The Gallic Sack and Rome’s Rebirth II

Republican Rome – Triarius and Hastatus

Rome’s late Republican historians clearly viewed the introduction of the consulship in 367 BC as the reintroduction or reinstatement of the old praetorship, and indeed they often (confusingly for modern scholars) called the Archaic praetorship ‘the consulship’. There are some very good reasons for this, the most obvious being the return of the regular grant of imperium. The powers of the praetorship and the consulship were both somehow governed by a grant of imperium, which still involved the curiate assembly, meaning that their relationship to the community was roughly similar and that both could be seen as descendants of the rex. Additionally, both magistracies carried the auspices, or religious powers, and were collegial in nature, with two consuls being elected each year after 367 BC, which roughly mirrors the previous arrangement with the praetors – although it is entirely possible that there were more than two praetors in many years of the fifth century BC, though the tradition of consules suffecti (so-called ‘replacement consuls/praetors’ who are sometimes recorded) and the ‘cleaned up’ Augustan-era fasti make this impossible to determine with any certainty. The offices were also dominated by the same group of families, at least initially.

There were, however, some key differences between the offices as well. First, and most importantly for the literary sources, the new consulship was open to the plebeians. From Livy’s narrative, this development represents nothing more than a (admittedly very important) political compromise but, based on our discussion of Rome’s army so far, the importance of this in more practical terms should also be evident. Allowing the plebeians, even plebeian elites, to hold the consulship indicates that the basis of power for this office was no longer a clan or gens but rather the community. As a result, this office could arguably be considered a closer descendant of the consular tribunate which immediately preceded it, than the Archaic praetorship or the rex. Without well-established clans or gentes to act as the core of their military forces (and it does seem that the plebeians did not have proper gentes, although they would have obviously have had some sort of family and client-based structure), the new plebeian consuls were entirely dependent on recruitment through the community in order to form their armies. This, however, creates problems when one considers the re-emergence of imperium. As discussed, Archaic imperium was most likely a sort of contract between the community and an external war leader and his clan, which bound together the two entities in a mutually beneficial relationship. The question then arises of why would imperium be needed for the consulship, if the office was a community-based one? The answer to this question is ‘compromise’.

It seems clear that the consular tribunes were reasonably effective militarily, as this was the office that the Romans reverted to for regular military commands after the Gallic sack when they needed success the most. From the point of view of Rome’s powerful clans and gentes, however, this system did not suit their social needs. The praetorship, and its imperium, had formed an increasingly important part of their internal competition for social and political prestige. While achieving the consular tribunate was evidently also something which was thought to be valuable, as they did compete for this as well, it seemed to lack the appeal of the praetorship, with the right to triumph and the range of powers and privileges associated with the grants of imperium and auspicium. In the new, post-390 BC environment, this level of power was only attainable through the office of the dictator, which was irregularly appointed and dominated by a few individuals (like Camillus). So it seems likely that the city’s gentilicial elite were eager for a return to the praetorship in some form. On the other hand, the community and its plebeian elite had been gaining in power during this period and had demonstrated their ability as generals in the consular tribunate, and seem to have gotten a taste for the rewards of military success themselves. Given this position, they were unlikely to want to see a return to magistracy which would once again have them locked out. So the end result was the creation of the consulship (consul, likely derived from con and sul, meaning ‘those who go together’), which represented a compromise that effectively combined the best parts of the two offices – the military capabilities and community basis of the consular tribunate, and the power and prestige of the preatorship – into a single office open to both groups. It is clear that this compromise was not reached easily, despite its eminent practicality, as attested by the supposed ten years of unrest before its advent and the various debates after (particularly concerning the auspices). This new arrangement would have also resulted in some dramatic changes to the grant of imperium and indeed, even apart from the changes outlined above, scholars have been increasingly pushing for 367 BC as marking a key moment of change and evolution for imperium and the lex curiata de imperio. After 367 BC, imperium and the lex curiata de imperio (the law passed by the curiate assembly which governed it) were no longer needed to bind an external war leader to the community, and as a result they both seem to have taken on a more ritual or religious connotation, which is what was carried on into the late Republic.

For the past 100 years and more, scholars have tried to unravel the nature of Republican imperium and the lex curiata de imperio, particularly as it existed in the mid- to late Republic, and have increasingly come to the conclusion that both the grant and the law which governed it should be considered to be largely ritual in nature. Although passing the lex and having imperium officially granted by the curiae was generally seen as the ‘right thing to do’, its absence did not seem to affect the power of the magistrate in any real terms. This was most famously recorded by Cicero in his account of Appius Claudius, where he stated that:

Appius used some time back to repeat in conversation, and afterwards said openly, even in the senate, that if he were allowed to carry a law in the comitia curiata, he would draw lots with his colleague for their provinces; but if no curiatian law were passed, he would make an arrangement with his colleague and succeed you: that a curiatian law was a proper thing for a consul, but was not a necessity: that since he was in possession of a province by a decree of the senate, he should have imperium in virtue of the Cornelian law until such time as he entered the city.

Of far more significance during the middle and late Republic were the religious ramifications of the lex curiata de imperio, which may have increasingly related to the auspices and the ability to perform certain rituals. Although this did not affect the ability to command an army during this period, it did seem to influence the perceived relationship with the gods. This was still an important aspect as it was raised in debates in 445 BC and again in 362 BC, when the ill-fated plebeian consul L. Gernucius, who was the first plebeian consul to go to war under his own auspices, was defeated and killed by the Hernici. However, the nature of imperium and military command had clearly changed in Rome by the middle of the fourth century BC, and things were increasingly focusing inward on the community.

Connected with this inward focus and the shift in military command, there may also have been a gradual shift in military equipment and formation. This will be discussed in detail in the next chapter, but several points connected with both Rome’s command structure and the influence of the Gauls are worth highlighting now. Looking first at command structure, the reinterpretation of imperium and Rome’s increasing reliance on community-based forces after 367 BC did not mean that its military forces (or the Central Italian clans and gentes) started to fight in a completely different manner or tactical formation – although it did probably result in a slightly more unified arrangement. As already argued, it is highly unlikely that Rome ever utilized a hoplite phalanx, and in fact Rome’s armed forces, such as they were, likely utilized the more flexible, and probably amorphous, tactical formations favoured by the gentes for raiding. Although there are no specific descriptions of these formations in the sources, looking at other ancient examples (most notably from Spain in the third and second centuries BC) it has been argued that they most likely resembled ‘dense clouds’ which expanded and contracted during the course of a battle. As Rome’s army increasingly unified and expanded during the course of the fourth century BC, the community would have had to find a way to effectively utilize soldiers and units used to fighting in this manner. Consequently, it is likely that the mid-fourth century BC represents the likely point of origin for a ‘proto-manipular legion’. Although it is unlikely to have featured all the nuances and organizational details of its later counterpart, the Roman army of the mid-fourth century would have probably contained a number of ‘handfuls’ (manipuli) or groups of men, which were the descendants of the archaic war bands of the fifth century BC, increasingly fighting in a co-ordinated fashion.

The fourth century BC also saw the introduction of some new military equipment in the Roman army, which seems to have come from two different sources. The first source was local, and was perhaps a result of an increasing number of urban, and probably ‘middle class’, men engaging in warfare under the banners of the consular tribunes, and later consuls. These men, although by no means poor (arguably analogous with the zeugitae or ‘hoplite-class’ in Greece), were not from the wealthiest segments of society either and also had very little previous connection to warfare. As a result, we can probably link to these soldiers the increasing use of simple but functional helmets, like the increasingly popular montefortino type, and a general ‘democratization’ of military equipment across the board. Associated with this is the use of a new type of heavy javelin, which makes it appearance in Central Italy at this time. Prior to this time, javelins are rather hard to identify in the archaeological record. Although spears had most likely been thrown for centuries, if not millennia, in Italy, for the most part they were of the ‘multi-purpose’ variety – spears which could be used as either a thrusting weapon or a thrown one. During the course of the fourth century BC, however, there is increasing evidence for purpose-designed heavy javelins being used throughout Italy – a development which may be associated with the growing number of Gauls in the peninsula. Although by no means unique to the Gauls, the type of heavy javelin which appears in the fourth century BC in Italy is very close to the type of weapon favoured by those living in the modern-day regions of southern Austria and southern France, just the other side of the Alps. It is therefore probable that this military development arrived with the Gallic tribesmen in Italy and was slowly adopted by the Italic peoples.

Finally, this period also witnessed the construction of Rome’s first, substantial city walls which completely surrounded the settlement. Known as Rome’s ‘Servian Walls’, after a misattribution to Rome’s sixth rex who was also credited with building walls around the city, the Servian Walls were probably begun in 378 BC – as Livy states that in this year ‘further debts were incurred through the levying of a tax to build a wall of hewn stone, which the censors had contracted for.’ Built from Grotta Oscura tufo taken from quarries near the city of Veii and constructed using ashlar blocks, the fortifications extended a full 11km. Many of the blocks bore Greek masons’ marks, indicating that the Romans may have brought in specialists from Magna Graecia to help build them – something which is arguably unsurprising given the Hellenistic style of the walls. Indeed, the walls were truly massive in scale. A full 4 metres thick, and even today reaching a height of over 10 metres in places, the walls enclosed an area of approximately 426 hectares, meaning that they were on a par with the largest settlement fortifications in the western Mediterranean. The walls were so massive that they may have taken at least twenty-five years to construct, as Livy’s entry from the year 353 BC implies. These were Rome’s main fortifications throughout the Republican period, and were the walls which Hannibal famously viewed and considered attacking during the Second Punic War.

The likely reasons behind the construction of the walls are many and varied, but the threat of another Gallic attack was undoubtedly top amongst them. While Rome’s previous collection of aggeres and fossae (ramparts and ditches) had evidently been at least reasonably effective against the small-scale raids of Latin clans and Italic tribes, the threat posed by the Gauls obviously necessitated a change in approach. Rome could no longer rely on a piecemeal set of fortifications which left significant gaps in her defences. Additionally, as scholars have recognized for years, city walls often represent far more than a military obstacle. City walls, and particularly full circuit walls on the scale of Rome’s new fortifications, are often thought to draw a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the terrain, and as such are key markers of civic identity and civic cohesion. The construction of such walls around Rome in the early fourth century BC thus makes sense culturally and socially, and was in keeping with Rome’s larger programme of self-definition.

Rome’s External Reaction

Rome’s increased unity and internal cohesion in the aftermath of the Gallic sack can also be seen in her changing relationship with the rest of the Latins and the other peoples in Central Italy. While Rome had previously fought a series of low-level wars with various communities and tribes in Central Italy, these had generally had minimal long-term consequences or repercussions. Settlements would be raided and wealth taken but, for the most part, there was no attempt to exert control over the defeated peoples in the long term or incorporate them into the Roman state. During the fourth century BC, however, Rome became increasingly expansionist and interested in the capture and control of land and communities. This seems to have been the result of two concurrent developments in Roman society, visible in Rome’s actions with Veii at the turn of the century, which included an increased interest in land as being both valuable and a viable spoil of war, and also a strategic interest in increasing her manpower reserves.

Rome’s desire for land seems to have dramatically increased during the course of the fourth and early third centuries BC, with Roman territory (ager Romanus, and specifically ager publicus) expanding massively during this period, largely through military conquest. This growth was exponential, with Rome directly controlling a territory of a few hundred square kilometres c. 390 BC, approximately 8,500 km² by 340 BC and over 26,000 km² by 264 BC. This is not to say that Rome’s interests did not extend further afield than a few hundred square kilometres prior to 390 BC, as the ‘carrying capacity’ of this land (the amount of food which it was able to produce) would have likely been unable to support a city the size of Rome in this period, and Rome’s armies clearly ranged further afield. However, the land outside of the ager Romanus antiquus (the area within 5 miles of the pomerium, or ritual boundary of Rome), possibly even including parts of the tribal zones and the earliest sections of ager publicus, should probably be considered ‘liminal’ at best. Although Romans – and Roman armies – may have moved across it, so did other groups in Latium. Used largely for grazing herds and flocks, or heavily forested (as the vast majority of Central Italy was at this time), much of this land was effectively unclaimed during the Archaic period, as it was not economically viable, or indeed feasible, to do so. It was only with the advent of more intensive agricultural practices during this period, coupled with the creation of a more cohesive Roman state, that it was in Rome’s best interests to permanently claim land as ‘Roman’. Consequently, this period witnessed the true birth of the Roman Empire, as a territorial entity, and the beginnings of Roman land-use policies (and problems) which would shape many of the events of the late Republic.

Economics were clearly driving some of this expansion. The larger developments within Roman agricultural practices which had featured back in the fifth century BC (the gradual settling down of the clans, the increase in investment in agriculture and irrigation, etc.) all seem to have continued unabated into the fourth century BC. This, coupled with an increase in population, resulted in an ever-increasing demand for land during this period as individual Romans struggled to climb the economic ladder, clans endeavoured to control this emerging form of wealth and the community as a whole found itself needing to feed more and more mouths. With the available nearby land already occupied, and without a strong tradition of seafaring to allow maritime colonization on a scale similar to that of the Greeks, the Romans turned to conquest to deal with the issue – although this was not as straightforward as it might seem. While Rome’s conquests of the early fourth century BC did start to satiate the land hunger of the population, it was tempered by a few factors – most notably Rome’s desire to maintain her military strength. As a result, during the fourth century BC Rome did not utilize ‘colonization’ particularly heavily, which is often considered surprising as this was how the Romans are usually thought to have controlled captured land. But while Rome supposedly established four new colonies in Latium during the 380s BC, between 380 and 338 BC there were no records of any Roman colony foundations. Indeed, scholars like E.T. Salmon, in his epic volume on Roman colonization, was forced into a series of convoluted arguments to explain this decline, with ‘diminished military need’, an ‘estrangement’ between Rome and the Latins and possible ‘problems of administration and assimilation’ all possibly playing a role. Although Salmon may have been correct with some of his caveats, the main reason for this decline was likely that early Roman colonies, like their Greek counterparts, seem to have become independent communities after they were founded. As a result, while they might have harboured some sentimental attachments to their mother community, they could not necessarily be trusted to automatically act in Rome’s best interests, let alone as allies. This type of behaviour by ‘colonies’ of Rome can be seen time and again during the sixth, fifth and early fourth centuries BC, with colonies regularly rebelling and almost never coming to Rome’s aid in times of trouble. So while colonization might be an easy way to distribute land to Romans, it was not in Rome’s best interests to do so in a time when she was evidently trying to secure her position and expand her military manpower. As a result, Rome seems to have spent much of the early fourth century BC trying to find an answer to this conundrum – how could she expand territorially, while still maintaining (and indeed growing) her citizen base?

Rome attempted a few different mechanisms to get around this issue, all of which were maintained in some form or another into the late Republican period. The first was simply to expand her tribal structure. This was what Rome did after the Gallic sack with the territory and people of Veii. Although she had only recently captured the community, Rome incorporated the ager Veientanus and its population by dividing it up and creating four new rural tribes which then formed part of Rome’s citizen body. This would have immediately increased Rome’s manpower reserves, although it did have some obvious drawbacks – most notably giving the recently-captured Veientines a say in Roman politics – and it was really only a feasible model of inclusion for communities and land in the immediate vicinity of Rome. In the 380s BC, Rome attempted to found colonies, but quickly stopped this practice because, while they helped to alleviate the pressure on land, they also drained Rome’s military manpower as it is clear that these colonies (Satricum, Sutrium, Nepete and Setia) were of the archaic type and quickly exerted their independence. This led to one of Rome’s key innovations, the foundation of the first municipium at Tusculum in 380 BC. Following its capture, the community of Tusculum was incorporated into the Roman state through a grant of civitas sine suffragio (citizenship without voting rights) and the community was dubbed a municipium. The people of Tusculum therefore had something resembling dual citizenship, as they were also considered citizens or residents of Tusculum, and the community was allowed to self-govern as it had before. However, whenever a need arose, the people of Tusculum were also subject to conscription and service in the Roman army. This innovation seems to have addressed some of Rome’s manpower issues and the question of how to increase her military base without giving up control. It did not, however, help with the land issue – although it did provide a possible model. Indeed, Rome’s approach to captured land from the mid-fourth century BC onwards seems to have followed the basic premise behind the creation of municipia – allowing a certain degree of local flexibility while maintaining central control. This was primarily done through the increased use of ager publicus (public land). The ager publicus was usually captured land which remained under the ownership and control of the state, but which could be utilized by any Roman who wished (and non-Romans for a fee). This land was very quickly dominated by the elite clans, as laws as early as the 360s BC indicate, but was supposedly open to all Romans and would have offered the (on paper at least) perfect solution to Rome’s land problem.

The creation of municipia and the use of ager publicus on a wide scale were only possible in the post-390 BC political environment of Rome, where a strengthened community ethos dominated and an increasingly community-centred army fought for land which could be utilized by all. Together, these measures helped to shape the way in which Rome increasingly dealt with the various communities and peoples in Central Italy, and further abroad, by ensuring that her own needs were met (in the fourth century BC this entailed both land and manpower) through maintaining a certain level of central control but allowing a high degree of local flexibility. Rome’s needs would naturally change over time, which resulted in new methods of control and exploitation. For instance, by the late fourth century BC, Roman citizenship and Roman identity seem to have reached a point where true citizen colonies were possible, which were utilized by Rome where more control was needed than that offered by municipia (this will be discussed in the subsequent chapters). In the third century BC, when Rome’s conquests were increasingly distant and far-flung, the state developed a new model of control – the creation of provincia (provinces) – which met Rome’s needs of strategic security and wealth. But all of these developments were still guided by the same principles which underpinned the first steps which Rome took towards empire in the early fourth century BC.

The Gallic sack of Rome can be best described as a catalyst for Rome. Although the arrival of the Gauls can possibly be credited with a few developments in its own right, most notably the use of the heavy javelin, its biggest impact was in accelerating a number of existing trends in Roman society. This included bringing the community, and particularly the local clans, together into a single, cohesive whole and unifying them all under the banner of Rome. Although this process was well under way previously, the Gallic sack seems to have demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the archaic way of life, and particularly the clan-based approach to war, was no longer a viable option. In the aftermath of the sack, Rome did everything she could to increase her manpower and develop a military model to protect against further attacks. This included incorporating new peoples into her citizen body (and military ranks) via the creation of new tribes and municpia, along with the full-time reversion to the consular tribunate and eventually the creation of the consulship.

Rome’s increased internal unity and cohesion also allowed a more concerted approach to land acquisition and ownership, generally exploited through the creation of ager publicus, which gradually developed into a territorial empire. Evidently initiated to satiate the Romans’ increased appetite for land, but tempered by the desire to maintain her manpower reserves and control both the territory and those occupying it (in contrast to previous practice), Rome very quickly carved out a massive Central Italian empire during the course of the fourth century BC. This led the city into increased conflicts with a number of Italian peoples, including the other Latin communities and tribes, as her aggressive and expansionist policies started to impact upon them. This ultimately resulted in a series of wars against the Latins, Samnites, Etruscans and Greeks of Magna Graecia in the second half of the fourth century BC, which further shaped Rome’s military and imperial designs.


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