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Youthful Military Service and Aristocratic Values in the Late Roman Republic.

Noah A.S. Segal

University of California, Santa Barbara

Polybius (6.19.4) maintained that any Roman seeking public office could only do so after having served in ten military campaigns (the so-called decem stipendia). This is not surprising given the nearly constant state of warfare during much of the Republic, and the legitimacy the aristocracy drew from martial valor (Harris 1979; Rosenstein 2006, 2007). It is widely (though not universally) accepted that this rule was no longer in force by the Late Republic. Yet, there is no clear consensus about how much military service was normal in the period; and since there is quite a wide spectrum between zero and, say, nine campaigns to be undertaken between the ages of about 17 and 27 (military tribune) or 30 (quaestor), it is correspondingly uncertain just how much less ‘military’ the Roman aristocracy of the Late Republic had become. At stake is nothing less than the place of military valor in the value-system governing public service in the last generations of the Roman Republic.

The fundamental problem we face in trying to answer this question is the lack of detailed evidence for Roman senators’ youth. But there is a way to compensate for this difficulty. Plutarch’s Lives, being biographies, are more interested than our other sources in their subjects’ early careers; and while these subjects are virtually by definition exceptional, as the most prominent senators of their time they can be expected to have fulfilled all essential expectations of Roman voters. If the extent of military service was an important qualification for a public career, then one would expect them to have had significantly more of it than the norm. Yet, of the 13 late-republican subjects of the Lives, while all probably performed some military service, eight did not did not serve 10 campaigns; and of these eight, half seem to have only served two campaigns. We have record of none serving more than six. It seems likely that the norm for Roman senators of the Late Republic may have been slightly less. It is also worth considering, in light of these findings, whether or not the decem stipendia existed as a law at all since it is only attested to once in our sources.

This evidence has important implications not only for considering the decem stipendia, but also for our understanding of aristocratic values and career in this period. For example, the amount of youthful service seems to have had little bearing on one’s ability to obtain important commands later in life and to trade heavily upon military reputation. More significantly, this reading also indicates clearly that the Roman elite was no longer a “warrior-aristocracy,” as it is frequently styled. Military achievement during one’s public career, in a command position, was obviously a significant point of interest for Roman voters during the age of Pompey and Caesar; both were rewarded repeatedly by voters for their military successes. Yet, whereas youthful service had been important for launching a political career in the Middle Republic, by the Late Republic this seems to have changed radically. With this evidence, the importance of youthful service to the voters of the Late Republic may be somewhat analogous to American political landscape during the years of the draft, wherein most candidates had only to prove a minimum amount of military service while few who could claim more distinguished and lengthy terms of service were able to trade more heavily upon their military record. This represents a stark departure from the Republic’s traditional political culture, and is indicative of a larger renegotiation of the political value of military achievement in the late Republic (McDonnell 2006; Blösel 2011). A more nuanced conception of the value placed on military valor in this period is crucial to understanding aristocratic values of the Late Republic.

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Political Enculturation

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