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Germanicus

Roman Military Superiority

Most important factor to Roman military superiority after the Marian reforms.  

24 members have voted

  1. 1. If you had to, which would you choose ?

    • Arms and Armour
      1
    • Use of Auxiliary specialists
      0
    • Leadership
      0
    • Siegecraft and engineering skill
      1
    • Tenacity, Morale
      2
    • Pool of manpower on which to draw
      3
    • Training and movement tactics
      17


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Training. On the level of ordinary troops that's what matters the most. The best of leaders can't do much with bad troops, like happened with the decisive battle between Hannibal and Scipio where the majority of Hannibal's troops was very inexperienced etc, while Scipio's forces were battle-hardened veterans for the large part. Even with a bad leader good troops can hold out for a while at least. Still, skilled leadership counts for much (after all, Rome's legions supposedly were, soldier for soldier, better than Hannibal's men even when they fought in Italy). In the best of times, it was the whole package that counted - good training and equipment combined with some of the best military geniuses in history, like, obviously, Julius Caesar.

 

Spartacus was an able leader who led his army of slaves from victory to victory. A small core were gladiators, most were nothing of the sort. The best of leaders can work wonders with almost anything. Not the impossible it must be said, and I do agree that training is important. Experience is the best teacher, and vital for success. You can train a newbie all you like but until he experiences the battleground himself he can never match those that have.

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Spartacus was an able leader who led his army of slaves from victory to victory. A small core were gladiators, most were nothing of the sort. The best of leaders can work wonders with almost anything. Not the impossible it must be said, and I do agree that training is important. Experience is the best teacher, and vital for success. You can train a newbie all you like but until he experiences the battleground himself he can never match those that have.

 

Except for many of the big name battles great leaders are generally in short supply as much today as in Roman times. More common are the smaller day-to-day, month-to-month operations in the various theaters; keeping the peace, quelling local uprisings, checking small or medium sized incursions from outside forces, etc., all led by mediocre to good leaders heavily dependent on the reliability of capable rank-and-file legions and cohorts.

 

The very heart of good training to new recruits is to incorporate the lessons learned by experienced soldiers.

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Goldsworthy's 'The Roman Army ast War 100 BC-AD 200' probably provides the definitive reasons for Roman superiority. The superiority of their training and the flexibility of their units (of all sizes) are what mainly account for their success.

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Goldsworthy's 'The Roman Army ast War 100 BC-AD 200' probably provides the definitive reasons for Roman superiority. The superiority of their training and the flexibility of their units (of all sizes) are what mainly account for their success.

 

An outstanding book that anyone interested in the Roman army of the late Republic and Principate should read.

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Neos Dionysos, yes, I agree. The phalanx really works best as a stationary force, for example as a defensive unit (that one is true even in the game Rome: Total War - the Phalanx units kick ass when defending, but I find them hard to attack with - they're so damn slow in Phalanx mode, which would be quite true in reality too, you simply can't maneuver such a tight formation with long spears quickly), especially in a restricted area where it cannot be flanked. There the extra reach and mutual coverage of the frontal area with the long spears really is a huge advantage. When attacking, the use of the long spear would often, of course depending on the situation and type of opposition, pretty much be better as a first-charge weapon, after which it is dropped and then a sword or such is used instead - kinda like with the pila of the Romans.

Edited by tvihiocus

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Goldsworthy's 'The Roman Army ast War 100 BC-AD 200' probably provides the definitive reasons for Roman superiority. The superiority of their training and the flexibility of their units (of all sizes) are what mainly account for their success.

 

An outstanding book that anyone interested in the Roman army of the late Republic and Principate should read.

 

I willl look out for this text, its rather expensive on amazon in the UK . Would you say it is the best of its genre? some reviews criticise the writing, if not the scholarship.

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I willl look out for this text, its rather expensive on amazon in the UK . Would you say it is the best of its genre? some reviews criticise the writing, if not the scholarship.

 

Easily the best. It's very much a modern approach to military history. If you like your neat battle narratives and battle diagrams then you won't find it here. What you will find is the single best attempt to date to define exactly how a Roman army fought. Really, it's Keegan's Face of Battle but applied to the Roman army. The writing style's not 'racy' but very informative and clear. One to read and reread. Worth every penny.

 

 

 

When attacking, the use of the long spear would often, of course depending on the situation and type of opposition, pretty much be better as a first-charge weapon, after which it is dropped and then a sword or such is used instead - kinda like with the pila of the Romans.

 

Almost certainly this never happened, or was extremely rare. Greek infantry were untrained in the use of the sword and their formation with overlapping shields would have restricted its utility to the point of uselessness. It was certainly used once fromations had broken and one side was in rout but very rarely, if ever, until then. I can find only one ancient reference to swords being used by troops in phalanx and that is in Homer! Thucydides, Xenephon, Herodotos etc never mention its use in close combat between formed phalanxes. The manuals are very clear on the lack of training also.

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Almost certainly this never happened, or was extremely rare. Greek infantry were untrained in the use of the sword and their formation with overlapping shields would have restricted its utility to the point of uselessness.

Oh, sorry, I wasn't being clear. I didn't mean to imply that the Greeks would have done so, but I simply meant that if doing a mobile offensive the long spear would probably be more useful that way than in the slow and inflexible phalanx - you'd get to strike the enemy with the spears when doing the charge before the enemy could hit you, and then you could drop the spear and enter the fray with a sword. Hence the troops would have to be specifically trained for using the sword, as well as the spear. But I suppose this is already going way off topic.

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I willl look out for this text, its rather expensive on amazon in the UK . Would you say it is the best of its genre? some reviews criticise the writing, if not the scholarship.

 

It's possibly the best overall concise study I've read and the one I tend to go back to quite often. Sure it's got weaknesses, he stuffs a lot of information in 286 pages of the paperback edition and he doesn't get it 100% right. But he makes very astute observations on organizations, tactics and leadership. I've said before, one of my biggest criticisms of academic military historians is their lack of military experience that deprives them of the psychological insights to military life; leadership, small unit cohesion, importance of training, etc. Admirably to me, he seems to know his own weakness in this area and strives to overcome it.

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Geopolitics had nothing to do with Caesar's campaigns in Gaul. He fought for his own political prestige and political survival. His legates and tribunes for their own political advancement. His men fought because they were (relatively) long service professionals and had little choice. The booty on offer was a nice bonus for them and hekped keep morale high.

 

Virgil: who is better than Goldsworthy on the legions? I've certainly never come across anyone. Out of interest, what would you say he gets wrong?

Edited by Furius Venator

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Virgil: who is better than Goldsworthy on the legions? I've certainly never come across anyone. Out of interest, what would you say he gets wrong?

 

Ross Cowan and Hugh Elton are pretty good, but I think Goldworthy's really the main guy. A great insight on the legions is Josephus' "The Jewish War". Read carefully one really gets the sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Goldworthy didn't include a chapter on training, which I though was a major omission. He also seems to not appreciate the role of good middle/junior leadership and holds a bit too much stock in 'generalship' (although he sort of contradicts himself as well by claiming mediocre generals won because of the quality of the legions). Don't have my copy in front of me, but those are some things that come to mind.

 

I think he get's it right about 80% of the time, which isn't a bad percentage when doing anything in life, except perhaps throwing grenades.

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The middle level of leadership either operates as the general (but for a section of the army) or commands a unit (and so is dealt with in the 'unit', and to an extent the 'individual' sections). Individaul centurions come across as leaders by example. The Pilus Prior as cohort commander could act in two ways: either by inspirational example as other centurions did or by direction of the cohort from immediately behind engaged units (exactly as Goldsworthy describes in the 'general' scetion. Now I grant you it's not brought out explicitly but it's there nonetheless.

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The middle level of leadership either operates as the general (but for a section of the army) or commands a unit (and so is dealt with in the 'unit', and to an extent the 'individual' sections). Individaul centurions come across as leaders by example. The Pilus Prior as cohort commander could act in two ways: either by inspirational example as other centurions did or by direction of the cohort from immediately behind engaged units (exactly as Goldsworthy describes in the 'general' scetion. Now I grant you it's not brought out explicitly but it's there nonetheless.

 

I recall he mentions it in scattered sections. The issue itself is important enough to warrant more than scattered mentions as I believe it's a major factor in the success of the legions of the Republic and Principate. I would have loved to have seen him focus his sights on the issues of training and junior leadership. Maybe the guy had only x amount of time to present a text or it's a topic for future writings.

 

These criticisms shouldn't overshadow just how good Goldsworthy is overall.

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I suspect that a major problem is that there is virtually no evidence as to how the low level leadership operated. We can only assume it was akin to the 'middle ground' and/or 'leading by example. The evidence is overwhelmingly 'leading by example' but is hardly conclusive. Hence much of a junior leader section would be mere repetition.

 

Training would perhaps warrant a section to itself I grant you. But given that he's concentrating on how the legion fought, it's a reasonable omission

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