Questions of a legion...

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Questions of a legion...

Postby Aulus Flavius on Tue Apr 04, 2006 7:15 am

Salve amici,

I have a few questions about the Roman legions. If there is anyone that can answer them I would greatly appreciate it.

I'm never sure how to frame these as questions so I'll give it to you as a scenario:

I'm Gaius. A Roman citizen with a Roman father. Young. I want to enlist in a legion.

My questions are this:

- What was the minimum age to enlist in the legions?
- What would be a Roman citizen's motivation for enlisting?
- How exactly would he go about enlisting?

That's it for the moment. Any help on the matter would be appreciated.

Vale.

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Re: Questions of a legion...

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Wed Apr 05, 2006 3:34 pm

Salve Aule Flavi

Marius is probably answer better than I, and he'll get around to it as he settles in. BTW "Manius" would be the name for a "John Doe" grunt.

Aulus Flavius wrote:
- What was the minimum age to enlist in the legions?
- What would be a Roman citizen's motivation for enlisting?
- How exactly would he go about enlisting?


Minimum age? When you became a man and thus a citizen, you became eligible for the enlistment. Seventeen was the norm, but if you came from a wealthy patrician family, intent on a political career, and would therefore be a junior officer.... Well, at one point it got so bad that the Romans did have to set some minimum age requirements. Bad enough for the centurians playing wetnurse to 17 year olds, 14 and maybe as young as 12 year olds sort of got in the way of army life. OTOH if you came from a small farm, where your labor was still needed, Roman fathers tended to be reluctant to allowing their sons to don the toga virilis and would try to delay their sons for a couple years. You could not be presented as a man, donning your toga virilis and thus becoming a citizen, without your father giving permission. And then if Manius was instead a proletarius, a citizen but without enough wealth to be considered in one of the five census classes, then he wouldn't have been allowed in the army (except during the desperate years of the Second Punic War, and later under Marius in the North African campaign) and instead would be assigned to the Roman navy - well, when the Romans had a navy of their own, but after the Punic Wars they found it cheaper just to hire a navy from Rhodes or some other ports.

So, to answer any of these questions you have to give a little more detail. What time period, and which census class would your Manius be in, patrician or plebeian in some eras, whether from a family of nobiles or from what kind of equites family might he come? Until the time of Marius, I think, you couldn't just walk up to a recruiter and say, "I want in." There was a procedure in the comitia centuriata conducted each year to raise legions for the consules. I suppose you, or actually Manius' father would have had to, could tell whoever in your particular centuria that you wished to be enlisted. The centuria, that is, the voting units of the comitia centuriata, would each have to provide so many men, depending on how many were required for the legiones, and we don't know exactly how those men were selected in the centuria itself. Motivation for joining? Again, social class, census class, time period, would all have to be considered in trying to answer this question.

Vale
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Postby Aulus Flavius on Tue Apr 11, 2006 4:04 am

Salve amice,

Sorry for the late reply Marcus. Been busy with Uni.

Thanks for the information. Alright, so Manius wants to join the legions. What time frame?

I'm thinking the Imperial Era, but not too far into or past the 1st Century CE. Perhaps the reign of Vespasianus? He wouldn't be a noble or an equite. Common pleb, perhaps a from landed gentry in Latium or one of the Italian territories. Family involved in farming but not wealthy enough to be included in the ordo equester, perhaps even his father was in the legions.

What would he have to go through in order to enlist? How far up the ranks could he rise, or what path could he follow? I'm thinking of a case study I came along about a Tiberius Claudius Maximus, I don't know if you've heard of him. He was involved in Trajan's invasion of Dacia and started out as a foot soldiers but apparently climbed up to command an alae of cavalry. It just got me asking questions about how far up a pleb could climb in the legions.

I asked the question of motivation because I was never quite sure why Romans in the Imperial period joined the legions. Would there be some patriotic element to it all? I can understand provincials becomming auxilaries because they recieved citizenship at the end of it their service, but I've never had a clear picture for someone who was already a Roman citizen.

I hope this helps. Again, thanks for the information.

Vale,

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Answers of a Legionary

Postby Aldus Marius on Thu Apr 13, 2006 4:42 am

Salve, commilito!

Seems I'm the go-to person on life in the Legions. I'm tickled! Thank'ee, thank'ee...[bows] >({|:-)

Bene, as others have said, the age at which a young fellow might enter the Roman army (Legions, Auxiliaries, cavalry, and [I suspect] the Fleet) pretty much depended on when he was considered a legal adult. This was earlier for some lads than for others. The reasons have already been detailed, so I won't repeat them here.

As for why anyone would choose to enlist...bene, it's true the Auxilia speak for themselves; a rowdy but Romanized young barbarian could earn his diploma there, his Citizen son could join the Legions, and his grandson could very well govern a Province if the tides of history were kind!

But beyond that, there were many things that might draw someone into military life, Legionary and Auxiliary alike. I believe the biggest selling-point was simply that, then as now, the army was "A Great Place to Start"! The pay was steady; the medical care exceeded the standards of the day; the other benefits were excellent (among them, that you'd learn how to read and how to swim there, if you didn't know already); and the chances of surviving long enough to collect your pension and/or your plot of land were actually pretty good if you didn't do something stupid. (Almost as many soldiers were lost to industrial accidents each year as to combat.)

In short, it was often the only real career option for the urban or landless poor, and many other Citizens found the army preferable to helping run their parents' business or working on the docks. It was a way for Romans to earn honor and respect who might otherwise have never gotten the chance to contribute. This, in a culture that held honor and respect as cardinal virtues, must have sent many a lad to the recruiting office.

I've written more extensively on the subject in a couple of other places. You may find my story/essay, the Flavian-era "Life with the Legions", as a contribution under Collegium Militarium on the SVR site. Here in the Collegium Historicum, I addressed the Marian-era reforms in a thread called "Death of the Res Publica", and have additional thoughts on troop psychology there. Go, see, and...you may well figure out why I'm so in-demand on some subjects! >({|;-)

(Also, if you need help getting your avatar to show, send it to me and I'll add it to the Gallery.)

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Postby Aulus Flavius on Thu Apr 13, 2006 5:54 am

Salve amice,

Thanks for the information Marius The Military College pages certainly cleared up a few things. There is one thing that I've never been able to get a good hold of though and that's the actual process of enlisting.

I've been told that a citizen couldn't just walk up to a legionary castra and expect to b enlisted. If that's the case how did a person get into the legions?

Vale.

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Recruiting

Postby Aldus Marius on Fri Apr 14, 2006 5:29 am

Ave iterum, commilito...

I've just moved; almost all my Roman-military books are in boxes in the garage. But the next time I'm down there in search mode, I'll see if I can bring up these two for you; they provide the closest thing I can give you to a definitive answer:


G.R. Watson, The Roman Soldier (even gives the oath of enlistment!)
Graham Webster, The Roman Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D. (some info on recruiting, including a breakdown by Province, and a good overview of pay and benefits)


If you manage to find a copy of either before I bump into mine, do please share your findings. >({|:-)

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Re: Question of a Legion

Postby C.AeliusEricius on Sat Apr 15, 2006 10:27 pm

Recruiting

The age for enlistment naturally varied through the periods of Roman history. Here are some numbers that I’ve come across. I’ve been reading some Livy this past week and I noted, though did not write the note down, that in one part of the early Hannabalic War the senate authorized enlisting down through the age of eighteen. This seems a bit old for a lower level especially during a time of crisis, but that is why it caught my attention. One of the subversive reforms that Tiberius Gracchus wanted to pass was forbidding recruiting anyone below the age of sixteen. So while the free Roman male might come of age with puberty, or his thirteenth year, it seems that it was not thought correct for him to join the army until his late teens. Maybe it was thought that a citizen needed some time being a citizen before he should go off to fight for the res publica. In the Watson book there is a list of six recruits from 103 CE, all of them are in their ages are all in their twenties. The youngest was 20 and the oldest was 25. These men were going to an Iturean auxiliary cohort but all have the three names of Roman citizens. This shows the Imperial Army and the Empire had already gone through some changes since Augustus.

Why would a Roman man enlist. The reasons have been touched on by Piscinus and Marius. I think their fairly universal for a volunteer military. Basically, whatever reason the kid came up with. Poverty, the farm wasn’t doing well. Or the farm was doing well, but he didn’t like looking at the backside of a mule all day. Or Dad’s stories about Life IN The Legions had made their impression and junior just had to do it himself. How much might patriotism have been a factor under the principate? That’s a viable question too. The guy might also have decided he’d rather face the centurions than the vigiles. In the Twentieth Century I enlisted because of the stories and wanting to get out of where I was.

Say Aulus Pollio Tiro (I’ll leave G. Manius to you) wants to join a legion. [A specific legion, like his father’s or just the first one that will take him.] He almost 100% needs a letter of commendation (litterae comendaticiae). If his father is high enough in his local society and writing to a known party (say a legionary centurion who was a common soldier when Dad was finishing his hitch) the father might write it himself. Of course the higher the source of a letter of recommendation, the more weight it carries whatever the period or the society. If Dad knows a person of high level connections, like a Pliny) then there is the source of junior’s letter.

So Aulus has the letter that father got for him from his former commander, legionary legate, and present senator. Where does he take it? I can’t find out. Hopefully Aldus Marius can dig it out of his books. I’ve only had Watson’s The Roman Soldier for a little while. It seems to be the best on this line, but still doesn’t show this piece of info. To extrapolate I’ll say that there are number of possibilities. If there was a castra nearby, and the recruit has the letter of commendation then he could go there. It would not be going in cold, I don’t think, though I guess it is possible. If you have a letter of commendation you would know who to go to, and where; as well as what day. Maybe there is a known date that a contingent from Legion N is coming through the town/city that is nearest to the Pollio farm, and young Aulus will approach the officer commanding there. Maybe father will go with Aulus to get in some old soldier talk as well as help his son along. The thing with staffing the legions of the principate, especially after they are settled into the patter they would keep for some time to come, is that there was a relatively small number of men that a legion would need every year to replace vacancies. (IIRC Yan le Bohec’s The Imperial Roman Army says that a legion might only need ca. 50 new men a year, in peace time.) Le Bohec also mentions that there was a recruiting board that the candidate would have to go before. Piscinus, and Marius, can testify that I often think while I’m writing. I am getting the idea that going to the castra of the legion one wanted to join, or to a known place, a depot etc., would be what happened. There are surviving letters saying that So-&-so had arrived with so many recruits. These men would have approach the recruiting tribune in one location, been presented their letters of commendation and appeared before the recruiting board and, at a later date, been formed up and marched off to their unit and the beginning of their military careers.

The oath was usually administered four months after joining the legion. Training undoubtedly began on the way to camp (I can hear the Drill Centurion now).

Pater Mars vos semper ament.

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Postby Aulus Flavius on Sun Apr 16, 2006 3:14 am

I'm starting to get a much more clear picture of how things went now. So far as research goes actual information on the intitial stages of recruitment appear to be rather hard to find. Once past this hurdle it's rather easy to find information on the composition, training and general lifestyle in the legions.

Thankyou all for the information so far. If anything else comes across your way and you've the time to post feel free to. I appreciate all the effort :)

Vale,

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