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Amenities of Roman legionaries

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Amenities of Roman legionnaires
Amenities of Roman legionnaires

Soldiers of the Roman legions were able to enjoy some advantages over civilians. This special treatment was reflected in many aspects of society and clearly distinguished the military class.

Tribute (Stipendium)

First of all, it is necessary to point out the rights of an economic nature, such as a salary received from the state, but also some legal facilities, illustrated by the example of a military will. All the amenities listed below had one purpose. Raise the legal status of a soldier of the Roman army to a higher level, make him a prestigious profession and, by granting citizenship, encourage allied peoples to fight side by side

The beginnings of stipendium can be found in Livius’ text relating to the war with the Weyers, when the pay was to be awarded for the first time:

“E aque primum benignitas imperatorum plebem patribus conciliavit. Additum deinde omnium maxime tempestivo principum in multitudinem munere, ut ante mentionem ullam plebis tribunorumue decerneret senatus, ut stipendium miles de publico accipereis ideret, de cum ante quarters functus eo munere esset”senate then granted the people the most seasonable boon which has ever been bestowed on them by the chiefs of the state, when they decreed, without waiting for any suggestion by the plebs or their tribunes, that the soldiers should be paid from the public treasury, whereas till then every man had served at his own costs'." data-footid="1">1

Although this message raises some doubts among researchers about the topic, the introduction of the pay should not be linked with paying it in coins, which is the basic argument used by the community undermining the credibility of Livy’s message. However, taking into account the division of Servius Tullius depending on the property calculated in asses and the trade conducted by Rome, it is impossible to agree with the positions that the pay appeared much later because the Roman state was not sufficiently developed and organized in the 5th century BCE2.

Until Marius’s reform, the amount of the payment cannot be clearly defined, due to the compulsory and periodic nature of the service. It was rather dependent on the gains of war and the financial needs of Rome itself, nevertheless, Polybius tells us that the remuneration was 2 obole3.

In the days after Marius’ reform, when the army changed into professional status, we can provide you with exact details of the salary paid. And so, in addition to receiving the equipment at the expense of the state, the soldiers received a payment of 5 asses a day. The pay amount of 5 asses is roughly equivalent to 2 obol, so the payment amount has not changed significantly over the years4.

It wasn’t until the time of Caesar that the pay was increased to 10 asses a day. The annual income was 225 denarii, while 1 denarius was equal to 16 aces, thus the monthly income was in the range of 19 denarii (300 aces). It is worth adding that the daily requirement for a poor person was 8 asses per day, and the wage-labourer earned 12 asses per day. It is obvious that the centurions earned more. Their pay was twice that of the legionaries, and their senior officers even four times. The annual maintenance of one legion was 1,750,000 denarii5.

In addition to wages, legionaries were entitled to a bonus (praemia). An example would be capturing a Tigranocerta where Lukullus allocated 800 drachmas to each soldier, which was roughly 800 deniers6.

Terrestrial endowments

One of the main tasks facing the Roman republic was securing old legionaries in old age. It was realized through earthly grants. There were a number of agrarian laws that allowed such grants, such as the law of Apuleius Saturninus or the law of Lucius Flavius, which was to endow the former soldiers of Pompey with the land. The grants most often took place within the area from which a given legion originated. And so the soldiers of the X legion, which had its beginning in the Spanish lands, were gifted with lands in this area. This rule, however, was problematic in relation to the Apennine Peninsula, because it was from here that most of the legions originated. This often led to the inability to guarantee their veterans a land at home7.

The land granted was inherited. Centurions usually received an area twice as large as the rank and file of legionaries. Senior officers, who usually had huge surfaces, were excluded from grants, although if there was an opportunity to purchase land of exceptional value this way, they did not hesitate to reach for it8.

In the last century, the republic was given land to about 280,000. soldiers. They usually farmed up to the size of 10 Jugers. The words of Marius restrained from larger assignments of chiefs, who said: “no one from the Romans should think that he has too little land if he has enough of it to support himself”9.

Military will (testamentum militis)

It was one of the many wills known in Roman law that exempted soldiers from the formalities for others to do so. As the name suggests, it could only be assembled by a soldier. It was completely free from any formal or content-related issues. Even the last will placed by a dying soldier on a sword scabbard with blood or carved in the ground with a sword during a battle is absolutely important. A will could only be written during the service, and it would be valid for one year after the completion of the service10. Nevertheless, it did not matter whether it was drawn up in times of war or peace. It was treated as a privilege of a separate class which were soldiers. It was not until Justinian’s time that there was a change in this respect, because a military will only be used in a situation where it was impossible to keep the basic form of the will11. The content of the will had to be proven, usually by two witnesses. They acted as evidence witnesses. In a situation that would prevent the presence of witnesses at the testator, for example as a result of infectious disease, it was sufficient for them only to hear the statement and to put their seals on the will given to them12.

Citizenship (donatio civitas)

The Roman army was not just legions. Allied soldiers fought and shed blood for Rome (auxilia). As a reward for offering their blood and life in the name of Rome, these soldiers could obtain Roman citizenship. The basis for the grant could be a heroic deed during a battle, but also long-term and faithful service. Citizenship could only be granted by the Roman people who performed this act in the form of a special law, even if it concerned one person, who then had to be approved by the senate. The grant could also be indirect, which is based on the authorization granted by comitia. Such authorization could be given to the senate, triumvirs to establish colonies, and to chiefs at the end of the republic. The emperor could also grant citizenship through a decree mentioning a specific person by name, even if the granting concerned the entire unit13.

Everyone was eligible for citizenship, regardless of ethnicity. More specifically, citizenship could be granted to a person who was descended from an allied, subordinate, hostile and also slave people14.

The grants were to increase motivation and loyalty to Rome. It is also no secret that the Romans guarded their citizenship, and therefore grants were not common. However, with time, especially with the decline of the republic, this tendency completely changed. This was to preserve, at least formally, the national character of the legions[ przypis id=”15″].

Peculium castrense

The privileges also undoubtedly include peculium castrense. Although it was regulated only during the reign of Octavian Augustus, it is not too distant from the republic to ignore the presence of this privilege. Peculium castrense was a property acquired by a soldier, the son of a family, during his service, which he was free to dispose of and which, unlike normal peculium, was his property. Disposal of these assets concerned both acts between the living (inter vivos) and in the event of death (mortis causa)16. In the event of his death before the ordinance, peculium castrense went to the father of the family, not as an inheritance but as an ordinary peculium. However, in the case of the regulation, it was treated as own property17.

Author: Damian Karol (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Livy, Ab urbe condita, IV.59: "In addition to this the senate then granted the people the most seasonable boon which has ever been bestowed on them by the chiefs of the state, when they decreed, without waiting for any suggestion by the plebs or their tribunes, that the soldiers should be paid from the public treasury, whereas till then every man had served at his own costs".
  2. R. Pankiewicz, U źródeł stipendtio. Przyczynek do zagadnienia wynagradzania w armii rzymskiej w V wieku p.n.e. [w]: Pod znakami Aresa i Marsa, Kraków 1995, s. 35, 36
  3. Polibius, The Histories, Tom I, tłum. S. Hammer, Wrocław 2005, VI.39
  4. Graczkowski Andrzej, Armia rzymska w okresie schyłku republiki: organizacja, uzbrojenie, taktyka, Toruń 2009, s. 56.
  5. Ibidem, s. 57.
  6. Ibidem, s. 58.
  7. Ibidem, s. 274-276.
  8. Ibidem, s. 276.
  9. Ibidem, s. 275.
  10. A. Berger, Encyclopedic of roman law, tom 43, Philadelphia 1991, s. 734.
  11. R. Świrgoń-Skok, Przywileje spadkowe w rozwoju historycznym rzymskiego prawa prywatnego, [w]: Ius et administratio, Rzeszów 1/2013, s. 103
  12. L. Piętak, Rzymskie prawo spadkowe, Lwów 1882, s. 236.
  13. A. Krawczuk, Virtutis ergo. Nadania obywatelstwa rzymskiego przez wodzów republiki, Kraków 1963, s. 5-9
  14. Ibidem, s. 10.
  15. Ibidem, s. 11.
  16. R. Świrgoń-Skok..., s. 103.
  17. Digesta, 49.17.2, tłum. S. Scott: When a son under paternal control, who is a soldier, dies intestate, his property will pass to his father, not as his estate, but as his peculium. If, however, he made a will, his castrense peculium will be considered as his estate.

Part of the master’s thesis “Legion and legionary in Roman law”.

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