Draco (military standard)

The draco ("dragon" or "serpent", plural dracones) was a military standard of the Roman cavalry. Carried by the draconarius, the draco was the standard of the cohort as the eagle (aquila) was that of the legion.[1]

Carolingian cavalrymen with a draco standard from the 9th century

The draco may have been introduced to the Roman cavalry by Sarmatian units in the 2nd century.[citation needed] According to Vegetius, in the 4th century a draco was carried by each legionary cohort.[2]

Literary descriptionsEdit

Detail from the Ludovisi battle sarcophagus showing a draco (top right, above the horse's head)
Draco and other war trophies depicted in the Hadrianeum in Rome

The Greek military writer Arrian describes the draco in his passage on cavalry training exercises, calling it "Scythian":

The Scythian banners are dracontes held aloft on standard-length poles. They are made of colored cloths stitched together, and from the head along the entire body to the tail, they look like snakes. When the horses bearing these devices are not in motion, you see only variegated streamers hanging down. During the charge is when they most resemble creatures: they are inflated by the wind, and even make a sort of hissing sound as the air is forced through them.[3]

Arrian says the colorful banners offer visual pleasure and amazement, but also help the riders position themselves correctly in the complicated drills.[4] The Gallo-Roman Latin poet Sidonius Apollinaris offers a similar, if more empurpled, description.[5]


The draco is depicted on the Ludovisi battle sarcophagus, above the horseman who is the central figure in the composition. It appears in several other reliefs, including the Arch of Galerius and the Arch of Constantine, both from the early 4th century.[6]

A Dacian Draco on a Romanian 5000 lei bill

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Yust 1953, p. 570.
  2. ^ Vegetius 2.13; Pat Southern and Karen R. Dixon, The Late Roman Army (Yale University Press, 1996), p. 98.
  3. ^ Arrian, Technē Tacita 35.2–4.
  4. ^ Arrian, Technē Tacita 35.5.
  5. ^ Sidonius, Panegyric on Maiorianus 5; Southern and Dixon, The Late Roman Army, p. 126.
  6. ^ Southern and Dixon, The Late Roman Army, p. 126.


  • Scott-Giles, Charles Wilfrid (1957). The romance of heraldry. Dutton.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Yust, Walter (1953). Encyclopædia Britannica: a new survey of universal knowledge:. Encyclopædia Britannica.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit