The Roman legion (from Latin legio "military levy, conscription," from legere — "to choose") is a term that can apply both as a translation of legio ("conscription" or "army") to the entire Roman army and also, more narrowly (and more commonly), to the heavy infantry that was the basic military unit of the ancient Roman army in the period of the late Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. In this latter meaning, it consisted of several cohorts of heavy infantry known as legionaries. It was almost always accompanied by one or more attached units of auxiliaries, who were not Roman citizens and provided cavalry, ranged troops and skirmishers to complement the legion's heavy infantry.
The size of a typical legion varied widely throughout the history of ancient Rome, with complements of 4,200 legionaries and 300 equites in the republican period of Rome, (the infantry were split into 30 maniples of 120 legionaries each), to 5,200 men plus auxiliaries in the imperial period (split into 10 cohorts, 9 of 480 men each, plus the first cohort holding 800 men).
As legions were not standing armies until the Marian reforms (c. 107 BC), and were instead created, used, and disbanded again, several hundred legions were named and numbered throughout Roman history. To date, about 50 have been identified. In the time of the Early Roman Empire, there were usually about 25-35 standing legions plus their Auxiliaries, with more raised as needed. See List of Roman legions for a catalogue of known late republic, early Empire and late Empire legions, with dates in existence, emblem and locations of deployment.
Because of the enormous military successes of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire the legion has long been regarded as the prime ancient model for military efficiency and ability.