3 Recruiting and treating the soldier
One area of life in which a healthy body was essential was the military. This section explores the health of an army and how it was trained and cared for.
In the ancient world, all adult men were originally expected to serve in the army to defend their homeland. This meant that the campaign seasons had to fit in with the agricultural year, so that men would be back to harvest the crops. From the second century BCE onwards, however, Rome shifted towards a ‘professional’ army, recruited to serve full time and to be rewarded with citizenship or land at the completion of 25 years of service. The beginning of this change was associated with the general Marius and, because of the amount of kit soldiers were expected to carry with them, they were known as ‘Marius’ mules’.
- Read the first sections of book 1 of Vegetius’ De Re Militaris [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (On military matters): ‘The Selection of Recruits’ and ‘Signs of Desirable Qualities’.
Vegetius wrote in the late fourth century CE and seems to have taken his advice on the military from earlier sources. In his opinion, who makes the best soldier? Where did such men come from and why is this important? Do you see similarities with this section and the work you did in previous weeks?
- You will have noticed that the eyes of the soldier are very important. In Egypt, a man called Tryphon, the son of a weaver, failed an eye test in 52 CE because he had ‘weak eyesight caused by a cataract’ (See Week 2, Section 1.1). The evidence has been taken to suggest that eyesight was tested regularly in the army, but it’s unclear whether Tryphon was a soldier rather than a civilian.
Do you think environment and someone’s place of birth is still considered in modern discussions on a person’s health? How does Vegetius’ section on ‘Desirable Qualities’ compare to modern military selection?
Do an image search for Greek and Roman soldiers dating to the Greco-Roman period. Compare these images to later historical periods – Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical and Victorian eras – to see how the physique of the body has changed.
Do you think these images represent the ideal body at the time they were painted or sculpted? Does this represent different understandings of a healthy musculature and bodily build over time? How do these images compare with the literature you read at the beginning of this activity?