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Centurions in Early Rome
I have posted a draft article on 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!


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?
(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
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.
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
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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