Gap Week, January 6, 2023

Hey everyone! This week is going to be a gap week as I am currently attending the joint annual meeting for the Society for Classical Studies and Archaeological Institute of America (SCS/AIA). I’ll be presenting on Saturday as part of an excellent panel organized by Jeremy Armstrong and Sally Mubarak on “New Directions in Roman Republican Warfare.” The panel has a fantastic lineup of scholars: Jeremy Armstrong, Sally Mubarak, Michael Taylor, Dominic Machado and Jessica Clark (and also me). I don’t know if it will be recorded or made available generally (these things usually aren’t and the registration fees for SCS/AIA are sadly prohibitively high, I suspect, for most of the public), but as I’ve done with previous conferences, I’ll include the abstract of my paper as part of this post so you aren’t left with nothing to read.

Normally here is where I’d also recommend some under read posts from the archives, but the analytics part of WordPress isn’t cooperating at the moment, so instead I’m going to recommend some of my pre-2020 favorites. In particular, if you haven’t worked through the back catalog, consider checking out:

  • The Lonely City (Parts I and II), on what the terrain around a pre-modern city would have actually looked like. Here’s the hint: while Hollywood cities stand alone, real cities weren’t so lonely.
  • My pair of posts on armor penetration: Punching Through Some Armor Myths and Archery, Distance and Kiting. We’ve actually gotten some additional really fantastic tests since the second post and I may do an update to it to include that, but by and large I think the analysis there holds up.
  • The Battlefield After the Battle, on what an ancient or medieval battlefield might have actually looked like and why popular culture has developed a very particular set of visual elements for battlefields that are almost entirely wrong.
  • And finally the Practical Polytheism series, which lays out the ways that ancient polytheists understood their religion: how it functioned, what was important in it and how they figured in.

So check those out. Meanwhile, this is what I’ll be talking about Saturday at SCS/AIA:

Mobilizing the Allies: Clientela and Rome’s Relationship with the Socii

It is now commonly observed that Rome owed much of its military success in the third and second centuries BCE to its ability to effectively mobilize the non-Roman population of Italy (Brunt 1971; Eckstein 2008; Taylor 2020). This observation, however, raises the question as to why Rome was able to mobilize its subject Italian communities, the socii or ‘allies,’ so much more effectively than Rome’s rivals were able to mobilize their own subject populations. In this paper, I analyze the Roman system for recruiting the socii and argue that the system, forced to rely on willing compliance over compulsion, was made possible by structuring the reciprocal relationship between Rome and the allies in an analogous way to the shared institution of clientela.

First, the paper considers the evidence for the systems by which the Romans recruited the socii during this period. I argue that while Rome relied on force or the threat of force in extremis, short of actually declaring an allied community in rebellion and waging war on them, Rome had few if any means of compelling recruitment from the allies. The Romans did not operate the direct administration of allied levies, leaving that up to the communities of the socii. Moreover, Rome could not rely on emotional attachment or feelings of ethnic kinship to mobilize most of the allies (Fronda 2010). Consequently, while Rome could crush a small number of recalcitrant allied communities, on the whole Rome was forced to rely on willing compliance, rather than on force, in order to obtain the heavily equipped and high-quality soldiers it required.

The paper then considers how this willing compliance was achieved. I argue that Rome formulated the reciprocal obligations of its alliance system in an analogous way to clientela. While patronage relationships structured many of the interactions between Roman and Italian elites (Badian 1958; Terrenato 2019), the relationship between Rome itself and the allied communities was understood to work on similar logic, with unequal but reciprocal obligations combined with a polite obfuscation of the true nature of the relationship. Because this institution was common and relatively well-regarded, structuring Rome’s relationship with the other communities of Italy this way enabled Rome to access their military potential while minimizing the injury to their honor both reducing the pressure to revolt and improving the military performance of the socii. At the same time, this structure imposed duties on Roman leaders to observe their part of the reciprocal obligations, which shaped Roman decision-making, most visibly during the early years of the Second Punic War.

Works Cited:

Badian, E.  Foreign Clientelae (264-70 B.C.).  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958.
Brunt, P.A.  Italian Manpower: 225 B.C. – A.D. 14.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Eckstein, A.M.  Rome Enters the East: from Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Hellenistic Mediterranean.  Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
Fronda, M.P.  Between Rome and Carthage: Southern Italy during the Second Punic War.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Taylor, M. J.  Soldiers & Silver: Mobilizing Resources in the Age of Roman Conquest.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020.
Terrenato, N.  The Early Roman Expansion Into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

And that’s what I’ll be talking about. Those of you who think this sounds a lot like a section of the book project, that’s because it is. Conference papers provide a good chance to take an idea and get feedback on it earlier in the research and writing process, so that will be quite handy here.

Next week we’ll be back to regular blogging, with a discussion of some of my other frustrations with the worldbuilding in Rings of Power – all of the stuff that rankles me but perhaps didn’t rise to the same level as the problems in the first post.

25 thoughts on “Gap Week, January 6, 2023

  1. I hope the conference will go well! Now I am looking forwards to next week.

    It seems old Badian did quite diverse studies within Classics; I remember referencing him when writing on Alexander’s conduct in Persia

  2. I was wondering when we’d get Part 2 of the Rings of Power!

    Your mention that Rome essentially used the existing social construct of the clientela system makes me wonder if there was an opportunity for another Italian city-state to have done the same thing. Was Rome’s rise down to some features that were uniquely Roman or could a Samanite (just to take one of the other many groups in Italy at that time) city-state have risen to the same prominence?

    1. Did other cities have two consuls both of whom needed enough loot in their year to fund their future career?

    2. Recalling the “Queen’s Latin” series, it seems likely to me that Rome’s diversity was a big part of the answer here. Rome’s inclusive political institutions also gave it an advantage in rising to the top of the pile, compared to adversaries who were more authoritarian. And finally, Rome had a strong tendency to pick “more military power” over other potential rewards of empire.

  3. This makes me curious which Roman officials actually were making the sausage, having the responsibility of interfacing with client cities. If a client city felt they weren’t getting their due, what position in the Republican government did they complain to? One of the consuls? Contrariwise, if the Romans felt like a client city wasn’t pulling its weight and wanted to have a quiet word about it before going to strong arm tactics, who would be the face of that effort?

    1. Alternatively,
      Was it a system where cities competed with each other over which was a better ally?
      If so, what incentives structured that competition?

      1. One limitation is that no one would want you as an ally once they realized you would switch as soon as the offer was better.

  4. This may be too big a question, but I’m wondering why the Romans and their neighbors* could build a patron-client relationship while other places did not? Is it a peculiarity of the local culture? A sort of personal and group relationship that wound up shaped differently in other parts of the ancient Mediterranean?

    *I’m sure there is a word for all the folks living in that region.

    1. I think the Patron-Client thing is pretty much an Italian thing in that period. The presence of slaves in a culture makes freemen value things that show “I am not a slave”. USA this wasn’t as big a deal as it was in many places historically, because a white man had a fairly obvious “not a slave” indicator, but even here, it still mattered.

      As I understand it, in many slaveholding cultures it was hard to hire a freeman for labor, because that sort of labor for others is the sort of thing that slaves did. Similarly, “I’m this guy’s minion” looks a lot like “I’m this guy’s slave” to a certain point of view.

      This could have been especially true in Rome, where a freedman became his former owner’s client, and might well keep working for the same guy; but it wasn’t, instead, freedmen were citizens (within limits) and did different sorts of things for their patron. They were expected to support their patron in court and in public affairs, and in exchange got support when they needed it. They might refer to their patron as their patron, but the patron called them his friends.

      A Greek city-state would never make a freedman a citizen, and trying to treat another city like it was the same status as one of your freedmen would hardly make them your friends and allies.

      The Romans/Italians had an entire social organization largely built on the idea that freemen COULD be subordinate to other freemen without being slaves. They presumably had other indicators that a slave was a slave and a freeman a freeman (the Toga being an obvious one, I suspect that a slave wearing the Toga Verilis or Toga Preatexta did not end well for the slave if he was caught).

      And (according to our host) this appears to have extended to the idea that Free Cities could be subordinate to other Cities without being mere tributary subjects. We give them support in war and foriegn affairs, and in exchange we get their support and friendship.

      1. Even in the US, we see shades of the same “not a slave” mentality. The way slaveowners like Jefferson understood liberty was that a free American was a yeoman, farming a square plot without having to interact with the commons most of the time. Any visible instantiation of the state was an affront to this freedom, hence famous quotes about how liberty means the government is afraid of the people. As the 19th century progressed, the idea of government as social organization remained an affront to the slaveowners; the South was livid at the idea of infrastructure investment (“internal improvements”) and banned it in the Confederate constitution. And that was even with a by then centuries-long tradition that white people could never be enslaved.

        1. This is actually a footnote in the talk that this pattern of intense status concern over free and non-free distinctions in societies with slavery can also be seen pretty clearly in the pre-1861 United States. It was actually reading about the latter that turned me towards thinking about the former in the Roman sources and once you do you realize that concern is very present.

    2. I think it has a lot to do with patron-client relationships being more acceptable and less shameful in Roman/Italian culture than in other parts of the mediterranean (e.g. Greece) where being a client was seen as demeaning.

      1. But why are they less demeaning in this place than that? As I said, may be beyond the scope you are dealing with.

      2. Do we know why patron-client relationships ended up looking so different in ancient Italy than in other parts of the Mediterranean?

    3. I think Bret talked about that earlier, he theorized that the roman political systems meant the roman politicians had to prioritize military strength above any other considerations, so it became a feedback loop of “I need to be elected and need to show military success>I need the sociis to provide the troops so I can have military success>We can’t bother them too much except in military matter.”

      Other states (and the romans eventually once they ran out of Italy to conquer) had to deal with other considerations because their political class wasn’t as hyper-focused on having military successes under your belt, so other objectives (like wealth extraction, various other shows of legitimacy, etc.) took priority.

  5. Any chance we get a blog post version of this paper of yours? I must confess I prefer reading you talk about the Middle Ages more than Ancient Rome, in spite of your specialty being not the former but the later. However, this abstract reminds me of the previous times you touched upon Hannah Arendt’s dichotomy between power and violence, and I wouldn’t at all mind to see you expand upon that theme one more time.

    Speaking of Rome and the Middle Ages, may I ask what topics you have already planned to write about thus far in this year? Because I have been hoping to see ACoUP dive into the Byzantines for a long time now.

  6. What’s your comment as a military historian on the situation on the ground in Sinaloa right now? I’m trying to work through the ancient parallels in my head and can’t find any that will really shed light on this. It’s going to be a mess but we don’t need Thucydides to tell us that.

    1. The comment I saw one time (in the context of the Italian Mafia, so it might be different) which I suspect explains a lot of it is that major organized crime is a competitor to the government. As a result, when the actual government goes and governments on them, they need to remind people that they’re still here.

  7. I noticed when I was reading about the Punic Wars that Carthage was often having to divert troops to put down revolts of its’ indigenous African subjects. Have you published on the Punic Wars and have you any thoughts on why Rome eventually won?

  8. Academic writing on modern (post 1800) empire here, but always looking for homology & continuity between the ancient and modern versions. Any chance of you posting the paper somewhere. thanks,

  9. Since people are making requests, here’s another one.

    Back awhile ago, I recommended a “How they did it: Sea Stuff (Fishing, Shipbuilding, Sea Transport, Navies, etc.)” post. Reupping that request/suggesting to move it up the list, or just a more full series on sea transport if the other stuff is too much to do. Reason is that rereading during the gap month, sea transport just comes up over and over again. Also the line about “Organized states like Athens, Rome, etc. could arrange transport by sea” suggests a lot of interesting things going on that aren’t described in the farming series post on trading.

    Of course, this comes after the “What is Doctrine” post. And some more pop culture commentary. And….Yea, there’s a lot isn’t there. 🙂 Sea transport, polite hint of a suggestion if practical.

  10. If only Terrenato, N. had published a bit earlier or Taylor, M. J. a bit later, your list of cited works could be both alphabetical by last name and also ordered from oldest to newest

  11. You know, i kinda find it interesting that you refer to Livius as reliable, I never really studied classics, but from the basic overview I remember my professors being more a bit peeved that they had to rely on him because he was considered relatively unreliable (compared explicitly to Polybius, IIRC) not that either of them didn’t have their own biases and flaws and such, but that it was more a “*sigh* This is one of those bits where we only have Livius to go on…” more than anything. (which TBH, happens a lot in classics to a degree that tends to horrify modernists)

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