The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


Roman Legionaries Recruitment

No one was admitted into the ranks of the Roman legions, who was not a citizen and possessed of some property, that both his condition and his fortune might be a pledge of gallant behavior. The Roman soldiers of the Republic were simply citizens withdrawn for a few weeks or months from the pursuits of civil life. They were armed at their own expense; and it was only from the siege of Veii, B.C. 400, that they received some compensation for the time spent on service. When the legionary had served 20 years in the infantry or 10 in the calvary, being emeritus, he was entitled to an honorable discharge, and, if poor, might receive a grant of land in some newly conquered territory. Thus were founded the Roman colonies, sorts of permanent garrisons at once beneficial to the state and useful to the individuals.

As most of the Romans cultivated their estates with their own hands, they generally had great bodily strength, and by their vigorous constitutions were well prepared for the toilsome life of the soldier. Out of such men, when came the day of enlisting, only the strongest were selected ; and by violent exercises, these were further inured to the fatigues of painful and harassing marches. The new levies were made to practise running and leaping in their full armor, the throwing of the spear or javelin, the shooting of arrows, twice a day; and the veterans, once. They engaged in mock fights; or were employed on public works, such as those magnificent roads, which, from their authors and their objects, received the names of viae militares, military roads.

Servius Tullus compelled every Roman citizen, possessing more than a certain property, to serve in the army in a rank proportionate to hii> property. The richest served as cavalry, with horses furnished by the state (equo publico); those of the first class who were not rich enough to be horsemen, served as infantry, with a very full equipment of armor; the four lower classes had a less and less equipment. The armor was provided by the soldier himself. The poorest citizens were, for this reason, not generally required to serve; but on extraordinary occasions, when a levy en masse (tumultuarius) was necessary, the poorest also took the field, receiving arms and armour from the state.

Very important alterations were made in this system in the time of Camillus. First, in BC 406, pay (stipendium) was given to all soldiers; secondly, in B.C. 403, a new cavalry, not chosen by wealth, was instituted. The introduction of pay removed the objection to compelling the poorer citizens to serve, and a new (sixth) class was added, of which the census, at first 4,000 asses, was ultimately reduced as low as 375 asses (census extremus). Only citizens who had no property worth mentioning (capite censi) thus escaped service in the legions, but these were (after BC 311) employed along with the Italian socii in the fleet.

The number of soldiers to be raised on a given occasion was fixed by the senate. The consuls (occasionally praetors) then issued an edict calling on the people to assemble. It would appear that originally the citizens assembled under arms in the Campus Martius, outside the city, and that the convoking magistrate there selected his men. But in the time of Polybius (flor. BC 150) the people assembled without arms on the Capitol, each tribe having its own place. Suppose four legions to be required. For these there would be1 twenty-four tribuni militum, whom the consuls divided among the intended four legions. The consuls then drew a tribe by lot, and from it selected men, four at a time, whom the tribunes immediately drafted into the legions. When that tribe was exhausted, the consuls drew another, and proceeded with it in the same way till the four legions were filled. The consuls then administered the military oath (sacramentum) to the tribunes, who afterwards read the oath to each legion and swore-in each man. The oath was binding so long as the general, to whom it was taken, remained in command.

Marius finally abolished all property qualifications altogether, and enlisted any citizen who would serve. The extension of the civitas to all Italy (BC 89) provided such a large number of poor men eager to turn soldiers, that henceforth the middle and upper classes ceased in fact to be called upon, though they remained liable for service.

No single factor in the life of the Roman community was more potent in bringing about the convulsions in which the republic perished than this fundamental transformation in the nature of military service. While the theory still prevailed that the army was identical with the whole body of citizens, excepting the poorest, a de facto standing army of really professional soldiers came into existence. Marius put an end to an anomalous situation by enrolling volunteers from the poorest class instead of levying recruits on the basis of the census lists. The volunteers were eager to enter the army to secure the material prizes. They had no other interests to distract their zeal. Their attitude was that of mercenaries. Universal obligation to military service was not formally abolished, but henceforth the legions were usually made up of volunteers. The long term of service enabled the soldiers to attain a very much higher degree of militarv efficiency; but, unfortunately, henceforward the devotion of the armies belonged to their generals, and not to the commonwealth. During the distracted period of civil contentions, military arrangements were frequently altered to suit the ever shifting circumstances. The legislation of Augustus reduced them to a definite system, which was later modified in important respects by Hadrian and Septimius Severus, and finally by Diocletian and Constantine.

That enrollment in a legion presupposed Roman citizenship is a fact too well-known to need a repeated demonstration. And further, toward the end of the first century, when the legions began to be recruited outside of Italy, it seems beyond question that many men were becoming legionaries who had not been Roman citizens for a very long period before their enlistment. Note the formation of the legions I and II Adiutrices from the fleet in the year 68. This admission into citizenship was probably accompanied by a change of name. (Inscriptions of the II Adiutrix in England during the next two decades, 71-85, may be searched in vain for any men who appear to be non-Romans. Practically all the men named in these inscriptions indicate their tribe and father's name, usually considered definite testimony to Roman citizenship.

Join the mailing list

Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:24 ZULU