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Thread: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

  1. #41

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by sumskilz View Post
    There isn't anything in that article about Roman legionaries fighting primarily with missile weapons. Why reference an article if you're going to misrepresent it?

    This is the context of that quote:

    He goes on...

    I might add that there isn't anything in this article that suggests the Romans were undisciplined, in fact quite the opposite.

    The discussion about spacing is interesting, but it seems to be somewhat of a strawman unless I'm just completely unaware of the view it's supposedly diametrically opposed to.
    Taylor's article quotes Sabin, Zhmodikov, and Quesada-Sanz's work as representing the new academic consensus.

    Sabin, Zhmodikov, and Quesada-Sanz all agree that the Roman legionary fought primarily with their missile weapons. Their arguments are supported by extensive studies of Polybius, Livy, Plutarch, Caesar, Sallust, and other primary sources. They are further supported by more modern observations of troops from the musket era, as in Ardant du Picq's work Battle Studies, and contemporary observations based on the behaviour of mobs and police during street riots.

    It's pretty clear logic, and I'm not sure where we are running into misunderstanding.


    Ancient sources indicate battles could last multiple hours.

    Humans cannot sustain hand to hand combat for multiple hours. It is too exhausting and terrifying.

    Conclusion: Combat was not continuous and there were necessarily lulls throughout a battle


    If there are lulls in the combat, this must mean that both sides were outside of effective striking range with their hand weapons.

    Ancient sources indicate that soldiers carried hand missiles. They also indicate that hand missiles were used throughout the combat.

    Only the soldiers at the front of a formation have the space to throw a javelin effectively. You can't throw all the pila at once, and throwing a javelin above a friend's head may result in hitting your friends (Which may have happened, but is not desirable).

    You can collect spent missiles from the battlefield and throw them again.

    A lull in the combat is an opportunity to throw missiles. This explains how missiles were exchanged throughout multiple hours of battle.

    Conclusion: Hand missiles were not all thrown at once, but thrown gradually by the front-fighters all throughout a prolonged battle.


    More of the battle is spent in lulls, outside of hand weapon distance, than is spent in exchanges of blows. Missiles are being exchanged throughout.

    The battle might last for several hours. This is impossible if the Roman soldier is mostly fighting with hand weapons, but possible if he's mostly throwing missiles during the lulls of the combat.

    Ancient sources indicate that the Roman soldier fought with his sword throughout a battle as well.

    Conclusion: The Roman soldier spent most of his time in battle throwing javelins and other missiles, and sometimes fought with swords, rather than mostly fighting with swords and sometimes throwing missiles.


    Missile combat before firearms is generally indecisive. Armies can exchange missiles for long periods without either side giving way.

    The Roman soldier was at times specifically ordered to draw swords and charge. The fact that it has to be specifically ordered, as by Caesar at Pharsalus, indicates it is not the automatic or assumed action of the soldiers.

    Humans don't like the danger of hand to hand combat, generally. Modern observations of bayonet charges indicate that often the losing side retreats before any blows are given.

    Even in the era of gunpowder, the bayonet charge decides which side flees and which side holds the contested ground. A resolute charge is enough to put the other side to flight.

    The Romans are consistently described as attacking and charging, but there is no need for these charges to result in hand to hand combat. They can rout the other side without any contact at all.

    Charges are described in combats throughout Polybius, Livy, and Caesar as occurring even many hours into a battle, and sometimes as the decisive act of a battle which had been quite prolonged.

    Conclusion: Despite mostly throwing javelins, the gladius charge is still the decisive action of battle, as it determines which side holds the contested ground and which side flees, and this can be true even without a blow with the sword being struck.
    Last edited by EricD; April 08, 2020 at 04:22 PM.

  2. #42
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    As opposed to dedicated skirmishing troops like peltasts and velites, who carried three javelins for their entire, and often, prolonged involvement in a battle?
    All carried more and lighter javelins the velites (peltasts as well) I am still waiting for why you find an equivalence here. OT but it never gets old the TWC dictionary calls peltasts -> pelts and Hoplites -> shoplifters (although I suppose the second is true if marching trough enemy territory).
    Last edited by conon394; April 08, 2020 at 08:20 PM.
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  3. #43

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by conon394 View Post
    All carried more and lighter javelins the velites (peltasts as well) I am still waiting for why you find an equivalence here. OT but it never gets old the TWC dictionary calls peltasts -> pelts and Hoplites -> shoplifters (although I suppose the second is true if marching trough enemy territory).
    The Legionaries carried two pila.

    You're alleging that this is not enough to sustain a ranged combat.

    Dedicated skirmishing troops only carried a few more than two javelins. The exact numbers carried varied, I've seen numbers cited from three to seven. This may be more than two pila, but it's still not a very large number. And unlike the Legionary, the skirmishers are only expecting to fight in range, rather than both fighting at range and charging in close sometimes, yet their number of missiles is not hugely more than the Legionary's.

    In addition to the two pila that the legionary carried individually, they have numerous means of gaining more missiles during the lulls of battle. I have listed several of these already, but I will reiterate: Pila can be handed up to the front-fighters from people in the rear who aren't feeling brave. The enemy's javelins and slingstones can be thrown back at them. Stones can be picked up from the ground. Javelins can be taken from the hands of wounded or dying men. The javelins of the skirmishers that were left littered on the ground from the preliminary skirmishes before the main engagement can be thrown again. The battlefield is literally covered with potential ammunition past the two pila that the Legionary carried into battle.

    Thus even though the Legionary only carried two pila individually, there's enough missiles available both within their formation and on the battlefield itself to keep a prolonged ranged combat going.

  4. #44
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    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Maybe we should define the timeline we`re Talking About? Currently we are Talking About Roman Legions in their broadest meaning, this means from the Samnite Wars around 300 B.C. to the last Legions in Roman Service dying against the Bulgars around 600.

    I dont think Im mistaken, if Im saying the discipline of a levy hastati Fighting against the Samnites is quite different of that of grizzled Veteran of 25 Years Service fighting Germans in 100 a.D.

    Also the Missile Support is different, you have Archer Auxilliary and even Martiobarbuli.

  5. #45

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Morifea View Post
    Maybe we should define the timeline we`re Talking About? Currently we are Talking About Roman Legions in their broadest meaning, this means from the Samnite Wars around 300 B.C. to the last Legions in Roman Service dying against the Bulgars around 600.

    I dont think Im mistaken, if Im saying the discipline of a levy hastati Fighting against the Samnites is quite different of that of grizzled Veteran of 25 Years Service fighting Germans in 100 a.D.

    Also the Missile Support is different, you have Archer Auxilliary and even Martiobarbuli.
    I personally am speaking about the Roman legions as they existed between about 219 BC, the start of the Second Punic War, and 27 BC, the end of the Roman civil wars and the cementing of Augustus as the first Emperor.

  6. #46

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    Taylor's article quotes Sabin, Zhmodikov, and Quesada-Sanz's work as representing the new academic consensus.

    Sabin, Zhmodikov, and Quesada-Sanz all agree that the Roman legionary fought primarily with their missile weapons.
    Regardless of whether or not their view is correct or not, I don't consider that to be an accurate summery of their argument, but I'll elaborate by addressing your conclusions.

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    Ancient sources indicate battles could last multiple hours.

    Humans cannot sustain hand to hand combat for multiple hours. It is too exhausting and terrifying.

    Conclusion: Combat was not continuous and there were necessarily lulls throughout a battle
    There were lulls, but also rotations to address this issue.


    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    If there are lulls in the combat, this must mean that both sides were outside of effective striking range with their hand weapons.

    Ancient sources indicate that soldiers carried hand missiles. They also indicate that hand missiles were used throughout the combat.

    Only the soldiers at the front of a formation have the space to throw a javelin effectively. You can't throw all the pila at once, and throwing a javelin above a friend's head may result in hitting your friends (Which may have happened, but is not desirable).

    You can collect spent missiles from the battlefield and throw them again.

    A lull in the combat is an opportunity to throw missiles. This explains how missiles were exchanged throughout multiple hours of battle.

    Conclusion: Hand missiles were not all thrown at once, but thrown gradually by the front-fighters all throughout a prolonged battle.
    Rather the argument is that while pila were thrown in the opening stages or preceding charges, they were also thrown during lulls in the hand-to-hand fighting.

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    More of the battle is spent in lulls, outside of hand weapon distance, than is spent in exchanges of blows. Missiles are being exchanged throughout.

    The battle might last for several hours. This is impossible if the Roman soldier is mostly fighting with hand weapons, but possible if he's mostly throwing missiles during the lulls of the combat.

    Ancient sources indicate that the Roman soldier fought with his sword throughout a battle as well.

    Conclusion: The Roman soldier spent most of his time in battle throwing javelins and other missiles, and sometimes fought with swords, rather than mostly fighting with swords and sometimes throwing missiles.
    Not all the authors mentioned appear to be of one mind on this. It is safe to say that over the course of a long battle that an individual Roman legionary did not spend most of his time in hand-to-hand, and that lulls provided the opportunity to throw javelins and other missiles, but that is different from the claim that an individual solider literally spent more time throwing javelins than wielding his sword. Even if we accept that the lines between the armies were more often at a short distance rather than in contact, at which time some toward the front would throw missiles, this is not the same as accepting that legionaries primarily fought with missiles weapons, or that they could be characterized as heavy skirmishers as you have done so. And that is not really the argument being forwarded by the academics you're following, for example, Quesada-Sanz describes legionaries as "line infantry" in contrast to "skirmishers".

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    Conclusion: Despite mostly throwing javelins, the gladius charge is still the decisive action of battle, as it determines which side holds the contested ground and which side flees, and this can be true even without a blow with the sword being struck.
    Underlined point, same problem as the last conclusion.

    Here is how Quesada-Sanz characterizes the argument:

    Quote Originally Posted by Quesada-Sanz
    An intense debate has developed over the last few years on the nature of legionary warfare (Goldsworthy 1996, Sabin 2000; Zhmodikov 2000). As opposed to the Greek hoplite or phalangite, basically a spearman or pikeman who only used his short xiphos when his shafted weapon broke during the hand-to-hand fight, 7 the Roman legionary has been considered until very recently basically a swordsman (and with some good basis in classical sources, Polybius 2, 30, 8; 2, 33; 15, 12, 8; Vegetius 1, 12), who combined an active use of his scutum to push and unbalance his foe, with strong thrusting and slashing strokes of his gladius. In this concept, pila were thrown in volleys during the initial stage of the charge, to disorganize the enemy line just before the sword charge, as described by Livy in many occasions (Livy, 9, 13, 2-5; 9, 35, 4-6; 28, 2, 5-6; see Zhmodikov 2000:68). However, some objections against this simplistic reconstruction have been raised recently, as in the important papers by A. Zhmodikov (2000) and P. Sabin (2000:12) who have gathered a considerable number of sources that prove the sustained use of pila during the whole duration of the battle, and not just in the initial charge. This implies that not all throwing weapons were spent during the initial clash and, even more, that there were lulls in the hand-to-hand fight during which the contending lines separated while the throwing of pila continued. In consequence, initial close combat appears to have been most often somewhat hesitant and indecisive (Sabin 2000, Zhmodikov 2000, Goldsworthy 1996:222). This new vision of the use of pila fits perfectly with what we know about the long duration of many battles as described by literary sources; in fact, combats that were decided in a matter of minutes were the exception rather than the rule, and in those cases it was mainly because one side, morally defeated, broke and fled before actual contact. Most battles lasted for two, three and even more than four hours (see Zhmodikov 2000:70-71; Sabin 2000:4-5; Goldsworthy 1996:225 for cites). As we know that physical exhaustion is reached after few minutes of hand-to-hand fighting with sword and shield (Goldsworthy 1996:224 for references), we should find an explanation for the well documented fact that most battles lasted for hours, and that can only be that there were prolonged lulls during which both sides would draw back and remain some paces apart while exchanging missiles and insults.
    Note that he recognizes that there is a good basis in the primary sources both for considering legionaries to be basically swordsmen and for the practice of throwing volleys in the initial stage of a sword charge. The objection then, is not that this was not the case, but rather that it is not the whole story.
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  7. #47

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by sumskilz View Post
    Regardless of whether or not their view is correct or not, I don't consider that to be an accurate summery of their argument, but I'll elaborate by addressing your conclusions.

    There were lulls, but also rotations to address this issue.

    Rather the argument is that while pila were thrown in the opening stages or preceding charges, they were also thrown during lulls in the hand-to-hand fighting.

    Not all the authors mentioned appear to be of one mind on this. It is safe to say that over the course of a long battle that an individual Roman legionary did not spend most of his time in hand-to-hand, and that lulls provided the opportunity to throw javelins and other missiles, but that is different from the claim that an individual solider literally spent more time throwing javelins than wielding his sword. Even if we accept that the lines between the armies were more often at a short distance rather than in contact, at which time some toward the front would throw missiles, this is not the same as accepting that legionaries primarily fought with missiles weapons, or that they could be characterized as heavy skirmishers as you have done so. And that is not really the argument being forwarded by the academics you're following, for example, Quesada-Sanz describes legionaries as "line infantry" in contrast to "skirmishers".

    Note that he recognizes that there is a good basis in the primary sources both for considering legionaries to be basically swordsmen and for the practice of throwing volleys in the initial stage of a sword charge. The objection then, is not that this was not the case, but rather that it is not the whole story.
    I feel like this is mostly quibbling about technical details rather than disagreeing with the substance of my argument.

    If you do disagree with the substance of my argument, I will ask you then: What model would you propose for Roman legionary combat? How does it differ from the model I have proposed? On what basis of primary source evidence or secondary scholarship?

  8. #48
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    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Just lets look at the following situation:
    It somewhere in Gallia, we and our Cohort have Charged a enemy Battle Line (Also heavy Armour and Big shields) some twenty minutes ago, the Enemy didn`t break, therefore the whole Cohort retreated lets Say 50 meters backward to rest. Thats out of effective Range for us Pilathrowing heavy Infantry, therfore our dedicated skirmishers march through our lines and start harrasing the enemy in open order.
    I say harrassing, because they won`t do serious damage, mostly they will shield our Line from the Enemy skirmishers.
    Will we throw Pila? No, because our line is out of effective Range, and we try to get some rest.
    I think here is no disagreement.


    Same situation, but this time we have only room to retreat say 20 Meters. Enemy line is in effective Range, but we are also, no room for dedicated skirmishers.
    Here is the Question, will we, the Heavy Infantry, spend our time with showering the enemy line with a steady stream of pila, that are brought forward from behind?
    Or will we try to get some rest, wait some time, and when our Centurio Quintus XYZ sees a opportunity (like some reshuffeling of the enemy line) give those Buggers a nice hard Volley and charge them?

    I think option two is the better one, it gives the Heavy Infantry the needed time to rest, without having to throw heavy sticks at the enemy and it will give the psychological advantage of a shock attack.

  9. #49
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    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    I feel like this is mostly quibbling about technical details rather than disagreeing with the substance of my argument.
    IMHO this is the result of not clearly defining a point of departure: in comparison to what are you making your assertions about the preponderance of missile combat? I presume it's the notion in Sumskilz quote of Quesada-Sanz that

    "the Roman legionary has been considered until very recently basically a swordsman who combined an active use of his scutum to push and unbalance his foe, with strong thrusting and slashing strokes of his gladius. In this concept, pila were thrown in volleys during the initial stage of the charge, to disorganize the enemy line just before the sword charge."

    But I think a lot of people on this forum already have a different point of departure which makes a comparison of front-line solders with skirmishers quite extreme in downplaying the role of hand to hand combat.
    In effect, the theory advanced for sustained missile use during lulls in the battle implies one or both sides seeking hand to hand combat. It can't be viewed without considering the opposition. Sustained missile combat from both sides without intent to close in for hand to hand combat implies both sides opt for this. You'd have to extend your analysis to the opponent to make that stick.

    In your original post, I also get the impression you take the complex manoeuvering of troops from the musket era as the standard for expectation of what 'professional' would mean in a Roman context. AFAIK anyone with a bit of knowledge about the era knows that out of combat organization and logistics is mostly what invites the comparison of the legions with a professional army, not field manoeuvers carried out with pinpoint precision. In short, I don't think there's much wrong with your points, but being unclear about the ideas in opposition to which you're advancing them is a problem.
    Last edited by Muizer; April 09, 2020 at 04:49 AM.
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  10. #50

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    What model would you propose for Roman legionary combat?
    You have a good thesis, but the model I think you're looking for is shock tactics. Skirmishers, in contrast, fight individually, have no formations, and are used for harassment and delay.

    As others have mentioned, the pila is a heavy javelin. Legionnaires only carried two at a time, and the majority of sources say it was discharged prior to charging or receiving a charge. For maximum shock, it would have been fired in a volley, which makes the idea of sustained ranged combat unlikely. Its intent of course, is to help break up an enemy formation. Once broken up, the Roman Legions depended on the strength of its formation for sustained combat. Ancient battles were usually won by breaking the enemy's cohesion, which often came down to morale and stamina, often through constant pushing and shoving. Discipline and training however, offered another way to win, and the Romans were famous for both. The fact that the Romans relied on formations and disciplined ranks for sustained combat and unit cohesion meant that they did not fight individually.
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  11. #51
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    The Legionaries carried two pila.
    Err I know that.

    You're alleging that this is not enough to sustain a ranged combat.
    More or less yes

    Dedicated skirmishing troops only carried a few more than two javelins. The exact numbers carried varied, I've seen numbers cited from three to seven.
    I'd like source on three which ones where? But Roman sources are clear 5-7 and significantly much lighter than a pila and carried by a man with a lot less armor and shield to haul around.

    This may be more than two pila, but it's still not a very large number. And unlike the Legionary, the skirmishers are only expecting to fight in range, rather than both fighting at range and charging in close sometimes, yet their number of missiles is not hugely more than the Legionary's.
    5-7 is significantly more than 2 more than double to over 3 times and carried by a soldier with far more mobility.

    In addition to the two pila that the legionary carried individually, they have numerous means of gaining more missiles during the lulls of battle.
    Evidence please or even a stray reference? I agree that hand to hand battle must have had lulls but that is a bit different than some fire chain of pilia passing to the front for the hevay legion men as skirmishers.

    but I will reiterate: Pila can be handed up to the front-fighters from people in the rear who aren't feeling brave.
    Err thanks Marcus you gutless coward for a pilia now scuttle back behind Marcus yep that really seems a solid military strategy.

    The enemy's javelins and slingstones can be thrown back at them
    They might any evidence of roman scrounging around for such as a set strategy and some desperate defeat?

    Stones can be picked up from the ground
    Yes they can and usually by very light armored troops in disorganized groups that can scatter easily and quickly. You will note that when Aeschylus describes the destruction of the Persians at Psyttaleia it is the ad hoc group of sailors and archers who take up rocks and oars to destroy them not the idealized hoplites of Herodotus who one imagines if they had been real would use the spear and sword... and it H's telling of fantasy. Hoplites do indeed not use rocks but a rag tag band sailors with just a few archers and marines do indeed pick up rocks.
    Last edited by conon394; April 19, 2020 at 04:37 PM.
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  12. #52

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Muizer View Post
    IMHO this is the result of not clearly defining a point of departure: in comparison to what are you making your assertions about the preponderance of missile combat? I presume it's the notion in Sumskilz quote of Quesada-Sanz that

    "the Roman legionary has been considered until very recently basically a swordsman who combined an active use of his scutum to push and unbalance his foe, with strong thrusting and slashing strokes of his gladius. In this concept, pila were thrown in volleys during the initial stage of the charge, to disorganize the enemy line just before the sword charge."

    But I think a lot of people on this forum already have a different point of departure which makes a comparison of front-line solders with skirmishers quite extreme in downplaying the role of hand to hand combat.
    In effect, the theory advanced for sustained missile use during lulls in the battle implies one or both sides seeking hand to hand combat. It can't be viewed without considering the opposition. Sustained missile combat from both sides without intent to close in for hand to hand combat implies both sides opt for this. You'd have to extend your analysis to the opponent to make that stick.

    In your original post, I also get the impression you take the complex manoeuvering of troops from the musket era as the standard for expectation of what 'professional' would mean in a Roman context. AFAIK anyone with a bit of knowledge about the era knows that out of combat organization and logistics is mostly what invites the comparison of the legions with a professional army, not field manoeuvers carried out with pinpoint precision. In short, I don't think there's much wrong with your points, but being unclear about the ideas in opposition to which you're advancing them is a problem.
    Well, helpfully, the next poster after you offered an example of the model which I am arguing against:

    Quote Originally Posted by Dick Cheney. View Post
    You have a good thesis, but the model I think you're looking for is shock tactics. Skirmishers, in contrast, fight individually, have no formations, and are used for harassment and delay.

    As others have mentioned, the pila is a heavy javelin. Legionnaires only carried two at a time, and the majority of sources say it was discharged prior to charging or receiving a charge. For maximum shock, it would have been fired in a volley, which makes the idea of sustained ranged combat unlikely. Its intent of course, is to help break up an enemy formation. Once broken up, the Roman Legions depended on the strength of its formation for sustained combat. Ancient battles were usually won by breaking the enemy's cohesion, which often came down to morale and stamina, often through constant pushing and shoving. Discipline and training however, offered another way to win, and the Romans were famous for both. The fact that the Romans relied on formations and disciplined ranks for sustained combat and unit cohesion meant that they did not fight individually.
    I do, actually, agree that the best phrase for the legionary way of combat is shock tactics. Lendon wrote a fascinating paper back in 1999, The Rhetoric of Combat, comparing and analyzing how Greek military authors describe combat with how a Roman military author, Julius Caesar, does. One of the main differences is that the Greeks consistently use physical, pushing metaphors for combat, principally the word othismos, which has been variously translated as pushing, pressing, or shoving. Caesar, in contrast, uses the word impetus, which you can translate as rushing, charging, falling upon, or my preferred translation: Crashing. The phalanx pushes, the legion crashes.

    I think that Quesada-Sanz's point that we should view the Roman legionary as infantry of the line, rather than heavy infantry, is a very apt description. I think the difference between the Roman legionary and a dedicated skirmisher like a peltast or veles was that the legionary was intended to both exchange missiles at a distance and engage in battle-deciding charges to close combat at times. In this, they did resemble the line infantry of the musket era, who both gave volleys of musketry and closed with the bayonet. However, I think the sources indicate Roman style of this combat was much looser and more individualistic than what was the norm either for musketeers, or for contemporary pike troops like the Macedonian phalangite, who would probably better deserve to be classified as heavy infantry. I called them heavy skirmishers before, in part to challenge preconceived notions and axiomatic assumptions about Roman combat, but I will admit that line infantry is probably a more apt and accurate description. However, as with musketeers, I still maintain that the main occupation for the Roman legionary in battle was probably hurling missiles and not fighting with swords, although sword combat I theorize could and did occur in repeated short bursts throughout a battle. My basic model is that the legionaries keep up an aggressive ranged combat by flinging of pila and other missiles by the lead ranks until the centurion perceives a moral advantage has been gained in the combat, until he perceives the enemy side recoiling in fear, and then they charge with the gladius drawn to put the enemy to flight. If the enemy is brave or resolute, this may result in a sharp flurry of combat before one or both sides back off, and then the cycle would repeat.

    However, with that said, I don't think it is accurate to say that the Romans relied on formations and disciplined ranks for sustained combat, and that is a conception which I am trying to change. Polybius emphasizes that they fight as individuals, and that the rear ranks cannot support the front rank, which is one of the reasons why the phalanx overcomes the maniple in a direct confrontation:

    Now, a Roman soldier in full armour also requires a space of three square feet. But as their method of fighting admits of individual motion for each man—because he defends his body with a shield, which he moves about to any point from which a blow is coming, and because he uses his sword both for cutting and stabbing,—it is evident that each man must have a clear space, and an interval of at least three feet both on flank and rear, if he is to do his duty with any effect. The result of this will be that each Roman soldier will face two of the front rank of a phalanx, so that he has to encounter and fight against ten spears, which one man cannot find time even to cut away, when once the two lines are engaged, nor force his way through easily—seeing that the Roman front ranks are not supported by the rear ranks, either by way of adding weight to their charge, or vigour to the use of their swords.
    Histories, Book 18, Chapter 30.

    Emphasis mine.

    Further, the accounts of battles we find in Caesar and in Livy, as Taylor's 2014 paper found, emphasizes that the Romans must open up their formation and spread out to have the space to fight effectively. The Romans only close up when they are under attack and threatened, particularly from enemy missiles, but they can't fight back effectively from a close order formation. Javelin and sword need space to be wielded effectively, and the Roman soldier is accounted as fighting with space enough for individual motion for each man. Their formation, thus, was quite loose and allowed for a very individualistic fighting style which was not reliant on disciplined ranks. The Macedonian phalanx, densely packed and wielding long polearms, required disciplined ranks and a high degree of formation training to work effectively. The Roman maniple was something very different, and it seems to me have relied more on aggression, initiative, and fighting spirit, which lines up quite neatly with the cultural values and beliefs of the Roman society from which it emerged.

    Quote Originally Posted by conon394 View Post
    Evidence please or even a stray reference? I agree that hand to hand battle must have had lulls but that is a bit different than some fire chain of pilia passing to the front for the hevay legion men as skirmishers.


    They might any evidence of roman scrounging around for such as a set strategy and some desperate defeat?
    The proposal that rear ranks passed their pila to the front fighters is just conjecture on my part, a possible mechanic but one which I am not aware of any direct evidence existing for. However, the collection of spent missiles from the battlefield to be thrown again is very likely and is referenced in several texts. Polybius describes the javelins of the velites thus:

    The wooden shaft of the javelin measures about two cubits in length and is about a finger's breadth in thickness; its head is a span long hammered out to such a fine edge that it is necessarily bent by the first impact, and the enemy is unable to return it. If this were not so, the missile would be available for both sides.
    Histories, Book 6, Chapter 22

    In other words, the velites' javelins were sharpened to an extreme degree such that they blunt after use and cannot be returned by the enemy, indicating that it was a common thing for the enemy to return your missiles to you. A missile exchange on the ancient battlefield was quite literally an exchange, as javelins and stones flung at you can commonly be flung back in return.

    Additionally, there is the oath of Roman soldiers recorded to us in Livy:

    Up to that day there had only been the military oath binding the men to assemble at the bidding of the consuls and not to disband until they received orders to do so. It had also been the custom among the soldiers, when the infantry were formed into companies of 100, and the cavalry into troops of 10, for all the men in each company or troop to take a voluntary oath to each other that they would not leave their comrades for fear or for flight, and that they would not quit the ranks save to fetch or pick up a weapon, to strike an enemy, or to save a comrade. This voluntary covenant was now changed into a formal oath taken before the tribunes.
    Ab Urbe Condita, Book 22, Chapter 38

    There are three instances where the Romans consider it acceptable to leave the standards of your century or maniple. Fetching or picking up a weapon is considered equal in importance, in this oath, to striking an enemy or saving a comrade. It being generally less likely (though not impossible) that they would need to fetch or pick up a hand weapon like a sword, which is not thrown in battle generally, I think it the likeliest explanation that this oath means that collecting missiles on the battlefield was a common and important task for the Roman soldier of this period.
    Last edited by EricD; April 09, 2020 at 03:34 PM.

  13. #53

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Very interesting discussion.


    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    You must first of all discard the notion, long drilled into us by our beloved Total War titles, of Roman legionaries all throwing their pila in unison. While I analogize the pila and gladius to the musket and bayonet as a tactical system, the pila I don't think could be thrown in a massed volley unless the maniple was only drawn up one or two ranks deep, which seems exceedingly unlikely. The pilum is thrown by individual soldiers as they pick out their own individual targets, and moreover it takes a good deal of space to throw a javelin with the full force of the body at a target, as you would want to do to pierce shields and armour. Here, this video of a reenactor gives a good idea of the space requirements of throwing pila at even a close range target:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE_Fggs_0yU

    Look how much physical space this man needs to move his body for throwing the javelin effectively. The pilum can only be thrown effectively at the enemy from fairly short range, on a flat and direct trajectory. Throwing it above the heads of the front ranks may have been done by inexperienced or foolish troops, but would discard all accuracy and much of the force, and have a pretty good chance of hitting your own friendly troops with the haft of your javelin in flight. A static photo also may help:


    Look how much space is occupied behind him by the haft of his javelin. This guy hasn't even fully extended his throwing arm back yet! You need a lot of space to make an effective javelin throw, so you can't be doing it in massed formation. The Roman maniple is deployed in loose order, but Polybius only accounts for three feet of spacing between the ranks, hardly enough to handle a full sized heavy javelin or two, as the Romans are accounted as doing.

    So the first aspect of this: The pilum is thrown by individuals moving forward of the maniple to skirmish in the no-man's land between infantry lines. This is the only way I believe pila could be effectively delivered into the enemy.
    With this I disagree the most, there are many videos of reenactors throwing pila in unison with ranks behind, in fact, the very youtube channel you posted also has a video of them doing it and hitting small sandbags;

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Rxo_K2fkTE


    and mind you these reenactors would obviously not be near as well versed in javelin throwing while in a group as the legionaries were.

  14. #54

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Mamlaz View Post
    Very interesting discussion.




    With this I disagree the most, there are many videos of reenactors throwing pila in unison with ranks behind, in fact, the very youtube channel you posted also has a video of them doing it and hitting small sandbags;

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Rxo_K2fkTE


    and mind you these reenactors would obviously not be near as well versed in javelin throwing while in a group as the legionaries were.

    Is it possible to throw your javelins high over a front rank of your comrades? Sure, it's possible.

    However, facing enemies protected by shield and cuirass? Under battle stress? You need to throw your pila on a direct trajectory with force to pierce shields or armour, which implies a flat throw at short range, not lofting the pila high to get over a front rank. Why would you even risk the chance of hitting your friends?

    The practical problems of throwing pila en masse are not insurmountable, however when you take those awkward difficulties in combination with the primary source accounts which always emphasize the need for the legionaries to spread out in order to be able to wield their weapons properly and I think it's far more likely that pila were coming as a steady stream from the front-fighters rather than a massed salvo of the entire formation at once.

  15. #55

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    I don't really see the issue you speak off, nor do I see the reason for the trajectory of the pila to be flat, javelin throwing by itself, because of the weight of the javeling compared to an arrow, does not require this at all.

    Or in other, consider the sources you yourself posted here, against the Germans it is stated that the Germans charged so fast that the Romans weren't able to throw their pila, which implies that they otherwise could have, which implies a timeframe still far, far shorter than the front ranks skirmishing as they please.

    The other sources as well do not really debunk the front formation heavy infantry fighting, as one does not need a back push from the ranks to achieve this, nor overlapping shields.

    Hell, this relief alone pushes back against the skirmisher theory;

    https://i.imgur.com/v8HSFB9.jpg

  16. #56
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    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    The proposal that rear ranks passed their pila to the front fighters is just conjecture on my part, a possible mechanic but one which I am not aware of any direct evidence existing for. However, the collection of spent missiles from the battlefield to be thrown again is very likely and is referenced in several texts. Polybius describes the javelins of the velites thus:
    You mean men distinctly not the heavy infantry but skirmishers who had some some 5 to 7 rounds of ammo? And distinctly operated in loose formation in front of the legion's heavy troopers (and thus not in position to get a spare)? Not wearing armor and not hauling around a scutum on one arm? Sure I think they could be able to grab any spent spear or javelin or a rock to keep up a missile duel at hand tossed range without a losing battle vs archery or slings.
    Last edited by conon394; April 19, 2020 at 04:48 PM.
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  17. #57

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    I think I would also add the testudo formation for discussion.




    Its the closest evidence we have that shows the Romans operating in tight disciplined ranks, acting collectively and marching in step. Its appearance on Trajan's column and use in gladiator games also implies that it was a familiar tactic that the Romans did not feel the need to explain.

    Obviously there are some holes in the testudo argument, and it does not completely dismiss the ranged skirmisher theory. We don't know when it was first used, and how often it was used outside sieges. There is also some debate to what "testudo" means in Polybius, Dio, and, Livy. They give different descriptions, and different purposes, but in each case it involves forming a tight formation. So while I can't say it completely disproves the ranged combat theory, it does prove that the Romans would fight collectively. Usually in sieges and against archers, but perhaps also in the field as well.
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; April 22, 2020 at 07:11 AM.
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  18. #58

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    They certainly used testudo(whatever it was, of whatever various number of types of formation it could have been) in field battles.

    Most famously at Carrhae, the entire role of the cataphract charges was to prevent the Romans from forming up testudo because for some reason it made them invulnerable to arrow fire while merely standing in shield formation did not, despite the same source stating that some arrows did penetrate Roman shields.

    Perhaps confirming the formation trope of the testudo including a frontal overlap of shields of the first few ranks, making the shield cover twice as thick?

    Later on, when describing Mark Anthony's campaign, Dio describes the Romans forming up testudo, and the Parthians abandoning archery all together upon seeing it, and charging them instead.

    They apparently did not expect the arrows to do anything(perhaps Anthony's legionaries were better equipped than Crassus'es, having superior shields), so effective was the formation against arrow fire.

    The Parthians of course engage in melee, and lose miserably.

    Similarly what happened to them against Publius Ventidius Bassus.

    Speak of the devil, how the hell would would Bassus win his battles if the legionaries weren't formed up for direct engagement, but were skirmishers instead?

    You cannot counter charge a damn cavalry force with infantry so quickly that you smash into them before they can wheel around and flee, if your soldiers are skirmishers by nature.

    It must have been a fast paced, sprinting charge, from start to pilum throw and gladius stab in less than a minute, similar to what Lucullus'es men did to the Armenian cavalry force.

  19. #59

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by conon394 View Post
    You mean men distinctly not the heavy infantry but skirmishers who had some some 5 to 7 rounds of ammo? And distinctly operated in loose formation in front of the legion's heavy troopers (and thus not in position to get a spare)? Not wearing armor and not hauling around a scutum on one arm? Sure I think they could be able to grab any spent spear or javelin or a rock to keep up a missile duel at hand tossed range without a losing battle vs archery or slings.
    I don't see how the armour and shields of the legionaries would prevent them from retrieving spent missiles from the battlefield to get another weapon to throw. If anything, they likely made it easier by protecting the legionary and offering a sense of psychological security as he rushed out of the ranks.

    The salient fact in the quote about the velites from Polybius is that they sharpened their javelins to such an extreme extent to ensure that the enemy won't be able to throw them back, as they will be dulled after the first use. Now this means that it is evidently a common thing for the enemy to throw your missiles back at you. If this was the case, why would the Romans be any different? For all the aggression which the ethos of virtus demanded, the Roman is still a human being with a strong instinct for self-preservation, and so will likely want to continue the fight at a safe distance for as long as possible, and will be instinctively reluctant to face the high chance of death or horrific injury which accompanies hand to hand combat against a resisting foe. If any missiles are within reach, I am sure that those missiles would be grabbed and flung before the Roman would choose to go forward with the gladius. Virtus, that ethos that called for heroic aggression, was probably so prized because it was an exceptional quality, and many men would rather not get within the enemy's reach at all.

    Secondly, the oath of the soldiers accounted in Livy lists three appropriate occasions for the Roman soldier to leave the standards without orders in the heat of battle: Collecting or retrieving a weapon, saving a comrade, or striking an enemy. So running out to get another javelin or other weapon is one of the only times that the Romans view it as acceptable for the soldier to leave the standards of his maniple, and it is listed as equal in priority to striking an enemy or saving a fellow-citizen. This too indicates that he collection of missiles was an important aspect of Roman behaviour in battle, which further indicates the importance of the missile combat in the Roman way of war.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mamlaz View Post
    They certainly used testudo(whatever it was, of whatever various number of types of formation it could have been) in field battles.

    Most famously at Carrhae, the entire role of the cataphract charges was to prevent the Romans from forming up testudo because for some reason it made them invulnerable to arrow fire while merely standing in shield formation did not, despite the same source stating that some arrows did penetrate Roman shields.

    Perhaps confirming the formation trope of the testudo including a frontal overlap of shields of the first few ranks, making the shield cover twice as thick?

    Later on, when describing Mark Anthony's campaign, Dio describes the Romans forming up testudo, and the Parthians abandoning archery all together upon seeing it, and charging them instead.

    They apparently did not expect the arrows to do anything(perhaps Anthony's legionaries were better equipped than Crassus'es, having superior shields), so effective was the formation against arrow fire.

    The Parthians of course engage in melee, and lose miserably.

    Similarly what happened to them against Publius Ventidius Bassus.

    Speak of the devil, how the hell would would Bassus win his battles if the legionaries weren't formed up for direct engagement, but were skirmishers instead?

    You cannot counter charge a damn cavalry force with infantry so quickly that you smash into them before they can wheel around and flee, if your soldiers are skirmishers by nature.

    It must have been a fast paced, sprinting charge, from start to pilum throw and gladius stab in less than a minute, similar to what Lucullus'es men did to the Armenian cavalry force.
    The term I used earlier was "heavy skirmisher". My intent here was to communicate the idea of a soldier who both skirmishes at a distance and can face a hand to hand combat. On further reflection, I think Quesada-Sanz's term in his 2005 paper previously discussed is a more accurate one: Line infantry. Like the infantry of the line in the musket period, the Roman legionary appears to have both fought at a distance and made shock charges to hand to hand range where the enemy was put to rout. I don't deny that the gladius was an important part of the tactical system of the Roman legionary. We have this axiom that the gladius was the main weapon and the pilum only a supporting tool used briefly before the gladius combat. However I think that our primary sources and our best understandings of crowd dynamics and combat psychology should lead us to reverse the usual understanding of the relationship of pilum and gladius. The pilum was the main weapon, in terms of prevalence of use. This doesn't mean that the gladius is unimportant. The bayonet in the musket era was a key aspect in the winning of battles. It just means that the legionary spent far more time in a battle throwing javelins than he did exchanging sword blows.

    But here's my question to you: When you describe Roman infantry "smashing" into an opposing force, do you actually believe there was a physical impact involved there?

  20. #60

    Default Re: The Disobedient Roman Soldier

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    However I think that our primary sources and our best understandings of crowd dynamics and combat psychology should lead us to reverse the usual understanding of the relationship of pilum and gladius. The pilum was the main weapon, in terms of prevalence of use.
    You could argue that in the sense of the pilum being the primary weapon, in the sense of it being thrown first before engaging in sword combat, but I do not see how else would you tie it, since many historians even doubt Vegetius's claim of two pilum's for most of the Roman period, meaning that at most they carried two, and the more likely, at most of the period, they carried only one.

    So that is again one throw before engagement.

    Quote Originally Posted by EricD View Post
    But here's my question to you: When you describe Roman infantry "smashing" into an opposing force, do you actually believe there was a physical impact involved there?
    Yes, absolutely.

    Please don't tell me you are one of those "muh humanz are rational" contrarians that believes that mumbo jumbo of ancient soldiers playing tippy taps while staring at each other.

    Because we have primary sources during the Italian Wars of men smashing into pike formations and impaling themselves on said pikes like utter maniacs.

    Soldiers acting like enthusiastic forlorn hopes with no regard for their own safety is not up for debate.
    Last edited by Mamlaz; April 22, 2020 at 03:47 PM.

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