Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

22.10.

Were the Marian reforms the doom for the Roman Republic?

Recommended Posts

The fall of the republic was a long and complicated process which, I believe, cannot be traced to one specific event. Sure, the reforms of Marius change a lot, but they would not have been possible without a number of other events that either happened or were prevented. I mean, you could also argue that the failure of the Gracci could be blamed, or later, Pompey as he refused to compromise with Caesar and Sulla for his use of the misuse of the dictatorship. There are, of course, a great number of other events that could be mentioned.

 

In relation to this, I believe that we had a short discussion a while ago on the destruction of the Roman economy and that is yet another question where you can follow several events further and further back in time, without finding one specific point here it all went wrong.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The fall of the republic was a long and complicated process which, I believe, cannot be traced to one specific event. Sure, the reforms of Marius change a lot, but they would not have been possible without a number of other events that either happened or were prevented. I mean, you could also argue that the failure of the Gracci could be blamed, or later, Pompey as he refused to compromise with Caesar and Sulla for his use of the misuse of the dictatorship. There are, of course, a great number of other events that could be mentioned.

 

In relation to this, I believe that we had a short discussion a while ago on the destruction of the Roman economy and that is yet another question where you can follow several events further and further back in time, without finding one specific point here it all went wrong.

 

Great answer! ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that the answer is yes. Without a professional military divided in self-sufficient legions, it would have impossible for Caesar to have a private army and seize the power with it.

Edited by Late Emperor

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rather than agreeing that the Marian reforms doomed the republic, I think it's more accurate to say that *one* Marian reform was destabilizing--and it was actively opposed by the defenders of the republic.

 

What were Marius' reforms anyway? First, he dropped the property requirement for enlistment in the infantry. Second, he had the state provide for the equipment of the infantry. Third, enlistment in the military was rewarded with citizenship and land.

 

Of these reforms, I only see one as intrinsically destabilizing -- namely, rewarding vets with land. This reform has several destabilizing elements. The fundamental problem is that there is no such thing as free land; it varies greatly in value; and the land already held by the state was in continuous use (by lessees) as a means of raising revenue without direct taxation. Thus, finding land for vets--especially land in Italy--was politically difficult and far more expensive than other forms of compensation (e.g., a cash pension controlled by the Senate). In consequence, infantry had an interest in securing the political success of their generals to ensure that their land promises were made good. That's the heart of the problem.

 

It's true that Marius' reforms had the effect of creating private armies that could -- and in Caesar's case did -- topple the republic. But Caesar would never have had that army in the first place were it not for his success in securing land for Pompey's vets. Had that land-for-service regime been brought to an end (as Cato endorsed), Pompey's vets would not have been politicized, would not have been brought as thugs to the forum, and would not have propped up that 'three-headed monster' of Pompey/Caesar/Crassus.

 

In contrast with the land-for-service regime, Marius' other reforms strike me as being quite positive, and they didn't need the land-for-service regime to support them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rather than agreeing that the Marian reforms doomed the republic, I think it's more accurate to say that *one* Marian reform was destabilizing--and it was actively opposed by the defenders of the republic.

 

What were Marius' reforms anyway? First, he dropped the property requirement for enlistment in the infantry. Second, he had the state provide for the equipment of the infantry. Third, enlistment in the military was rewarded with citizenship and land.

 

Of these reforms, I only see one as intrinsically destabilizing -- namely, rewarding vets with land. This reform has several destabilizing elements. The fundamental problem is that there is no such thing as free land; it varies greatly in value; and the land already held by the state was in continuous use (by lessees) as a means of raising revenue without direct taxation. Thus, finding land for vets--especially land in Italy--was politically difficult and far more expensive than other forms of compensation (e.g., a cash pension controlled by the Senate). In consequence, infantry had an interest in securing the political success of their generals to ensure that their land promises were made good. That's the heart of the problem.

 

It's true that Marius' reforms had the effect of creating private armies that could -- and in Caesar's case did -- topple the republic. But Caesar would never have had that army in the first place were it not for his success in securing land for Pompey's vets. Had that land-for-service regime been brought to an end (as Cato endorsed), Pompey's vets would not have been politicized, would not have been brought as thugs to the forum, and would not have propped up that 'three-headed monster' of Pompey/Caesar/Crassus.

 

In contrast with the land-for-service regime, Marius' other reforms strike me as being quite positive, and they didn't need the land-for-service regime to support them.

 

To go slightly off post topic, Cato's (not yours the other one) intentions aside (as you probably guess-remember I'm suspicious, but that's another thread) I think one issue here is not so much giving veterans land as where the veterans wanted to be settled.

 

Giving them land in some newly expanded area of the Republic might not have been a great problem but, if I what I've read so far is correct, most of these veterans of the late Republic wanted their land in central Italy and as the old adage goes you can't fit 10 lbs of sand in a 1 lb bag. Armies of the Principate don't seem to have this as dramatic an issue as the late Republic (though there was sometimes grumbling over the kind of land).

 

To make matters worse I've just been reading that Sulla used a technicality to appropriate land for his veterans. I've been skimming Public Land and the Roman Republic and many of the Italian tribes had signed treaties that made much of their agricultural land legally the property of Rome though in practice it was left to be tilled by the locals for decades. Apparently he took the land regardless of whether the tribe had been loyal to Rome or forced to sign treaties. You can imagine the happy campers they must have been when told.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No. Whilst the adoption of a standing army made the process easier from a military point of view, the 'doom' of the Republic was due to political and societal changes. Some people view the arrival of the Principate as a sudden event. I don't. Whereas it only became a formality when Augustus grabbed the reins, the culture of imperialism had been growing for a century earlier.

 

Arguably the permanent legions were a catalyst toward change in that armed force was always a threat to established power, but in fact it was the weakness of the Senate and the strength of the Roman world, then without parallel in tems of military resources, were able to open up new territories for the greedy and ambitious. As Polybius predicted, Rome had reached the point of realising it could flex it muscles relatively safely. It took a disaster like AD9 for them to realise they weren't invincible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the consensus is that Marius certainly did not help.

 

Two things to consider. The army always used to choose the leaders of Rome,in that the comitia centuriata was essentially the Roman army in voting order. In the first century BC, thanks in part to the Marian reforms, the Roman electorate and the Roman army were for the first time not one and the same. This did not stop the army from picking Rome's leaders, it just made the process a great deal messier.

 

Secondly, the real damage done by Marius was not his reforms, but his feud with Sulla. The last generation of the Roman Republic were collectively traumatized by proscriptions. Seeing the heads of their fathers and uncles on poles beside the rostra probably engendered a certain contempt for the constitutional process.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What an active imagination you have, 9544bhana. The rich were taking everything! The poor veterans were left with nothing! Marius had to enact his reforms or the very sky itself would have fallen!

 

Please, as a corrective to this cartoonish view of history, I'd recommend Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic by Nate Rosenstein. By surveying archaeological records from this period as well as demographic statistics regarding the balance of population to agricultural output, Rosenstein shows that the pre-Marian military structure did not impoverish small freeholders by sending them off to war and that small farms flourished beside the latifundia that grew up after the Punic Wars.

 

Marius did face a shortage of soldiers -- but this was largely due to a string of military disasters and a large commitment of soldiers outside Italy. Against Hannibal, Pyrrhus, and a string of enemies far worse than the iron-age Cimbri, the pre-Marian structure was more than sufficient. With property-owning Italians and Roman leadership, the republican army was strong enough to defend Italy and secure her friends and allies. What it couldn't do is stretch as far as Marius' ambitions -- and, if you ask me, the whole human race couldn't have stretched that far. That's the problem -- and, yes, Marius' ambition is completely Marius' fault (no matter how much he wept for the poor before he sent them to die).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Giving them land in some newly expanded area of the Republic might not have been a great problem but, if I what I've read so far is correct, most of these veterans of the late Republic wanted their land in central Italy and as the old adage goes you can't fit 10 lbs of sand in a 1 lb bag. Armies of the Principate don't seem to have this as dramatic an issue as the late Republic (though there was sometimes grumbling over the kind of land).

 

 

I agree that colonies of Roman soldiers outside Italy might not have been such a great problem -- but it wasn't a great solution either. Farming takes skill and knowledge, and it's unrealistic to suppose that urban proles would have necessarily made the most productive use of the land. It would have been far better for the veterans to have been given a cash pension by the Senate -- then, the vets could have assessed their own best options, and the land could have been leased to those who wanted to try to make a go of it.

 

I also think it's true that the vets wanted their land in central Italy. And it's easy to see why Pompey, Lucullus, or anybody else wanted to give it to them. With your vets in central Italy, it's more likely they'll show up in the forum when you need them (e.g., when a vote is called). That's not a policy that ensures that the most rational options are likely to prevail in assembly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Secondly, the real damage done by Marius was not his reforms, but his feud with Sulla. The last generation of the Roman Republic were collectively traumatized by proscriptions. Seeing the heads of their fathers and uncles on poles beside the rostra probably engendered a certain contempt for the constitutional process.

 

 

To put it mildly, huh? But what about the feud with Sulla put those heads on poles? Don't you think it was more the fault of Cinna (Caesar's father in law, not the poet)?

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The reforms were not a necessity, but it is interesting to speculate why they were enacted after all. My opinion is that the small land owners that have been the backbone of the legions that conquered the world were not extinct but they were not interested in playing soldiers anymore and the aristocracy was happy to see them go.

The farmers that have rallied against the invasions of Pyrhhus and Hannibal were hard to convince by primitive propaganda that they must defend Rome against the natives of Spain or North Africa. If patriotism fails then they must get paid for the job, but why pay a troublesome class when you can buy some poor people that will depend on this job and hopefully be more obedient?

It was an excellent solution that made everyone happy: the elite hoped for an obedient army not one of citizens, the small land owners got away from military service and the poor got access to fabulous loots and military careers.

The political effect of the reform was visible in a few years when Sylla marched on Rome and while the next century makes for a fascinating read the naked truth was that the power belonged to the army. Which faction of the elite got to use it against another, the name of the charismatic leader or what demagogic promises were made it's less important.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×