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DBA 2.0 Army Essays

Marian Romans
George Gouveia's Pass o' the North Marian Romans

Marian Romans (II/49)
(105-25 BC)

The Roman army of Gaius Marius, Cornelius Sulla, Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and the young Octavian. It represents a turbulent time in Roman history, the transition from Republican to Imperial Rome, occasioned through the accession of dictators such as Sulla and Caesar.

The Marian Army was distinct for several reasons. It was still based on the Roman legion, but had abandoned the maniple as the basic tactical unit and formation into three battle lines (hastati, principes, and triarii) including the quincux (checkboard formation) in favor of in ten large cohorts, which generally fought in a solid lines of battle. It was also the first Roman army recruited extensively from the common classes of Rome and from non-Roman Italians who received land and citizenship in return for their military service. The soldiers were generally paid by their commanding generals (not Rome itself) from the spoils of their campaigns. Therefore the loyalty of the Roman Army shifted increasingly to the most successful of its commanders. In short, the Marian Roman army was an army of professionals rather than citizen soldiers.

Gaius Marius was elected Consul the first of seven times in 108 BC and immediately led a successful campaign against Jugurtha in Numidia. The Marian list, however, properly starts with the devastating Roman defeat at Arausio in 105 BC to the Cimbri and Teutones, which exposed the Eternal City to the threat of marauding Gauls. Marius was quickly elected Consul a second time, raised a new army and proceeded to defeat the Gauls in battle at Aquae Sextiae in 102 BC and Vercellae in 101 BC. Although acknowledged the "First Man of Rome," Marius was never a clever politican nor accepted by the Roman Senatorial class as a social equal. He was forced to suppress an unrising by his own agent Saturninus in 99 BC. Thereafter, the Roman Senate refused to enfrancise the Italian cities whose drafts had helped form the backbone of Marius' armies. With Marius off campaigning in the East, the cities rose in rebellion (Italian Wars of 91-87 BC) and the Senate enlisted the aid of Marius' former chief lieutenant Lucius Cornelius Sulla to suppress the rebellion, which he did with considerable efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Senate gave Marius proconsular authority to campaign against the armies of Mithrades in Pontus. Sulla brought his army to Rome and intimidated the Senate into outlawing Marius and conferring the command on himself. After Sulla's departure, Marius brought his own army to Rome, occupying the city and conducting a bloody purge of his political opponents that lasted until his death in 87 BC. After his death, the party of Marius continued to rule under Cinna. In the east, Sulla made a peace pact with Mithrades and returned to Rome to restore his political fortunes. The Senate hastily created an army of 100,000 built around Marius' veterans, but poorly lead by inexperienced Senators. Sulla defeated them decisively at the Battle of the Colline Gate (82 BC) and had the Marian veterans put to death. Holding the upper hand, he forced the Senate to declare him dictator for life. Thereafter, he conducted his own bloody purge of political opponents. Strangely enough, despite his absolute power, he then ruled through laws promulgated by the Senate and otherwise honored Rome's republican form of government until he died in 78 BC.

The death of Sulla prompted a brief uprising by Lepidus in 77 BC, which was quickly squashed by Gnaeus Pompeius on behalf of the Senate. Pompey the Great was then given a commission to suppress the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius in Spain and restore that province to Roman rule. Treachery produced the death of Sertorius, allowing Pompey to claim victory and return to Rome a hero in 72 BC.

Meanwhile, in 73 BC, a slave uprising in Sicily and Southern Italy led by Spartacus occupied Rome's military attentions. The wealthy Marcus Crassus was given command of the army that eventually subdued Spartacus.

In 57 BC, Crassus, Pompey and Julius Caesar joined political forces. Crassus arranged for consular authority in Syria in the east, where he hoped to win military fame against the Parthian Empire. In fact, he was to suffer defeat and ignoble death to the Parthians at Carrhae in 53 BC. Pompey was given Spain, but allowed to rule his province from Rome. Caesar used their influence to extend his consular authority in Cisalpine Gaul for 5 years, enabling him to complete the conquest of Gaul. In 56 BC, he crossed the Rhine River into Germany. In 55 BC, he landed a Roman army in Britain. In 53-51 BC, he quashed a major Gallic uprising.

In 50 BC, Cicero brought charges of treason against Caesar, who collected his army north of the Rubicon River, while he attempted to negotiate a political solution. His Senatorial opponents were unwilling to compromise, and so Caesar sent his army south ("Alea Ecta Est"). Rome was unprepared and Pompey quickly fled east through Illyria into Greece where he collected the scattered elements of his army. At Pharsalus in 48 BC, Caesar's 22,000 veterans decisively defeated the Pompeian army of 40,000. Pompey fled to Egypt where he was killed by the Ptolemys in hopes of winning the favor of Caesar, who followed closely in pursuit.

Caesar found himself ruler of an empire in rebellion. After a fling with Queen Cleopatra in Alexandria, he set out to systematically suppress uprisings in Syria and Asia Minor (47 BC), North Africa (46 BC), and Spain (45 BC), routing out the last of the Pompeians, while his loyal lieutenant Mark Anthony ruled in his name in Rome. On returning to Rome, Caesar held a fabulous triple triumph (made famous by his statement "veni, vidi, vici"), adopted sweeping reforms, and then in early 44 BC had himself declared dictator for life. As he finalised plans for a campaign against the Parthians, he was assassinated by his enemies in the Senate on March 15, 44 BC ("The Ides of March").

Mark Anthony was able to manipulate public opinion against the conspirators Brutus and Cassius, who quickly fled Rome for Greece. Anthony's attempts to seize the reins of power, however, were thwarted by Caesar's young heir Octavian, who stubbornly demanded his inheritance and who was able to enlist the support of Caesar's veterans. A triumvirate was negotiated with Anthony and Octavian sharing power with Lepidus. In 42 BC, Anthony and Octavian led an army into Greece and defeated Brutus and Cassius in successive days at the Battle of Philippi. Anthony and Octavian then split the empire between them with little regard for Lepidus, with Anthony taking the East and Octavian the West.

From 40-36 BC, Octavian was occupied suppressing the rebellion of Pompey's son, Sextus Pompeius, in Spain. By 35 BC, Lepidus had grown dissatisfied with his diminished status in the triumvirate and rebelled only to be defeated and forced into retirement by Octavian. Meanwhile, Anthony conducted an unsuccessful campaign in Parthia in 36-35 BC and then took Queen Cleopatra as his consort.

When the agreed term of their triumvirate expired in 32 BC, Octavian and Anthony quickly prepared for a decisive campaign to settle the issue of who would rule Rome. They met in a great naval battle at Actium in 31 BC, which resulted in a decisive victory for Octavian and ultimately in the suicides of Anthony and Cleopatra. Octavian returned to Rome where he adopted the title "imperator."

After notable reforms, Octavian attempted to retire in 27 BC, but was convinced by the Senate to retain proconsular authority over Italy, Gaul, Spain and Syria. The Senate also conferred upon Octavian the title "Augustus." He sought to retire again in 23 BC, but the Senate negotiated with Augustus to remain, conferring on him the "imperium praeconsulare maius," which constituted the highest level of "imperial" authority. Although Augustus preferred to think of himself as the princeps ("First Man in Rome") of the Roman Republic and not as an emperor, historians generally treat this as the point of transition between Republican and Imperial Rome. Augustus continued to rule despite worsening health until 14 BC.

Army Composition

In DBA terms, the Marian Roman army boasts more Blades than a Ginsu commercial. The army is composed of the following element types:

CnC Can be fielded as Cavalry or Blade.
3Cv Roman cavalry is a mix of Roman Equites Alares and Germanic, Gallic, Spanish, Macedonian or other allies.
2Lh Numidian, Spanish, Thracian, Illyrian, Kappadokian or Syrian light horse.
4Bd The classic Roman Legionary, dubbed "Marius' Mules" for their practice of carrying their own baggage over their shoulders tied to a forked stick. For variety, the Roman army facing Sulla at the Colline Gates can include a Blade element of mixed gladiators.
2Ps Light troops and specialists recruited from amongst Rome's allies. Can be variously depicted as slingers (Balearic, Greek or Numidian), archers (Cretan, Numidian, Syrian, Gallic, Greek or Pontic) and/or javelinmen (German, Numidian, Spanish or Greek), or even Roman velites for armies before 80 BC.
3Aux Ligurian, Rhaetian, Illyrian, Thracian or Spanish auxilliaries.

The composition of the army should as much as possible reflect is area of operations. The army of Marius/Sulla in Africa, for example, should include allied Numidan light horse and psiloi.

Allies and Enemies

An army of conquest, Marian Rome's lengthy list of enemies includes the Early Libyans (I/7d), Illyrians (I/47), Thracians (I/48), Gallic (II/11), Ariatathid Kappadokian (II/14), Ptolemaic (II/20cd), Later Pre-Islamic Arab (II/23a), Early Armenian/Gordyene (II/28ab), Galatian (II/30bc), Parthian (II/37, Ancient Spanish (II/39abc), Numidian (II/40), Commagene (II/40), Sicilian/Italian Slave Revolts (II/45bc), Early German (II/47ab), Mithradatic (II/48), Marian Roman (II/49), Late Judean (II/51), Dacian (II/52) and Ancient British (II/53).

In Big Battle games, Marian Rome can ally itself with the Bithynians (II/6), Later Pre-Islamic Arab (II/23a), Late Judean (II/51), Early Armenian (II/28b), Galatians (II/30bc), Numidian (II/40), or other Marian Roman (II/49).


The Marian Roman army must rely on the quality of its Blades, supported by small contingents of Cavalry and bad going troops (Psiloi and Auxilia). It does not perform particularly well on predominantly bad-going battlefields and lacks a "quick-kill" capability. However, Roman Blades are the queen of DBA battle, the Marian Roman army is quite resilient and the option of fielding two mounted elements gives it some mobility. It is the type of army that tends to grind down an opponent; although with good die, it can score quick victories based on favorable match-ups by its Blades.

Warband-heavy foes such as the Gallic, Early Germans and Ancient British can ruin a Marian Roman's day with good die-rolling and their quick-kill capability versus Blades. Use your Cavalry to intimidate the Warband and work with your Psiloi and Blades to force overlaps and flanks versus the impetuous Warband, and the odds lie with the Romans.

Rough terrain armies like the Illyrians, Thracians, and Ancient Spanish are easily beaten in open terrain, but become challenging foes when confronted on a board heavy in bad going. Patience is the key. Bad going armies tend to leave segments of their forces exposed in good terrain; divide and conquer your opponent one element at a time.

Mounted armies like the Armenians, Parthians, and Numidians can be frustrating to the Marian Roman. The match-up of Parthian or Armenian cataphracts (Knights) can become quite deadly for the Roman Blades. Also, Roman Blades can flail away at Light Horse all day with little effect. Against the Knights, Roman psiloi are well used to support the Blade line. Against Parthian or Numidian Light Horse, protecting the Roman camp becomes an important issue, and the enemy's camp becomes one the few fixed targets that the Marian Roman can engage tactically. Expose as few flanks as possible and keep plugging away, for eventually the die will tell.

The Later Ptolemaic army (II/20c) can present a serious challenge with four Pikes in double-ranks at +6 versus Blades at +5. They can also toss their own element of Blades and Knights into the mix, as well as an Elephant. This is not the push-over army that you might expect historically. The Romans will need to flank the shortened Ptolemaic line and make good use of their cavalry.

The Marian Romans may opt for 1 or 2 elements of Psiloi. Psiloi can be used quite effectively in three different ways. First, they can be used in front of your battleline to break up advancing warband. When the psiloi are almost inevitably forced to recoil back through your line of blades (one of the few times when you're happy to lose a close combat), the warband will follow impetuously exposing their flanks to counter-attack by Blades in the next bound. Second, the Psiloi can come in handy when facing Numidians or Later Ptolemies if they opt for the Elephant option. Third, Psiloi can be positioned in support of Blades (adding a +1 bonus) when defending against mounted attacks. Otherwise, Roman Psiloi will be best employed to control bad going and screening the army's exposed flanks against overlaps by their opposing numbers.

BUAs and Camps

A small walled city, a fortified country villa, or an established legionary fort are all good subjects for Roman BUAs.

A hasty marching camp, an embanked pallisade with ditch, or a row of legionary tents all make good Marian Roman camps. A generic ox-cart of supplies will also do the trick.

Painting Tips

The typical Roman legionnary of the Marian-Caesarian-Augustan period would have been equipped with the montefortino, coolus or gallic helmets, the short two-edged gladius (thrusting sword), the pilum, large oval shield, and chain mail (lorica squamata). Tunics would have been undyed (white) or brownish-red (madder), although other colors (requiring more expensive dyes) may have been used. Shield patterns are presumed to have been used to distinquish legions in the Marian period, although the exact nature of the patterns is not known. The back of the shields were reputedly painted dark red, to hide any blood stains.

See Jonathan Lin's painting guide for Marian Romans.


Marian (or Caesarian or Augustan) Romans are probably one of the most prolific subjects for ancient miniatures. 15mm ranges are available from Battle Honors, Chariot, Donnington, Essex, Irregular, Minifigs, Old Glory, Pass of the North, Testudo and others. In 25mm, you can look to Amazon, Foundry, Gripping Beast, Irregular, Matchlock, Navigator, and Newline Designs. In 20mm plastics, you can opt for HaTT.

Pictures above are samples of Pass o' the North Marian Romans from the collections of George Gouveia (top of page) and Jeff Caruso.


Check the Historical Resources for general Roman links. Also take a peak at this page entitled Gaius Marius: The Reforms and the Man, which describes the changes made by Marius to the organization and equipment of the Roman legion.

The following titles are currently available in the De Bellis Bookstore:

Roman Army from Caesar to Trajan (Men at Arms Series 46), by M. Simkina, Michael Simkins (Stackpole Books, Sept. 1998). 48 pages, softcover.

Republican Roman Army 200-104 Bc (Men-At-Arms Series, No 291), by Nick Sekunda (Osprey, May 1996). 48 pages, softcover.

The Roman Army at War: 100 BC-AD 200, by Adrian K. Goldsworthy (Clarendon Press, Sept. 1998). 328 pages, softcover.

Roman Warfare (History of Warfare Series, John Keegan, ed.) by Adrian Goldsworthy (Cassell Academic, April 2000). Hardcover, 224 pages.

The Making of the Roman Army: From Republic to Empire, by Lawrence Keppie (Univ. of Oklahoma, March 1998). 272 pages.

Caesar : A History of the Art of War Among the Romans Down to the End of the Roman Empire", by Theodore Ayrault Dodge (Da Capo Press, Oct. 1997). 816 pages, softcover.

Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds : A Chronological Compendium of 667 Battles to 31Bc, from the Historians of the Ancient World, by John Drogo Montagu (Greenhill Books, April 2000). Hardcover, 256 pages.

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Last Updated: June 5, 2001