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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.
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The vexillum (plural vexilla) was a flag-like object used in the Classical Era of the Roman Empire. 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. Just as in the case of the regimental colors or flag of Western regiments, the vexillum was a treasured symbol of the military unit that it represented and it was closely defended in combat.[1]

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 after the standard adopted by the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine I.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

VEXILLUM (Lat. dim. of velum, piece of cloth, sail, awning, or from vehere, vectum, to carry), the name for a small ensign consisting of a square cloth suspended from a cross-piece fixed to a spear. The vexillum was strictly the ensign of the maniple, as signum was of the cohort, but the term came to be used for all standards or ensigns other than the eagle (aquzla) of the legion (see Flag). Caesar (B.G. H. 20) uses the phrase vexillum proponere of the red flag hoisted over the general's tent as a signal for the march or battle. The standard-bearer of the maniple was styled vexillarius, but by the time of the Empire vexillum and vexillarius had gained a new significance. Tacitus uses these terms frequently both of a body of soldiers serving apart from the legion under a separate standard, and also with the addition of some word implying connexion with a legion of those soldiers who, after serving sixteen years with the legion, continued their service, under their own vexillum, with the legion. The term is also used for the scarf wrapped round a bishop's pastoral staff. Modern science has adopted the word for the web or vein of a feather of a bird and of the large upper petal of flowers, such as the pea, whose corolla is shaped like a butterfly.

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