Rome: from Marius to Caesar


This video is sponsored by SimpliSafe. Learn
more about this easy-to-use security system at the end of the video. In our previous video we discussed the reforms
implemented and institutionalised into Rome’s military by Gaius Marius to adapt to the changing
situation it found itself in. However, these reforms ended up being more than just a tactical
benefit, and they had profound effects that would not only weaken, but would eventually
destroy the Roman Republic which had existed since 509 BC, and replaced it with the Roman
Empire. Welcome to our second video on the Marian reforms, and how they impacted and
shook the Res Publica to its core. The individual reforms instituted and codified
by Marius do not, at first glance, seem so significant as to transform the whole army.
However, the sum of their impact was greater than that of their component parts put together.
These reforms brought permanent standard of quality to the legions, and therefore generated
a greater camaraderie and loyalty to a soldier’s unit than ever before. Legionaries now had
a very strong feeling of pride in the history and collective accomplishment of their unit,
and even had a positive series of rivalries with other units in the same army. In addition,
Marius reversed the declining and less efficient trends of the previous decades, and laid the
foundation for the professional army by doing so.
However, all was not well in the Republic. As addressed in our last video on the Marian
reforms, the demographics of the Roman legions changed as a result of the Marian reforms.
The discarding of a property requirement fundamentally shifted the army from a limited militia army
drawn from those in the society with material bonds to the state, to a mass peasant army
with little property of their own. The militia legionaries saw their participation in the
defence of the state as their civil duty, responsibility and as a privilege. To these
patriotic legionnaires, the idea of marching on Rome to conquer it would have been equivalent
to sacrilege. Subsequently, the legionaries after the Marian reforms usually had more
material goals, even if that meant attacking their own capital. It is this shift, combined
with the granting of land to retired veteran soldiers, which would eventually exacerbate
the severe issues which would destroy the Republic. Marius himself seemed blissfully
unaware of the problems his reforms would cause for the state, and initially of the
opportunities such conditions would present for an ambitious Roman General such as himself.
He never took advantage of the state of affairs he had brought about. But others would, including
a former subordinate of Marius – Lucius Cornelius Sulla. His actions in using the legions as
a political weapon would create a ripple effect, leading directly to the fall of the Republic.
From the very first days of Rome’s existence, the society admired and held up the citizen-farmer
as a character to be emulated. The great general Cincinnatus was found by the senate ploughing
his humble seven-acre farm when they came to implore him to become dictator and save
Rome from the Gallic invasion. In this vein, many of the earlier Roman legionaries were
propertied, citizen farmers who would harvest and tend their crops, and then go off on campaign.
Campaigning seasons were relatively short and usually took place entirely within the
Italian Peninsula, but this was soon to change. After the Punic Wars, Rome gradually began
shipping forces overseas to campaigns which were multiple years long, and many of the
legionaries found that their small family farms would be destitute upon their return;
their families having been unable to maintain the work required to sustain it. In this post-Hannibalic
period, a great many slaves and a significant amount of wealth flooded into Rome from Carthage
and the Greek world. This wealth was largely monopolised by a few select families, who
began to purchase vast tracts of land from the small citizen farmers, replacing the scattered
small farms of Italy with massive slave-run plantations run for profit, rather than the
benefit of the state. This economic shift towards the large slave farms prompted those
small families to now enter the capite censi class and migrate to Rome for greater opportunities.
An attempt to reverse this trend occurred around three decades before Marius, with the
rise and fall of the Gracchi brothers; Gaius and Tiberius. Tribune of the Plebs Tiberius
was the elder, and was concerned with a land reform which was designed to increase the
amount of Roman land-owning citizens, in an attempt to reverse the homogenization of Italy’s
land by massive slave farms. His proposal was moderate and yet met bitter opposition
from the Senatorial propertied classes. To bypass the Senate, Tiberius attempted to use
the people’s assembly to pass the law, but the Senate arranged for another Tribune Marcus
Octavius, to use his veto to halt the entire thing in its tracks. This obvious and unprecedented
corruption worsened the situation even more and eventually Tiberius and his followers
were killed after he was accused of seeking the kingship. His brother Gaius, continued
on his brother’s footsteps and once again attempted to solve Rome’s burgeoning problems.
However, the senate viciously opposed these reforms, as well as another Tribune named
Marcus Livius Drusus the Elder, who undermined Gaius’ attempted reforms at every step.
When the senate essentially offered a bounty for the head of Gaius, he was killed. These
was the first occasions of the political violence, which would become occur more often in the
decades to come, as the Senate, which was putting off problems rather than solving them,
had increased the legitimacy of the populist politicians. This would have key consequences
in the events to come and would prove to be one of the first episodes leading to the fall
of the Republic. Thirty years after his father’s opposition
to the reforms of Gaius Gracchus, Marcus Livius Drusus the younger would also attempt his
own series of reforms which this time had the support of some leading senators. He proposed
a grain law, agrarian legislation overhauls and the transfer of jury courts to the senators,
however when he, seeing that the Italics were not happy with Rome, proposed the extension
of citizen rights to all inhabitants of Italy he was viciously opposed. He launched this
attempt with the cooperation of multiple allied leaders; such as the Marsi leader Quintus
Pompaedius Silo, who would become a Roman enemy in the upcoming Social War. However,
Drusus was mysteriously assassinated and that made the Social War inevitable. Rome managed
to eventually secure victory in the struggle. We are going to talk about this conflict down
the line, but in short this war prompted the Senate to give the Italics citizen rights.
With the destruction and replacement of Italy’s rural smallholdings, a vast amount of capite
censi legionnaires now had nothing to go back to when their military term in the was over.
The landless needed help from the State in the form of retirement benefits, which usually
came as a plot of land to farm. The question would become who would took up the role of
soldier’s champion: senate or their commander? Unfortunately, the conservative senate was
set in its ways and did not want to change the law to give land to the veterans, possibly
because the land could otherwise be used as part of their profitable plantations. This
unwillingness of the Roman Senate to function as the benefactors of their own veterans,
and their own citizens as a whole, prompted the legionaries to instead look to their commanders
for compensation. This lethal mixture of policies was exploited by Sulla in the midst of the
Mithridatic Wars. Marius and Sulla, who had at first been comrades were now bitter enemies.
In 88 BC, Marius attempted to take his erstwhile friend’s command of the war against Pontus,
and Sulla, who was not going to take it, escaped from Rome and appealed to the veterans who
had been settled in the region. Eventually, perhaps afraid that Sulla’s loss of command
would mean a loss of Pontic war loot for them, six Sullan legions marched on Rome for the
first time in centuries. Interestingly, it was the rank and file soldiers who came to
the capital with Sulla whereas the officers who were wealthier and more invested in the
Republic would not do it, which highlighted the key role of Marius’ enlistment of the
Capite Censi in the crisis. Unlike Marius it seems that after his actions,
Sulla noticed the damage he had caused to the Republic, which explains why he worked
so hard afterwards to strengthen it. He attempted to create a constitution designed to prevent
a recurrence of his own behavior of marching on Rome, making it treason if a governor did
not step down within 30 days of their successor’s arrival, if a governor led an army outside
of their province, entered an allied kingdom or started a war without the senate’s consent.
Sulla may have believed he was the only one who could prevent it from going into further
decline. This would also explain why he became dictator, strengthened the power of the republican
senate by doubling its size and why he gave up his dictatorship after his strengthening
reforms were in effect. However, instead of fixing Rome’s problems, Sulla’s reign
instead showed other ambitious commanders how to use their army to their own gain. Again,
he attempted to stop this. Realising he might be imitated, he settled his own veterans in
Italy as a safeguard force to defend the senate against the new usurpers of power. Unfortunately,
this would later backfire and further cripple the republic. Despite his various attempts
to reform the Roman Republic, Sulla’s dictatorship had ended the days of loyalty to the state.
Rome, with the senate at its head, could no longer command the allegiance of the Romans.
Granting veterans land might also not have been the best possible pension plan, both
for the individual soldiers and the Roman state. Many of the veterans who were granted
land for farming would have had no experience of agriculture, and Sulla’s veterans who
were settled in Etruria went into debt due to this inexperience. Moreover, the simple
presence of these individuals in Italy became a danger in itself. Due to their days fighting
against Pontus in Asia, many of the Sullan veterans had gained a taste for extravagance
and luxury and now could not sustain that lifestyle as mere citizen farmers and functioned
as a ticking time bomb. During the next political danger in the year 63 BC; the Catiline conspiracy,
disaffected Sullan veterans joined the attempted usurpation of the Roman state in an attempt
to regain their lost wealth and, though the attempt failed due to the intervention of
Cicero, it just showed how vulnerable Rome had become to instability. This was the situation
in the Roman republic by the time Gaius Julius Caesar gained the governorship of Gaul, using
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