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primus pilus

The Primus pilus or Primipilus was the senior centurion of the first cohort in a Roman legion. The origin of the name is ancient. In early republican armies, he was the commander of the first manipol of third line (triarii) A common, but wrong translation of “primus pilus” is “first spear”, however a much more accurate translation would be “first pillar” since the word “pilus”, sometimes confused with “pilum” or javelin, is a specific term to indicate the weapon of the triarii (a spear, not a javelin).
The Primus Pilus, centurion of the First Century of the First Cohort, was first in the hierarchy among the subsequent 58 centurions in a legion (59 total).
Julius Caesar, a flawed man, but a warrior in every sense of the word, and a man of great personal bravery had nothing but praise for the men who occupied the place of primus pilus in the line. The position was greater than NCO and was sort of a junior officer – but that does not equate well to modern armies.

Napoleon wrote, “The Greeks showed themselves worthy of victory, but the Romans showed themselves worthy of being invincible.”

In Julius Caesar’s writings – in his words:

Book 2, Chapter 25: Caesar proceeded, after encouraging the tenth legion, to the right wing; where he perceived that his men were hard pressed, and that in consequence of the standards of the twelfth legion being collected together in one place, the crowded soldiers were a hinderance to themselves in the fight; that all the centurions of the fourth cohort were slain, and the standard- bearer killed, the standard itself lost, almost all the centurions of the other cohorts either wounded or slain, and among them the chief centurion of the legion P. Sextius Baculus, a very valiant man, who was so exhausted by many and severe wounds, that he was already unable to support himself;
Book 5, Chapter 35: At length, each thigh of T. Balventius, who the year before had been chief centurion, a brave man and one of great authority, is pierced with a javelin; Q. Lucanius, of the same rank, fighting most valiantly, is slain while he assists his son when surrounded by the enemy; L. Cotta, the lieutenant, when encouraging all the cohorts and companies, is wounded full in the mouth by a sling.
Book 6, Chapter 40: The centurions, some of whom had been promoted for their valor from the lower ranks of other legions to higher ranks in this legion, in order that they might not forfeit their glory for military exploits previously acquired, fell together fighting most valiantly.
Book 7, Chapter 50: At the same time Lucius Fabius the centurion, and those who had scaled the wall with him, being surrounded and slain, were cast from the wall. Marcus Petreius, a centurion of the same legion, after attempting to hew down the gates, was overpowered by numbers, and, despairing of his safety, having already received many wounds, said to the soldiers of his own company who followed him: “Since I can not save you as well as myself, I shall at least provide for your safety, since I, allured by the love of glory, led you into this danger, do you save yourselves when an opportunity is given.” At the same time he rushed into the midst of the enemy, and slaying two of them, drove back the rest a little from the gate. When his men attempted to aid him, “In vain,” he says, “you endeavor to procure me safety, since blood and strength are now failing me, therefore leave this, while you have the opportunity, and retreat to the legion.” Thus he fell fighting a few moments after, and saved his men by his own death.
Book 7, Chapter 51: Our soldiers, being hard pressed on every side, were dislodged from their position, with the loss of forty-six centurions.

15 thoughts on “SPQR

  1. Great perspective. Trying to imagine the skinny jean wearing hipster young men in that role, they'd be that one weak guy in Gladiator who pee'd all over his sandals out of fear. Of course young males are not taught this history so the only perspective they obtain is given to them by Lefty teachers.

    Bottom line: The Left destroys everything it touches (h/t Prager), it is their plan. Like the BSA, which is toast, having been destroyed from within. Boys will no longer have that solid male role model guidance doing what male's should be doing in the formative years.

    Great axiom from the movie that is severely lacking today: "Strength and Honor!"

  2. Of on a tangent but interesting. Roman influence was far and wide.


  3. I don't think that the average snowflake would last long in ancient anywhere. Times were tough and thinned the herd.

  4. It would be interesting if those beads could talk. Without a Suez Canal they likely would have been carried overland from Egypt, perhaps, to ports and provinces east. It's fascinating that they made it as far as Bali.

  5. They might do alright as slaves if they were favored house slaves, especially if they have pretty-boy looks and tastes. There are a lot of Dems who seem to think individual freedom is A Bad Thing, though I suppose they imagine themselves as the masters, not the mastered. Unless they have benevolent masters, but we a know how long that would last for most.

  6. Well said (both of you).

    I'm thinking there will be a reckoning among the "yutes", and it won't be pretty when their fantasyland worldview shows them how unprepared they are, especially if the Zombie Apocalypse happens – they'll be the first to succumb as most of them have no idea what a hammer is let alone which end to use.

  7. The traditional Marine Gunnery Sergeant would be a rough analog.

    You know, the Gunny that the new LT is told to shut up and listen to.

    The Gunny who could do everything, but was still nominally enlisted, being the best and highest of the non-commissioned.

    And whatever rank correlates to Gunny in the Army. Not the senior NCO who's spent all his time in the Pentagon. Nope, the guy who's been in combat troops since the beginning, who has more college-level courses on everything than maybe even his Captain, who has attended and surpassed all the schools and training while actually leading and doing. The chief NCO who the Captain, Major or Colonel goes, "Is that right, (insert rank here)?" when checking on a particular evolution. That guy the General knows personally because they did some stuff in the past.

    COB or Chief of Boat would also be a rough equivalent. The Guy who knows everything and has seen everything and done everything (and, rumor has it, has a coffee cup surgically attached to his dominant hand somewhere in the past.)

    I'm not talking about someone who gets promoted because they have time and connections.

    I'm talking about the guy who gets promoted because he (okay, she also, as there are females that are that good) is really that good and that knowledgeable. The loss which, if you take out by sniper or bomb or other enemy action (like promoting some pencil pusher into a line-ape position,) can potentially break a unit, because they are that good and that interconnected with all the troops, or sailors, or spacers or airmen or coasties.

    We have them. In our military, at our businesses, in our churches and sports groups and everywhere. That person who's done it all, seen it all, and holds everything together.

    Yeah, different outfits, different weapons and tactics, but our modern Primus Pilus would, if given some 'universal translator' would get along with some of Rome's finest. May not even need a translator, because both ours and theirs are/were that good.

  8. WoW, Beans! Absolutely a first-class reply to the topic.

    When I was littel, and the military was still strong in my Father, he told me "If you go in Navy, you LISTEN to your Chief! If you go in the Army, you LISTEN to your Sargent! They will teach you what you need to know to be a good sailor or soldier, and what you need to stay alive".

    Over the years I've had to very good fortune to have worked with some of these people, and I'm in awe of them.

  9. If you have potential, a War daddy will find you. I had the honor and fortune to have one request me to be transferred into his unit. Best involuntarily transfer I ever had.

  10. I can, more or less, read Caesar in the original and he writes like the soldier he was. A remarkable general and his troops no less. Speaking of which and I know it's Hollywood, but the opening battle scenes of Gladiator do, perhaps, some justice.

    Perhaps our Warrant Officer ranks are roughly analogous?

  11. Yes, it's the same man, in our modern era. They hold it all together when things start to come a part at that point of kinetic contact. And they are able to do it because they have learned the hard way.

  12. Yes, DRJIM, Beans nailed it. But you too are one of those guys that people turned to as well, in your own field. One of those trusted guys who learned what made things worked. When we walked the decks of the Iowa, I saw how people looked at you, how they honored you quietly. You may not have, but I am accustomed to seeing (and not seeing) that sort of thing.

    Cederq, yes indeed, that's how we all learn. Me too. I had a couple people who occupied that position in my life. Best of the best, hardest of the hard, wisest of the wise, and I learned in their shadow.

  13. The Army makes a LOT of warrant officers. I've known some W-5's who chew nails and spit out bullets. I think that THEY would qualify with as the Primus pilus.

  14. Thanks.

    I heard it said that good snipers target the officers, but great snipers target the guys the officers turn to.

    Doing SCA fighting, I've met a few Primus Pilums. Guys that everyone turned to, who did the actual leading, who could get a crumbling shield wall together just by their will. Greatest compliment ever paid to me was one such guy telling me he couldn't do what he was doing without… me! Meant more to me than any stupid awards. Some giant striding across the world said I was good enough to stand with him, not in his shadow. (And in real life, he was a real Gunny.)

  15. "I stand on the shoulders of giants" is how I refer to it.

    Thank you, Sir Isaac, for the inspiration.

    And I've been lucky enough to have had several extraordinary mentors who guided me. I don't know what they saw in me, but they pointed me in the right direction and encouraged me.

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