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I saw this video on another website

 

 

The last part of the video describes the line relief system. I personally don't see how they could carry out such an orderly maneuver in the heat of battle.

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I saw this video on another website

 

 

The last part of the video describes the line relief system. I personally don't see how they could carry out such an orderly maneuver in the heat of battle.

 

 

Very informative. Thanks for sharing.

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barca, you might well be right. Drills in practice are one thing. Movement on rough ground stepping over bodies dead or dying is another matter. Some people overstate the battlefield discipline in my view. It's part of the image of the military machine that we have in our own minds. It is true such things happened in later eras though. The real question was whether the Romans actually needed such techniques on the battlefield. I don't believe they did. Necessity is the mother of invention after all, and the opponents of Rome weren't that siophisicated more often than not. Why make things complicated? The Romans may have been great organisers, but they weren't actually a sophisticated people as a whole.

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I doubt that such maneuver was necessary. My belief is that hand to hand combat did not last long, if none of the lines broke the combatants pulled back and regrouped, then charged again trying to increase momentum with the help of speed to break the enemy line. I also think that the best soldiers were at the front doing the actual fighting while the rest provided weight and depth to the line.

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The last part of the video describes the line relief system. I personally don't see how they could carry out such an orderly maneuver in the heat of battle.

 

Let me present a slightly different POV.

 

As far as I'm concerned the Romans won their battles before they took the battlefield more often than not because of the time spent on the training field. That isn't exactly a great revelation to be sure but I'm a big believer in the power of training.

 

Conducting disciplined battle field drills successfully during the heat of battle has been done by several armies in history even when artillery/rifles/muskets became a staple of combat (Swiss pikemen, their derivatives, the Grand Armee comes to mind). Well at least the good armies and the Romans I think we all agree would make everyone's top ten list.

 

One of the benefits of the cohort system over phalanxes or masses of men was it's flexibility. To utilize that flexibility takes training--learning and responding to commands (drums, whistles, flags or verbal)--and a dependable cadre of junior leaders (centurions) to know when to make those commands.

 

I don't think it's too difficult--again, if it's part of one's constant training--to conduct such a maneuver at the cohort/century level as shown in the video.

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I doubt that such maneuver was necessary. My belief is that hand to hand combat did not last long, if none of the lines broke the combatants pulled back and regrouped, then charged again trying to increase momentum with the help of speed to break the enemy line. I also think that the best soldiers were at the front doing the actual fighting while the rest provided weight and depth to the line.

 

Melee sometimes continued for some time. That doesn't mean both sides were going at hammer and tongs permanently. In any case, fighting wasn't a sword duel. There would be a lot of pushing, shoving, throwing any object that came to hand. There is a description of two Roman units engaged in combat in a civil war. The Roman writer tells us that every so often they broke off, regained their breath, and went at it again without any thought of giving up. It would only last a short while if one side broke for some reason. Think of rioters vs police. It's a good modern analogy. Those confrontations can go on for a long time (though I accept the idea isn't to stab the other side to death)

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As far as I'm concerned the Romans won their battles before they took the battlefield more often than not because of the time spent on the training field. That isn't exactly a great revelation to be sure but I'm a big believer in the power of training.

Yet Roman sources often describe legions as being poor quality. It's a mistake to believe the Romans were all highly trained elite soldiers. Very few legions made that grade. I don't discount their training at all, just that it needs to be put in perspective. In any event, the Romans often lost battles, especially at the start of a campaign.

 

What usually won a battle before it began was a commander whose strategy was better leading up to the fight. Who faces the sun? Is the enemy enfiladed? Do they enemy know you'll be there? Does the enemy have forces with a weakness? Is the enemy commander a complete chump? Is he short of resources? And so on. I'm sure you can think of others. In fact, Roman commanders were not career officers and many come across as very unimaginative.

 

Conducting disciplined battle field drills successfully during the heat of battle has been done by several armies in history even when artillery/rifles/muskets became a staple of combat

Yes that's true, but that was also a period when units were completely defeated before they'd reached 30% casualties. It's all very well suggesting that, but remember people did that during the period because they had to, because everyone else did the same, and no-one had any better idea of how to conduct a battle. Whilst the Romans evolved certain drills, for the most part they were unnecessary, or intended for specific circumstances, and the Roman legions were not always as well honed as you might believe. Legions advanced in block for the most part. The idea was to present a steadfast body of men in close order (for the post-marian era anyway) which would charge to contact if the situation was favourable. Clever drills and tactics don't actually improve the performance of men in the front rank.

 

Also, remember the limits of command. The centurion, the primary leader of a century, was most often leading his men from the front and thus unavailable to issue commands. Senior officers usually ranged up and down behind the line to provide moral support. There's little indication, if any, in our sources that the Romans indulged in complex drills on the battlefield.

 

You are right in one sense. Drills do improve performance. But that was a secondary effect. By drilling regularly the men got used to fighting as a unit. That does not mean they used complex drills in battle.

 

One of the benefits of the cohort system over phalanxes or masses of men was it's flexibility. To utilize that flexibility takes training--learning and responding to commands (drums, whistles, flags or verbal)--and a dependable cadre of junior leaders (centurions) to know when to make those commands.

 

I don't think it's too difficult--again, if it's part of one's constant training--to conduct such a maneuver at the cohort/century level as shown in the video.

 

Thats a modern interpretation. The Romans never used drums, and flags were employed for fixed positions, not in the battle line, where there was too much room for confusion. Centurions were supposed to use their own initiative and not rely on commands issued from a commander. That was where the flexibility came from, not the actual composition of the troops. Nor for that matter were junior commanders necessarily available for command. The ROmans did not use a pyramid system of command, although to the uninitiated it might seem that way, because they didn't need one. There was no call for squad level tactics in battle.

 

As regarding difficulty, bear in mind the troops are experiencing the noise and confusion of battle. There were cases throughout Roman history where their legions floundered about or drew together in a disorganised mass because what command structure existed had collapsed entirely. Also bear in mind the 'tribal' nature of the legions - Soldiers were likely to refuse orders from a centurion who wasn't their commander.

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We have some serious disagreements on the nature of the Roman army, military organizations and combat I think. Then again it would be boring and ultimately not very challenging if we all agreed on everything I suppose.

 

 

Yet Roman sources often describe legions as being poor quality. It's a mistake to believe the Romans were all highly trained elite soldiers. Very few legions made that grade. I don't discount their training at all, just that it needs to be put in perspective. In any event, the Romans often lost battles, especially at the start of a campaign.

 

There's a difference between

Edited by Virgil61

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There was a time I used to see things pretty much as you do. Nonetheless, your argument is painting the Roman legion in modern colours. This is a common viewpoint and one that's been prevalent for two or three huindred years now. Historians of previous generations, right back to the rennaisance, coloured the Romans with ideas more suitable to their period.

 

As for the phrase 'military machine', I hate it. I really do. The Romans must have seemed that way to many of their enemies but that was a matter of relative impression, not an absolute one. They were better organised than their contemporaries but that doesn't necessarily equate to performance or quality in the field. It doesn't in the modern era, where we see a lot of myth and urban legend about certain regiments, troop types, or weaponry. The Romans were not robots in any way whatsoever. In fact, the harsh discipline was very necessary to keep them in place to begin with, as the sources clearly deascribe how readily they misbehaved or mutineed if control was not maintained. We also know how corrupt the centurionate usually was. We also know how amateurish and often inept the senior commanders were. We know how lacking the Romans were in any tactical nous on the battlefield.

 

They believed, not without reason, that might was right. Their behaviour as an army reflected that. To describe the Romans as highly trained expert soldiers of the highest calibre, a military machine relentlessly crushing all resistance in perfect order, moving on the battlefield in close co-operation with other units, is a gross distortion of history in my view. The sources are very revealing if you actually read them and put aside all the romantic myths about Conquering Heroes of Rome.

 

I don't think that there's any proof one way or the other that Roman soldiers would routinely refuse orders from someone other than their own centurion but it's possible.

It was mentioned in the accounts of Cannae and notice the behaviour of legions in mutiny.

 

can't imagine flexibility not being one of the major benefits of changing to the cohort system.

They didn't change to a cohort system - it already existed. What they did in the marian reforms was simplify the formation to better match their enemies. That wasn't a matter of flexibilty at all, especially since the Romans weren't actually concerned with being flexible. Far from it, you could argue it made command easier for the less than capable leaders. Also, the idea was to improve the rapidity of recruitment and reduce the required the level of training. But in any event, the reforms formalised changes that had already happened in legions of the time and made them standard.

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To describe the Romans as highly trained expert soldiers of the highest calibre, a military machine relentlessly crushing all resistance in perfect order, moving on the battlefield in close co-operation with other units, is a gross distortion of history in my view. The sources are very revealing if you actually read them and put aside all the romantic myths about Conquering Heroes of Rome.
(Caldrail)

This is not what I got from Virgil61's post.

 

 

Machines come in various forms in various cultures - military, economic, societal.

 

I think which machine is perferred can reflect the mental make up of the person and is not necessarily evil or bad.

 

Anarchy is a machine as well.

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There was a time I used to see things pretty much as you do. Nonetheless, your argument is painting the Roman legion in modern colours. This is a common viewpoint and one that's been prevalent for two or three huindred years now. Historians of previous generations, right back to the rennaisance, coloured the Romans with ideas more suitable to their period.

 

Principals of warfare

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I think you're confusing a lot of issues.

Far from it. I'm pointing out that you're treating the Roman legions as an intellectual analogy of the armies to which you're more familiar. In other words, you're not placing them in context, a vital consideration when dealing with historical subjects. The Romans weren't the same as us. They did things differently.

 

<SNIP>

You've taken a commendable healthy skepticism and thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

 

No, I merely challenged your opinion.

 

It would be helpful if everyone could remember a couple of salient points when you are covering a period of some 7-800 years such as the examples used in the discussion above which have conflated periods in the responses. As mentioned above Vegetius was writing in the late Empire but equally Cannae, which was also quoted, is from the Republican period before the Marian reforms when there was no standing army and each consul had to raise his forces basically from scratch.

 

References and precise dates would be helpful.

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There's a difference between claims that many principals of warfare are universal [Clausewitz for example], sticking someone with something sharp and the technological differences in warfare [arrows vs Stingers]. I addressed the first not the last two.

 

Principals of warfare like concentration of forces, objectives, economy of force (Augustus would understand this one), unity of command, surprise, etc. can be applied and used for analysis on Roman military undertakings. It's one thing to overdo it, it's another to say you can never use them profitably, it's quite another to confuse it with technological progress.

 

but the Romans weren't combining forces as we might do today. The organisation suggests that, but combined operations require communication and the Roman system was designed to operate without communication. Each sub unit was functionally independent, restricted only by a prearranged battle plan, a doctrine of conformal placement, and a few sweating officers rushing bck and forth behind the line.

 

I think you'd be better served to understand what combined arms consists of before arguing against it. Functional independence has little to do with the argument against combined arms.

 

Once you've utilized cavalry, archers/slings/onagri, skirmishers and infantry on the same battlefield you've conducted combined arms tactics.

 

Archer Jones who taught at the US Army Command and General Staff College once compiled a matrix of the relationship between cav/armor, missile throwing weaponry and infantry from the Greeks to WWII. Used within reason and understanding the limitations it's a constructive insight into military history.

 

You're quite wrong. The Roman soldier carried about half of that in our measurements on the march, and unlike the modern soldier, wasn't required to carry all of it into combat.

 

No, I'm not. Are you sure your aren't thinking 30kg not 30 lbs?

 

Soldiers never carry all their gear into combat. That just doesn't happen. Only the necessary equipment for the fight (unless ambushed). When encounters are expected they leave their issue consolidated at base camp, with the log train or wherever. I seriously doubt you'll find any army any time in history that carried it's full compliment of non-essential gear into battle on any regular basis.

 

Let's assume the worst case of legions having to march with what's on their backs. When 'on the march' you're claiming that a pick-ax, helmet, a shield, armor w/greaves etc, a sword, say a pilium, cooking equipment, three days of food, a cloak, etc and all come in under 35 lbs. That's just not wrong but incredibly so.

 

It's one to make the sort of 'intellectual analogies' you're arguing against. It's another thing not to use common sense to see that 35 lbs for a full load isn't always a realistic appraisal.

 

Do a simple experiment. Get a pack (or a bag) and a scale. Fill it up with 35 lbs of gear (not fluffy blankets but serious metal, foodstuffs, etc) akin to the list above.

 

But then you can add data that's irrelevant. Romans did not use squad tactics for instance. That is, after all, the basic level of comptence given to modern soldiers. We advance on a broad front for territorial conquest. They advanced in massed columns for target conquest. Ancient armies are a different ball game. They really are.

 

That's why I'd agree if you'd only called for caution.

 

I have no idea what

Edited by Virgil61

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@caldrail, in another thread you argued that the romans were defeated at Adrianoples because they had lost their ability to coordinate large armies on the battlefield (as a consequence of the Diocletianus/Costantine army reforms) but in this thread you write that the romans didn't actually coordinate their military units (centuries) during a battle but that they actually let them fighting indipendently from each other. Aren't you contradicting yourself?

 

In the same thread you argue that at Adrianoples the romans paid the price for the declined level of their infantry training but in this thread you argue that training had a secondary importance in the roman military. Aren't you contradicting yourself also in this case?

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