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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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LEGION (λεγιών [λεγεών], a loan-word from the Latin legio, which meant originally a ‘gathering’ of the citizen army of Rome).—The word ‘legion’ occurs in two contexts in the Gospels. One is in the scene at Gethsemane, when Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave (Matthew 26:53); the other occurs in the narrative about the man with the unclean spirit in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:9; Mark 5:15, Luke 8:30; but not in Matthew’s account, which gives two men). In both cases the reference is to the large number of persons who compose a legion: in the one case the legions of angels are at the disposal of Jesus, if He asks for them; in the other the great number of evil spirits can be described only by the name ‘legion.’ The present writer cannot recall any such use of the word ‘legion’ in non-Christian authors. It seems certain also that in the NT the word is not a translation of any Aramaic word. The conclusion is that, if Aramaic is behind the passages where the word occurs, the expression was imported into that language from Greek, and reveals the great impression made on the minds of Orientals by the vast organized unity of the Roman army, with which they had become acquainted since the Roman occupation of Syria by Pompey (b.c. 64–63). At least three and often more (see Hardy’s Studies in Roman History, 181 ff.) legions were quartered in that province during the whole of the 1st cent. a.d., and the sight of these magnificent troops, as they marched in column along the great roads of the country, must have powerfully impressed the natives with the numbers and power of the Roman people. An innumerable number of persons came to be spoken of as a legion.

The full strength of a Roman legion was about 6000 men, or about that of a modern infantry division, but the subdivision was different. Instead of brigades, battalions, companies, and sections, there were 10 cohortes, each commanded by a tribunus militum, 3 manipuli in each cohors, and 2 centuriœ in each manipulus. The uniform of all ordinary legionaries was the same. The legion was commanded by a legatus legionis (lieutenant-general). See also Band.

Literature.—W. Ramsay, A Manual of Roman Antiquities, revised and partly rewritten by R. Lanciani, 15th ed. (London, 1894) ch. xii. (on p. 459 f. there are references to other literature).

Alex. Souter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Legion'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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