How elite were the Praetorian guards?

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Oh, so you are more knowledgeable about Praetorian guardsmen than Guy de la Bédoyère, good to know. / sarcasm
Funny, since my post was paraphrasing Ross Cowan's Osprey book Roman Battle Tactics 109BC–AD313, and since you were righteously defending Cowan earlier on, I wonder how you'll criticize him now. :lol:
 
Jun 2019
14
Redlands, CA
You guys started the party without me! Is there any cake left?

Anyhow, I just found the forum while doing research. Now, the Praetorian Guard were absolutely the finest soldiers in all Western Europe, maybe all of the greater Mediterranean region. No doubt about that However, considering the "Required Height" of 5'10", I think that may have been a little bit of clever propaganda. Consider two articles that highlight a the discovery of what experts call a enormous Roman gladiator discovered in York. BBC - Skeleton provides clue to York's Roman amphitheatre
Workmen discover body of huge gladiator who was 'stabbed six times and thrown out with the rubbish' | Daily Mail Online

Now, thee experts estimated this enormous gladiator to be about between 5''9" to 5'10", and that he may be among the most intimidating male specimen about that time. So now, why do I suspect it's a little propaganda? Because what person is going to insult a Praetorian's (generally a part of the Roman ruling class} and stil a very large, dangerous man by suggesting they aren't men of enormous stature (that is, 5'10")? No one.

And if you don't think inflating size and stature aren't important to Romans, consider Emperor Maximinis Trax. He insisted he was 260cm...that's 8'5"! Sure he was. Now, he likely was also a huge man, strong and powerful (politically and physically). And, who would dare challenge him, despite this ludicrousness of the claim? So, insisting that the Praetorian Guards were 5'10" was a way of intimidating both the enemy and the Roman populace. The were very large and supremely skilled, but also intelligent and clever.

Furthermore, if one man scientists deem is such an overwhelming Roman, where did Romans find 5000 to 12000 men of similar enormous stature, and only among the privilaged class of the Roman citizenry? Again, I just cannot see it.

You know, it brings to mind Machiavelli's famous question: Is it better to be loved or feared? I'm pretty confident the Praetorian's would prefer the latter.
 

Dreamhunter

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
7,505
Malaysia
Get the combined average height & weight of the native White Italians in the Italian national football or rugby team. Then do the same for the native White Englishmen in the English national football or rugby team. Maybe that could give an indication of the relative height & weight differences between Roman soldiers & their usual foes from the more northern climes.

For Praetorian Guard, add 2 - 4 inches (5 - 10 cm) & 7.5 - 10 pounds (3.5 - 4.5 kg) for eliteness factor.
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,020
Australia
Get the combined average height & weight of the native White Italians in the Italian national football or rugby team. Then do the same for the native White Englishmen in the English national football or rugby team. Maybe that could give an indication of the relative height & weight differences between Roman soldiers & their usual foes from the more northern climes.
No it won't. The diet of these people two thousand years ago was completely different to their diets today. We know how tall Romans were because the corpses at Pompeii have been measured.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,330
Now, the Praetorian Guard were absolutely the finest soldiers in all Western Europe, maybe all of the greater Mediterranean region. No doubt about that
One day you're going to realise how wrong that was.

The Praetorians were amalgamated from bodyguard units left over from the civil wars by Augustus. He never really trusted them from the beginning, recognising their inherent divided loyalties despite their mission to guard his person and that of the his family. The Romans had traditionally been wary of armed men in Rome - it was in fact illegal for soldiers to bear arms in Rome and commanders had to surrender their imperium if returning with an army (which if you remember Julius Caesar refused to do - "the die is cast")

Praetorians on duty in Rome did not wear military equipment nor display weaponry, quite unlike the depictions on film and tv. They wore togas with knives out of sight, performing a role similar in concept to todays suited security professionals. Although the Praetorians enjoyed higher pay and many perks they were no better than any other soldier and not equipped any better either (not sure why some people believe that). Were they elite? Yes, in a way. Being selected was a mark of success in your soldiering career with the rewards mentioned. But there were other groups with urban functions - the Urban Cohorts (which were in fact formed from some early praetorian units), the German bodyguard, but the Praetorians never did achieve the elite level of units like the Equites Singulares Augusti that came later.

Certainly becoming a Praetorian Prefect was the top job in anyone's career with close contact to the rulers of Rome and very influential duties - something many of them exploited in one way or another. The trouble started with Aelius Sejanus, who amalgamated the praetorians into one barracks at Rome to use as his own power base for usurping Tiberius. It reached an apogee when a disgruntled mob of guards, upset that Pertinax had stopped some of their perks and bad behaviour, killed him then auctioned Rome to the highest bidder. The winner never paid the huge sums promisedso the Praetorians sat back. A short time later Septimius Severus arrived with his own army and took control. He organised a public display (no weapons lads) where the original guard was disbanded and the ringleaders of the auction executed. The guard was replaced with men loyal to Severus.
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,658
Australia
Praetorians were often barely deployable to real military conflicts. They were nothing to the real soldiers in the legions, which is why when the legions got involved the praetorians were more or less powerless. They were glorified bodyguards by and large, despite some later units being more fit for real military service than they had been at certain points in their history.
 
Jun 2019
14
Redlands, CA
What does it mean to be a soldier though? Is it just fighting prowess? No. It's an intimidation factor as well. Praetorian Guards were not the force they were in the early Empire. One thousand years is a LONG time. Evolution beats tradition every time. But they retained much of the respect of the old guard. They were stil the grey hairs, the upper echelon of the legions.
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,658
Australia
Being a soldier is about effectiveness in combat. A street thug can intimidate too, but he'll make a rubbish soldier. The praetorians of the Empire were simply glorified bodyguards and meddlers compared to the real soldiers, no idea why some people are making this bizarre reference to a unit that existed before the Empire did under Octavian. That has nothing to do with the praetorians as they existed in Imperial Rome, as basically a kind of city watch; often corrupt, and with very limited battle experience for the most part (compared to the real armies anyway). It was the real armies who determined the emperor in times of Civil War, no matter how the praetorians tried to get involved in it.
 
Nov 2014
1,675
Birmingham, UK
You guys started the party without me! Is there any cake left?

Anyhow, I just found the forum while doing research. Now, the Praetorian Guard were absolutely the finest soldiers in all Western Europe, maybe all of the greater Mediterranean region. No doubt about that .
really? no doubt? at all? I'm really no expert but I don't think their record in battle justifies that claim.
 

Davidius

Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
5,007
Pillium
Praetorian Guards were not the force they were in the early Empire. One thousand years is a LONG time.
One thousand years? The Praetorian guard (as a Rome based city guard, not a generals guard) existed from the reign of Augustus to that of Constantine.
27BC to 312AD (according to De La Bedoyere) so that’s less than three and a half centuries.