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Battles the Legions were involved in rarely contained the "one-vs-one" aspect of ancient warfare that we are used to seeing glamorized by Hollywood. The Legion/Cohort/Century moved as one, gradually pushing their enemies back, as was the case in confrontations with the Gauls and Germanic Tribes, who tended to uses the tactic of massed infantry attacks, with no order. If their first wave didn't drive the Romans from the field, then the battle ended up mostly as a general rout .

 

IMO, Spartacus and his revolt did so well against the Romans ( not including the fact that most of the veteran soldiers were not in Italia proper), because of the type of "one-on-one" fighting that the gladiators were specifically trained to perform. Varus, and the Disaster of Teutonberg Forest, IMO is a result, not only of surprise and other factors, but of the fact that the 3 Legions were disorganized enought for the Germans to battle in close quarter "one vs. one" fights that they were accustomed to.

 

Just some of my thoughts :)

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Is a distinction being made between losing battles and losing wars? When speaking of veterans are the principe, hastati and triari being considered?

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The Romans' key strenghth was not that they won all the time, it was that when they fought, they fought until they won. To the Romans a defeat was not the end, it was the beginning of the next war. When Rome fell to the Gauls, the Romans got back up. In the Phyrric wars the Romans lost almost every battle. They just kept on trying to the point that Phyrrus decided that one more victory would be the end of him. In the first two Punic Wars the Romans lost many battles, but they kept on throwing men into the fray until they won (some would compare them to the Soviets in the Second World War). The Roman way of war is summed up in the story where at the beginning of a seige they were told that the city had enough suplies to hold out for 24 months. The Roman general said that he would wait on the enemy king for 25 months!

Edited by Julius Ratus

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Its true that Rome was determined to succeed. Notice however that this persistence comes from an individual - the commander. Rome was a competitive society and the men chosen to lead armies needed victories for their careers as much as their continued health. What the men thought is not recorded but remember they had little choice but to obey. There were some mutinies amongst the legions.

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What I find interesting is that most of the mutinies happened not because the soldiers were tired of fighting the war (like Alexander's veterans in India) but that they were often became idle and wanted to go back to fighting. Some of the legionnaires seemed to love war too much, a huge contrast compared to a few soldiers from the last 100 years of warfare. For Instance, when Julius Caesar was in Egypt there was a mutiny among his men after they had been idle for a time and when Caesar returned he scolded the Tenth Legion for betraying him. The Legion became upset and began begging him to take them back to war - Caesar decided to execute the ringleaders and the Legion rejoiced at his decision of taking them back to war.

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When I was a schoolboy aged 12 or 13, I had the good fortune to hear a lecture given at my local archaeological society by the great British historian and excavator of Roman Britain - Sir Ian Richmond. He excavated the Agricolan legionary fortress at Inchtuithil in Scotland and it was on that he spoke. He died not long after (in the 60s), at a comparatively early age, but Richmond was a figure of great influence and importance and was ahuge loss.

 

My reason for mentioning him in this thread is not only to pay tribute to a half-forgotten figure, but because of what I still recall him saying in his talk. It rocked young Phil back on his heels.

 

At that age (12 or 13 as I say) I was inevitably much influenced by the populist "Hollywood" view of the legions. Richmond changed all that.

 

He painted a picture of the legions, at least at the time of Agricola, as principally engineers - building roads and walls and forts.

 

I was so amazed that I asked a question to check that I had really understood him when he said that, in that period they were rarely committed to battle. At Mons Graupius, he said, the legions had been kept in reserve, it was the auxilia who did the fighting. (Nowadays, I see it as a little similar to the way Napoleon used his Old Guard - as a resource of last resort.)

 

Richmond's explanation as to why made sense - generals and administrators could not afford to lose such an important technical and logistical (I nod to an earlier poster in this thread) resource. Who would do the engineering, the river-crossing, the fortification, the surveying if these experts were lost? It was the legions who built the Wall for Hadrian, but they did not man it!!

 

No doubt views have changed in the last 40+ years, but Richmond had much experience of military sites in Britain, and was a deep and incisive thinker. I give the view to add to this discussion.

 

Of course, as others have rightly said, the legions did not stay the same over some 400 years.

 

Caesar's legions were as dissimilar to those of Marius or Sulla; as they were to those of Vespasian. equipment, strategic and tactical thinking, training and sources of manpower all changed with time.

 

Thus we need to avoid generalisations, I feel. Richmond's views related to the Agricolan period, and might logically be extended to Hadrians. They would not, for a moment, necessarily apply to the Gallic War or to later periods.

 

I hope these thoughts might be useful.

 

Phil

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Battles the Legions were involved in rarely contained the "one-vs-one" aspect of ancient warfare that we are used to seeing glamorized by Hollywood. The Legion/Cohort/Century moved as one, gradually pushing their enemies back, as was the case in confrontations with the Gauls and Germanic Tribes, who tended to uses the tactic of massed infantry attacks, with no order. If their first wave didn't drive the Romans from the field, then the battle ended up mostly as a general rout .

 

IMO, Spartacus and his revolt did so well against the Romans ( not including the fact that most of the veteran soldiers were not in Italia proper), because of the type of "one-on-one" fighting that the gladiators were specifically trained to perform. Varus, and the Disaster of Teutonberg Forest, IMO is a result, not only of surprise and other factors, but of the fact that the 3 Legions were disorganized enought for the Germans to battle in close quarter "one vs. one" fights that they were accustomed to.

 

Just some of my thoughts :hammer:

 

Its an absolute fallacy that Spartacus led an army of gladiators. He had around a hundred of them (although more would have come on side later) and the bulk of his army were ordinary slaves of all occupations. Bear in mind also that the former gladiators went their seperate ways twice, so the numbers were reduced again. Oenamaus and his band were killed early on, followed by Crixus's bunch. Spartacus did well because he led a guerilla campaign. He met his end because he was forced to fight a pitched battle with the legions - something the romans knew how to handle. When that happened, the followers of Spartacus were totally outclassed.

 

As for the varian disaster, the legions were as organised as always. Granted Varus wasn't a brilliant commander, but he had skilled and experienced subordinates. The reason that three legions were destroyed was because Arminius ensured the roman advance travelled along a remote forest trail, so the roman army was strung out much longer than normal. It was vulnerable to flank attack from the forests and the rear was picked off in ambushes. By the time the advance reached Kalkriese (where Arminius had arranged an ambush 'funnel') they had already lost their support.

 

In a battle between men armed with swords the fight devolves to one-on-one anyway. A sword can only be wielded against one person at a time despite the antics of fantasy films. Now it is true that gladiators were trained to fight a single opponent but they didn't always do this. There were occaisions such as the 'wooden island' style fight where they fought multiple opponents at any one time. Gladiators didn't have any real advantage except for the level of training they received and they certainly weren't used to the chaos of a pitched battle.

 

Roman legions employed teamwork more effectively than barbarians, whose 'Yell loudly and charge like madmen' style of combat does have serious drawbacks.

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I think people in general, (maybe not so much those who take an academic interest in the RA, but still mainly in general), do have an image in thier minds of a roman army that wasnt really so.

 

No army is perfect and this is certainly so for the Romans, a perfect army would not result in endless battles to regain territory and the eventual breakdown of the western empire.

 

Like others before me have said, 'the roman army' was an entity that spanned over a thousand years. In the glory days it certainly had superior tactics and techniques than the barbarion armys. On of the main things that sticks out the the Roman calmsness, silently and solidly advancing across the field, forming an inpentitrable block that is backed up by the archers to the rear. In comparrison the enemy would charge in all horns blaring - the sight of a menacingly calm unit they were rushing towards would have been imposing.

 

As the army went into its 'late' stage, from about the second third century onwards, its appearance changed to a much more medievil one, and it was no longer military superiour to its enemies. They learned from years of defeat and were advancing their techniques and tactics all the time.

 

I have also read how the later roman army did not advnace into battle silently anymore, and people by this time were cutting off their thumbs to avoid being called up - the prosfession had obviously lost its glamour by this point!

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I think people in general, (maybe not so much those who take an academic interest in the RA, but still mainly in general), do have an image in thier minds of a roman army that wasnt really so.

 

No army is perfect and this is certainly so for the Romans, a perfect army would not result in endless battles to regain territory and the eventual breakdown of the western empire.

 

Like others before me have said, 'the roman army' was an entity that spanned over a thousand years. In the glory days it certainly had superior tactics and techniques than the barbarion armys. On of the main things that sticks out the the Roman calmsness, silently and solidly advancing across the field, forming an inpentitrable block that is backed up by the archers to the rear. In comparrison the enemy would charge in all horns blaring - the sight of a menacingly calm unit they were rushing towards would have been imposing.

 

As the army went into its 'late' stage, from about the second third century onwards, its appearance changed to a much more medievil one, and it was no longer military superiour to its enemies. They learned from years of defeat and were advancing their techniques and tactics all the time.

 

I have also read how the later roman army did not advnace into battle silently anymore, and people by this time were cutting off their thumbs to avoid being called up - the prosfession had obviously lost its glamour by this point!

 

Roman calmness? I wouldn't say so. Study the bas-reliefs on trajans column. There's some real hardened ferocity pictured there. I do understand what you mean, but please remember the legions were not an invincible military machine. They could be defeated and often were. Spartacus defeated a whole host of roman enemies for instance simply because the efficient order we expect wasn't there. Obedient certainly, but lacking inspiration. This comes back to what I said about amateur generals. Commanders were often political appointees earning their spurs or acting on career opportunities granted by their superiors. Only centurions were career officers.

 

The silence of the enemy advancing is less fearsome than you might imagine. In fact, that was mainly to facilitate verbal commands being heard. Face a crowd that sudeenly charges and screams their nuts off at you - your inclination is not to stand there believe me! - plus the momentum of their numbers rushing at you can penetrate your ranks very effectively. The silent ordered approach of an enemy also gives you time to prepare yourself mentally for the fight.

 

Think of a riot in modern terms, with romans as the police. With discipline they can hold back the crowd (which might not attack as a whole) but can be pushed aside if enough weight of numbers rushes as one. I know modern police have horses that more than compensate. Back then, so would the crowd.

 

The increasingly medieval appearance is the natural development of the arms race in that time, which was repeated in later centuries and as we know surpassed in terms of protective armour. The later roman army was far less 'roman' than previously. The weapons had changed, the soldiers had returned to cheaper chainmail, and barbarian influence was making itself felt.

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Those list of defeats are often the result of tactic inadequacies on the part of the general. When the Roman arms were put in the hand of a adept leader they are usually almost everything which we see them as. It's far easier to for us to remember Varus then Corbulo.

 

Training is a perishable commodity, good training during a campaign five years ago isn't much good if you've been sitting fat and happy since.

 

Not necessarily so. Often times we do see generals coming to the plate and turning some pampered or defeated legion into a disciplined and effective force through proper training. Corbulo's re-organizing the eastern legions for his Parthian campaign comes to mind, along with th younger Scipio's in Spain. For Corbulo, Tacitus does state that it was the relative peace of the empire which had hijacked the quality of the legion.

 

During the empirial high point it was no joke to be a legionary, you went through extensive training and drills which I could not imagine anyone forgetting completely; should a proper leader come by, he could kick back to shape any legion - ofcourse there were exceptions, the Praetorians often come to mind - with the right moves.

 

However the general himself forgetting the drills or simply leaving them out in order to be popular or the whole system simply forgetting or losing touch with old chores - Vegetius tells us that the Romans in his time didn't even make proper camps - will render a 5 year campaign pretty much worthless...

 

Don't be fooled though, the romans lost a lot of battles early on, not just in their declining years. They had to bribe the gauls to go away in the 390's BC. Hannibal repeatedly ruined roman prestige, and just to emphasise the point, more than one bandit on the loose ran rings around the generals sent against them.

 

If your going to take that loss from Livy's book, why not the hundreds of other victories gained against the various other people? What about the eventual climax of it all when the Roman army defeated a united army of Etruscans, Celts and Samnites?

 

The victories, mentioned in Livy, are few and far between and stand in deep constrast to the countless victories gained by the Romans nearly every campaign season. This is to such an extent that the chronology can be made by simply crecounting all the fields of the various people's the Romans destroyed, or the various populations enslaved and treaties signed.

 

Hannibal repeatedly ruined roman prestige, and just to emphasise the point, more than one bandit on the loose ran rings around the generals sent against them.

 

Because Hannibal was brilliant and a massive variable. He learned to downplay Rome's military advantage and expose it's weakeness in leadership. Not to mention the fact that the men who were defeated at Cannae were largely new and unseasoned recruits going against an army which had been fighting in Spain since Hamilcar's time.

 

The Romans' key strenghth was not that they won all the time, it was that when they fought, they fought until they won

 

I'm kind of confused about this topic, we seem to be jumping from Punic to Augustan constantly. Granted this may have been Rome's advantage during it's Punic era, but this was not the strategy of the Empirial, it couldn't be. The fact that Rome now had a massive empire that stretched thousands of miles and only so many men to guard everything meant that Rome had to be very careful with it's numbers. The single loss of a legion would have big impacts, the loss of three could very well mean complete abandonment of a territory. As long as Augustus could rely on the many client-states in it's border's the effects were not so severe, but once the empire's borders became increasinly fixed and the old system failed, the effects of a legion's complete destruction could be greatly felt.

Edited by Divi Filius

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Training is a perishable commodity, good training during a campaign five years ago isn't much good if you've been sitting fat and happy since.

 

Not necessarily so. Often times we do see generals coming to the plate and turning some pampered or defeated legion into a disciplined and effective force through proper training. Corbulo's re-organizing the eastern legions for his Parthian campaign comes to mind, along with th younger Scipio's in Spain. For Corbulo, Tacitus does state that it was the relative peace of the empire which had hijacked the quality of the legion.

 

During the empirial high point it was no joke to be a legionary, you went through extensive training and drills which I could not imagine anyone forgetting completely; should a proper leader come by, he could kick back to shape any legion - ofcourse there were exceptions, the Praetorians often come to mind - with the right moves.

 

However the general himself forgetting the drills or simply leaving them out in order to be popular or the whole system simply forgetting or losing touch with old chores - Vegetius tells us that the Romans in his time didn't even make proper camps - will render a 5 year campaign pretty much worthless...

 

Any army sat on its backside for 5 years isn't going to fight well. It just doesn't. Peace, fun, and relaxation do nothing for the fighting spirit. Modern armies understand that their men need motivation and caged aggression. You mention that a general might turn up and turn around these losers into a bunch of fighting fit heroes. Quite. Thats my point entirely. If they don't train - if they don't practice, if their life is too easy - they became soft. People are like that. Soldiers need a harsh regime and *constant* training to remain at their peek. If that general turns up and hones his men all well and good, but they'll only weaken if he goes away. That general really needed to find good centurions and put them to work doing what good centurions do best.

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Hm, however, Cadrail, even with all the defects of the Roman Army, in spite of all the battles that they lost, they almost always won the war in the end. In the end, the Samnites, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Macedonians, the Gauls, the Celts all ended under Roman Power, and not the other way around. If they really are that poor, then how then did they create an empire that spans the entire Mediterranean, and hold it for five centuries before succumbing? Their army would have to exceptional to create the empire, and make the empire last that long.

 

Sure, there are a lot of defeats, but it is not fair to mention those defeats without mentioning all the victories they had. If you make a list of all the battles that the Romans won, and all their defeats, did they have more defeats than victories? And how about decisive battles? How many decisive defeats did the Romans suffer, as opposed to decisive victories?

 

Pardon me, but your posts would make it seem that the Roman Army is a pathetic and weak collection of rabble that couldn't chew and spit gum at the same time. It's one thing to overestimate them, but another to severely underestimate them.

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Hm, however, Cadrail, even with all the defects of the Roman Army, in spite of all the battles that they lost, they almost always won the war in the end. In the end, the Samnites, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Macedonians, the Gauls, the Celts all ended under Roman Power, and not the other way around. If they really are that poor, then how then did they create an empire that spans the entire Mediterranean, and hold it for five centuries before succumbing? Their army would have to exceptional to create the empire, and make the empire last that long.

 

Sure, there are a lot of defeats, but it is not fair to mention those defeats without mentioning all the victories they had. If you make a list of all the battles that the Romans won, and all their defeats, did they have more defeats than victories? And how about decisive battles? How many decisive defeats did the Romans suffer, as opposed to decisive victories?

 

Pardon me, but your posts would make it seem that the Roman Army is a pathetic and weak collection of rabble that couldn't chew and spit gum at the same time. It's one thing to overestimate them, but another to severely underestimate them.

 

The roman army did not create the empire. They won enough victories to ensure that threats were eliminated where possible but the expansion was political as well as as military. It was mercantile as well violent.

 

Remember that for much of their reign the romans were at peace. A soldier could sign on, serve 25 years, and receive excellent health care whilst never seeing combat. Soldiers need to be kept busy or else you get trouble. Make no mistake, once you've trained a man to hardship and killing he needs something to do. All armies face this problem. A pathetic and weak collection of rabble that couldn't chew and spit gum at the same time? That describes every army that ever existed at one time or another. What makes an army cohesive and able is superior leadership, training, and esprit-de-corps. To a large extent the romans had that. Their centurions were professional career officers who were under no requirement to retire at all. That meant there was a body of experienced leaders who maintained the standards of legion behaviour. Unfortunately all too many of these men were corrupt, something the romans were never able to eradicate. It was endemic to their society and this affected the nature of the men under their command.

 

My point is not that the roman legions were poor. My point was that they were sometimes poor. That they did rebel, that they did lose a few battles, that they were not the efficient steamroller we like to believe. The romans liked to plug their victories loud and proud. Well so would we in their place. How often do we celebrate the battle of britain? That means we read of soldiers conquering right left and center. To some extent thats exactly what they did. They were far better organised than their enemies (or victims) and that gave them a huge advantage. An even bigger advantage, literally, is that the roman recruitment pool became so large that replacing losses was far easier than for others. The romans did take losses. The early battles of a campaign were often disasters until a better general was found than the amateur political appointee who had vaingloriously led them to embarrasement.

 

Look closer. Try to see the legionary as an individual rather than a cog in a ruthlessly effiecient killing machine. A man of humble birth has volunteered and found acceptable by the legions. He is taught drill, weaponry, and labouring. He must endure the privations of route marches and camps, in all weathers. He is expected to draw a sword and kill on command. He is cheated of his pay by his more experienced colleagues. Some he must use to bribe a centurion or be liable for some of the more undesirable fatigues. The rest he will spend on whores and booze when he gets the chance. If he is caught sleeping on guard, he faces terrible punishment. If he and his colleagues show cowardice, he may be called upon to beat a friend to death. This was a harsh regime designed to produce killers. It did.

 

However as I've said life in the legions wasn't always so grim. Duties were variable and assigned on a rota (sestercii allowing).

 

Would I severely underestimate them? No. But I would take careful note of who their commander was and the strategy he displayed.

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I utterly agree with Cadrail's points here. Simon Scarrow's excellent (IMHO) 'Eagle' novels illustrate these points very well. In a footnote he points out that, although in a pitched battle against a less disciplined foe the legion had an advantage, this advantage was not nearly as significant as that enjoyed by europeans in colonial wars of the 19th century. He takes pains to point out, through the narrative and in footnotes, that the main advantage was due to discipline, organised supply and enginering. Just like the british at Islandwhana, the legions, when deprived of this backup, were very vulnerable and had to fight the enemy on a much more equal footing.

 

As an aside, has anyone noticed the similarity of Simons characters to those in some of C.S. Forester's books? Cato and Macro are definitely Hornblower and Bush in Roman uniform!

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Unfortunately all too many of these men were corrupt, something the romans were never able to eradicate. It was endemic to their society and this affected the nature of the men under their command.

 

I don't know how much proof exists for there to be such a statement. Yea Centurions were often crooked -- the bribe issue settled by Otho comes to mind. But are we now to make these grand generalizations?

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