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Thread: A Roman Army versus William the Conquerors Norman Army?

  1. #1

    Default A Roman Army versus William the Conquerors Norman Army?

    HI ALL
    Recently i was talking to a couple of my RTW friends on steam about the Battle of Hastings ,and how William the conquerors army was a professional army with elite cavalry ,then one of them said he wondered how a Roman army from maybe a thousand years before Hastings would do against Williams professional army ,we thought the Roman throwing Pilas could make the difference , BUT maybe Williams elite heavily armored cavalry would make the difference ,plus there effective against Armour cross bow bolts ,and also Williams steel shields and swords could make a difference to ,in the end we could not really decide who would win if these two armies ever met each other in battle.

    I think playing RTW since it first came out, plus reading a lot on Roman weapons ,Armour and tactics, i think the Roman army may have the edge....i just wondered what all of you think about this ?.

  2. #2

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    IMO, William's army would win.

    Roman legionaries didn't have much arm/leg armour, or face protection, so William's sergeants and footmen were better armoured.

    William's cavalry would also have been more heavily armoured.

    Get a picture of a roman legionary, then an 11th century knight. Note the difference.

    Going purely off equipment, I'd say William. William was also a great general, meanwhile Roman generals could either be fantastic or awful, so again, I'd put my money on William.


    Now, according to Wikipedia, William's army at Hastings was 7,000-12,000 men strong. A Roman legion was around 5,200 men and 120 auxiliaries in the Imperial period. William could have easily had twice as many men as a legion. So, numbers wise, again I'd bet on William.

    The Romans had great tactics etc, but they wouldn't have been well equipped enough, or used to Medieval warfare. The Byzantines stopped using legionaries and comitatenses well before Hastings, so the Romans would have been pretty obsolete by then.

    So, yes, William would have won.

  3. #3

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Creepcruncher View Post
    IMO, William's army would win.

    Roman legionaries didn't have much arm/leg armour, or face protection, so William's sergeants and footmen were better armoured.

    William's cavalry would also have been more heavily armoured.

    Get a picture of a roman legionary, then an 11th century knight. Note the difference.

    Going purely off equipment, I'd say William. William was also a great general, meanwhile Roman generals could either be fantastic or awful, so again, I'd put my money on William.


    Now, according to Wikipedia, William's army at Hastings was 7,000-12,000 men strong. A Roman legion was around 5,200 men and 120 auxiliaries in the Imperial period. William could have easily had twice as many men as a legion. So, numbers wise, again I'd bet on William.

    The Romans had great tactics etc, but they wouldn't have been well equipped enough, or used to Medieval warfare. The Byzantines stopped using legionaries and comitatenses well before Hastings, so the Romans would have been pretty obsolete by then.

    So, yes, William would have won.
    ok even with superior metalurgy(not that superior) i really doubt that 12000 could beat for exemple Augustus 25 of legions ~5,000 men each (total 125,000).

  4. #4
    Samittaja's Avatar Libertus
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    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    I think it is in the spirit of the questions like these to assume both sides having about equal numbers, and armies large enough in order to reduce the effect of chance. I would also want to consider both sides at their best as well, so it is a Norman army vs post-Marian legion(s) of the late republican / early imperial era.

    I would prefer comparing these armies with something that happened in real life.

    The Romans dominated in both land and naval warfare. But it seems to me that heavy cavalry causes them some problems: the disastrous battle of Carrhae is an excellent example from their military golden age. The heavy cavalry wasn't very common during this time because large warhorses weren't too common and there was serious lack of certain items (such as stirrups) that make melee cavalry actually useful. The roman military tactics and weaponry were created for fighting an infantry-based enemy. The romans themselves used cavalry mainly for scouting and delivering messages. In the battles cavalry was secondary to the infantry.

    Even though I just said I would use them at their best, most of the Roman military history they are not really dominating the battlefields when facing a mounted foe: Numidian mercenaries of the Carthaginians, Parthians, Sassanids, Goths (see Adrianopole) and Huns they have struggled against. Romans have eventually won several battles and wars against these, but it has never been as self-evident as against other infantry of any kind.

    So William has a giant advantage with the cavalry, as the Romans don't know how to deal with cavalry.


    William's knights did have a large role on the outcome of the battle of Hastings, but they weren't the deciding factor. Remember, the Normans clashed the Saxon shieldwall several times only to be driven back. It was the cunning plan of the William that lead to the victory. So don't think the existence of cavalry decides alone. The leader must be able to make use of them.


    As of the infantry, we have to be more theoretical as there's not much examples of Romans fighting medieval-ish infantry. If any, I don't know. Later Roman or even Eastern Roman -> Byzantine infantry doesn't give a good comparison, as they are not the same as golden era Legions.
    The Romans were the best of their time, pants down. I'd say with similar weaponry, they would dominate the infantry part, and it wouldn't even be a contest. But they don't have similar weaponry. William's infantry is less disciplined, but more heavily armoured, and no less experienced. I wouldn't say there's enough difference in metallurgy to compare the quality of metal, though I'm no expert on history of metallurgy.

    The William's men are better protected and both sides have large shields. The effect of weapons is more difficult to think, as their fighting styles are so different. The Romans prefer dense formations, and that's why they use less cumbersome swords, the gladii. The Norman infantry fights with larger weapons in slightly looser formations. I'd say the javelins the Romans use is the larger tie-breaker here, the majority of them has a weapon of range that can render enemy shields less useful. The Normans have only separate archers, others have only stones or personal missiles to throw, while all legionaries have a ranged weapon, and separate archer auxilias as well.

    Ah, auxilia. foreign soldiers that were used for the strengths of their people. Archers from the East, infantry from the former everywhere, and cavalry from those who were good at it. They were never as numerous as the legionnaires, as they were less trustworthy, but their impact is still very hard to quantify. Let's make broad assumptions: melee infantry is worse than the Romans themselves, cavalry is vastly better (yet no medieval-class nor as numerous) than their Roman counterparts and the archers... let's say best of this battle, for I really have no idea of Norman archery, and Romans themselves aren't famous for their bows. Yet they are not too numerous either.


    As my verdict... wait, something is missing. The Roman siegecraft.

    The Romans used light pieces of artillery in their land battles. Normans none. So the Romans have an obvious edge here. But how large it is? I have no idea how many Scorpions and the like Romans had in a single force. Wikipedia say 60 per Legion, each taking at least two men in a crew, making 120 men with Scorpions. Machines larger than Scorpions were much more uncommon in a land battle, they were largely used for sieges, so let's not take those into account. For their use, they have enough weight to penetrate armour or shield (I doubt they would penetrate both) and accuracy is very high, with purpose to snipe important targets, such as officers. But their rate of fire is much lesser than bows.
    William's officers don't use anything as obvious to mark their rank as their Roman counterparts, other than higher-quality equipment. The only way the Romans can recognize William's officers is by their actions, which isn't that difficult come to think of it. So I think we can assume the life expectancy for Norman nobles and officers (of those that fight in or close to the frontlines, that is) is lower than that of the Romans.


    As my verdict... ALL RIGHT ALL RIGHT, calm down. The Roman leader, as he wasn't given in the original question.

    Methinks it is unfair to give the Romans an uncompetent leader as William definitely is not, so let's give them someone better. Who, is up to the debate, and I don't think it matters. the Roman military is not built against an enemy that has numerous and powerful cavalry, so I don't think the Romans really know how to deal with such an enemy with other than retreating into a position where cavalry is less of a danger. William, on the other hand, has faced infantry-based armies before, so he has some sort of an idea what to do, even if it is an alien one.


    As my verdict... AAARGH, the battleground.

    The place where the battle is fought has a large impact on the outcome of battle. If it is fought in forest, the Norman cavalry is useless. If it is highly sloped in ones benefit, it gives a great advantage without having anything to do with the troops themselves. And flat, open plains are not really that realistic (and gives a huge advantage to the one with cavalry advantage). So let's make a more balanced setting to represent a more average setting: open field and some small hills to slow down cavalry, without being large enough to make use for the whole army. And preferably both sides can benefit from at least some of the hills. The Romans preferred fighting in an open field, so they wouldn't necessarily choose forest anyways.


    AS MY VERDICT I'd say the Romans have a slight edge in infantry and foot archers, but it just pales in comparison to the difference in cavalry. More numerous Norman cavalry not only grants a tactical advantage, it is super effective on it's own right. The greatest Roman advantage, on the other hand, is their Scorpions. If they can kill the most important officers and thus demoralize the Norman infantry before the Normans can reap the full benefits of their cavalry, the Romans have a good chance of winning, albeit it can still turn into a defeat (as the morale is a highly unpredictable factor). Otherwise, my guts tell me the Normans win without competition, the Romans have nothing they can do against a proper cavalry charge.

    Thus, my organs deduce the Normans have a slight advantage overall, but not as great as I first thought.
    When I begun writing, I had already concluded the cavalry is too much more powerful than the Roman infantry is more powerful than the Norman infantry, but then I remembered Scorpions. And I had hugely underestimated the amount of Scorpions.

    Remember that this question can not be answered 100% objectively, as we lack a real-life comparison. At least one I have heard of, and I'm a history enthusiast.

  5. #5
    Samittaja's Avatar Libertus
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    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    And with flat, open plains not being realistic I mean they are not really that common in Western Europe, where both sides shined. I do know the existence of steppe plains, deserts or the American prairie

  6. #6

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    While medieval armor technology was advanced from Roman days, William's troops weren't all wearing standard issue gear. So while there certainly would have been better armored troops there, what was the average like?

  7. #7

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Creepcruncher View Post
    IMO, William's army would win.

    Roman legionaries didn't have much arm/leg armour, or face protection, so William's sergeants and footmen were better armoured.

    William's cavalry would also have been more heavily armoured.
    At the Battle of Hastings the exhausted Saxon shield wall gave the Normans a really hard time. I can only imagine that a disciplined Roman formation of any period would also cause some some problems, especially with slingers, archers and heavy equipment firing off constant volleys.

    The question depends on too many variables.

  8. #8

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Meh, so much historical inaccuracy here... first thing, the early medieval armies equipment was not standardized... many soldiers carried their personal weapons. The vast majority of early medieval infantry consisted of medium spearmen with large shield, spear, a helmet and some leather armor/ligh chainmail ( but i guess that many didn't have the money to buy armor ). Also the full plate armor didn't even exist in the 11th century so why are you even talking about heavily armored knights. Medieval knights wore heavy chainmail, helmet, heavy leather boots and gloves which is good but not nearly as good as full plate.

    The romans were masters of heavy infantry tactics so they would destroy william's medium spearmen... but the heavy cavalry could be troublesome as the romans were not used to fight great numbers of heavy cavalry. Depending on the strategy, i say the romans can utterly destroy william's army if they keep william's knights at bay. If they let the cavalry charge at them from the flanks, they can be routed.

    This, of course, provided that the armies are roughly equal in numbers... because a good roman army could often exceed 50,000 men, while william's army was roughly 10,000. That's 5 romans for each norman.
    Last edited by Ironlich; February 25, 2017 at 07:05 AM.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ironlich View Post
    Meh, so much historical inaccuracy here... first thing, the early medieval armies equipment was not standardized... many soldiers carried their personal weapons. The vast majority of early medieval infantry consisted of medium spearmen with large shield, spear, a helmet and some leather armor/ligh chainmail ( but i guess that many didn't have the money to buy armor ). Also the full plate armor didn't even exist in the 11th century so why are you even talking about heavily armored knights. Medieval knights wore heavy chainmail, helmet, heavy leather boots and gloves which is good but not nearly as good as full plate.

    The romans were masters of heavy infantry tactics so they would destroy william's medium spearmen... but the heavy cavalry could be troublesome as the romans were not used to fight great numbers of heavy cavalry. Depending on the strategy, i say the romans can utterly destroy william's army if they keep william's knights at bay. If they let the cavalry charge at them from the flanks, they can be routed.

    This, of course, provided that the armies are roughly equal in numbers... because a good roman army could often exceed 50,000 men, while william's army was roughly 10,000. That's 5 romans for each norman.
    I agree. I confess I made my share of mistakes too, having dug deeper into the subject.

    The thing is, the only way to answer objectively is having either a real-world comparison or extremely well designed simulation. And as far as I know, we lack both. Even the re-enactment communities can only bring us so far, as they are not warriors that have practised their whole lives, nor are they fighting for survival.

    In the end, this is a matter of opinion. And, even though the number of cavalry was in reality very low and the infantry more important in the Middle Ages as well than we tend to think, I still stand behind mine. The Romans did not do well against cavalry, and there is a good reason for the rise of shock cavalry in high Middle Ages. Though I will expand my opinion outside of a single battle. The Normans might win more battles, but they will have absolutely no chance to win the war. The Romans would be unbeatable in terms of logistics, mobility (as in building bridges and roads) and their skill to besiege a fortified position in this match up.

    And yes, I think it is 'fair' to think both armies having equal numbers. Having realistic numbers is more realistic, sure, but it feels unsatisfying to me. These 'what if X fought Y' questions are more fun if we assume both sides having equal numbers, or close.

  10. #10

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Samittaja View Post
    The Romans did not do well against cavalry, and there is a good reason for the rise of shock cavalry in high Middle Ages.
    Let's be accurate: in the battle of Carrhae, the legionnaires could endure several cataphract frontal charge, courtesy of discipline, equipment and high morale. To destroy them, the parthians had first to weaken them with showers of arrows, shooting from the safety of horseback with their usual tactic of retreating when charged then come back to shoot again. Ultimately they charged once again with the cataphracts and killed them.

    This means that heavy cavalry was the best way to kill legionnaires, sure, but they don't go down easy. William's well equipped, high morale knights are roughly comparable to cataphracts but they lack the horse archers. So i say the battle could go many ways, it's basically up to the commanders, even tho i have the feeling the romans have a better chance overall.

    Best case scenario for the romans: they fight a pure melee over a narrow space, a river or a bridge, the legionnaires will slaughter both the spearmen and the knights, first showering them with javelins, then switching to the gladius.

    Best case scenario for William: they fight in an open field, the spearmen pin the legionnaires in place long enough for the knights to destroy the roman cavalry and then charge the legionnaires, destroying them with modest losses.
    Last edited by Ironlich; February 25, 2017 at 12:01 PM.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ironlich View Post
    This means that heavy cavalry was the best way to kill legionnaires, sure, but they don't go down easy. William's well equipped, high morale knights are roughly comparable to cataphracts but they lack the horse archers.
    I don't think they are that directly comparable. I've come to understand the warhorses in the Middle Ages were larger than the ones in the antiquity, after centuries of breeding. And the Norman horses are not protected as depicted by the Bayeux tapestry, unlike the Parthian heavy cavalry. The Norman cavalry probably can deliver a more forceful impact thanks to not that different weight but higher speed (as the protection on Parthian horses slows them down, plus their smaller size means the rider is relatively heavier), but lesser protection means the horses are more susceptible to the pila.

    Though I must admit the battle of Carrhae you brought up is probably very close to the best comparison there is. And since I haven't read the details of the battle or watched a documentary about it, I must trust the Wikipedia and indeed the Parthians did as you mentioned. I had the image that the Parthians barely used shock cavalry, but rather were well-armoured horse archers. Apparently I was wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ironlich View Post
    So i say the battle could go many ways, it's basically up to the commanders, even tho i have the feeling the romans have a better chance overall.
    In the end, we both have just our gut feelings. We can debate to the end of time and not really achieve anything
    Last edited by Samittaja; February 25, 2017 at 06:55 PM.

  12. #12

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    Well the parthians had about 1000 noblemen cataphracts which had arguably the best equipment, the largest horses, the best training etc... not a great number but very high quality. The rest of the parthians was about 10,000 horse archers with unlimited arrow supply thanks to their commander bringing camels loaded with arrows for resupply. A small army compared to the roman but they had everything they need to win, plenty of arrows and elite cataphracts to charge the weakened lines. I'd say that actually it is the horse archers who won the day, since the heavy cavalry alone couldn't do much.

    I don't even know how much accuracy there is in the statement that medieval armies abandoned legionary tactics because they are vulnerable to cavalry. It has more to do with the lack of standardized equipment for infantry and lack of money to properly drill and mantain a professional army. My gut feeling is that the legionnaires at their peak could pretty much win any melee with any opponent if properly employed, but they are expensive to raise and mantain.

  13. #13

    Default Re: A ROMAN ARMY VERSES WILLIAM THE CONQUERORS NORMAN ARMY ?

    The notion that Roman armies could not deal with cavalry forces is largely a myth stemming from historiography giving Roman defeats far more focus than their victories.

    There are plenty of examples where they soundly crushed large cavalry forces, from the battle of Tigranocerta, to the entire Parthian campaign of Publius Ventidius Bassus.

  14. #14

    Default A Roman Army versus William the Conquerors Norman Army

    Why did you vote for Option 1, out of interest?

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