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Centurions in Early Rome
#1
I have posted a draft article on academia.edu of a project I have been working on about centurions in Early Rome (6th-4th centuries B.C.). As a draft, please forgive any minor infelicities. I am always happy to hear feedback on my arguments and evidence from RAT! 

https://www.academia.edu/38788743/Centur...Early_Rome


Best, 

Michael
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#2
Hello Michael,

 
No page numbers makes it a little difficult to reference.
 
Michael wrote:
But it would in fact be extraordinary if the office remained unchanged during the fifth and fourth centuries, as every other political and military structure in the city underwent profound transformations.
 
You fail to mention the political and military structures that underwent profound transformations. Now if you cannot name them, then how can you be sure the office of the centurion did not remain unchanged? I also believe you need to be more period specific (456 BC to 399 BC etc.) rather than general.
 
Michael wrote:
The political profile of the centurion largely explains their importance prior to the development of the manipular legion in the fourth century, even though it is doubtful that the primitive tactics of the pre-manipular Roman army required such a intermediate echelon officer.
 
And yet you fail to identify what the pre-maniple Roman army was. No organisation or command structures are mentioned. I guess I have to take your word.
 
Michael wrote:
Reconstructing Roman history prior to the First Punic War is a notoriously difficult task,
 
Ass that is your belief, that will be your experience.
 
Michael wrote:
Any discussion of early centurions inevitably draws heavily from Livy’s notoriously unreliable first pentad, the most literary and rhetorical of his entire surviving corpus. Most descriptions centurions in the early books of Livy involve some degree of rhetorical elaboration and invention. When the annalist realized he needed to reconstruct a battle about which he knew nothing (other than perhaps it happened and sometimes not even this), he might fall into a predictable structure of stock battle narrative: the cavalry on the flanks, the enemy in the center, and centurions in the mix simply because these are expected characters necessary to set the scene.
 
In his first five books, Livy makes one reference to the cavalry arrayed on the flanks of the infantry and this occurred during the reign of Tarquinius Priscus (616 BC to 578 BC). I would not call that a predicable structure of placing the cavalry on the wings. And when he does give a historical account, academia also rejects them on the grounds they do not follow academic prejudices. During the campaign of 423 BC, Livy reports that the Roman soldiers “retreated between their respective maniples.” No cries academia, there was no maniple during that period. Livy is being anachronistic. Mind you, I still haven’t met one academic who can prove it. When fighting the Volscians in 459 BC, Livy has the Roman cavalry “stationed behind their respective divisions.” Again academia cries no, the cavalry fought on the wings. Livy is wrong. But when Silentiarius mentions that Roman infantry was drawn up in front of the cavalry, no one says anything. In 494 BC, the dictator Valerius, recognizing the Sabine infantry had weakened their line in order to lengthen their wings, broke the Sabine’s centre with a cavalry charge. While the Sabine infantry were disordered by the cavalry charge, the Roman infantry charged the Sabine infantry and routed them. During the battle of Corbio in 446 BC, Livy credits the Roman victory to the charge of the Roman cavalry, which had thrown the Aequian infantry centre into disorder. In 417 BC, the Romans again defeated the Aequi by a cavalry charge that had shaken the Aequi infantry in the front line. The cavalry charge was immediately followed by rapid charge of the Roman infantry.
 
Michael wrote:
The plebs elected as their tribunes, in their absence, Sex. Tempanius, A. Sellius, Sextus Antistius, and Sp. Icilius, all of whom had, on the advice of Tempanius, the cavalry selected to act as centurions. The incident is somewhat convoluted.
 
I wouldn’t be too hasty.
 
Michael wrote:
Here is what Livy seems to think happened: Sextus Tempanius and his fellow tribunes were elected in absentia while serving in a campaign against the Volsci. During a desperate moment in that fight, Tempanius and his fellow cavalrymen dismounted and fought as infantrymen. In the battle narrative, this happens quite quickly, as the horsemen dismount and plunge into the fight on foot. But Livy thinks that while leaping from the saddle, the cavalrymen had sufficient time to elect ad hoc centurions to lead them on foot.
 
No Livy does not. That is how you have interpreted it.
 
Michael wrote:
Valerius Maximus does not mention pro-centurions, but reports that (equis delapsa se ipsa centuriauit atque in hostium exercitum inrupit): having dismounted their horses, they organized themselves into centuries and rushed the enemy army. Valerius therefore also required the dismounting cavalrymen to take a curious administrative pause to organize themselves into centuries (which might imply electing centurions to lead them), and then fall upon their foe.
 
No Valerius does not. That is how you have interpreted it.
 
Michael wrote:
Valerius too seems to have confused by a report of cavalry centuries (rather than the 30-man turma used by the Middle Republic and into the Imperial period), and therefore had to create a military narrative which would allow for these ad hoc units. What confused both Livy and Valerius was the simply fact that cavalry in the fifth century BC still fought in units called centuriae , rather than the turma of the Middle Republic.
 
Both ancient authors are not confused, it is academia. In 357 BC, while encamped at Sutrium, the consul Cnaeus Manlius put forward the proposal to levy a tax on manumitted slaves. After the soldiers voted in their tribes, the proposal was approved and made law. Now if the Romans vote in their tribal centuries, and vote by centuries, then how do you imagine the consular army was able to vote while on campaign?  If the cavalry do not have centuries, then how did they vote?
 
Michael wrote:
These would be the fighting men from the 18 equestrian centuries of the Servian centuriate organization.
 
It changed to 12 centuries, and for the period you are discussing, it is 12 centuries. In 480 BC, there were 1,200 Roman cavalry at Veii.
 
Michael wrote:
There is perhaps every reason to think that at some point, these equestrian centuries were led by elected officers called centurions, although cavalry officers by the Middle Republic were called decurions (the formal rank Livy assigns to Tempanius and his comrades), and elected by their squadron ( turma ).
 
How do you know that Tempanius was not the most senior decurio and that Tempanius had under him a number of decurions of lesser rank? Later Tempanius’ force is mentioned as being a cavalry cohort. Centuries make cohorts, but cavalry cohorts have been rejected by historians, based on the fact it does not conform to their sensibilities. There are a few on this forum who also reject cavalry cohorts, without a plausible reason. You will not understand this until you change your way of thinking or re-evaluate you method of research. Think differently and you will get different results. Think the same and you will get the same.
 
Michael wrote:
The centurion in the fifth and early fourth century therefore existed for political and social reasons, not necessarily because early Roman tactics (such as they were) required them.
 
You need to prove what early Roman tactics were first.
 
Michael wrote:
The Romans quickly found the new tactics needed centurions but did not necessarily need their centuries.
 
Wow, I’m speechless. Can you elaborate?
 
Michael wrote:
Indeed, Polybius never mentions the century in his discussion of the Roman army, simply noting that there were two centurions per maniple.
 
That does not constitute evidence. Have you ever thought of the possibility (oh god forbid), that Polybius was confused about the Roman legion. I have found his narrative of the extraordinarii switches between the legion during the period of three allied cavalry to one Roman cavalry, and the two allied cavalry to one Roman cavalry. So different ratios get into the mix. Polybius is also not sure how many velites in a legion. He does work on there being 1,000 velites quite a lot. He also has confused the youngest of the hastati with the velites. He does get himself into quite a mess on occasion.
 
Michael wrote:
Indeed, the advantage of two centurions must be one reason why the Romans decided to weld two under strength centuries together, rather than simply field super-strength centuries, if the only goal was to produce a 120 man unit numerous enough to hold its own on the battlefield.
 
Wouldn’t it be better to substitute the word “super-strength” for “full-strength”? It has a super hero connotation.
 
Michael wrote:
T.P. Wiseman has argued that we should……...
Münzer posited that Laetorius….
Ogilvie argued that the entire scene…..
Philip Sabin has persuasively argued…..
 
Why do you need to mention the above? Can’t you present your own evidence without the assistance of others?
 
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#3
(04-15-2019, 07:59 AM)Steven James Wrote: You will not understand this until you change your way of thinking or re-evaluate you method of research... Wow, I’m speechless. Can you elaborate?... That does not constitute evidence. Have you ever thought of the possibility (oh god forbid), that Polybius was confused about the Roman legion... Can’t you present your own evidence without the assistance of others?

Why the incredibly hostile response? I don't know anything much about this subject, but surely if somebody puts up what appears to be a well-argued paper for discussion, you can discuss it in a civil way? This sort of attitude hardly encourages debate!
Nathan Ross
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#4
Nathan wrote:

Why the incredibly hostile response?
 
It is not a hostile response. Please don’t put your emotional interpretation into my words. Just because I have not conformed to your expectations does not mean I am being hostile. I am trying to show Michael that there are other ways of looking at a picture. It is your judgemental response that creates a problem when there isn’t one. I’ll will clearly let you know when I am being hostile.
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#5
Quote:Just because I have not conformed to your expectations does not mean I am being hostile. I am trying to show Michael that there are other ways of looking at a picture.
Yep. Some ways are rational. Others are not.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#6
Dan wrote:

Yep. Some ways are rational. Others are not.
 
No surprises here. I knew you would respond. One other to go.
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#7
Currently wading through my second reading of Livy now I've acquired a rather weightly tome to sit on my lap; I'd like to pick up on a couple of the details mentioned above to add to my understanding if at all possible...

Is the reference to the "eighteen equestrian centuries" from Livy I,36? If so, does it not specifically refer to 3 centuries being doubled to 6 - which would imply, that in this case, the 'century' is 300 equites? The 'Servian' military detail in I,43 would then seem to imply that this was doubled again to a total of 12 'centuries', which could well mean 3,600 equites?

In '480BC' is the detail of 1,200 cavalry from a different source than Livy?

The last simple query is based upon the reference to Polybius and the Velites - for there are indeed 1,000 Velites in the standard Polybian legion (1,200 in the enhanced one); so would appreciate an elucidation of the point, if possible?
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#8
Livy has the three original centuries, derived from the Archaic tribes doubled to six at 1.36 and then claimed Servius Tullius added 12 more centuries at 1.43, and seems to reduplicate the doubling of the three to six already introduced above. His exact regal chronology and antiquarian reconstruction need not be reliable, but the "sex suffragia" centuries did bear the names of Archaic tribes, suggesting that these came first before the other 12.
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#9
 

Mark, I am not sure who you have directed your questions to? Myself or Michael.
 
Mark wrote:
Currently wading through my second reading of Livy now I've acquired a rather weightly tome to sit on my lap; I'd like to pick up on a couple of the details mentioned above to add to my understanding if at all possible...
 
There’s a passage in Dionysius (4 16) I must have read over 100 times. However, two weeks ago, in another reading of the same passage, something fell into place concerning how the iuniores and seniores were equally divided into 40 centuries in the Century Assembly. It was like understanding the passage in a new light. I guess research is rereading and more rereading until the penny drops.
 
Mark wrote:
Is the reference to the "eighteen equestrian centuries" from Livy I,36? If so, does it not specifically refer to 3 centuries being doubled to 6 - which would imply, that in this case, the 'century' is 300 equites? The 'Servian' military detail in I, 43 would then seem to imply that this was doubled again to a total of 12 'centuries', which could well mean 3,600 equites?
 
Here is one translation of the passage. Livy (1 36 “Even on that occasion Tarquin was deterred from making changes in the names or numbers of the centuries of knights; he merely doubled the number of men in each, so that the three centuries contained eighteen hundred men. Those who were added to the centuries bore the same designation, only they were called the "Second" knights, and the centuries being thus doubled are now called the "Six Centuries."
 
It is a confused passage. The three centuries containing 1,800 men would allocate each century 600 men. So someone has confused the original three centuries with the 18 centuries at a later date, thereby having a threefold increase in the cavalry, which would allocate the three tribes each 600 cavalry. The doubling from three centuries to six centuries is acceptable, with the original three centuries (300 men) being the prior and the additional three centuries (300 men) the posterior.
 
According to Cicero (The Republic 2 36), Tarquinius Priscus “organised the cavalry in the form which it retains to the present... and doubled their number to 1,200.” Livy has Servius Tullius originally established 12 centuries of cavalry and then added an additional six centuries of cavalry, bringing the total to 18 centuries of cavalry. Festus (334M and 452L) has an additional 600 cavalry termed the sex-suffragia meaning “supporters” was created sometime after the other 12 centuries of cavalry.)
 
The chronology for this period has been doctored to a varying degree. Zonaras claims nothing of importance happened during the reign of Servius Tullius. This comment has been ignored by many and never investigated. In Livy’s account, I would change the name Servius Tullius to Tarquinius Superbus, so it reads “Tarquinius Superbus originally established 12 centuries of cavalry and then added an additional six centuries of cavalry.” Tarquinius Superbus did this so that Class I in the Century Assembly had the balance of power. This could explain why the additional 600 cavalry were given the name “supporters,” as this was their primary role….they would always vote in the manner Tarquinius Superbus decreed. After the exile of Tarquinius Superbus, the 18 centuries of cavalry were reduced to 12 centuries of cavalry.
 
Mark wrote:
In '480BC' is the detail of 1,200 cavalry from a different source than Livy?
 
For Veii, the source is Dionysius (9 13) At Veii, there are two consuls present, four legions and 1,200 cavalry. That would give each consul command of two legions and 600 cavalry. In another battle Livy (3 62) mentions that the Roman cavalry of two legions amounted to 600 men. In 495 BC, while fighting the Auruncans, Dionysius (6 33) allocates the Roman cavalry commander Aulus Postumius Albus, 600 cavalry. So both authors are consistent.
 
Mark wrote:
The last simple query is based upon the reference to Polybius and the Velites - for there are indeed 1,000 Velites in the standard Polybian legion (1,200 in the enhanced one); so would appreciate an elucidation of the point, if possible?
 
It’s a conclusion gained from studying all of Polybius; military numbers related to the Roman army. However, the 1,000 velites could be due to rounding of the numbers. It’s a little minefield Polybius has left us with.
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#10
Thank you both.

More questions could be asked, but that wouldn't be fair to Michael's post here - so, back to that...
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#11
For my part - whilst the overall thrust of the paper is conjectural, it is certainly plausible.

However, I do have to query a few of the early suppositions that act as a foundation.

Firstly, to charactise the Greek tactical methods (given that Rome seems to be happily thought of as a Greek/Trojan colony) as "primitive" is certainly far from the case. That the eventual Roman developments of: sword & shield drills; manipular tactics and the 'saw formation'; levels of training that subsequently became fully professional; the tactical use of cohorts; and standardised deployments that under-pinned even poor generals were certainly revolutionary rather than evolutionary like Philip of Macedon made with the development of pikes; the main issue is that the need for 'command ranks' at 'unit level' is endemic in the Greek Tactical Manual(s) and precursors of the 'centurions' and 'optios' (whatever they may be called prior to the application of the Roman 'centuriation' method to their Army as well as their political divisions and colony plans) are most certainly present. That the hoplite phalanx, let alone its later pike variant, is not 'primitive' is perhaps well confirmed by the later battles against Epirus; let alone that the idea to retreat behind a 'Triarii phalanx' is what the Romans plan to do if it became necessary for, perhaps, 400 years.

I would certainly suggest that men who have fought under a centurion (whether elected or selected; and under the earlier pre-professional system) who has then returned to his farm nearby; would naturally seek them out to discuss issues and perhaps seek their help in addressing them. That subsequent representation could well lead to more influence in local politics is then quite reasonable.

Lastly, the concept of 3 cavalry turma/troops (on the assumption that one man in 3 holds the others horses and they are not abandoned) dismounting 60 men who then form a 'fighting century' similar to hastati/principes or even a whole triarii maniple; is most probably something practised, although it would take some modest organisation in the heat of battle. If the horses are piqueted, then it may only be 2 turma that are needed to provide the 60. Other mixes could be considered...
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#12
Mark wrote:

I would certainly suggest that men who have fought under a centurion (whether elected or selected; and under the earlier pre-professional system) who has then returned to his farm nearby; would naturally seek them out to discuss issues and perhaps seek their help in addressing them. That subsequent representation could well lead to more influence in local politics is then quite reasonable.
 
Seems quite reasonable, especially if the centurions were equally selected from the tribes being levied. So if four legions are levied, requiring 240 centurions, and 24 tribes were selected for the levy, each tribe contributed 10 experienced centurions. A centurions standing in the tribe would permit him as you say "more influence in local politics."
 
Mark wrote:
Lastly, the concept of 3 cavalry turma/troops (on the assumption that one man in 3 holds the others horses and they are not abandoned) dismounting 60 men who then form a 'fighting century' similar to hastati/principes or even a whole triarii maniple...
 
If the Romans considered 60 men as making a century for the hastati and princeps, as opposed to a 100 men making a century, could it be the Romans might consider a cavalry century to be even smaller than an infantry century? Therefore, in the Roman military, when is a century a century?
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#13
Quote: Steven - If the Romans considered 60 men as making a century for the hastati and princeps, as opposed to a 100 men making a century, could it be the Romans might consider a cavalry century to be even smaller than an infantry century? Therefore, in the Roman military, when is a century a century?


A most important point - and, given your serious interest in numerical relationships, one I am curious about your thoughts?

The, rather simple, answer for me is actually a guiding realisation and definite foundation for the thesis I have and may hopefully get around to finishing and posting here.

Just like appeared earlier in the thread (and is indeed a mostly separate concept which is perhaps treated outside this thread) - and I mentioned - Livy I,36 seems quite clear that a "centuriis/centurias" for the equites equalled 300.  300 cavalrymen/equites being the number accompanying a single legion (with standard consular 'army' being 2 infantry legions and 2 wings/ala of cavalry (basic open-field deployment)).

For the infantry, there is an entirely separate divisional matrix (and the above I only mention because we have mentioned it already and could be a separate line of discussion, and also because it serves as a direct quote from an original source showing that a 'century' does not necessarily mean '100').  It is now therefore my understanding from a re-interpretation of Polybius Ch6 detail (which many authors seem to have quite possibly mis-interpreted) that the Roman Consul's 'levy' (legio) is divided into 100 centuria each of 80 fighting men (8,000 men), separated into 2 parts/'legiones'.

So, short answer, in the Roman military I believe the centuria is a division of the infantry and equals 80 men (plus 3 additional posts) - or, given the original division - a 1/100th.  It is only much later that the concept of a 'century' being equated with '100' came about (somewhere around the 1st century(!) BC) - but not affecting well established military structures.

I may certainly be wrong, but will go with it for now - but perhaps we should do it seperately from Michael's paper?
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#14
Michael wrote:

The first centurion that Livy records as transitioning to tribune of the plebs comes in 472, when the centurion Volero Publilius, an ex-centurion who had previously successfully resisted being drafted into the army as a private soldier, was elected tribune of the plebs, supposedly holding the office again in 471.
 
There is also a military tribune in 399 BC named Volero Publilius (Livy 5 13 3). In the same manner as 473 BC, a Gaius Publilius, a centurion in 171 BC, is also threatened with scourging for not serving as a common soldier. Livy (42 32-34) Seems like recycled history, and Volero’s tribunate in 472 BC to 471 BC could have been invented so as to merge with the consulship of Appius Claudius and continue the theme of the bad Claudius’ family, which I found the same hate theme still going on in 143 BC.
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#15
Mark, here is the reference:

"Varro 5 35: A century was named originally from centum “one hundred iugera,” and later, when doubled, kept its name, just as the  tribes, which got their name from the three parts into which the people were divided, still keep the same name though their number has been multiplied."

For the early republic, the primary sources are correct in having the cavalry organised into cohorts and centuries. The reason why there are cavalry cohorts, is because the cavalry cohort is not made up of cavalry squadrons. This gives the Roman cavalry a greater amount of flexibility above that of the squadron organisation.
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