- Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic
This book reexamines the oft-repeated orthodoxy that once Roman Republican warfare had ceased to be a sort of annual outing and had become [End Page 1195] much more widespread and almost permanent, there was a deleterious effect on agriculture, leading to the ruin of the small farmers and abandonment of the land, and in turn to the succession of land bills that characterised the second and first centuries BC. The author looks at this theory from several angles, in a stimulating series of chapters that present an alternative point of view. One of the salient points discussed in the first chapter is that during the middle years of the Republic, Rome did not have to resort to compulsion to raise her armies. This presupposes that the small farmers who joined the legions were not being dragged off their holdings unwillingly, in the certain despairing knowledge that when their terms of service ended they would return to find their farms ruined and their families facing starvation. This is not to say that this never happened, but the scale on which it happened was probably much lower than the old orthodoxy would allow. The Roman populace was not noted for meekness, and this being so, the fact that armies were raised without much disturbance, even when the Republic was hard pressed in the third century BC, requires explanation. In his third chapter Rosenstein puts forward three models based on Roman and Italian economics and social customs, to suggest how the Roman Republic was able to "mobilize its citizens and allies so regularly for so long and ultimately on such a vast scale." Refreshingly, he argues for common sense among the Roman authorities in their recruiting policies, in that they took note of family life styles, where men did not normally marry young, allowing the armies to absorb the young unmarried men who were superfluous to the working of the farms, leaving the older married men with wives and children at home. He suggests that in those cases where the men under thirty were absolutely essential to running the farm, exemptions in recruiting could be made to avoid the risk that the farm would fail—Rosenstein admits that this would not eradicate the problem entirely because it does not take into account other cases where the family members left behind succumbed to illnesses and accidents, so that the farm declined after the once surplus young men had joined the legions.
In order to take his proposed models further, Rosenstein has to tackle the other thorny problems of the mortality rates of the war-torn Republic, the expansion of the large slave-run estates, and the evident contemporary popularity of the land bill put forward by Tiberius Gracchus, which was supported by the rural population and not just the urban plebs. These topics are examined in depth and in thought-provoking fashion. This is not a book for beginners, and it does not set out to describe military formations and weapons, but it is a pleasure to read, well argued, and packed with footnotes.
Urmston, United Kingdom