Estandarts Militars Romans a Tarraco Viva. Photograph by Cristina
The Roman Legions celebrated the Rosaliae Signorum twice each May. The first occurrence was during the Lemuriam and the second was at the end of the month. During the Rosaliae, the standards were anointed with perfumed oil, garlanded with roses, and accorded sacrifice.
The standards of the Legions were more than just military insignia, awards, or rallying points during battle – they were religious icons. When they were not preceding the troops on the march and in battle, they were kept in the Praetorium of the Legion, in a shrine called the aedes or sacralum, along with a statue of the emperor, and possibly images of the gods
The standards were venerated and protected. The loss of a standard in battle was a disgrace.
There were several types of standards in each legion. The Aquila, or Eagle, represented not only Jupiter but the Genius of the Legion. The Imago bore a portrait of the Emperor. The Vexillium held a horizontally-hung flag with the legion’s number, name (if applicable), and symbol, usually the zodiac sign for the legion’s dies natalis. The Signum of each century displayed the unit’s battle honors and a hand that represented the soldier’s oath. Beginning in the 2nd century CE, infantry and cavalry units carried the Draco standard, a sculptural dragon’s head with a silk tube attached that billowed in the wind .
The standards were a visible reminder of the history and honor of the Legion. They represented the soul of the unit, the brotherhood of the soldiers, living and deceased, and the duty of each soldier to serve the state.
I have reared a monument, my own,
More durable than brass,
Yea, kingly pyramids of stone,
In height it doth surpass.
Rain shall not sap, nor driving blast,
Disturb its settled base,
Nor countless ages rolling past,
Its symmetry deface.
I shall not wholly die, some part,
Nor that a little, shall,
Escape the dark destroyer’s dart,
And his grim festival.
– Odes, 3.30, Horace