chapter  12
22 Pages

The manipular army system and command decisions in the second century *

WithJeremiah McCall

Roman commanders in the middle Republic were, in effect, amateurs, with their suitability to lead armies determined by their aristocratic status and character rather than professional training in the skills of command. Nevertheless, Roman armies enjoyed a very high degree of military success. This paradox can be understood through the lens of “system analysis.” The Roman manipular army of the late third and second centuries BC can be interpreted as a series of “systems” that functioned from the creation of an army to its deployment and operation in combat – including systems for selecting officers, recruiting and allocating soldiers, marching, camping, subsisting, and fighting. These systems were developed and tested over time and worked to assist unexceptional commanders in safely leading an army through battle. Indeed, the manipular army could function effectively with little input from the general. This tended to mitigate the negative impact of a poor general, while the average general could rely on the system to avoid disaster and probably secure victory (and glory for himself). Thus, the Roman manipular army system allowed for aristocratic political competition without compromising military effectiveness.