The Roman Army and Warfare
The name Roman army mostly refer to the armed forces used by the Roman Kingdom, the Roman republic and the Roman Empire. The composition and the tactics of this force was also utilised by its successor the: the Byzantine Empire. This force was majorly deployed to fight on land. This term spans for over 2000 years over which there were massive changes in terms of structure, organisation and the equipment and the tactics employed . The Roman Army is considered one of the greatest Armies of all time. Their success and greatness is believed to have been achieved due to their inventive organization, utmost discipline, continuous innovation in weaponry and tactics. These invaluable resources enabled the Romans to conquer and control the largest empire in history spanning the Rhine parts of Europe to Asia and the Northern part of Africa . The Roman Army, though, considered the longest surviving and the most efficient in fighting military history had humble beginnings. It might have begun as seasonal campaigns with romans fighting alongside the Greek Phalanxes as a form civil militia . This paper will look into how the Roman Army was among the best in history. Strengths of this army in terms of why it was very prosperous in battle fields as well as its techniques and war plans will be discussed. Additionally, various weapons that were used will also be discussed including the evolution of the army and how it attained its refined status.
Romulus, the founder of Rome is credited for the formation of the first Roman Army Legion. The recruitment into the army legion was largely based on the social classes which King Tullius Servius categorised into six classes in 580-530 BCE after a census. According to the hierarchy of these classes, the lowest hard no property and could not be recruited into the army. The highest in the hierarchy were the richest romans that formed cavalry .
In the mid-4th century BC, the manipular legion that consisted of 120-160 men was formed and fought the Roman enemies by outmanoeuvring their formations. The Manipular Legions were purely roman citizen at the time of its formation. The successes in battles by the manipular legions such as Pydna in 168 BCE, and the emergence of provincial empires led to the evolution of the army from seasonal campaigns, to permanent military service. The election of Marius Gaius as consul in 107 BCE saw the change in army recruitment where those without property were given arms and armour under the government sponsorship. Marius also completed the creation of the army cohorts from the maniples. At the onset of the Imperial Rome under the leadership of Augustus, the Army underwent tremendous changes. The military term of service was lengthened and military treasury was also created. The army underwent improvements in their tactics and formations which were more effective in countering the new enemies. Throughout the evolution of the army, various experiences occurred. The army encountered both defeat and victory all of which were used to develop better techniques, formations and weapons to enhance their chances of winning other battles . Subsequent success and continued survival of the army can be attributed to the following four aspects.
One of the crucial aspects of any army that determines its victory is the armour. One characteristic of the Roman Army, whether the earlier or the imperial army, that was very decisive for their victory was the advanced armour that was borrowed from the Greek Empire. During the time of Etruscan kings- 400 BC, the Greek mode of fighting was adopted. Roman soldiers used attire, armour and weapons used by the Greek warriors (hoplite) which included an oval shield, a helmet, breast plate and greaves. All these were made of bronze as it is very strong and relatively light in weight. Additionally, the romans also adopted the phalanx formation for their battles. However, in the early fourth century BC, Rome was invaded by Celtic Gauls who conquered it. This made the romans to reconsider their battle formations and tactics among others. In the process, the Greek battle formation was dropped and other superior formations were developed. However, the armour and the shield adopted from the Greeks were maintained and were considered very useful. This was used even in the latter days of the Roman Empire with or less variations especially in terms of materials used .
The second aspect that made the roman army very effective and prosperous was invention or many and flexible battle formations. Phalanx required large city states like Greece where battle fields were large planes; however, Rome was a collection of hill tribes. Soldiers needed to be very first to use their terrain to their advantage. Some of such formations were introduced by the roman hero Fluvius Camillus over the 4th century. The roman army developed great discipline so that it could arrange and rearrange itself into various formations according to the need. From the battle with the Celtic Gauls, the romans shifted from a wall and shield position to an formation that had three lines of soldiers, starting with the inexperienced, the more experienced and the veteran fighters. The inexperienced front line was tasked with throwing the pilum (a javelin) to the opponent infantry which forced them to reorganise their strategy. In the midst of confusion, roman soldiers could close in and pull off specialised techniques of close quarter fighting. This formation could be reorganised into a wedge, tortoise formation or a circle for mostly for defence. However, the wedge formation enabled them to penetrate deep into the enemy legions and put them in awkward fighting position where opponents’ heavy swords from Germanic people became ineffective. The romans drew their gladius (which was a smaller lighter and razor-sharp sword) which was used to stub the opponents. In the second Punic war that ended in 201 BC, the Romans won under their Publius Cornelius (236–183 BC) also called Scipio Africanus, who was a war hero . This defeat of Carthage happened because of the advancement in roman formations that were very dynamic with fast moving legioners. Romans also used the strategy of striking Carthage’s elephants with pila which occasioned them to tramp on their own legioners. Roman army had won other battles such as the one at Cynoscephalae which ended in 364 BC using similar techniques .
The third aspect that made the Romans army prosperous was their inventive weapons. They constantly reviewed their weapons to counter their enemies’ and also according to their future projections. From the Greek spear that was mainly made up of bronze, Romans developed Pila, which was made of very light wood and a bronze or steel spearhead. That made it very light and could be thrown like a javelin by frontline legioners to disorient the opponents. The light weight made it easier for legioners to carry several of them. From the battle with the Celtic Gauls, roman army adopted the use of sword as the main weapon for close quarter combat. However, their sword (The Gladius) was made to be shorter and lighter and more suitable for stubbing. The use of Gladius brought victory for many years and beginning from the Punic battle to the barbarian battle towards the end of the Roman Empire. The army also had a smaller dagger (Pugio) that was used as a last resort. All of them were made to be very light and easy to wield helping the legioners in the infantry and the cavalry to out manoeuvre their opponents . The Scutum – the shield- was made off toughened animal hide making it very effective and easy to carry around. It was curved around the body which made it more effective and could easily interlock forming a solid cover in the tortoise war formation. Cheiroballistra was one of the most dreaded roman siege weapons; it was composed of a heavy metal frame and springs. It was used to propel bolts at the opponents and could effectively kill a soldier in 100 meters in straight shooting. In parabolic shooting, it was able to fire upto 400 meters and could still penetrate the enemy amour and injure. It was a simplification of scorpio or scorpion which fired heavy metallic darts. The scorpio would be used even in the middle ages by the Byzantine Empire in the ‘second crusade’. Julius Caesar talks about the use of scorpio in a battle against Celts in the siege of Avaricum saying that the weapon had terrifying power and precision which gave romans an upper hand.
The forth aspect that made the ancient Roman army to be very effective in battles was their advanced strategy and motivation. In literature believed to have been written describing warfare under the Scorpio Africanus, the roman war hero, roman soldiers were very observant about the environmental factors in battles fields. In the siege of Avaricum, the legioners and cavalry situated themselves in high grounds firing bolts using Scorpio into at their opponents. The romans ensured that they got a position in which the sun was behind them in the Carthaginian battle which enhanced their vision and blurred their opponent’s vision. In all the battles with Carthaginians and even the barbarians, they ensured that the wind was moving towards their enemy which increased their precision and the range of their weapons. Roman army was highly motivated as there were good returns for soldiers, who would also share war spoils. Finally, they believed that they were from mars and children of the war god. This boosted their motivation: brutality in war was also highly regarded .
The roman army is among the greatest armies of all times. They combined various factors to out manoeuvre and destroy their enemies. Their great success is directly attributable to continuous innovation of weapons and tactics according to various needs. They also mastered the terrain and other environmental factors which they used to carefully plan for their battles. Their main aim was to put their opponent in awkward position so that their weapons and their fighting styles would be less effective. They were also very effective in responding to new battle equipment and techniques as seen in mid-200 BC where they took only one year to make naval vessels to effectively defend Sicily from Carthage. They are also seen improving their weapons throughout the Roman Kingdom, Roman republic and the later Roman Empire.
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