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Portrait of a soldier Caesar’s centurions

No personal account written by an ordinary soldier or junior officer survives for the Civil War. In the surviving narratives only a handful of men from the ranks are even mentioned by name, usually because they performed some conspicuous act of heroism. We know that soldiers were primarily recruited from the poorer classes. In normal circumstances most, if not all, were volunteers, but during civil wars many were probably unwilling conscripts. Soldiering had become a career, but the wages were low, lower than a man could earn as a labourer on the land or as a casual worker in the city. When Caesar doubled the pay of his soldiers, an ordinary legionary still received only 225 denarii (1,000 sesterces) a year. We do not know whether or not there were fixed terms of service, and the traditional maximum of 16 years may still have been in force, although during the civil wars some men served for more than two decades. Active campaigning, especially in a prosperous area, might bring greater rewards in the form of plunder, either taken individually or as the soldier’s share in the booty acquired by the entire army. The most successful generals rewarded their soldiers lavishly. Conditions in the army were basic and the discipline brutal. At the whim of his centurion a man could be flogged, and many other crimes were punishable by death. At the end of their service, soldiers hoped to be provided with some source of livelihood. Usually this meant the grant of a plot of land, which suggests that many recruits were still coming from rural areas.