In the ancient Roman empire (see Ancient Empires - Rome), a legion was the largest unit in the Roman army, composed of infantry and cavalry. At full strength, such a division could consist of more than 6,000 soldiers. Each legion was divided into "cohorts" of 600 men, and each cohort was further divided into "centuries" of 100 men. A century (from the Latin word centum i.e. a century has 100 years, and a dollar has 100 cents) was commanded by a centurion.
Centurions In The Bible
Centurions are mentioned in the New Testament era of Bible History. The first Gentile convert to Christianity, Cornelius, was a centurion, and ironically, in view of who actually did the killing of the Messiah, a number of others were believers.
"As He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, beseeching Him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And He said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered Him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, He marveled, and said to those who followed Him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." (Matthew 8:5-10 RSV)
"At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius." And he stared at him in terror, and said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside." (Acts 10:1-6 RSV)
"And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?" And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say." (Acts 10:21-22 RSV)
"Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the Temple [see Temples], and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul." (Acts 21:30-32 RSV) (see also Paul's First Missionary Journey,
Paul's Second Missionary Journey and Paul's Third Missionary Journey)
Fact Finder: Did the Roman centurion who witnessed the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ come to realize that He really was the Messiah?