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The ‘Disappearance’ of Velites in the Late Republic: A Reappraisal

François Gauthier

Mount Allison University

It has traditionally been held that the velites, the light infantry of the Republic, were eventually replaced by auxiliaries over the course of the first century BCE. This has often been related with the ‘Marian reform’ in which Marius supposedly disbanded citizen cavalry and velites. However, the theory of the Marian reform has recently been heavily criticized and is no longer tenable (Cadiou 2018). Indeed, it has for instance been demonstrated that Roman citizen cavalry continued to exist in the first century BCE (Cadiou 2016). Moreover, it is now commonly acknowledged that auxiliaries were regularly used in substantial numbers since the Middle Republic (Prag 2007). Therefore, the ‘disappearance’ of velites cannot be explained by a supposed Marian reform or a trend concerning the emergence of auxiliaries.

This paper wishes to challenge the traditional view by arguing that the velites were not actually disbanded. They continued to be used until the end of the Republic. The enduring modern historiographical construction that is the Marian reform and the often imprecise terminology of our sources are largely responsible for the old view. It is of course possible that velites eventually ceased to be recruited from among the poorest and youngest of all citizens (Pol. 6.21.7). However, references to light infantry in the first century exist and they are not necessarily accompanied by the precision that they are foreign auxiliaries (e.g. Caes. BAlex. 17; Bciv 1.48.7, et al.). For instance, evocati are mentioned as fighting as light-armed troops (Caes. Bciv. 1.27.5). In summary, the proposed paper would fill an important gap in modern research by exploring a question whose answer has for a long time been taken for granted as a result of the theory of the ‘Marian reform’.

Session/Panel Title

The Roman Army During the Republican Period

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