HMRRBS-789Y Nine Hastati with Yellow Shields, The Roman Army of the Mid-Republic
The Roman army of the mid-Republic (also known as the manipular Roman army or the “Polybian army”), refers to the armed forces deployed by the mid-Roman Republic, from the end of the Samnite Wars (290 BC) to the end of the Social War (88 BC). The first phase of this army, in its manipular structure (290–ca. 130 BC), is described in detail in the Histories of the ancient Greek historian Polybius, writing before 146 BC.
For the vast majority of the period of its existence, the Polybian levy was at war. This led to great strains on Roman and Italian manpower, but forged a superb fighting machine. During the Second Punic War, fully two-thirds of Roman iuniores were under arms continuously. In the period after the defeat of Carthage in 201 BC, the army was campaigning exclusively outside Italy, resulting in its men being away from their home plots of land for many years at a stretch. They were assuaged by the large amounts of booty that they shared after victories in the rich eastern theatre. But in Italy, the ever-increasing concentration of public lands in the hands of big landowners, and the consequent displacement of the soldiers’ families, led to great unrest and demands for land redistribution. This was successfully achieved, but resulted in the disaffection of Rome’s Italian allies, who as non-citizens were excluded from the redistribution. This led to the mass revolt of the socii and the Social War (91-88 BC). The result was the grant of Roman citizenship to all Italians and the end of the Polybian army’s dual structure: the alae were abolished and the socii recruited into the legions. The Roman army of the late Republic (88–30 BC) resulted, a transitional phase to the Imperial Roman army (30 BC – AD 284).