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p73 Ala

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on pp73‑74 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ALA, ALARES, ALA′RII. These words, like all other terms connected with Roman warfare, were used in different or at least modified acceptations at different periods.

Ala, which literally means a wing, was from the earliest epochs employed to denote the wing of an army, and this signification it always retained, but in process of time was frequently used in a restricted sense.

  1. When a Roman army was composed of Roman citizens exclusively, the flanks of the infantry when drawn up in battle array were covered on the right and left by the cavalry; and hence Ala denoted the body of horse which was attached to and served along with the foot-soldiers of the legion (see Cincius, de Re Militari, who, although he flourished B.C. 200, is evidently explaining in the passage quoted by Aulus Gellius, XVI.4, the original acceptation of the term).

  2. When, at a later date, the Roman armies were composed partly of Roman citizens and partly of Socii, either Latini or Italici, it became the practice to marshall the Roman troops in the centre of the battle line and the Socii upon the wings. Hence ala and alarii denoted the contingent furnished by the allies, both horse and foot, and the two divisions were distinguished as dextera ala and sinistra ala (Liv. XXVII.2, Liv. XXX.21, Liv. XXXI.21; Lips. de Milit. Rom. II. dial.7. We find in Liv. X.40, the expression cum cohortibus alariis, and in X.43, D. Brutum Scaevam legatum cum legione prima et decem cohortibus alariis equitatuque ire . . . jussit.)

  3. When the whole of the inhabitants of Italy had been admitted to the privileges of Roman citizens the terms alarii, cohortes alariae were transferred to the foreign troops serving along with the Roman armies. In Caesar (B. G. I.51) we see the Alarii expressly distinguished from the legionarii, and we find the phrase (B. C. I.73) cohortes alariae et legionariae, while Cicero (ad Fam. II.17) speaks of the Alarii Transpadani. p74

  4. Lastly, under the empire, the term ala was applied to regiments of horse, raised it would seem with very few exceptions in the provinces, serving apart from the legions and the cavalry of the legions. It is to troops of this description that Tacitus refers when (Ann. XV.10) he mentions Alarii Pannonii robur equitatus.

Some further details on this subject are given under Exercitus.


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