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The Roman military was not known to grant individual soldiers liberties over others. Once you became a Roman soldier you would kiss your previous life goodbye, you were part of the army now. However, on occasion a soldier was given vacation time. Here is how much vacation time a soldier could expect to get.
Generally speaking, a Roman soldier during the early to mid Empire would expect to get 0 vacation days per year. From historical documents we know that Emperors such as Augustus believed that giving too much vacation time would cause a breakdown of discipline in the soldier’s unit. However, towards the end of the Empire a Roman soldier might get a period of lighter duties where they could travel between assignments.
It is important to remember the time period when asking how much vacation time a Roman soldier got. During the early and middle Republic a Roman soldier was often a member of the elite social class of Rome and would have substantial vacation time. However, during the Empire most Roman soldiers were full time paid soldiers and were dedicated to the army without leave.
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Without further ado, here is how much vacation time Roman soldiers actually got.
How Much Vacation Time Roman Soldiers Got In The Roman Republic (750-107 BC)
During the early and middle Roman Republican period which lasted from 750-107 BC the Roman military was completely different then the military under the Empire. This also came with a difference in vacation time or leave.
During the period of the republic only those who were members of the Roman ‘middle class’ could serve in the military. This was because each member of the Roman military had to provide their own weapons and equipment. As a result of this even the lowest level of Roman soldiers had their own property worth 3,500 sesterces.
Because of this the Roman military was composed of self-sufficient farmers and merchants that were under the guidance of an elected politician. Early on during the Republican era wars were typically only fought near the city itself and only for a brief period of time.
As the Roman Republic grew in size so did the need to protect its boundaries further away from the city. Wars became increasingly harder to fight because the militia/army of Rome did not want to be away from their homes or property for too long. As a result of this Rome started to employ mercenaries to help offset its need for soldiers. This became apparent during the first Punic War when both Carthage and Rome used mercenaries to fight in Sicily.
However, for the Roman soldiers of this time they could expect to nearly always have vacation time. Outside of direct military engagements there was no contract that they would have to serve a set portion of time. It is important to remember that during this time Roman soldiers were essentially volunteers that marched to protect their homeland.
This would all change however during the late Roman Republic with the creation of a permanently standing military.
How Much Vacation Time Roman Soldiers Got During The Late Roman Republic And Early Empire (107BC-120AD)
The average amount of vacation time the Roman soldier could expect to get changed dramatically in 107 BC. This was because of the Roman General Gaius Marius who reformed the Roman military.
Gaius Marius was one of Rome’s greatest generals. He had a long career as a military commander in Gaul, Spain, and Africa. However, all of these wars had strained the population of Rome that was capable of serving in the military.
As such in 107 BC Gaius Marius would get approval from the Roman senate to reform the military. To do this he made three major changes. First, Marius would allow the poor urban peasants of Rome to be enlisted into the military as career soldiers. Second, Marius made the General in charge of the army provide the equipment for the soldiers themselves. Third, Marius made it so that the Roman Soldier could expect to receive a pension from the General’s estate once they retired.
For the first time in Roman history now poor people who held no land could work their way up in the Roman system. Further, this made the Roman military completely loyal to not the state but rather the commander in charge of the army. As you might image this would cause problems later in the Roman Republic and was one of the major events which led to the fall of the Republic and transition to Empire.
During this time period of the late Roman Republic soldiers received no leave or vacation. This was because the Roman general saw no need to give the soldiers themselves leave. This was because since the general was paying for the soldiers there was a constant need to obtain more wealth so that the general did not become poor.
We have accounts of Roman generals purposely stopping all requests for leave just to have the soldiers do busy work. Any soldier who requested leave would be harshly punished for lacking discipline. It appears that Roman commanders would hardly give any vacation time out to their subordinates.
We do have one example of soldiers being given too much leave. When Caesennius Paetus was defending Roman Syria his junior officers would give substantial amount of leave out to the soldiers. Tacitus recounts that because of this lacking of discipline when the Parthian Empire invaded Rome was destroyed because of a lack of ready troops.
Even the first Emperor of Rome Augustus would refuse to grant leave to his soldiers and even generals. This was because the Romans believed that once you were a professional standing soldier there was no need for you to visit your previous life. For example, once you became a soldier you were prevented from marrying without a commanding officer’s consent.
Simply put, during the late Roman Republic and early Empire a Roman soldier would have been granted almost no leave outside of significant events. However, this would begin to change during the middle and late Empire.
How Much Vacation Time A Roman Soldier Would Get During the Middle and Late Empire (120-476 AD)
During the middle and later Roman Empire the concept of granting individual soldiers leave or vacation time started to become accepted. Our primary source regarding this is the De Re Militari by Vegetius which went over the best way to build up and lead Roman Soldiers.
In chapter two of this book Vegetius goes into detail on how if a commander would grant leave to a soldier they should thoroughly document the entire process. This was because lots of soldiers during antiquity would become deserters as there was not an efficient way to keep track of them.
Because Vegetius wrote about this process sometime between 383-420 AD we can assume that by the late Empire there was a process in place for a Roman soldier to request leave to go home.
How many days that soldier got would depend on the commander. In the east some commanders would grant large amounts of leave to individual soldiers who performed well in the field. However, this would have been a rare occasion.
It would really depend on what the soldier requested the leave for. If they wanted to go home to visit a loved one then they would might have only be given a month or so. However, it is possible that they were given large sections of leave over the winter months when the army was not campaigning.
As such, during the middle and late Roman Empire a soldier would expect to be given the opportunity to get leave. There was a formal process in place where a soldier could request leave or vacation time. However, historians are generally unsure as to how much time they actually got. The best estimate was that it was between 1-2 months.
There you have it; an entire article answering the question of how much vacation time Roman soldiers actually got.
Most people online glamorize being a Roman soldier. It was a hard life that often required you to serve 25 years of hard labor in the Roman military to even be given the opportunity to have a better life. As a Roman soldier you would expect to never be given leave or vacation time for much of your career.
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