Roman Culture/Marian Reforms & Recruitment
The army of the early Republican period was based around the maniple, a system developed during the 4th Century B.C.E. Entry into the army was based solely on a citizen being capable of bearing arms. Not an imposition on the physical limitations of a potential recruit but rather a Roman citizen being able to afford the weapons and armor that were required to carry upon the field of battle. Thus the landless masses were unable to serve their city, nor gain the prestige and booty that went along with such service. Unlike the hoplite system the Greeks had been using for centuries, soldiers of the maniple were broken up into different ranks. Early on in the ranks were divided according to their wealth, with the less wealthy occupying the vanguard and the more wealthy in the rear. When this proved to be inefficient, the system changed so that the ranks were divided based on the age and experience of the soldiers, with the youngest recruits in the front, those in their prime in the second rank and the oldest and most experienced in the rear.
The first rank of the maniple soldiers were known as the hastati. These soldiers were lightly armored, with protective brestplate, large shield the scuta, spear and pilum, the Roman javelin. The pilum was a hand launched projectile weapon that upon impact would bend the tip, so that the weapon could not be thrown back at the Romans, but also if it impacted a shield, the shield must typically be discarded as the pilum could not easily be dislodged. The main job of the hastati was to screen the main army and skirmish with the enemy forces, to soften up the enemy for the main fighting force. The principes were the center of the maniple formation, being the most heavily armed, with chain mail armor, scuta shield and either a spear or the gladius short sword. The gladius hispaniensis was a short stabbing sword, typically less than three feet in length. It was a deadly weapon used in the tight formation of the maniple, as the legionary soldier would keep his shield between himself and his enemy, removing the obstacle for only a moment to stab at the enemy. They also carried the pilum javelin, which was to be thrown just before the hand-to-hand combat began. The final rank of troops was known as the triarii. These were the oldest and most experienced soldiers in the legion. These were the final group of the maniple and did not typically see battle unless both the hastati and the principes failed to break the enemy lines. The triarii were armed in a similar manner to the Greek hoplite soldiers of an earlier age, and fought in ranks that resembled the phalanx. They wore heavy chain and metal armor, carried a Greek style round shield and wielded long spears. If the triarii was unable to break the enemy lines, then the battle was lost.
Gaius Marius & His Reforms
In 108 B.C.E. Gaius Marius, having served in Africa as an assistant to General Quintus Caecilius Metellus decided to run for the office of consul. He ran on the platform that his patron, Quintus Caecilius Metellus was prolonging the war and that he could prosecute the conflict with much greater alacrity. He received the post of junior consul but the army of Quintus Caecilius Metellus was given to the task of stopping an incursion of barbarians threatening Rome’s Gallic territories. Thus Gaius Marius had no manpower pool from which to recruit an army to prosecute his war in North Africa.
Gaius Marius, defying the tradition of only allowing landowners to serve, offered the lower class members of Rome a gift of land should they serve the legion for 16 years, thus allowing a measure of social mobility that was much more difficult in previous time. In addition, it was expected that soldiers who campaigned in foreign lands would be bringing home with them booty taken from the looting of enemy cities and the taking of foreigners as slaves. This brought huge numbers of recruits to Marius’s service.
By allowing lower class citizens to enlist, the treasury of Rome would be required to pay for the weapons and armor that each soldier would carry into battle. Although in the previous generations, the state coffers had helped pay for weapons and armor, this decision required Rome to pay for all equipment issued to her troops. To help with the financial burden the state produced equipment that was of an inferior quality compared to what a soldier would have purchased in previous generations. In addition the type of equipment issued was made uniform, so that the mass production of weapons and armor became more efficient.
Marius used the maniple principes soldier as the template for his new army. Each soldier was issued the same metal segmented armor with helmet and shield, the same Hispanic gladius, a pair of javelins. Marius also lessened the burden of the supply wagons by making the soldiers responsible for their own water and rations, along with their cooking implements. This earned them the nickname of “Marius’s Mules”.
Marius also changed the basic command structure of the Legion, altering the maniple to one based around the cohort. A cohort was the equal of three old style maniples. There was a reduction in the number of officers, one per cohort, so that there were fewer officers to relay information, keeping the command structure much simpler. The cohort system also represented a condensing of the training, so that all legionary soldiers would undergo the same regiment of exercise and discipline.
The change from a volunteer citizen based army, where service was duty based, to a professional standing army, one that was a career for the lower classed citizens, marked a huge break from the Roman tradition. Now Rome would not have to spend time recruiting fresh civilians, train and drill them into shape and then march off to meet the enemy. Instead Rome had a force always on hand to meet any threat.
During the early Republican period, to meet he needs of a crisis, the Roman senate had authorized the inclusion of lower classes, non landholding citizens into the army. But the gifting of property to citizens upon the completion of an enlistment had ramifications far beyond what Marius would have expected. As a recruit’s fortune was not established by enlisting from the poorer masses, the soldiers were dependent on their generals, thus making them loyal not to the Roman state, but to their leaders. This change would allow for later leaders such as Sulla and Julius Caesar to bind their armies to them and further defy tradition and in the case of Caesar, bring about the downfall of the republic itself.
EDIT: 12-10-11 Rojen: scanned for spelling errors and plagiarism.
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