Full Version: Why promote Gaius Crastinus?
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We know that Gaius Crastinus was the primus pilus of Caesar's favorite Legio X and that he died in spectacular fashion during the battle of Pharsalus. All this we know from:
  • Caesar, Bellum Civile III.91

  • Caesar, Bellum Civile III.99

  • Lucan, Pharsalia IV.470-474

  • Florus, II.13

  • Plutarch, Caesar 44

  • Plutarch, Pompey 71

  • Appian, Bellum Civile, II.82

Caesar, in BC III.91, says that he attained first-spear status superiore anno, or the year before. Since the battle of Pharsalus happened in August of 48, this would put the promotion of Crastinus sometime in 49.

Now, we know that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in January of 49. We also know from Caesar BC III.91 that Crastinus was an evocatus, or a discharged veteran who had been called back to service. Bernadotte Perrin discusses this very well in "The Crastinus Episode at Palaepharsalus," Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 15, 1884, pp. 46-57.

My question is this: Why promote Crastinus to first-spear as Caesar was returning from Gaul, only for Crastinus to be discharged so quickly thereafter? His promotion and discharge both had to happen in 49. While it is possible that his promotion came in 49 and his discharge in early 48, it still seems that the promotion and discharge were too close for the promotion to have made any sense.

Primus Pilus is usually translated as 'first file', being the leader of the first file or rank of the first cohort. 'First spear' is a false etymology.

Under the empire, the position of primus pilus was usually held for only one year, and promotion was probably based on seniority within the legion (although some men - notably those directly commissioned to the centurionate, seem to have risen faster than others). A man would hold the position of primus pilus for one year and then either retire or move on the higher posts of praefectus castrorum or one of the Rome tribunates.

During the republic, the situation seems to have been less structured, but the primipilate was still probably a one-year post. In the Gallic Wars (5.35), during the description of the massacre at Aduatuca, Caesar mentions 'T. Balventius, who the year before had been chief centurion, a brave man and one of great authority' and 'Q. Lucanius, of the same rank', who is 'slain while he assists his son when surrounded by the enemy'. Lucanius, therefore, is serving as primus pilus of the legion (probably XIV), with a son of military age. Balventius was primus pilus the year before, but is still with the legion. Whether he returned to a subordinate centurion's position or (more likely) held something like the position of the praefectus castrorum, or was merely remaining with the legion in winter quarters prior to his retirement we don't know. In any case, this suggests the one-year rule held at that time.

In the case of Crastinus, then, it would seem likely that he was promoted by seniority to primus pilus in 49, served his year and was then discharged. At such a critical time, however, veteran soldiers were likely kept with the colours as evocati - and so Crastinus remained with the army.

Caesar doesn't state what his exact position was at Pharsalus, but he was clearly close enough to the general to speak with him before the assault - in the years immediately following, the triumvirs are known to have recruited their own praetorian cohorts (ie bodyguards) from discharged veterans, particularly centurions. My guess would be that Crastinus was serving as a centurion of Caesar's praetorian bodyguard cohort (commanding 120 men, we are told) in 48BC.

- Nathan
Thanks, Nathan. Very helpful info about the one-year term for the position. Another friend said the same thing, with support from Livy, Book XLII.
Thats all very interesting. I didn't realise so much was known of the rank structure during caesars time. Awesome!