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Centurion-Macro

Roman Cavalry.

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- All armies perform better against enemies that fought in any predictable manner; that is a tautology (i.e. a statement that is necessarily true).
The Roman Republic seemed to have much more success against the highly organized combined arms forces of many of the eastern kingdoms, even those that had large numbers of cavalry. Against barbarians (gauls, cimbri, teutons) the outcome seemed less predictable. Not every Roman general was able to beat them in the manner of Marius or Caesar.
"Barbarian" was just any non-Roman: both the Gauls and the people of the eastern kingdoms were equally Barbarian for a Roman.

 

 

 

The Hellenes might have viewed the Romans at some points as barbarians, the the opposite was not true and Barca's distinction is correct. It is also true that, as you point out, organisation does not necessarily mean predictability, but as we have seen elsewhere and at length, the quality of the Hellenic armies of the had deteriorated whilst the effectiveness of the manipular legions had increased.

 

At the same time, the Romans were culturally terrified of the Gauls and all other northern "barbarians" since the near destruction of the early republic in the early 4th century BCE. The struggle was with the vast numbers and their fanatical warrior zeal. It reminds me of a friend of mine who whilst with the IDF in Lebanon told me that never mind how well equipped, trained or motivated you are, a tidal wave of fighters with no fear of death will always be at least your equal.

Edited by marcus silanus

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"Organized or not, predictability is indeed a poor quality for any army."

 

And yet many of the Roman armies won in spite of being predictable. The legions of the late republic and early empire had a fairly standard way of lining up for battle, and they were so effective that the commanders didn't have to be innovative and unpredictable.

 

Just like a football team with a strong running game (big offenesive line, powerfull running backs) can be predictable and still pile up the yardage to win games.

Usus autem sum, ne in aliquo fallam carissimam mihi familiaritatem tuam, praecipue libris ex bibliotheca Ulpia, aetate mea thermis Diocletianis, et item ex domo Tiberiana, usus etiam [ex] regestis scribarum porticus porphyreticae, actis etiam senatus ac populi. 2 et quoniam me ad colligenda talis viri gesta ephemeris Turduli Gallicani plurimum invit, viri honestissimi ac sincerissimi, beneficium amici senis tacere non debui. 3 Cn. Pompeium, tribus fulgentem triumphis belli piratici, belli Sertoriani, belli Mithridatici multarumque rerum gestarum maiestate sublimem, quis tandem nosset, nisi eum Marcus Tullius et Titus Livius in litteras rettulissent? 4 Publ<i>um Scipionem Afric<an>um, immo Scipiones omnes, seu Lucios seu Nasicas, nonne tenebrae possiderent ac tegerent, nisi commendatores eorum historici nobiles atque ignobiles extitissent? 5 longum est omnia persequi, quae ad exemplum huiusce modi etiam nobis tacentibus usurpanda sunt. 6 illud tantum contestatum volo me et rem scripsisse, quam, si quis voluerit, honestius eloquio celsiore demonstret, et mihi quidem id animi fuit, 6 <ut> non Sallustios, Livios, Tacito<s>, Trogos atque omnes disertissimos imitarer viros in vita principum et temporibus disserendis, sed Marium Maximum, Suetonium Tranquillum, Fabium Marcellinum, Gargilium Martialem, Iulium Capitolinum, Aelium Lampridium ceterosque, qui haec et talia non tam diserte quam vere memoriae tradiderunt. 8 sum enim unus ex curiosis, quod infi[ni]t<i>as ire non possum, ince<n>dentibus vobis, qui, cum multa sciatis, scire multo plura cupitis. 9 et ne diutius ea, quae ad meum consilium pertinent, loquar, magnum et praeclarum principem et qualem historia nostra non novit, arripiam. Edited by sylla

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I am familiar with the various definition of "barbarian".
The Hellenes might have viewed the Romans at some points as barbarians, the the opposite was not true and Barca's distinction is correct.
Edited by sylla

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Far as I'm aware, people like Caesar or Scipio (and their respective armies) were anything but "predictable".

 

 

Those two individuals were certainly innovative. Caeser's maneuver at pharsalus was clever and unpredictable.

 

The point I was trying to make was that the legions of that time period were so self-sufficient that they didn't need a military genius to make them effective.

 

Having a leader such as Caesr would make them that even more effective.

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Maybe if you read some Classical military treatises, like let say Frontinus, you might see that the Romans were not so "predictable" after all.

 

I took a quick glance at your link. It seems similar to Sun Szu's Art of War. I'll certainly consider reading it at some point, but I'm currently way behind on other things that I need to read.

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It seems similar to Sun Szu's Art of War.
Usus autem sum, ne in aliquo fallam carissimam mihi familiaritatem tuam, praecipue libris ex bibliotheca Ulpia, aetate mea thermis Diocletianis, et item ex domo Tiberiana, usus etiam [ex] regestis scribarum porticus porphyreticae, actis etiam senatus ac populi. 2 et quoniam me ad colligenda talis viri gesta ephemeris Turduli Gallicani plurimum invit, viri honestissimi ac sincerissimi, beneficium amici senis tacere non debui. 3 Cn. Pompeium, tribus fulgentem triumphis belli piratici, belli Sertoriani, belli Mithridatici multarumque rerum gestarum maiestate sublimem, quis tandem nosset, nisi eum Marcus Tullius et Titus Livius in litteras rettulissent? 4 Publ<i>um Scipionem Afric<an>um, immo Scipiones omnes, seu Lucios seu Nasicas, nonne tenebrae possiderent ac tegerent, nisi commendatores eorum historici nobiles atque ignobiles extitissent? 5 longum est omnia persequi, quae ad exemplum huiusce modi etiam nobis tacentibus usurpanda sunt. 6 illud tantum contestatum volo me et rem scripsisse, quam, si quis voluerit, honestius eloquio celsiore demonstret, et mihi quidem id animi fuit, 6 <ut> non Sallustios, Livios, Tacito<s>, Trogos atque omnes disertissimos imitarer viros in vita principum et temporibus disserendis, sed Marium Maximum, Suetonium Tranquillum, Fabium Marcellinum, Gargilium Martialem, Iulium Capitolinum, Aelium Lampridium ceterosque, qui haec et talia non tam diserte quam vere memoriae tradiderunt. 8 sum enim unus ex curiosis, quod infi[ni]t<i>as ire non possum, ince<n>dentibus vobis, qui, cum multa sciatis, scire multo plura cupitis. 9 et ne diutius ea, quae ad meum consilium pertinent, loquar, magnum et praeclarum principem et qualem historia nostra non novit, arripiam. Edited by sylla

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- All armies perform better against enemies that fought in any predictable manner; that is a tautology (i.e. a statement that is necessarily true).

No, it most certainly isn't, as any study of Roman defeat can show you. It isn't so much whether armies fight in a particular fashion, but the straegies and tactics used to confront them that matter, and those are the brainchild of the leaders involved. Where leaders are formulaic and traditional, such Varro & Paulus at Cannae, then the situation you describe arises. If however a creative commander arises, then you have people that are essentially unpredictable and that direction changes the manner in which armies meet and conduct themselves. As always, situation is very much the advantage on the battlefield.

 

In any case, armies sometimes get lucky or do something incredibly dumb, and the battle goes against expectation. Warfare is often compared to a chessboard - no, it just isn't, there are too many human factors for prediction to work as a strategy alone.

 

- For any conqueror (even for nomads like the Mongols) wilderness has always been difficult to adequately maintain peacefully, as it has always been harder to keep control over dispersed non-urban populations than over cities; ergo, another tautology.

Woo Hoo!

 

- All armies engage in control population; no one can fight against unpopulated territories .

Not so. An army can also engage in asset control, or in other words, strategic locations and objectives beyond mere people. Resources, facilities, or even the control of a defile can all be important objectives in their own right.

 

- Can you explain a bit more the concept of "area denial"?

You have a country. I want to invade it. In modern terms, I don't want your troops active behind my lines. So I entrap, surround, and stifle all resistance. Failure to do so can result in situations where partisans and guerillas emerge with obvious problems in security. In other words, I deny the captured territory to your forces. Whether that territory actually contains anything useful is beside the point. With mobile forces, any concentration of the enemy behind my lines is not a good thing.

 

The only parallel with this situation is of course via the horse, but the parallel fails because although the horse allows fast travel and outflanking moves (as did happen in ancient times), there is no wide front to break through or encircle. Armies of the ancient world march in a linear fashion toward objectives, either locations or each other, and don't attempt to control wide areas of land simply to avoid flank attacks,. It is of course advisable for cavalry to scout and prevent such ambushes and attacks, but that in itself does not represent the same thing as a modern front line.

 

To make the situation clearer - They played strategy in columns, we play strategy in lines.

 

It's just ocurred to me that you might see the various walls and limes as 'area denial'. Not so. This was 'area control', in that the Romans did not expect to deny territory to the enemy, but attempted to control access to it, a point noticeable when you relaise that 'Fortress Roman Emoire' never really existed. Most of these broders were not great obstacles anyway, and only intended to impede the horse. In fact, later Roman military policy allowed for penetrative incursions from enemy forces and the mobile army was intended to deal with that eventuality.

Edited by caldrail

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I get the impression that some of the discussion on this thread has been at cross-purposes which may have obfuscated a few fundamental aspects of Roman military policies.

 

As has previously been said; in the early Principate the Romans continued the late Republican period policy of mainly relying on auxiliary troops to provide both cavalry and

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I get the impression that some of the discussion on this thread has been at cross-purposes which may have obfuscated a few fundamental aspects of Roman military policies.
Not to mention some fundamental aspects of logic.
BTW I would also tend to agree with Caldrail on Sylla
Edited by sylla

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I get the impression that some of the discussion on this thread has been at cross-purposes which may have obfuscated a few fundamental aspects of Roman military policies.
Not to mention some fundamental aspects of logic.
BTW I would also tend to agree with Caldrail on Sylla's 'tautology' points ...
Actually, it was C. who originally expressed such points; I just pointed them out.

In fact, C. remained congruent with his original tautologies, in spite of his best efforts (keep reading).

I get the impression that the fundamental aspect of any tautology (without "quotation marks") is being forgotten here: they are statements that are necessarily true; therefore, it's hardly surprising that we tend to agree on them ;)

Oh ye gods Sylla, you do talk a load of old cobblers sometimes. tautology is nothing more than semantics anyway. You're just classifying text for the sake of it.

 

On the first one
- All armies perform better against enemies that fought in any predictable manner.
C.'s negative is just a bare assertion.

No it isn't scylla, and you're making a great many assertions based on nothing more than criticising my prose. Armies fight well if properly motivated and led, plus favourable circumstances such as terrain, logisitcs, weather, reinforcement, etc etc etc. Sorry if that's too much of an assertion for you, but the here's another one - armies have been fighting for four thiousand years - we have learned a little bit about the subject, even if you haven't.

 

Thanks for your patient explanation of the Area control and Area denial; I don't think there are any major disgreements between us in those issues, but I'm not sure if your definitions for such terms would be generally accepted; it sounds a bit like gameplayers' chat.

That's the entire problem Scylla. I don't use university gobbeldegook which you draw great delight in disparaging. Gamesplayer? Is that supposed to be a criticism? Wargaming is a recreational activity I don't take part in on this site. Funny thing is though, I have noticed that wargaming as a hobby does tend to encourage people to learn more about their subject. Try it. You'll learn something.

 

I would usually rest my case by now but, as you can see, we don't really have any case here; just some easy chat on fallacies (misconceptions resulting from incorrect reasoning in argumentation) and elementary logic.

You wish buddy. You haven't provided any case at all. Not one single coherent argument. All you do is cast scorn. That, in my view, isn't clever. Scylla - you're a troll.

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I strongly advise both of you

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Maybe if you read some Classical military treatises, like let say Frontinus, you might see that the Romans were not so "predictable" after all.

 

I took a quick glance at your link. It seems similar to Sun Szu's Art of War. I'll certainly consider reading it at some point, but I'm currently way behind on other things that I need to read.

 

 

Here's an interesting observation from Frontinus:

 

20 "When Perseus, king of the Macedonians, had drawn up a double phalanx of his own troops and had placed them in the centre of his forces, with light-armed troops on each side and cavalry on both flanks, Paulus in the battle against him drew up a triple array in wedge formation, sending out skirmishers every now and then between the wedges. Seeing nothing accomplished by these tactics, he determined to retreat, in order by this feint to lure p121the enemy after him on to rough ground, which he had selected with this in view. When even then the enemy, suspecting his ruse in retiring, followed in good order, he commanded the cavalry on the left wing to ride at full speed past the front of the phalanx, covering themselves with their shields, in order that the points of the enemy's spears might be broken by the shock of their encounter with the shields. When the Macedonians were deprived of their spears, they broke and fled."54

 

 

This description of presumably the battle of Pydna is totally different from what was desceibed by Plutarch.

It sounds as if Paulus attempted to create gaps in the phalanx unsuccessfully and had to resort to using his cavalry against the pike formation. The last maneuver seems contrary to conventional wisdom.

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At the risk of overstating the obvious, such state conquered virtually all their known world without loosing any war for centuries.

 

I would amend that statement to the fact that 'while Rome may have lost individual battles during the late Republican into Principate period she tended to win her wars.'

 

N.B. I have concerns that some major campaigns notably on the Eastern frontier ended in stalemate with minimal long term changes to the borders while others only effectively ended with Rome's decision not to advance further - e.g. Varus campaign in Germany. ;)

Edited by Melvadius

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I thought the lack of stirrups, albeit controversial, was a major drawback for Roman cavalry since the lack of it made massed charges and anything but missile combat extremely costly in terms of casualties as they were easily knocked off their horses?

 

And their lack of a horsenomad or heavily horse-based culture meant that mounted archers, unlike in the case of the Parthians and Sassanids, which required nearly life long experience in the saddle for any real efficiency as that tactic was founded on large numbers maneuvering expertly were virtually impossible for the Romans themselves to achieve outside of their auxilliaries.

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The lack of stirrups made no effective difference. Roman saddles were designed to retain their rider by supporting them between prongs. It's a complete fallacy that stirrups allowed cavalry a quantum leap in capability and for the most part only allow the rider more comfort. Since the Roman cavalry never made mass charges anyway it was irrelevant.

 

I can't stress this enough. Roman horsemen were used in a light role, to scout, harass, and pursue. Whilst the advantage of being on a horse was recognised, they were valuable assets and the Romans weren't keen to waste them against shield walls and ranks of sharp points. Typical tactics were to frighten the enemy by bluffs, force them to make a relatively immobile defensive formation, and to wheel away while throwing missiles.

 

Usually a battle began with cavalry manoevers on the wings, not necessarily closing in, but riding to seek an advantage and secure the flanks against their opposing cavalry. There is a report that one sides cavalry waited for their enemy to get tired before commtitting themselves to melee. It was standard practice to charge at an enemy cavalry unit (they wouldn't charge a compact infantry unit because horses interpret that as solid barrier and don't like it, never mind the problems in penetrating mass ranks) in open order, the receiving unit spreading their horses likewise, in order to avoid collisions.

 

The lack of 'horse culture' was one of the reasons the Romans employed auxillaries.

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