As with most other military forces the Roman military adopted an extensive list of decorations for military gallantry and likewise a range of punishments for military transgressions.

Decorations, awards and victory titles


Tiberius Claudius Maximus memorial showing two awards he received

Imperial titles

Synonyms for "Emperor"

Victory titles

Main article: List of Roman imperial victory titles

Victory titles were treated as Latin cognomina and were usually the name of the enemy defeated by the commander. Hence, names like Africanus ("the African"), Numidicus ("the Numidian"), Isauricus ("the Isaurian"), Creticus ("the Cretan"), Gothicus ("the Goth"), Germanicus ("the German") and Parthicus ("the Parthian"), seemingly out of place for ardently patriotic Romans, are in fact expressions of Roman superiority over these peoples. The most famous grantee of Republican victory title was Publius Cornelius Scipio, who for his great victories in the Second Punic War was awarded by the Roman Senate the title "Africanus" and is thus known to history as "Scipio Africanus".

The practice continued in the Roman Empire, although it was subsequently amended by some Roman Emperors who desired to emphasise the totality of their victories by adding Maximus ("the Greatest") to the victory title (e.g., Parthicus Maximus, "the Greatest Parthian").

Decorations (medal equivalents)

Polybius writes that "After a battle in which some of them have distinguished themselves, the general calls an assembly of the troops, and bringing forward those whom he considers to have displayed conspicuous valour, first of all speaks in laudatory terms of the courageous deeds of each and of anything else in their previous conduct which deserves commendation".[1] Only after this are the military decorations presented:

Financial awards

Service awards


Imperial parades


When the Roman soldier enrolled in service to the state, he swore a military oath known as the sacramentum: originally to the Senate and Roman People, later to the general and the emperor. The sacramentum stated that he would fulfill his conditions of service on pain of punishment up to and inclusive of death. Discipline in the army was extremely rigorous by modern standards, and the general had the power to summarily execute any soldier under his command.

Polybius divides the punishments inflicted by a commander on one or more troops into punishments for military crimes, and punishments for "unmanly acts", although there seems to be little difference in the harsh nature of the punishment between the two classes.

Punishments for crimes

Another punishment in the Roman Military only applied to people involved in the prison system; this rule was that if a prisoner died due to the punishment inflicted by Roman legionaries, unless he was given the death penalty, then the leader of the troops would be given the same punishment.[citation needed]

It would seem that in the later Empire independent commanders were given considerable latitude in the crimes they chose to punish and the penalties they inflicted. According to the Historia Augusta[3] the future Emperor Aurelian once ordered a man who was convicted of raping the wife of the man on whom he had been billeted to be attached to two trees drawn together so that when the restraining ropes were cut, they sprang apart and the unfortunate victim was torn asunder. The author of the Vita Aureliani comments that Aurelian rarely punished twice for the same offence. However, even by Roman standards his justice was considered particularly harsh. As always with the Historia Augusta, one takes this story with a pinch of salt and either wonders what fourth century point the author was attempting to make of a third-century incident or whether he merely attributed to Aurelian a good story that seemed appropriate to that man's reputation. On the other hand, the imposition of cruel and unusual penalties to maintain discipline among the brutalised soldiery in the chaotic conditions of the north European provinces in the mid-third century was a necessity for the maintenance of effective command.[b]

Punishments for unmanly acts

According to Cassius Dio as re-told by Matthew Dennison, the newly-appointed emperor Galba revived this punishment to deal with a contingent of rebellious soldiers who confronted him as he entered Rome at the Milvian Bridge in autumn of 68 AD.[4] Dio states that Galba ordered this punishment because "he did not believe that an emperor should submit to compulsion in anything."[5]


  1. ^ Some sources call it a civilian award. See the main article.
  2. ^ The soldier in question was a billetee – i.e. not living in one of the Roman Army's permanent cantonments. This suggests that his unit was on detached service – always a recipe for relaxed discipline and undesirable interaction with the civilian population.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Polybius, The Histories, III.39
  2. ^ Polybius, The Histories, III.37
  3. ^ Vita Aureliani, VII.4.
  4. ^ Roman History 64.3.2
  5. ^ The Twelve Caesars, translated by Dennison, (London: Atlantic Books, 2012), p. 207