I've read the books of Stephen Dando-Collins extensively. He makes a very compelling case that Roman legionaries were enlisted together, served their term and then were discharged together. In the time between, no legionaries would be enlisted. The legion would of course loose troops due to war, diseases, other causes, and shrink in size. But until the day of the discharge, no replacements would come to that legion. Except under very special circumstances. Most often, auxiliaries would be hired to make up for the lost numbers, until the new recruits came in. Which could be many years in the future.

I'm very much taken by this theory, but do have my doubts. The legions did have specific recruiting areas. And many legions fought as a legion under their own eagle, even when it had only one or a few cohorts.

But recruiting a couple of thousand strong young men would be a serious drain on the available manpower in that region. Tax-wise, that would not be a good idea. Meaning that the harvest of that year and the next couple of years would be a lot less. Those now ex-farm hands would be serving in army, instead of working on the fields.

How did the legions manage their recruitment? Is Dando-Collins correct?

Dando-Collins documents his work excellent. I'm not that good in formulating my question, likely. I'm not talking about centurions, they had a very different career path. Ordinary troops normal didn't have much of a career. They signed on as legionary, and usually retired not higher than imunes status. Making a career (as a common man) wasn't really an option in ancient times.

Assume a legion was raised by Caesar. For example, Legio I Germanica was raised in 48 BC. We can assume that all/most regular legionary were raw recruits, the centurions came (of course) from other legions. Service time was about 12 years, so the surviving legionaries were paid of and retired to become evocati in 36 BC. How many retirees is not so important.

As a new full legion it probably was about 4800 man strong. In those 12 years (later up to 25 years) lots of legionaries would die in combat, become medically unfit or died of natural causes. Probably anywhere between 1000 - 2000 legionaries would retire.

That means about 2800 up to (in my example) 3800 man had to be recruited.

I know each legion had its own area of recruitment, completely unrelated to where the legion was stationed. Recruiting officers recruited new legionaries there, and marched them to where the legion actually was stationed.

Between 48 BC and 36 BC no additional troops were send to make up for the losses, according to Dando. At best the legate or governor could hire extra auxiliaries. That seems entirely plausible to me. But this would, in my opinion, be a very large drain on local manpower, which was necessary to grow food and be productive civilians.

It's not a big deal for an area or province to supply a couple of hundred recruits each year. But supplying 2800-3800 strong young men is a lot. Even if it happens once very 12-25 years. It could affect the local economy seriously.

That's what I try to find out.

  • 2
    During which time period? The structure of the Roman legions and how they were formed and how legionaries were recruited changed significantly through the lifetime of the Roman Kingdom, Republic and Empire (500 BC to 400-700 AD) – user13123 Oct 12 '17 at 1:44
  • 1
    From the moment the legions became professional. That's a bit vague, but it is the period from Caesar to Augustus. Before, that was the Marian period, in which the professionalism slowly emerged. After Augustus the army was fully professional. So for practical purposes: about 20 BC until about 250-300 AD. I'm not so much looking for when it was first introduced, but why it was introduced. – Jos Oct 12 '17 at 2:01
  • 3
    At least some commanders would leaven new legions with experienced centurions. However, as legions were typically recruited only as needed, it would indeed be typical to enlist them en masse. I am less sure about the no replacements policy from a practical standpoint. However, in the post-Marius age legions often won battles with very low losses. Until the Late-Republic/Empire period most legions were recruited from Rome's underclasses only. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 12 '17 at 2:26
  • I'm no military historian, but coming from a military family, my knee-jerk response is sceptical. You discharge all your experienced veterans and replace them with untrained recruits? Who trains the recruits? Modern armies rely heavily on experienced ORs/NCOs to train, lead and guide new entrants, they could hardly function without them. This sounds like, to use a discrete example, disbanding the whole of the US Marine Corps and starting again from scratch! Or perhaps I've totally missed the point? – TheHonRose Oct 13 '17 at 2:31
  • 1
    Well, that's another reason why I have my doubts. According to Dando-Collins Legio XII Fulminata lost its eagle for that reason. They were about to retire. Not that many of them left, and they had other things on their minds. – Jos Oct 13 '17 at 3:29

Dando-Collins may be right, but not for the period you specify in your comment.

As I mentioned, the nature of the Roman military changed over its history. In the Kingdom and Republic, the military was mostly levied from the population as and when needed, and typically only for a single campaigning season. Sometimes a legion could be raised as a standing army, particularly to occupy invaded territory, but there was a 6 year limit on service by any individual. It was probably this period that Dando-Collins is talking about - a legion would be raised from a local population to deal with a threat or engage in a war and then disbanded en masse once victorious.

Between Marius and Augustus (late Republic to early Empire), the military was transitioning into a professional volunteer army. However, the civil wars leading up to Augustus' reign saw the number of legions bloat incredibly, with many soldiers being conscripted on both sides of the fight. Even after disbanding the defeated forces, Augustus had 50 legions!

Eventually, Augustus pared down the legions to 28, all of them volunteers, and most of them became long-lived units continuing for at least a couple of centuries. As legion service was now 25 years, it wouldn't make sense to recruit and disband en masse.

  • Correct. I know that, but I'm looking for information about Dando-Collins' theory. First legionaries served 12 years, later this progressed to 25 years, as you said. I also know the legionaries had contracts with the state. If they signed on for -say- 16 years, 16 years they would serve. If the emperor (as both Augustus and Tiberius did) extended the term of service, that would apply to new legionaries. Not the ones already serving. My question is if all legionaries enlisted in the year 1 BCE were retired in 15 AD together, to be replaced by a whole new group. – Jos Oct 12 '17 at 3:17

The manpower drain was a problem in late republic, when soldiers where mostly small farmers. Former legionaries are expected to buy their equipment and partially sustain themselves. At the end of campaign they wold receive land to be compensated. Marius permitted the recruitment of capit sensi, or proletarians, citizens without posses, most of them urban plebeian, unable to afford this by giving them equipments and paying salaries.

But that drain was not about reduced labour output, as Rome had a slave based economy and roman citizens were mostly "improductive", but about the availability of citizens in age. The state paid army permitted the immense growth of the legions in early empire.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.