RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Why did the Roman army base on infantry?
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A quotation from:

http://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/17-roma...135#331458


Quote:And if it was so effective why was the roman army based on infantry? surely they had the knowledge and economic power to do otherwise.

Because cavalry is almost completely useless in siege warfare?

And sieges were much more frequent than pitched battles in majority of Roman wars?

The Roman army fought for 250 years in terrain and conditions unfavourable for cavalry - like the mountainous and forested Iberian Peninsula, against enemies using guerilla warfare and ambushes, avoiding pitched battles (see Viriathus with his Lusitanians and the Spanish Wars in general).

The Spanish Wars were the bloodiest (for the Romans) and the longest of all conflicts in Roman military history, maybe except the 2nd Punic War (but the 2nd Punic War actually proved that shortage of cavalry was a crucial disadvantage of the Romans compared to Carthaginians - Hannibal was winning all pitched battles as long as he had cavalry - after most of cavalry betrayed him, he lost at Zama).

But it is not true to say that the Roman army based on infantry all the time.

This is only true for the early and medium periods in evolution of the Roman military.

After experiencing combat against enemies relying on cavalry - Romans increased the proportion of cavalry in their army and introduced to this army various formations of heavy lance-wielding cavalry.

Another reason why for long time Rome didn't have any good cavalry - was because they were by no means a society of riders. That's why they conscripted foreigners to their cavalry units.

It is not possible to create a motorized army, in a country where only 1% of people can drive a car.

Similar situation was in Rome - horses were rarity, few people were experienced riders.
I agree with you about Romans reliance on infantry but although cavalry played their part in the process in the dismembering of the Roman Empire I think overextension, civil wars and switching to a form of static defence based on the Rhine and Danube rivers in Europe really sounded the death knell of Rome. Stupidity and greed by commanders like Crassus also didn't help. He had the Gallic Cavalry led by his son and was expecting help from Armenia in cavalry. Although it wouldn't have been easy leading his army through Armenia as it was hilly country if he did he would have negated the Parthian's advantage of cavalry as well as intimidating the Armenian King into supporting him but he chose what he thought would be the easier route. Valens was jealous of Gratian and thought he was only attacking infantry at Adrianople hoping to get all the credit and not share it with Gratian. Yet in 40BC Ventidius defeated the Parthians at battle of Cyrrhestica where he learnt by Crassus mistakes and beefed up his legions with archers and slingers and chose more favourable ground (hill country). But using a sporting analogy "You play to your strengths" and infantry was their strength. But you are right about sieges as military engineering was another of their strengths. I think that is why they had so much trouble with the Sarmatians as they travelled in their wagons and so the Romans could not lay siege to their cities and towns because they moved with the horsemen. Good topic.
Regards
Michael Kerr
Another contributing factor was simply that the Romans were very traditional-minded, and their tradition was foot soldiers, with a few cavalry added in for scouting and pursuit operations. There may not have to be any reason other than they simply "just did it that way, like their fathers and grandfathers before them".
Roman army have too many benefit about infatry in their age ( around 100 BC - 476 ) . Their heavy infatry were equipped so good . They have throwing - spear for short - range ,sword for close-range and iron armor can protect body . Light infatry have strongest bow at this time . Finally , they have many war-machine . Machines can't use without infatry .
The Roman Infanty of the Late Era were very well adapted. A Legion and Gaul and in Syria were both equipped almost the same, they could both take on enemies from a distance thanks to a large number of javelins and plumbatae, and were both equipped to fight cavalry with spears and infantry with swords.

Infantry will always dominate cavalry. Even today a band of infantry can get up close to a tank and take it down by throwing a hand grenade in the hatch. The purpose of Cavalry is to tip the scales in the favor of one side, usually by a shock attack on the flank.
Quote:Infantry will always dominate cavalry. Even today a band of infantry can get up close to a tank and take it down by throwing a hand grenade in the hatch.

First of all - tanks have machine guns to protect themselves from infantry. Also to throw a hand grenade in the hatch, you need to open it first (and this is impossible from outside).

Secondly - we are talking about Ancient Era, not tanks, so please let's stick to this.


Quote:The Roman Infanty of the Late Era were very well adapted.

Yet lost on a number of occasions to enemies relying mostly on cavalry.
I think this is a very difficult question, which could only be (probably partially) answered by a profound investigation of social, cultural, geographic and economic factors, and their change over time. In Raetia, e.g., there is quite a lot of cavalry already in the early 2nd century.
Tanks and anti-tank tactics? Are we straying off topic so soon?

The Roman Republic cavalry was not shock cavalry. It served a completely different purpose. The cavalry of the Late Empire was sometimes used differently, and might be considered "heavy cavalry" by some. Tactics changed, infantry tactics changed some, armor and helmet styles changed for both horsemen (and horses) and footsoldiers. As the armament, training, and tactics changed over time, it follows that the appearance and function of the armies involved also changed. It's sort of pointless to compare the Parthian horse archers with the Republic Equites, or Republic infantry with pikemen, if you ask me.

From my limited reading of warfighting, it's hard to make absolutes like "X troops always defeat Y troops". Too many other factors enter into the equation, many of them fairly intangible.
Quote:
Quote:Infantry will always dominate cavalry. Even today a band of infantry can get up close to a tank and take it down by throwing a hand grenade in the hatch.

First of all - tanks have machine guns to protect themselves from infantry. Also to throw a hand grenade in the hatch, you need to open it first (and this is impossible from outside).

Secondly - we are talking about Ancient Era, not tanks, so please let's stick to this.


Quote:The Roman Infanty of the Late Era were very well adapted.

Yet lost on a number of occasions to enemies relying mostly on cavalry.

The Roman Late Infantry were usually successful in the Long Run. And if you're referring to the Huns they still used predominately infantry.

Roman Cavalry changed in the 5th Century, becoming the Lance-and-Bow warfare of the Byzantine Era. But Infantry won in the end, even in Chalons Goa and Sambida only matched Hunnic Tactics. When they broke (likely on purpose) Attila followed and Aetius and Thorismund closed on his flanks with Infantry.

Infantry wins battles, take the Battle of Casilinum. The Horse Archers flanked the Franko-Gothic Army and attacked from the Rear, so the enemy Infantry were trapped. The Roman infantry then finished them off. Even when fighting Totila the Goth it was infantry armed with bows and javelins that broke his charge and crushed his forces.
Whilst it's fundamental element of the little paper I'm writing...

I am happy to believe that one of the main reasons the vast majority of the Greek & Roman armies, in the 400BC to 200AD period at least, were light on cavalry was also down to the relative scarcity of the availability of suitably sound and trained horses, let alone the additional logistics needed to sustain them.
Quote:Whilst it's fundamental element of the little paper I'm writing...

I am happy to believe that one of the main reasons the vast majority of the Greek & Roman armies, in the 400BC to 200AD period at least, were light on cavalry was also down to the relative scarcity of the availability of suitably sound and trained horses, let alone the additional logistics needed to sustain them.

Symmachus records that something like 5 of his 9 horses died in the journey from Spain to Rome, with a stop in Gaul. Transporting Horses over sea was a big problem for the Romans.
Going by Treadgold's numbers, by the later 4th century, about 50% of the limitanei but only 20% of the comitatenses and palatini were cavalry.

Cavalry was important for scouting. Cavalry was more expensive, harder to train, and harder to supply, which was why infantry was preferred for sieges. Cavalry might have had trouble replacing horses after thousand-mile marches. On the battlefield, if there were enough cavalry, there were times when they would all fight mounted, and even independently of the infantry, and there were times when some would fight dismounted.
Quote:And if you're referring to the Huns they still used predominately infantry.

The Huns, the Parthians, the Sassanids, the Goths... and many others.

What does it mean for you "predominantly" - do you mean numbers, or importance?
The Goths are recorded to have usually dismounted to fight. They did so in Adrianopolis, and the Alamanni dismounted to fight in Strausbourg.

The Hunnic Army itself was Mostly Cavalry, but they conquered a lot of Germanic tribes and eventually became a predominately Infantry force, comprised of Gepids and Gothic troops. Although the Huns stillg ave them the tactical edge.
Quote:The Goths are recorded to have usually dismounted to fight. They did so in Adrianopolis

Show me primary sources for this, please.
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