How elite were the Praetorian guards?

Jun 2019
14
Redlands, CA
He answered the question in post 87, so let's not pretend that anyone is dancing around questions.

Is it surprising that a unit that was used to protect the emperor and his family was expected to look the part? No, of course not. Any emperor wants his guards to look intimidating and give the appearance of being elite. Note for example that epitaphs indicate that Praetorians were much more obedient when it came to the law that active soldiers could not marry. It was about appearance and group identity.

But does that mean that an extra two inches made them any more intimidating to a senator than any other military unit? I doubt it. A soldier with a weapon is as intimidating to a civilian as the next soldier. Did it make the praetorians appear intimidating to a field-army or frontier unit? It seems unlikely. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence for such a unit declining to face the praetorians in combat, and why should they have declined combat? Because of an extra two inches? We have evidence for prejudice in the Roman world towards soldiers who spent excessive amounts of time in cities and in peaceful regions. The Praetorians fit both of these criteria. This doesn't jive well with the idea that they were intimidating for other soldiers. We know of Praetorians fighting in civil wars for Otho, Vitellius, Didius Julianus, Macrinus, Maximinus Thrax and Maxentius, and none of these instances support the idea that other military units were afraid to fight them. Indeed, the Praetorian cohorts were on the losing side in each of these encounters, and in the case of Maximinus Thrax the civilians of Rome attacked the Praetorians and tried to sack their camp, initiating hostilities.
You are wrong. History tells us that size is an intimidation factor....a huge one. That was exactly the reason for the size requirements. Other than being argumentative. You know, I run into this a lot.. People arguing for arguments sake. No valve. They just get pomade by logic.
 
You are wrong. History tells us that size is an intimidation factor....a huge one. That was exactly the reason for the size requirements. Other than being argumentative. You know, I run into this a lot.. People arguing for arguments sake. No valve. They just get pomade by logic.
So everytime an emperor won a civil war against the emperor using the praetorian cohorts, he did this in spite of his own soldiers apparently quaking in their boots? And this is the case because two inches overcomes the actual evidence of campaign performance as well as different levels of experience and prejudice between military units?

Also, this is the second time you've cast baseless aspersions in this thread. It doesn't reflect well on you.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2018
727
UK
You are wrong. History tells us that size is an intimidation factor....a huge one. That was exactly the reason for the size requirements. Other than being argumentative. You know, I run into this a lot.. People arguing for arguments sake. No valve. They just get pomade by logic.
"You are wrong" is an argument now? Colour me impressed. Just stating that you are using logic when, in fact, all you are doing is repeating assertions is not an argument either.

I'm still waiting for you to provide a single case, post 10AD, of the Praetorian's having an impressive reputation that scared real armies. Also waiting on a source stating the height requirement, DioclenianIsBetterThanYou raised an important point, I am not familiar with a source for that either.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,232
Is it surprising that a unit that was used to protect the emperor and his family was expected to look the part? No, of course not. Any emperor wants his guards to look intimidating and give the appearance of being elite.
In the case of the Praetorians this was not done, because elite Romans would observe the tradition banning armed soldiers from the city environs and thus they were on duty in togas, keeping weaponry out of sight. The familiar depiction of purple clad legionaries with attic style helmets is quite wrong - unless they were parading but even then in purple? Hugely expensive, indicative of top level status, and far more likely red.
 
In the case of the Praetorians this was not done, because elite Romans would observe the tradition banning armed soldiers from the city environs and thus they were on duty in togas, keeping weaponry out of sight. The familiar depiction of purple clad legionaries with attic style helmets is quite wrong - unless they were parading but even then in purple? Hugely expensive, indicative of top level status, and far more likely red.
Yes they did not wear armour while in the heart of the city, that is within the pomerium, but much of the city was beyond the limits of pomerium (e.g. the Campus Martius, where Didius Julianus notably had his praetorians train, and where their obvious lack of training earned them public ridicule), and cohorts would also accompany the emperor and members of the imperial family on trips, so there were plenty of opportunities for looking the part. But yes, purple was a no-no.
 
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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,583
Praetorians started out relatively 'elite' in the same way the son of a Senator would be 'elite' not necessarily any better at fighting or really anything special in combat but more due to the prestige and trust they represented. Many of the early Praetorians were drawn from the senatorial families or the network of patronage of those families that ensured loyalty and that their interests were aligned. Augustus co-opted the Praetorians as the guard of the Imperial family as a political act showing his interests were aligned with the top families of Rome from which the Praetorians were drawn. Augustus eventually saw it necessary to expand the Praetorians and made them the guard of the city of Rome and also the expansion allowed Augustus to add in many men who owed their patronage to the Imperial family. After Augustus down to Nero the Praetorians were drawn almost all from Italian families of high rank or families under those families patronage- the loyalty to the Julio-Claudian line was also quite strong being traditional and linked to the prestige and success of Rome as much as Augustus had endeavoured to create this link via propaganda. After the end of the line of direct descent and spread of senatorial families outside of Italy, the Praetorians still remained the nearest large military force to Rome and while the Praetorians were not campaign soldiers they still drilled and weren't necessarily pushovers as most had earlier military experience and Praetorians were still dispatched on military missions outside of Italy at times.

As the Roman Empire grew it was initially coherent as the senatorial families in Rome disbursed and intermarried with the high-status families throughout the Empire and thus their interests of powerful people in all areas of the Empire were mostly aligned. Over time regional disparities and interests grew and the Praetorians represented Italian interests and occasionally intervened during times of political crisis in the selection of the next Emperor. At this point though Italy was merely one part of the Empire and militarily one of the weakest parts since the Legions were stationed on the frontiers far away from Rome the Praetorians were always going to be at a disadvantage unless they aligned with the most powerful faction outside of Italy which changed over time and the Praetorians lost power and prestige as a result of not being linked to anything other than Italian interests which were seen as greedy and undeserved (tax benefits, free grain, etc that wasn't available most other areas of the Roman empire).

The Praetorians link to the early Caesar's and their representation of Italian interests meant that they still had a role to play symbolically in Rome but their military/combat effectiveness was relatively tiny vs the Legions and the power of their name came with negative connotations outside of Italy and wasn't even that important within Italy during their final days before Constantine defeated them and then disbanded and razed the Praetorian camp outside Rome.
 
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caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,232
'Praetorian ' refers to Praetor, or 'Leader', thus the name of Cohors Praetoria means "Those who shout together for the Leader". Elite in terms of application, but not by modern military standards. The various bodyguard units had been banded together by Augustus at the end of the civil wars but he wasn't daft enough to keep them together. They were later brought into one barracks by Aelius Sejanus who was using them as a power base for his own ambition.