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Did the Roman Legions adopt Pankration?

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The highest rank of the republic, after all was a military dictatorship

There was no clear division of rank at the highest level between civil or military roles. The post of Dictator was pretty much a temporary absolute ruler - it was not specifically military (though in fairness, the crises that persuaded the Senate to offer the role were often military in nature)

 

The behaviour of NCO's vs enlisted men in modern terms is a bit misleading. The Roman command structure was not so pyramidcal and even though posts existed with higher levels of status and authority, these were not always part of a strict career progression, but represented additional honours to put on your CV as much as roles within the legion. Truth is we have little direct evidence of the behaviour of Roman soldiers individually unless they were being exceptionally brave or bad. Writers do suggest that brawlings and beatings were not unusual. If Juvenal is correct - and there's no reason to believe he was making it up - beatings weren't just scuffles and a black eye. The victim really did get worked over.

 

But this sort of fighting, however commonplace, or perhaps even institutional, is not a prescribed sport like Pankration which had rules, although these rules amounted to a couple of sentences and were in practice often ignored anyway. Wrestling as a sport may well have taken place - it would indeed suit the typical Roman character to engage in a physical competition in which one man dominates. However, Pankaration is much more all or nothing. it sometimes resulted in severe injury or death. Given the fraternal nature of the legions and the need to remain physically capable in order to remain a legionary and thus earn its benefits, the risks of disablment might have well persuaded legionaries to watch the slaves grapple aggressively.

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Ummm, or grapple themselves with the slaves aggressively.

 

I'm merely looking at the obvious class division between the senatorial command class and the plebians.... senatorial class appeared to get ranks and positions while nigh impossibly to get as a common.grunt soldier working up the ranks, and I assume the middle class, like the British until the 19th century, emulated the nibles in trying to get a dignified placement for their petite bourgeois children. I'm guessing the nobles, like many class divided societies, were quite happy to oblige such middlemen.

 

Evidence for this is the purportedly unoriginality of Onasander.... one of many such leadership texts for clueless military leaders.... yet unexplainable in this light is the high expertise of the roman legions, even during civil wars.... it wasn't a top down discipline, but something built in bottom up, that couldn't be ripped out via political defection to the other side. It's because there was a underlining, largely independent command all legions recognized however distant or at odds with each other that maintained the legions.

 

I don't see much evidence of this in the later roman empire. Think rome just looked to ethnic specialization and colonial-feudal duties instead of funding this lower NCO leadership echelon.

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I should ask... prior to Caesar, was there ever a dictatorship during the republic that wasn't military instigated? Closest I can think of would be the writing of the twelve tables.... which isn't quite what were talking about, or the highly localised power or a tribune to straight up f some s up around him. Outside of this, I can't think of any dictators instigated by a agriculture or trade crisis, oe disdane for the local fashion crisis. It was like, all military, every single time. I could be very well wrong.

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On 5/1/2011 at 6:39 AM, caldrail said:

The real problem with pancration, or even boxing, was that it was the preserve of the slave athlete, and no self respecting soldier was going to lower himself to take part. Seems a bit odd at first considering how ready a typical legionary might be to engage in roughhouse, but a drunken brawl in the vicus outside a fort was a different matter.

 

I'm quite skeptical of this claim considering plenty of soldiers came from manual commoner background esp manual labor,  agricultural, and poverty backgrounds. Sure the aristocrats, educated (esp intellectuals), and richer Romans probably look down on it (just like upper class Americans today look down on even baseball).

 

But commoners? I mean you do have poor people working as Gladiators before joining army out of need for cash and some gladiator champions did come from military backgrounds. So I don't buy it esp Rome's machismo toxic masculine culture. And the fact so many soldiers (since much of them came from peasant background) grew up adoring not just gladiators but various athletes of different stripes including boxers and chariot racers.

Not to mention military culture historically had fighting sports as the norm. I mean every culture from the Aztecs to the Egyptian and Mongols had some form of wrestling, boxing, or even MMA bout as something to kill time esp when left in an isolated fortress. So I doubt the Roman legion wouldn't have formal competition with rules based on wrestling or boxing or even MMA. Esp since Greece's influence on Rome was so damn strong and the Greek loved not just fighting sports but sports as a whole I don't buy it.

 

You mean to tell me Roman culture even looked down on military men having running contests, arm wrestling games, gymnastics, and other athletics? It doesn't make sense considering commoner Romans often went to gyms and practised gymnastics, acrobatics, and other Greek sports to keep in physical conditioning.

 

Hell several emperors such as Commodus even partook in wrestling and other athletic games! So it doesn't make sense!

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One should not paint Roman legions with modern expectations. Whilst some of their behaviour was utterly predictable and quite similar to modern militaries, there were aspects that are quite different. Enslavement was a loss of humanity in one sense and marked one for life. The legions would not recruit former or runaway slaves and dire punishments awaited those found to have lied about their social status. When Augustus raised emergency forces from manumitted slaves in ad9, regular legionaries would not serve alongside these third class troops, and they were not armed with regular Roman equipment deliberately.

The question of contract gladiators - this became a common practice for those seeking fame, fortune, or to avoid debt by desperate means. Nonetheless, gladiators were slaves, even the temporary ones. It is entirely possible that an ex-gladiator joined up here and there - I doubt he would have broadcast his past. You do raise an interesting point on this as there is bound to be something of a grey area. Roman slave law wasn't exactly simple either as the questions of status and rights got hugely complex from the Principate onward.

Of course there would have been contests between soldiers being the aggressive competitive types that successful colonisers produce. But keep it in context. An arm wrestle between two soldiers out on the booze isn't going to offend anyone. Gymnastics? Isn't that getting a little Greek? Trust me, Roman military practice was sufficient to keep them fit. A weekly route march, twice daily at the palus with heavier practice swords and shields, and if we believe Josephus, staged brawls in formation to build character as much as physical condition. Add to that the possibility of hard physical labour all day if a local civil engineering project required lots of manual labourers the contractors could not afford. having said that, the typical Roman soldier was keen to avoid physical stuff as much as he could, usually by bribing his centurion (this was later frowned upon but never stopped. In fact, the practice of bribing a centurion for extra leave was later countered by a bonus paid to the centurion for any of his soldiers sent on leave officially)

Don't be misled by Vegetius. His De Re Militaris is often described as a manual - it wasn't anything of the sort. he wrote a treatise about what the legions should be doing, after finding lots of good but unique examples of activity in the histories he had available (better than ours, for completeness if not accuracy). He says as much in the preface.

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