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Camp Followers - The Roman Legions' Non-Combatant Lixae

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Roman Legionary on Trajan's Column

Roman Legionary on Trajan's Column

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Definition: The Roman army or exercitus was composed mainly of the legionaries, who were Roman citizens, but in addition to this highly disciplined infantry were, mainly,:
  1. the much smaller numbers of equestrians (also citizens),

  2. the auxiliary troops owed to Rome by foreign governments, and

  3. the non-combatant hangers-on, including

    • the calo (servus castrensis) generally assumed to be a privately or state-owned slave (and therefore non-citizen),

    • which may have included another category of hangers-on, the helmeted galearius,

    • the baggage train (impedimenta or impedimenta and sarcina), and

    • the lixa (pl. lixae), who were civilians (according to military historian Jonathan Roth), but whose status as slave or free is one area of disagreement.

Although we know there were lixae in the camps of the Roman armies, the ancient descriptions of them don't make them entirely clear.

Ramsay McCullen says the following about lixae:

"The term 'lixae'... is used by Sallust, Tacitus, and other writers to mean camp-followers of all sorts and services, including actors and actresses, seers and holy men, the thousands of prostitutes in the Roman camp at Numantia back in the second century BC, and, above all, peddlers supplying every sort of necessity in shacks and booths...."

Ramsay McMullen says the lixae collected food that they sold to the Roman soldiers. Although non-combatants, it was the job of the calones and lixae to guard the wall while the legionaries were engaged outside the camp.

Rachel Feig Vishnia, who warns that we know for certain very little about the Roman army, says there are 70 references to lixae in antiquity. Some indicate that the lixae were profit-seeking; others that they were connected with food preparation, which gave rise to their conventional interpretation as camp-followers or sutlers. Vishnia says Jonathan Roth realized how complicated was the subject of lixae. Roth points out that some lixae appear to be free; others, slave. In Frontinus, the question arises whether lixae should even be counted as camp-followers, since another term for such, sequellae is used as a category for camp-followers that is differentiated from lixae, and Sallust distinguishes lixae from the merchants (mercatores). Tacitus links lixae with negotiatores (e.g., negotiatores frumentarii or grain merchants).

Hypothetically, Vishnia suggests lixae were essentially plunder-gatherers specializing in slaves.

References:

  • "The Size and Organization of the Roman Imperial Legion," by Jonathan Roth; Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 43, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1994), pp. 346-362
  • "The Legion as a Society," by Ramsay MacMullen; Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 33, No. 4 (4th Qtr., 1984), pp. 440-456.
  • "The Shadow Army: The Lixae and the Roman Legions," by Rachel Feig Vishnia; Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 139 (2002), pp. 265-272.

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