Monday, 30 July 2012

The Roman army in 160bc

In about 160bc the Greek historian Polybius was in Rome as a hostage. With plenty of time on his hands, Polybius made a study of the mighty city that had conquered his homeland. Among other works, the writer produced a study of the Roman army.

The basic organisation of the army had not changed for generations. Every year all citizens under the age of 46 gathered on the Capitol. From these the Consuls selected 1,200 of the wealthiest men to serve in the cavalry. From the poorest men several thousand were marched off to the port of Ostia to man the ships as oarsmen. From the remainder about 20,000 men were allocated to the legions to fight on foot. These men would then serve throughout the campaigning season and, sometimes, through the winter as well. Each man was liable for up to 16 years of service, after which he was exempt from the muster. Although the men served for the honour of Rome and without pay it was customary for the state to provide food and to pay a few coins each day to cover the costs of campaigning.

Each Consul also had a personal staff of leading citizens to act as his advisors, messengers and to organise the supply lines or to ensure fortifications were properly maintained. Serving on this personal staff was regarded as a great honour and was seen as a route to promotion. Young noblemen vied with each other to serve with a Consul, particularly one with a good reputation.