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Examine the character and political significance of the Roman army in the later second century BC. Was there a manpower shortage? Illustrate your essay with specific examples.

For many centuries, the Roman republic had survived with a military and political framework that had ensured the survival and prosperity of the city state. However, it is clear that by the later second century BC the nature of Rome was changing to adapt to varying internal and external stimuli. The army began a significant process of change that would eventually culminate in the creation of a thoroughly professionalised land force by the time of the Principate. The other primary issue, manpower in Italy, is not so easy to establish. The truth is that very little evidence remains either to confirm or refute the long accepted assumption that there was a manpower shortage. Many scholars have used conjecture and mathematical hypotheses to support their arguments, and though we shall examine these more closely it remains clear that to answer the question we must explore other related issues such as the Roman class system and the effect of war upon Roman society in this period. Therefore, the relationship between soldiers and the State they were fighting for requires close consideration.

The year 146 BC is widely considered to be an important watershed in the annals of the Roman State. It heralded the end of the third and final Punic War and the utter destruction of Carthage, which up until then had been the only state with the military power to challenge the Romans. Rome acquired an additional six overseas provinces: Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Nearer and Further Spain, Africa and Macedonia, with Asia and Transalpine Gaul added in the subsequent few decades. Thus, the size and rate of growth of the Empire had been increased dramatically. The Mediterranean was at their mercy.

In conclusion, though it is impossible to say for certain that there was a manpower shortage during this period we can assume that it was most likely. The strains relating to the massive expansion of the Roman Empire combined with the expulsion of the Roman peasants from public land must have taken their toll. Though we cannot confirm that the population was either rising or falling significantly, we can at least say that the class of people that traditionally provided soldiers was seriously suffering, thus leading the way for a permanent, professional army that subsequent Generals would use to overthrow the Roman Republic.

 

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