Background on Legionnaire pay in the Roman Army

Denarius issued by Julius Caesar – “Roman coin” by portableantiquities is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I found a lot of fun information on pay for Legionnaire soldiers serving in the Roman army in a book called The Complete Roman Army, by Adrian Goldsworthy, Thames& Hudson Ltd, London, copyright 2003.

Legionnaire pay

Page 94 describes some of what is known about pay of legionnaires. Here’s a summary of annual pay:

  • 112.5 denarii – pay rate before about 14 A.D. when Caesar doubled the pay
  • 225 denarii – pay rate after Caesar doubled pay, which pay increase was in place until in about 14 A.D.

(Updated to reflect Caesar wasn’t alive in 14 A.D., since he was alive from 100 B.C. to 44 B.C.)

Book says this was issued three times a year, likely on January 1, May 1, and September 1. Soldiers received 75 denarii each payday.

Later pay raises:

  • 300 denarii – increased by Domitian at the end of the first century. Book says this may have involved a fourth payday, or stipendia
  • 450 denarii – increased by Septemius Severus, about a century later
  • 675 denarii per year – increased by Caracalla, Severus’ son

You can see the severe inflation towards the end of the Roman Empire.

Donatives, or bonuses

Keeping the soldiers happy, or at least holding down the discontent, is a really good way to stay alive if you were a Roman Emperor. As a result new emperors would typically pay out a big bonus to all the soldiers.

This started with Augustus, who upon his death authorized the following bonuses:

  • 250 denarii – soldiers in the praetorian guard
  • 125 denarii – soldiers in the urban cohorts
  • 75 denarii – other legionnaires

That’s a bonus of one-third of a year’s pay for the rank-and-file, with two-thirds of a year for soldiers in urban areas, with over a year’s pay for the elite troops in the praetorian guard.

Book says later emperors continued this practice.

Claudius owed his throne to the praetorian guard so he gave each of them 3,750 denarii when he became emperor. That is something the range of 15 year’s pay. It is good to keep the guys who put you in power happy because they could just as easily assassinate you.

If I assume there were about 6,000 soldiers in the praetorian guard, that would be about 22,500,000 denarii, or about 900,000 gold aurius coins.

Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus rewarded the support of the praetorian guard with 5,000 denarii each. I think that would just under 17 years pay.

2 thoughts on “Background on Legionnaire pay in the Roman Army

    1. Hi Grace:
      I stand corrected. I double checked my source. The pay rate was increased by Caesar and the increase was in place until 14 BC. I have revised the post, with deletions in strikethrough and new comments in italics.
      Thanks for taking the time to point out my error.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *