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LegateLivius

How important was individual skill in formation fighting? Why train an individual soldier to his weapon as a solo fighter?

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Before I created my account on reddit, I saw two posts much earlier this year when I was lurking.

https://old.reddit.com/r/MilitaryHistory/comments/7vkyb0/how_important_is_individual_marksmanship_is_in/

https://old.reddit.com/r/ArmsandArmor/comments/7sxy9c/does_the_skill_of_individuals_in_martial_arts_and/

As both discussions state,indeed you always see the notion of "teamwork trumps all" in beginners book on history and history channel documents as well as internet discussions. I am wondering if individual skills matter in formations too? For example would how well a Roman raw recruit could stab his sword an important factor in formation? Like the poster in the two links state many statements such as "the side whose phalanx holds together longest will wins" makes it sound as though its pointless to learn how to aim at a target when throwing javelins at a mass of enemies. However even formation-heavy cultures like the Romans still emphasized training an individual to be both in his best physical shape and to individually stab at an enemy in single combat or aim at wooden target dummies to practise hitting darts on with individual marksmanship.

Is formation simply an automatic force multiplier like many TV shows or 5th grade history books imply? Since its always pointed out that the individual doesn't matter but the team does in pop history media such as games? Why even bother teaching a new Roman recruit in bootcamp the weak points of the human body or make an English yeoman practise his own bow skills by shooting targets as an individual if formations is the most important thing? I mean if you're going to shoot volleys I don't see why its important a javelineer  be taught how to throw a spears at the farthest distance possible. If you're going to be protected by a phalanx, why teach Athenian militia how to use his spear to parry and defend against attacks?

Can anyone explain why Mongol light cavalry would be taught how to hold a spear properly for a single jousting style duel even though his role is to be a hit-run archer? Or why Romans had young boys just recruited into camp practise one-on-one dueling if the Roman formations are what win battles? Why bother with these specific training if the side that holds the Phalanx longest is the winner?

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They would not always be fighting in formation. Their formation might break, or there could be gaps, and it could end up in one-on-one fighting until they were able to reform or retreat. Also, they could be ambushed or involved in skirmishes or scouting operations in which they would not be fighting in formation. Battles could also end up chaotic where there is very little order on both sides.

Also, I would think it would be important for confidence,  knowing that individually they are highly trained and capable fighters who are able to take care of themselves if necessary in all situations. And believing that that they are also each individually more skilled and better trained than their enemies would give them that extra confidence as well, and further trust and confidence in the men standing to each side of them.

Edited by Lex

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While the battles are famous the Roman and Auxillia troops didn't just fight in huge, set piece battles. They also patrolled in small numbers, manned the limes and stood town guard. The troops obviously had to fight well in small groups and on bad ground. It should be noted that town troops patrolled 'half armed' without scutum and pilum

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You'll see a lot of stuff written on the internet about individual skill, some claiming the Romans were martial artists or such. The truth is that the Romans were well aware that despite choosing the more robust members of their society as soldiers and rejecting anyone with either a weak physique or family background/profession, not everyone was going to be any good at fighting. What they did was boil things down to a set of standard moves they could instil in recruits by constant practice (actually many modern armed forces have long since come to the same conclusions). Although I haven't found any specific evidence, I do believe they taught swordplay 'by the numbers' - this was how fighting skills were taught to gladiators and we know that gladiators were occaisionally used in the training process. That sort of approach would suit a methodology geared toward strict and tight formations which we know the Romans favoured.

The fly in the ointment is that whilst the late republican legionaries used close formation religiously (the tall rectangular shield was most common in that era) the imperial era legions were said to have swung their swords as much as thrusted, meaning they must have used looser formations - along with heavier armour such as the classic lorica segmentata and for a while, arm and leg pieces. This went hand in hand with sword lengths that were reducing in parallel with gladiatorial styles until the wars that saw Constantine come to power when generally the gladius was dropped in favour of the longer cavalry Spatha. In other words, the late empire demonstrates a loss of skills and the sources do tend to underline that.

So the emphasis was on group effectiveness. Stand firm, show no fear, and thrust your sword into your opponents face from a few carefully thought out positions in formation. It worked. You didn't have kill the guy - one thrust in the face or stomach  and he's in no state to continue. Attacks into the upper abdomen risked a sword sticking in the ribcage and therefore were discouraged. The legion practised this until every useless recruit got the idea and could do it at will, without thinking.

However, legionaries loved their gladiator combats and they wanted to emulate their heroes. So some commanders used their slaves to teach soldiers fighting tricks to keep them amused. On the other hand, it's clear from the sources that sometimes the commander decided his men needed a little more panache and used their slaves deliberately to improve the skills of individual soldiers. Whether this was effective in the context of normal legionary practice isn't clear. But in both caes, improvements in the soldiers confidence and moral did no harm.

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One on one is single combat.

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