The smallest unit of the Roman army. The Century probably developed as a result of reforms attributed to Servius Tullius, king of Roman (tradition places his reign between 579 and 534 BC). The Roman population was divided into five Classes, split on the value of their property. Members of each class were expected to equip themselves with a specific set of weapons, ranging from full hoplite armour for Class I down to a sling for Class V. The hoplite soldiers were known as the Classis, and probably numbered 4,000 split into 40 centuries. The remaining four classes probably initially provided light infantry, although as Rome grew, Class II and then Class III also became hoplites. The Roman army at this period and for some time to come was a citizen militia, similar to the hoplite armies of contemporary Greece. Under the early republic the army slowly grew more sophisticated, until by roughly 300BC the centuries were organised into three lines, each of 20 centuries, further organised into two-century maniples.
We can be much more certain of the organisation of the century during the late republic and imperial periods. The century was a 80 man unit, commanded by a Centurion, supported by three junior officers or principales, the optio (second in command), signifer (standard bearer) and tessararius. The men themselves were organised into ten contubernia of eight men each, who camped and ate together. The only exception to this were the five centuries of the 1st Cohort, which at some point during the early empire expanded to contain 160 men, making the 1st cohort 800 strong. The century appears to have been the most important unit to the legionaries, and is the one most often used on their memorials. The centuries barracked together, and fought together, although the maniple and later the cohort were the battlefield units.
How to cite this article:
Rickard, J (7 August 2006), Century, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_century.html