[Col] The Kybrothilian
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"So long as you are a slave to the opinions of the many you have not yet approached freedom or tasted its nectar."
-Flavius Claudius Julianus
"The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things - bread and circuses!"
-Decimus Junius Juvenalis
"A time will come when the whole world will go mad. And to anyone who is not mad, they will say:'You are mad, for you are not like us'"
-Prophet Muhammed (p.b.u.h.)
It's not clear that they were distinct from any other troop either (at least at first usage of the word). The word simply describes the front rank of troops in any unit -- in most of the passages I've read quoted by others (mostly Livy it seems).
Any reading of those passages that he is describing a separate unit appears to be fantasy, he's simply describing the front rank of a group of Hastati (or velites, etc) taking some action or other -- throwing their pila, or charging, or being engaged, what have you.
However! Those looking for a reason to have a new unit might also find support in at least one passage I read in the "Dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities," ed. by W. Smith:
"[post marian reforms]....where they [the Antesignani] are the oldest and best soldiers who now lead the van."
So it appears, to my reading, that the formerly descriptive word evolved into an actual group of soldiers, centuries later.
Last edited by Dago Red; August 08, 2012 at 10:57 PM.
From that wording i don't see that these men would have been different in arms or armour from their comrades except for some small details that a veteran might take, rather they would have been the veterans who led from the front. Not much of an argument for a separate unit but just experienced troops (which the M2TW chevrons does amply imo).
I would tend to agree as far as a cold reading of the evidence I've seen so far, but that's actually very limited. Then again there are lots of accounts of varying kits and soldiers taking different gear to suit the occasion. I'm sure EB already has more information on the descriptions of these elite "forerunners" than I could possibly have scraped together while perusing my copy of Tacitus' "History" and googling livy quotes.
There does seem to be some consensus that the term evolved into an actual unit or type of Roman soldier who lead the van and/or struck hard and fast at the enemy.
Anyway, here's that passage from the dictionary which gives a good summation then ends in the later era definition (without describing what the soldiers were exactly):
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