Military reforms of Servius Tullius – Rise of Rome to supremacy in Latium

The earliest amalgamation in the history of Rome was that which blended together the Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. This was followed by the union of the settlement on the Quirinal with that on the Palatine. Traces of this union existed in the duplicate religious institutions retained in Rome, but politically it left little mark.

The town on the Quirinal counted as one of the four divisions of the Palatine city, the other three being the Suburan, Palatine, and Esquiline. No new tribe, however, was added to the original three; and the new burgesses were distributed among the existing tribes and curies. Henceforth each of the three tribes contained two divisions or ranks, and these ranks were denoted by the names “first” (priores) and “second” (posteriores) . But no increase was made in the number of the senate, the primitive number of three hundred remaining unchanged down to the seventh century of the city’s history. So also the magistrates or king’s deputies remained the same. If, then, the Quirinal citizens furnished the posterior or “second” gentes of the old tribes, this distinction must not be confused with the subsequent maiores and minores gentes (greater and lesser clans) who figure in history: these probably belonged to those communities which, beginning with Alba, were subsequently amalgamated with the Roman people. Thus the incorporation of the Quirinal or Hill Romans with the Palatine or Mountain Romans marks an intermediate stage between the earliest synoikismos, which united into one body the Tities, Ramnes, and Luceres, and all subsequent incorporations. This amalgamation, then, increased the bulk, but did not change the character of the Roman state. But another process of incorporation, the first steps of which may be traced to this period, and which proceeded very gradually, did profoundly affect the community.

Servius Tullius, 16th-century depiction published by Guillaume Rouillé

We refer to the development of the plebs—a problem most intricate and elusive. The position of “clients” was twofold: (1) that of those dependent on and protected by the master of the household; (2) that of those dependent on and protected by the state, i.e. by the king. Every fresh amalgamation doubtless brought in an accession of clients, but the principal increase must have been due (1) to the attraction Rome, as a commercial centre, possessed for foreigners, who became metoecs (μέτοικοι), or resident aliens; (2) to the influence of war, which, while it transferred the citizens of conquered towns to Rome, at the same time thinned the ranks of the Roman citizens, who alone had the doubtful privilege of bearing the brunt of such wars. In truth this latter fact was the chief cause in promoting the amalgamation of the clients and the citizens. With the increase of the whole body of clients, and especially of that portion consisting of foreigners, attached as clients to the Roman state, but often retaining the citizenship of other communities, the old restrictions, which were more easily observed in the case of household clients, must have broken down. Many, in fact, must have enjoyed practical freedom, though, of course, not the full rights of Roman citizens. The immemorial principle of Roman law that, when once a master or owner had renounced his ownership (dominium), he could never resume it over the freedman or the freedman’s descendants; the liberal concessions, made by Roman law especially to foreigners, as regarded marriage and the acquisition of property; the increasing number of manumitted slaves; the influx alike of traders, and still more of Latins vanquished in war; the corresponding decrease of true Roman patricians; the constant vexation of the relations between client and patron,—these and otber causes must have all sufficed to threaten a revolution of the direst consequences to the Roman state. The new name of plebes, or multitude, (from pleo, plenus), by which the clients were now called, was ominous, signifying, as it did, that the majority no longer felt so much their special dependence as their want of political rights. The danger was averted by the reform associated with the name of Servius Tullius, although the new constitution assigned the plebeians primarily only duties, not rights. Military service was now changed from a burden upon birth to a burden on property. All freeholders, from seventeen to sixty years of age, whether burgesses, metoecs, or manumitted slaves, provided only they held land, were bound to serve; and they were distributed, according to the size of their property, into five classes (lit. “summonings”—classis, from calare). The first class, who were obliged to appear in complete armour, consisted of the possessors of an entire hide of land, and were called classici. The remaining four classes consisted of the respective possessors of three-quarters, half, a quarter, or an eighth of a nominal farm, i.e. of a farm whose size served as the standard by which such divisions were regulated (probably such a farm contained at least twenty jugera). The cavalry was dealt with in the same way: its existing six divisions, which retained their old names, were tripled; only the richest landholders, whether burgesses or non-burgesses, served as horsemen. All those who held land and were incapable of service, either from sex or age, were bound to provide horses and fodder for special troopers. To facilitate the levying of the infantry, the city was divided into four parts (tribus), (1) the Palatine, comprising also the Velia; (2) the Suburan, comprising also the Carinae and Coelian; (3) the Esquiline; (4) the Colline, i.e. the Quirinal and Viminal. Each of these four divisions contributed a fourth part, not merely of the force as a whole, but of each of its military subdivisions; and this arrangement tended to merge all distinctions of clan and place, and also to blend, by its levelling spirit, burgesses and metoecs into one people. The army was divided into two levies: the first comprised the juniors, who served in the field from their seventeenth to their fortysixth year; the second, the seniors, who guarded the walls at home. The whole force of infantry consisted of four legions (“musters“, legiones), each of 4200 men, or 42 centuries, 3000 of whom were heavy armed, and 1200 light armed (velites); two of these legions were juniors and two seniors. Added to these were 1800 cavalry, thus bringing the whole force to about 20,000 men. The century, or body of one hundred, formed the unit of this military scheme, and by the arrangement above indicated there would be 18 centuries of cavalry and 168 of infantry. To these, other centuries of supernumeraries (adcensi) must be added, who marched with the army unarmed (velati), and took the place of those who fell ill or died in battle. The whole number of centuries amounted to 193 or 194; nor was it increased as the population rose. Out of this military organization arose the census or register of landed property, including the slaves, cattle, etc., that each man possessed, and this was strictly revised every fourth year. This reform, though instituted on purely military lines and for military purposes, had important political results. In the first place, every soldier, whether a full citizen or not, would be certain to have it in his power to become a centurion and, further, a military tribune. In the second, those rights which the burgesses had formerly possessed, not as an assembly of citizens in curies, but as a levy of armed burgesses, would now be shared by the whole army of centuries. These rights conferred the power on the military centuries of authorizing soldiers to make wills before battle, and of granting permission to the king to make an aggressive war. In the third place, although the rights of the old burgess assembly were in no way restricted, there thus arose three classes: (1) the full burgesses or citizens; (2) the clients possessing freeholds, called later, “burgesses without the right of voting” (cives sine suffragio), who shared in the public burdens, i.e. military service, tribute, and task-work, and were, therefore, called municipals (municipes); (3) those metoecs who were not included in the tribes, and who paid protection-money, and were non-freeholders (aerarii). The period at which this reform took place must be a matter of conjecture, but it presupposes the existence of the Servian wall, embracing the four regions of the city: and the smallest extent to which the city must have spread is 420 square miles; and we must assume that not only the district between the Tiber and the Anio had been acquired, but also the Alban territory. Analogy from Greek states inclines to the view that this reform was modelled on Greek lines, and produced by Greek influence. The adoption of the armour and arrangements of the Greek hoplite system in the legion, the supply of cavalry horses by widows and orphans, point in this direction; moreover, about this time the Greek states in Lower Italy adopted a modification of the pure clan constitution, and gave the preponderance of power to the landholders.

Latium and Campania

The steps by which Rome rose to the proud position of head state in Latium, the union of the Latin communities under her headship, the extension alike of Latin territory and of the city of Rome, the splendour of that regal period which shed a special lustre on the royal house of Tarquin, cannot now be described, save in faint outline. We may, however, briefly summarize the results, the details of which have either been buried in oblivion or falsified by mythical legend. Firstly, those Latin communities situated on the Upper Tiber, and between the Tiber and the Anio—Antemnae, Crustumerium, Ficulnea, Medullia, Caenina, Corniculum, Cameria, Collatia, which on the east side sorely hampered Rome—were very early subjugated; the only one which retained its independence was Nomentum, probably by alliance with Rome. Constant war was waged between the Romans and the Etruscan people of Veii for the possession of Fidenae, situate on the left (Latin) bank of the Tiber, about five miles from Rome, but apparently without the Romans becoming permanent masters of this important outpost. Secondly, Alba was conquered and destroyed; to her position as the recognized political head and sacred metropolis of Latium, Rome succeeded. Rome thus became president of the Latin league of thirty cantons, and the seat of the religious ceremonial observed at the Latin festival. An alliance was concluded on equal terms between Rome on the one hand and the Latin confederacy on the other, establishing lasting peace throughout Latium, and a perpetual league for offence and defence. Equality of rights was established between the members of this federation, alike as to commerce and intermarriage. No member of the league could exist as a slave within the league’s territory, and, though every member only exercised political rights, as member of the community to which he belonged, he had the private right of living anywhere he liked within the Latin territory; and, further, although Latin law was not of necessity identical with Roman, the league naturally brought the two into more complete harmony with one another. The difference between the position occupied by Rome and that formerly held by Alba, was that the honorary presidency of the latter was replaced by the real supremacy of the former, Rome was not, as Alba, a mere member of the league, and included within it, but rather existed alongside it; this is shown by the composition of the federal army, the Roman and Latin force being of equal strength, and the supreme command being held by Rome and Latium alternately. In accordance with this principle, all land and other property acquired in war by the league was divided equally between Rome and Latium. Each Latin community retained its own independent constitution and administration, so far as its obligations to the league were not concerned; and the league of the thirty Latin communities retained its independence, and had its own federal council, in contradistinction to the self-government and council of Rome. Thirdly, although Rome failed to master Fidenae, it kept its hold upon Janiculum, and upon both banks at the mouth of the Tiber. In the direction of the Sabines and Aequi, Rome advanced her position, and, by the help of an alliance with the Hernici, held in check her eastern neighbours. On the south, constant wars, not without success, were waged against the Volscians and Rutulians ; and in this quarter we first meet with Latin colonies, i.e. communities founded by Rome and Latium on the enemy’s soil, which shows that the earliest extension of Latin territory took place in this direction. Lastly, in addition to this enlargement of the Latin borders towards the east and south, the city of Rome, owing to its increase of inhabitants, and commercial and political prominence, needed new defences. In consequence the Servian wall was constructed: this, beginning at the river below the Aventine, embraced that hill, the Coelian, the whole of the Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal; thence it ran to the Capitoline. and abutted on the river above the island in the Tiber. The Palatine, which had hitherto been the stronghold, was now left open to be built upon, and the stronghold (arx, or capitolium) was constructed on the Capitoline, which was free on every side and easily defensible; it was sometimes called Mons Tarpeius (“the Tarpeian hill”), and its lower summit facing the Tiber was the famous Tarpeian rock, a precipice, in ancient days, of some eighty feet. Here, too, was the enclosed “well-house” (tullianum), the treasury (aerarium), the prison, and the most ancient place of assembling for the burgesses (Area Capitolina). No stone dwelling-houses were allowed to be built on the hill; and trees or shrubs covered the space between the two hill summits, which was afterwards called the Asylum. Thus the Capitol was the true Acropolis of Rome, a castle of refuge when the city itself had fallen.

Model of the Capitoline Hill in ancient times, at the Museo della Civiltà Romana

Janiculum, though outside the city limits, was fortified, and embraced by the Servian wall, and connected with the city by the bridge of piles (Pons Sublicius) which ran across to the Tiber island. The great work of draining the marshy valley between the Capitol and the Palatine was undertaken in this regal period, and the assembly-place of the community was transferred from the Area Capitolina to the flat space (comitium) between the Palatine and the Carinae. Not far from here was built the senate-house (Curia Hostilia); here stood the tribunal, or judgment-seat platform, and the stage, whence the burgesses were addressed (afterwards called rostra). In the direction of the Velia arose the new market (Forum Romanorum). To the west of the forum, beneath the Palatine, was the temple of Vesta, the common hearth of the city; and in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine was marked off a racecourse, the circus of later times. Among the numerous temples and sanctuaries on all the summits, were conspicuous the federal sanctuary of Diana on the Aventine, and the far-seen temple of Jupiter Diovis on the Capitoline. That Greek influences, as in the Servian military organization, can be traced in this remodelling of the Roman state cannot well be doubted; but how far and in what way they did so cannot now be shown. There may be some truth in the traditions which ascribe to different kings the various improvements and new buildings of Rome, but it is clear that in any case they are to be assigned to the period when Rome remodelled her army and rose to the hegemony of Latium.

Reverting for a moment to the first two sections above enumerated, we may briefly touch on the treatment of the conquered Latins by Rome. The circumstances of each particular case doubtless decided the question, as to whether the inhabitants of a conquered town were forced to migrate to Rome, or allowed to remain in the open villages of their old district. Strongholds in all cases were razed, and the conquered country was included in the Roman territory, and the vanquished farmers were taught to regard Rome as their market-centre and seat of justice. Legally they occupied the position of clients, though in some cases of individuals and clans full burgess-rights were granted; this was specially the case with Alban clans. The jealousy with which the Latin cantons, and especially the Roman, guarded against the rise of colonies as rival political centres, is well shown in Rome’s treatment of Ostia; the latter city had no political independence, and its citizens were only allowed to retain, if they already possessed, the general burgess-rights of Rome. Thus this centralizing process, which caused the absorption of a number of smaller states in a larger one, though not essentially a Roman nor even Italian idea, was carried out more consistently and perseveringly by the Roman than by any other Italian canton; and the success of Rome, as of Athens, is doubtless due to the thorough application of this system of centralization.

(Source: “The history of the Roman Republic”, by C. Bryans and F.J.R. Hendy)

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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