- Roman infantry tactics
Roman infantry tactics refers to the theoretical and historical deployment, formation and maneuvers of the Roman infantry from the start of the Roman Republic to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The article first presents a short overview of Roman training. Roman performance against different types of enemies is then analyzed. Finally a summation of what made the Roman tactics and strategy militarily effective through their long history is given below, as is a discussion of how and why this effectiveness eventually disappeared.
The focus below is primarily on Roman tactics - the "how" of their approach to battle, and how it stacked up against a variety of opponents over time. It does not attempt detailed coverage of things like army structure or equipment. Various battles are summarized to illustrate Roman methods with links to detailed articles on individual encounters. For in depth background on the historical structure of the
infantryrelevant to this article, see Structure of the Roman military. For a history of Rome's military campaigns see Campaign history of the Roman military. For detail on equipment, daily life and specific Legions see Roman Legionand Roman military personal equipment.
military tacticsand strategyevolved from that typical of a small tribal host seeking local hegemony, to massive operations encompassing a world empire. This advance was affected by changing trends in Roman political, social and economic life, and that of the larger Mediterraneanworld, but it was also undergirded by a distinctive "Roman way" of war. This approach included a tendency towards standardization and systematization, practical borrowing, copying and adapting from outsiders, flexibility in tactics and methods, a strong sense of discipline, a ruthless persistence that sought comprehensive victory, and a cohesion brought about by the ideal of Roman citizenshipunder arms - embodied in the Legion. [John Warry, Warfare in the Ancient World, (St. Martin's, 1980), pp. 70-193] These elements waxed and waned over time, but they form a distinct basis underlying Rome's rise.
Some key phases of this
evolutionthroughout Rome's militaryhistory would include: [Adrian Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, Weidenfield and Nicholson, 2003 pp. 18-117]
* Military forces based primarily on heavy
citizeninfantry with tribal beginnings and early use of phalanx type elements (see Military establishment of the Roman kingdom)
* Growing sophistication as Roman hegemony expands outside
Italyinto North Africa, Greeceand the Middle East(see Military establishment of the Roman Republic)
* Continued refinement, standardization and streamlining in the period associated with
Gaius Mariusincluding a broader based incorporation of more citizenry into the army, and more professionalism and permanence in army service.
* Continued expansion, flexibility and sophistication from the end of the
Republicinto the time of the Caesars (see Military establishment of the Roman empire)
* Growing barbarization, turmoil and weakening of the heavy infantry units in favor of
cavalryand lighter troops (See Foederati)
* Demise of the Western Empire and fragmentation into smaller, weaker local forces, the reversal of status of cavalry and infantry in the Eastern Empire with
Cataphractforces forming an elite with infantry being reduced to auxiliaries
"See detailed articles for more information on equipment, individual Legions and structure"
Over time the military system changed its equipment and roles, but throughout the course of Roman history, it always remained a disciplined and professional war machine. Soldiers carried out training common to every army, from initial muster, arms and weapons drill, formation marching and tactical exercises. The typical training regime consisted of gymnastics and swimming, to build physical strength and fitness, fighting with armatura (which were wooden weapons), to learn and master combat techniques and long "Route" marches with full battle gear and equipment to build stamina, endurance and to accustom them to the hardships of campaigns. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, Thames & Hudson, 2003, pp. 72-186]
Combat training exercises consisted of thrusting with a wooden
gladiusinto a "Quintin" (wooden dummy) while wearing full armor, and sparring with one another. Legionaries were trained to thrust with their gladii because they could defend themselves behind their large shields (scutums) while stabbing the enemy. The Romans were well aware that a wound of only 3 cm or 4 cm could cause death, so they emphasized quick, stabbing techniques to vital areas or between gaps in armor. Contemporary artistic depictions of Roman soldiers fighting, including Trajan's Columnin Rome, depict them as standing with their left foot and shield forward with their right foot back and turned outwards ninety degrees. This indicates a boxing-like style of fighting where the shield in the left is used to jab and harass the enemy while the sword in the right is used to deliver the final blow. Other training exercises taught the legionary to obey commands and assume battle formations. [Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, op. cit]
A legionary typically carried around 27 kilograms (60 pounds) of armor, weapons, and equipment. This load consisted of armor, sword, shield, two pila (one heavy, one light) and 15 days' food rations. There were also tools for digging and constructing a
castra, the legions' fortified base camp.
At the end of training the legionary had to swear an oath of loyalty to the
SPQR(Senatus Populusque Romanus, or the Senate and the Roman People) or later to the emperor. The soldier was then given a diploma and sent off to fight for his living and the glory and honor of Rome. [Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, op. cit]
Command, intelligence, fortifications, logistics and morale
Command, control and structure. Once the soldier had finished his training he was typically assigned to a
legion, the basic mass fighting force. The legion was split into ten sub-units called cohorts, roughly comparable to a modern infantry battalion. The cohorts were further sub-divided into three maniples, which in turn were split into two centuries of about 60-100 men each. Total strength of a legion when fully staffed stood at around 60 centuries or 6,000 men. The first cohort in a legion was usually the strongest, with the fullest personnel complement and with the most skilled, experienced men. Several legions grouped together made up a distinctive field force or "army". [Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, op. cit ]
Supreme command of either legion or army was by
consulor proconsulor a praetor, or in cases of emergency in the Republican era, a dictator. A praetoror a propraetorcould only command a single legion and not a consular army, which normally consisted of two legions plus the allies. In the early Republican period it was customary for an army to have dual commands, with different consuls holding the office on alternate days. In later centuries this was phased out in favor of one overall army commander. The legati were officers of senatorial rank who assisted the supreme commander. Tribuneswere young men of aristocratic rank who often supervised administrative tasks like camp construction. Centurions (roughly equivalent in rank to today's non-commissioned or junior officers, but functioning as modern captains in field operations) commanded cohorts, maniples and centuries. An assortment of specialist groups like engineersand artificers were sometimes used. An in-depth analysis of ranks, types, and historical units including their evolution over time is beyond the scope of this article. See Structural history of the Roman militaryand Roman Legionfor a detailed breakdown. [Albert Harkness, The Military System Of The Romans, University Press of the Pacific, 2004, pp. 53-89]
The approach march. Once the legion was deployed on an operation, the marching began. The approach to the battlefield was made in several columns, enhancing maneuverability. Typically a strong vanguard preceded the main body, and included scouts, cavalry and light troops. A tribune or other officer often accompanied the vanguard to survey the terrain for possible camp locations. Flank and reconnaissance elements were also deployed to provide the usual covering security. Behind the vanguard came the main body of heavy infantry. Each legion marched as a distinct formation and was accompanied by its own baggage train. The last legion usually provided the rear force, although several recently raised units might occupy this final echelon.
Construction of fortified camps. Legions on a campaign typically established a strong field camp, complete with
palisadeand a deep ditch, providing a basis for supply storage, troop marshaling and defense. Camps were recreated each time the army moved, and were constructed with a view to both military necessity and religious symbolism. There were always four gateways, connected by two main criss-crossing streets, with the intersection at a concentration of command tents in the center. Space was also made for an altar and religious gathering area. Everything was standardized, from the positioning of baggage, equipment and specific army units, to the duties of officers who were to set up sentries, pickets and orders for the next day's march. Construction could take between 2 to 5 hours with part of the army laboring, while the rest stood guard, depending on the tactical situation. The shape of the camp was generally rectangular, but could vary based on the terrain or tactical situation. A distance of about 60 meters was left clear between the entrenchments and the first row of troop tents. This gap provided space for marshaling the legionnaires for battle and kept the troop area out of enemy missile range. [Pierre Grimal, The Civilization of Rome, op. cit] No other ancient army persisted over such a long period in systematic camp construction like the Romans, even if the army rested for only a single day. [John Warry, Warfare in the ancient World, (St. Martin's, 1980), pp. 70-183]
Breaking camp and marching. After a regimented breakfast at the allocated time, trumpets were sounded and the camp's tents and huts were dismantled and preparations made for departure. The trumpet then sounded again with the signal for "stand by to march".
Mules and wagons of the baggage train would be loaded and units formed up. The camp would then be fired to the ground to prevent its later occupation and use by the enemy. The trumpets would then be sounded for a final time and then the troops asked three times whether they were ready, to which they were expected to shout together "Ready!", before marching off [Williamson, G. A., (tr), Josephus, "The Jewish War", Penguin Books, 1959, p. 378-179] .
Intelligence. Good Roman commanders did not hesitate to exploit useful
intelligence, particularly where a siege situation or impending clash in the field was developing. Information was gathered from spies, collaborators, diplomats and envoys, and allies. Intercepted messages during the Second Punic Warfor example were an intelligence coup for the Romans, and enabled them to dispatch two armies to find and destroy Hasdrubal's Carthaginian force, preventing his reinforcement of Hannibal. Commanders also kept an eye on the situation in Rome since political enemies and rivals could use an unsuccessful campaign to inflict painful career and personal damage. During this initial phase the usual field reconnaissancewas also conducted - patrols might be sent out, raids mounted to probe for weaknesses, prisoners snatched, and local inhabitants intimidated. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) p. 43-78]
logisticswere the best in the ancient world over the centuries- from the deployment of purchasing agents to systematically buy provisions during a campaign, to the construction of roads and supply caches, to the rental of shipping if the troops had to move by water. Heavy equipment and material (tents, artillery, extra weapons and equipment, millstones etc.) was moved by pack animal and cart, while troops carried weighty individual packs with them, including staves and shovels for constructing the fortified camps. Typical of all armies, local opportunities were also exploited by troops on the spot, and the fields of peasant farmers unlucky enough to be near the zone of conflict might be stripped to meet army needs. As with most armed forces, an assortment of traders, hucksters, prostitutes and other miscellaneous service providers trailed in the wake of the Roman fighting men. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) p. 43-78]
Morale. If the field of potential battle was near, movement became more careful and more tentative. Several days might be spent in a location studying the terrain and opposition, while the troops were prepared mentally and physically for battle. Pep talks, sacrifices to the gods and the announcements of good
omens might be carried out. A number of practical demonstrations might also be undertaken to test enemy reaction as well as to build troop morale. Part of the army might be led out of the camp and drawn up in battle array towards the enemy. If the enemy refused to come out and at least make a demonstration, the commander could claim a morale advantage for his men, contrasting the timidity of the opposition with the resolution of his fighting forces. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) p. 43-78]
Historian Adrian Goldsworthy notes that such tentative pre-battle maneuvering was typical of ancient armies as each side sought to gain maximum advantage before the encounter. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) p. 50-69 ] During this period, some ancient writers paint a picture of meetings between opposing commanders for negotiation or general discussion, as with the famous pre-clash conversation between
Hannibaland Scipio at Zama. But whatever the truth of these discussions, or the flowery speeches allegedly made, the only encounter that ultimately mattered was battle.
Pre-battle maneuver gave the competing commanders a feel for the impending clash, but final outcomes could be unpredictable, even after the start of hostilities. Skirmishing could get out of hand, launching both main forces towards one another. Political considerations, exhaustion of supplies, or even rivalry between commanders for glory could also spark a forward launch, as at the Battle of the Trebia River. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) p. 43-78]
Layout of the triple line
Once the machinery was in motion however, the Roman infantry typically was deployed, as the main body, facing the enemy. During deployment in the Republican era, the maniples were commonly arranged in "
triplex acies" (triple battle order): that is, in three ranks, with the hastatiin the first rank (that nearest the enemy), the principesin the second rank, and the veteran triariiin the third and final rank, or sometimes even further back as a strategic reserve. When suffering defeat, the first and second lines, the Hastati and Principes, fell back on the Triarii to attempt to reform the line and allow for a counter attack or withdrawal of the other lines. Because falling back on the Triarii was an act of desperation, to mention "falling on the Triarii" ("ad triarios rediisse") became a common Roman phrase indicating one to be in a desperate situation. [Warry, Warfare in the Ancient World, op. cit]
Within this triplex acies system, contemporary Roman writers talk of the maniples adopting a checkered formation called "
quincunx" when deployed for battle but not yet engaged. In the first line, the hastati left gaps equal in size to their cross-sectional area between each maniple. The second line consisting of principes followed in a similar manner, lining up behind the gaps left by the first line. This was also done by the third line, standing behind the gaps in the second line. The velites were deployed in front of this line in a continuous, loose-formation line. [See Polybius, "The Histories" for original commentary-- "The Histories" or "The Rise of the Roman Empire" by Polybius: ** At Perseus Project: [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plb.+toc English & Greek version] ]
The Roman maneuver was a complex one, filled with the dust of thousands of soldiers wheeling into place, and the shouting of officers moving to and fro as they attempted to maintain order. Several thousand men had to be positioned from column into line, with each unit taking its designated place, along with light troops and cavalry. The fortified camps were laid out and organized to facilitate deployment. It might take some time for the final array of the host, but when accomplished the army's grouping of legions represented a formidable fighting force, typically arranged in three lines with a frontage as long as one mile (1.6 km). [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, op. cit]
A general three line deployment was to remain over the centuries, although the
Marian reformsphased out most divisions based on age and class, standardized weapons and reorganized the legions into bigger maneuver units like cohorts. The overall size of the legion, and length of the soldier's service also increased on a more permanent basis. [ [http://romans.etrusia.co.uk/roman_army_print Wake, T., "The Roman Army After Marius' Reforms," 28 February 2006.] ]
As the army approached its enemy, the
velitesin front would throw their javelins at the enemy and then retreat through the gaps in the lines. This was an important innovation since in other armies of the period skirmishers would have to either retreat through their own armies ranks, causing confusion, or else flee around either flank of their own army. After the velites had retreated through the hastati, the 'posterior' century would march to the left and then forward so that they presented a solid line, creating a solid line of soldiers. The same procedure would be employed as they passed through the second and third ranks or turned to the side to channel down the gap between the first and second rows on route to help guard the legion's flanks. [Harkness, The Roman Military System, op. cit]
At this point, the legion then presented a solid line to the enemy and the legion was in the correct formation for engagement. When the enemy closed, the hastati would charge. If they were losing the fight, the 'posterior' century returned to its position creating gaps again. Then the maniples would fall back through the gaps in the principes, who followed the same procedure to form a battle line and charge. If the principes could not break the enemy, they would retreat behind the triarii and the whole army would leave the battlefield in good order. According to some writers, the "triarii" formed a continuous line when they deployed, and their forward movement allowed scattered or discomfited units to rest and reform, to later rejoin the struggle. [Pierre Brimal, The Civilization of Rome, Simon and Schuster: 1963, Chap 5: "The Conquerors," pg 162-196]
The manipulatory system allowed engaging every kind of enemy even in rough terrain, because the legion had both flexibility and toughness according to the deployment of its lines. Lack of a strong cavalry corps however, was a major flaw of the Roman forces.
In the later imperial army, the general deployment was very similar, with the cohorts deploying in quincunx pattern. In a reflection of the earlier placement of the veteran triarii in the rear, the less experienced cohorts - usually the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th - were in the front; the more experienced cohorts - 1st, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 10th - were placed behind. [Warry, op. cit.]
The above is only standard procedure and was often modified; for example, at Zama, Scipio deployed his entire legion in a single line to envelop
Hannibal's army just as Hannibal had done at Cannae. A brief summary of alternative formations known to have been used is shown below:
Hand-to-hand engagement after release of missile weapons. Once the deployment and initial skirmishing described above took place, the main body of heavy infantry closed the gap and attacked on the double. The front ranks usually cast their pila, and the following ranks hurled theirs over the heads of the front-line fighters. If a cast pilum did not cause direct death or injury, they were designed to bend on contact, rendering the pila unusable by the enemy. After the pila were cast, the soldiers then drew their swords and engaged the enemy. Emphasis was on using the shield to provide maximum body coverage, while attacking that exposed by the enemy. In the combat that ensued, Roman discipline, heavy shield, armor and training were to give them important advantages.
The acute shock of combat. Some scholars of the Roman infantry maintain that the intense trauma and stress of hand to hand combat meant that the contenders did not simply hack at one another continuously until one dropped. Instead there were short periods of intense, vicious fighting. If indecisive, the contenders might fall back a short distance to recuperate, and then surge forward to renew the struggle. Others behind them would be stepping up into the fray meanwhile, engaging new foes or covering their colleagues. The individual warrior could thus count on temporary relief, rather than endless fighting until death or crippling injury. As the battle progressed, the massive physical and mental stress intensified. The stamina and willpower demanded to make yet one more charge, to make yet one more surge grew even greater. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) p. 50-69 ] Eventually one side began to break down, and it is then that the greatest slaughter began.
Use of war machines and covering fire. Many Roman battles, especially during the late empire, were fought with the preparatory fire from
Ballistas and Onagers. These war machines, a form of ancient artillery, fired arrows and large stones towards the enemy (although many historians question the battlefield effectiveness of such weapons). Following this barrage, the Roman infantry advanced, in four lines, until they came within 30 meters of the enemy, then they halted, hurled their pila and charged. If the first line was repelled by the enemy, another line would rapidly resume the attack. Often this rapid sequence of deadly attacks proved the key of victory. Another common tactic was to taunt the enemy with feigned charges and rapid arrow fire by the "auxiliares equites" (auxiliary cavalry), forcing the enemy into pursuing them, and then leading the enemy into an ambush where they would be counter attacked by Roman heavy infantry and cavalry.
3-line system advantages
Some ancient sources such as
Polybiusseem to imply that the legions could fight with gaps in their lines. Yet, most sources seem to admit that more usually a line would form into a solid front. Various approaches have been taken to reconcile these possibilities with the ancient writings. [Adrian Goldsworthy, The Roman Army at War, 100 BC- AD200, (Oxford, 1996), pp. 179-80] The advantages of gaps are obvious when a formation was on the move- it can more easily flow around obstacles and maneuver and control are enhanced and, as the Romans did in the pre-Marius republic, place baggage between the lines meaning that the cargo cannot be easily captured and that the army can quickly get ready for a battle by using it as cover. After the approach marching was complete, it would be extremely difficult to deploy an unbroken army of men for combat across any but the flattest ground without some sort of intervals. Many ancient armies used gaps of some sort, even the Carthaginians, who typically withdrew their initial skirmishing troops between the spaces before the main event. Even more loosely organized enemies like the Germanic hosts typically charged in distinct groups with small gaps between them, rather than marching up in a neat line. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, op. cit.]
Fighting with gaps is thus feasible as writers like Polybius assert. According to those who support that the "quincunx" formation view, what made the Roman approach stand out is that their intervals were generally larger and more systematically organized than those of other ancient armies. Each gap was covered by maniples or cohorts from lines farther back. A penetration of any significance could not just slip in unmolested. It would not only be mauled as it fought past the gauntlet of the first line, but would also clash with aggressive units moving up to plug the space. [Goldsworthy, 1996, pp. 138-40] From a larger standpoint, as the battle waxed and waned, fresh units might be deployed through the intervals to relieve the men of the first line, allowing continual pressure to be brought forward.
Mixing of a continuous front with interval fighting
One scenario for not using gaps is deployment in a limited space, such as the top of a hill or ravine, where extensive spreading out would not be feasible. Another is a particular attack formation, such as the wedge discussed above, or an encirclement as at the
battle of Ilipa. Yet another is a closing phase maneuver, when a solid line is constructed to make a last, final push as in the battle of Zama. During the maelstrom of battle it is also possible that as the units merged into line, the general checkerboard spacing became more compressed or even disappeared, and the fighting would see a more or less solid line engaged with the enemy. Thus gaps at the beginning of the struggle might tend to vanish in the closing phases. [Lt. Col. S.G. Brady, The Military Affairs of Ancient Rome and Roman Art of War in Caesar's Time, The Military Service Publishing Company: 1947- url: http://www.pvv.ntnu.no/~madsb/home/war/romanarmy/]
Some historians view the intervals as primarily useful in maneuver. Before the legionnaires closed with the enemy each echelon would form a solid line to engage. If things went badly for the first line, it would retreat through the gaps and the second echelon moved up- again forming a continuous front. Should they be discomfited, there still remained the veterans of the "triarrii" who let the survivors retreat through the preset gaps. The veterans then formed a continuous front to engage the enemy or provided cover for the retreat of the army as a whole. The same procedure was followed when the "triarri" was phased out - intervals for maneuver, reforming and recovery- solid line to engage. [Nardo, The Roman Army, p23-29] . Some writers maintain that in Caesar's armies the use of the "quincunx" and its gaps seems to have declined, and his legions generally deployed in three unbroken lines as shown above, with four cohorts in front, and three apiece in the echeloned order. Relief was provided by the second and third lines 'filtering' forward to relieve their comrades in small groups, while the exhausted and wounded eased back from the front. [Brady, op. cit, See also Warry, pg 169-170] The Romans still remained flexible however, using gaps and deploying four or sometimes two lines based on the tactical situation. [John Warry, Warfare in the Ancient World, p. 169-170]
Another unique feature of the Roman infantry was the depth of its spacing. Most ancient armies deployed in shallower formations, particularly phalanx-type forces. Phalanxes might deepen their ranks heavily to add both stamina and shock power, but their general approach still favored one massive line, as opposed to the deep three-layer Roman arrangement. The advantage of the Roman system is that it allowed the continual funneling or metering of combat power forward over a longer period--massive, steadily renewed pressure to the front--until the enemy broke. Deployment of the second and third lines required careful consideration by the Roman commander. Deployed too early, and they might get entangled in the frontal fighting and become exhausted. Deployed too late, and they might be swept away in a rout if the first line began to break. Tight control had to be maintained, hence the 3rd line "triari" were sometimes made to squat or kneel, effectively discouraging premature movement to the front. The Roman commander was thus generally mobile, constantly moving from spot to spot, and often riding back in person to fetch reserves, if there was not time for standard messenger service. The large number of officers in the typical Roman army, and the flexible breakdown into sub-units like cohorts or maniples greatly aided coordination of such moves. [Goldsworthy, "The Punic Wars, pp.53-62]
Whatever the actual formation taken however, the ominous funneling or surge of combat power up to the front remained constant::"When the first line as a whole had done its best and become weakened and exhausted by losses, it gave way to the relief of fresh men from the second line who, passing through it gradually, pressed forward one by one, or in single file, and worked their way into the fight in the same way. Meanwhile the tired men of the original first line, when sufficiently rested, reformed and re-entered the fight. This continued until all men of the first and second lines had been engaged. This does not presuppose an actual withdrawal of the first line, but rather a merging, a blending or a coalescing of both lines. Thus the enemy was given no rest and was continually opposed by fresh troops until, exhausted and demoralized, he yielded to repeated attacks." [Lt. Col. S.G. Brady, The Military Affairs of Ancient Rome and Roman Art of War in Caesar's Time, The Military Service Publishing Company: 1947- url: http://www.pvv.ntnu.no/~madsb/home/war/romanarmy/]
Whatever the deployment, the Roman army was marked both by flexibility and strong discipline and cohesion. Different formations were assumed according to different tactical situations.
* "Repellere equites" ("repel horses") was the formation used to resist cavalry. The legionaries would assume a square formation, holding their pila as spears in the space between their shields and strung together shoulder to shoulder.
* At the command "eicere pila", the legionaries hurled their pila at the enemy.
* At the command "cuneum formate", the infantry formed a wedge to charge and break enemy lines. This formation was used as a shock tactic.
* At the command "contendite vestra sponte", the legionaries assumed an aggressive stance and attacked every opponent they faced.
* At the command "orbem formate", the legionaries assumed a circle-like formation with the archers placed in the midst of and behind the legionaries providing missile fire support. This tactic was used mainly when a small number of legionaries had to hold a position and were surrounded by enemies.
* At the command "ciringite frontem", the legionaries held their position.
* At the command "frontem allargate", a scattered formation was adopted.
* At the command "testudinem formate", the legionaries assumed the "testudo" (tortoise) formation. This was slow moving but almost impenetrable to enemy fire, and thus very effective during sieges and/or when facing off against enemy archers. However in hand to hand fighting then the testudo was a weak formation and therefore it was only adopted when the enemy were far enough away so as the legionaries could get into another formation before being attacked.
* At the command "Agmen formate", the legionaries assumed a square formation, which was also the typical shape of a century in battle.
ieging and fortifications
Besieging cities.:"De oppido expugnando" was a tactic used when besieging cities. It was divided into three phases:
# In the first phase, engineers (the "cohors fabrorum") built a fortified camp near the city with walls of
Contravallationand at the command 'turres extruere' (watch towers) in order to prevent enemies from bringing in reinforcements. Siege towers were built, trenches were dug and traps set all around the city. Also sometimes walls of " Circumvallation" were built around the city's perimeter, as Caesar did at the Battle of Alesia. Sometimes the Romans would mine the enemy's walls.
# The second phase began with onager and
ballistafire to cover the approach of the siege towers, which were full of legionaries ready to assault the wall's defenders. Meanwhile, other cohorts approached the city's wall in testudo formation, bringing up battering rams and ladders to breach the gates and scale the walls.
# The third phase included opening of the city's main gate by the cohorts which had managed to break through or scale the walls, provided the rams had not knocked the gate open. Once the main gate was opened or the walls breached, the cavalry and other cohorts entered the city to finish off the remaining defenders.
Field fortifications. While strong cities/forts and elaborate sieges to capture them were common throughout the ancient world, the Romans were unique among ancient armies in their extensive use of field fortifications. In campaign after campaign, enormous effort was expended to dig- a job done by the ordinary legionnaire. His field pack included a shovel, a "
dolabra" or pickaxe, and a wicker basket for hauling dirt. Some soldiers also carried a type of turf cutter. With these they dug trenches, built walls and palisades and constructed assault roads. The operations of Julius Caesarat Alesia are well known. The Gallic city was surrounded by massive double walls penning in defenders, and keeping out relieving attackers. A network of camps and forts were included in these works. The inner trench alone was convert|20|ft|m deep, and Caesar diverted a river to fill it with water. The ground was also sown with iron barbs at various places to discourage assault. Surprisingly for such an infantry centered battle, Caesar relied heavily on cavalryforces to counter Gallic sorties. Ironically, many of these were from Germanic tribes who had come to terms earlier. [Warry, pp. 159-172]
The power of Roman field camps has been noted earlier, but in other actions, the Romans sometimes used trenches to secure their flanks against envelopment when they were outnumbered, as Caesar did during operations in Belgaic
Gaul. In the Brittanyregion of France, moles and breakwaters were constructed at enormous effort to assault the estuarine strongholds of the Gauls. Internal Roman fighting between Caesar and Pompey also saw the frequent employment of trenches, counter-trenches, dug-in strong points, and other works as the contenders maneuvered against each other in field combat. [Warry, pp. 159-172] In the latter stages of the empire, the extensive use of such field fortifications declined as the heavy infantry itself was phased down. Nevertheless they are an integral part of the relentless Roman rise to dominance over large parts of the ancient world. [ Warry, pp. 115-169]
Versus Hellenic phalanx
Strengths of the phalanx. Prior to the rise of Rome, the Hellenic phalanx was the premiere infantry force in the Western World. It had proven itself on the battlefields of southern Europe- from
Spartato Macedonia, and had met and overcome several strong non-European armies beyond - from Persia to India. Packed into a dense armored mass, and equipped with massive pikes 12 to convert|21|ft|m in length, the phalanx was a formidable force. While defensive configurations were sometimes used, the phalanx was most effective when it was moving forward in attack, either in a frontal charge or in "oblique" or echeloned order against an opposing flank, as the victories of Alexander the Greatand Theban innovator Epaminondasattest. When working with other formations--light infantry and cavalry--it was, at its height under Alexander, without peer. [Polybius, "Histories" pp. 511-12]
Weaknesses of the phalanx. Nevertheless the phalanx had key weaknesses. It had some maneuverability, but once a clash was joined this decreased, particularly on rough ground. Its "dense pack" approach also made it rigid. Compressed in the heat of battle, its troops could only primarily fight facing forward. The diversity of troops gave the phalanx great flexibility, but this diversity was a double-edged sword- relying on a mix of units that was complicated to control and position. These included not only the usual heavy infantrymen, cavalry and light infantry- but also various elite units, medium armed groups, foreign contingents with their own styles and shock units of war-elephants. [John Warry, Warfare in the ancient World, (St. Martin's, 1980), pp. 70-86] Such "mixed" forces presented additional command and control problems. If properly organized and fighting together a long time under capable leaders, they could be very proficient. The campaigns of Alexander,
Pyrrhusand Hannibal(a Hellenic-style formation of mixed contingents) show this. Without such long term cohesion and leadership however, their performance was uneven, as the "scratch" force Hannibal fought with at Zama illustrates. By the time the Romans were engaging against Hellenistic armies the Greeks had ceased to use strong flank guards and cavalry contingents, and their system had degenerated into a mere clash of phalanxes. This was the formation overcome by the Romans at Cynoscephalae.
Advantages of Roman infantry. The Romans themselves had retained some aspects of the phalanx in their early legions, most notably the final line of fighters in the classic "triple line," the spearmen of the triarii. The long pikes of the triarii were to eventually disappear, and all hands were uniformly equipped with short sword, shield and pilum, and deployed in the distinctive Roman tactical system, which provided more standardization and cohesion in the long run over the Hellenic type formations.
Phalanxes facing the legion were vulnerable to the more flexible Roman "checkerboard" deployment, which provided each fighting man a good chunk of personal space to engage in close order fighting. The manipular system also allowed entire Roman sub-units to maneuver more widely, freed from the need to always remain tightly packed in rigid formation. The deep three-line deployment of the Romans allowed combat pressure to be steadily applied forward. Most phalanxes favored one huge line several ranks deep. This might do well in the initial stages, but as the battle entangled more and more men, the stacked Roman formation allowed fresh pressure to be imposed over a more extended time. As combat lengthened and the battlefield compressed, the phalanx might thus become exhausted or rendered immobile, while the Romans still had enough left to not only maneuver but to make the final surges forward. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, op. cit] Hannibal's deployment at
Zamaappears to recognize this--hence the Carthaginian also used a deep three-layer approach, sacrificing his first two lower quality lines and holding back his combat-hardened veterans of Italyfor the final encounter. Hannibal's arrangement had much to recommend it given his weakness in cavalry and infantry, but he made no provision for one line relieving the other as the Romans did. Each line fought its own lonely battle and the last ultimately perished when the Romans reorganized for a final surge.
The legions also drilled and trained together over a more extended time, and were more uniform and streamlined, (unlike Hannibal's final force and others) enabling even less than brilliant army commanders to maneuver and position their forces proficiently. These qualities, among others, made them more than a match for the phalanx, when they met in combat. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, op. cit. ]
According to Polybius, in his comparison of the phalanx versus the Roman system: :".. Whereas the phalanx requires one time and one type of ground.. Its use requires flat and level ground which is unencumbered by any obstacles.. If the enemy refuses to come down to [meet it on level ground] .. what purpose can the phalanx serve? .. [Also] the phalanx soldier cannot operate in either smaller units or singly, whereas the Roman formation is highly flexible. Every Roman soldier.. can adapt himself equally well to any place of time and meet an attack from any quarter.. Accordingly since the effective use of parts of the Roman army is so much superior, their plans are much more likely to achieve success." [Polybius, "Histories" pp. 511-12]
"See detailed article
Pyrrhus of Epirus
The Greek king Pyrrhus' phalangical system was to prove a tough trial for the Romans. But despite several setbacks they inflicted such losses that the phrase "
Pyrrhic victory" has become a byword for a victory won at a terrible cost. A skillful and experienced commander, Pyrrhus deployed a typically mixed phalanx system, including shock units of war-elephants, and formations of light infantry ( peltasts), elite units, and cavalry to support his infantry. Using these he was able to defeat the Romans twice, with a third battle deemed inconclusive or a limited Roman tactical success by many scholars. The battles below (see individual articles for detailed accounts) illustrate the difficulties of fighting against phalanx forces. If well led and deployed (compare Pyrrhus to the fleeing Perseusat Pydna below), they presented a credible infantry alternative to the heavy legion. The Romans however were to learn from their mistakes. In subsequent battles after the Pyrrhic wars, they showed themselves masters of the Hellenic phalanx.
Battle of Heraclea
Battle of Asculum
* Battle of Beneventum
Battle of Cynoscephalae"(See more detailed article)"
In this battle the Macedonian phalanx originally held the high ground but all of its units had not been properly positioned due to earlier skirmishing. Nevertheless, an advance by its left wing drove back the Romans, who counterattacked on the right flank and made some progress against a somewhat disorganized Macedonian left. However the issue was still in doubt, until an unknown tribune (officer) detached 20 maniples from the Roman line and made an encircling attack against the Macedonian rear. This caused the enemy phalanx to collapse, securing a rout for the Romans. The more flexible, streamlined legionary organization had exploited the weaknesses of the densely packed phalanx. Such triumphs secured Roman hegemony in
Greeceand adjoining lands. Battle of Pydna"(See more detailed article)"
At Pydna the contenders deployed on a relatively flat plain, and the Macedonians had augmented the infantry with a sizeable cavalry contingent. At the hour of decision, the enemy phalanx advanced in formidable array against the Roman line, and made some initial progress. However, the ground it had to advance over was rough, and the powerful phalangial formation lost its tight cohesion. The Romans absorbed the initial shock and came on into the fray, where their more spacious formation and continuously applied pressure proved decisive in hand to hand combat on the rough ground. Shield and sword at close quarters on such terrain neutralized the long pike, and supplementary Macedonian weapons (lighter armor and a dagger-like short sword) made an indifferent showing against the skillful and aggressive assault of the heavy Roman infantrymen. The opposition also failed to deploy supporting forces effectively to help the phalanx at its time of dire need. Indeed the Macedonian commander, Perseus, seeing the situation deteriorating, seems to have fled without even bringing his cavalry into the engagement. The affair was decided in less than two hours, with a comprehensive defeat for the Macedonians.
Other anti-phalanx tactics
"Breaking phalanxes" illustrates more of the Roman army's flexibility. When the Romans faced
phalangitearmies, the legions often deployed the velitesin front of the enemy with the command to "contendite vestra sponte", to cause confusion and panic into the solid blocks of the phalanxes. Meanwhile, auxilia archers were deployed on the wings of the legion in front of the cavalry, in order to defend their withdrawal. These archers were ordered to "eiaculare flammas", fire incendiary arrows into the enemy. The cohorts then advanced in a wedge formation, supported by the velites' and auxiliaries' fire, and charged into the phalanx at a single point, breaking it, then flanking it with the cavalry to seal the victory. See the Battle of Beneventum for evidence of fire-arrows being used.
Tactical superiority of Hannibal's forces. While not a classic phalanx force, Hannibal's army was composed of "mixed" contingents and elements common to Hellenic formations, and it is telling that towards the end of his life, Hannibal reportedly named Pyrrhus as the commander of the past that he most admired [Goldsworthy, "The Punic Wars"] Rome however had blunted Pyrrhus' hosts prior to the rise of Hannibal, and given their advantages in organization, discipline, and resource mobilization, why did they not make a better showing in the field against the Carthaginian, who throughout most of his campaign in Italy suffered from numerical inferiority and lack of support from his homeland?
Hannibal's individual genius, the steadiness of his core troops (forged over several years of fighting together in
Spain, and later in Italy) and his cavalry arm seem to be the decisive factors. Time after time Hannibal exploited the tendencies of the Romans, particularly their eagerness to close and achieve a decisive victory. The cold, tired, wet legionnaires that slogged out of the Trebia River to form up on the river bank are but one example of how Hannibal forced or manipulated the Romans into fighting on his terms, and on the ground of his own choosing. The later debacles at Lake Trasimene and Cannae, reduced the proud Romans to avoiding battle, shadowing the Carthaginians from the high ground of the Apennines, unwilling to risk a significant engagement on the plains where the enemy cavalry held sway. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, op. cit.]
Growing Roman tactical sophistication and ability to adapt overcomes earlier disasters. But while the case of Hannibal underscored that the Romans were far from invincible, it also demonstrated their long-term strengths. They isolated and eventually bottled up the Carthaginians and hastened their withdrawal from Italy with constant maneuver. More importantly, they began a counterattack into Spain and
Africa. They were willing to absorb the humiliation in Italy and remain on the strategic defensive, but with typical relentless persistence they struck elsewhere, to finally crush their foes. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, op. cit.]
They also learned from those enemies. The operations of Scipio were an improvement on some of those who had previously faced Hannibal, showing a higher level of advance thinking, preparation and organization. (Compare with Sempronius at the Battle of the Trebia River for example). Scipio's contribution was in part to implement more flexible maneuver of tactical units, instead of the straight-ahead, three-line grind favored by some contemporaries. He also made better use of cavalry, traditionally an arm in which the Romans were lacking. His operations also included pincer movements, a consolidated battle line, and "reverse Cannae" formations and cavalry movements. His victories in Spain and the African campaign demonstrated a new sophistication in Roman warfare and reaffirmed the Roman capacity to adapt, persist and overcome. [Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, op. cit. ] See detailed battles:
Battle of Baecula
Battle of Ilipa
Battle of Zama
Versus Gallic and the Germanic tribes
Views of the Gallic enemies of Rome have varied widely. Some older histories consider them to be backward savages, ruthlessly destroying the civilization and "grandeur that was Rome." Some modernist views see them in a proto-nationalist light, ancient freedom fighters resisting the iron boot of empire. Often their bravery is celebrated as worthy adversaries of Rome. See the
Dying Gaulfor an example. The Gallic opposition was also composed of a large number of different peoples and tribes, geographically ranging from the mountains of Switzerland, to the lowlands of France, to the forests of the Rhineland, and thus are not easy to categorize. The term "Gaul" has also been used interchangeably to describe Celtic peoples farther afield in Britain and Scotland, adding even more to the diversity of peoples lumped together under this name. From a military standpoint however, they seem to have shared certain general characteristics: tribal polities with a relatively small and lesser elaborated state structure, light weaponry, fairly unsophisticated tactics, and organization , a high degree of mobility , and inability to sustain combat power in their field forces over a lengthy period. [Hans Delbrück, Warfare in Antiquity] Roman sources reflect on the prejudices of their times, but nevertheless testify to the Gauls fierceness and bravery.:"Their chief weapons were long, two-edged swords of soft iron.. For defense they carried small wicker shields. Their armies were undisciplined mobs, greedy for plunder.. Brave to the point of recklessness, they were formidable warriors, and the ferocity of their first assault inspired terror even in the ranks of veteran armies." [Don Nardo, The Roman Army: Instrument of Power, Lucent Books: 2004, 22-23]
Early Gallic victories
Though popular accounts celebrate the legions and an assortment of charismatic commanders quickly vanquishing massive hosts of "wild barbarians" [The opening scene of Germanic
barbariansbeing vanquished was shown to senior American officers before the 2003 US attack on Iraq as a motivational tool- reported in Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, (Pantheon Books, 2006) p. 164] (the American film "Gladiator" c. 2000 for example,) Rome suffered a number of embarrassing setbacks against such tribal armies. As early as the Republican period (circa 390-387 B.C.), they had sacked Rome under Brennus, and had won several other victories such as the Battle of Noreiaand the Battle of Arausio. The foremost Gallic triumph in this early period was "The Day of Allia"- July 18- when Roman troops were routed and driven into the Allia River. Henceforth, July 18 was considered an unlucky date on the Roman Calendar. [Don Nardo, The Roman Army: pp. 22-23]
Some writers suggest that as a result of such debacles, the expanding Roman power began to adjust to this vigorous, fast-moving new enemy. [Nardo, op. cit] The Romans began to phase out the monolithic phalanx they formerly fought in, and adopted the more flexible manipular formation. The circular hoplite shield was also enlarged and eventually replaced with the rectangular "scutum" for better protection. The heavy phalanx pike was replaced by the pila, suitable for throwing. Only the veterans of the "triarrii" retained the long pike- vestige of the former phalanx. Such early reforms also aided the Romans in their conquest of the rest of Italy over such foes as the Samnites, Latins and Greeks. [Nardo, The Roman Army, pp. 23-30] As time went on Roman arms saw increasing triumph over the Gallics, particularly in the campaigns of Caesar. In the early imperial period however, Germanic warbands inflicted one of Rome's greatest military defeats, (the
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest) which saw the liquidation of three imperial legions, and was to spark a limit on Roman expansion in the West. And it was these Germanic tribes in part (most having some familiarity with Rome and its culture, and becoming more Romanized themselves) that were to eventually bring about the Roman military's final demise in the West. Ironically, in the final days, the bulk of the fighting was between forces composed mostly of barbarians on either side. [Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation]
Tactical problems versus tribes
Whatever their particular culture, the Gallic and Germanic tribes generally proved themselves to be tough opponents, racking up several victories over their enemies. Some historians show that they sometimes used massed fighting in tightly packed phalanx-type formations with overlapping shields, and employed shield coverage during sieges. In open battle, they sometimes used a triangular "wedge" style formation in attack. Their greatest hope of success lay in 4 factors: (a) numerical superiority, (b) surprising the Romans (via an ambush for example) or in (c) advancing quickly to the fight, or (d) engaging the Romans over heavily covered or difficult terrain where units of the fighting horde could shelter within striking distance until the hour of decision, or if possible, withdraw and regroup between successive charges. [Hans Delbrück, History of the Art of War, Vols. I & II. University of Nebraska Press (1990) [1920-21] . ]
Most significant Gallic and Germanic victories show two or more of these characteristics. The
Battle of the Teutoburg Forestcontains all four: surprise, a treacherous defection by Arminiusand his contingent, numerical superiority, quick charges to close rapidly, and favorable terrain and environmental conditions (thick forest and pounding rainstorms) that hindered Roman movement and gave the warriors enough cover to conceal their movements and mount successive attacks against the Roman line. [Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropedia, 1974 ed, "Germans, Ancient,"]
Weaknesses in organization and equipment. Against the fighting men from the legion however, the Gauls faced a daunting task. Individually, in single combat, the fierce Gallic warrior could probably more than hold his own against a Roman. [Adrian Goldsworthy "The Punic Wars", p. 54-112] In massed fighting however, the Gauls' rudimentary organization and tactics fared poorly against the well oiled machinery that was the Legion. The fierceness of the Gallic charges is often commented upon by some writers, and in certain circumstances they could overwhelm Roman lines. Nevertheless the in-depth Roman formation allowed adjustments to be made, and the continual application of forward pressure made long-term combat a hazardous proposition for the Gauls.
Flank attacks were always possible, but the legion was flexible enough to pivot to meet this, either through sub-unit maneuver or through deployment of lines farther back. The cavalry screen on the flanks also added another layer of security. The Gauls and Germans also fought with little or no
armorand with weaker shields, putting them at a disadvantage against the legion. [Hans Delbrück, History of the Art of War, Vols. I & II. University of Nebraska Press (1990) [1920-21] .] Generally speaking, the Gauls and Germans needed to get into good initial position against the Romans and to overwhelm them in the early phases of the battle. An extended set-piece slogging match between the lightly armed tribesmen and the well organized heavy legionaries usually spelled doom for the tribal fighters. [Delbruck, op. cit.] Caesar's slaughter of the Helvetti near the Saone River is just one example of tribal disadvantage against the well-organized Romans, [Nardo, pg 74] as is the victory of Germanicus at the Weser River and Agricola against the Celtic tribesmen of Caledonia (Scotland) circa 84 A.D. [Nardo, pg. 90]
Weaknesses in logistics. Roman logistics also provided a trump card against Germanic foes as it had against so many previous foes. Tacitus in his "Annals" reports that the Roman commander Germanicus recognized that continued operations in Gaul would require long trains of men and material to come overland, where they would be subject to attack as they traversed the forests and swamps. He therefore opened sea and river routes, moving large quantities of supplies and reinforcements relatively close to the zone of battle, bypassing the dangerous land routes. In addition, the Roman fortified camps provided secure staging areas for offensive, defensive and logistical operations, once their troops were deployed. Assault roads and causeways were constructed on marshy ground to facilitate maneuver, sometimes under direct Gallic attack. Such Roman advantages were to hurt Germanic adversaries time and time again. [Tacitus, "Annals" - Book II - "War with the Germans," THE REIGN OF TIBERIUS, OUT OF THE FIRST SIX ANNALS OF TACITUS; WITH HIS ACCOUNT OF GERMANY, AND LIFE OF AGRICOLA, TRANSLATED BY THOMAS GORDON, 1917. url: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/7rtib10.txt] While Germanic leaders and fighters influenced by Roman methods sometimes adapted them, most tribes did not have the strong organization of the Romans. As German scholar Hans Delbruck notes in his "History of the Art of War"::".. the superiority of the Roman art of warfare was based on the army organization.. a system that permitted very large masses of men to be concentrated at a given point, to move in an orderly fashion, to be fed, to be kept together. The Gauls could do none of these things." [Hans Delbrück, History of the Art of War, (Vol. I, p. 510), University of Nebraska Press (1990) [1920-21] .]
The Gallics also demonstrated a high level of tactical prowess in some areas. Gallic
chariotwarfare for example, showed a high degree of integration and coordination with infantry, and Gallic horse and chariot assaults sometimes threatened Roman forces in the field with annihilation. At the Battle of Sentinumfor example, c. 295 BC, the Roman and Campanian cavalry encountered Gallic war-chariots and were routed in confusion- driven back from the Roman infantry by the unexpected appearance of the fast-moving Gallic assault. The discipline of the Roman infantry restored the line however, and a counterattack eventually defeated the Gallic forces and their allies. [DENISON, GEORGE T. A History of Cavalry. From the earliest Times, with Lessons for the Future. London Macmillan and Co. 1877, 1913, pp 62-89 (In public domain- see Google Books]
The accounts of
Polybiusleading up to the Battle of Telamon, c. 225BC mention chariot warfare, but it was ultimately unsuccessful. The Gauls met comprehensive defeat by the Roman legions under Papusand Regulus. Chariot forces also attacked the legions as they were disembarking from ships during Caesar's invasion of Britain, but the Roman commander drove off the fast-moving assailants using covering fire (slings, arrows and engines of war) from his ships, and reinforcing his shore party of infantry to charge and drive off the attack. In the open field against Caesar, the Gallic/Celtics apparently deployed chariots with a driver and an infantry fighter armed with javelins. During the clash, the chariots would drop off their warriors to attack the enemy and retire a short distance away, massed in reserve. From this position they could retrieve the assault troops if the engagement was going badly, or apparently pick them up and deploy elsewhere. Caesar's troops were discomfited by one such attack, and he met it by withdrawing into his fortified redoubt. A later Gallic attack against the Roman camp was routed. [Gaius Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War, translated by W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1869. url: http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/caesar/gallic_e4.html#32 ]
It should be noted also that superb as the Gallic fighters were, chariots were already declining as an effective weapon of war in the ancient world with the rise of mounted cavalry. [ [http://www.gallica.co.uk/celts/chariot.htm Chariots: Warfare with Attitude] ] At the battle of Mons Grapius in Caledonia (circa 84AD), Celtic chariots made an appearance. However they were no longer used in an offensive role but primarily for pre-battle show- riding back and forth and hurling insults. The main encounter was decided by infantry and mounted cavalry. [Nardo, pg. 90]
:The Iberian zone of struggle. The Gallic-Celtic-Iberian peoples, like many other tribes falling under the general "Gallic" banner, put up an obstinate fight against Roman hegemony. Based in what is now modern day Spain and
Portugal, they fought continuously, with varying levels of intensity, for almost two centuries, beginning around 218 B.C. The initial hegemons of Spain were the Carthaginians who struggled against various tribes to carve out colonies and a commercial empire, primarily in coastal enclaves. Carthaginian defeats by Rome brought struggle against a new, harsher imperium. Tribes such as the Celtibericarried out a strong resistance, a struggle later continued by other groups such as the Lusitani, under Viriathus. The Lusitanian Warand the Numantine Warare but a few examples of the prolonged conflict, which cut across 20 decades of Roman history. Full conquest was not achieved until the time of Augustus. The vicious long-term fighting made Hispaniaa place of dread for the Roman soldier. Historian Sir Edward Creasy, in his " The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World" had this to say about the Iberian conflicts. [ [http://www.arthurwendover.com/arthurs/history/tfdbt10.html The Fifteen Decisive Battles Of The World] :From Marathon To Waterlooby Sir Edward Creasy, M.A., 1851]
::"The war against the Spaniards, who, of all the nations subdued by the Romans, defended their liberty with the greatest obstinacy... the Romans in both provinces were so often beaten, that nothing was more dreaded by the soldiers at home than to be sent there...
:Roman tactics. Rome deployed its standard methods, with greater emphasis on blended units of light troops, cavalry and heavy infantry when confronting the guerrilla or mobile tactics used by the
Iberians. Roman fortified camps were also valuable in protecting the troops and providing bases of operation. While combat results were mixed in the open field, the Romans did comparatively well when besieging Iberian cities, systematically eliminating enemy leaders, supply bases and centers of resistance. Destruction of Iberian resources by burning grain fields or demolishing villages also put the native resistance under greater pressure. The operations of Scipio during the Numantine Warillustrate these methods, including a crackdown on lax practices and tightening of legionary discipline. [ [http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/appian/appian_spain_00.html History of Rome: The Spanish Wars, by Appian, circa 165 A.D.] ] Other Roman tactics touched on the political sphere such as the "pacification" treaties of Gracchus, and treachery and trickery, as in the massacres of tribal leaders by Lucullusand Galbaunder guise of negotiation. Rome frequently capitalized on divisions among the tribes. A "divide and conquer" policy was in use, with competing (and sometimes insincere) treaties being negotiated to isolate targeted groups, and allied tribes being used to subdue others. [Appian, op. cit.]
:Celtic-Iberian tactics. Fighting for their independence and survival, the Iberian tribes used fortified cities or strongpoints to defend against their enemies, and mixed this with mobile warfare in formations ranging from small
guerrillabands, to large units numbering thousands of men. The Celtic/Iberian horsemen in particular appear to be more than a match for those of Rome, a fact proved in earlier years by the key role such allied cavalry played in Hannibal's victories. Favorable mobility and knowledge of the local terrain were to help the tribes immensely. One of the most successful ambushes was pulled off by a chieftain named Carus, who liquidated around 6,000 Romans in a combined cavalry-infantry strike. Another was executed by one Caesarus, who took advantage of a disorderly Roman pursuit under Mummius, to lay a trap that resulted in Roman losses of around 9,000 men. A similar Iberian "turn and fight" gambit is also recorded as being successful against Galba. Roman arms however triumphed over two grinding centuries of conflict. See " Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars" for a more detailed discussion of individual battles, leaders and engagements. [ [http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/appian/appian_spain_00.html History of Rome: The Spanish Wars, by Appian, circa 165 A.D.] ]
uccess versus Gauls
Superior Gallic mobility and numbers often troubled Roman arms, whether deployed in decades-long mobile or guerrilla warfare or in a decisive field engagement. The near defeat of Caesar in his Gallic campaign confirms this latter pattern, but also shows the strengths of Roman tactical organization and discipline. At the
Battle of the Sabisriver, ("see more detailed article") contingents of the Nervii, Atrebates, Veromandui and Aduatuci tribes massed secretly in the surrounding forests as the main Roman force was busy making camp on the opposite side of the river. Some distance away behind them, slogged two slow moving legions with the baggage train. Engaged in foraging and camp construction the Roman forces were somewhat scattered. As camp building commenced, the barbarian forces launched a ferocious attack, streaming across the shallow water and quickly assaulting the distracted Romans. This incident is discussed in Caesar's "Gallic War Commentaries." ["Caesar's Commentaries (THE WAR IN GAUL - THE CIVIL WAR)"] English translation by W. A. MACDEVITT, introduction by THOMAS DE QUINCEY (1915) -- At Gutenberg Project:
So far the situation looked promising for the warrior host. [Hans Delbrück, Warfare in Antiquity] The 4 conditions above were in their favor: (a) numerical superiority, (b) the element of surprise, (c) a quick advance/assault, and (d) favorable terrain that masked their movements until the last minute. Early progress was spectacular as the initial Roman dispositions were driven back. A rout looked possible. Caesar himself rallied sections of his endangered army, impressing resolve upon the troops. With their customary discipline and cohesion, the Romans then began to drive back the
barbarianassault. A charge by the Nervi tribe through a gap between the legions however almost turned the tide again, as the onrushing warriors seized the Roman camp and tried to outflank the other army units engaged with the rest of the tribal host.
The initial phase of the clash had passed however and a slogging match ensued. The arrival of the two rear legions that had been guarding the baggage reinforced the Roman lines. Led by the 10th Legion, a counterattack was mounted with these reinforcements that broke the back of the barbarian effort and sent the tribesmen reeling in retreat. It was a close run thing, illustrating both the fighting prowess of the tribal forces, and the steady, disciplined cohesion of the Romans. Ultimately, the latter was to prove decisive in Rome's long fought conquest of Gaul.
Victory through attrition
In their battles against a wide variety of opponents, Rome's ruthless persistence, greater resources and stronger organization wore down their opponents over time. [John Warry, Warfare in the classical world, University of Oklahoma Press ] In Spain, resources were thrown at the problem until it yielded over 150 years later- a slow, harsh grind of endless marching, constant sieges and fighting, broken treaties, burning villages and enslaved captives. As long as the Roman Senate and its successors were willing to replace and expend more men and material decade after decade, victory could be bought through a strategy of exhaustion. [Robert Asprey, "War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, Vol 1, Doubleday, 1975, p 21-30]
The systematic wastage and destruction of enemy economic and human resources was called "vastatio" by the Romans. Crops and animals were destroyed or carried off, and local populaces were massacred or enslaved. Sometimes these tactics were also used to conduct punitive raids on barbarian tribes which had performed raids across the border. In the campaigns of Germanicus, Roman troops in the combat area carried out a "scorched earth" approach against their Germanic foes, devastating the land they depended on for supplies. "The country was wasted by fire and sword fifty miles round; nor sex nor age found mercy; places sacred and profane had the equal lot of destruction, all razed to the ground.." (Tacitus, "Annals"). The Roman "grind down" approach is also seen in the Bar Kokba Jewish revolt against the Romans. The Roman commander Severus, avoided meeting the hard-fighting Jewish rebels in the open field. Instead he relied on attacking their fortified strongpoints and devastating the zone of conflict in a methodical campaign. [Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss, Bar-Kokba and The Bar-Kokba War, The Jewish Encyclopaedia, 2002, See also "Hist. Rom." lxix. ch. 12-14 of Dio Cassius for details on the massive Jewish Revolt.] This "attritional" aspect of the Roman approach to combat contrasts with the notion of brilliant generalship or tactics sometimes seen in popular depictions of the Roman infantry.
Some historians note however that Rome often balanced brutal attrition with shrewd diplomacy, as demonstrated by Caesar's harsh treatment of Gallic tribes that opposed him, but his sometimes conciliatory handling of those that submitted. Rome also used a variety of incentives to encourage cooperation by the elites of conquered peoples, co-opting opposition and incorporating them into the structure of the empire. This carrot and stick approach forms an integral part of "the Roman way" of war. [Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, University of Illinois Press: 1987, pp. 34-92, 267-381]
Cavalry opponents were one of the toughest challenges faced by the Roman infantry. Combining both missile and shock capability with extensive mobility, cavalry exploited the inherent weakness of the legion- its relatively slow movement and deployment. Defeat by strong cavalry forces is a recurring event in Roman military history. The campaigns of Hannibal illustrate this well, as
Numidianand Spanish/Gallic horsemen repeatedly outflanked Roman formations, dealing devastating blows in the sides and rear. Hannibal's great victory at Cannae (considered one of the greatest Roman defeats ever) was primarily an infantry struggle, but the key role was played by his cavalry, as in his other victories.
An even more dramatic demonstration of Roman vulnerability is shown in the numerous wars against
Parthianheavy cavalry. The Parthians and their successors used large numbers of fast-moving light riders to harass and skirmish, and delivered the coup de grace with heavily armored lancers called " cataphracts". Both types of troops used powerful composite bows that shot arrows of sufficient strength to penetrate Roman armor. The cataphracts extended combat power by serving as shock troops, engaging opposing forces with their heavy lances in thundering charges after they had been "softened up" by swarms of arrows. The Parthians also conducted a "scorched earth" policy against the Romans, refusing major set-piece encounters, while luring them deeper on to unfavorable ground, where they would lack water supplies and a secure line of retreat. The debacle of the Battle of Carrhaesaw a devastating defeat of Roman arms by the Parthian cavalry. [Denison, History of Cavalry, op. cit] Against such foes the Romans faced a difficult task. How could they be defeated?
Clues exist in the earlier campaigns of Alexander the Great against mounted Asiatic warriors-- engaging the horsemen with strong detachments of light infantry and missile troops, and driving them off with charges by Alexander's heavy cavalry units. The Roman variant continued the same "combined arms" approach, with a larger role for cavalry as the empire went on. The Eastern half of the
Roman Empire, particularly, was ultimately to rely mostly on cavalry forces.
Adjustments of Ventidius. Still in the heyday of the foot soldier, the Romans made three general adjustments to fight their mounted foes. The Roman commander
Publius Ventidius Bassusled the way, drawing on Caesar's veteran legions, and becoming in the process, the only Roman general to celebrate a triumph against the Parthians. In three separate battles, he not only managed to defeat the Parthian armies and drive them out of Roman territory, but also managed to kill Parthia's three top military commanders during the battles. [Denison, op. cit] . The adjustments of Ventidius were as follows: [Denison, op. cit]
#"Increase in firepower." Ventidius sought to neutralize the Parthian advantage in firepower, by adding his own, and provided his legions with numerous slingers whose furious fire was instrumental in checking the Parthian horsemen during several battles. In subsequent engagements, other Roman commanders increased cavalry units and slingers, with the latter being supplied with leaden bullets which gave more range and killing power. [Denison, op. cit]
# "Hollow Square" This tactic furnished all-round defense, while providing a pivot for offensive action. In the square, troops could huddle against the arrow swarm using their large shields. This of course slowed their progress and opened them up to charges by the cataphracts. The legions met such assaults resolutely, using their pila as pikes, presenting the heavy lancers with a solid hedge of steel. Inside the square, missile troops could be massed for counter-fire, and cavalry units positioned for counterattack. The hollow square was most vulnerable when the terrain or path (crossing a mountain, ravine or bridge, for example) caused the formation to lose cohesion. In such a case, sub-sections of the legion had to redeployed to provide covering and blocking forces until the army had safely navigated the route. [Xenophon, Anabasis, Loeb's Classical Library, 1998). See this classic work for a detailed discussion of anti-cavalry problems by another heavy infantry formation- the Hellenic phalanx, including the weaknesses of the hollow square formation]
#"Securing the high ground and other terrain features." In his three victories over the horsemen, Venitidius had his infantry secure the high ground, bolstering defensive positions and maneuvers with withering covering fire by the slingers. Seizure of key terrain features also obstructed avenues of attack and providing anchor points that allowed maneuvering detachments to counterattack, or to fall back if unfavorable conditions developed. Against the horsemen, heavy infantry units had to work closely with cavalry and light troops, and be mutually supporting, or they could be quickly isolated and destroyed. [Denison, op. cit]
Combined arms and quick advance. In the later Roman empire, cavalry forces played a larger role, with the infantry in support. The campaign of the Emperor Julian II against the
Persians is instructive in this regard. On June 22, 363 a large-scale clash occurred near the town of Maranga. Facing an enemy that threatened to blanket his troops with a hail of arrows, and in danger of envelopment, Julian deployed his force in a crescent formation, and ordered an advance by both infantry and cavalry on the double, thwarting both dangers by closing quickly. The gambit was successful. After a long battle, the Persians withdrew- a tactical victory (albeit a costly one for the Romans according to some historians). [Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, (Thames & Hudson, 1986) p. 114-157] The work of Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus offers a detailed description of the Persian campaign, including the quick charge by the heavy Roman infantry under Julian.:"To prevent the preliminary volleys of the archers from disrupting our ranks he (Julian) advanced at the double and so ruined the effect of their fire ... Roman foot in close order made a mighty push and drove the serried ranks of the enemy before them ..." Marcellinus's commentary also sharply contrasts the fighting spirit 0f the Persian infantrymen with those of Rome, stating that they had "aversion to pitched infantry battles." [Marcellinus, Ammianus, "The Later Roman Empire," translated by Hamilton, W. (Penguin, 1987). See also Chris Cornuelle, An Overview of the Sassanian Persian Military, (n.d.) retrieved from May 2008 from Iran Chamber Society http://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/overview_sassanian_persian_military2.php] In an earlier engagement outside the walls of Ctesiphon, Marcellinus again notes the value of the quick advance by the infantry: :"both sides fought hand-to-hand with spears and drawn swords; the quicker our men forced themselves into the enemy's line the less they were exposed to danger from arrows." [Marcellinus, op. cit.]
Mixed results against major cavalry enemies. Rome's overall record against the Parthians was mixed, as it was against the horsemen of Hannibal, and some Gallic opponents. Subsequent Roman leaders like Anthony invaded Parthian territory but had to withdraw after severe losses. Others like Severus and Trajan saw some success, but could never hold the Parthian area permanently, and also pulled out. [Denison, op. cit] Nevertheless, the battles of Vinidius and Julian show that the Roman infantry, when properly handled and maneuvered, and when working in conjunction with other supporting arms like slingers, could, at least partially, meet the challenge of the cavalryman. [Denison, op. cit]
Several of Rome's military campaigns hardly show sustained invincibility or dazzling genius. Indeed Roman performance in many battles was unimpressive or disastrous. As far as ambushes for example, (such as the debacle in the
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest) Roman forces seemed to have a penchant for falling into them repeatedly, as proved centuries earlier at Lake Trasimene. Over the course of the empire, they were out-generaled by Pyrrhus, Hannibal (during the early years of the Second Punic War) and a number of other enemy leaders. Against cavalry opponents like the Parthians, they also suffered several severe defeats. And yet, over time, the Romans not only bounced back, but for the most part eventually crushed or neutralized their enemies. How then did they do it against a variety of enemies that were, at various times and places, more numerous, more skilled or better led?
Some elements that made the Romans an effective military force, both tactically and at higher levels, were:
The Romans were able to copy and adapt the weapons and methods of their opponents more effectively. Some weapons, such as the
gladius, were adopted outright by the legionaries. Publius asserts that the "pilum" was of Samnite origin, and the shield was based on Greek design. [Grimal, op. cit] In other cases, especially formidable enemies units of their forces were invited to serve in the Roman army as auxiliaries after peace was made. In the naval sphere, the Romans followed some of the same methods they used with the infantry, dropping their ineffective designs and copying, adapting and improving on Punic warships, and introducing heavier marine contingents (infantry fighters) on to their ships. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, 98-162]
Roman organization was more flexible than those of many opponents. Compared to the tightly packed spearmen of the phalanx, the Roman heavy infantry, through their training and discipline, and operating in conjunction with light foot and cavalry, could quickly adopt a number of methods and formations depending on the situation. These range from the
Testudo formationduring siege warfare, to a hollow square against cavalry attack, to mixed units of heavy foot, horse and light infantry against guerrillas in Spain, to the classic "triple line" or checkerboard patterns. Against more sophisticated opponents the Romans also showed great flexibility at times, such as the brilliant adjustments Scipio made against Hannibal at Zama. These included leaving huge gaps in the ranks to trap the charging elephants, and the recall, reposition and consolidation of a single battle line that advanced to the final death struggle against the Carthaginian veterans of Italy. [Goldsworthy, op. cit]
Roman discipline, organization and logistical systemization sustained combat effectiveness over a longer period. Notably, the Roman system of "
castra", or fortified camps, allowed the army to stay in the field on favorable ground and be rested and resupplied for battle. Well organized Roman logistics also sustained combat power, from routine resupply and storage, to the construction of military roads, to state run arsenals and weapons factories, to well organized naval convoys that helped stave off defeat by Carthage. The death of a leader generally did not cause the legions to lose heart in battle. Others stepped to the fore and carried on. In the defeat by Hannibal at the River Trebia, 10,000 Romans cut their way through the debacle to safety, maintaining unit cohesion when all around was rout, a testimony to their tactical organization and discipline. [Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, 98-162]
The Romans were more persistent and more willing to absorb and replace losses over time than their opponents. Unlike other civilizations, the Romans kept going relentlessly until typically their enemies had been completely crushed or neutralized. The army acted to implement policy and were not allowed to stop unless they received a command from the emperor or a decree from the senate.
Against the tribal polities of Europe, particularly in
Hispania, Roman tenacity and material weight eventually wore down most opposition. The tribes of Europe did not have a state or economic structure able to support lengthy campaigns and therefore could often (but not always) be made to change their minds about opposing Roman hegemony. The defeat in the Teutoburg Forest might seem like an exception, but even here, the Romans were back on the warpath 5 years later with major forces against their Germanic opponents. That there is an obvious limit to endless persistence does not negate the general pattern.
Where the Romans faced another large state structure, such as the Parthian Empire, they found the military road rocky indeed and were sometimes forced to an impasse. Nevertheless the distinct pattern of Roman tenacity holds. Rome suffered its greatest defeats against sophisticated Carthage, notably at Cannae, and was forced to avoid battle for a lengthy period. Yet in time, it rebuilt its forces on land and at sea, and persisted in the struggle, astonishing the Punics who expected it to sue for peace. Against the Parthians, crushing defeats did not stop the Romans, for they invaded
Parthian territory several times afterwards, and though Parthia proper was never totally conquered, Rome ultimately secured a rough hegemony in the area.
Roman leadership was mixed, but over time it was often effective in securing Roman military success. Leadership debacles are common in Roman military history, from the routs against Hannibal, to the demise of the unlucky
Crassusagainst the Parthians. The Roman polity's structuring however produced a steady supply of men willing and able to lead troops in battle- men that were held accountable for defeat or malfeasance. It was not unusual for a losing general to be prosecuted by political enemies in Rome, with some having their property confiscated and barely escaping death. The senatorial oligarchy, for all its political maneuvering, interference and other faults, provided the functions of oversight and audit over military matters, that over the course of time, shaped final results. The record is a mixed one, but whether under boisterous Republicor Imperial emperor, Rome produced enough competent leaders to secure its military dominance for over a millennium. Some of the best leaders come from both eras, including Scipio, Caesar and others.
Note should be taken here of the large number of junior officers the Romans typically used to assure coordination and guidance. The initiative of such men played a key part in Roman success. Effective leadership was also bound up with the famous Roman
centurions, the backbone of the legionary organization. While all such men could not be considered models of perfection, they commanded substantial respect.
The influence of Roman military and civic culture, as embodied particularly in the heavy infantry legion, gave the Roman military consistent motivation and cohesion. Such culture included but was not limited to: (a) the valuing of Roman citizenship, (b) the broad-based muster of free males into mass infantry units (as opposed to widespread use of foreign contingents,
slaves or mercenaries), and (c) loyalty to those fighting units (the Legion) which remained characteristically Roman in outlook and discipline. Citizenship conveyed certain valuable rights in Roman society, and was another element that helped to promote the standardization and integration of the infantry. [Grimal, The Civilization of Rome, p. 98-102] The citizen under arms - the legion soldier - was supposed to reflect and practice the Roman ideal of "virtus, pietas, fides," - self-discipline, respect and faithfulness to engagements. Implementation of such ideals could be mixed according to some writers, but it was "a trilogy [driving] every aspect of military, domestic, economic and social life." [Grimal, p. 104] As such it was a strong force for cohesion among Rome's infantrymen.
Any history of the Roman infantry must grapple with the factors that led to the decline of the heavy legions that once dominated the Western world. Such decline of course is closely linked with the decay of other facets of Rome's economy, society and political scene. Nevertheless some historians emphasize that the final demise of Rome was due to military defeat, however plausible (or implausible) the plethora of theories advanced by some scholars, ranging from declining tax bases, to class struggle, to lead poisoning. [Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire, pp. 43-190] Two of the major factors that have occupied scholars of the military will be discussed here: barbarization and the adaptation of a "mobile reserve" strategy. There are a number of controversies in this area with dueling scholars advancing competing theories.
To combat the more frequent raids and advances of their hostile neighbors the legions were changed from slow and heavy to much lighter troops, and cavalry was introduced as a serious concept.
This meant that the new subdivided infantry lost the awesome power that the earlier legions had, meaning that whilst they were more likely to see a battle they were less likely to win it. That legion size, being at an all time low, was also a factor.
Roman horsemen, while fast, were actually much too weak to cope with the very cavalry based invasions of the Huns, Goths, Vandals and Sassanids. Their ineffectiveness was demonstrated at
Cannaeand Adrianople; in both instances the cavalry was completely destroyed by a vastly more powerful enemy horse.
"Barbarization" is a common theme in many works on Rome (See Gibbon,
Mommsen, Delbrück, et al), and thus cannot be excluded from any analysis of its infantry forces. Essentially it is argued that the increasing barbarization of the heavy legions weakened weaponry, training, morale and military effectiveness in the long run. The weapons changes described above are but one example. [Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, op. cit.]
It could be argued that the use of barbarian personnel was nothing new. This is accurate, however such use was clearly governed by "the Roman way." It was the barbarian personnel who had to adapt to Roman standards and organization, not the other way around. In the twilight of the empire, this was not the case. Such practices as permitting the settlement of massive, armed barbarian populations on Roman territory, the watering down of the privilege of citizenship, increasing use of alien contingents, and relaxation or removal of traditionally thorough and severe Roman discipline, organization and control, contributed to the decline of the heavy infantry.
The settlement of the
foederatifor example, saw large barbarian contingents ushered on to Roman territory, with their own organization, under their own leaders. Such groupings showed a tendency to neglect "the Roman way" in organization, training, logistics etc., in favor of their own ideas, practices and agendas. These settlements may have bought short term political peace for imperial elites, but their long term effect was negative, weakening the traditional strengths of the heavy infantry in discipline, training and deployment. They also seemed to have lessened the incentive for remaining "old Guard" troops to adhere to such strengths, since the barbarians received equal or more favor with less effort. Indeed such "allied" barbarian contingents were at times to turn on the Romans, devastating wide areas with sack and pillage and even attacking imperial army formations.
Mobile reserve strategy doubts
Some scholars challenge the notion that a "mobile reserve" in the modern military sense existed in the Roman Empire, and instead argue that the shifts in organization represent a series of field armies deployed in various areas as needed, particularly in the East. Others point to the heavy fiscal difficulties and political turmoil of the later Empire that made it difficult to continue traditional policy. Controversy on the topic is lively.
Advantages of the mobile reserve strategy
The "mobile reserve" strategy, traditionally identified with
Constantine I, saw reversal of the traditional "forward" policy of strong frontier fortifications backed by legions stationed near likely zones of conflict. Instead, it is argued that the best troops were pulled back into a type of "mobile reserve" closer to the center that could be deployed to trouble areas throughout the empire. Some scholars claim this was a positive development, (Luttwak, Delbruck, et al) given growing difficulties with governing the vast empire, where political turmoil and severe financial difficulties had made the old preclusive security system untenable. Some writers such as Luttwak condemn the old style "forward" policy as indicating a " Maginot Line" mentality in the troubled latter centuries of the Empire. [Edward Luttwak, Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, (The Johns Hopkins University Press 1979)]
Disadvantages of the mobile reserve strategy versus the "forward" policy
Ancient writers like
Zosimusin the 5th century AD condemned the "reserve" policy as a major weakening of the military force. Other modern scholars (Ferrill et al) also see the pullback as a strategic mistake, arguing that it left lower quality "second string" limitanei forces to stop an enemy, until the distant mobile reserve arrived. While the drop in quality did not happen immediately, it is argued that over time, the limitanei declined into lightly armed, static watchman type troops that were of dubious value against increasing barbarian marauders on the frontiers. The pullback of the best infantry was based more on political reasons (shoring up the power bases of the emperors and various elites) rather than on military reality. In addition it is claimed, the "forward" policy was not at all a static "Maginot" approach, but that traditional heavy legions and supporting cavalry could still move to a trouble spot by redeploying them from fortifications elsewhere along a particular frontier. [Ferrill, op. cit]
There are numerous other facets to the controversy, but whatever the school of thought, all agree that the traditional strengths and weaponry of the heavy infantry legion declined from the standards of earlier eras. The 4th century writer
Vegetius, in one of the most influential Western military works, highlighted this decline as the key factor in military weakness, noting that the core legions always fought as part of an integrated team of cavalry and light foot. In the latter years, this formula that had brought so much success petered out. Caught between the growth of lighter armed/less organized foot soldiers, and the increasing cavalry formations of the mobile forces, the "heavies" as the dominant force, withered on the vine. This does not mean that heavy units disappeared entirely, but that their mass recruitment, formation, organization and deployment as the dominant part of the Roman military was greatly reduced. Ironically, in Rome's final battles (the Western half of the empire) the defeats suffered were substantially inflicted by infantry forces (many fighting dismounted). [Ferrill, op. cit]
Speaking of the decline of the heavy infantry, the Roman historian
Vegetiuslauded the old fighting units, and lamented how the heavy armor of the early days had been discarded by the weaker, less disciplined, barbarized forces: :"Those who find the old arms so burdensome, must either receive wounds upon their naked bodies and die, or what is worse still, run the risk of being made prisoners, or of betraying the country by their flight. Thus, to avoid fatigue, they allow themselves to be butchered shamefully, like cattle." [Quoted in Denison, p. 92]
Historian Arther Ferrill notes that even towards the end, some of the old infantry formations were still in use. Such grouping was increasingly ineffective however, without the severe close order discipline, drill and organization of old times. At the
Battle of Chalons(circa 451 AD) Attila the Hunrallied his troops by mocking the once vaunted Roman infantry, alleging that they merely huddled under a screen of protective shields in close formation. He ordered his troops to ignore them and to attack the powerful Alansand Visigothsinstead. It was a sad commentary on the force that had once dominated Europe, the Mediterranean and much of the Middle East. It is true that at Chalons, the Roman infantry contributed to the victory by seizing part of the battlefield's high ground. Nevertheless its day had already passed in favor of the mass levies of the barbarian federates. [Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation]
List of Ancient Rome-related topics
Military history of ancient Rome
ources and references
De Bello Gallico
De Re Militari
author = Adrian Goldsworthy
title = The Punic Wars
publisher = Cassell
date=2001 A detailed breakdown of Roman strategy, methods, tactics and those of their opponents. Analyzes strengths and weaknesses of the Roman military and how they were able to beat a sophisticated Carthage
author = Arther Ferrill
title = The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation
publisher = Thames & Hudson
date=1986 Focuses on military issues leading to the fall of Rome as opposed to a plethora of theories such as overpopulation, shrinking tax bases, "class struggle," etc. Reemphasizes the military factors in Rome's final demise. Compares the "mobile reserve" strategy of later decades to the earlier "forward" policy of keeping the heavy fighting legions near likely combat zones. Ferrill also tackles the weakening effect of "barbarization", particularly on the core heavy infantry legions. cquote|Many historians have argued […] that the fall of Rome was not primarily a military phenomenon. In fact, it was exactly that. After 410 the emperor in the West could no longer project military power to the frontiers.|20px|20px|The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, p. 164
author = Adrian Goldsworthy
title = The Complete Roman Army
publisher = Thames & Hudson
date=2003 One volume history covering the Roman Army, which was the biggest most important part of its military. Goldsworthy covers the early Republican days down to the final Imperial era demise, tracing changes in tactics, equipment, strategy, organization etc. He notes the details of the military system such as training and battlefield tactics, as well as bigger picture strategy, and changes that impacted Roman arms. He assesses what made the Romans effective, and ineffective in each of the various eras.
author = Edward Luttwak
title = Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire
publisher = Thames & Hudson
date=1979 "Prominent advocate" of the mobile or central reserve theory.
title = History of the Art of War: Warfare in Antiquity
publisher = University of Nebraska
date=1990 "Prominent advocate" of the mobile or central reserve theory. ISBN 0-8032-9199-X
author = Xenophon
title = Anabasis
publisher = Loeb Classical Library
date=1988 See this classic work for a detailed discussion of anti-cavalry problems by another heavy infantry formation- the Hellenic phalanx, including the weaknesses of the hollow square formation.
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