The Roman Army After Marius' Reforms

An Introduction

Page 2

Marius' Reforms

General Gaius Marius

Gaius Marius lived 157 - 86 B.C. and was the uncle to Gaius Julius Caesar. Marius was a "new man" in Roman parlance, which meant that although he was from an equestrian family (Roman upper classes) he had no ancestors of senatorial rank. Born sometime around 157 B.C. in Arpinum, a town in southern Latium, Marius came from a family that was locally important (as befitting his equestrian status) and had established relationships with more socially important Roman families in Rome itself.

Marius' military career began early, although some accounts relate that Marius' military service was only viewed as a step ladder to greater things. During his time with Rome's legions, Marius came to notice at the battle of Numantia, where he served under the famous Scipio Aemilianus (grandson of Scipio Africanus).

Taking advantage of his family connections with powerful Romans, and his fame from service in Africa, Marius rose to power following the murder of Gaius Gracchus in 122 B.C. and one of his first acts as tribune was to pass a law preventing the inspection of ballot boxes to prevent intimidation of voters.

After election to Consul in 107 B.C., Marius presented himself as an honest, down to Earth soldier of Rome, who was (unfortunately) surrounded by corrupt, inept, patricians who were mis-managing the country and the army. Marius defeated the senate's attempt to confirm Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus (Metellus) as governor of Africa (using a cunning procedural ploy) and, through a special election gained the position as Roman commander in chief for Africa.

As the commander of the Roman forces in Africa, Marius was deeply involved in the war against the Numidian King, Jugurtha, and from this conflict his reforms began.

The Reforms


One of the first things Marius achieved was the abolition of the property qualifications for service in the legions. Since the earliest days the Roman army had been recruited from landowners who could afford to buy their own equipment. Even under the Gracchan agrarian reforms people who didn't own enough property for the fifth census class were exempt from military service. While this functioned well for most of the empire, by the late second century B.C. it was failing to provide anywhere near enough soldiers for Rome's needs. The change of the property limits for the fifth census class from 11,000 sesterces down to a trifling 3000 still failed to provide enough fighting men and by 109 B.C. the consuls had requested suspension of Grachus' levy restrictions.

Realising he needed lots of soldiers to successfully pursue a war in Africa, Marius completely ignored the census qualifications for military service and recruited his soldiers with no regard to land ownership. Marius recruited extensively from the capite censi (also known as the "head count" - mostly illiterate, landless peasants)

This change to recruitment had a very significant effect on the make up of the Roman legions. From this point onwards, Rome's legions would be made up of the very poorest members of society - of which Rome had lots at this point in time! For years, the Roman small holders had been moved out of their farmsteads by wealthy Roman senators and patricians who then put slaves to work on the land. Following the Gracchan reforms, the population of Rome itself had increased dramatically, often ex-soldiers, and all these people were now poor and landless. Marius' recruitment change offered them a future.

As the Roman army was now made up of landless soldiers, they became dependant on their General to provide them with land and money. This was a signifcant change, although it appears to have been unintentional and something Marius himself never took advantage of. In previous years, the legions owed their prime loyalty to the Senate and Rome itself. Following from Marius' change to the recruitment, legionaries were now only really loyal to their Generals. Additionally, unlikle previous generations where the soldiers had a home and land to go back to between wars, Marius' army was now one of "professional" soldiers. These were now men who would serve their General for 20 - 25 years before retiring. If their General was successful the soldier could look forward to a grant of land - again re-inforcing the bond between the General and his soldiers.

While it appears Marius was unaware of the social change he wrought, it was not completely unnoticed. In less than twenty years, Marius' ex-quaestor (elected official) Sulla would use the loyalty of his Legions to march on Rome. Sulla broke from tradition and crossed the pomerium (City Limits) despite the outrage this caused.

«Page 1» «Page 2» «Page 3» «Printable Version»


Sources Used

Haywood, J., "The Romans," Andromeda, Oxford, 1994

Marks, A., & Tingay, G., "Romans," Usborne, London, 2003

Cite this work

Wake, T., "The Roman Army After Marius' Reforms," http://
, 28 February 2006.

Printable Version

You can download this article as one large file for ease of printing.

General Gaius Marius - larger image opens in new windowGeneral Gaius Marius Caecilius Metellus family tree (from Wikipedia)Caecilius Metellus family tree (from Wikipedia) Marius amidst the Ruins of CarthageMarius amidst the Ruins of Carthage

Etrusia - Romans Information

Site Notes

  • Site Info
  • Version: 3.6.3b
  • Modified: 12 May 07