Auxiliary infantry. 8 figures, 4 variants in lorica hamata (chaimail) with bow
The Auxilia (Latin, lit. “auxiliaries”) constituted the standing non-citizen corps of the Imperial Roman army during the Principate era (30 BC–284 AD), alongside the citizen legions. By the 2nd century, the Auxilia contained the same number of infantry as the legions and in addition provided almost all of the Roman army’s cavalry and more specialised troops (especially light cavalry and archers). The auxilia thus represented three-fifths of Rome’s regular land forces at that time. Like their legionary counterparts, auxiliary recruits were mostly volunteers, not conscripts.
The Auxilia were mainly recruited from the peregrini, free provincial subjects who did not hold Roman citizenship and constituted the vast majority of the population in the 1st and 2nd centuries (c. 90% in the early 1st century). In contrast to the legions, which only admitted Roman citizens, members of the Auxilia could be recruited from territories outside of Roman control.
Auxiliary regiments were often stationed in provinces other than that in which they were originally raised, for reasons of security and to foster the process of Romanisation in the provinces. The regimental names of many auxiliary units persisted into the 4th century, but by then the units in question were different in size, structure, and quality from their predecessors.
A substantial number of auxiliary regiments (32, or about 1 in 12 in the 2nd century) were denoted sagittariorum, or archer-units (from sagittarii lit. “arrow-men”, from sagitta = “arrow”). These 32 units (of which 4 were double-strength) had a total official strength of 17,600 men. All three types of auxiliary regiment (ala, cohors and cohors equitata) could be denoted sagittariorum. Although these units evidently specialised in archery, it is uncertain from the available evidence whether all sagittariorum personnel were archers, or simply a higher proportion than in ordinary units. At the same time, ordinary regiments probably also possessed some archers, otherwise their capacity for independent operations would have been unduly constrained. Bas-reliefs appear to show personnel in ordinary units employing bows.
From about 218 BC onwards, the archers of the Roman army of the mid-Republic were virtually all mercenaries from the island of Crete, which boasted a long specialist tradition. During the late Republic (88-30 BC) and the Augustan period, Crete was gradually eclipsed by men from other, much more populous, regions subjugated by the Romans with strong archery traditions. These included Thrace, Anatolia and above all, Syria. Of the 32 sagittarii units attested in the mid-2nd century, 13 have Syrian names, 7 Thracian, 5 from Anatolia, 1 from Crete and the remaining 6 of other or uncertain origin.
Three distinct types of archers are shown on Trajan’s Column: (a) with scalar cuirass, conical steel helmet and cloak; (b) without armour, with cloth conical cap and long tunic; or (c) equipped in the same way as general auxiliary foot-soldiers (apart from carrying bows instead of javelins). The first type were probably Syrian or Anatolian units; the third type probably Thracian. The standard bow used by Roman auxilia was the recurved composite bow, a sophisticated, compact and powerful weapon.