Greek and Roman military traditions

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This lesson will introduce you to the military terminology used in ancient Greece and Rome and will contain practical examples and scenarios so that if you happen to land in an ancient Roman or Greek battlefield, you'll know what to do.

The Greek Warfare[edit | edit source]

The Greeks are known to be the cradle of western civilization - they are the ones that gave us works such as Plato's the Republic, Homer's Odyssey and numerous other works. But they innovated a great deal in the subject of warfare as well, they created the phalanx formation; this was adapted to the Macedonian Phalanx which Alexander the Great used to conquer the previously superior Persian Empire.

The Hoplite Phalanx[edit | edit source]

The classical phalanx formation is composed of usually 8 ranks of varying numbers of men, some phalanxes were even deeper - up to 50 ranks in a exceptional battle. The phalanx formation was designed the following way: the soldiers were held closely together each holding the shield before him and slightly to the left.The result was a heavy juggernaut, a mass of tightly packed soldiers all marching, totally shielded from their opponents by both their shields and their fellow soldiers shields. Each were equipped with long spears protruding 2-7 yards before them. In addition, not only the first line projected its spears forward, but the next ones as well, each in a slightly bigger angle which made the formation even more formidable. And yet, there were two great disadvantages, first; such a formation could crush anything that it met with straight ahead of it, but not anything that attacked it from the flank, or rear. When they marched on an unstable terrain --everything that isn't a dry flat plain on a sunny day-- the close formation exercised during battle and the cumbersome spears that made it practically impossible to change the direction the formation faced, even if one soldier lost his footing on a stone the whole formation would be out of order and most likely fail. The second disadvantage was that the Greek city-states who used the phalanx loved to fight between themselves, so in almost all cases, the phalanx might be fearsome, but the enemy had the exact same ideas as well as training.

The Roman Warfare[edit | edit source]

The Romans grew from a village in rural Italy to an Empire, that we owe to as much as we owe the Greek, and perhaps even more. They grew for one reason - their military. And this will be examined in the coming sections. Remember though - the Gauls sacked Rome in 400 BC, and so we have no preliminary sources for anything before that time, which is the Roman kingdom and the early Roman, and even so the earliest "reliable" preliminary source is Livy - who was born in 59 BC. This does not apply to Greeks before 59 BC.

The First (and Second) Legion[edit | edit source]

Romulus - the founder of Rome, instituted the first legion in the Roman history - a legion composed of exactly 3,301 men - 3,000 infantrymen and 300 cavalry each third from each of the founding tribes of Rome. We are almost totally positive that this estimate is wrong. And yet we know that the first Roman legion had a few of the strategic qualities of the latter legions.

The Pre-Marian Legion[edit | edit source]

After the sack of Rome by the Gauls, who was preceeded by a distarous defeat of the entire Roman army against the Gauls in Allia, led to the creation of what I will reffer to as the pre-Marian legion, a legion composed of three lines of soldeirs with varying quality and of support troops, called a maniple. The maniple was layed out in a checkerboard formation designed to easily traverse the hilly landscape of Samnia.

The Marian reforms[edit | edit source]

Gaius Marius was a Roman stateman in the 1st century BC, he was the one who as a consul (there were two consuls, each elected for a term of a year who were the highest authority in Rome)totally changed the face of the Roman army - before him, a soldier had to own alot of property, be of a high class and supply his own weapons and armor, only to qualify for a soldier. Marius allowed the landless masses to become soldeirs, and as this option offered them a permanent pay and a modest living, many joined the army. In addition and accordence to this he eliminated the previous system of a three line battlion, instead he instituted ten cohorts composing each legion with additional nonc-combatent troops, each cohort was composed of six centurias of 80 men each,with each centuria being a unit in itself, with its own supplies and arms. Each centuria was further divided into eight units of contubernia whos only function was that each contubernia slept in the same tent. The first line in the Marian legion was made up of Hastati. Hastati were the youngest men in the army and therefore having the most stamina, which was perfect for a front line. Hastati carried two throwing spears or Hasta, a Gladius, a dagger, and a heavy shield or Scutum. The second line in the Marian legion was made of Principes. Principes were essentially Hastati, except they were the veterans of the battlefield. The third line in the Marian legion consisted of Triarii. Triarii were the closest Rome would come to a Phalanx. Triarii carried long spears used effectively against all enemy units. The fourth line in the Marian legion was made up of Velites. Velites carried many small throwing spears and would rain volleys of spears down on the enemy. The last line of Marius' legion was the cavalry. They were called Equites because of Romulus' original army. In Romulus' time, Equite was the name for the richest people in Rome. Only the rich could afford horses because back then, everyone had to buy their own weapons and armor.

The Quality of the Roman Legion[edit | edit source]

The Qualities of the pre-Marian Roman Legion[edit | edit source]

The early Roman army was composed entirely of citizens, some without any experience and almost no equipment and some soldiers with the best equipment in Rome and years and years of fighting behind them. The citizens were organized at first into six tribunes who served under the general, usually the king. Most soldiers were javlin-throwers, others were archers. The legionaries were arranged into three lines, with the addition of cavalry companies (equites, coming from the Latin word for horse - equus) and velites - light troops who were used to skirmish the enemy and screen the main line. The three main lines of the legion were (from youngest to most experienced)- Hastati, principes and Triarii. The Hastati would be the first line, advancing after the velites attached to them harassed the enemy and retreated, they would engage the enemy and if they failed to break it they would retreat behind the principes line who would then advance on the enemy, if it failed the triarii would advance forward, as the last resort. Behind the triarii the rorarii and accensi stood, the poorest troops, armed only with slings who were used in a support role mainly and probably either never saw battle or were used as one-time cannon fodder. The most obvious question about this tactic is - "why should the Roman general use his greatst resource - the trairii only as the last resort and not as the first line who would probably crush the enemy?" the answer is that first, the triarii, if used, would face an enemy which no matter how superior it was has by now faced two waves of javlines, two waves of charging sufficiently armed and armoured soldiers, one of which is experienced, and constantly being flanked by units of cavalry, any force would then fall to a vetren force using the best equipment Rome had to offer. Second, if the trairii would always fight as the first line then the other soldeirs would never become expirenced enough to be the next generation of the trairii.

The Post-Marian Legion[edit | edit source]

The military is now compromised of professional soldiers training everyday and building camps at night.

The infantry classes now have similar equipment with equal quality.

The infantry is trained to fight in formations and not as individual fighters.

The Romans feared the forest as the Romans needed time to deploy into formations and a sudden attack on the Romans could potentiality lead to a massacre.

They were very vulnerable on the march and so relied on allied cavalry to scout the surroundings and spies to get knowledge of the villages in the surroundings on the public opinion of the Romans.

Auxiliary troops archers slingers light infantry cavalry would come from non romans from people that specialised in other traditions than the roman infantry core this made the roman war machine extremely formidable as it had almost no weakness.

The romans knew how to siege cities they had taken greed artillery pieces and improved them.

one key character the romans had was that they didnt care about casualties as long as they won the war.

they didn't send soldiers to die unnecessarily but if 1 soldiers trows 2 pila kills 2 enemy soldiers and remember that the pila went tru shield and armour meaning even veteran soldiers of the enemy would be just as vulnerable as a raw recruit.

the soldier then draws his sword and puts his shield in front of him the gauls attack in the last moment the romans in the first line strikes the enemy with his shield he then raises his shield goes under the shield and stabs the enemy in the stomach he then goes to the side the soldiers in the 2 row steps in the enemy retreats then soldiers in the first row rotates and places themselves in the last line this meant that the enemy would always figth rested soldiers.

The Late Imperial Legion[edit | edit source]

The Roman Military Tradition[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]