Part 1d

Superiority of Armies vs Militia

by Adam Smith Icon

27 History shows the superiority of a well-regulated standing army over a militia.

Philip of Macedon

28 The army of Philip of Macedon is one of the first standing armies documented.

In the beginning, his troops were probably a militia.

  • Frequent wars with the Thracians, Illyrians, Thessalians, and some Greek cities near Macedon gradually formed his troops to the exact discipline of a standing army.
  • He was careful not to disband that army when he was at peace, which was very seldom.

His army vanquished and subdued:

  • the well-exercised militias of ancient Greece, after a long and violent struggle
  • the effeminate and ill-exercised militia of the Persian empire, with very little struggle

The fall of the Greek republics and the Persian empire was due to the superiority of a standing army over a militia.

  • It is the first great revolution in human affairs which was recorded in history.

29 The fall of Carthage and the elevation of Rome is the second great revolution in human affairs.

  • The varieties in the fortune of those two republics was caused by the superiority of the standing army.


30 From the end of the first to the beginning of the second Carthaginian war, the armies of Carthage were continually in the field.

They were employed under 3 great generals who succeeded one another:

  1. Hamilcar
  2. Hasdrubal, Hamilcar’s son-in-law
  3. Hannibal, Hamilcar’s son.

They chastised their own rebellious slaves.

  • Then, they subdued the revolted nations of Africa.
  • Lastly, they conquered Spain.

The army which Hannibal led from Spain into Italy gradually formed the discipline of a standing army.

The Romans then were not engaged in any great war.

  • Their military discipline was very relaxed.
  • The Roman military Hannibal encountered at Trebia, Thrasymenus, and Cann√¶ were militia.
    • This probably contributed more to determine the fate of those battles.

31 The standing army which Hannibal left in Spain were superior to the Roman militia sent to oppose it.

  • In a few years, under the command of his younger brother Hasdrubal, they expelled the Romans almost entirely from Spain.

32 Hannibal was badly supplied from home.

The Roman militia was continually in the field.

  • They became a well disciplined standing army.
  • Hannibal’s superiority grew less everyday.

Hasdrubal judged it necessary to lead his whole army in Spain to assist Hannibal in Italy.

  • He was misled by his guides.
  • He was in an unfamiliar country and was surprised and attacked by another army equal or superior to his own.
  • He was entirely defeated.

33 When Hasdrubal left Spain, the great Scipio was opposed only by a militia inferior to his own, which he defeated.

  • His own militia became a well-disciplined standing army.
  • It then went to Africa, where it was opposed by a militia.

To defend Carthage, Hannibal’s army had to be recalled.

  • The disheartened and frequently defeated African militia joined it.
    • They composed most of Hannibal’s troops at the battle of Zama which decided the fate of the two republics.

34 From the end of the second Carthaginian war until the fall of the Roman republic, the Roman armies were standing armies.

Macedon’s standing army resisted them. In the height of Roman grandeur, Macedon’s defeat cost Rome:

  • 2 great wars and
  • 3 great battles.

The conquest would probably have been more difficult if not for the cowardice of its last king, Perseus.

The militias of all the ancient civilized nations made but a feeble resistance to the Roman armies.

  • The militias of some barbarous nations defended themselves much better.

The Scythian or Tartar militia were the most formidable enemies of the Romans after the second Carthaginian war.

  • Mithridates VI of Pontus drew them from countries north of the Black and Caspian seas.
  • The Parthian and German militias were always respectable.

On several occasions, they gained very considerable advantages over the Roman armies.

When the Roman armies were well commanded, they appeared very much superior.

  • The Romans did not pursue the final conquest of Parthia or Germany probably because they judged that it was not worthwhile to add those 2 barbarous countries to an empire already too large.

The ancient Parthians (Iran) were a nation of Scythian or Tartar extraction.

  • They have always retained their ancestors’ manners.

The ancient Germans were like the Scythians or Tartars.

  • They were a nation of wandering shepherds.
  • They went to war under the same chiefs whom they followed in peace.
  • Their militia was the same kind with the Scythians or Tartars from whom they were probably descended.

35 The Roman armies’ discipline became relaxed because of:

  1. Its extreme severity.

In the days of their grandeur, no enemy could oppose them. They neglected:

  • their heavy armour as unnecessarily burdensome.
  • their labourious exercises as unnecessarily toilsome.
  1. The threat they brought to the Roman emperors

The Roman armies, particularly those which guarded the German and Pannonian frontiers, became dangerous to the emperors.

  • Frequently, they used to set up their own generals against the emperors.

To make them less formidable, Dioclesian and Constantine:

  • withdrew them from the frontier
  • dispersed them in small bodies through the provincial towns.

Those armies were only removed from those towns to repel invasions.

  • The soldiers became tradesmen, artificers, and manufacturers themselves.
  • The civil character came to predominate over the military character.

The Roman armies degenerated into a corrupt, neglected, and undisciplined militia incapable of resisting the attack of German and Scythian militias.

  • The emperors were able to defend themselves for some time by hiring foreign militias to fight other foreign militias.


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