Servian Reforms > Servian Army Reforms
Servius Tullius was the sixth king of Rome, coming between the two Etruscan Tarquins, Tarquinius Priscus and Tarquin the Proud -- the one Brutus expelled. Since the extant histories come from historians who lived centuries later (principally, Cicero, Livy and Dionysius), facts about the period of Rome's kings should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Historian T.J. Cornell, for instance, says the description probably fits the political scheme of the fourth and third centuries B.C. not the sixth. With that proviso, King Servius Tullius is credited with reforming Roman society for the purpose of including, not just the aristocratic patricians, but the plebeians in the ranks of the 60-centuries of the army, primarily, and secondarily, in the tax coffers.
Rome's Mixed Form of Government
Although Rome had its popular assemblies, Rome was not an entirely democratic society. Nor was it entirely monarchic (kings/consuls) or even aristocratic (Senate), but instead, it had components of all three, and a plutocratic element, as well. The Servian Reforms replaced birth-based social organization with social class privilege, plus responsibility based on wealth.
The Taking of the First Census
King Servius Tullius took the first Roman census in which every independent Roman was to provide information about his family and the value of his property. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. c.20 B.C.) describes the census:
After he had made these regulations, he ordered all the Romans to register their names and give in a monetary valuation of their property, at the same time taking the oath required by law that they had given in a true valuation in good faith; they were also to set down the names of their fathers, with their own age and the names of their wives and children, and every man was to declare in what tribe of the city or in what district of the country he lived. If any failed to give in their valuation, the penalty he established was that their property should be forfeited and they themselves whipped and sold for slaves. This law continued in force among the Romans for a long time.Failure to comply was punishable by death, according to Livy.
~ Dionysius of Halicarnassus IV.15
Servian Class System
The king then divided Roman society into six groups, the top five of which were Classes I-V. The rest of the Romans were too poor to contribute to the tax basis or the army, but were formed into a single century for purposes of the vote. The members of this group were proletarians. Class I was given substantially greater voting power and military responsibility. While not synonymous with the patricians, the aristocratic element and the wealth went hand-in-hand. Only a member of the first class was classicus, according to Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law by Adolf Berger; Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1953). The remaining four classes were called infra classem because they were below the (first) class and so had much less clout. Often their votes were said to have been irrelevant since the dominant first class had settled the issue. People of the same economic niche today don't all vote the same way, so this could well be over-simplification.
Property of the 5 Classes
The first class consisted of those with property valued at more than 100,000 asses; the second class, 75000; the third class, 50,000; the fourth class, 25,000; and the fifth class, either 11,000 as Livy says, or 12,500, as Dionysius of Halicarnassus says.Livy describes the armor requirement in each of the Servian classes. Since the front lines were manned by the young men of Class I, their armor and weapons were the best. Note that the soldiers themselves apparently supplied their own arms and weapons.
"Those whose property amounted to, or exceeded 100,000 lbs. weight of copper were formed into eighty centuries, forty of juniors and forty of seniors. These were called the First Class. The seniors were to defend the City, the juniors to serve in the field. The armour which they were to provide themselves with comprised helmet, round shield, greaves, and coat of mail, all of brass; these were to protect the person. Their offensive weapons were spear and sword. To this class were joined two centuries of carpenters whose duty it was to work the engines of war; they were without arms. The Second Class consisted of those whose property amounted to between 75,000 and 100,000 lbs. weight of copper; they were formed, seniors and juniors together, into twenty centuries. Their regulation arms were the same as those of the First Class, except that they had an oblong wooden shield instead of the round brazen one and no coat of mail. The Third Class he formed of those whose property fell as low as 50,000 lbs.; these also consisted of twenty centuries, similarly divided into seniors and juniors. The only difference in the armour was that they did not wear greaves. In the Fourth Class were those whose property did not fall below 25,000 lbs. They also formed twenty centuries; their only arms were a spear and a javelin. The Fifth Class was larger it formed thirty centuries. They carried slings and stones, and they included the supernumeraries, the horn-blowers, and the trumpeters, who formed three centuries. This Fifth Class was assessed at 11,000 lbs. The rest of the population whose property fell below this were formed into one century and were exempt from military service."
~The History of Rome, Vol. I, Titus Livius, Editor: Ernest Rhys; Translator: Rev. Canon Roberts Everyman's Library E.P. Dutton and Co. New York: 1912
More property meant more membership in the military (infantry) and voting units, both known as centuries: Class I had 80 centuries, which were divided in half [Cornell argues that this is not believable: the ratio of young to old should have been more like 3 to 1], into a group of younger men (iuniores), for the army, where they would stand at the front of the army in wartime, and men older than 45 (seniores) (Dionysius), to stay home and protect the home front. Classes II-IV had 20 centuries apiece also divided into young and old, but the fifth class, because it was larger, had 30, according to Livy. There were also two centuries of carpenters attached to Class I, and 18 equestrian centuries that voted first. After the equestrians came the vote of the centuries of the first class. That was likely the end of the vote; however, if issues hadn't already been decided by a clear majority, the second class would be summoned to vote. It was unlikely the third through fifth classes would have their votes taken. You can see something similar in the United States when there are televized voting results that make the election appear settled before polling booths close on the west coast, let alone Alaska and Hawaii.
Cornell says there are two possible origins of the 60 centuries of the early Republican army. In one, there were centuries in the Romulan system. Each Romulan curia would have provided 100 men and there would have been 20 curiae for each of the three tribes. In this case, Tullius inherited the arrangement. In the other possible origin of the 60 centuries, Servius Tullius increased the number of available men by extending citizenship to manumitted slaves, immigrants and such, so that there could be 60 groups of 100 heavily armed men. The arithmetic works out, since half the men -- the men over 45 -- in each century stayed home, so Class I produced not the full 80 centuries, but half that number or 40 centuries; Classes II-III, produced 10 each, Class IV, 10, and Class V, 15; of these, classes IV and V, both barely or not at all armed, make 25, who were the lightly-armed velites; the rest (60), made up the heavily-armed infantry.
- The Beginnings of Rome, by T.J. Cornell, 1995.
- A History of Rome, by M. Cary and H.H. Scullard; New York, 1975.
- Livy Book I
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus Book IV
- Historical Introduction to the Roman Law, by Frederick Parker Walton
- "Roman Population, Territory, Tribe, City, and Army Size from the Republic's Founding to the Veientane War, 509 B.C.-400 B.C.," by Lorne H. Ward; The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 111, No. 1 (Spring, 1990), pp. 5-39.
- "The Servian Reforms," by Hugh Last; The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 35, Parts 1 and 2 (1945), pp. 30-48.