Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Fire had always been a problem in the city, and during the years of the Republic a small force of firefighters had bene established in the City. During the early part of his reign, Caesar Augustus (the first Emperor) expanded the force greatly.
In AD 6 Augustus levied a 4 per cent tax on the sale of slaves and used the proceeds to set up the new force. They were commanded by the praefectus vigilum, who was of equestrian rank, and subpraefectus and were divided into seven cohorts, each of 560 men and commanded by a tribune. Each cohort was divided into seven centuries, each of 70–80 men commanded by a centurio. Each cohort patrolled two of the city's fourteen administrative regiones. The cohorts were doubled in size in AD 205.
The Vigiles were accommodated in barracks and patrolled the streets, especially at night, on the lookout for any unsupervised fires. Every householder was obliged to keep equipment for fighting fires, and the men themselves were equipped with pumps, buckets, hooks (for pulling down burning material), picks, mattocks and axes. They also used ballistae for knocking down burning houses and creating firebreaks. They even had their own medical support, with four doctors attached to each cohort, and their own chaplains (victimarii). A siphonarius operated a pump and an aquarius supervised the supply of water. The ordinary firefighters were called milites (soldiers).
The Vigiles also acted as a night watch, keeping an eye out for burglars and hunting down runaway slaves, and were on occasion used to maintain order in the streets. Their most famous prefect, Naevius Sutorius Macro, succeeded Lucius Aelius Sejanus as Prefect of the Praetorian Guard after his men had been used by the Emperor Tiberius to retake control of the city from the treacherous Sejanus's soldiers.
There were also Vigiles stationed at the harbour cities of Ostia and Portus . A vexillatio (detachment) of four centuries was detached from Rome for four months at a time, with two centuries being stationed at each city.
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