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How the Marian Reforms Impacted the Roman Military

Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

In the early days of the Roman army, there were restrictions on who could serve. Men had to meet a certain financial level in property value in order to participate in campaigns. Though they were paid by the State, the men who qualified on the lower end found themselves losing money. Their land was left unattended. That meant when the next campaigns came about, they were disqualified as their value decreased. Able-bodied men were unable to join the army due to economic hardship. Reforms were needed.

No Need for a Large Army

The number of military campaigns in the early years of the Roman Empire did not necessitate a large army in Rome. Within the area around the heart of the empire, relative peace was had. Having a limited number of soldiers met the need at the time. That meant not every man was needed to serve in the army. While that sounds good, there was a social hole in the plan. This led to the problem that those on the lower end of landed Romans could easily fall below the eligibility line. If they were eligible and went off on campaigns, they would not be able to tend to their properties to ensure enough income. The result would be that their worth would be lower the next year. The next campaign would mean that they were below the level to serve their country. By serving, they would be shooting themselves in the foot financially.

Yes, the empire paid them, but it wasn't enough to ensure staying above the line to be eligible. The desire to serve began to wane on the lower levels. The men preferred to stay out of the military and tend to their lands and family.

Political Power

Another result of the property requirement was the access to political power. As anyone who was decorated after a campaign could wear their decorations long after the event, their political aspirations could be obtained. Anyone wanting to rise politically wore these commendations to attract followers and appeal to the public. That meant they had money and power. Those who did not have enough were kept out of the race.

To a degree, this kept the empire tightly controlled. There was no fear of anyone from the lower levels of society having any power. It was all contained within the hands of those who had the money to keep it.


Importance of Reforms

The Marian Reforms were very important as the number of military campaigns was increasing and the need for more men became apparent. Continuing the way they were operating would only hinder the development of the empire and possibly open it up for invasion. Limiting the number of men might have worked when the empire was small. Growing as large as it was meant more men were needed .

The number of men above the property level was not enough to ensure victory. There were a vast number below that level that could be used. Marius allowed volunteers from all economic levels to serve in their army. He removed the financial restrictions. The new recruits were also paid and supported by the state. Without this new type of army recruiting, the chances of Rome succeeding would have been low. So much of history would have been changed.

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Political Change

These reforms also opened up a new political game. Now, the decorated would not be just the aristocracy. In theory, anyone who served in successful campaigns from any economic or class level could be a candidate in politics and rise farther than the upper class desired. Marius brought a better army and ensured victory, but he also ensured the weakening of the upper-class hold on the political arena.

The introduction of the lower classes changed who ran the empire. Rome was strengthened because of this and also set the stage for its downfall. Power was not limited to a few. It was expanded to the many.


Need for Reform

Nothing is perfect. Neither was Rome. What worked in the beginning would not work as the empire grew. Reform was needed to keep the empire as powerful as it was. This is why Marius is so studied in history. He brought about what Rome needed and enabled it to become as strong as it did.


- Le Glay, Marcel, Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. (Malden: Blackwell, 2009), 123.

- Goldsworthy, Adrian. Roman Warfare. (London: Phoenix, 2000), 53.


CJ Kelly from the PNW on May 17, 2017:

Nice job. Learning a lot (again). Sharing everywhere.

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