Rome was once one of the most advanced democracies in the world before it changed into an empire. The political space in circa 100 BC Rome was dominated by wealthy aristocrats who influenced most of the decisions from their positions as magistrates or in the Senate. The Roman military, one of the most talked-about fighting forces in world history, was renowned for its numerous conquests in battle. The problems experienced by the Roman army, and society in general, led to the demise of the republic and the establishment of an empire system.
The beginning of internal turmoil and strife in Rome can be dated back to around 133 BC. The military was undergoing some challenges brought about by the expansion of Rome during this period. The process of enrolling in the military was extremely selective. The landless poor of Rome, capite censi, were not allowed to join the ranks (White 1). The army was a preserve for wealthy landowners that could sustain the cost of war. The government of Rome, in the early to middle Republic, did not arm its military. The responsibility of supplying armor and armaments was delegated to the individual and hence the preference for wealthy citizens. The cavalry consisted of the equestrian class composed of the affluent families while the other five classes comprised of the other citizens in varying degrees of wealth. The landowners were willing to fight because they had more to lose compared with the capite sensi (the landless poor). The landless population was higher than the rich side, and hence the Roman republic was short-changing itself of a strong force by focusing on the wealthy few.
The Roman army was mostly unprofessional since it did not choose soldiers via merit but through the wealth system (Burns). The wealthy equestrians would go to war and acquire even more wealth via pillaging and looting. The loot was their primary motivator, but problems started to emerge once the battles got lengthy and distant. The landowners were used to brief engagements, several weeks or months, where they would win, loot, and head back to their farms. As Rome expanded her territory in faraway lands, the landowning soldiers spent more time abroad and thus their families and property at home suffered. Many farms fell into ruin since their owners were not there to tend to the lands. Other soldiers lost their farms since opportunistic people bought their properties from the family whose husband was away in the war. The soldiers returned to find their lands were gone and their families impoverished. It was a demoralizing experience for the returning soldiers, and it took a heavy toll on their morale and loyalty to the state. The unprofessional military consisting of wealthy farmers soon found it daunting to sustain a prolonged military campaign abroad.
There were serious recruitment problems as men were reluctant to join the military for fear of losing their property while away (White 4). The Roman Republic troops became increasingly disenfranchised since they were not happy about paying for their arms while defending the state. The punishments meted out to the soldiers during the various expeditions along with the lengthy foreign deployment exacerbated the situation causing more dissent among the ranks.
Some Senate members were complicit in the problems that faced the Roman military since they were unable to control the generals and army. The aftermath of the Second Punic war was characterized by recruitment issues as landowners were unwilling to stray far away from their lands. The Senate jestfully decided to reduce some of the land-based restrictions of joining the military. The action by the Senate members was stop-gap, and reactionary since the republic needed a fighting force. The same influential senators were sometimes responsible for selling the lands of soldiers who spent a prolonged period fighting abroad (White 4). The greed of members of the Senate was, therefore, a significant factor in the disillusionment of the Roman military circa 113 BC. The military generals had absolute authority over their respective territories, which was granted by the Senate. However, the unlimited powers given to the governors were repeatedly abused, and the Senate could do nothing since it happened further away from Rome.
Gaius Marius Reforms
The issues surrounding military recruitment were a serious challenge to the Republic. A solution to this problem came in the form of Gaius Marius who instigated large-scale reforms in the Roman army system by doing away with traditional methods and ideas. He came from an equestrian background but was adored by the plebs. Gaius Marius was renowned for running for consul seven times successfully, which was an unprecedented feat that reflected his widespread support. The widespread support from the plebs and popular enabled Marius to achieve consulship in 107 BC, and hence the command over the military (Burns).
There was no real army for Marius to commander since most of them had left to join Metellus. One of his core reform agendas was to abolish the requirement of wealth and land to join the military. The masses of landless people who were earlier restricted were now considered for a position in the military. The wealthy land-owners that had previously dominated the ranks were responsible for supplying their arms and armor during the war. The landless citizens did not have the same resources, and hence Gaius had the state provide every enlisted soldier with weaponry. The soldiers also received wages according to their service in the army. Property and wealth ceased to be a determinant of military ranking under Gaius Marius, and hence the poor Romans flocked to enlist in the military.
The other significant reform was the transformation of the Roman military into a professional fighting force focused on standardization (White 3). The training, mobilization, and equipment were now standardized as Gaius was seeking uniformity in his troops. Marches and drills were now conducted on a regular basis and not just when war was looming.
The veterans were guaranteed of retirement benefits after their proscribed sixteen years of army service. They were to receive appropriate pensions from their generals, as well as parcels of land in the conquered regions. Italian allies who had shed blood for Rome on the battlefield also received full citizenship. Gaius Marius also changed the army banners that included different images of animal figures including the ox, eagle, wolf, boar, and horse. The eagle was made into the standard banner and distributed throughout all the legions to impress on the sense of uniformity. The use of an eagle as the standard for the armies was meant to inspire affection and freedom amongst the forces. The eagle signified the continuity amongst the troops (Ureche 5).
Were the reforms Good or Bad for the Republic?
The reforms instigated by Marius were meant to revitalize the dwindling recruitment numbers and inspire the military. He became head of the army in a period when they were disillusioned and shorn of loyalty to the state. However, Marius' efforts of giving land to the capite sensi created a scenario where every soldier was concerned about wealth accumulation (Beard). The soldiers had been brought from relative obscurity to the center of the Roman military operation, and hence they had the desire to acquire wealth. The situation created by Marius allowed generals to give land and wealth to their soldiers. The power of the generals, to distribute lands, was the basis of the downfall of the Roman Republic since the generals saw this as an opportunity to create their loyal private armies. Sulla, for example, had his private army that even marched on Rome, proving that soldiers were now loyal to their generals and not the state.
Marius was a devoted soldier but his reforms led to the collapse of the Roman Republic by influencing the political landscape. The army became more professional and the landless acquired property, but the long-term results saw the Roman Republic disintegrating into an empire.
Beard, Mary. BBC - History - The Fall of the Roman Republic. Bbc.Co.Uk, 29 March. 2011, www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/fallofromanrepublic_article_01.shtml. Accessed 18 February 2018.
Burns, Claire. The Role of the Army in the Roman Revolution: Soldiers And Politics In The Late Republic." Anthrojournal.Com, September 27. 2012, www.anthrojournal.com/issue/october-2011/article/the-role-of-the-army-in-the-roman-revolution-soldiers-and-politics-in-the-late-republic. Accessed 18 February 2018.
Ureche, Petre. "THE SOLDIERS' MORALE IN THE ROMAN ARMY." JOURNAL OF ANCIENT HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY, vol 1, no. 3, 2014, pp. 3-6. Institute Of Archaeology And Art History, doi:10.14795/j.v1i3.67.
White, Andrew. The Role of Marius' Military Reforms in the Decline of the Roman Republic. Western Oregon University, June 13. 2011, www.wou.edu/history/files/2015/08/andrewwhite.pdf. Accessed 18 February 2018.
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