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caldrail

Why Romans Didn't Charge

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Actually what I find is that psychology is half the battle. Forgive for relating this tale again, but I remember a friend from the dark age re-enactment telling me about a set-to between one noble axemen against four lowly spearmen. The axe isn't wielded in a historical manner as an overhead strike can cause serious injuries (no suprise there!) so as a re-enactment weapon it may be correct to use one but its awkward and not popular. Strictly speaking all the spearmen had to do was surround the guy and close in. Instead, the axeman came over aggressive. he threw the axe from hand to hand and manfully taunted and threatened his opponents. He won.

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Caldrail's got a point. Battles never take place exactly according to statistics, as they do in your wargaming. There's far too much to take into consideration.

 

Wargaming is great fun, but has to be informed by what we know of the ancient world from the relevant sources - not the other way round. It can be a useful way to envisage how things happened and can give insights into why a general may have adopted a particular strategy (or more often, tactics), but it is dangerous to start arguing backwards the other way. Just because something works in a wargame does not mean it was done or that it was possible. It may just mean your particular set of wargames rules are wrong.

 

Phil Sidnell.

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Actually what I find is that psychology is half the battle. Forgive for relating this tale again, but I remember a friend from the dark age re-enactment telling me about a set-to between one noble axemen against four lowly spearmen. The axe isn't wielded in a historical manner as an overhead strike can cause serious injuries (no suprise there!) so as a re-enactment weapon it may be correct to use one but its awkward and not popular. Strictly speaking all the spearmen had to do was surround the guy and close in. Instead, the axeman came over aggressive. he threw the axe from hand to hand and manfully taunted and threatened his opponents. He won.

 

More than half I'd say. A huge part of the whole cavalry charging thing (which was the original point) is psychological and largely irrational. It must have been partly the apparently irrational recklessness of a group of men effectively riding on the back of a stampede of large, excited and frightened animals, that made a cavalry charge such a terrifying thing to face up to, even if the infantry did know logically that standing firm was their best defence.

 

 

Getting off topic now but a good set of wargaming rules does take psychological factors and chance (or those myriad of small factors that would defy prediction - Clausewitz's 'friction') into account. Any wargame so predictable as to say that in this situation this side would always receive 50% casualties and this 100% (quite apart from 100% casualties being very rare in any period) would quickly become tedious. The complexity and the interplay of multiple factors is what makes battles (and wargaming) so interesting (in my humble opinion). Try winning a wargame of the Battle of Granicus or Issus as Alexander, without having to resort to an 'Alexander wins because he's Alexander' rule and you'll see what I mean.

 

Phil

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your reply has no point of order, direction and reference way.

Yes it does. Its a generalised statement about battle tactics that holds true for any period.

 

could you kindly define which is which, soldier, centuria, maniple and agmen you are talking about.

I'm not that anal. Really, you're wasting your time trying to make these precise definitions. No army in the world could successfully organise themselves for victory they way you'd try to. Cavalry are mobile, infantry are slow. If the enemy retreats, its cavalry that can get there first and do the worst damage. Your infantry - any infantry - would have to run and sprint to get to the right place and catch them, even if they could. As a result, they become disordered and prone to counterattack by enemy cavalry. Sorry, but the idividual unit type of infantry is irrelevant.

 

could you tell your own battle story so we can digest it.

Yes I could, but I'd only be repeating the points I made in earlier posts on this thread.

 

Are you seriously a wargamer? The reason I ask is that your interpretation of roman tactics and deployment is at odds with everyone elses.

 

 

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111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.999.000

111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.999.000

 

 

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it is to simple

 

when Caesar 1 , 3, 2 cohors attacked Brutus 4, 5, 6 cohors,in single engagement , if ever they colapse.

 

Brutus's 1, 2 , 3, 7, 8, 9, 0 Cohors could remain intact , because there is mo battle engagement,

and can do an orderly withdrawal.

 

while Brutus's 4, 5, 6 could do a last effort to do a O square formation.

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Well thanks for letting us see that chart, but do you really expect a battle to proceed in a precise ordered way? Sorry, there are too many variables. You're assuming the units are lined up the way you suggest, that their paper strength is on the field, and that the generals think the same way you do. A specific instance is all very well but you cannot generalise from just one. I've just reviewed a book by a guy who's very knowledgeable about ancient warfare. He studied 700 battles in the ancient world to arrive at his conlucsions. No, please don't, one chart was enough.

 

The comments about wargames are well made gentlemen. It does depend on the relative emphasise the rules place on one thing or another and often reflects the personality of the author.

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I've just reviewed a book by a guy who's very knowledgeable about ancient warfare. He studied 700 battles in the ancient world to arrive at his conlucsions. No, please don't, one chart was enough.

 

The comments about wargames are well made gentlemen. It does depend on the relative emphasise the rules place on one thing or another and often reflects the personality of the author.

 

 

Of course, books, even well-founded on analysis of 700 battles, will also reflect the personality of the author in their conclusions. That's what keeps us all discussing this fascinating subject isn't it, there are few cast iron certainties and plenty of room for different approaches and opinions (which we should all be able to discuss calmly and politely).

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The review is on the homepage - Greek & Roman Warfare: Battles, Tactics, & Trickery by John Drogo Montagu.

 

There's a lot of misconceptions and false assumptions bandied about. They're often dearly held opnions and even if these people wish to discuss them, they don't actually like being told its wrong. Its the same psychological demeanour you get with religion. Believe this or not, I'm not here to preach a particular message. What I want is the truth of what happened two thousand years ago and from time to time I have to revise my opinions. But I won't do that unless the evidence is there. I've had an interest in military matters since I was a child, at one time an avid wargamer, yet its becoming apparent to me that I suffered from many misconceptions myself even though knowledgeable to a small degree. The truth about warfare is somewhat more practical and gritty than the romantic illusions portrayed by film and tv, which do influence us, and often a lot less heroic. Perhaps we should all be polite and calm. Unfortunately the real world isn't like that and occaisionally we get a little heated. After all, isn't that why wars occur in the first place?

Edited by caldrail

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No, I disagree. When an infantry unit does break and run cavalry is at its most effective. Soldiers who survive that situation should consider themselves very lucky. Infantry can pursue but if they do that they lose formation, and are therefore leaving themselves open to counterattack by cavalry without almost no defence. Infantry can only realistically protect themselves against enemy horsemen by standing together in tight formation. Also remember that the testudo formation is purely protective. It does not form an infantry 'tank' and the men involved need to do something else when they arrive at the enemy.

let's see this case Battle of Philippi, to proved that a breaking of the first battle line will not means total defeat,

unless until the colapse of the final battle line give way or been totally broken.

 

xxxxxxxx

first case:

 

Octavian was defeated in the battle and they retreated. they were not totally annihilated as you presume will happen.

 

"Brutus, though, had nearly equal success against Octavian and pushed his lines back.

Octavian was forced to flee his camp, taking refuge in a nearby marsh."

 

"As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left."

 

"Brutus managed to regroup and take command of Cassius' remaining army."

 

xxxxxxxxxx

second case:

 

"Antony assuredly reveled in his own victory but Brutus held his ground and delayed Antony's triumph."

here Anthony made a vigorous second attacked but was repulse by Brutus and force to withdraw.

 

"while Octavian was forced to retreat,"

 

At the Battle of 2nd Philippi

 

:Octavian commanded his own army.

 

This time they proved themselves up to the challenge, and the triumvir's army overran Brutus."

 

and finally:

 

"Octavian's forces captured Brutus' camp and they were atoned for their previous defeat.

The battle spelled the end of the Republican cause, and Brutus committed suicide on the following day. "

 

xxxxx

qouted from the unrv

 

Battle of Philippi

In 42 BC, Octavian and Antony combined their forces, 28 legions in total, and sailed across the Adriatic and into Greece.

 

The 'Liberators' Brutus and Cassius had 19 of their own legions, which were heavily supplemented by auxilia provided by eastern client kingdoms.

 

As Octavian's and Antony's armies arrived and assembled near Dyrrhachium, the site of Caesar's near defeat to Pompey 6 years earlier, Octavian battled with his own poor health. Often described as a sickly youth, he was apparently stricken with a terrible illness just as the fate of the Roman world was about to be decided. Antony, however, likely saw a grand opportunity to win a great victory for his own cause without being forced to share any credit with his young fellow triumvir and rival. As Antony marched his army east towards the Macedonian - Thracian and border and confrontation with the enemy, Octavian had no choice but to follow, despite his illness, or risk being left out of the battle to revenge his adoptive father.

 

On October 3, the two armies drew up near the Macedonian town of Philippi.

 

Cassius commanded the left wing of the Republican forces directly across from Antony

while Brutus confronted Octavian's army with the right wing.

 

As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left.

 

Brutus, though, had nearly equal success against Octavian and pushed his lines back.

Octavian was forced to flee his camp, taking refuge in a nearby marsh.

 

Cassius' defeat was significant and yet the entire affair could've been stabilized by Brutus's success.

Cassius though was certainly unaware of his ally's good fortune and decided to take his own life,

 

Brutus managed to regroup and take command of Cassius' remaining army.

 

Antony assuredly reveled in his own victory

while Octavian was forced to retreat,

but Brutus held his ground and delayed Antony's triumph.

 

On October 23, perhaps losing the confidence of his men, or willing to risk a final last ditch effort at victory,

 

Brutus launched an attack.

 

At the Battle of 2nd Philippi,

Octavian was seemingly recovered from his illness and commanded his own army.

He and his men were certainly embarrassed by their defeat just 3 weeks earlier and

were prepared to give a better account. This time they proved themselves up to the challenge,

and the triumvir's army overran Brutus.

 

Octavian's forces captured Brutus' camp and they were atoned for their previous defeat.

The battle spelled the end of the Republican cause, and Brutus committed suicide on the following day.

 

A great number of those involved in the plot against Caesar also lost their lives at Philippi and

Octavian was brutal in exacting vengeance. Though some escaped to join with Sextus Pompey in his Sicilian stronghold.

 

After the battles, Octavian marched his army back to Italy.

 

In light of the altered state of the Roman world, the triumvirs realigned their positions.

Antony received the entire east as his new territory, yet retained Transalpine Gaul.

Octavian now moved into the second position among.

Lepidus, clearly relegated to third on the list, was moved to Africa.

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But all you've written here is a general account of the battle. I'm not sure what your point is or how that relates to roman cavalry tactics. If you're suggesting that infantry can cause havoc with opposing infantry, then yes, I agree wholeheartedly, thats happened in innumerable battles before and since Phillipi. That does not counteract what is considered standard cavalry tactics in that horsemen are far better suited to pursuing than men on foot.

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That does not counteract what is considered standard cavalry tactics in that horsemen

are far better suited to pursuing than men on foot.

then why Anthony did not do it, to send all his cavalry to pursue the retreating Cassius Army.

because it is not the standard way to exposed your cavalry to be harm unnecessarilly.

"As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left."

 

 

even Brutus did not do it, to send his precious cavalry to give the killing blow to Octavian men.

"Brutus, though, had nearly equal success against Octavian and pushed his lines back."

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then without poiting fingers, let us do some possible scenario of the Battle of Philippi.

 

let us be clear that it is only threoritical scenario:

 

 

 

first case:Anthony versus Cassius

 

let us presuppose Anthony have 14 Roman legio against Cassius 8 Roman Legio and 4 Allies legio.

Cassius was on the top of monitor or imaginary north.

 

here each group of figure and letter now represent a legio:

_________________________________________________________________________________________

figure 1

 

before the battle begin each army"s formation

 

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

 

 

 

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111.

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

figure 2

 

as the battle engagement begin

 

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111.

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111

 

"As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left."

 

__________________________________________________________________________________________

 

figure 3

 

as the battle develop Anthony out manuever Cassius by making a bold flanking attack

 

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.ccc.ddd.

111.222.333.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.333.222.111.

111.222.333.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.333.222.111.

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111.

...................444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.

...................444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.

 

"As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left."

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

figure 3

 

as the battle are now finally exacting it's toll to Republican men, Cassius was force to retreat

 

......aaa.bbb.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.

...................111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.

 

111.222.333....................................................333.222.111.

111.222.333.111.222.333.444.555.666.777.888.333.222.111.

111.222.333.444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.222.111.

...................444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.

...................444.000.999.888.777.666.555.444.333.

 

"As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left."

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Cassius retreated babrely saving 6 Roman legio men in number. in shame of defeat,even though he save enough men.

"Cassius though was certainly unaware of his ally's good fortune and decided to take his own life,"

Edited by roman wargamer

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RW, command on the battlefield is not a precise science. It isn't like a game of chess where both sides have the same pieces and both know each others strengths and weaknesses. In chess, you can only lose. Why? Because you have no advantage over the opposing player. In warfare, there are so many factors that determine success or failure. The most important is the personality of the man handing out orders. A brash adventurous type like Caesar throws everything on the roll of a dice - he gambles - and that sort of personality often wins becaue he's prepared to risk all. On the other hand, you might steady cautious types who know their forces but always hold something back in reserve, just in case. You get those who assume the enemy cannot think of anything clever to counteract their deployments. Battles are often won by men who think on their feet and adapt to circumstance, and certainly these quick thinkers prevent disasters by doing so. I'm not sure why you feel Philippi is so important with regard to cavalry tactics.

 

As for the reasons why Antony and Cassius didn't use their cavalry, could I point out that they didn't have hordes of horsemen to do this? Also that the cavalry would have been out on the wings to deal with opposing cavalry, and that the cavalry that won the initial confrontation would attempt to outflank the enemy and strike his flank or rear, thus being in a perfect place to pursue if required? No ancient general worth his salt was going to waste his horsemen on fruitless head-on charges in the center. That would trap his cavalry in the center of the field and in some circumstances might even find them encircled. Cavalry have a major advantage in mobility which is better left to the flanks. Remember also that ancient cavalry were required to use their initiative rather more than the footsloggers because they were expected to operate beyond the convenient range of message-bearers.

 

Cavalry in the ancient world are at a premium. There's a short supply of them. Horses are expensive creatures after all. Romans took horses on charge from three years old and only after they had passed the requirements for health and temperament. A docile nag was useless to the legions. The romans themselves have no native talent for cavalry action, and employ auxillaries from provinces or foreign lands who do. Losses in battle are therefore difficult to replace, so the cavalry want freedom to fight in their own way. The romans were sensible enough to allow them to do this. Remember Tacitus telling us that its not cowardly for cavalry to retreat and regroup.

 

You can analyse a particular battle to your hearts content RW (and I do admire your tenacity) but isn't that giving you a biased picture? However much information you have on this battle how can you be sure the sources are 100% accurate? Most accounts of ancient battles are by people who weren't there, and the more literary generals are prone to exaggeration of their own part.

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I would wholly agree with your assessment, caldrail. The Romans always relied on their infantry to achieve victory over their enemies and cavalry was an essential part no doubt of their overall military strategy / tactics but it was never used to charge head on with a solid body of infantry, as you have pointed out.

 

It was mainly used to protect the flanks and counter attack any enemy cavalry movement. The Romans also used cavalry to enforce a general rout by pursuing and cutting down fleeing enemy warriors who had broken away from their formation or herding them to positions where their disciplined infantry could finish them off.

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There is one ancient battle where cavalry did face off in the center. That was Leuctra, in 371BC, where the thebans triumphed over a more numerous spartan army. Both sides launched cavalry action ahead of the infantry in the center. The spartan cavalry, apparently none too impressive to begin with, fell back and were trapped by their own infantry and unable to leave, thus encircled. This was an exception to the general rule and backs my point about the hazards of deploying cavalry without enough freedom of action.

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