Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313

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About this Product. How, exactly, did Rome become master of the ancient world? This book examines and illustrates the tactics employed by the legions of late Republican and early Imperial Rome, from the evidence o f ancient writers. The greatest military machine in the Western world for at least four centuries, the Roman Army was the foundation of the Western military tradition, and its doctrines were central to the later revival of trained, drilled professional armies.

Here the evidence is discussed in clear detail, and brought to life with battle plans and full colour interpretations of tactical scenarios. Biographical Note. The major themes of the thesis are the organisation of the Praetorian Guard and Legio II Parthica, their recruitment, numbers and equipment. Ross also completed his first degree at Glasgow. 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. 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. Some historians view the intervals as primarily useful in maneuver. Before the legionaries 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 triarii 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 triarii was phased out - intervals for maneuver, reforming and recovery- solid line to engage.

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. 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.

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Tight control had to be maintained, hence the 3rd line triarii 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 no 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.

Whatever the actual formation taken however, the ominous funneling or surge of combat power up to the front remained constant:. 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. Oppidum expugnare was the Roman term for besieging cities. It was divided into three phases:. In campaign after campaign, enormous effort was expended to dig—a job done by the ordinary legionary.

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 Caesar at 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 20 feet 6. The ground was also sown with caltrops of iron barbs at various places to discourage assault. Surprisingly for such an infantry centered battle, Caesar relied heavily on cavalry forces to counter Gallic sorties. Ironically, many of these were from Germanic tribes who had come to terms earlier.

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 Brittany region 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. Nevertheless, they were an integral part of the relentless Roman rise to dominance over large parts of the ancient world.

Strengths of the Macedonian phalanx.

Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313

Prior to the rise of Rome, the Macedonian phalanx was the premiere infantry force in the Western World. Packed into a dense armored mass, and equipped with massive pikes 12 to 21 feet 6. 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 Great and Theban innovator Epaminondas attest.

When working with other formations—light infantry and cavalry—it was, at its height under Alexander, without peer.

Weaknesses of the Macedonian phalanx. Nevertheless, the Macedonian 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.

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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. If properly organized and fighting together a long time under capable leaders, they could be very proficient. The campaigns of Alexander and Pyrrhus a Hellenic-style formation of mixed contingents show this.

Without such long-term cohesion and leadership, however, their performance was uneven. 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 the Battle of Cynoscephalae. Advantages of Roman infantry.

The Romans themselves had retained some aspects of the classical phalanx not to be confused with the Macedonian 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. 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. The Greek king Pyrrhus' phalangical system was to prove a tough trial for the Romans. Despite several defeats the Romans inflicted such losses on the Epirote army 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 Perseus at 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. 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 Greece and adjoining lands.

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. When the Romans faced phalangite armies, the legions often deployed the velites in front of the enemy with the command to contendite vestra sponte attack , presumably with their javelins, to cause confusion and panic in the solid blocks of 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 told that towards the end of his life, Hannibal reportedly named Pyrrhus as the commander of the past that he most admired [37] 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 , forced the proud Romans to avoid 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. 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. Rome had a vast manpower surplus far outnumbering Hannibal that gave them more options and flexibility.

They isolated and eventually bottled up the Carthaginians and hastened their withdrawal from Italy with constant maneuver. More importantly, they used their manpower resources to launch an offensive 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.

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. 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.

Often their bravery is celebrated as worthy adversaries of Rome. See the Dying Gaul for 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 and thus are not easy to categorize. The term "Gaul" has also been used interchangeably to describe Celtic peoples farther afield in Britain 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.

Though popular accounts celebrate the legions and an assortment of charismatic commanders quickly vanquishing massive hosts of "wild barbarians", [40] Rome suffered a number of early defeats against such tribal armies. As early as the Republican period circa — BC , they had sacked Rome under Brennus , and had won several other victories such as the Battle of Noreia and the Battle of Arausio. Henceforth, July 18 was considered an unlucky date on the Roman Calendar. Some writers suggest that as a result of such debacles, the expanding Roman power began to adjust to this vigorous, fast-moving new enemy.

The circular hoplite shield was also enlarged and eventually replaced with the rectangular scutum for better protection. The heavy phalanx spear was replaced by the pila, suitable for throwing. Only the veterans of the triarii retained the long spear- 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. 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 destruction of three imperial legions, and was to place 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. 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. Most significant Gallic and Germanic victories show two or more of these characteristics.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest contains all four: numerical superiority, surprise, 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. Another factor in the Romans' defeat was a treacherous defection by Arminius and his contingent.

Weaknesses in organization and equipment. Against the fighting men from the legion however, the Gauls, Iberians and Germanic forces faced a daunting task. The barbarians' rudimentary organization and tactics fared poorly against the well-oiled machinery that was the Legion. The fierceness of the Gallic and Germanic 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, as did nightly regrouping in fortified camps. The Gauls and Germans also fought with little or no armor and with weaker shields, putting them at a disadvantage against the legion.

Other items of Roman equipment from studded sandals, to body armor, to metal helmets added to Roman advantages. 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.

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. These Roman techniques repeatedly defeated their Germanic adversaries.

The Gallics also demonstrated a high level of tactical prowess in some areas. Gallic chariot warfare 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 Sentinum for example, c. The discipline of the Roman infantry restored the line however, and a counterattack eventually defeated the Gallic forces and their allies. The accounts of Polybius leading up to the Battle of Telamon , c. The Gauls met comprehensive defeat by the Roman legions under Papus and 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.

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. 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.

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. 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 Sabis river, 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.

Roman Battle Tactics 109BC–AD313

This incident is discussed in Caesar's Gallic War Commentaries. So far the situation looked promising for the warrior host. 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 barbarian assault.

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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. In he was elected a fellow of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland. The author lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Du kanske gillar. Spara som favorit. Skickas inom vardagar.

The book clearly explains and illustrates the mechanics of how Roman commanders - at every level - drew up and committed their different types of troops for open-field battles.

Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313
Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313
Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313
Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313
Roman Battle Tactics 109BC-AD313

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