The Praetorian Guard was established by Augustus during the early Empire. Over their nearly 300 year existence they would wear many colors of uniforms to distinguish them from other common legionaries.
Initially the Praetorian Guard under Augustus wore a simple white toga with little decorations and no armor. However, by the 3rd century the Praetorian guard would wear bright red colored armor with heavy lion skin capes that demonstrated both wealth and the prestige of being a member of the emperor’s personal bodyguard.
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Without further ado, here is the color of the uniforms worn by the Praetorian guard.
Early Empire Praetorian Guard Uniform Color Was A White Toga
The first color of uniform the Praetorian Guard would wear would be a simple white toga with shield and sword. This was done purposely when Augustus first founded the Praetorian guard in 27-14 BC.
Augustus was careful to have his personal bodyguard wear the traditional white toga of Republican Rome while in the city. The reason for this was because Augustus was displaying himself as a consul who was going to restore the Republic. He could not have his personal bodyguard running around in threatening armor.
The white toga uniform color was heavily enforced by Augustus
Initially the Praetorian Guard was clothed so that they would fit in within the city of Rome. In 2 B.C. Augustus would finally expand the Praetorian guard and begin the process of establishing them as a formal fighting force in the city of Rome. Augustus would elect two prefects to lead this new bodyguard unit; both in battle and in defense of the Emperor.
By the time Claudius became emperor in 41 AD the Praetorian Guard were formally wearing their armor in the city of Rome. As such the uniform towards the end of early Rome Empire consisted of a white toga with ornately decorated armor.
We know the armor was ornately decorated because towards the end of Emperor Nero’s reign in 60 AD the payment of the Praetorian Guard increased dramatically. At its peak a recruit in the Praetorian Guard could expect to make nearly 3 times the amount a normal soldier would make.
As such, during the early Empire the Praetorian Guard initially wore a uniform which was a simple white toga to blend in with the Roman people. By the end of the early Empire however the Praetorian Guard’s uniform consisted of a blank white toga with ornately detailed armor.
This would only increase by the 2nd century AD.
Middle Empire Uniform Color Consisted of Bright Armor With Lion Skin Capes
By the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 161 AD the Praetorian Guard’s uniform had changed to mimicking the Roman Emperor’s. According to some ancient sources some high ranking guardsmen were even allowed to do the purple toga.
The above image is of Marcus Aurelius receiving the submission of the Germanic tribes. The person on the bottom left wearing the lion skin cape is a member of the Praetorian guard. This one inscription remains one of the best examples of the Praetorian guard’s uniforms during the middle empire.
By the time of the middle empire the uniform of the Praetorian guard had shifted towards brightly colored armor with lion skin capes. If a Praetorian guard became promoted high enough eventually they would be allowed to don the purple toga and cape which distinguished them as a member of elite Roman Society.
The color of the Praetorian guard’s armor uniform consisted of brightly colored red and two insignia. The first insignia was to designate them as a member of the elite Praetorian Guard while the second was to designate their individual unit.
As such by the middle Empire the uniform color of the Praetorian guard had shifted. Most of the Praetorian guard would wear a normal white toga with detailed armor and a lion skin cape. The elite of the Praetorian Guard however would be seen wearing a purple toga with a purple cape to distinguish their seniority.
There you have it; an entire article dedicated to the different colors of uniform the Praetorian guard wore.
The Praetorian guard remains a fascinating object of study for Roman historians. Even though they existed for nearly 300 years there is still much we do not know about them. Prospective graduate students looking for a good study subject will find substantial amounts of resources on them.
Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the web.
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