Fire-brigades in the Roman realm

In the Roman realm, there were fire-brigades as a national organizations only starting from the turn of an era.


The beginnings

In the Roman republic, there was no fire-brigade initially. The fire fighting was implemented by the night watchmen, so-called triumviri nocturni; those were however already more busily with safety tasks. Politically the fire safety device fell into the field of the Here there was however the disadvantage that in accordance with the principle of the annuity each provided only one year long its office, which made an effective organization more difficult of the fire fighting drastically.

Always far out-rampantly growing metropolis Rome, however, became ever more susceptible to devastating fires, which was to the dwelling houses for the lower layers particularly because of the thousands insulae, since those were usually rather badly as quite built. Therefore by rich Romans private fire-brigades were formed. These, however, could never enjoy of larger popularity, since some realms wanted to still increase their fortune by these services: If a fire had broken out somewhere, they demanded in response for employment that the owner of the house of even this verscherbelte for a ridiculous price. If he refused, then the fire-brigade took off again and left the house owner with the fire alone.

The first national fire-brigade

When with the population explosion also still the problem of the fires put intentionally from brokers to the property appropriation associated, the Roman people required loudly for a solution. A named Egnatius Rufus recognized around 30 v. Chr. the political value of this topic and reacted: It formed a fire-brigade from own slaves and made it available free of charge with cases of fire. The citizens were inspired and thanked it with a lightning-like political ascent.

This again busy since short governing princeps Augustus, which wanted to prevent that in the future far capital political from city security could be struck. In addition also still another major fire came in the year 23 v. Chr. As reaction Augustus formed a fire-brigade from 600 slaves, put thereafter the topic however for the time being ad acta. It required a new major fire in the year 6 v. Chr., in order to let it the problem become clear.

Augustus created now the organization that vigiles (literal “guards”), consisting of 3.500 or 7.000 freely left slaves. This troop was tautly militarily organized: The unit was divided into seven Kohorten under one Centurio each. Everyone the Kohorten was responsible for two urban districts. The supreme command was transferred from the knight conditions a coming praefectus vigilum. Later even own barracks were placed to the fire stations ready for the accommodation. Thus the Roman fire-brigade was born, and in this form, it continued to exist for many centuries.

Work and tasks that vigiles

Police and legal tasks

Zuoberst stood with the tasks naturally the active fire fighting. The fire guards patrouillierten by their districts looked for possible sources of fire and searched for offenses against the imperial fire protection regulations (with the time ever more detail and more numerous became). Later took over it even the hunt for fire founders of the city guards, and starting from Trajan led praefectus vigilum with corresponding processes the presidency.

Later that vigiles also more and more police tasks were assigned. So the Roman could use it with unrests as safety and in the absolute emergency even as combat troop. Also before court praefectus vigilum ever more extensive tasks were assigned, since the citizens contacted ever more frequently also with irrelevant requests, for example with commercial permission, him.

Methods of the fire fighting

During the active fire fighting those used vigiles so some implement, which are still used in its basic form also today, for example, syringes, buckets, leaders, bars, covers, baskets, sponges, brooms, rag covers (soaked with water for the protection of the adjoining houses), einreisshaken, saws and hammers. Those vigiles had different fields of application: Water carrier, syringe people, dousing blankets and lighting of the place of work.

In case of a fire the guards, as well as the adjacents resident, formed Eimerketten, which took their beginning at the wells everywhere in Rome put on. If the fire went out of control, standing around buildings were evacuated and torn off as fast as possible, in order to prevent an area conflagration.

Fire-brigades outside of Rome

A fire-brigade set up by the state gave it beside Rome in the following cities: Karthago, Lyon (those guarded vigiles at the same time there the local and finally Konstantinopel (after this had become the second capital). All other municipalities had to place their own fire-brigade on the legs.

Often these municipalities with the local trade guilds closed a convention that these worried about the fire fighting. Additionally, the city-upper organized now and then time fire-brigades, for example with Mostly however the house inhabitants were forced to be their own fire-brigade; fought together with the neighbors the fire then, so well it evenly went.


  • Kurt Wallat: Sequitur of clades. The Vigiles in antique Rome. Long, Frankfurt/Main [among other things] 2004. ISBN 3-631-52473-0
  • Renate Lafer: Omnes collegiati, concurrite! Fire fighting in the Imperium Romanum. Long, Frankfurt/Main [among other things] 2001. ISBN 3-631-35716-8
  • Robert Sablayrolles: Libertinus of miles. Les of cohortes de vigiles. Ecole Fr. de Rome, Rome 1996 ISBN 2-7283-0365-7

See also:

  • Roman city fires
  • Portal: Fire-brigade
  • Portal and topic list Rome