Augustan Cohort (band)

See also Cohort

AUGUSTAN COHORT (BAND). (Gr. σπει̂ρα, G5061). This title which occurs in Acts 27:1 has occasioned much speculation. A cohort was normally a tenth part of a legion and was itself divided into six centuries, each under a centurion. A cohort, therefore, comprised 600 men. In the auxiliary troops the cohorts were the basic unit of division and each numbered 500 or 1,000 men. Each bore some honorific title such as Gallica or fidelis, and they were commanded by prefects or tribunes.

The Gr. word in the present context is speira which normally tr. the Lat. manipulus, a force of two cohorts (e.g. Polybius, XI, 23. 1), although at Acts 10:1, as in Josephus, War IV. iv. 2, it seems to be used for cohort. None of these usages, all of which contain a measure of uncertainty, relieves the difficulty of the present context. If the “Augustan Band” was a true cohort, regular or auxiliary, why was it commanded by a centurion?

Ramsay, following the great Ger. scholar Mommsen, supposes that the unit was a name for a special corps of imperial couriers called frumentarii, functioning as liaison officers between the emperor and his armed forces (W. M. Ramsay, Saint Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 315, and R. J. Knowling, EGT Acts, 516, 517). On such an assumption, Julius would be a legionary centurion detailed for this special task. This, however, does no more than account for the fact that it was a centurion who commanded this detachment. Was he, or the whole bodyguard, called Augustan?

The only contribution which can be made to this question is, first, the fact that there is archeological evidence for a Cohors Augusta I in Syria in the time of Augustus (Dessau, ILS 2683). Secondly, it may be mentioned that Josephus wrote of a turma or cavalry called “Sebastan,” that is “Augustan,” the Gr. word in the present context. Sebaste was Samaria, refounded by Herod I under that name in honor of Augustus. There the problem must be left. Julius may have been a praetorian sent on a special mission to Caesarea.