November 01, 2008

Military Service

The basis of Rome's strength as a city was her ability to mobilise her citizens in the pursuit of the objectives of the senate and people. War played a large part in Roman politics- and we have already seen influenced the contours of her domestic politics. As we come to the end of the fifth century though we see a massive change in Livy's history of Rome: in an act that Livy informs us proceeded from the generous heart of the senate, the Roman army was paid for its services for the first time in a campaign against Veii. (IV 59). 'The joy' Livy tells us 'at this innovation was unprecedented'. (IV 59). What instantly emerges though from Livy's account is the way that a paid army transformed the Roman state- Livy attributes the discussions and arguments about a paid army to the jealous passions of the tribunes (and there may be something in the argument that they resented the new popularity of the senate) but there is something else here that we ought to bear in mind when considering the change that this brought to Rome's position.

Firstly paying the army meant simply that Rome would need more money to fund its wars. The tribunes stated, in an argument to be repeated ad infinitum down to our times when the issue of tax arises, that the senate had merely been 'generous at others' expense' (IV 60). The argument has merit. The tribunes attempted to forment a tax strike- particularly as they argued it was unjust for veterans who had served before the change, when a soldier had to support himself on campaign, to contribute to this tax to allow their sons and nephews to have a softer time. Livy tells us that the senators overcame this by contributing voluntarily to the tax collection- but he gives us some idea of its size when he mentions that 'as there was not yet a silver coinage, some of them made quite a spectacle by driving to the treasuy with wagonfuls of bronze bars' (IV 60). What we are seeing here is a massive fiscal expansion of the Roman state.

Secondly paying the army changed the terms of service for men at the front. During the war between Rome and Veii, the Roman army camped outside of Veii during the summer and the winter. The tribunes were suspicious of this 'new idea of winter campaigning' and perceived a design to keep out of Rome 'large numbers of able men who are the strength of the popular cause'. (V 1). More interesting to us than this political conspiracy theory, is the answer of Appius Claudius the patrician's representative in the debate to the argument. For Claudius argued that the contract between the state and the soldier, the state and the citizen had fundementally changed: 'might not the state say "You have a year's pay so give a year's work"' (V 5). Appius's argument was simple- Rome was now paying the soldiers that it conscripted- they had no need to return to their farms to cultivate them if Rome paid them to fight. He mentions only to discard the notion of a 'mercenary' army (V 5) but then makes a further and more interesting appeal to the citizen as a citizen. Appius argues that the shift in military service benefits all because it benefits the state- he argues that such a shift makes Rome more powerful and more able to defend itself against Veii (V 5).

Whether this actually happened at the moment that Livy says it did is a matter that we cannot know- but I think the debate here is actually more interesting than the timing. What Livy demonstrates is that the shift from a volunteer unpaid army to a paid army has vast consequences for the internal politics of a Republic. It creates a great fiscal need that the state has to fulfill on the one hand and on the other it means that the state has much greater power over the soldier- and can demand more from him than before. In that sense it creates the state- it gives that organism much more power than it had before and allows it to project that power further. It does that though at a cost- for the tribunes were right, what the state had done was ultimately to deprive some of the brute force that the populace had to withdraw its labour. It is much easier to withdraw your labour when your income does not depend on it- by financing wars through taxation and paying soldiers, the state had made the Roman population less capable of resisting its instructions.

No matter on when that happened- that must have been a momentous change and one with great consequences for the future of Rome.

6 comments:

James Higham said...

It does give the state great power.

goodbanker said...

Livy also appears to hint at this as a precursor to a noteworthy step in monetary history - which neatly ties in with the point about the state gaining greater power. It was surely inefficient to pay taxes "by driving to the treasury with wagonfuls of bronze bars"; so while the "bronze bars" have remained as stores of value and a medium of exchange for retail transactions (to this day, if you count 1p and 2p coins), the significantly greater fiscal need that was created by paying the army provided the catalyst to come up with more efficient units of account - such as "a silver coinage" - with which to effect wholesale / tax payments to the state. Is this the point in time at which the Cartelist theory of the origins of money (in which money has value because the state is willing to accept it in taxes) gains greater traction over Menger's theory (rooted in the idea of money's value as a medium of exchange that helps overcome the problem in trade of finding a double coincidence of wants)?

Gracchi said...

James yes.

Goodbanker- what an interesting point- I can see how that works. As a word of caution- so far I haven't seen Livy making the connection explicit. I mean he says what you've quoted- but he doesn't as far as I have read (and admittedly its a while since I read further than I have blogged) discuss the changeover. Its an interesting issue- and like you I can see the connection is possible, but at the moment I can't say I've provided evidence one way or the other- excpet for the fact that in Livy's time Rome had silver coins and when they introduced this fiscal innovation they did not.

goodbanker said...

Thanks. To be honest, I wouldn't expect Livy to make the connection explicitly. Monetary theory was pretty embryonic in those days. (I recall Charles Goodhart being unpersuaded by Aristotle's attempt to explain the origin of money!) I suspect that, like many ideas based on incomplete primary evidence from the past, my suggestion will have to remain as conjecture. That said, the shorter the period of time between the events Livy was describing here and the point in time that silver coinage was introduced, the more likely there was some connection. Can you remind me when the military started to be paid? And do you happen to know the date that the first silver coinage started to circulate in the Roman economy?

Gracchi said...

According to Livy the tax was first made to pay for military pay in 406-5 BC.

As for Roman coinage- I've looked at a couple of websites and interestingly it appears that the bronze bars started around this time. They then used coins and then those coins became silver in the late third century BC and gold coins were introduced in the early third century BC. But this information does come from sites like Wikipedia so I'd attach a health warning.

I'll see what more I can find out over the next couple of days.

goodbanker said...

Not sure how you've got on looking into this issue further. In the field of numismatics, I think Philip Grierson is reliable. So I've gone back to a 1970 lecture of his on "The Origins of Money", in which he notes that "...coins first came to be used in western Asia Minor some time before the reign of the Lydian king Croesus (561-546BC)... the first coins were of electrum... in the mid sixth century BC coins of gold and silver began to replace those of electrum... from Asia Minor the use of coined money spread... outside the Greek world it was after some delay taken up by...the Romans." Unfortunately, Grierson doesn't give any further details of the chronology here. However, he does go on to comment that "the earliest coins were of electrum, and their value was too high for everyday transactions. The commonest denomination...would have had a purchasing power of about ten sheep... . The earliest silver coins were likewise far too valuable to have been of use in the petty commerce of daily life. Aristotle emphasised the importance of foreign trade... The evidence...is against the earliest coins having been used to facilitate trade of such a kind, for the contents of hoards points overwhelmingly to their local circulation. ... The alternative view is that since coins were issued by governments...it was administrative rather than economic needs they were intended to serve. Such needs would have included the payment of mercenaries - stamped coins would be an obviously satisfactory way of dividing an ingot or a mass of scrap silver plate into uniform pieces of metal... . [Silver] Coins would have facilitated expenditure on public works and the paymetn of state salaries, to say nothing of tributs, taxes, fines and harbour dues. Acceptance of coins by governments would be followed by their acceptance on the part of merchants, till the states felt able to demonetize older forms of primitive money... ."