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War - Christian Responsibility In


Early Christian View
of War and
Military Service

Chapter 1

Military Conscription Conducted by Roman Empire During Period of Early Church’s History

“Early Rome originated the term ‘conscription.’ The expression ‘conscribere milites’ denotes the enrollment or registration of males chosen for the Roman Legion from the whole body of freeborn citizens capable of bearing arms. In the days of the early republic, compulsory service was the sole source of military recruitment, contrasting in this respect, with the Carthaginian principle of dependence on mercenaries… The cavalry was drawn from the ranks of the wealthy, the infantry from the middle classes, and the poorer citizens…served as light auxiliaries…From the very outset, delinquency on the part of the conscript was punished with imprisonment and the confiscation of his property. Liability to service extended from the age of 17 to 60, the older men being restricted to garrison duty. Under the prolonged strain of the Punic Wars (ending in 146 B.C.), slaves and non-citizens were forced into the ranks…Under the heavy drain of constant campaigning, increasing dependence was placed on the drafts called up from subject peoples, and on mercenaries.”[1] 

“The methods of raising men for the army have varied…The Roman system depended on the annual levy, consisting of four legions of infantry…each legion containing 6,666 men. The consuls…would announce by herald or written proclamation that a levy was to be made.”[2]

“The government could nearly always get as many soldiers as it needed by ordinary methods of enlistments without making wide use of its powers to compel the unwilling. Such forcible recruiting as did occur took place more and more among the least civilized population of the Empire. Gentile free and freed men who were Christians would thus hardly ever be called upon to serve.”[3]

Nevertheless, it seems evident that definite attempts were made to conscript Christians for military service: “Celsus (about 178 A.D.) thought it necessary to appeal to the Christians as a body to help the Emperor zealously, to cooperate with him in maintaining justice, and to fight for him, if he should call upon them to do so, both in the ranks and in positions of military command. He argued that, if all did as they did, the Emperor would be deserted, and his realm fall prey to savages and barbarians.”[4]