Nunc, qua aetate milites legi conveniat, exploremus. et quidem, si antiqua consuetudo servanda est, incipientem pubertatem ad dilectum cogendam nullus ignorat; non enim tantum celerius sed etiam perfectius imbibuntur quae discuntur a pueris. deinde militaris alacritas, saltus et cursus ante temptandus est, quam corpus aetate pigrescat; velocitas enim est quae percepto exercitio strenuum efficit bellatorem. adulescentes legendi sunt, sicut ait Sallustius; nam ‘simul ac iuventus belli patiens erat, in castris per laborem usum militiae discebant’ [cf. Cat. 7.4]. melius enim est ut exercitatus iuvenis causetur aetatem nondum advenisse pugnandi, quam doleat praeterisse. habeat etiam spatium universa discendi. neque enim parva aut levis ars videatur armorum, sive equitem sive peditem sagittarium velis imbuere sive scutatum, armaturae numeros omnes omnesque gestus docere, ne locum deserat, ne ordines turbet, ut missile et destinato ictu et magnis viribus iaciat, ut fossam ducere, sudes scienter figere noverit, tractare scutum et obliquis ictibus venientia tela deflectere, plagam prudenter vitare, audacter inferre. huic taliter instituto tironi pugnare adversus quoslibet hostes in acie formido non erit sed voluptas.
proceritatem tironum ad incomam scio semper exactam, ita ut senos pedes vel certe quinos et denas uncias inter alares equites vel in primis legionum cohortibus probarentur. sed tunc erat amplior multitudo, et plures militiam sequebantur aramatam; necdum enim civilis pars florentiorem abducebat iuventutem. si ergo necessitas exigit, non tam staturae rationem convenit habere quam virium. et ipso Homero teste non fallimur, qui Tydeum minorem quidem corpore sed fortiorem armis fuisse significat.
sed qui dilectum acturus est vehementer intendat ut ex vultu, ex oculis, ex omni conformatione membrorum eos eligat qui implere valeant bellatores. namque non tantum in hominibus sed etiam in equis et canibus virtus multis declaratur indiciis, sicut doctissimorum hominum disciplina comprendit; quod etiam in apibus Mantuanus auctor dicit esse servandum:
‘nam duo sunt genera: hic melior, insignis et ore
et rutilis clarus squamis, ille horridus alter
desidia latamque trahens inglorius alvum.’ [Vergil, Georg. 4.92-94]
sit ergo adulescens Martio operi deputandus vigilantibus oculis, erecta cervice, lato pectore, umeris musculosis, valentibus brachiis, digitis longioribus, ventre modicus, exilior clunibus, suris et pedibus non superflua carne distentis sed nervorum duritia collectis. cum haec in tirone signa deprenderis, proceritatem non magno opere desideres. utilius est enim fortes milites esse quam grandes.
(Vegetius, De Re Militari 1.4-6)
Next let us examine at what age it is appropriate to levy soldiers. Indeed if ancient custom is to be retained, everyone knows that those entering puberty should be brought to the levy. For those things are taught not only more quickly but even more completely which are learned from boyhood. Secondly military alacrity, jumping and running should be attempted before the body stiffens with age. For it is speed which, with training, makes a brave warrior. Adolescents are the ones to recruit, just as Sallust says: “Directly as soon as youth was able to endure war, it learned military practice in camp through labour.” For it is better that a trained young man should complain that he has not yet reached fighting age, than that he should regret that it has passed. He should also have the time to learn everything. For the art of war does not seem a slight or trivial matter, whether you wish to train a cavalryman, a foot-archer of a scutatus, or teach all the routines and all the gestures of the armatura, not to desert one’s post, not to disorder the ranks, to hurl the javelin with a true aim and great force, to know how to dig a fosse and plant stakes in scientific fashion, handle a shield and deflect oncoming missiles with oblique movements, avoid a blow intelligently and inflict one boldly. For this recruit so trained, fighting against all manners of enemies in battle will be no terror but a delight.
The height of recruits was, I know, always required to be up to the incomma, so that men of 6 ft. (= 5 ft. 9½ in., 1.77m.) or at least 5 ft. 10 in. (= 5 ft. 7½ in., 1.72m.) were approved for the alares cavalry or the First cohorts of the legions. But in those days the population was greater, and more followed a military career. For civilian careers did not then take away the better class of youth. So if necessity demands, it is right to take account not so much of stature as of strength. Even Homer himself is not wanting as a witness, since he records that Tydeus was small in body but a strong warrior.
He who is charged with carrying out the levy procedure should take great pains to choose those able to fill the part of soldiers from the face, from the eyes, from the whole conformation of the limbs. For quality is indicated not only in men, but even in horses and dogs, by many points, as is understood in the teaching of the most learned men. Even in bees, the Mantuan author says, it is to be observed:
“Two kinds there are, the better by its face
Distinguished and bright with ruddy scales;
The other type is shaggy and inert
And drags along its fat, cowardly paunch.”
So let the adolescent who is to be selected for martial activity have alert eyes, straight neck, broad chest, muscular shoulders, strong arms, long fingers, let him be small in the stomach, slender in the buttocks, and have calves and feet that are not swollen by surplus fat but firm with hard muscle. When you see these points in a recruit, you need not greatly regret the absence of tall stature. It is more useful that soldiers be strong than big. (tr. Nicholas Peter Milner)