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L. Quintus Sertorius

The Cause That Lacked Naught But A Cause

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With Cicero's immortal denunciation fresh in my memory, I have a question to pose to the general community.

 

We have argued and debated the motivations and justifications of Caesar's launching of the Civil War ad nauseam. He's been called hero, villain, and everything in between. Perhaps some of his reasons for fighting can be conjectured - unwillingness to lay down his imperium, opinion that only he, unhindered, could resolve Rome's governmental woes, etc.

 

But what could have motivated his soldiers to do the unthinkable - declare war upon their own homeland? Was it desperation at their position after discharge? A genuine commitment to Caesar's cause?

 

Please share what you think motivated the ordinary soldiers who bled and fought that Caesar might reign.

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But what could have motivated his soldiers to do the unthinkable - declare war upon their own homeland? Was it desperation at their position after discharge? A genuine commitment to Caesar's cause?

Salve, LQS!

The same motivation as any other soldier of any Roman general during the Civil Wars of the Late Republic: ambition (for wealth) and fear (of the consequences of other generals

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But what could have motivated his soldiers to do the unthinkable - declare war upon their own homeland?

 

For eight years in wild and hostile Gaul, every one of these soldiers' needs--for companionship, knowledge, food, and security--was met by fellow soldiers obeying orders. In a very real sense, their lives depended on this obedience to military authority, which was already enshrined in Roman religion and in social custom. Disobedience to authority--difficult for most men even in times of peace and in more individualistic societies--was probably unthinkable to the legionary.

 

Even still, Caesar's armies mutinied several times and became successively more unruly as the civil war dragged on.

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Simply, as MPC suggests, military discipline and loyalty to comrades seems the most likely factor. Perhaps Caesar's impassioned and charismatic suggestions of impropriety against the people's tribune (Antonius) had some minor effect motivating the average soldier, but it seems more likely that the simpler explanation is most valid. It's also possible that Caesar had his men absolutely convinced, through various forms of camp propaganda, that without him they would be left high and dry upon retirement. Right or wrong in this case is irrelevant because if the men believed it...

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Simply, as MPC suggests, military discipline and loyalty to comrades seems the most likely factor. Perhaps Caesar impassioned and charismatic suggestions of impropriety against the people's tribune (Antonius) had some minor effect motivating the average soldier, but it seems more likely that the simpler explanation is most valid. It's also possible that Caesar had his men absolutely convinced, through various forms of camp propaganda that without him, that they would be left high and dry upon retirement. Right or wrong in that case is irrelevant because if the men believed it...

Maybe the simpler explanation was simply not so simple; I think the legionaries that stayed under the law were also loyal comrades and disciplined soldiers (vg, T. Labienus and his men).

 

The real question would be why loyal and disciplined legionaries would deliberately risk their properties, freedom and life by following their general into illegality (not to talk about their families).

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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The real question would be why loyal and disciplined legionaries would deliberately risk their properties, freedom and life by following their general into illegality (not to talk about their families).

 

Disobedience to authority is a death sentence. There was no greater threat to their families than that.

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The real question would be why loyal and disciplined legionaries would deliberately risk their properties, freedom and life by following their general into illegality (not to talk about their families).

 

Disobedience to authority is a death sentence. There was no greater threat to their families than that.

Here, by authority you mean their general or the Senate (or both)?

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Here, by authority you mean their general or the Senate (or both)?

 

An excellent point - who really constituted a clearer danger to the safety of the legionaries?

 

That, given in conjunction with the other learned responses, I think best captures it.

Edited by L. Quintus Sertorius

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Here, by authority you mean their general or the Senate (or both)?

 

Legally, the sacramentum, or military oath, was sworn to the presiding commander, to whom the soldier vowed to obey, to execute the orders of his officers, and not to desert (Polyb. 6.21.2). Oaths to the republic itself--which might have saved Rome from Caesar's designs--were typically required of foreign nations and allies, but such an oath was never required of soldiers. Thus, Caesar had only to command his men to cross the Rubicon, and they had no choice in the matter.

 

I might add that soldiers DID have a choice about whether to take the sacramentum in the first place, and they took the oath quite seriously. Consider 88 BCE. When Marius obtained Sulla's command (under dubious circumstances), Marius sent his agents to administer the sacramentum to Sulla's troops--and the troops stoned the agents to death. Examples abound of commanders requiring new oaths from deserting, captured, and fraternizing soldiers. Indeed, when Caesar's men finally mutinied against him, Caesar reminded them of their oath to him (App. BC 2.47).

 

In addition to the logical inference that Caesar could have gained the support of his men merely from the sacramentum, we also have ancient testimony to the fact. According to Appian (BC 2.140), Caesar was directly charged with having taken advantage of the sacramentum in order to lead his unwilling soldiers against Rome.

 

For more information on this topic, Arthur Keaveney provides a useful discussion in "The Army in the Roman Revolution" (pp. 71-92).

 

EDIT: "sacramentum" not "sacrumentum" (ye gods!)

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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But what could have motivated his soldiers to do the unthinkable - declare war upon their own homeland?

 

They didn't. They declared war on their generals enemies. Loyalty was to the commander, not the state.

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Here comes one of the first references of the Sacramentum (not Sacrumentum) and of the related Juris Jurandi, according to Livy:

(Ab Urbe Condita, Book XX, Ch. 38)

 

"The levy completed, the consuls waited a few days, till the allies of the Latin confederacy arrived. At this time the soldiers were bound by an oath, which had never before been the case, dictated by the military tribunes, that they would assemble at the command of the consuls, and not depart without orders; for up to that time the military oath only had been employed; and further, when the soldiers met to divide into decuries or centuries, the cavalry being formed into decuries and the infantry into centuries, all swore together, amongst themselves, of their own accord, that they would not depart or quit their ranks for flight or fear, except for the purpose of taking up or fetching a weapon, and either striking an enemy or saving a countryman. This, from being a voluntary compact among the soldiers themselves, was converted into the legal compulsion of an oath by the tribunes.

 

Dilectu perfecto consules paucos morati dies dum ab sociis ac nomine Latino uenirent milites. Tum, quod nunquam antea factum erat, iure iurando ab tribunis militum adacti milites; nam ad eam diem nihil praeter sacramentum fuerat iussu consulum conuenturos neque iniussu abituros; et ubi ad decuriandum aut centuriandum conuenissent, sua uoluntate ipsi inter sese decuriati equites, centuriati pedites coniurabant sese fugae atque formidinis ergo non abituros neque ex ordine recessuros nisi teli sumendi aut petendi et aut hostis feriendi aut ciuis seruandi causa. Id ex uoluntario inter ipsos foedere ad tribunos ac legitimam iuris iurandi adactionem translatum."

 

Emphasis is mine.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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Indeed, as confirmed again by Livy in book 22.38.1 (and Frontinus Strategems 4.1.4) the oath was a formal one sworn in the presence of the tribunes. The soldiers were bound by oath to follow their consular commanders, or most assuredly, anyone authorized to wield command in a pro praetorian or pro-consular capacity. In theory, one might think that swearing an oath to a Consul was the same as swearing an oath to the Republic (since the Consul was a representative of that Republic), but it didn't function this way in practice.

 

It's one reason, in a complex political environment, why Augustus changed the sacramentum to be to him in particular, rather than a consular authority or the state itself. An interesting read... The Imperial Oath of Allegience

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It's one reason, in a complex political environment, why Augustus changed the sacramentum to be to him in particular, rather than a consular authority or the state itself.

 

To add an intermediate example in the sordid decline of the sacrumentum, Antony required the whole Senate to take the sacramentum to him before he left for Mutina.

 

EDIT: sacruamentum.

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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Salve!

 

I have to confess that what MPC and PP have been chatting about as commonplace knowledge have changed all my vision of the History of the Late Roman Republic.

 

Now, it's clear for me that:

 

These oaths were perfectly operative to maintain the required balance of military discipline and Senate authority when the Republican Legions were only temporarily assembled.

 

Therefore, Civil Wars were not only foreseeable but also unavoidable consequences of the Marian Reforms of 107 BC.

 

Check this out.

 

Besides, the definitive gaining of absolute power by the ultimate winner (Sulla, Caesar, Octavius or whoever you want), i.e. the Empire, was also foreseeable and unavoidable.

 

If we accept all of this, then the real "killer" of the Roman Republic would have been C. Marius.

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If we accept all of this, then the real "killer" of the Roman Republic would have been C. Marius.

 

Creating a condition that may have aided the ambitions of unscrupulous men is not the same as being guilty of the murder itself. While Marius (along with men such as Sulla and Cinna) may have contributed various precedents that men like Pompey, Crassus and Caesar were able manipulate to their own advantage, it was the latter who actually did the deed. Not all generals of the later Republic took advantage of their armies loyalty and marched on Rome... most of them did their duty and disbanded their armies (or transfered the command to the successive proconsul.)

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