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Forgive me if this has already been discussed but I am interested in whether there was a formal system of training roman soldiers as individuals and as a unit. If so could you point me to article or books. I have started reading some of Goldsworthy's stuff but it seems inconclusive. Thanks
I think there was formal training and there was a marching drill, which is mentioned somewhere, but a footdrill seems to me pretty useless prior to the invention of rifles.
Vegetius might be worth looking at.
Hi Sueteonius,

(Remember your signature!)

There would have been a drill manual, because we can find material here and there that seems to correspond throughout the Roman period. However, we do not have one document that describes the training of the army from tiro to general.

Most elaborate is the Strategikon, a document ascribed to the 6th c. Emperor Maurikios, but he seems to leave out 'what everybody knows' (but what we want to know! Big Grin ). Then you have a lot of bits here and there, such as in Vegetius, Arrian, others.

The Ermine Street Guard was the first re-eneactment group to write a full set, mostly English army orders translated directly into Latin. Marcus Junkelmann did something similar later on, but based on Latin grammatical rules. Most groups today use a mix of the above. Myself, I go with Maurikios mostly, with a lot of 'common sense' additions where the gaps in our knowledge occur.

I can't find the thread right know, but last year a Ludus Militis Tactica was developed that will suit your needs just fine I think. I may not agree with the result 100%, but theye was a lot of research done on it.
Thanks for the reference, Robert. Not only a lot of research, but a long list of footnotes. pdf file available on
Quote:I think there was formal training and there was a marching drill, which is mentioned somewhere, but a footdrill seems to me pretty useless prior to the invention of rifles.

I'm not sure I follow you Jona. The 'order' in which Legions marched when in hostile territory was absolutely crucial to survival. Having to go from moving to forming up - if taken by surprise, as in Teutoburg Forest - would surely have been something drilled over and over. Same for the different order in which they moved, the difference being their state of readiness. The chief reason for the disarray of the Varus Legions, defeated by the treachery of Arminius, was that they were moving in loose order (Ad agmine) believing themselves be in no immediate danger. Raw recruits would also have been schooled during campaigns, by other troops in camp, as it would have been in everyone's interest to have good discipline and cohesive movement on entering battle.

Also part of the drilling would have been:

Ad signa: Fall in. When you hear this command by the Centurio (or the CO for the day), stop whatever you’re doing, pick up you shield and pilum, and proceed to the vexillum and CO, forming a single shoulder-to-shoulder rank facing them.

Silentium: Silence. In other words, no chattering in the ranks.

Mandata captate: Literally, “observe the orders.” This is the command we use for “attention!” You stand straight, eyes front, shield held by its grip in the left hand, pilum held vertically in the right first just below the square block.

Ordenem servate: Keep your position. Or “stay put.” Infrequently used if at all.

Dirige frontem: Dress the ranks. Look down the rank to make sure everyone is in a straight row. All shield bosses and the toes of your caligae should be lined up as neatly as possible, about two feet between each shoulder (enough to do a “clina,” or facing maneuver, without ramming into your buddy’s shield.

Laxate: “At ease.” You may set your shield down and rest the butt spike of your pilum on the ground. No slouching or chattering, though!

Ad gladium, clina: [cleena] To the right (sword side), face! Push off with your left toe, pivot on your right heel, and turn smartly to the right.

Ad scutum, clina: To the left (shield side), face! Reverse of the above.

Transforma: About face. Normally done to the right, unless specified otherwise as in “ad scutum, transforma.” Put the point of your right (or left) toe on the ground behind you, and pivot all the way around on the opposite heel.

Langia (ad dex/ad sin/ambas partes): Open ranks (to right/left/both sides). Shift to one side or the other by one full arm-length.

Intra: Half-rank fall back one pace. A very important command, this turns one rank into two. Starting with the soldier on the far left, every other soldier takes a step backward, then shifts to the right to stand directly behind the soldier who had been to his right.

Exi: [exee] The reverse of “intra” – the rear rank takes a step to the left and then to the front to form a single rank again.

Iunge: [yungay] Close ranks. Usually, this command comes after an “Intra” to tighten up the two ranks thus created.

Move: [moo-way] March. Start on your right [“dextra,” or “dex”] foot. By itself, it means simply to march to the front. Proceeded by a “clina” command, as in “ad gladium clina—move!” it means to face the called-for direction, then step off to the front. Keep step by calling out “dex…dex...dex, sin, dex…”

Accelera: Speed up.

Tarda: Slow down

Ad dex / sin depone: [day-po-nay] Wheel to the right/left. These are some of the most impressive maneuvers, if carried out properly. In a “ad dex depone” (wheel to the right), the soldier on the far right becomes the “pivot.” He stops moving forward and starts to rotate slowly while marching in place. This soldier, and all others in the rank except for the one on the far left, looks to his left to make sure he is even with the soldiers to his left; the soldier on the far left looks to his right, so he can see the whole line, and controls the speed of the wheel. A wheel to the left, of course, is simply the reverse.

Signo sequute: [say-cue-tay] Follow the standard (or leader). This works best when the rank (line abreast moving forward) becomes a file (single file line moving forward), which can be accomplished with a simple “clina” command. Basically, the front man in line follows the leader and vexillum, and everyone behind follows the man in front of him.

Sta: Halt. Stop on the second step after the command is uttered.

Muta locum: Countermarch. This is a cool maneuver in which one or two files marching forward double back on themselves from the front.

Ad agmine: [ad ag-mi-nay] Form marching column. Form one or two files. This is the standard marching formation, when not under threat.

Ad aciem: [ad ack-ee-em] Form battle-line. This is a rank (or series of ranks) facing the enemy, shield to front, pilum held in a light grip ready to cock and discharge. IT IS NOT A SHIELD WALL. The Romans did not employ shield walls in their standard battle formation, but advanced in an open formation with a gap of one-two feet between shields.

Ad testudinem: [tes-too-di-nem] Form testudo. This is widely considered the coolest of all Roman formations, useful in siege mining or advancing under heavy missile fire from above. You need at least six men to form a proper testudo, arranged in two here files of two; nine or more (arranged in three ranks of three) is better. It’s amazingly simple in concept: The guys in front draw their swords and hunker down behind their shields, sword blades protruding from between their shields. The soldiers behind raise their shields and hold them flat and horizontal over their own heads and those of the guys in front of them. The formation tightens up to form just what the name says—a “tortoise.” You then move forward in a halting step—to keep everyone together, you can chant “RO-MA” or “STEP-DRAG” in unison.

Ad cuneum: Form wedge. This is not quite what it sounds like. A “cuneum” is not one guy in front, two guys behind, three behind him etc. to form a wedge-shape. It is simply a “bent rank” with the soldier in the center as the “apex.” This was apparently a “charge attack” formation, though no one has still figured out exactly how it worked, since the guy at the “apex” would very likely be more exposed than his mates and quickly cut down.

Pila infige: [in-fee-gay] Plant your pila (upright). Stick the butt spike in the earth.

Pila pone: [po-nay] Lay down your pila.

Pila tolle: [tol-lay] Pick up pila.

Pila iace: [ee-ack-ay] I’d like to suggest the following sequence: “Pila parati” (everyone takes a half-step forward with the left foot, gets the proper throwing grip, raises their pilae, cocks the arm); “Pila... iace!” Starting on the right foot, take three strides forward, releasing the pilum on the third (right foot) stride. In the same motion, the right arm comes down, draws the sword, and extends it past the shield, and everyone comes to a halt on the next step (left foot forward), preparing to charge or to receive a charge.

Gladium stringe: [strin-gay] Draw swords. This command is not used after the pilum toss, as you draw your sword in a natural sequence after discharging your pilum. The command is used in preparation for a charge, or receiving a charge, when not in possession of your pilum.

Parati: Ready (To charge). We face the enemy (or crowd), swords drawn.

Percute: [per-cute-tay] Charge! Maintaining ranks, advance at double speed, sword drawn, and ideally uttering a bloodthirsty battle cry.

Gladium reconde: Sheath swords.

Dimitto: Dismissed.
Quote:Forgive me if this has already been discussed but I am interested in whether there was a formal system of training roman soldiers as individuals and as a unit. If so could you point me to article or books. I have started reading some of Goldsworthy's stuff but it seems inconclusive. Thanks
Aside from the Roman sources, we know that Macedonian style hoplites were drilled, because we have a number of technical works surviving from Roman times. The equivalent for the real armies of the day (Macedonian style hoplites were gone except for the odd experiment) doesn't survive because it was too prosaic! But its very possible that for most of republican times, when Romans usually fought in open order and served for a few years at a time, there was little or no drill.
Quote:Ad gladium, clina: [cleena] To the right (sword side), face!
Why 'ad gladium'? The one source that we have uses the spear (ad conto) so why 'translate' this to 'gladius, instead of 'pilum'?

Quote:Langia (ad dex/ad sin/ambas partes): Open ranks (to right/left/both sides).
Ad dex / sin depone: [day-po-nay] Wheel to the right/left.
Why use dex/sin here, when the source that you use elsewhere uses shield/spear for left/right? The command (which we do not have literally from a text, afaik) would better be ad scuta depone / ad conto depone, or variations upon that, I think.

Quote:Ad aciem: [ad ack-ee-em] Form battle-line. This is a rank (or series of ranks) facing the enemy, shield to front, pilum held in a light grip ready to cock and discharge. IT IS NOT A SHIELD WALL. The Romans did not employ shield walls in their standard battle formation, but advanced in an open formation with a gap of one-two feet between shields.
Ah!! Confusedhock: I would like to hear your evidence on that last statement; 'the Romans' being an Empire for over a 1000 years, 'never doing this or that' is dangerously close to Hollywood portraying every 'Roman' in segmetata armour. Big Grin
In my opinion, the Roman army had a lot of formmations in it's inventory, ranging from the manipular to falangial ones, which were used depending on the circumstance. I would never say that 'the Romans' always advanced with a 1-2 ft. gap between the men. This is evidently incorrect, even for the short period when the rectangular shields & segmentata were in use. Wink.

Of course, you can mention this as being the case for your particular show, but as a rule for 'the Roman army' I think it's incorrect.
Aelian's tactika is a useful document, I believe there are copies to be found on the internet and there are copies you can buy from a number of sources.
I often wonder how much drill there was in the early Imperial army. By drill I mean spacings, doublings, facings, wheeling and counter marching as opposed to weapons drill. I appreciate many early Imperial re-enactment groups pride themselves on their drill, and the view that the early Imperial Roman army in some way mirrors the British army, or any other modern army, still seems to prevail.

I appreciate than pike armed troops need formation and weapons drill to operate. But sword armed legionaires do not need much beyond "follow the suicidal promotion seeking centurian". Battle dynamics are rarely examined, except perhaps in Tacitus and Cassius Dio. Modern perceptions of early combat suggests legionaries would advance in some sort of formation to missile range, with individuals or small groups going that bit further into hand to hand combat. This combat would last for seconds before one side would fall back to a “safe” distance, the idea of “safe” being based on the perceived threat from the enemy. Roman discipline was based on falling back the minimum amount, and their willingness to advance once again and continue the process for a long period of time.

A short glance at the evidence shows us the early Imperial army is tactically flexible and full of interesting equipment, but perhaps rather limited when it comes to drill. But by the 4th century we see the rise of a more professional army, benefiting from technological improvements, with professional staff officers drawing on written manuals, perfect cavalrymen, cohesive battlefield drills, integrated long range missile capacity within the legions, spear armed phalanx-like front ranks, and with the full financial support of the state.

Heretical? I don't think so!
Just a personal observation here.

I remember my father (an ex-regular senior NCO in the Royal Engineers) once telling me the purpose of drill and why he was in favour of it (well, he would, wouldn't he?) He said that it made a soldier familiar with his weapons, in particular how they would behave under different conditions, distribution of weight, etc. It also created an esprit-de-corps - all troops moving together as one body as well as a habit of obeying orders. You were told to advance, that's what you did, no stopping for a discussion!

If they were anything, the Romans were professional in their military. They had found a system that worked and that had won them an enormous empire. Of course they used drill!

Mike Thomas
John, I have to disagree with your dissing of the early Imperial army!
The manuals and writings of the later sources seem to take all their references and ideas from the earlier periods, and then some!
The disciplin of the early armies was what bset them apart from the armies thay faced,
andnthe formations they kept whilen fighting.
It does mention the technique of leaping out of line and back in, which would be usefull to take out one of the barbarians who were prone to make single combat challenges!
The ~Roman army was what it was because it was usually better, if well led than the enemy!
From Varus to Adrianople, and probably many times unrecorded, Roman armies were lost
usually due to poor leadership and planning, noth the poor fighting quality of the troops, or the centurions in the line!
It was when the disciplin slipped and the agressive competetitive nature of the centurions and troops were allowed to over rule that disaster often struck, such as Ceasars men, Vorenus and Pullo in #Gaul etc, but not the norm where the lines were kept ordered and discipline enforced, that they were successful!8)
There must have been time allocated for legion formation drills as well. Going from a Legion march column to a battle column (column of cohorts in battle formation) and transitioning into the triple or double line (of cohorts) is something that could be quite complex for new troops and must be practiced. Like the training of Napoleon's Army at Boulogne just prior to his wars the formation training would have started at the lowest level and progressed from century to cohort to legion probably as he did by allocating specific days of the week. Maneuvering the legion's cavalry wings and throwing out light cohorts as skirmishers (or auxilia) would also be trained on so that these elements could properly support each other and the main battle line.
If Vegetius says it takes 3 months to "learn the military step", he must have been talking about something more difficult and complex than just walking.
I appreciate I am playing devil’s advocate, but I think with some cause.

If a military step was in fact a syncopated step, it would be easy to learn. But I don’t know when it was adopted. Was it used by the early Imperial army?

I’m sure their weapons drill was excellent. Also their discipline, valour or whatever was better than most of their opponents. And they certainly had an order of march.

But compared to the manuals of mid 3rd century onwards, where are the manuals of the early Imperial period? Of course they may not have survived, but did they ever exist?
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