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Who were the infantry 'Elite' of the Repubican army?

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Elite in the social/class sense it was the Triarii since veterans of numerous campaign's were likely to be wealth individuals.

 

However when I say 'Elite' I mean in the combat sense. Who were or were considered the most effective in battle?

 

This question stems from a thread in a forum a while back. The forum was the Rome Total Realism forum a group of modders who altered the original Rome Total War game to make it more historically accurate. Basically the Triarii units in the game were given higher attack and defence than the Principes making them more effective in battle.

 

In the group there was a very out spoken individual who went to great pains to try and convince everyone else that it was the Principes who were the 'Elite' on the battle field and not the Triarii.

 

The out spoken individual explained that the Triarii were a reserve and Principes were the soldiers in there prime sent in at crucial moments to turn the tide of battle and there for should have greater stats than the Triarii.

 

I was wondering what is the forum opinion on this matter and historically is there any source or account that identifies either the Triarii or Principes as the elite/crack infantry of the republican army.

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The veteran legionaries were the triarii. There was a saying when things were going poorly that it was down to the triarii. Generally, the velites (skirmishers) commenced activities; retreated through the lines and then the principes took over.

 

Sorry! That should have been Hastati instead of Principes.

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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The republican armies didn't organise their troops by status, they did so according to experience. Hastatii in front were the least experienced and therefore the most expendable. The Principes were experienced and second. The triarii were the veterans and bolstered the line by being placed behind, where they were also conserved unitl the last moment. Those soldiers who did achieve elite status were given recognition by other means. Cronae (medals) for instance, or were grouped into a smaller category of those considered the best, but the organisation of the republican armies did not reflect this status.

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The republican armies didn't organise their troops by status,

Salve, amici.

Here comes Titus Livius explaining the military provisions of the Servius Tullius' Constitution (Annales, Libri I, Ch. XLII-XLIII):

 

"...posterity might celebrate Servius as the founder of all distinction among the members of the state, and of those orders by which a limitation is established between the degrees of rank and fortune. For he instituted the census, a most salutary measure for an empire destined to become so great, according to which the services of war and peace were to be performed, not by every person, (indiscriminately,) as formerly, but in proportion to the amount of property. Then he formed, according to the census, the classes and centuries, and the arrangement as it now exists, eminently suited either to peace or war.

 

Of those who had an estate of a hundred thousand asses or more, he made eighty centuries, forty of seniors and forty of juniors. All these were called the first class, the seniors were to be in readiness to guard the city, the juniors to carry on war abroad. The arms enjoined them were a helmet, a round shield, greaves, and a coat of mail, all of brass; these were for the defence of their body; their weapons of offence were a spear and a sword. To this class were added two centuries of mechanics, who were to serve without arms; the duty imposed upon them was to carry the military engines.

The second class comprehended all whose estate was from seventy-five to a hundred thousand asses, and of these, seniors and juniors, twenty centuries were enrolled. The arms enjoined them were a buckler instead of a shield, and except a coat of mail, all the rest were the same.

He appointed the property of the third class to amount to fifty thousand asses; the number of centuries was the same, and formed with the same distinction of age, nor was there any change in their arms, only greaves were taken from them.

In the fourth class, the property was twenty-five thousand asses, the same number of centuries was formed: the arms were changed, nothing was given them but a spear and a long javelin.

The fifth class was increased, thirty centuries were formed; these carried slings and stones for throwing. Among them were reckoned the horn-blowers, and the trumpeters, distributed into three centuries. This whole class was rated at eleven thousand asses.

Property lower than this comprehended all the rest of the citizens, and of them one century was made up which was exempted from serving in war. Having thus divided and armed the infantry, he levied twelve centuries of knights from among the chief men of the state. Likewise out of the three centuries, appointed by Romulus, he formed other six under the same names which they had received at their first institution."

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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The Tullian constitution is from the Regal period. Polybius is a much better source for the Republican army.

 

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roma...olybius/6*.html

 

Regardless, there is some emphasis on class... Velites being not only the youngest (inexperienced) but also the poorest (Velites needing the least amount of equipment)... and non property owners were still largely excluded until the second punic war. However, organizationally, experience was the key, not necessarily class.

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The Tullian constitution is from the Regal period. Polybius is a much better source for the Republican army.

 

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roma...olybius/6*.html

 

Regardless, there is some emphasis on class... Velites being not only the youngest (inexperienced) but also the poorest (Velites needing the least amount of equipment)... and non property owners were still largely excluded until the second punic war. However, organizationally, experience was the key, not necessarily class.

The Tullian or Servian Constitution was from the Late Regal period, and Polybius wrote more than three centuries later, at the Middle Republic.

 

I don't know how long were the provisions of the Servian Constitutiion still observed at the early Republic.

 

Besides, Polybius didn't deny status stratification, and he even gave us some hints (Libri VI, Ch. XIX):

 

"... with the exception of those whose census is under four hundred drachmae, all of whom are employed in naval service."

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I don't know how long were the provisions of the Servian Constitutiion still observed at the early Republic.

 

Besides, Polybius didn't deny status stratification, and he even gave us some hints (Libri VI, Ch. XIX):

 

"... with the exception of those whose census is under four hundred drachmae, all of whom are employed in naval service."

 

True enough, we can't deny the function of class in the earliest phalanx structure, but for the purposes of this thread - identifying the elite units of the Republican army - I was operating under the impression that we are discussing the more defined legionary functionality of the middle Republic. In this period, experience played a more important role than class status alone. (I am not by any means suggesting that class did not play a role though.) A member of the first class certainly would not have found himself fighting in the velites regardless of his experience, but he would have started in the Hastatii, not the Principes or Triarii.

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However when I say 'Elite' I mean in the combat sense. Who were or were considered the most effective in battle?

 

I don't think that they had 'elite' troopers in the sense of Seals or Special Forces, but they did have men who were adept at certain military tasks in an informal fashion.

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However when I say 'Elite' I mean in the combat sense. Who were or were considered the most effective in battle?

 

I don't think that they had 'elite' troopers in the sense of Seals or Special Forces, but they did have men who were adept at certain military tasks in an informal fashion.

Even form the early Republic (Battle of Lake Regillus, circa CCLVIII AUC / 596 BC), Titus Livius mentioned something analogous (Ab Urbe Condita, Libri II, Ch. XX)

 

"When the Dictator Postumius saw that one of his principal officers had fallen, and that the exiles were rushing on furiously in a compact mass whilst his men were shaken and giving ground, he ordered his own cohort - a picked force who formed his bodyguard - to treat any of their own side whom they saw in flight as enemy."

 

This was the embryo for the Praetoria Cohors, a select troop which attended the person of the praetor or general of the Roman army, probably first formed by Scipio Africanus out of the bravest troops, whom he exempted from all other duties except guarding his person, and to whom he gave sixfold pay (Festus, quoted by Smith's Dictionary).

 

Here comes an example quoted by G. Sallustius, (Bellum Catilinae, Ch. LX, sec. V):

" When Petreius saw that Catiline was making so p127much stronger a fight than he had expected, he led his praetorian cohort against the enemy's centre, threw them into confusion, and slew those who resisted in various parts of the field; then he attacked the rest on both flanks at once."

 

They were greatly increased during the civil wars; the X legion was the choice from Caesar.

 

Eventually, they evolved into the notorious Imperial Praetorian Guard from Augustus onwards.

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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The republican armies didn't organise their troops by status,

Salve, amici.

Here comes Titus Livius explaining the military provisions of the Servius Tullius' Constitution (Annales, Libri I, Ch. XLII-XLIII):

 

Of those who had an estate of a hundred thousand asses or more, he made eighty centuries, forty of seniors and forty of juniors. All these were called the first class, the seniors were to be in readiness to guard the city, the juniors to carry on war abroad.

 

The second class comprehended all whose estate was from seventy-five to a hundred thousand asses, and of these, seniors and juniors, twenty centuries were enrolled.

 

He appointed the property of the third class to amount to fifty thousand asses; the number of centuries was the same, and formed with the same distinction of age, nor was there any change in their arms, only greaves were taken from them.

 

In the fourth class, the property was twenty-five thousand asses, the same number of centuries was formed:

 

Property lower than this comprehended all the rest of the citizens, and of them one century was made up which was exempted from serving in war.

 

This is division by wealth, not status, although I accept that roman terms its hard to seperate the two. A point I must raise is that the army raised by Servius was not permanent - as with all earlier roman armies, it was a levy of available citizens at the time. Now Servius does therefore allocate men with some regard to status for that reason, but the prevailing trend of such levied armies was to take account of experience. The most experienced men were in the last rank to bolster the line and conserve that precious experience until required. This is known to be a policy of roman organisation and regarding Servius' classification of troops by wealth, is this a 'one-off' situation or are there other examples of such division?

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Before Marius the elite might have been the local warriors not the romans themselves. In theory a new recruit could be far better than a veteran triarii member, only age and experience would cahnge the ability. I would think in battle as everyone was formed a giant working grinder and everyone did the same pattern of movement and defending that it didn't really matter if you were a better soldier than the man next to you.

 

vtc

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Before Marius the elite might have been the local warriors not the romans themselves. In theory a new recruit could be far better than a veteran triarii member, only age and experience would cahnge the ability. I would think in battle as everyone was formed a giant working grinder and everyone did the same pattern of movement and defending that it didn't really matter if you were a better soldier than the man next to you.

 

Oh no....

 

No, before Marius the elite were either wealthier or more experienced as warriors depending on the demands of who raised the army in the first place.

 

A new recruit is unlikely to be better than an experienced soldier. It just doesn't work like that. True, there were capable warriors from barbarian lands and sometimes men from italy were born with a talent for violence, but experience breeds confidence. Try it. Walk up to a calm tough guy and tell him you want a fight. Chances are you'll lose - because he has experience and confidence in his ability to beat the crap out of you. Experience is a vital commodity in warfare, I cannot stress that enough.

 

Working as a team does not mean that your own ability as a soldier is irrelevant. Far from it. A better man can aid his mates, inspire them even, and raises the average skill level. The modern british army has a recruitment slogan - "Be the best". They mean it. Individual prowess is important as an example to those who don't quite meet expectations or are still training, never mind their effectiveness on the battlefield. You want an example of individual proess? Read about Horatio on the Tiber Bridge. That man single-handedly defended a bridge against an invading army until his mates could break the bridge and prevent the crossing. Given some exaggeration for ancient sources, thats still an awesome effort by a very capable man.

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Since there's some confusion arising from a quote from Livy, I feel its necessary to understand the differences between earlier roman armies. The pre-Marius armies went through three major stages. The first was theTribal Army which is the origin of the levied legion. Then followed the Servian Army, a hoplite citizen force copied from the etruscans, then the Polybian Army, the Consular or Manipular Army that served until the reforms of Marius.

 

Of those who had an estate of a hundred thousand asses or more, he made eighty centuries, forty of seniors and forty of juniors. All these were called the first class, the seniors were to be in readiness to guard the city, the juniors to carry on war abroad. The arms enjoined them were a helmet, a round shield, greaves, and a coat of mail, all of brass; these were for the defence of their body; their weapons of offence were a spear and a sword. To this class were added two centuries of mechanics, who were to serve without arms; the duty imposed upon them was to carry the military engines.

The second class comprehended all whose estate was from seventy-five to a hundred thousand asses, and of these, seniors and juniors, twenty centuries were enrolled. The arms enjoined them were a buckler instead of a shield, and except a coat of mail, all the rest were the same.

He appointed the property of the third class to amount to fifty thousand asses; the number of centuries was the same, and formed with the same distinction of age, nor was there any change in their arms, only greaves were taken from them.

In the fourth class, the property was twenty-five thousand asses, the same number of centuries was formed: the arms were changed, nothing was given them but a spear and a long javelin.

The fifth class was increased, thirty centuries were formed; these carried slings and stones for throwing. Among them were reckoned the horn-blowers, and the trumpeters, distributed into three centuries. This whole class was rated at eleven thousand asses.

Property lower than this comprehended all the rest of the citizens, and of them one century was made up which was exempted from serving in war. Having thus divided and armed the infantry, he levied twelve centuries of knights from among the chief men of the state. Likewise out of the three centuries, appointed by Romulus, he formed other six under the same names which they had received at their first institution."

This is a quote from Livy. It refers to the Servian army rather than one of manipular organisation of three ranks of hastatii, principes, and triarii.

 

Traditionally the romans adopted a hoplite army during the Servian reforms. Servius Tullius was the sixth king of Rome (578-534 BC) and whilst there's some doubt he even existed, he is traditionally the man who organised Rome according to wealth, something that lasted throughout the Republic. Therefore there's also doubt on his achievements, because Servius is given credit for every move considered a basis for the Republic since, and for instance the 'Servian' Wall, the first defensive work around the city of Rome, could not have been built by him because archaeology has dated it to the 4th century BC.

 

According to the story, the Etruscans had noted that their treaty with the Latins had expired, and they decided to make war on them considering the unstable political situation in the court of Servius. Etrusca was already fielding a hoplite army and the romans knew of the hoplite system from greek colonies in Italy. Servius ensured that Rome adopted the hoplite system too, and we know that a army of this kind was in existence by the 4th century, although its likely that the conflict with Etrusca had brought the hoplite system to Rome by the mid-6th century BC.

 

Part and parcel of the hoplite system is that it represents a citizens army, graded according to the ability of a man to purchase his arms and armour. Therefore we would expect the best equipped men to be the most scarce, and the bulk of the soldiers to have a bare minimum. The classification of the Servian army as given is based on the work of Livy and Dionysius, who agree apart from minor points. The problem for miltary historians is that the classification is heavily biased toward the wealthiest class with heavy infantry in the first three classes, meaning that the most wealthy people in Rome prior to the 6th century were the most numerous, something at odds with the norm for human societies. Both Livy and Dionysius it appears were working from the same information when they recorded the Servian army and they had assumed that each of the census classes had formed a line in the army, something which is difficult to accept militarily because of the tactical restrictions.

 

One suggestion is that they used the structure of the Comitia Centuriata, an important voting assembly that preserved traces of an earlier military organisation, and reverse engineered the organisation of the Servian army from that, given that they probably had no other information. In fact, the romans had moved from a prototype manipular legion (The word legion is derived from 'levy', a temporary army raised for defence of Rome) to a more democratic hoplite form in response to outside threat from the Etruscans. In other words, it's more likely that the Servian reforms actually introduced a single military class able to equip themselves as hoplites, whilst the remainder took to the field as light support troops, the divisions of the Comitia Centuriata reflecting the intense class awareness of later romans.

 

The army created by Servius is said to have been 40 centuries strong, later expanded to 60. Although the numbers aren't disputed, the timing is, but the expansion to sixty centuries is likely to have occured by the start of the Republic (509BC tradionally). Livy tells us that military pay was introduced for the first time, this done in all likeliehood to relieve the burden of equipping troops for a ten year war against against the Etruscans 406-396BC that ended with the siege of Veii. This was not a permanent feature of roman miltary life until later, since the army was disbanded (like all citizen armies) at the end of the war.

 

There is no reliable source for roman military organisation until the mid-republic.

 

To answer the question about the elite nature of soldiers, military experience was a part of roman culture, an expected rite of manhood and political credibility. Therefore, a man with more military experience might expect to have more respect than his less experienced peers. For that reason, triarii have a higher status than the other ranks, but aren't considred elite in themselves. The romans had elite soldiers within the legion, most often applied to the first cohort which was supposed to be the best, but the status of triarii arises from their experience and not wealth or any assumed social class.

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To answer the question about the elite nature of soldiers, military experience was a part of roman culture, an expected rite of manhood and political credibility. Therefore, a man with more military experience might expect to have more respect than his less experienced peers. For that reason, triarii have a higher status than the other ranks, but aren't considred elite in themselves. The romans had elite soldiers within the legion, most often applied to the first cohort which was supposed to be the best, but the status of triarii arises from their experience and not wealth or any assumed social class.

 

And what do you think about the selected soldiers mentioned by Livius and Sallustius (Post #10 of this thread)?

 

Would they qualify as "elite" in a more conventional way?

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