Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic

Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic

Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic

Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic

Synopsis

Historians have long asserted that during and after the Hannibalic War, the Roman Republic's need to conscript men for long-term military service helped bring about the demise of Italy's small farms and that the misery of impoverished citizens then became fuel for the social and political conflagrations of the late republic. Nathan Rosenstein challenges this claim, showing how Rome reconciled the needs of war and agriculture throughout the middle republic.



The key, Rosenstein argues, lies in recognizing the critical role of family formation. By analyzing models of families' needs for agricultural labor over their life cycles, he shows that families often had a surplus of manpower to meet the demands of military conscription. Did, then, Roman imperialism play any role in the social crisis of the later second century B.C.' Rosenstein argues that Roman warfare had critical demographic consequences that have gone unrecognized by previous historians: heavy military mortality paradoxically helped sustain a dramatic increase in the birthrate, ultimately leading to overpopulation and landlessness.

Excerpt

Limits on aristocratic competition for honor, glory, wealth, and power protected the corporate interests of Rome’s governing class as well as the wellbeing of the people it ruled during most of the middle and late republic. What was remarkable about the republican system was the fact that the elite had to impose these controls upon itself, unlike monarchies in which the interests of a ruler always set firm boundaries to his or her subjects’ self-aggrandizement. By and large, the aristocracy’s efforts were successful. Limits allowed aristocratic rivalry to help Rome win an empire and yet enjoy stable government until quite late in the game. But in one respect this process might appear to have fallen seriously short—indeed, no attempt to insist on a limit seems evident at all—and that was in the republic’s propensity to go to war. Warfare and conquest constituted the paramount arena for the display of aristocratic virtus and the acquisition of prestige as well as the more tangible benefit of great wealth. Generals and others who served the republic by defending its interests and enlarging its imperium garnered laus and fama and laid the basis for a lasting auctoritas and often higher office. the aristocracy had an interest, therefore, in going to war often in order to provide its members with opportunities to advance themselves in the contention for eminence. But in allowing these competitive drives to be played out year after year in increasingly distant theaters of war, the aristocracy gradually undermined first the social and economic, then the military, and finally the civic foundations of the republic. Or so many historians aver. For nearly every scholar who has sought to explain the social and political turmoil of the Roman Republic’s last hundred years has traced its origins to the impact of the city’s secondcentury wars on Italy’s small farmers —the men who manned the legions and furnished the army’s allied contingents—when the city’s demands for soldiers began to conflict fundamentally with the needs of husbandry.

Prior to 200 B.C. (or perhaps the Hannibalic War—opinions differ), conventional wisdom holds that war and agriculture blended together seamlessly. Campaigns were short, conducted close to home, and fought . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.