How much it costs to raise an army in Ancient times?

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
They could be, but afaik it was not unheard of for rural landholders to bring a retinue of men with them when they reported for duty, and these men could be free tenants of that lord. Not the bonded dung-farmers that, as you said, are often stereotyped as medieval infantry, but still not landowners in their own right.
Ah, yes, household troops, such as huscarls early on, or liveried retainers later. Those count as professionals, trained and in more or less permanent employ, but right, not landowners. They might be compared to ancient warbands, such as ran around with Romulus and Remus, but for most of Greek and Roman history I get the impression that such groups were basically illegal. They're a very non-centralized thing, not the kind of personal power base you want in a centralized city-state or nation/empire.

Sure, I never tried to say that levies were going to be used as effective front-line professionals. But they did have the benefit of not being nearly as expensive to maintain as a band of knights or professional mercenaries. As you pointed out, they were often required to bring their own gear (or at least gear that was provided by their landlord) and were only raised for a limited period of time. Since this thread was about the cost of armies in ancient times, I got curious what some of the cheaper alternatives to professional legions might have been back then...
The Romans always used a lot of allied troops, for starters. Way back in the Republic, half the army was allied or "Socii", supplied by Italian cities/tribes under Roman rule. But they were raised, equipped, and trained exactly in the Roman style. Beyond that, there would be troops supplied by other allied states outside of Italy--I'm assuming either their ruler was required to do this at his own expense by treaty, or it was a short-term deal of some sort, with money changing hands in some way. (Maybe "I'll send troops, but you have to pay and feed them", etc.?) Under Augustus, many of these groups were regularized as auxiliaries, though by that point they don't seem to have been a lot cheaper than legions. But even after that, Imperial armies often included contingents of foreign troops.

BUT, still no sweeping masses of untrained bums with sticks, ha! You really do need to put some money and effort into an army, even the least of your troops. Or your defeat will cost you a LOT more...

Matthew
 
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May 2019
393
Earth
BUT, still no sweeping masses of untrained bums with sticks, ha! You really do need to put some money and effort into an army, even the least of your troops. Or your defeat will cost you a LOT more...
Out of curiosity, what about the ancient equivalent of a "labour corps"? In other words, hired muscle recruited from either your home province or the surrounding countryside to dig ditches, build barricades, repair bridges under the supervision of engineers, drive supply wagons, etc? Was that sort of thing done much as a separate type of unit, or was that work done by regular soldiers when they weren't fighting?
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,153
Australia
99% of the time a soldier was not fighting. Commanders were constantly looking for "busy-work" for them. All of the jobs you mentioned were done by the soldiers themselves.
 
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Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
Out of curiosity, what about the ancient equivalent of a "labour corps"? In other words, hired muscle recruited from either your home province or the surrounding countryside to dig ditches, build barricades, repair bridges under the supervision of engineers, drive supply wagons, etc? Was that sort of thing done much as a separate type of unit, or was that work done by regular soldiers when they weren't fighting?
Yeah, that would have been done by soldiers in any Roman army, or Macedonians. In a hoplite army, they typically had servants for that sort of thing, though I suspect more hoplites would be working if there were big siege works, etc., which may explain why those were pretty darn rare in that era.

There *are* surviving ledgers and paperwork from medieval campaigns, and those often list common laborers (as well as trained artisans) who are not included as soldiers. Lots of wagoners, for starters, but apparently also just guys with picks and shovels. Any society is going to have a pool of day laborers ready for short-term gigs.

Matthew
 
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May 2019
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There *are* surviving ledgers and paperwork from medieval campaigns, and those often list common laborers (as well as trained artisans) who are not included as soldiers. Lots of wagoners, for starters, but apparently also just guys with picks and shovels. Any society is going to have a pool of day laborers ready for short-term gigs.
I certainly know they were used from the 16th century onward by various European states. Interesting to note that it was one of the roles in the army where women could sometimes be found, particularly if the army in question was on the defensive. I've seen Dutch illustrations from the Eighty Years War of women helping to move carts of earth from siege works, or carrying bags of supplies up to the front.

While we're on the subject of military labourers, did any ancient armies employ sappers/miners? I don't even know if tactics like undermining were used back then, but if they were, it would make sense to have guys to dig the tunnels or chip away at enemy walls. Unless that was another thing that regular soldiers would have done back then...
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
...While we're on the subject of military labourers, did any ancient armies employ sappers/miners? I don't even know if tactics like undermining were used back then, but if they were, it would make sense to have guys to dig the tunnels or chip away at enemy walls. Unless that was another thing that regular soldiers would have done back then...
Sure, Romans especially did plenty of sapping and tunneling. Presumably there would be a few trained engineers in charge, but the grunt was just done by legionaries or auxiliaries. Pick and shovel stuff!

The one famous site is pretty late (from *my* point of view, ha!), Dura Europas c. 250 AD. It was actually the Persians attacking a Roman city, including a tunnel, but the Romans countermined and apparently a fight broke out in the tunnels. Then the roof caved in. Bad for the combatants, great for the archeologists!

Matthew
 
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Mar 2015
923
Europe
Ancient sources repeatedly mention freeing slaves to form armies. Normally with disapproval, as a desperate measure.
Permanently freeing slaves fit to fight obviously incurred heavy costs on the society, whether those costs were left falling on slaveowners whose property was fit and willing to fight or whether they got compensated. Those slaves certainly did not own arms while slaves, even if they had received military experience before getting captured and enslaves. Thus someone had to give arms to slaves freed to fight, too.

Giving arms to free citizens too poor to own arms in peacetime would have cost less (just arms, vs. arms anyway plus the slave) and have been less socially disruptive. How often was this done?

Poor Athenian citizens rowed. Did they have to provide the oars of Athenian navy, or were the oars supplied along with the ships by the taxpayers?
 
Oct 2018
2,092
Sydney
On the mining and counter-mining at the Siege of Dura Europos (AD 256), the following article is interesting: Simon James, 2011: Stratagems, Combat, and “Chemical Warfare” in the Siege Mines of Dura-Europos, American Journal of Archaeology 115.1, pp. 69-101.

Abstract: The Sasanian Persian siege that destroyed Roman-held Dura-Europos, Syria, ca. 256 C.E. left some of the best evidence ever recovered for the nature and practices of ancient warfare. Perhaps the most dramatic of the archaeological deposits, excavated in the early 1930s, were those resulting from the mining duel around Tower 19 on the city’s western wall, during which at least 19 Roman soldiers and one Sasanian became entombed. Recent reanalysis of the excavation archive suggested that the mine evidence still held one unrecognized deadly secret: the Roman soldiers who perished there had not, as Robert du Mesnil du Buisson (the original excavator) believed, died by the sword or by fire but had been deliberately gassed by the Sasanian attackers. This article discusses the implications of this conclusion for our understanding of early Sasanian military capabilities and reviews the question of possible reexcavation in search of the casualties of Tower 19, whose remains were neither studied nor retained.

A news story on the article: Buried Soldiers May Be Victims of Ancient Chemical Weapon
 
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Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
Ancient sources repeatedly mention freeing slaves to form armies.
But not very often, I don't think! A few times across 500 years or more?

Normally with disapproval, as a desperate measure.
Yup!

Giving arms to free citizens too poor to own arms in peacetime would have cost less (just arms, vs. arms anyway plus the slave) and have been less socially disruptive. How often was this done?
Well, when Marius armed the poor, the result was a slaughter of his political opponents, and ultimately a military dictatorship in place of the Republic that had been. THAT's why the wealthy and powerful did not arm the poor, because they wanted to STAY wealthy and powerful, and alive.

Poor Athenian citizens rowed. Did they have to provide the oars of Athenian navy, or were the oars supplied along with the ships by the taxpayers?
I believe the oars were part of the ship's equipment! But yes, rowing was a way for the lower classes to serve, and get paid.

Matthew
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,357
Ancient sources repeatedly mention freeing slaves to form armies. Normally with disapproval, as a desperate measure.
This only happened on a few occaisions where the Romans were concerned. Slaves were not suitable to defend Rome, whose citizen army, republican or imperial, had a bona fide qualification to fight. Auxillaries were rewarded with Roman citizenship for completing Roman service. But slaves were another matter - remember that to the Romans such people had effectively lost their humanity, being equal to animals in status.

Slaves were recruited once during the Hannabalic War, once by Augustus during the civil wars, and again by him after the Varian Disaster of ad9. In the latter case, his calls for wealthy men to hand over slave recruits was ignored, and he was forced to take them without consent and punish the recalcitrant owners. Although manumitted to make them eligible as soldiers, they were still third class men that regular legionaries refused to serve alongside.

(The attitude toward slaves had another aspect. During the year of Four Emperors - ad69 - one defending Caesar raised a unit of gladiators. The leaders ordered to command them vanished on the eve of a night time attack. The gladiators decided to continue anyway and were soundly defeated in ambush by the other side who seemed to know exactly what was going on. Told to lead a unit of slaves? I can imagine what a high class Roman thought of that)