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Military organization, originally the largest permanent unit in the Roman army. It was the basis of the military system by which imperial Rome conquered and ruled its empire. The early Roman Republic found the Greek phalanx too unwieldy for fragmented fighting in the hills and valleys of central Italy. To replace it the Romans evolved a new tactical system based on small and flexible infantry units called maniples. These were grouped in larger units called cohorts, which ranged from 360 to 600 men, depending on the era. Ten cohorts made up a legion, which moved into battle with four cohorts in the first line and three each in the second and third lines. See alsoForeign Legion.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on legion, visit Britannica.com.