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.
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.