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A modern re-enactor holding a vexillum with a scorpion, the sign of the Praetorians which was used to honor the Emperor Tiberius for building the Praetorian Camp in Rome. Tiberius' Astrological sign was Scorpio.
Photo: Associazione Culturale Cisalpina — Cohors III Praetoria

The vexillum (/vɛkˈsɪləm/; plural vexilla) was a flag-like object used as a military standard by units in the Ancient Roman army. The word is itself a diminutive for the Latin word, velum, sail, which confirms the historical evidence (from coins and sculpture) that vexilla were literally "little sails" i.e. flag-like standards. In the vexillum the cloth was draped from a horizontal crossbar suspended from the staff; this is unlike most modern flags in which the 'hoist' of the cloth is attached directly to the vertical staff. The bearer of a vexillum was known as a vexillarius or vexillifer.[1] Just as in the case of the regimental colors or flag of Early Modern Western regiments, the vexillum was a treasured symbol of the military unit that it represented and it was closely defended in combat. It was however regarded as less important than a legion's aquila or eagle, and may have represented a sub-division of a legion, though this is not entirely clear from surviving sources.[2]

General uses[]

Memorial Stained Glass, Yeo Hall, Chapel, Royal Military College of Canada featuring a Lamb of God carrying a Vexillum

The term "vexillum" (plural "vexilla") is used more generally for any object such as a relic or icon used as a standard in battle, & may be considered the offensive equivalent of the more defensive palladium in this context.[3] Vexillology, or the study of flags, derives its name from this word, and a vexilloid is a standard that is not of conventional flag form. Nearly all of the present-day regions of Italy preserve the use of vexilla. Many Christian processional banners are in the vexillum form; usually these banners are termed labara (Greek: λάβαρον) after the standard adopted by the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine I which replaced the imperial eagle with the "Chi-Rho" symbol . For example vexillum is used by the Legion of Mary as the term for its standards. A small version is used on the altar and a larger one leads processions.

See also[]

Roman Military banner.svg
This article is part of the series on:
Military of ancient Rome
753 BC – AD 476
Structural history
Roman army (unit types and ranks, legions, auxiliaries, generals)
Roman navy (fleets, admirals)
Campaign history
Lists of wars and battles
Decorations and punishments
Technological history
Military engineering (castra, siege engines, arches)
Political history
Strategy and tactics
Infantry tactics
Frontiers and fortifications (limes, Hadrian's Wall)
  • Vexilla Regis, early Christian hymn whose first line uses this word, referring to the Cross as a standard

In taxonomy[]

  • botany, the large upper petal of a papilionaceous flower
  • Vexillum (gastropod), a genus of snails in the family Costellariidae
  • Inquisitor vexillum, a sea snail species


  1. Vexillum., retrieved March 18, 2011
  2. Vexillum., retrieved March 18, 2011
  3. Ryan, William Francis,The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia, pp. 237-239, 1999, Penn State Press, ISBN 0271019670, 9780271019673

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