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Durham e-Theses
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The Vigiles of Rome

Rainbird, John S. (1976) The Vigiles of Rome. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The Visiles were a fire brigade, carrying out nightly patrols throughout the City of Rome. Originally 3,500 strong, they were increased to 7,000. The scale of their fire patrols' makes them unioue. Their equipment was basic but effective. The aqueducts made their operations possible by providing adequate supplies of water throughout the City. Rome had a very bad fire problem, accentuated by the occurrence of several fires at once. Augustus applied the military technique of patrolling to the water resources already available. The conventional sizes of centuries and cohorts were appropriate for fire fighting, and the Visiles were organised as soldiers. But they were non-combative, and recruited largely from freedmen. The continuous night duty was arduous, and around 8% of the men resigned each year. In contrast with soldiers, visiles served for a normal period of only 6 years. There were a few openings for promotion to nco or technician, but further opportunities on the operational side were rare. Nco's and technicians could serve for many years. The officers (centurions and tribunes) had a military background. Centurions could serve for many years; tribunes did not. The prefect had judicial functions in addition to overall responsibility for the Vigiles, and was less concerned with active fire fighting. The two fields of ancient history and fire fighting have been brought together. The evidence used to be under-utilised, but can be very informative. Probably the most neglected aspect was that of numbers. The two nominal rolls of the Fifth Cohort are key items, telling us the total numbers of men and also providing us with clues as to the length of service and the nature of the career. Within this framework, we can fit the evidence into a coherent picture. With so many points at which the Vigiles were potentially effective, they must be ranked among the world's more effective fire brigades.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:1976
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 Jul 2013 14:43

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