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Trethiwr

Confused about soldiers and the city put me straight please

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I'm confused.

If I understand correctly the Romans didn't like soldiers in the city because they could carry out a coup or whatever.

But surely there were soldiers there to guard the gates or act as body guard to consuls etc.

Again I am mainly focussed on the late republic and I understand that in the imperial era there was a different political situation.

 

Since there were no vigiles either in the republic, who if not soldiers guarded the city from internal violence or unrest.

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There was no garrison in Rome during the Republic. The consuls had lictors that acted as bodyguards. I don't think they closed the gates in peace time. The citizens could act as soldiers in case of need and did not liked being policed by someone else. The citizens guarded the city from all dangers.

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OK so a visitor in the late 1st century BC entering Rome along the Appian way would not have been challenged or stopped?

Or were there some sort of equivalent of customs to charge levies on goods for example?

 

If the citizens themselves would defend Rome does this mean they (officially) bore arms? I was under the impression this was not the case. Or do you mean that they had access to arms at their homes if the need arose?

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It is true that soldiers in arms were not permitted in the city during the republic. Even the comitia centuriata (which represented the people in arms) met in the Campus Martius which was outside the city walls and the ceremonial city border (the pomerium). Nor could a magistrate enter the city until he gave up his military power (imperium). Sometimes senate meetings were held outside the pomerium so a general could attend without laying down his command (I think Marcellus did this).

 

The answer as to who kept order is that sometimes nobody did. This is why Clodius and others could get gangs to break up assembly meetings, how the curia got burned down after Caesar was killed and why Sulla, Pompey, Bibulus and others sometimes had to take shelter in their houses from street violence.

 

The Romans believed in "self-help", the wealthy kept groups of slaves to protect their persons and property and, as was mentioned, the lictors formed a small bodyguard for sitting magistrates. The commoners had to rely on their local clubs (collegia), tribal associations (sodalitates) or a wealthy patron for protection...or just keep out of the way. There was apparently a "police court" of sorts under the tresviri capitales (minor magistrates) but no policemen; perhaps the tresviri provided a group of retainers to arrest mischief makers.

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Rome had a tradition prohibition of bearing arms within the city, not soldiers, who were free to wander or parade as they wished (provided they left weapons at home, of course). However, bear in mind that until the Augustan Reforms the legionaries were citizens levied (or after Marius, recruited) for that purpose and referred to as 'Brothers'. Augustus is noted as being the first Roman ruler to refer to troops as 'soldiers', an act of personal ownership that was quite uncharacteristic of the egalitarian streak in Roman society.

 

As it happens, even after Augustus amalgamated the various bodyguard units into the Praetorian Guard, it was not until the reign of his successor, Tiberius, that the guard were brought together under one camp inside Rome, and even then, overt display of military status was undesirable to patrician taste. You see armed and armoured guards in film and television - Oh no, that's wrong. The Praetorians dressed in toga's for guard duty and kept any weapons out of sight - rather like modern sharp dressed security guards. Helmets and armour for ceremonial parades only.

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Yep I had heard that before. About guards not being in armour, but the way you put it being like plain clothes bodyguards helps me understand it better.

Its difficult when films portray certain images as standard when I am trying to keep rigidly to historical fact. It means I cannot just use shorthand and talk about guards without describing them wearing plain togas and keeping weapons out of sight.

 

I have a bit of my story where the hero picks a fight with a group of soldiers.

A contubernium relaxing in a tavern (off duty) and my character just gets on the wrong side of them and gets a good beating.

I visualise them in the usual military clothing but not carrying weapons. Have I got that wrong, should they in fact be wearing togas and therefore not obviously legionaries at all?

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Praetorians would wear toga's for official duties in connection with the Roman government, such as the senate house. Off duty they would wear the same sort of tunics as anyone else, although their manner and perhaps other clues would give them away. Also be careful about conterburnae - whilst it's true the Romans used that formation on camp to foster a fraternal and supportive attitude amongst the men, Roman soldiers did not usually socialise as a unit. Records indicate they were assigned duty or R&R as individuals without regard to which conterburnium they belonged to, and as far as I'm aware, there was no official record of conterburnae at all, as it seems instead to be an informal grouping within a century as opposed to a unit level.

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Ah thanks Caldrail.

I'd better do a bit of a rewrite there.

 

Even when the story is "finished" it will have to be checked by experts in Celtic and Roman history as well as the normal proof reading. I'll probably spend another year rewriting it after that.

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