that the Romans were able to conquer an empire.