Early Imperial Romans
(25 BC -197 AD)
(DBA II/56)

Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

The Early Imperial armies of Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius expanded Rome's borders to the furthest extent of empire in Britian, Scotland, and the Middle East. During the Early Imperial period, Rome also successfully resisted increasing pressure on the Rhine and Danube frontiers brought by the Early Germans, Sarmatians, and Dacians, while supressing countless rebellions and mutinies within her borders. This period also saw one of the most notorious civil wars of the ancient period in 69 AD, which is referred to as the Year of the Four Emperors.

The Early Imperial Emperors and their wars during this period were:

  • Octavian (Augustus) (31 BC - 14 AD) -- Cantabrian War (Spain, 26-25 BC), Parthian Campaign (20 BC), Danube Campaigns, Balkan Revolt (6 AD), Battle of Teutoburg Wald (vs. Early Germans, 9 AD)

  • Tiberius (14 - 37 AD) -- German campaigns by Germanicus (16-19 AD)

  • Gais Caligula (37 - 41 AD) -- German campaigns and abortive invasion of Britian (39-40 AD)

  • Claudius (41 - 54 AD) -- Invasion of Britian (43 AD-). Annexation of Britian, Thrace, Lycia, Mauretania and Noricum

  • Nero (54 - 68 AD) -- Armenian campaign (58 AD), Boudicca's Revolt (61-62 AD), Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD), Vindex' Revolt (68 AD)

  • Galba (68 - 69 AD) -- Civil War, deposed by Otho, 69 AD

  • Otho (69 AD) -- Civil War, deposed by Vitellius, 69 AD

  • Vitellius (69 AD) -- Civil War, deposed by Vespasian, 69 AD

  • Vespasian (69-79 AD) -- Civil War (69 AD, Battle of Cremona), Jewish Revolt (69-74 AD, Fall of Masada), campaigns in Britian, annexation of Commagene (72 AD), invasion of Scotland by Agricola (78 AD).

  • Titus (79-81 AD)

  • Domitian (81-96 AD) -- German campaign vs. Chatti (83 AD), war with Dacia (85-89 AD, Battle of Tapae), mutiny by the Rhine legions under Saturninus (89 AD), defense of Danube frontier (vs. Quadi/Marcoomanni, 89 AD and vs. Iazyges Sarmatians, 92 AD)

  • Nerva (96-98 AD)

  • Trajan (98-117 AD) --1st Dacian War (101-102 AD), 2d Dacian War (105-106 AD), annexation of Arabia (106 AD), Parthian War including conquest of Armenia (114 AD) and Mesopotamia campaign (115-117 AD, fall of Ctesiphon, seige of Hatra), minor Jewish Revolt (117 AD)

  • Hadrian (117-138 AD) -- Jewish Revolt (132-135 AD)

  • Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) -- Campaign in Scotland (142 AD), Mauretanian War (145 AD), Egyptian Rebellion (152 AD), minor rebellions in Judaea and Greece plus renewed conflict with the Dacians and Alans on the Danube frontier.

  • Marcus Aurelius (161-180, with Lucius Verus, 161-169 AD) -- Parthian War (162-165 AD, capture of Ctesiphon), German frontier battles (166-167 AD), 1st German War (170 AD), 2nd German War (178-180 AD)

  • Commodus (180-192 AD) -- Campaigns against the Sarmatians (183 AD), mutiny in Britian (184 AD), defense of the Rhine Frontier against Germans (188 AD)

  • Pertinax (193 AD)

  • Didius Julianus (193 AD) -- Civil War vs. Septimius Severus

  • G. Pescennius Niger (193-194 AD) Civil War vs. Septimius Severus

  • Decimus Clodius Albinus (193-197 AD) Civil War vs. Septimius Severus

The Early Imperial list ends with the fall of the Antonine Dynasty and the rise to power of Septimius Severus in 193-197 AD, whose Severan Dynasty continues with the Middle Imperial Roman (II/64) list.

Army Composition:

1x 3Cv or 4Bd Roman Commander with his Cavalry Escorts, Praetorians, Ala Singularis German Guards, and/or picked Legion.
1x 3Cv Equites. Each Legion had 4 Turmae of cavalry (30 men each) for use as messengers and scouts that could be combined as a single unit for battle. Auxiliary cavalry was organized as Alae (wings). There were two main types: Ala Quingenaria (16 Turmae or 480 men) or Ala Milliaria (24 Turmae or 720 men). Variations included the Ala Peditata, which include an unspecified number of light infantry, and the Ala Dromedaria, which included some camelry and was used on the Egyptian frontier. Although not provided as an option, it was not uncommon for cavalry to dismount to fight on foot as Auxilia. Perhaps the most famous unit of this period was the Ala Singularis, an elite regiment of German imperial guards whose long hexagonal shields reputedly featured four scorpions.
4x 4Bd Imperial Legionaries, representing one or more of the 15-25 legions that defended the Roman empire during this period. For historical color, Blade elements could also be depicted as Praetorian Guards, Roman Marines, or possibly even units of freed gladiators, who appeared in several Civil War (esp. 69 AD) armies.
4x 4Ax Roman Auxiliaries. Auxilia were organized a Cohors comprised of 6-10 Centuriae of 80 men. Cohors Equitata included 4 or 8 Turmae of attached cavalry. Auxilia were officered and disciplined much like the Roman legionaries, but were given lighter weapons, shields and body armour to give them greater mobility and flexibility for fighting in bad going.
1x 3Cv or 2Lh or 4Bw or 2Ps Additional Roman mounted units might include regular units such as the Praetorian cavalry (an Alla Milliaria worth), the Equites Sagitarri (Syrian horse archers) or the Equites Contariorum (horsemen armied with the long Kontos or lance) or foederati horse such as Germans, Gauls, Britons, Illyrians, Thracians, Spanish, Cappadocians and especially the Numidians or Moors (especally the later for Light Horse) . Bow and Psiloi are typically treated as generic eastern or western auxiliary archers, but may be represented by such specialized types as Baleric, Jewish or Breton, Numidian, or Greek slingers or Pontic, Syrian, Greek, Cretan or Hamian archers.
1x Art During the Imperial period, each centuriae was equipped with a light bolt-thrower mounted on a two-wheel donkey cart (carro-ballista) for mobility and each cohort had a heavier stone thrower (catapult) primarily for use in seige work. Men were taken from the ranks to man the artillery.

Enemies and Allies

The enemies of the early Imperials are legion and include the Early Libyans (I/7d), Illyrians (I/47), Thracians (I/48), Meroitic Kush (I/58), Ariarathid Kappadokians (II/14), various Arabo-Arameans (II/22abe), Nomadic and Yemeni Arabs (II/23ac), Early Rhoxolani Sarmatians (II/24), Bosporans (II/25), Siracae, Iazyges and Later Rhoxolani Sarmatians (II/26), Early Armenians (II/28b), Parthians (II/37), Numidians/Moors (II/40), Commagene (II/44), Early Germans (II/47cefg), Late Judeans (II/51), Dacians (II/52), Ancient British (II/53), Scots-Irish (II/54a), Nobades/Blemmye (II/55a), themselves (II/56), Later Moors (II/57), Alans (II/58), Jewish Revolt (II/59), Caledonians (II/60) and Eastern Middle Imperial Roman East (II/64b) representing the forces of Pescennius Niger.

In big battles, the early Imperials can ally with a combination of Arabo-Arameans (II/abe) and/or Commagene (II/44), as well as with the Armenians (II/28b), the Batavi (II/47d) or King Herod's Late Judeans (II/51).


A high aggression, arable army, the Early Imperial Romans will find themselves attacking on unfriendly ground more often than not. Fortunately, they have the flexibilty to adapt, which is perhaps their greatest strength. Around a solid core of Blades, they add an equally valuable force of Auxilia who can contest bad going or hold the howling Warbands at bay. Two-three elements of Roman mounted give the army mobility, including a LH camp raiding option. Artillery with a Bow option provide plenty of firepower to give pause to enemy mounted. And the psiloi option gives rear support to the Roman Blades when facing Sarmatians and other Knight-heavy opponents.

The Early Imperial Romans would probably not be characterized as a "killer army", especially in a tournament setting where army composition is fixed from round to round since the flexibility of the army list is significantly limited. But a general skilled in combined arms and use of terrain will be able to get the job done with this highly competent army by matching strengths against enemy weaknesses and vice versa.

Camps & BUAS

For camps, a hasty Roman march camp is always appropriate. A hasty camp consisted of an earthen/turf embankment and ditch, with a wooden pallisade of lashed together stakes. You might choose to model a row of Roman tents, which were typically stitched together squares of tanned leather. For the more adventurous, you might try a section of Hadrian's Wall, a Roman watch-tower or a fort on the Danube or Rhine frontiers. Check the Camps gallery for Roman camps such as Jeff Caruso's Roman Engineers, Barry Scarlett's Hadrian's Wall or Jeff Barnes' Roman villa.

A BUA could be represented in reduced scale as a Roman city, permanent legionary fort, or a fortified villa. Check the BUA gallery for ideas, such as Bill Bennett's Roman Frontier Fort or Paul Crozier's Roman Town.

Painting Tips

The standard early Imperial legionary was equipped with an iron Gallic-style helmet, with horse hair crest for show (but apparently not worn in the field except perhaps by officers and Praetorians, who often dyed the crest red or white), a gladius (short sword), pilum (heavy throwing spear), a scutum (semi-cylindrical shield), and body armor consisting of either Lorica Hamata (mail corselet) or Lorica Segmenta (banded iron plates). Lorica Segmenta was the primary Roman armour in western armies by the early 2nd century. The legionary wore a leather or padded coat under his armor with double rows of dangling leather strips (pteruges) that protruded at the shoulders and waist for extra protection. A colorful (often patterned) scarf (focale) was worn around the neck to prevent chafing. A metal plated belt with metal studded pteruges (the Cingulum) was worn around the waist to protect the genitals. During Trajan's Dacian wars, some legionaries were also equipped with bronze greaves, lorica hamata, and laminated armour vambraces for the right arm as defense against the Dacian falxmen.

Auxiliaries were equipped variously. The lightest might be issued only a bronze helmet, cingulum and narrow flat shield. Heavier auxilia were equipped with the lorica hamata (reissued from down-sized Augustan legions) and a larger flat oval shield. In the later 2d Century, lorica hamata gave way in some units to scale corselets to aid mobility (and as the reissued lorica hamata wore out). Instead of the heavy pilum, auxilia were typically armed with lighter lancea suitable for thrusting or throwing. Some units carried a supply of even lighter javelins; German auxiliaries may have carried longer spears, and the auxiliary Cohors Gaesatorum Rhaetorum is named for its heavy barbed spear (gaesum).

The main points of controversy when painting an Imperial Roman army is how to paint the legionary cloak and tunic, and what color and pattern or blazon to apply to the shield. The standard tunic colors are unbleached linen (off-white) or red (more properly reddish brown after the most readily available madder dye). Whether colors within a unit were uniform is not known. It is likely that units on campaign dressed themselves as best they could using locally available cloth, either undyed or colored with whatever dye was locally prevalent, and possibly even the occasional checked pattern. Other colors are also popular on the gaming table, including blue, green and even black, based on sketchy historical references. Expensive red cloaks (sagums) may have been preferred by higher-ranking officers; the balance of the men making do with cloaks of natural wool color or light yellow-browns.

In his painting tips for Foundry, Adrian Garbett suggests that "Cohores, Legio and Auxilia, have similar colours, which may include red, but are more likely to be shades from off-white, cream and beige to oatmeal and possibly a faded black.....Officers and (Praetorian) Guards would probably have red tunics although those in Legiones could have any colour they wanted."

As for shields, specific patterns and colors are noted for specific units in the later (3-5th century) Roman army by Vegetius and the Notitia Dignitatium, including a wide variety of thunderbolts, unicorn horns, stars and moons, feathered wings, entwined dolphins, and eventually even Christian symbols. The shields of Early Imperial Legionaries and Auxilia units carved on Trajan's Column show similar patterns, however, there is no other hard evidence on which to base shield colors or conclude that shield patterns were uniform. That said, it is standard practice to paint shields with a colorful base color (red, pale blue, white, green, etc.) and add a shield pattern, such as the legionary thunderbolt, eagles wings, or the auxiliary laurel wreath. The back of the shield was reputedly painted dull red (madder) to hide any blood splotches. Whether this is historical or not is perhaps secondary to the expectation of how Early Imperial Roman soldiers should look based on depictions by reenactors and generations of Hollywood movies.

Roman shield patterns can be a challenging task for the painter. Many gamers opt to use shield transfers instead, such as those distributed by Veni Vidi Vici.

Miniature Sources

Early Imperial Rome is clearly one of the more popular ranges of ancient miniatures judging by the wide variety of choices available in all scales. Corvus Belli has an outstanding range of Early Imperial Romans. AB Miniatures (carved by Anthony Barton) has a limited Circa AD 19 range, close to 20mm in size that is highly detailed. Other popular 15mm choices include: Chariot, Donnington, Essex, Freikorps, Irregular, Lancashire, Miniature Figures (MiniFigs), Museum, Navigator, Old Glory15s, Peter Pig, and Warrior.

25mm/28mm Early Imperials are also available from Amazon, Black Tree Designs, 1st Corps, Essex, Foundry, Gripping Beast, Hinchcliffe, Irregular, Matchlock, Navigator, Newline Designs (20mm & 25mm) and Old Glory.

Baccus, Irregular and Heroics & Ros all offer 6mm Imperial Romans. Or you can look to Pendraken and Old Glory for 10mm scale options.

Dense Based Romans Using Heroics & Ross 6mm

See the Miniatures Sources page for links to manufacturer information and figure reviews.

The following Fanatici galleries feature various Early Imperial Roman miniatures: David LaVictoire (Essex), Marc Nicipor (AB Miniatures), Andy Bryant (Peter Pig), and Marco Campagna (Navigator).

Other galleries include Kevin Carrucan's EIR featuring Revell and ESCI plastics, Vince Salvato's EIR for WAB, Matthew Haywood's EIR (Essex), R. Sidwell's EIR (Foundry). Or search Google for more on Early Imperial Romans.


Andy Brozyna's Red Rampant website focuses on the Imperial Roman legions and features illustrations of equipment, uniforms, sheld blazons, etc. Also visit the Historical Resources page for other resources on the Imperial Roman army.

A standard gamers reference for this period is Phil Barker's "The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome," 4th Ed. (Wargames Research Group, 1981). The De Bellis Bookstore also features a number of useful Osprey titles, including:

And visit the De Bellis Bookstore for references to book titles on Rome and her Enemies.

Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

Last Updated: Dec. 16, 2003

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.