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Rome’s Recruits And England’s Recruits
by [?]

Two facts on which a sound estimate of the Roman corn-trade depends are these: first, the very important one, that it was not Rome in the sense of the Italian peninsula which relied upon foreign corn, but in the narrowest sense Rome the city; as respected what we now call Lombardy, Florence, Genoa, etc., Rome did not disturb the ancient agriculture. The other fact offers, perhaps, a still more important consideration. Rome was latterly a most populous city–we are disposed to agree with Lipsius, that it was four times as populous as most moderns esteem–most certainly it bore a higher ratio to the total Italy than any other capital (even London) has since borne to the territory over which it presided. Consequently it will be argued that in such a ratio must the foreign importations of Rome, even in the limited sense of Rome the city, have operated more destructively upon the domestic agriculture. Grant that not Italy, but Rome, was the main importer of foreign grain, still, if Rome to all Italy were as one to four in population, which there is good reason to believe it was, then even upon that distinction it will be insisted that the Roman importation crushed one-fourth of the native agriculture. Now, this we deny. Some part of the African and Egyptian grain was but a substitution for the Sardinian, and so far made no difference to Italy in ploughs, but only in denarii. But the main consideration of all is, that the Italian grain was not withdrawn from the vast population of Rome–this is not the logic of the case–no; on the contrary, the vast population of Rome arose and supervened as a consequence upon the opening of the foreign Alexandrian corn trade. It was not Rome that quirted the home agriculture. Rome, in the full sense, never would have existed without foreign supplies. If, therefore, Rome, by means of foreign grain, rose from four hundred thousand heads to four millions, then it follows that (except as to the original demand for the four hundred thousand) not one plough was disused in Italy that ever had been used. Whilst, even with regard to the original demand of the four hundred thousand, by so much of the Egyptian grain as had been a mere substitution for Sardinian no effect whatever could have followed to Italian agriculture.

Here, therefore, we see the many limitations which arise to the modern doctrine upon the destructive agricultural consequences of the Roman corn trade. Rome may have prevented the Italian agriculture from expanding, but she could not have caused it to decline.[1] Now, let us see how far this Roman corn trade affected the Roman recruiting service. It is alleged that agriculture declined under the foreign corn trade, and that for this reason ploughmen declined. But if we have shown cause for doubting whether agriculture declined, or only did not increase, then we are at liberty to infer that ploughmen did not decline, but only did not increase. Even of the real and not imaginary ploughmen at any time possessed by Italy, too many in the south were slaves, and therefore ineligible for the legionary service, except in desperate intestine struggles like the Social war or the Servile. Rome could not lose for her recruiting service any ploughmen but those whom she had really possessed; nor out of those whom really she possessed any that were slaves; nor out of those whom (not being slaves) she might have used for soldiers could it be said that she was liable to any absolute loss except as to those whom ordinarily she did use as soldiers, and preferred to use in circumstances of free choice.

These points premised, we go on to say that no craze current amongst learned men has more deeply disturbed the truth of history than the notion that ‘Marsi’ and ‘Peligni,’ or other big-boned Italian rustics, ever by choice constituted the general or even the favourite recruiting fund of the Roman republic. In thousands of books we have seen it asserted or assumed that the Romans triumphed so extensively chiefly because their armies were composed of Roman or kindred blood. This is false. Not the material, but the military system, of the Romans was the true key to their astonishing successes. In the time of Hannibal a Roman consul relied chiefly, it is true, upon Italian recruits, because he could seldom look for men of other blood. And it is possible enough that the same man, Fabius or Marcellus, if he had been sent abroad as a proconsul, might find his choice even then in what formerly had been his necessity. In some respects it is probable that the Italian rustic of true Italian blood was at that period the best raw material[2] easily procured for the legionary soldier. But circumstances altered; as the range of war expanded to the East it became far too costly to recruit in Italy; nor, if it had been less costly, could Italy have supplied the waste. Above all, with the advantages of the Roman military system, no particular physical material was required for making good soldiers. For these reasons it was that, after the Levant was permanently occupied by the Romans, where any legion had been originally stationed there it continued to be stationed, and there it was recruited, and, unless in some rare emergency of a critical war arising at a distance, there it was so continually recruited, that in the lapse of a generation it contained hardly any Roman or Italian blood in its composition, like the Attic ship which had been repaired with cedar until it retained no fragment of its original oak. Thus, the legion stationed at Antioch became entirely Syrian; that stationed at Alexandria, Grecian, Jewish, and, in a separate sense, Alexandrine. Caesar, it is notorious, raised one entire legion of Gauls (distinguished by the cognizance upon the helmet of the lark, whence commonly called the legion of the Alauda). But he recruited all his legions in Gaul. In Spain the armies of Assanius and Petreius, who surrendered to Caesar under a convention, consisted chiefly of Spaniards (not Hispanienses, or Romans born in Spain, but Hispani, Spaniards by blood); at Pharsalia a large part of Caesar’s army were Gauls, and of Pompey’s it is well known that many even amongst the legions contained no Europeans at all, but (as Caesar seasonably reminded his army) consisted of vagabonds from every part of the East. From all this we argue that S.P.Q.R. did not depend latterly upon native recruiting. And, in fact, they did not need to do so; their system and discipline would have made good soldiers out of mop-handles, if (like Lucian’s magical mop-handles) they could only have learned to march and to fill buckets with water at the word of command.