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Thread: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

  1. #1
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    Bret Devereaux wrote recently that, in the third and second centuries BC, the Roman Republic completed its conquest of peninsular Italy and then defeated its major rivals in the Mediterranean - Carthage, Macedon and the Seleucids, while winning smaller conflicts in Spain, the Balkans, Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul - and that, that traditionally, this success was explained by Rome's large supply of manpower.

    Naturally the question of how Rome was able to effectively run the table, overturning the entire Mediterranean state system in just a century and a half or so, is an important one. Traditionally, scholars have pointed to some of the tremendous and outsized Roman mobilizations (especially in 216-214) and thus argued that ‘manpower’ was the Roman secret: Rome had, in the words of Nicholas Sekunda, “horde after uncomplaining horde of Italian peasant manpower” to throw at its enemies. Fireside Friday, October 28, 2022
    However, there are problems with the theory that Rome won because of an "uncomplaining horde" of manpower:

    It isn’t that the Romans just had more surplus manpower because [...] the nature of ancient agriculture meant that everyone had lots of surplus manpower, with small farms generating little surplus because they supported families that, as units of labor, were much too large for their tiny farms.[...] The question was never finding a lot of farmers with not a lot to do (they were the one thing you had a lot of), the question was turning those farmers into soldiers, which was in turn about prying resources, not people out of the countryside. Fireside Friday, October 28, 2022
    He suggests that Rome's advantage was not only in its reserves of manpower, but in the quality of the equipment worn or wielded by its soldiers:

    ... the Romans were anything but expendable: they were the most expensive kitted fellows out there. The main quantitative comparative element ended up being worked metal (iron and bronze) because worked metal was so expensive compared to other materials,[...] the Romans wore a lot of it, 25% more than their nearest competitors, in fact. Indeed just about everyone else’s kit seemed to look for any opportunity to substitute metal equipment for something else (like textile for armor, as in the linothorax). Meanwhile the Romans went gangbusters with mail armor, a new defensive technology whose main drawback was that it was very expensive, being both made of lots of expensive iron but also demanding a very labor-intensive manufacturing process. Initially worn by wealthy Romans, by the end of the period this became the standard armor of the legions, which is just wild. Fireside Friday, October 28, 2022
    While today's portrayals of which Roman soldiers wore which armour may not always be accurate (as JaM reported), I'm wondering about the implications of Devereux's findings, for campaigns and for mod users and modders. In campaigns, when you play as Rome, do you find that you're racing to get units with better equipment (and possibly wondering how to keep paying for this)? If you're competing with Rome, do you think about how to defeat Rome before they get the better equipment (I'm thinking about this now in a Massilia campaign, as I don't think my late game units can match Rome's for quality)? For mod users and modders, how well do you think Rome II mods represent the significance of manpower and mobilization?

    (I started a parallel thread in Vestigia Vetustatis for people who'd like to discuss whether Devereux's argument is right.)
    Last edited by Alwyn; November 13, 2022 at 07:25 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    Well, Roman Republic main advantage over competitors was its citizens.. Legions were formed only from middle class citizens, who could procure good weapons and armor.. Also, important fact is, that while citizens were obliged to serve in legion for certain amount of time (6-12 years, sometimes even more), they didnt had to do it all at once.. They were obliged to participate in 6 campaign seasons thorough their productive life.. Military service started when they were young, at 16 they could enlist as Velites, at 18+ as Hastati, and as 25 as Principes.. 40+ were typically assigned to Triarii. So, if we take typical 6 year long service, young boy might serve one campaign as Velite (probably accompanying his older brothers or father), then after few years he would enlist again as Hastatus for another campaign or two.. This means he would serve 3 out of mandatory 6 years... so its safe to assume, he would enlist as Principe when much older, for at least 2 campaign seasons.. some might even serve rest of required 6 years in Principes... only few would still enlist as Triarii for final campaign..

    What is important to understand, is that Roman Republic circled their whole middle class through the ranks of the legions.. which means they had steady amount of men with prior military service available if situation called for more.. At the same time, military equipment owned by Roman citizens was most likely passed from fathers to sons, as not entire family was usually enlisted at the same time.. which means, son could use father's armor during his duty... This practice actually kinda explain why Roman Senate had to finance weapons and armor after major defeats during Second Punic War, after Consular Legions were defeated and new Legions had to be quickly risen..

    Of course, entire system fell apart, due to socio-economic situation, as middle class couldn't compete with large land owners who got rich thanks to massive influx of slaves and lots of new land acquired through conquest.. with required military service extending more and more, middle class just couldn't keep up and eventually whole system had to be reformed and Proletarii were allowed to enlist...

  3. #3

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    It's not true that Rome had unlimited manpower.
    Rome was very cruel. They force the conquered to fight in the army.

    Most of the army was foreigners. They were used as cannon fodder.

  4. #4

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    lol, no.. On contrary Rome was good in diplomacy.. For example Italian tribes during second Punic War, stayed allied to Rome with small exceptions.. That was the whole point why Hannibal failed.. he hoped he will turn Roman Italic allies against them but he failed miserably..

  5. #5
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    It sounds like Roman diplomacy was important in defeating Hannibal. Also, the Romans adapted their strategy when a Roman commander, Fabius, used delaying tactics to disrupt Hannibal's forces - I don't know how important this was in Hannibal's defeat. Was Hannibal defeated by Roman diplomacy and flexibility, or by his inability to take the city of Rome after Cannae?

  6. #6

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    Well, after Cannae, Hannibal failed to capture city of Nola.. he had absolutely no chance capturing Rome with its a lot stronger defenses.. He became practically "contained" in the south Italy for years to come, while war was decided without him (in Spain), especially after Carthago Nova was captured by Scipio Africanus.. Last chapter and battle of Zama was just a final nail..

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    I would argue diplomacy played more of a role than the amateur historian would think. Rome had many allies, allies that were usually treated pretty well in the early Republic, comparatively speaking. Not just for military auxiliaries, but for food and trade. Being the "up and coming" new power in the Mediterranean also helped, as potential allies saw Rome's rise to power as a chance to increase their own standing.

  8. #8

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    It is difficult to tell.
    Rome was very well aware of manpower shortages in the 3d century AD, especially in Gaul. The focus on conquest had then been long gone, and if you read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (2nc Century) there ist little to be found on Rome going anywhere in terms of military expansion. I suppose that the manpower pool of Rome had been superior during the 1st century BC and even going into the 1st century AD. But you have to consider, that waging wars of expansion is very much different from defending an Empire. However, the Romans certainly had superior military equipment and organisation in the 1st century BC and did choose their enemies after careful deliberation on the subject. Having a standing army with expert training certainly helped - and the Roman forces were steadily improving in those areas until the end of the 2nd century AD. I personally think, that after the victories over Carthage, Macedonia und the Iberians and Caesars war in Gaul theres was hardly any force worth standing against them for quite some time.
    From the pride and arrogance of the Romans nothing is sacred. But the vindictive gods are now at hand. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory (Boudiccas Speech, Tacitus, Annals, XIV, 35)

    under Patronage of Emperor Dimitricus, Granddaughter of the Black Prince.

  9. #9
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    I see - it sounds like the secret of Rome's success against Hannibal, at least, was a combination of strong defences for Roman cities, Rome's good treatment of their allies (and the belief of the allies that they were teaming up with a rising power) and superior equipment, organisation and training.

    That's a good point that while the Roman Republic didn't seem to lack manpower (at least usually), the later Roman Empire did. I wonder what happened to Roman manpower in the 3rd century - was it plagues such as the Plague of Cyprian (but there were plagues earlier too), or too many civil wars, or something else?

  10. #10

    Default Re: The Secret of Rome's Success: Manpower or Mobilisation?

    Well, 3rd century AD Roman Army was professional.. it relied on volunteers who wanted to be legionaries.. Republican Legions were "conscript" forces.. service was expected from all citizens who qualified based on census.. so the whole problem in 3rd century AD was lack of people willing to join army.. service in the army was no longer seen as something "worth doing" for Roman citizens.. Anyway, i think this whole problem can be observed even today - professional army is small army.. it usually has a problem to replace losses.. conscript army can, but its quality is (usually) terrible.. Roman Legions were as effective as before.. but number of professional legionaries was limited, and constant "civil wars" meant that Roman armies were weaker and weaker.. up to the point they were no longer able to protect the empire.. (but of course I'm simplifying the whole thing a bit and there were also other factors involved)

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