Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War
By Steele Brand
The year 146 BC marked the brutal end to the Roman Republic’s 118-year struggle for the western Mediterranean. Breaching the walls of their great enemy, Carthage, Roman troops slaughtered countless citizens, enslaved those who survived, and leveled the 700-year-old city. That same year in the east, Rome destroyed Corinth and subdued Greece. Over little more than a century, Rome’s triumphant armies of citizen-soldiers had shocked the world by conquering all of its neighbors.
How did armies made up of citizen-soldiers manage to pull off such a major triumph? And what made the republic so powerful? In Killing for the Republic, Steele Brand explains how Rome transformed average farmers into ambitious killers capable of conquering the entire Mediterranean. Rome instilled something violent and vicious in its soldiers, making them more effective than other empire builders. Unlike the Assyrians, Persians, and Macedonians, it fought with part-timers. Examining the relationship between the republican spirit and the citizen-soldier, Brand argues that Roman republican values and institutions prepared common men for the rigors and horrors of war.
Brand reconstructs five separate battles―representative moments in Rome’s constitutional and cultural evolution that saw its citizen-soldiers encounter the best warriors of the day, from marauding Gauls and the Alps-crossing Hannibal to the heirs of Alexander the Great. A sweeping political and cultural history, Killing for the Republic closes with a compelling argument in favor of resurrecting the citizen-soldier ideal in modern America.
Steele Brand is an Assistant Professor of History at The King’s College in New York City, where he teaches courses on the ancient Mediterranean world and medieval Europe. He previously served as the Director of Undergraduate Fellows for the Clements Center for National Security and as a tactical intelligence officer. Professor Brand’s research focuses on the relationship between farming, citizenship, and soldiering. Constitutional polities—especially premodern, agrarian republics—cultivated a unique set of virtues and a deadly form of civic militarism that created tough citizens who were as involved in politics as they were proficient at defending their political system. He has published articles in journals such as Religions and Humanitas about how this premodern ideal of citizen-soldiers has informed and inspired modern republics, particularly the United States.
Professor Brand is a Jack Miller Center fellow.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.