LEGION (Gr. legiōn, or legeōn, Lat. legio). The largest single unit in the Roman army, including infantry and cavalry. A division of infantry at full strength consisted of about six thousand Roman soldiers. Each division was divided into ten cohorts, and each cohort was further divided into six centuries. Each subdivision, as well as the large whole, had its own officers and its own standards. The term “legion” in the NT represents a vast number (Matt.26.53; Mark.5.9, Mark.5.15; Luke.8.30).

By the end of the 1st cent. a.d. the legion contained about 6000 men when up to full strength. More often than not, they were under this figure by as much as thirty-three percent, so that ideally the statement of Christ in Matthew 26:53 would involve in excess of 144,000 of the heavenly beings. If the notion of double legions is accepted, it seems that such speculations are unwarranted by the context. The legion was subdivided into ten cohorts and these were divided into six centuries or “hundreds” each, the officer in charge of this last division was the centurion, Gr. ἑκατόντάρχης, “leader of one hundred” mentioned often in the NT, e.g., Matthew 8:5 et al. Over the whole legion there was the tribūni mīlitum, “military tribune,” with his subordinate the lēgatus, “lieutenant-general.” The feeding and clothing of such a force was accomplished by quartering the troops on the citizenry in foreign regions or by foraging and in time of conflict by booty. The pay for an infantryman was 120 dēnārii per year, which was raised by Julius Caesar to about 225 dēnārii, and the hope of booty including the sale of slaves heightened morale. The number of legions varied throughout the centuries but under Augustus (63 b.c.-a.d. 14) it was set at twenty-five, each with a definite base usually on the border of the empire.


J. Pfitzner, Geschichte der römische Kaiserlegion (1881); H. M. D. Parker, The Roman Legions (1928); O. Hiltbrunner, “Militar,” Kleines Lexikon Der Antike (1961), 317-320; G. Gottlieb, “Legion,” Das Lexikon Der Alten Welt (1965), 1698.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Army; Roman Army.