The Roman Empire was connected via a vast network of roads, with Roman legions posted all over its territory. But how much would Roman soldiers walk each day across this vast landmass?
The expectations of Roman soldiers would have likely varied throughout Roman history, but during training, legionaries would be expected to march 20 Roman miles in full uniform in around six hours and 24 Roman miles at a full pace. Roman soldiers would possibly march much less on a given day.
To find out more about the training of Roman legionaries and transportation in ancient Rome, read on.
While Roman legions are reported to have been able to cover vast distances, the distances they covered would have likely varied depending on the terrain they were marching in. For example, Roman legions would be more likely to cross large expanses of land when in a temperate climate and marching on roads than if they were marching in the deserts of Mesopotamia or the cold climes of Britain.
On a typical day of marching in good terrain, the Roman army would be able to march around 20 to 24 Roman miles in around five Roman summer hours (around six hours, the Romans would divide daylight hours into 12 hours so the time is changeable). Soldiers would march all day, then set up camp, including building defenses like ditches and palisades, as well as pitching their tents and making latrines.
Legions would often march in a regimented order, with cavalry flanking the column and a rearguard to defend the soldiers, as well as their equipment, baggage trains, animals, and slaves. Roman soldiers would typically be given a day to recover every three or four days.
Learning to march was an important part of training for legionaries in ancient Rome, with recruits expected to march 20 Roman miles (around 18.5 miles) carrying 45 lbs. in five summer hours at a pace called “military pace” by the Romans. Following this, soldiers would be told to march “full pace” and complete 24 Roman miles (around 22 miles) within the same time carrying the same weight.
Standards would vary over time and between Romans and there are stories of much faster paces, such as Scipio potentially marching a rather unlikely 45 miles per day with his forces. One can also assume that, while there may have been legions that kept a faster pace, there would have been those that may have been slower too.
The Romans were not only renowned for their military prowess but also for their efficient infrastructure and constructions, helping to connect their large empire. The empire was connected by a large transportation network of roads, bridges, canals, and sea routes, allowing both the effective flow of trade and the military.
These roads would be made using paving stones and had drainage ditches to prevent flooding. Romans would be able to walk on these roads or use other forms of land-based transport like oxcarts, horses, carriages, and litters carried by slaves.
River and sea transport were popular, with there being a perceived danger of traveling on the roads in rural areas due to bandits. Horse relay systems also allowed the empire to have a rapid communication network, with a well-connected empire being key to its success.
Tourism by walking via the road networks was possible while the roads were popularly used for a range of purposes, including trade, communication, the military, and emigrating to find new opportunities.
How Far Can Modern Soldiers March?
Loaded marches, as they are called, continue to be an important exercise for modern militaries, with it being essential to be able to carry large weights over long distances at speed.
The exercises are a little different from Roman times, however, with British recruits completing a march of around 12 miles in 3.5 hours carrying 66 lbs., French Foreign Legion recruits marching 16 miles at night carrying 40 lbs., and the U.S. Army practicing marches of 12 miles within 3 hours carrying up to 70 lbs.
As there are more transportation options now, it may not be as essential for soldiers, but it is still an important part of military training around the world.
To summarize, Roman soldiers were trained to march around 18 to 22 miles in a day, but their speeds would have depended on various expectations while the standards for them would also likely have changed over time.