Full Version: When does the Roman Army become "professional"?
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Hello all,

At some point the Romans go from levying legions for a year of campaigning and then returning thos soldiers to their farms, to a system where the soldier is enrolled for a fixed term of years and does not return to his farm/life. Do we have a date for this?

from what I think I know, During the Punic Wars there were soldiers who remained in the army for multiple years due to the nature of the war, but I am assuming that as soon as the war was ended successfully these soldiers would be demobilized and returned to their "normal" lives. When does this become a fixed term of service for the legionaries?

Any info is appreciated.

Matt Webster
It is commonly ascribed to the age of Marius, but there is actually no evidence for this in the sources. It must have been a process that took the entire second century.
I see Augustus as the one to begin the process of a professional - long service - Army, on an army-wide basis. Soldiers were certainly considering themselves at some level to be professionals even before Marius' time. During the 1st century BC. legions began to have an identity. But, entire armies were still being demobilized at the end of campaigns. The civil wars of Caesar/Pompey and Octavian, etc. cannot be considered , representing as they do unusual circumstances. The civil war armies were kept under arms for varying periods and the soldiers did agitate on several occasions for discharge and the land, which they expected their generals to provide for them. A reluctant Senate still had to vote the land in most cases.

Augustus' military reforms, usually given a date of 13 BC - established a long service army with legionaries serving 16 years + 4 years in special veteran units. 16 years was the maximum a man, eligible to serve under the Republic, was obligated to appear at the annual levy. After that he could do so, but was not under an obligation. Augustus initially made that the minimum term a man served upon joining a legion in his reforms. Of course, under pressure from various military situations, it crept up to 20 + 5 and longer as men were retained with the Eagles to keep unit strengths up. The mutinies of AD 14, resulted in a temporary drop back to the 16 + 4 - but that may have only applied briefly to the legions that mutinied (see Tacitus' Annals for the mutinies and the demands of the mutineers in AD 14). In AD 6, Augustus (and the Senate's vote after they realized that they really had no choice if the soldiery was to be kept "happy") established a military treasury to fund pensions and the like. An estate tax on certain types of estates funded it, though Augustus put in the initial funds out of his own money.

Roman bureaucracy was always a somewhat ad hoc affair, not remotely at the level of modern ones, and the military treasury did run into funding problems at varous times. I don't know as the soldiers were required to contribute toward their own pensions in the very early part of the principate (Augustus/Tiberius). The pay records we have belong to later in the 1st Century AD and I, not having Tacitus in front of me, don't recall whether the mutineers of AD 14 complained about paying into their own retirement - other payments taken out, yes, were part of their complaints. They did complain about getting poor quality, indeed practically worthless, land at retirement. They also were not sure that Tiberius would continue the same terms as Augustus had established so on one level they still looked to the MAN who was emperor rather than to what we would call "the government" to take care of them at the end of their service.

Just as Jona said - it was a process not an event that led to a professional Roman ARMY (which includes the auxiliaries and naval forces). Claudius' reforms took things to a major next level, changes under the Flavians took a step further , etc.
I guess it really depends on the defition of professional.

I personally think it isn't until the legions become permanently embodied all the time--not raised for one war and then disbanded at the end of it. So for me, I don't count the army as "professional" until Augustus' reorganization after the end of the civil wars, as Quintus notes.

Certainly though, there were professional soldiers before then, that kept reenlisting and so forth.
Quote:Certainly though, there were professional soldiers before then, that kept reenlisting and so forth.

True, but the question was about a 'professional' army. Not about professional soldiers. Again, that is also a definition thing, as I read the term army as a force under command of a nation/person.

Anyway, regarding the question, I totally second above mentioned comments.
Does anyone know how Marius is sometimes credited with making the Roman army "professional"? I quickly glanced through Plutarch and Livy and didn't find much. Is it simply that his Reform predated a "professional army" and people made their own conclusions?
Interesting and enlightening answers. Big Grin

If it was during Augustus' time where we see legionaries signing on for a 16+ year term I have a few questions.

If Marius was securing land for the landless proletariat who had joined the army, would they be getting a "valuable" piece of land after a single campaign (against Jugurtha for example)? or was Marius getting land for these men who ended up staying on through a series of campaigns as a reward for their continued and above & beyond service?

It seems the idea of land for veterans passed on to the armies of Caesar & Pompey. Was this just the continuation of the status quo (unwritten but expected) or was it an agreed upon deal when these new landless soldiers signed on?

Probably no absolute answers, but I enjoy the theories and discussions.


Matt Webster
By Pompey's and Caesar's time, it was fairly routine to be recruiting from both property and non-property owning citizens. Commanders, including Marius, Sulla, Pompey and so forth, had to go to the Senate to ask for land for their veterans - at least if they wanted land for them in Italy - and the Senate's action may very well have been needed regardless of where the land was obtained. At the end of a successful campaign, the Roman State had certain perogatives in land ownership (Public Land) as well as individuals - like the General - being able to claim (grab?) land for themselves in newly conquered areas. Marius settled some of his veterans in Africa/Numidia at the end of the Jugurthine War. Even if a veteran got a piece of land, often he would get bored or simply not succeed at farming, and decide to join another army. Attracting veterans back into the army was important when raising a new army during the Republic and especially during the civil wars that brought the Republic to an end.
Caesar, when he was Consul, forced through a landbill in the Senate for Pompey's veterans - that was part of the deal when the "First Triumvirate" was formed. Even the supposedly propertied soldiers often wanted a piece of land as a reward for their service - because an older brother or other family mamber might have inheritance rights to the land already in their family. Obraining land for veterans in Italy got extremely unpopular as someobody usually had to be dispossessed to then give the land to the veterans.
The public lands were in theory owned by Rome (the state), but in practice they were leased - ususally to Senators - who vigorously resisted giving up their lucrative leases and the income from the land.
It is duing the last century of the Republic that the "worth/dignitas" of the ordinary soldiers as citizens was steadily eroded, a process that started in the second century BC. They were increasingly seen collectively as a "mob" - greedy and grasping and unruly and undisciplined, etc. So, while the army was becoming more "propfessionalized" though not yet a Professional Army, the gulf between the elites and the soldiers widened.
Augustus understood the need to bring the army back into a proper relationship with the Ruling Elite, in practice, with himself. The professional army that grew from the reforms he put in place did remarkably welll in its relationship with commanders and with the Emperor. The relationship was always a 2-way street, never just top down. The mutinies of AD 14 were not really about changing rulers (despite some of the actions by some of the mutineers), rather the majority of the soldiers wanted to be assured that they still mattered to Tiberius as they had to Augustus and that the conditions of service and returement benefits would reflect that.
We need to distinguish "professional" from "good quality" troops. Troops under Marius and afterwards were professional in the technical sense, of being divorced from their economic station and spending their full time in the military; of making the military their "profession". But in terms of good quality, I don't know if the Roman legions were ever as good in the Republican period as right after the 2nd Punic War, when something like half or quarter of the entire Roman people had been militarized, and were trained through the school of Africanus and Marcellus. These were fierce men and the kind of formation evolutions that they were performing in battles like Ilipa boggle the mind.