Political significance of the Rubicon?

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Political significance of the Rubicon?

Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Fri Aug 03, 2007 1:25 pm

Salvete omnes,

My brother (not Draco, the other one) has recently finished writing an article on the wikipedia about the influential prefect Seianus.

The part about the praetorian guard sparked the following discussion in the talk page of another article:

This article, and several others (see Sejanus), state that the Praetorian Guards were the only troops allowed south of the Rubicon. What is the source of this statement?

It is common conception that Roman laws forbade legions from operating within Italia. While this is generally true of armed legions existing within the "sacred border" of Rome (the pomerium) unless they were part of a Roman triumph, I question whether or not there was any actual law that prevented legions south of the Rubicon. The common (mis?)conception is based on Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon - however the argument as I understand it runs that by crossing ''out'' of Cisalpine Gual, Caesar had left the region in which he held imperium, and thus no longer had the legal authority to command his legions, and was also in direct violation of the edict of the Senate against him. In short, the legal breach law was ''Caesar'' operating outside his legal domain, and not the ''legions'' existing outside of their legal domain.

However, it should be noted that under Augustus and Tiberius, the Praetorian were not even the only corp of soldiers allowed within in Rome it'self: the Vigiles operated within Rome, and 3 cohorts, placed under the senatorial prefect of the city also operated within the city as a police force. In fact one of the acts of Sejanus used to gain personal power was to gather the Praetorian Guard with the urban cohorts and the Vigiles into one camp where he could influence them all.

Perhaps this claim about the illegality of legions within Italia can either be referenced and confirmed, or corrected/struck out entirely? It seems to be a prevalant belief written into ''many'' articles, so this should be addressed. --User:Vedexent - 05:33, 31 July 2007 (UTC)


The question is simple: was Caesar himself, or his legions off limits for crossing the Rubicon (or perhaps both)?

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri Aug 03, 2007 4:09 pm

Salvete Tiberi, Sodales et commiles

Caesar, and then his legions, too, since they were his legions. The Rubicon was the southern boundary of Caesar's provincia. A "provincia" does not mean "territory" but instead it refers to an "area of responsibility" assigned by the Senate. Just as when the Senate tried to assign the cales to Caesar as his provincia, or where lesser magistrates might be assigned responsibility for the aqueducts or sewers servicing Rome, or with Pompeius given a provincia to combat the pirates, a provincia could extend over wide territorries, even crossing over the provincia of some other magistrate, and really a particular provincia was always part of a magistracy held by a particular individual.

Caesar was assigned northern Italy (Cisalpine Gaul) as a provincia He was authorized to have two legions, and allowed two additional legions to be provided by Pompeius from Spain. But then he raised additional legions at his own expense. technically placing him outside Senate restrictions, and he ventured outside his designated provincia by going beyond Narboensis (also part of his area of responsibility). And of course there were some other things he did to stretch the limits of what the Senate regarded as his provincia. But then crossing the Rubicon with his legions placed him revolt. The same happened when Sulla disregarded the Senate, the Comitia, and his own subordinate officers by marching on Rome in revolt.

The Praetorian guard was not a legion and I don't think it was ever equipt or trained to stand against a real legion. The Virgiles served mainly as firemen and a night watch, but by no means were they any sort of a military force. And those other three cohorts, I suppose he was refering to the frumentarii. There were two sorts of frumentarii just outside Rome. The one, as their name would imply, were responsible for supplying troops elsewhere. But the Frumentarii were a group intended to gather foreign intelligence. Under some emperors, Domitian being one, the Frumentarii became secret police. None of these refered to by Vedexunt are legions in a real sense. In fact, it can be argued that they were in Rome, as part of a provincia of some magistrate, because they were not legions.

The confusion seems to come first between the original meaning of provincia, which by the way had to be designated by the Gods, and our more modern understanding of a province in terms of an area of land and jurisdiction over such territority. Secondly, Roman understanding of provincia changed over time, and applying its meaning during Caesar's time to other eras before or later is just not quite correct. But then there is also a great error that typically enters into these kinds of discussions. An Army, a military force, is not simply a mob of men, nor a group of men with weapons, or even a group of armed men with a little training. The Romans understood that even if modern "scholars" who have never been in the military cannot disguish between a Legio and a company of firmen.

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Postby Tarquinius Dionysius on Fri Aug 03, 2007 8:54 pm

Seems my account is still active after all. Thanks Piscinus!

But there are still some points I'd like to see clarified:

1) Should I now conclude that, no 'official' Roman legion was allowed past the Rubicon or not?
2) I'm extremely confused about the relation between the Praetorian guard, the Vigiles and the so-called Urban cohorts and exactly which unit was considered part of the army. So I assume there is a clear distinction between the following (with subdivisions, function, and number):

* Praetorian Guard: Imperial guard and civil administration (9 cohorts)
** Speculatores: Spies? (1 cohort)
* Vigiles: Fire department and night watch (7 cohorts)
* Urban cohorts: Police (3 cohorts)
* Frumentarii: Secret police (? cohorts)

I read that the Frumantarii weren't established until Hadrian, so I don't think they're immediately relevant to my questions. Now in the thesis I was reading on the Praetorian Guard, it states that the Praetorians originally numbered 9 cohorts, but that this was increased up to 12 during the reign of Tiberius.
However, the author also says the Praetorian cohorts were numbered I to IX, while the Urban cohorts were numbered X to XII. Isn't it possible that the author confuses the so called increase of Praetorian cohorts upon the establishment of the Castra Praetoria with the simple ''merger'' of the Praetorian and Urban cohorts into one camp? If not, were there indeed 12 Praetorian cohorts starting from the reign of Tiberius, and where were the Urban cohorts stationed then? Also, the 3 cohorts Vedexent was referring to in his question most likely refers to the Urban cohorts, and not as you say the Frumentarii.

Now returning to the topic at hand, unlike the Vigiles or the Urban cohorts, the Praetorian Guard was a part of the military, right? So if no troops were allowed to operate within Italy, the Guard was clearly an exception? I also think you're wrong that they were not trained to fight, because they frequently accompanied members of the imperial family during campaigns and were quite active in combat by 69 too.

So anyway, I hope you can still follow. The most important question still remains: did Roman law explicitly forbade legions from operating within Italy? Also, could you cite some sources (books, essays, papers,...) which back these claims, so I can provide a reference for the Wikipedia article.
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Postby Curio Agelastus on Sun Aug 12, 2007 12:51 am

Tarquinius, I can't answer your second question, but regarding your first:

Normally there weren't legions in Italia, but under certain special circumstances - such as the Italian War - they were certainly allowed south of the Rubicon. However, I would assume that special dispensations were created. That said, the only place, IIRC, that was specifically out of bounds for Roman legions, was Roma itself, so perhaps Italia was ok?

However, Caesar and his legions were certainly not supposed to go south of the Rubicon since, as Piscinus says, it was the border of his province.

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