roman artifacts reconstructions AERA roman legion main page roman legionary centurion Roman legionary signifer #aquila The aquilifer Symbol of its legion

The aquilifer is the bearer of the eagle ("Aquila " in latin and and "ferro"  the carrier). It is a higher rank signifer (" Signum" the emblem, and " ferro " the carrier), and since the reforms of Gaius Marius there is one per legion.

Originally the first four legions are called either urban, because they were composed of citizens coming from the city of Rome, or consular because it was these legions that were allocated to both consuls in war. These legions had for emblem the she-wolf, the bull, the horse, the wild boar plus the eagle says Pliny the elder. We do not know how these signums were used, but it seems logic to think that the Aquila is at this time the emblem used for the consular army. Pliny tells us indeed that the Aquila precede them all. An army in those days was composed of two legions, we know that the first and the third are assigned to the first consul, then the second and fourth are assigned to the second consul.

It is Gaius Marius, who during his second consulate made the silver eagle the main emblem for each legion. According to Pliny the other signums were regularly left at the camp for some time before the reform because the soldiers preferred the Aquila. Marius, that his own legend linked to the myth of the eagle, should have found natural to assign this symbol of divine power to the new professionalized legions that he was establishing.

The oldest representations of Aquilas under the republic frequently represents them with a prey in their claws. It is likely that the eagles used before the reform are of this type. A coin of the late republic also shows an eagle with a snake in its claws, so it is possible that this way of representing Aquilas has continued for some time.

As no Aquila have been found in excavations, it was necessary to compile all possible sources before attempting to rebuild our Legion I own proposed version. Representations give roughly the size of a crow, and arguably at this size it could be in wood covered with sheet silver. Experimentations with a cast bronze Eagle raised serious doubts that an Aquila of this size could be carried on long distances as it is way too heavy. We also chose to represent our Silver Aquila partially Gilded as it was customary to do so among the Romans on the pieces of valuable silversmithery, but also on a number of other pieces of military equipment. We have chosen to represent our Aquila in the traditional manner: on top of its thunder and lightning bolts, symbol of Jupiter and in Marius own mindset.

The support comes from republican coins showing this unusual base with either six balls or six small claws. The handle is finally painted two shades of purple color attributed to Jupiter. The Ribbon pattern adorning it is typical of the Republican periods and will once again become popular in late Antiquity.

The Aquilifer stands just below the centurion in the hierarchy. It is an honorary position usually awarded to an elite veteran with a perfect mentality outstanding courage, and a high sense of honor that must set an example for all to follow.

Aout 2013 Study, sculpture & fabrication Jean-Luc Féraud