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Great military reform that never happened

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Marius' mules
Marius' mules

It is reported that in 107-102 BCE there was breakthrough military reform in the army of the Roman republic carried out by Gaius Marius, and its most important decrees it was supposed to transform the civilian army into a professional one, and the armament of the legionaries were to be standardized. Unfortunately, such a reform never took place…

How do we know about such a reform? No ancient historian talks about carrying out such a reform. It was only in the interwar period (1918-1939) that a group of German archaeologists published their speculations about such a reform, which was universally accepted as the truth. So we know that the oldest information about Marius’s reform, which took place over 2,000 years ago, is not 100 years old! Let’s look at the main effects of the reform.

The army of Rome should be transformed from civic to professional. This is utter nonsense. Ancient historians tell us about such a transformation, however, it took place almost 100 years later and was the top-down order of Emperor Augustus. It is true that the legionaries enlisted by Gaius Marius were paid with equipment, however, it was not a reform – many times in the history of Rome, before the conversion of the army from civic to professional, the Romans set up paid troops with equipment, e.g. during Second Punic War, or during the Gallic War – to replenish losses, enlarge armies, or in crisis situations.

The second order was to unify the armaments of the legionaries. The unification of the armaments of the legionaries was not affected by any reform, and the soldiers themselves, who bought mainly the same type of armament, because it was effective, e.g. until the end of the 2nd century BCE all legionaries replaced their spears with pila (Roman spears).

However, is there anything that Gaius Marius has changed in the army?

Yes. Plutarch writes about it. Gaius Marius established pila as javelins serving only Roman legionaries. This took place after the victorious Battle of Vercellae (Rome’s victory against the Cimbrians in 101 BCE). The pilum was modified in such a way that it broke when struck, making it useless in battle; this prevented the pila from being thrown toward the legionaries.

Author: Piotr Kozieł (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Michał Norbert Faszcza, Bunty w późnorepublikańskich armiach rzymskich (88 - 33 przed Chr.)
  • Nicholas Sekunda, Armia Republiki Rzymskiej 200-104 r. przed Chr.
  • Janusz Sikorski, Kanny 216 p.n.e.

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