The roman army 2

The Late Republic

The republican army relied on its land-owning citizens for defence in times of war, but as the Roman state expanded the well-disciplined but temporary and amateur legions no longer fulfilled the role of conquerors. A need arose for a new style of army based around a core of professional soldiers.

The structure of the early and middle republican army had made it an effective force, but it suffered from two major drawbacks in the new era of growing empire. One was the tradition that required legionaries to be adsidui, and therefore men who wanted to return to their civic duties at the conclusion of a conflict, leading to the dissolution of their legion. The second was the division of the legions into rigid lines of various types of infantrymen. This weakness showed up particularly in 113–105 BC, when the Germanic Cimbri, Tutones and Ambrones tribes threatened Rome. The barbarian tribes danced rings around the inflexible legions, resulting in defeats in four major battles.

The necessary reforms of the army are credited to the ‘new man’, member of the Populares (popular) party, Gaius Marius, but there’s no direct evidence to support this. No doubt many tactical changes were already ocurring during the first two Punic Wars, especially in consideration of sea-borne soldiers. Marius, however, certainly codified the tactical reforms and made the major and most significant change – scrapping the property-owning requirement for military service.


Gaius Marius is credited with transforming the Roman army in order to raise enough troops to fight the Numidian king Jugurtha (coin above). Tha Marian reforms made sense, but also paved the way for the collapse of the Republic into a century of civil wars through making soldiers loyal to their commanders rather than to the Senate and people of Rome.

The new military men

1. Red-dyed tunic of wool or linen. A woollen cloak for cold weather and sleeping in.

2. Strong, well-ventilated caligae (half-boots) laced by leather loops across the foot and up the ankle. The hob-nailed soles withstood hundreds of miles of marching. On the other hand, they were slippery on hard, shiny paving.

3. Articulated body armour (lorica segmenta); of several metal plates attached to each other by brass hooks, hinges and leather straps.

The Germanic invasions, 113—101 BC,
and the Jugurthine War, 112­101 BC.
Click the map for a larger, downloadable image.

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