Friday, July 01, 2011

Centurionum Vol. II: Republican Rioters

Following up the first installment of my Centurion project, here's the second batch. This time I'd like to present the two Acilii brothers, Balbos ("stammerer") and Vaala ("wall climber"), c. 280 BC.

So we're making a considerable leap forward, right into the so-called Middle Republican Era. The Roman military had undergone quite a few changes since its formation as a phalanx. Most noticably indicated here is the general adoption of oval/rectangular shields (scutum). Originally borne by infantrymen fighting in open order and having to protect themselves on their own, these scuta were better suited for the more flexible (i.e. the manipular) formations, the Romans most likely copied from the Italic hilltribes while making war on them. (Similarly, chainmail was introduced by the Celtic invaders from the North.)

The rank of centurion had now certainly become a military one. Still, these leaders were elected, but probably no more by their comrade but by the tribunes on general assembly. Six military tribunes made up one legion's senior staff, so it seems only reasonable that they would appoint their subordinate officers. Maybe it's also because the tribunes being orignally deputies of each Roman tribe were acquainted best with their people's spokesmen and therefore knew whom to elect. This is represented here by Vaala posing in full parade kit on the Campus Martius. 

He's wearing a white tunic, said to be a ceremonial dress in later times, but mostly to underline his state as a candidate (from Latin candidus for white). Valaa's helmet follows hellenistic fashion, whereas the scale armour seems to have been common in Italy beforehand. His shield is marked "IIII" (the cut indicating that four out of six tribunes had voted for him so the remainder haven't had to be asked) and "II FAB", which means he's send to Fabricius' second legion (a consul C. Fabricius called "one-eye" battled with Italic tribes in the 280s and 270s). I took some artistic license in placing Vaala on paved ground, which seems rather dubious for Roman plazas before the Augustan period.

Each centurion the tribunes elected (centurio prior) had the right to nominate a colleague (centurio posterior). Both centurions were in charge of the maniple's two centuries, one commanding the front, one the backward half-unit (centuria prior and posterior). Balbos represents such a loyal, if somewhat inferior comrade. Despite historical facts I could imagine these men as brothers in arms, one being even of lesser social state, but now with a chance to litterally fighting his way upwards. 

Therefore I portrayed Balbos in cheaper battle dress. A more valuable item is his bronze helmet, which has been tinned in order to look like silver, a common practice in this time. I tried to capture the reflective surface by giving it a blue wash. The shield bears one of the cryptic abbreviations the Romans loved so much; it resolves E(nos) M(armor) I(uvato) ("Mars help us"), a line from a very old chant to Mars, the Carmen Arvale. The use in profane contexts is, as well as the shield designs, as always purely conjectural. But, to be honest, that goes for most we seem to know about this time…

And that concludes the second part of our journey through the history of Roman centurions. The next models are already standing in line, however I most probably have to break up the chronology next time. Balbos and Vaala could only be interjected because of the great service of Aventine Miniatures. Not fond of the miniatures judging from the website I ordered them blind - and was very pleasantly surprised by their quality. Honestly, they had no flash and online a minor mouldline which wouldn't be noticable anyway. Some poses look a bit awkward, but in general they make for excellent, realistic models for an interesting, but under-represented period of Roman history. Two thumbs up!

Painted June 2011. Miniatures by Aventine Miniatures.


Andrew said...

Love the shield designs and the two-tone horsehair crest.

Inkub said...

Excellent post, the same as previous about earlier centurions. Keep them coming please.

Christopher(aka Axebreaker) said...

Lovely work and excellent shields!


Paul´s Bods said...

Excellent!!! The painting is top. I like the history and the explanation to the markings on Vaalas shield.

Sire Godefroy said...

Thank you ever so much, gentlemen! Glad you seem to like the pieces of (fictional) history as well. Such little stories keep me going, and, foremost actually, the fact that people read and appreciate them.



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