LEGIO SECVNDA AVGVSTA
Roman Living History Society
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Written by: Stan Kitchener.
The Imperial navy was the descendant of the Octavian (later called Augustus Caesar) fleet that destroyed the ships of Cleopatra and Anthony at the battle of Actium, in 31 B.C.E.. This was the first and last major fleet battle in the Mediterranean for the entire duration of the Western Empire, because the Carthaginian, Greek and Egyptian navies had already been crushed.
The sailors/marines of the imperial ships were rarely of Italian/roman origin, as `Romans’ were not good mariners; therefore, these `auxiliaries’ were Greek, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian, Algerian, Balkan, Gallic, British and Frisian. They were the least thought of branch of the military services, but were taught the martial skills that the land units used, plus their native sailing abilities, so they could pursue and destroy pirates.
The Legions and auxiliaries used the navy as a skill-pool; after suffering losses due to battle or disease the land units would temporarily transfer navy marines with the lost skills, to train other legionaries or auxiliaries, then return to their port barracks. Navy engineers had to layout and build their own harbours, barracks and ships, they also dug canals, built wharves and the `Wallends’ part of Hadrian’s Wall.
The sailors themselves, were legally classed as `Peregrine’, meaning `roving’ or `wondering’, and were thus not citizens until they had completed at least 26 years of service to Rome. As they had to return to their original naval port before being discharged (gaining citizenship), some served for many years longer than the statutory 26. Sailors were not thought capable of armed insurrection, thus they were the police force of Rome and the peacekeepers of many Roman ports and river-towns, as well as the protectors of all iron-works in Britain.
Please see also the role of the Roman Navy found here in the Auxillia section of the site.