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In the late second century BC, Rome had defeated and subjugated Greece and Macedonia, wiped

Carthage from existence and had delivered the Seleucid Empire a devastating blow. Its

fortunes seemed to be ever increasing, but problems were growing slowly. The stress of

ever-increasing warfare and wealth division in their society was threatening to tear the

Republic apart. On top of this, the militia army of the earlier republic was stagnating,

and becoming inadequate for facing new enemies due to a lack of manpower. Soon a threat from

the north would emerge that would necessitate the complete overhaul of the Roman military

into what was essentially the first Roman Imperial Army. Welcome to our video on the

Marian reforms of the late republic.

In 113 BC, a roaming army of Germanic warriors crossed Romes border on the Danube, driven

by unlivable climate conditions in their homeland. For the next few years they rampaged around

Roman territory and defeated a few Roman armies. In 105BC they crushed an army of 80,000 legionaries

at Arausio, after which the situation became critical.

The Roman people were terrified, and expected the Germanic hordes at the gates of Rome at

any time. It seemed as through the Republic might fall until one man returned to take

command: Gaius Marius. He had just finished the Jugurthine War against the Numidians and

was elected consul in absentia during the year 105 BC. Upon his return to Rome, he began

to drastically alter the military in order to combat this new threat. His reforms would

have a wide-ranging impact, both on the legions and the state of Rome.

It is worth noting that not all of his changes were novel. Generals before Marius had paved

the way for them, and had partaken in various different tactics before this time, such as

the reduction of the baggage train. Marius, however, both created new methods for the

Roman army, and permanently instituted the effective methods of the other commanders

who had come before him. Until Mariusreforms, there was a property

requirement to join the citizen militia legions. This limited the number of legionaries, as

they had to supply their own arms and armour and had to own property valued at 3,500 sesterces

or more. Perhaps the most important reform implemented by Marius was to ignore this property

requirement. He allowed the capite censi of Rome to join the legions: thosecounted

by the head’. The landless poor were now among the ranks of those who could join the

legions, even though they had no property. On top of and because of this, Marius arranged

for the state to supply the legions with their arms and armour, offered poor recruits the

chance to gain a professional soldiers pay and the chance to gain loot and plunder

on campaign. The masses, with little hope of gaining status in any other occupation,

flocked to Mariusnew legions. In contrast to the earlier Roman policy in which the citizen

army would disband after a campaign, recruits were now enlisted for a term of 16 years.

This created a standing Roman army for the first time and drastically increased its quality.

On the other hand, the balanced cross-sectional army of the Roman people at war was destroyed,

in favour of an army made up mainly of the landless poor, the proletarii. This would

eventually have grave consequences for the republic, as the poor soldiers became loyal

to their generals, rather than to the Roman state. While this seems like a landmark change,

it is also possible that these reforms were just the final stage in an already occurring

gradual decline in property requirements for the Roman army.

The organisation of the various Roman units was also completely changed in these reforms.

The early maniple system was last recorded being used in the Battle of Muthul in the

Jugurthine War of 109 BC. As the system had become obsolete and needed replacement, the

Romans did away with it without sentimentality. By 104 BC Marius had discarded four of the

five legionary standards, which had been used for command and control purposes: the minotaur,

horse, boar and wolf. Only one remained; the aquila, or eagle. This is when the Roman eagle

standard became the emblem of the Roman legions. To replace the maniples as the primary tactical

unit of the Roman military, the Cohort was adopted. Compared to the 120-strong maniple,

a standard Republican Cohort was a larger 600-strong unit, comprising of 6 Centuries.

480 of these men were legionaries, whereas the other 120 were non-combatants - either

servants, slaves or tactical support personnel such as engineers.

The component unit, the Romancentury’, was a 100 strong unit commanded by a Centurion.

In this unit, 80 men served as legionaries and 20 men were non-combatants. There was

no designated military commander of a Cohort itself, and it is widely believed that either

the most senior Centurion took command, or the six Centurions commanded together as a

council. The smallest and most personal unit in this system was the Contubernium. This

was comprised of 10 men commanded by an officer called a Decanus. 8 men were legionaries and

only 2 were non-combatants. Ten Contubernia made up a Century, and six Centuries made

up a Cohort. It was ten of these new military divisions which made up a new Roman legion

of around 6,000 men, with 4,800 legionaries and 1,200 noncombatants.

The abolition of the manipular system also abolished the three distinct lines of infantry

of the mid-republic. The Hastati, Principes and Triarii were removed and instead, three

lines of infantry, equipped similarly to the earlier Principes, were adopted. The form

of Triplex Acies used in the Marian legion was different to the one implemented prior

to it. Cohorts were a solid unit with only small gaps between them, compared to the previous

maniple system with larger gaps. This, along with the increased depth of the new cohorts,

reduced the tendency of the soldiers to panic and flee, as they would feel they had more

support and were safe. The legions were now on their way to becoming

the force of popular imagination, a homogeneous force of heavy infantry armed with the Gladius

as their primary weapons and a dagger called the Pugio as a sidearm. These new uniform

warriors were all named Legionarii. Their equipment mostly remained the same, but some

tweaks were made. The iron shank of the Pilum javelin was previously attached to the wooden

shaft by two nails. However Marius replaced one of the nails with a less sturdy wooden

peg. On impact with a shield, the peg would snap, rendering the Pilum useless and bending

the shank at a right-angle, making the enemy even more encumbered by the impaling of their

shields. As for protection, the legionarii wore a helmet,

body armour and greaves. His main protection however, was still the large Scutum shield,

which covered the soldier from shoulder to shin. A legionary would also bash and batter

opponents with his shield despite its weight. In this way, it could be just as offensive

as his blade. The 1,200 non-combat attendants may seem like

a lot of support personnel at first glance, but it is important to remember the key role

of logistics in warfare. Without food, animals, fuel and maintenance, an army could not function.

The reforms did not ignore logistics, and the creation ofMariusMuleswas

a perfect example of this. Under him, the legionaries began to carry all of their equipment

themselves, rather than relying on a cumbersome baggage train. This had many positive impacts

for the operations of the army. The soldiers themselves became conditioned by their heavy

load, with the physical training increasing their endurance during combat. In addition,

the soldiers carrying their own entrenching equipment allowed for the rapid construction

of fortifications, camps and earthworks. Finally the lack of a massive baggage train also allowed

the legions to move extremely quickly compared to their prior speed. The only drawbacks were

the complaints from the legionaries about their new heavy workload - becoming referred

to as MariusMules, named so for their heavy packs.

As the Republic progressed, the unpopular nature of horsemanship in Roman society resulted

in a severe deficit of cavalry. While the Romans were still fighting smaller foes on

their peninsula, the smaller cavalry wing they possessed was adequate. However, as they

began to come into contact with larger external foes with fearsome cavalry contingents, such

as the Germans or Gauls, it resulted in serious setbacks, despite their lethal heavy infantry.

After the Battle of Zama, Roman armies were almost always accompanied by a significant

force of non-Italian cavalry. This became even more pronounced in the time of Marius,

as he disbanded most of the Roman and Italian cavalry, replacing it entirely with native

allied cavalry, who were often better trained and had specialised equipment from their homeland.

In his later conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar relied heavily on the famous Numidian cavalry

and later his Gallic and Germanic heavy cavalry for his victories in that war. Indeed, the

final cavalry charge that gained victory at the Battle of Alesia in 52 BC was made by

Caesars German cavalry. Allied light infantry Auxilia were also used

in place of the earlier Velites, which Marius disbanded. Various native peoples from around

and outside the Empire were used, including but not limited to German light infantry,

Balearic slingers, Cretan archers and light Spanish melee troops.

Using his newly honed legions and tactics, Marius was successful and the Cimbri were

defeated once and for all at the Battles of Aquae Sextaie and Vercellae in 102 and 101

BC. The reforms had their desired effect on the army, making it a standing professional

force which did not disband after campaigning, allowing it to retain its experience. In the

coming centuries, this would set the stage for the development of the most efficient

and deadly army of the ancient world. Despite the benefits, such massive changes

would not go without consequence for the Republic. Because the general of a Roman army was responsible

for the payment of their soldiers in both land and coin, the armies would often be more

loyal to their general than to the Roman state. This was exacerbated as the majority of legionaries

were now the poorer proletarii who desired payment and advancement. As a result, power

began to shift from the senatorial class to the commanders in the field. From Marius,

to Sulla, Pompey and finally to Caesar, this would cause a series of power struggles between

various the strongmen of Rome which led to a series of civil wars.

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Eventually, the strain of these immense social changes would result in the rise of the Imperial

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The Description of Marian Reforms and their Military Effects DOCUMENTARY