Phillip of Macedonia maintained a professional army and the Spartans were famous for passing down the lessons learned on the battlefield to their young. Despite these examples, few ancient civilizations could afford a standing army. For thousands of years, military organizations drew on farmers and mercenaries to fill their ranks. Some of these armies reached levels of competence, won battles, and disbanded after the war. Then the battle knowledge was lost as the citizen/soldiers went home and the mercenaries returned to their homeland.
On the surface, early Rome was no different. Except starting in 509 B.C., the Roman Republic installed regional garrisons as the Republic expanded. Their job was to enforce the laws, keep the peace, and be the initial force to confront invaders.
Until 107 B.C., marching Legions were formed only to face threats. By law, each Co-Consul had the ability to raise two Legions and become a General for one year. After the year or the crisis ended, the Legions were disbanded. The Consuls returned to their magistrate duties, the Legionaries went home to work their farms, and allied forces returned to their tribes. It’s this inactive phase and the loss of organizational wisdom that interested me.
Legio in Latin means military levy or conscription. Traditionally, a levied army had few military memories as the collective battlefield experiences were forgotten when the citizen/soldiers left. Without ongoing analysis of combat experiences and strategies, the next levied army was usually limited in its ability to adopt new tactics, formations, and improve weapons.
Yet, the Legions learned from each campaign, battle, and skirmish. Legion tactics evolved over the years from tribal melee to embracing the phalanx to abandoning it for the battle lines of the maniple. From year to year, knowledge was handed over the gap to new Generals, new officers, and the new Legionaries of the next year’s Legions.
In 107 B.C., the Legion evolved again. The Marian reforms embraced the cohort formation, created fulltime Legions and an officer corps, plus they incorporated other changes to the military of Rome. However, before than the Legions were not static in adapting fresh ideas based on experience.
from 509 B.C. to 107 B.C., who passed on the valuable military knowledge and traditions from one levied Legion to another levied Legion?
The only possibility was the widely distributed regional garrisons. Rome’s heavy infantrymen, unlike most of history’s levy troops, underwent extensive training. They were taught to fight as a unit with a shield, pilum, and gladius. Plus, every one of the Legionaries could swim, ride a horse, shoot a bow, throw a javelin, run 20 Roman miles in five hours, and perform gymnastics for conditioning. Considering the extensive basic training, it is obvious the instructors, experienced Legion Centurions/officers, and Optios/NCOs, were the keepers of military lessons, wisdom, and traditions.
In my opinion, enough Optios, and Centurions did not go home to farms when a Legion disbanded. Rather, they were absorbed into the garrisons. There they waited with the stored wisdom. And in the spring, when an enemy threatened the Republic, they stepped forward to train the Legionaries and share their knowledge with the new Legions.
J. Clifton Slater
I am J. Clifton Slater and I write Military Adventure both Future and Ancient.
The question of how the Legions maintained momentum when the Roman armies were disbanded each year came to me while researching for the Clay Warrior Stories series.
Clay Warrior Stories
Set in the backdrop of the 1st Punic War, the books tell the tales of a hot-headed young swordsman in the growing Republic.
The Clay Warrior Stories are Available at Amazon.com in paperback, on Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.