Full Version: Crazed Barbarian Charges
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I have been delving into the ancient sources and modern historians for weeks now trying to understand Roman warfare. After reading enough to make my eyes bleed, not counting the internet postings :roll:, I keep reading about crazed Gaulic and other barbarian charges.

I read Polybius who mentions Gauls fighting naked but I didn't see anything about unorganized wild attacks. In my copy of Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Kessinger Pub., unknown translation) it seems that the Germans and Gauls he fought had a pretty decent semblance of order, he wrote that the Helvetti formed in shield walls.

My question is what evidence exists that says clearly that so-called "barbarian" tribes fought as a mass of beserkers? From what I read "Celtic" tribes invented the Gladius Hispanianus sword, lorica hamata mail. They conquered all the way into modern Turkey and into Spain and Britian. Even though they were considered warrior cultures could they really have been so backwards to not even form ranks before attacking?

Side note, I am speaking generally about Gauls, Celts and Germanic peoples which are made up of thousands of different actual tribes. Hate generalizing myself but it seems I might be wrong on this one. Someone throw me a bone!
It is possible that some of this is simply a literary trope. In the Latin literary tradition the “barbarians” were wild berserkers, but failed before the stoic discipline of the Romans. You can find this again and again in the histories, but I thought for this purpose it would be useful to show Seneca’s opinion. He was writing about philosophy but used the accepted trope as an example. For instance:

Quote: Who are more courageous than the Germans? Who are bolder in a charge? Who have more love of the arms to which they are born and bred, which to the exclusion of all else become their only care? Who are more hardened to endurance of every kind, since they are, in large measure, provided with no protection for their bodies, with no shelter against the continual rigour of the climate? Yet these are they whom the Spaniards and the Gauls and men of Asia and Syria, uninured to war, cut down… The reason of this is that natures which are inherently brave and sturdy are prone to anger before they become softened by discipline.

Seneca, On Anger, Essays

Other commentators are a bit more realistic. Take Tacitus, for instance:

Quote:The [German] battle-line itself is arranged in wedges: to retire, provided you press on again, they treat as a question of tactics, not of cowardice…

Tacitus, Germania, 3

Here Tacitus is saying that, despite popular opinion, some “barbarians” actually did have a more sophisticated mode of warfare than simply screaming and charging and then fleeing in blind panic if the battle goes against you.

Of course, Roman history deals with thousands of different barbarian groups over thousands of years, so I think it would be possible to find examples of the “berserker” stereotype. But overall, I suspect, the reality is a bit more complicated.
Possibly the idea was put about to try and distance the Roman past from the 'barbarians', because if you look at Roman warfare, it too started as warrior bands , raiding other settlements? The Romans were not as different from the enemies. Apart from their willingness to adopt more successful technologies and techniques.
I think the writing about the barbarians was mostly based on psychological antipropaganda but the origin were on both sides: stereotipycal on roman side and "wild&nacked" fighting on celtic&barbarian side.

Hi all,

There was, of course, the famous 'Highland Charge', and that was not so long ago...
yep and we know how that ended don't we.
At least the Highland charge made sense against an enemy armed with muskets. You wanted to get through their field of fire and get to close quarters as fast as possible.
Yes, straight onto the bayonets, or the gladii! I suppose they were trying to use the shock and impact to break and disorganise the line. You have to give it to them, they must have been very brave.

This thread may be of interest to you.

There you'll find a link to a scholarly article written by fellow RAT member Fernando Quesada (aka thersites) about the nature of Iberian warfare. The Iberians, including the Celt-Iberians, fought in close order formation not unlike the Romans.

Had they really fought as disorganized hordes that wouldn't explain why it took over 200 years to conquer the whole peninsula.

To address the larger question, I think some barbarians were much more sophisticated than others. Generally speaking the more north the Romans expanded the more primitive the warfare became. Hence it took only eight years to conquer Gaul and less than that to conquer Britannia. In south-east Europe the Dacians formed a large, sophisticated kingdom.

Twenty years of intermittent warfare with Rome doesn't suggest the Dacians fought as disorderly bands, especially since they were allied with the Sarmatians who provided heavy cavalry support. This brings up the issue of external influences. The Dacians being neighbors of the Greeks probably couldn't help but become more sophisticated in warfare, however gradual the process may have been. Same for the Iberians who also had contact with the Greeks but also, especially, the Carthaginians and, later, the Romans. The peninsula was a giant playground for all these advanced civilizations which partly explains why the northern Celts, being cut off from Mediterranean influence, lagged behind. The Gauls of the East - the Galatians- were more formidable, having carved out a Hellenistic kingdom of their own in the heart of Anatolia which lasted into Roman times. Again, this fact doesn't suggest these barbarians simply charged and fled at the first sign of trouble.

Celtic warfare - they were used Celtic phalanx technique:

K. Raimund about celtic warriors:

Seems good and factoid text - maybe because of the autor (was some years ago in contact with him)? read here some debats about this text:

I yust try to show how stereotipycal are some notices about the Celts, with no archaeological evidences etc...
like this text here - totaly confused: