Ever since Mommsen, obligations dictated by foedera have consistently been seen as the key component of Roman and Italian military cooperation. This paper argues that social and cultural factors, more than just formal alliances, determined recruitment of Italian soldiers into Roman armies. Scholars’ dogmatic interpretation of the formula togatorum, along with the figures given by Polybius (2.23-24) for the Telamon campaign in 225 BC, has disguised the true nature of the military relationship between the communities of Italy, Rome included. Livy’s narrative for the period before the Punic Wars, as well as other surviving sources, reveals a pattern of constantly shifting alliances that centered on the idea of military cooperation with little regard for formal agreements. Throughout the history of the Republic, with variation over the centuries, Italian military forces were typically led by individuals of power in their respective communities, such as the Samnite Numerius Decimius, who, in 217 BC, brought 8,500 Samnite soldiers to support the dictator Fabius Cunctator (Livy 22.24). Not only did Numerius seemingly rely on his social, as opposed to civic, position to raise these men, but it would appear that he came to the aid of Fabius personally more than the community of Rome generally. Even as late as the Jugurthine War, Marius recruited from among the Italian allies men whom he had led previously and knew personally (Sal. Jug. 84).
These examples, which are hardly unique, suggest a means of recruitment that did not rely on formal agreements. Even in his description of systematic recruitment of Roman armies, Polybius (6.21.4) acknowledges that it was local leaders who were relied on to bring allied forces to Roman armies. Indeed, allied Italian military forces are repeatedly described as willing, and often eager, to serve in Roman armies, and only seldom is any mention of coercion made. It needs to be appreciated that military cooperation was a powerful feature of Italian culture that went far beyond the formal legal structures of foedera. Such cooperation was as much a social dynamic as it was military or political. Intricate social networks permeated Italian communities and bound them together alongside civic structures. Social relations were important too in tying different communities together, facilitating military cooperation beyond formal alliances. In addition to their social contacts, the peoples of Italy shared common concepts of warfare and religion with only local variation. Foedera certainly played a role in military cooperation, but they were not the only, or even most important, factor. The formula togatorum and Polybius’ description of the events of 225 BC need to be reinterpreted as only part of a much more complex system of recruitment of allied soldiers. In short, therefore, the paper urges the important point that by looking beyond the traditional emphasis on the foedus in Roman-Italian relations, it is possible to transform our understanding of the changing nature of Rome’s power and the place of the Italian allies in Rome’s hegemony.