How did the Romans actually fight?

Discussion in 'Military History' started by civfanatic, Dec 26, 2012.

  1. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    A great video explaining the tactics and modus operandi of a Roman legion.

     
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  3. sob

    sob Moderator Moderator

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    But the very lack of Roman Cavalry was their undoing. They drafted Auxillary troops to act as Cavalry but were not very successful against Horse mounted archers.
     
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  4. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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  5. Phenom

    Phenom Regular Member

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    Agree,

    Even Hannibal was able to toy with the Romans because his Numidian Cavalry was able to wipe out the Roman Equities with ease on every engagement.
     
  6. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    Horse archers are overrated IMO; they are never decisive tools of war. Their main purpose was to harass the enemy and force them to loosen their formation (so that they could be attacked in a concentrated assault by heavier forces), and/or to bait the enemy into detaching forces from the main body to pursue the horse archers (again, making the main enemy force more vulnerable to a concentrated assault). However, horse archers themselves can be countered fairly easy by massed formations of foot archers. A good example of this in the Roman context would be the battles fought in the 2nd century C.E. by Arrian (the military commander-cum-classical historian) against the nomadic Alans. Arrian was able to defeat the Alan horse archers by deploying heavy infantry in depth, supported by ample numbers of foot archers. The greater range and firepower of the foot archers compared to the horse archers gave them a clear advantage over the latter. A few centuries earlier, Alexander the Great was also able to defeat the Scythian horse archers at the Battle of Jaxartes (329 B.C.E.) using a similar combined arms approach. Massed formations of crossbowmen can also be used with similar efficacy against horse archers. The Han Chinese were able to triumph over the horse archers of the nomadic Xiongnu confederation thanks largely to their use of drilled corps of crossbowmen. Much later, the Crusaders in the 12th-13th centuries were able to use crossbows with similar, devastating effect against the Arab and Turk horse archers, and their use was key to the initial Crusader military success.

    Rather than horse archers it was the Iranian cataphracts (heavily-armored shock cavalry armed with bow and lance) which posed the greatest threat to the Roman forces. As shock troops, the main purpose of the cataphracts was to shatter the enemy's cohesion and and cause them to break formation. As mentioned before, horse archers themselves are never decisive and cannot win a battle by themselves; rather, they are often used to support an attack as part of a combined arms force, allowing heavier troops (usually heavy shock cavalry) to deliver the decisive blow. Even the Mongol armies of the 13th-14th centuries, contrary to popular perception, employed large numbers of heavy shock cavalry (the standard "formula" of a Mongol army was three-fifths horse archers and two-fifths shock cavalry), and it were these heavy cavalry which played the decisive role (i.e. actually routing the enemy) in battles fought by the Mongols. The total Roman defeat at Carrhae (53 B.C.E.) is an excellent case in point, where an army of horse archers and armored cataphracts working in combination were able to triumph over a larger but more cumbersome force of heavy infantry. The Parthian horse archers would first force the Romans to loosen formation by skirmishing against them, and this would be followed up by a charge of the Parthian cataphracts; when the Romans attempted to close ranks to resist the shock cavalry, the cataphracts would withdraw, and the horse archers would resume skirmishing against the Romans. This was repeated until the Roman army became exhausted and worn down, and was ultimately destroyed when attempting to retreat. An estimated 20,000 Romans were killed at Carrhae with another 10,000 taken prisoner, all at minimal cost to the Parthians. Of course, the Romans could have countered the Parthian tactics had they brought with them a sizable force of foot archers, and on this point the the blame can be laid on the lack of foresight and incompetence of Marcus Licinius Crassus, the Roman commander at Carrhae.

    It is interesting to note that, unlike in other circumstances where the Romans adapted their infantry tactics to face a wide array of threats, the Romans ultimately found it necessary to induct the cataphract heavy cavalry into their own armies. This process began in the 3rd century C.E., and by the 6th century C.E. the army of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire essentially mirrored that of their Sassanid Persian rivals in their deployment of cataphracts.
     
  7. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    It struck me that the best way to visualize pre-modern conflict, is actually by looking at street fights. Forget about cheesy "historical" war movies; the vast majority of them do not depict conflict in a realistic way, and focus on entertainment value far more than historical accuracy.

    If you want to learn how the Romans (or any ancient/medieval army based on heavy infantry) would have fought, look at this video of a battle between protesters and police in Ukraine. Pay especially close attention from about 3:10 onward:


    Granted, a Roman army would not be as passive as the Ukrainian cops are here. But I still think this gives a good idea of how a disciplined Roman army (the cops) would have dealt with a horde of barbarians (the protesters). The defensive tactic used by the cops in the latter part of the video is practically identical with the Roman testudo.
     
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  8. Free Karma

    Free Karma Senior Member Senior Member

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    ^^ That actually reminded me of the movie 300! :p
     
  9. Defcon 1

    Defcon 1 Senior Member Senior Member

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    If someone wants to get a feel of medival and ancient warfare, I suggest them playing the total war series. I have played only one game, but it gave me really some knowledge about battles were done during that time. You will find that a lot of @civfanatic said is actually useful when mongols invade Europe :thumb: That I think is a good proof that the game really tries to simulate real battles.
     
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  10. Bilal

    Bilal Regular Member

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    romans were trained warriors with years of wrestling experience,also had there own medicine and treatment systems.
     
  11. pkroyal

    pkroyal Regular Member

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    Compare this with Genghis Khan & his marauding hordes! ( incidentally the broad concept of American FM 105 regarding the Air-land battle concept has been taken from the Mongols) acronym is AIDS, Agility, Initiative, Depth & Synchronization. His army occupied one fifth of the land mass of the globe. phew!

    Strength vs Weakness - You want to pit your strength against your opponent's weakness in combat.
    Mobility - Being able to out maneuver your opponent allows you to control most other aspects of a battle.
    Advance & Retreat - There is no humiliation in retreat. Mongols frequently used retreat to create advantage in combat through ambushes and spreading out the opponent's forces.
    Discipline - Mongol soldiers were heavily trained in the planned tactics that they could work through a battle without the need to shout orders. Nor did they break ranks except when it was orchestrated. Unlike a temporary feudal service of European armies, Mongol soldiers used their hunting and herding skills in combat and thus were in training year round.
    Opponent's Morale - Mongols inflated stories of their battlefield prowess to intimidate their opponents, and used other propaganda and pyrotechnics to break the opponent's morale before and during the battle. Even the present meaning of the word Horde in European languages to be a large overwhelming mass of people, rather than a small campsite as it means in Mongol, is a continued result of such propaganda.
    Objective - Never lose sight of the overall object, even in the heat of battle. A charge may smash the unit in front of you while abandoning an important strategic position thus losing the war.
    Survival - Here is where Mongols differed most drastically from other cultures such as Europe or Japan. Mongols placed high emphasis on surviving at all costs. There was no glorious defeat. There were no suicide troops, no unit was sent on a mission they would not be expected to survive. The only glory was in winning.
     
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  12. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    This reminds me of the days I was addicted to Rome TW. It was the best battle emulator for this period. All horse archer armies were devastating against light armour formations but would run out of ammo against legionaries . Roman equites were no more than light cav fodder, good for running down a fleeing enemy or attrition of other light cav. Legions were easily flanked unless you had Pretorian cav. Cataphracts were the great equalizer for eastern factions. Elephants were an interesting shock weapon, but easily delt with pilla. The Greek phalanx was unstoppable if you couldn't flank them. They had the second best cavalry next to catas. Chariots were a joke by this time. Camel cav was interesting with a smell to scare horses.
     
  13. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    This thread is meant to be about historical Roman warfare rather than Rome TW (which is anything but historically accurate), but since TW has been mentioned I mind as well as chime in with what I remember of this game. I used to play this game online, where some of the battles got extremely competitive:

    1) Foot archers are almost always better than horse archers, unless you are playing with no rules and unlimited cash (which nobody does online). They are cheaper, have more men per unit, have better range, and give you much more bang for the buck.

    2) Roman legionaries (Urban Cohorts) are by far the best infantry in the game. You can charge them straight into Spartan hoplites, and the Romans will win. The only situation where a phalanx is better than a Roman legion, is if cavalry charges the unit head on. But a human player would have to be mentally retarded to do that.

    3) This brings me to my next point: Greek phalanxes are by far the most overrated units in the game. Spartan hoplites, in particular, are extremely overrated. They are way too cumbersome, are extremely easy to flank, and cannot resist a frontal assault by Roman legionaries. In fact, I would rank the Greeks as one of the worst factions in the whole game, along side the Gauls. Their only redeeming qualities are having one of the best archers in the game (Cretans), as well as one of the best slingers (Rhodesians). But you can't win any battle with those units alone.

    4) No one uses elephants in online battles. They are banned in most games, and even if they weren't, I still wouldn't use them. All you have to do to defeat elephants is have your foot archers shoot flaming arrows on them; the elephants are guaranteed to run amok and will then become a bigger problem for your opponent than for you.

    5) Cataphracts are definitely one of the best units in the game. A cataphract army will crush any Roman army in no time at all, unless the Roman player is very smart and the Eastern player is a retard. But they are far from invincible and can be countered in numerous ways.

    6) Chariots are definitely NOT a joke. They are what make Egypt THE best faction in the whole game, along with desert cavalry and the special Egyptian archers (forgot their name). Used correctly, they will annihilate any and all cavalry, including cataphracts. Scythed chariots in particular are extremely effective at countering cavalry, but like elephants they run the risk of running amok, so a player has to use them with great caution. In most cases, normal chariots (which only Egypt and Britannia have) are preferable to scythed chariots. The great utility of chariots in Rome TW is one of the most historically inaccurate parts of the game.
     
  14. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    Foot archers don't get a charge bonus and wear out easily, although they do give better volleys. Horse archers are quite good at taking them out. The only archers best to disable them are long ranged and armoured. Cata archers will decimate any archer unit. That unit is why I prefer Armenia.

    Charge urbans into a Spartan formation of phalanx and the Spartans will win. Only in melee will Spartans lose, their moral and double hp makes them tough. Charging infantry into a phalanx still has bad consequences which is why you need to flank them.

    Greek hoplites can defeat any pre-Marius Romans in phalanx. Put post Marius and armoured and Spartans can do the same. Macedonian cavalry is the best light horse unit in the game, they crush your equites which means it is easy to flank Romans. If you are playing online you won't afford many later units.

    Agree with everything else except the chariots. They require wide open spaces to be effective. If they get caught in a mass of troops they are dead. Even desert maps have rock outcrops which will slow them down. Forget a city defence or woods, they are worthless there. Egypt's strongest unit is Pharo's archers which will keep any missile unit at bay and can double for a reserve of melee troop.
     
  15. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    Charge bonus is irrelevant. Why would you charge with foot archers? Why would you charge with horse archers, for that matter?

    Foot archers don't wear out more easily. Anyone engaging foot archers with horse archers would use cantabrian circle to minimize casualties, which wears out the horse archers. Without cantabrian circle, horse archers are easy pickings.

    Nobody uses cataphract archers online. They wear out even even faster than normal horse archers, and once exhausted all you have to do is send your pick of heavy cavalry and/or chariots to chase them down. Regular horse archers are faster and also much more cost-efficient.


    No, charge Urbans into a Spartan phalanx and the Urbans will win. Any player would first unload pila onto the Spartans before charging, which will make the job even easier for the Urbans. A good pila barrage can easily take out 15-20 Spartans out of a total unit of 60, and this is before the Urbans actually engage the Spartans in hand-to-hand combat.


    Nobody uses pre-Marian units online. If you play Rome, you take Urban cohorts, period. They actually are not that expensive; I don't remember the exact price but I am positive they are much cheaper than Spartans (and much better, too).

    Macedonian light cav is good, but not the best. The best light cav are Scythian head-hunters and Egyptian desert cav. Both have armor-piercing capabilities that let them slice through cataphracts like butter.


    All competitive online battles are played on flat grasslands. Obviously, chariots would be useless in a siege battle.
     
  16. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    @civfanatic

    I knew that Testudo is very effective against Cavalry. But thanks for that thorough and enlightening explanation. :)
     
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  17. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    I was referring to advantage of horse archers over foot archers. If you have used your infantry reserves and can't break the line, a flank charge by horse archers can defeat them. Once you have used all your arrows there is little reason not to.

    I never use cantabrian circle, I run in with several horse units on one archer unit, decimate it and move to the next one or run away if they start to chase me. Foot archers can't outrun cav trying to chase it down, horse archers can. Horse can quickly adjust to a dynamic situation, foot arty cannot. Horse stamina is far greater than foot archer stamina.

    I used to play Armenia all the time with 4 cata archer units on my flanks, they are quite effective as they doubled as heavy cav and archers so I could afford it.

    You use what you can afford, it depends on the spend limit. Urban cohorts are the most overated unit. 30 of them can't even defeat a fully upgraded town watch.



    I was talking about cheap entry cav. I can buy two Mac cav for the price of one head hunter and I guarantee two defeats one.

    Don't know what RTW universe you join, but most of the online games I play have woodlands or rocks in them. It is pretty boring to play on a battlefield you can't take advantage of terrain.

    Oh yeah, here is your demo of Spartan vs Urban...

     
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  18. Peter

    Peter Senior Member Senior Member

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    Very late post but since Rome TW is being discussed.I still remember watching POM and heir of carthage online battles on Rome Tw.
     
  19. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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