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No. There were many reasons for the defeat at Adrianople. it is true that unit quality had declined. So had the ability of commanders to lead armies in battle. These are attested to in our sources. Marcellinus emphasises how the Romans got their act together - which is stretching the point because whilst they did fight off the goths until dark, they still ran away at the first chance and remained disordered and contained. Zosimus on the other hand is scathing, describing the Romans as effeminate. The truth lies somewhere between.

 

To say the Romans had lost their ability to command large armies is overstating the problem. They had however become very bad at it. Valens knew that already, which was why he removed Trajan (general, not emperor) from his post and brought Sebastianus in by virtue of his reputation. For his part, Sebastianus blew it. He was so concerned with his career that Valens got fed up of him, realising Sebastianus was exaggerating in his reports. Realising that Valens had sussed him, Sebastianus changed tack and persuaded Valens to meet the Goths at Adrianople ahead of Gratians reinforcements. The point here is that the Romans were overly concerned with politics, and combined with poor intelligence the plan to meet the Goths was not based purely on military terms.

 

In terms of centuries, please realise that the Romans did not organise their armies in the field as we do today. In the classic era, the period that colours our opinions, the cohort was a formation that did what it says on the tin - "Mutual support". It wasn't named that for nothing. A single man on the battlefield can only handle a certain number of men in battlefield conditions before it becomes impossible and chaos ensues. The Romans, by experience, found around a hundred was the limit. The cohort existed for the centuries to support each other, and note that for that to make sense, there must be a measure of local initiative from centurions, which is exactly what our sources are telling us.

 

However, cordinating support amongst groups of eighty men in close proximity is one thing. Coordinating the efforts of a larger army, stretching into the distance, composed of disparate units, is another altogether. Because the Romans did not employ a formal messaging system (no-one mentions it at all), armies fought according to predetermined orders more often than not. To change an armies disposition required considerable urgency and effort. The Romans already knew this. That was why they preferred a local command emphasis. It made more sense to them.

 

That's all very well, but we also have to realise that the old days were gone. The legions were smaller, more specialised, less practised in formal warfare as opposed to the raiding style they had grown accustomed to. Our sources tell us the veterans were reluctant fighters - a point often overlooked - and that Sebastianus selected the best of the novices for his elite raiders, simply because they were keen and ready to fight. Valens had to make speeches at Melanthia to persuade his army to go to war - it wasn't simply a matter of issuing orders.

 

As for training, it wasn't close to what it had once been. De Re Miltaris (Vegetius) is often hailed as a manual of what the Romans did to train their troops, but what the book is about is suggesting what the Romans ought to be doing, based on practises used in former times.

 

Don't make the mistake of assuming that there are necessarilty simple and clear cut reasons for an event turning out the way it did. Adrianople was the result of a series of factors that led to the Roman defeat. For an army composed of veterans, supposedly well trained and experienced, note that they arrived on the battlefield in a somewhat disorganised manner, displayed a lack of coherent command, and failed utterly to react in a disciplined manner when the gothic cavalry launched their ambush. Only later, when it became obvious that it was a matter of time before they were slaughtered, did the Romans rally and fend off the Goths, escaping with two thirds of their army lost.

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In terms of centuries, please realise that the Romans did not organise their armies in the field as we do today. In the classic era, the period that colours our opinions, the cohort was a formation that did what it says on the tin - "Mutual support". It wasn't named that for nothing. A single man on the battlefield can only handle a certain number of men in battlefield conditions before it becomes impossible and chaos ensues. The Romans, by experience, found around a hundred was the limit. The cohort existed for the centuries to support each other, and note that for that to make sense, there must be a measure of local initiative from centurions, which is exactly what our sources are telling us.

 

However, cordinating support amongst groups of eighty men in close proximity is one thing. Coordinating the efforts of a larger army, stretching into the distance, composed of disparate units, is another altogether. Because the Romans did not employ a formal messaging system (no-one mentions it at all), armies fought according to predetermined orders more often than not. To change an armies disposition required considerable urgency and effort. The Romans already knew this. That was why they preferred a local command emphasis. It made more sense to them.

 

I see: in few words the romans lost their ability to draw good pre-battle plans and the ability of their centurions to execute them correctly.

 

As for training, it wasn't close to what it had once been. De Re Miltaris (Vegetius) is often hailed as a manual of what the Romans did to train their troops, but what the book is about is suggesting what the Romans ought to be doing, based on practises used in former times.

 

This means that the early and high imperial armies had actually a significant training necessary to fight successfully.

 

 

A further question: if the roman centuries had to fight autonomously, following the battle plan, due to lack of efficient communication between the units on the battlefield and between the units and the general, then why the medieval byzantine army, heir of the late imperial army, allegedly was very capable to coordinate in "real time" infantry units, cavalry archers and heavy cavalry operating on the battlefield? Did they develope an efficient signaling system in order to overcome the tactical limits of the classic roman army?

Edited by Late Emperor

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I see: in few words the romans lost their ability to draw good pre-battle plans and the ability of their centurions to execute them correctly.

 

The organisation of large crowds of men at a battlefield is not like playing chess. Without clear understanding of what was required, an army was not likely to deploy or behave as the commander would wish. Control over men has always been an issue in warfare, not just because of the practilicaties of communication in very trying circumstances, but also because human psychology lends itself toward rage and panic.

 

The Romans decided very early on to err on the side of practicality. They wanted a simple, direct, brutal means of conducting a battle that diod not risk confusion unnecessarily. No system is perfect, and the Romans in fact were only dominating the battlefield (despite their reputation in modern eyes) when they dictated what tactics were to be used. Roman tactics were not sophisticated. It relied on discipline, a martial spirit, and blood and guts victory more often than not. Assets like cavalry and archers were handy to have around, but required specialist training the Romans didn't spend much time on.

 

As regards Adrianople, it's iompossible to say whether the battle plan was any good because we don't know what it was. All we know is that their army turned up after a march and made a very ragged attempt to deploy, and one section of the line arrived late. Notice also the confusion. No-one in the Roman line appears to know exactly what was going on. In fact, the batle started because the late arriving Romans spooked the goths and reacted as if the battle had begun.

 

Sebastianus had from the start attempted to persuade Valens that his raiding tactics were more likely to succeed. Apparently he was right. Even Zosimus records that heads were being sent to Constantinople on a daily basis, and I note that the goths had begun foraging in a large armed mass to survive Roman ambushes. In other words, the goths were becoming wary, not to mention a little desperate.

 

Unfortunately the Romans were overly concerned with internal politics. Sebastianus was not well liked and his attempts to curry favour with Valens not only annoyed the Emperor himself, but many of his courtiers, and there was a lot of sniping in high places going on. Whilst it was possible that Sebastianus might have eventually forced the goths to negotiate by his preferred tactics, Valens wanted a victory. With his position growing insecure, Sebastianus began persuading Valens that a battle now rather than later was a good idea. It meant valens would not have to share the glory with Gratian, the western emperor. It also defused some of the sniping that was going on.

 

As we now know, the Romans severly underestimated the numbers of goths likely to be present. They had thought they would outnumber the goths handsomely and I suspect, were a little over confident because of it. That doesn't mean their plan was bad as such, but rather that it was based on assumption, and ancient warfare was all about pulling the wool over the enemies eyes. Anything to gain an advantage before you begin.

 

Nonetheless, the Roman army collapsed the moment the gothic cavalry appeared, and found itself herded into a disordered mass surrounded by gothic warriors. Whatever command and control existed had evaporated - but that wasn't the first time the Romans had experienced this phenomena. One intrinsic property of the Roman system was the direct command of the centurion, and notice that by the time of Adrianople, the centurionate had withered and with it an essential component of Roman success in leadership and discipline.

 

This means that the early and high imperial armies had actually a significant training necessary to fight successfully.

To some extent that's true. Remember though that Roman warfare relied on hand to hand melee, and in those circumstances, there's always a certain allowance for whatever morale, fighting spirit, and leadership that happens to be present. it's never a sure thing. That said, the training imparted to Romans of that period did have beneficial effects on their abaility to fight in the line - and that's one major reason for Roman success. The other major reason was that they liked to dictate how and where the battle was fought - that requires a measure of planning.

 

The problem with using Vegetius as a template for Roman training is that he was referencing methods used over hundreds of years. Not all legions did everything he writes about all the time. Whilst we know the Romans did have military training manuals (they gave some to the Britons to help them defend themselves when they left in the 5th century) there is no mention of any formal and fixed training regime at any point in Roman military history. It was all done ad hoc and according to the preferences of the legion command.

 

A further question: if the roman centuries had to fight autonomously, following the battle plan, due to lack of efficient communication between the units on the battlefield and between the units and the general, then why the medieval byzantine army, heir of the late imperial army, allegedly was very capable to coordinate in "real time" infantry units, cavalry archers and heavy cavalry operating on the battlefield? Did they develope an efficient signaling system in order to overcome the tactical limits of the classic roman army?

 

Because they adopted methods either learned by experience and familiarity with their enemies, who were themselves more sophisticated than the Romans about battlefield command. I cannot stress this enough - the classic Roman legion was not necessarily as sophisticated as we might imagine. Certainly it was well organised, but if you look closely, there's a sort of bored indifference that emergences from archaeological finds. Up to half a legion might be excused duty or on holiday when employed on garrison. It was too bothersome to keep finding small tasks for soldiers to occupy their time, and civil engineering projects like aqueducts or roads were always undergoing construction and requiring cheap labour.

 

In other words, the Roman army was in a process of change, adaption, involved in a sort of arms race to ensure their armies could meet their enemies on at least equal terms. That was part of the problem with the older legions - they had been superceded, and the reforms in the late empire were part of this process, changing the Roman army from an assault force to a security force to defend borders and keep territory safe from internal and external threats rather than marching into their territory to crush the threat at source.

 

That represents a real sea-change in Roman thinking. Instead of the former military pride and martial spirit, the Romans had become somewhat defensive. The survival and prosperity of the byzantines must have affected their outlook as well.

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As regards Adrianople, it's iompossible to say whether the battle plan was any good because we don't know what it was. All we know is that their army turned up after a march and made a very ragged attempt to deploy, and one section of the line arrived late. Notice also the confusion. No-one in the Roman line appears to know exactly what was going on. In fact, the batle started because the late arriving Romans spooked the goths and reacted as if the battle had begun.

 

 

It was only a few years before when Julian's outnumbered army suffered an initial setback at Strassburg, but quickly regrouped and won a decisive victory against a the Alemani.

 

One of the differences was that Fritigen's Goths had been rumaging around within the empire and had access to the armory, so they were able to equip themselves with up to date Roman arms and armor. There were also numerous defections of semi-Romanized Goths from the Roman army who joined Fritigen. The point being that Valens was probably facing a much more sophisticated force than a typical Germanic army.

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Hello, I would like to know what are the sources that indicate the existence of that line relief system.

 

Try "The Roman Army: Instrument of Power" by Don Nardo. I'm not sure it's called "The Line Relief System" in there, though, so you may have to dig.

 

Also, if you have HBO Rome, try watching the first battle scene in the first episode with the All Roads Lead to Rome feature turned on, they discuss the tactic in brief, but sometimes do cite sources.

 

Vegetius is quite a good source to search as well: "Epitoma rei militaris". Someone here may already have read it and be able to say whether it is or isn't in there.

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I don't think there is anything specifically on anything called a 'line relief system' although Vegetius does provide suggestions on how an army should be formed up before a battle, the depth of formations and the need to keep a reserve from which counter-attack can be formed.

 

Mads Brevik has put an etext version of an old translation of Vegetius on the web here whic you may find of interest.

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I don't think there is anything specifically on anything called a 'line relief system' although Vegetius does provide suggestions on how an army should be formed up before a battle, the depth of formations and the need to keep a reserve from which counter-attack can be formed.

 

Mads Brevik has put an etext version of an old translation of Vegetius on the web here whic you may find of interest.

 

I already own an english version of De Re Militari, and even found a translation in french, my mother tongue. But I couldn't find it in. This is why I'm asking. I'm searching for primary sources, ancient writer talking about it.

 

Vegetius does talk about the ancient way of placing the troup before the Marian reform, with Hastati, Principes and Triarii(Pilanii).

He talks about allowing three square foot to each man and count the exact number of pass a total legion takes, and that terrain doesn't often allow to deploy in large, and that in those case and even in general it's better to keep a very deep front but not large.

No line relief system, unless I interpretated the english writing wrong. I shall re-read it but in my mother tongue more deeply.

Edited by maad erllin

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As regards Adrianople, it's iompossible to say whether the battle plan was any good because we don't know what it was. All we know is that their army turned up after a march and made a very ragged attempt to deploy, and one section of the line arrived late. Notice also the confusion. No-one in the Roman line appears to know exactly what was going on. In fact, the batle started because the late arriving Romans spooked the goths and reacted as if the battle had begun.

 

 

It was only a few years before when Julian's outnumbered army suffered an initial setback at Strassburg, but quickly regrouped and won a decisive victory against a the Alemani.

 

One of the differences was that Fritigen's Goths had been rumaging around within the empire and had access to the armory, so they were able to equip themselves with up to date Roman arms and armor. There were also numerous defections of semi-Romanized Goths from the Roman army who joined Fritigen. The point being that Valens was probably facing a much more sophisticated force than a typical Germanic army.

 

The Goths at Adrianople were no more sophisticated than any other. It is true they used some Roman equipment, more likely from the battlefield after their initial victories than plundered from armouries, and it's also true they had Roman deserters among their number. They also employed other Germanic tribes, including Alans. The behaviour of the gothic warriors during the battle was consistent with cultural norms, and no more advanced than other barbarian tribes of their day.

 

I do see a lot of statements to the effect that the Goths were somehow superior, on the basis that they - oh no - defeated a Roman army. The problem is that many people simply assume the Romans were at the peak of effectiveness as they had always been. Not so. The Romans assembled at Adrianople were reluctant fighters, had arrived in a disorderly manner, were badly led, had no clear idea of what was going on or what was expected of them, were hot and tired after marching for hours, and subjected to smoke from crops burned deliberately.

 

More to the point, Fritigern was a very worried man. His forces were becoming desperate for provisions, they'd been given a bloody nose by Roman forces days earlier, and had been cornered at Adrianople. In fact, Fritigern was playing for time, using any excuse to stop the battle from starting so Alatheus and Saphrax could return with their forces.

 

Roman equipment of the day was no more sophisticated than anyone elses, and far from being 'up to date', it was conformal to the period and effectively little different from the equipment used by their enemies.

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I am currently searching primary sources through listing of those ones. I started by reading wikipedia article, find a place where they are talking about that relief system, and see if it's quoted/linked to a source.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_infantry_tactics#cite_note-25

 

I found that the part I'm interested in:

"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."

 

Is from a book "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"

And I'm glad to see they put it on the internet.

 

I'll read his book, and try to pass my way through quotes of autors and sources until they give me an ANCIENT autor in their sources :P

 

I'll keep you informed of my searchings.

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... 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... [/i]

 

Is from a book "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"

And I'm glad to see they put it on the internet.

 

I'll read his book, and try to pass my way through quotes of autors and sources until they give me an ANCIENT autor in their sources :P

 

 

 

Again that all sounds good in theory, but as mentioned before, carrying it out in the heat of battle is another matter altogether: changing conditions, being assailed from different directions, inadvertent compression of the of the units, resulting in an inability of the relief force to make it to the front line. I can easily see the retreating troops crashing into the relieving troops, resulting in chaos.

 

I will be interested in seeing what you are able to glean from that book.

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Again that all sounds good in theory, but as mentioned before, carrying it out in the heat of battle is another matter altogether: changing conditions, being assailed from different directions, inadvertent compression of the of the units, resulting in an inability of the relief force to make it to the front line. I can easily see the retreating troops crashing into the relieving troops, resulting in chaos.

 

I will be interested in seeing what you are able to glean from that book.

 

Can't the re-enactors simulate if this relief system was practical or not by clashing in large numbers and beating violently each other shields with the false swords?

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<Can't the re-enactors simulate if this relief system was practical or not by clashing in large numbers and beating violently each other shields with the false swords?

 

Possily they could IF they could get enough men together to try but it took years to be able to get enough Roman re-enactors together in sufficient numbers in one place to even make up a full century and that only happened a few years back. You also have to remember that most Roman re-enactment groups are effectively drill groups rather than combat reenactors. It's the sharp swords you see - 'they don't like it up them' as Corporal Jones would say ;)

 

On this basis trying to reenact an ancient battle with thousands of participants in which such an evolution could be attempted seems a forlorn hope. :)

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... 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... [/i]

 

Is from a book "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"

And I'm glad to see they put it on the internet.

 

I'll read his book, and try to pass my way through quotes of autors and sources until they give me an ANCIENT autor in their sources :P

 

 

 

Again that all sounds good in theory, but as mentioned before, carrying it out in the heat of battle is another matter altogether: changing conditions, being assailed from different directions, inadvertent compression of the of the units, resulting in an inability of the relief force to make it to the front line. I can easily see the retreating troops crashing into the relieving troops, resulting in chaos.

 

I will be interested in seeing what you are able to glean from that book.

 

I don't question IF they were able to do it. It's pretty obvious that the tactic weren't able to do it every time but I want to see if at least they practiced it in "good conditions" and when they're talking about first line, are they talking about the first rank of soldiers, or the second century in the cohort. We might discuss very long about that subject, but unless I have found ancient autor or illustration telling about this system, I won't discuss if they could do it, since we can't quote a direct source who tells us that they at least tried to do it. (And since De Re Militari of Vegetius couldn't give me an answer.)Further more, Vegetius talked about the space to let to the soldiers.6 feet from rank 1 to rank 2, and 3 feet between each man. That sounds good to me, since when you fight, you're not totally standing on front, but the left side in front, the right side to the back.

That lets still some place to filter between men. Again, in good condition where those measures are respected.

Did somebody here studied Trajan column, Comentarii de bello gaulico or anything else that could give a hint?

 

P.S. Unfortunately, I'm in a bag end right now, cause the guy who put down the Lt.Col's book on internet didn't put the references of it.

Edited by maad erllin

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<Can't the re-enactors simulate if this relief system was practical or not by clashing in large numbers and beating violently each other shields with the false swords?

 

Possily they could IF they could get enough men together to try but it took years to be able to get enough Roman re-enactors together in sufficient numbers in one place to even make up a full century and that only happened a few years back. You also have to remember that most Roman re-enactment groups are effectively drill groups rather than combat reenactors. It's the sharp swords you see - 'they don't like it up them' as Corporal Jones would say ;)

 

On this basis trying to reenact an ancient battle with thousands of participants in which such an evolution could be attempted seems a forlorn hope. :)

 

But still, they were able to do it perfectly in the HBO series "Rome". If you can take mere figurants and actors of a movie to do it perfectly, that shows that in good conditions, against a less organised enemy on foot, it was perfectly possible.

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