Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 22.

Nathan Rosenstein, Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic. Chapel Hill and London, University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Pp. X + 339, incl. 3 tables, 2 figures, and 7 appendices. ISBN 0-8078-2839-4. US$45.00.

David Harthen
Classics, University of Liverpool

In this book Rosenstein offers a new interpretation of the impact of prolonged, year-round, military service on Roman families with agrarian smallholdings during the Middle Roman Republic. The author challenges the notion that evermore expansive wars, with troops serving further afield and for longer periods of military service, led to the Roman aristocracy gradually undermining the social, economic, military, and civic foundations of the Roman Republic.

In Chapter 1, 'Introduction: Agriculture in Italy from Hannibal to Tiberius Gracchus' (pp. 3-25), Rosenstein begins by outlining and summarising the view of Brunt:[[1]] that longer military campaigns led to the neglect of smallholdings. These in turn were purchased by rich aristocrats with the booty of successful wars and farmed with slave labour captured in war (rather than allow dispossessed citizens to farm such land as tenants). Such practices led to the rise of such men as Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, and ultimately, Antony and Octavian, and therefore prolonged service in the legions had a corrosive effect on Roman and Allied land- ownership. In turn this led to the failure of the Roman aristocracy to contain the ambitions of its most powerful members. Against this theory Rosenstein offers his counter-argument that the impact of prolonged military service might not have been as corrosive as perhaps imagined. Rosenstein points out that Roman males were liable for military service from the age of seventeen, but tended not to marry until about the age of thirty. The author maintaining that as Roman males were liable for conscription from the age of seventeen with marriage probably occurring after their military service, their labour was probably superfluous to their natal family and they had not yet made a commitment to a family of their own. Rosenstein maintains that such marriage practices provided the key to resolving the conflict between military service and agriculture. Rather oddly however, at no point in this chapter does Rosenstein actually cite Aulus Gellius' Noctes Atticae 10.28.1 as being the source for our knowledge that Roman males became liable for military service at the age of seventeen.

In Chapter 2, 'Warfare and Agriculture: A Critique of the Conventional View' (pp. 26-62), the author seeks to assert the view that the conflict between the demands of military service and the needs of small-scale husbandry were nothing new in the second century. Indeed, Rosenstein points out that from the fourth century BC, the Roman army had a commissariat and paid troops 'ration money' (along with issues of grain to allied troops) which effectively freed the Roman army from the constraints of the ripening and harvesting dates of its enemies. This new approach to logistics, Rosenstein maintains, gave the Roman army the freedom to campaign all year round if necessary. Rosenstein catalogues and outlines numerous literary references to year-round campaigning (or campaigning into winter) and concludes that the evidence is at odds with the needs of soldiers who were also farmers. Rosenstein offers extremely plausible and quite convincing arguments for rejecting the notion that Roman soldier-farmers were allowed furloughs to sow and/or harvest their crops. This line of argument becomes even more convincing when Rosenstein notes that the armies of Pyrrhus, the Carthaginians in Sicily, and Hannibal were almost wholly comprised of mercenaries. Such mercenaries could have been kept under arms all year round, which would have made the granting of furloughs to Roman soldier-farmers all the more implausible, especially once similar needs among Rome's Italian allies are added to the equation.

In Chapter 3, 'War and the Life Cycles of Families: Three Models' (pp. 63-106), Rosenstein presents the reader with three model families: a mature family with father aged fifty, mother aged forty, and with two sons aged twenty and fifteen, with a daughter aged ten. His second model is a young married couple, with three children all under the age of five. Rosenstein's final model is once again the mature family mentioned above, but with the assumption that the father had died or been incapacitated. Rosenstein uses these models in order to assess and test the presumption that year-round, long- term military service from the late-third century BC onwards created a critical shortage of labour on the small farms from which the Roman republic drew its soldiers. The author maintains that his own hypothesis suggests that the Roman republic had the ability to exploit Italian marriage patterns for military ends and that this made a previously overlooked, though vital, contribution to Rome's military success. Rosenstein concludes the chapter with the assertion that whatever caused the landlessness and poverty that Tiberius Gracchus sought to remedy in 133 BC, it was not due to the abandonment of farms owing to the families' inability to keep them going while their men were serving in the military.

Chapter 4, 'Mortality in War' (pp. 107-40), seeks to address two main questions, 'How did Rome's wars of the late third and second centuries affect the farms and families of the men who fought them?' and secondly, 'What accounted for the social and economic conditions that formed the background to the events of Tiberius Gracchus' tribunate?' In this chapter, and that which follows it, Rosenstein argues that military mortality had a major impact on Roman and Allied society. Rosenstein points out that the subject of military mortality has been little studied, and such studies as have been made lack systematic treatment of the evidence, thereby limiting their usefulness.[[2]] As the starting point of his investigation the author takes Roman casualty figures recorded in Livy. Rosenstein rejects the notion that Roman commanders would have had only a vague knowledge of logistical matters, pointing out that commanders and their quaestors would have kept relatively detailed accounts as such rationes had to be produced on demand for scrutiny by the state. Naturally, the number of casualties suffered would have a bearing on the amount of pay and grain that were issued.

In Chapter 5, 'Mortality and Crisis' (pp. 141-69), Rosenstein concludes that the end of colony-building and unprofitable fighting in Spain resulted in the costs of war not being offset by gains. Added to this, the author maintains that the Roman system of war and expansion required a higher birth-rate than the environmental resources of Rome and her allies could sustain. Furthermore, Rosenstein believes that the extremely high military mortality rate of the late third and early second centuries altered the demographic calculus governing the balance of population growth and environmental resources in favour of the former. Rosenstein maintains that as Rome's wars became less bloody with more young men surviving, or not serving in the legions, and with women marrying earlier, families believed that the profits of war and expansion would continue. Most importantly, Rosenstein argues that poverty among smallholders was primarily a result of families having to divide their property among inheriting sons and daughters following the cessation of colonisation. Finally, Rosenstein maintains that the resulting cataclysm was due to Rome's political leaders failing to realise that population growth was the major cause of the poverty that resulted in the agrarian crisis faced by the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus.

Several issues of key importance to Rosenstein's theories are discussed as the topics of the appendices. Appendix 1, 'The Number of Roman Slaves in 168 BC' (pp. 171-73), argues against the notion that the number of slaves had increased dramatically by 168 BC. In Appendix 2, 'The Accuracy of the Roman Calendar before 218 BC' (pp. 174-80), Rosenstein points out that although the Roman Calendar may have been between two to four weeks behind solar time such a relatively small margin of error is understandable given the shortcomings of the pre-Julian calendar. Appendix 3, 'Tenancy' (pp. 181f.), argues against the notion that tenancy was common in the middle Republic. Appendix 4, 'The Minimum Age for Military Service' (pp. 183f.), maintains that there is no reason whatsoever to doubt our ancient sources when they inform us that Roman military service began at seventeen. In Appendix 5, 'The Proportion of Assidui in the Roman Republic' (pp. 185-88), Rosenstein argues that although the Republic desperately needed to raise new legions in 214 BC and reduced exemptions, smallholders were nevertheless permitted to remain on their land despite the needs of war. Appendix 6, 'The Duration of Military Service in the Second Century BC' (pp. 189f.), suggests that Roman military service could commonly last sixteen years. Finally, in Appendix 7 'The Number of Citizen Deaths as a Result of Military Service between 203 and 168 BC' (pp. 191f.), Rosenstein calculates that deaths attributable to warfare in the period 203-168 BC were somewhere between 35,414 and 63,966.

Throughout this book Rosenstein presents his reader with a radical and thought-provoking series of arguments in a logical and well-structured manner. The inclusion of appendices allows Rosenstein to present his viewpoints in the main body of his text clearly without getting bogged down with issues which, although important, would otherwise distract the reader from the main points of discussion had they been included in the main text. This book is sure to stimulate much fruitful discussion among scholars of Roman history of the causes of the agrarian crisis which was such a feature of Tiberius Gracchus' tribunate and, perhaps, a reinterpretation of the evidence.


[[1]] Peter A. Brunt, 'The Army and the Land in the Roman Revolution', JRS 52 (1962) 69-86, reprinted with changes in idem, The Fall of the Roman Republic and Related Essays (Oxford 1988). Compare idem, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (New York 1971); idem, Italian Manpower (London 1971); and along similar lines A. E. Astin, Scipio Africanus (Oxford 1967); Arnaldo Momigliano, Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenization (Cambridge 1975); Keith Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves. Sociological Studies in Roman History, Vol. 1. (Cambridge 1978); John K. Evans, War, Women and Children in Ancient Rome (London 1991); Jean-Michel David (translated by Antonia Nevill), The Roman Conquest of Italy (Oxford 1997).

[[2]] Dominic Rathbone, 'The Development of Agriculture in the Ager Cosanus during the Roman Republic: Problems of Evidence and Interpretation', JRS 71 (1981) 10-23. Rosenstein (p. 252 n.3) asserts that Rathbone's speculation is accepted by Neville Morley, Metropolis and Hinterland: The City of Rome and the Italian Economy, 200 BC-AD 200 (Cambridge 1996). Rosenstein (ibid.) describes the treatment of the sources by Richard A. Gabriel, and Karen M. Metz, From Sumer to Rome: The Military Capabilities of Ancient Armies. Contributions in Military Studies, no. 108 (New York 1991) as 'uncritical'. For a discussion of selected figures see Philip Sabin, 'The Roman Face of Battle', JRS 90 (2000) 1-17.