Germanic Tribes Roman Centurion Lk 7


Was this Roman Centurion from one of the germanic tribes of that day? How many of the Roman centurions of Jesus’ time were from the germanic tribes?

I have a vague understanding that at one point in Roman history most if not all of the centurions came from the germanic tribes because they were taller and had more physical mass and physical strength than the peoples from southern Europe, north Africa or the near East.

Am I close but no cigar?


It’s not likely during that time period.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was in A.D. 9 (just for reference) and the Germanic tribes were far from being assimilated into the Roman Empire 20 years later.

It’s not entirely impossible that there would have been a few Centurions of Germanic origins at that time, but they would have been a tiny minority. The probability that this particular Centurion was Germanic would be like hitting the lottery.


Thanks FrDavid96,
This is a great answer. Logical. Fact based. Clear, precise. I’ll run with this answer. Grateful for your service. Do you have a scripture page, blog, Facebook?


I have something to add.

The term more often used for centurions in the gospels, and especially in this particular episode, is the Greek calque hekatontarchēs ‘commander of a hundred’ (only Mark 15:39 uses the transliteration kentyriōn). We often assume that the man who asks Jesus to cure his servant is a Roman captain, based on the term used. But the term does not necessarily always refer to Roman centurions. For example, most of the Jewish historian Josephus’ usages of* hekatontarchēs* do refer to Roman officers, but others occur in his recounting of biblical stories, and in one case it is even used for officers of the Jewish rebels (Antiquities 6.40; 7.233, 368; 9.143, 148, 151, 156, 188; for Jewish officers; War 2.578). In addition, the term appears frequently in the Septuagint, obviously in non-Roman contexts (cf. Exodus 18:21, 25; Numbers 31:14, 48, 52, 54; Deuteronomy 1:15; 1 Chronicles 29:6 and elsewhere).

The thing is, there were probably no Roman soldiers stationed in the Galilee at the time of Jesus. For one, Herod Antipas had his own troops. (Judaea, being a Roman province directly governed by a prefect ever since AD 6, would obviously have a small number of Roman troops in it - most of whom stayed with the prefect in the gentile capital of Caesarea Maritima, far away from the Jews.) Plus, he was generally on good terms with Rome - he was, in fact, a childhood friend of Tiberius - and so would not have needed Roman soldiers. Client territories were typically a source of manpower for the Romans, not additional territory for them to garrison. Roman troops were indeed occasionally supplied to client rulers whenever they faced internal or external threats, but that was the exception, not the norm. There was no serious military threat to the Galilee during the time of Jesus, so Antipas would not have needed Roman soldiers. There was that incident with the Nabataeans during the mid-30s (Josephus, Antiquities 18.113-115), but those troubles apparently began and escalated without the Romans’ awareness - a development difficult to explain if there were Romans in the Galilee, particularly in Capernaum.

Even if one were to argue that the term hekatontarchēs reflected Roman-style military organization, that would still not show that the unit was Roman. Herod the Great had organized his troops along Roman lines (he had a multinational army composed of Jews as well as foreigners), and it is highly likely that the Roman-educated Antipas did likewise. Considering these factors, I think it’s possible that the ‘centurion’/‘hekatontarch’ Jesus met was not a Roman captain, but someone who belonged to Antipas’ army. I think the case for it could be strengthened if we compare this episode with the story in John 4:46-54, where Jesus heals the son of a royal official from Capernaum, which ultimately could have been derived from the same tradition.

As for Judaea, the Roman prefect was of equestrian rank, meaning that he did not have enough authority to command a legion. (His superior, the legate of Syria - who was of senatorial rank - commanded three or four.) Instead he commanded auxiliary troops. Now unlike legions where the members were all Roman citizens, the auxiliaries usually recuited peregrini, non-citizens, who were awarded Roman citizenship at the end of their service. Most of the ‘Roman’ soldiers in Palestine, in fact, were not from Rome or Italy, but were local recruits from gentile areas like Caesarea Maritima and Sebaste (Samaria). The prefect’s army was not too large: at the death of Agrippa in AD 44, it consisted of one ala and five cohorts - approximately three thousand men. And the bulk of that three thousand soldiers would have stayed with the prefect in Caesarea Maritima, with the rest being spread thinly throughout various garrisons across the province. All in all, the Roman presence in Palestine is actually quite small. (Probably none in the Galilee, only a little in Judaea.) Troops were not regularly stationed there, so that when big trouble broke out, the authorities needed to call on the Syrian legate to send his legions. Sometimes though, other troops might have passed through the area or were temporarily stationed there (the Italian Cohort in Acts is a possible example).


You’re welcome.

I’m curious what prompted the question in the first place, if you don’t mind?

Writing a historical fiction book?


One idea at a time come out of my mouth. I’ve got a lot of stray thought “jammed” up in there-- jammed for years floating around

Why I wrote the question has to do with my particular make-up. My mind is full of floating ideas, like logs in a saw mill pond. Each idea awaits its turn to make its way up the log chute into the saw mill to be cut, finished and turned into something useful or beautiful.

Today my diocese celebrated the Ascension. That was the gospel reading. I have always wondered about that centurion’s/captain’s nationality. Imagine his tremendous faith and piety. Who is he? How did he think? How did he come to his faith? We still pray his act of faith in every Mass, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come. . .” A person of that height of faith deserves my attentive consideration.


Automatically assuming the centurion was NOT a German might not be correct.

Certainly the Praetorian Guard in Rome was mostly Teutonic by design. The reason was that the Germans would not be subject to partisan Roman politics, and so better able to maintain the peace.

In the hinderland of the East, like the Galilee, I would suspect that German bands of mercenaries would serve for the right price. Taking a cue from the Rome Praetorians, Antipas might have had many Teutonics in his army. Not technically Roman soldiers, of course.

Antipas was also subject to the President of Syria, so Roman soldiers had every right to be in the Galilee for whatever purpose the President saw necessary.

Bona fide Roman units might have also supervised the collection of tax monies on certain trade roads, also keeping the peace, under the control of Syria. Remember, assuming a late crucifixion date, the Decapolis and Philips old territory WAS under the control of Syria and real Roman soldiers.

After the beginning of the Pax Romana of Augustus, I would suspect that thousands of German men sought out their military fortune and traveled south to parts of the Roman Empire. They might have been recruited by Roman agents. The Roman army was egalitarian in that respect and Germans could advance on merit.


Fr. David,
I finally generated the deep reasoning behind my question. It popped out in a stray moment.
I was listening to someone talk about the Roman centurions. I can’t remember who. Maybe Scott Hahn. They mentioned that by such and such a date, all the Centurions were Germanic because they had more body mass and were taller. Therefore, was the centurion Germanic?


We just don’t know the answer to the question.

We know nothing about him, other than that he was a Centurion. We don’t even know if he was stationed near Capernaum, or was just passing-through on his way to someplace else.

If historians agree (which I don’t know) that by a certain time most Centurions were Germanic, I’d be inclined to believe it—although I would doubt that as an absolute 100%. But AD 33 is still much too early.


Thanks Fr. David. Happy Nativity of St. John the Baptist 2014.


This is off topic, but that chocolate dessert looks really really good!



Correction: we actually do know that he lived in Capernaum.


If the centurion had been in a regular legion, in the first century, it is most probable that he would have been a Roman citizen of some kind. However, the legions and legionaries were not stationed in Palestine–they would have had auxiliary troops. Which would make it much more likely that they were not Roman citizens, and could have been of almost any nationality or ethnic group.

I suspect the recruiting of primarily German troops was much later–although even in the fourth and fifth centuries, there were many kinds of auxiliaries–Germans, but also Sarmatians and Alans, Samaritans, Isaurians, Illyricans, Mauritanians–the list seems endless. Would there have been many German centurions recruited for Palestinian auxiliaries in the first century? I find it unlikely, due to distance, the military situation on the Rhine, and other considerations, but I have no evidence to rule it out.


Thanks. You’all are helping me see behind the surface of the gospel and into the deeper meaning. Perhaps, we’ll all share a piece of cake someday in heaven.


Actually in Egypt, the governor was Equestrian and there were legions stationed there. The second command in a legion was a tribunus lavaticlus, commonly called a senior tribune. It could be that Judea followed this same precedent. Futhermore, Acts 23:22 makes a distinction from spearmen and soldiers. Possible legions could be the 10th Fretensis or the 12th Fulminata.


JB Brother 4446, what brings you to this post? a the op


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