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I've been reading Duncan B Campbell's Mons Graupius book for Osprey, which is overall very good, but something there puzzled me, and I wonder if anyone can shed light on this.

TL;DR: if you don't want to read my musings on the book, just skip to the end for my questions!

In the battle, the legionary vexillations were placed in reserve, and did not take part. Campbell argues that Agricola may have put the auxiliary infantry in front to combat the Caledonians' scythed chariots. His point is that the legionaries fight in closed order, and the auxiliary infantry fight in more open order, the latter formation being more suitable to deal with the scythed chariots (he posits that the Romans may have used Gaugemala-like tactics to open ranks and surround the chariots; not sure if that's likely or not, but it's the formations themselves that interest me). I know there's the argument that Agricola was avoiding shedding Roman blood by holding back the legionaries, but Campbell dismisses this explanation.

What puzzles me is that surely if the auxiliaries could pull of the above manoeuvre, then so could the legionaries. And wasn't open order one of their standard battle orders anyway? It's not as if the auxiliaries in question were light troops; indeed, elsewhere he stresses how the Batavian auxiliaries - the mainstay of Agricola's battle line - were an equivalent troop "weight" to the legionaries! Perhaps the auxiliaries involved were just more experienced than the legionaries, and were trusted to pull off such a manouvre; but that's not Campbell's argument.

I'm no expert, so I wonder if I'm missing a key point somewhere. So...
  1. Am I right that 1st-century legionaries usually trained for open order fighting as well as close order?
  2. And would heavily equipped auxiliaries, like the Batavians, use similar battle tactics to their legionary counterparts?
  3. If so, why would they be better suited to handle scythed chariots?
A couple of years ago I enquired about the use of scythed chariots at this battle (and in Britain generally):

British Scythed Chariots

With due respect to Duncan, I'm still not convinced myself!


Quote:Am I right that 1st-century legionaries usually trained for open order fighting as well as close order?

Agricola 'opened out' the ranks of his auxiliaries to avoid being enveloped (Agricola XXXV.4), which suggests they were in closer order beforehand. He seems determined to keep his legions in reserve rather than use them to extend the line, but I don't think there's anything here to suggest that the legionaries couldn't have fought in open order if required.



Quote:And would heavily equipped auxiliaries, like the Batavians, use similar battle tactics to their legionary counterparts?

Again, Tacitus seems to say as much. The Batavian tactics were 'familiar to them from long service and embarrassing to the enemy', whose weapons were not adapted for 'locked lines and fighting at close quarters' (not sure if the translation is quite correct here). This sounds like the Batavians had been trained to fight in the standard Roman style, as used by legionaries and, it seems, auxiliaries too.
Quote:[*]If so, why would they be better suited to handle scythed chariots?
A simple response might be that they weren't (at least not necessarily), they were just more expendable. I think it's also still an open question if scythed chariots were even used in that battle. (Another discussion on this topic can be found here.)
Interesting - thanks for the replies.
I just ordered the same book from Amazon . Cant wait until it arrives. Ive been to Scotland several times and hopefully get to visit some of the supposed locations of this battle. Ive been to the Mither Tap of Bennachie which certainly looks the part but i dont think that it is the actual location. Im going to be in northern Scotland (Aberdeen and orkney) this summer. Does anyone know of any roman fort ruins that are still there ? If so could you post a link?
I can't comment on whether there are any visible fort remains in the area, but the Mons Graupius book does go into a lot of detail about the marching camps used during Agricola's campaigns in Scotland. It's a very good read; the link above re. scythed chariots is well worth reading, too, in conjunction with the book, for a debate (including the author) on whether such vehicles were actually used.
Quote:Perhaps the auxiliaries involved were just more experienced than the legionaries, and were trusted to pull off such a manouvre; but that's not Campbell's argument.
Well ... it is, sort of. Agricola clearly chose auxiliaries over legionaries. I don't buy the usual explanation that they were expendable, when you consider how much had already been invested in them; there was no Roman "cannon fodder" (although, having read Ted Lendon's Soldiers and Ghosts, it might be argued that legionaries were considered more valuable for their non-combat contribution). My belief is that Agricola made the choice because (in your words) the auxiliaries "were trusted to pull off the required manoeuvre". The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is ... what manoeuvre? The parallel with Gaugamela seemed worth pursuing. (But the frustrating thing about ancient history is that we'll probably never know.)
Quote:
Robert Grainger post=332530 Wrote:Perhaps the auxiliaries involved were just more experienced than the legionaries, and were trusted to pull off such a manouvre; but that's not Campbell's argument.
Well ... it is, sort of. Agricola clearly chose auxiliaries over legionaries. I don't buy the usual explanation that they were expendable, when you consider how much had already been invested in them; there was no Roman "cannon fodder" (although, having read Ted Lendon's Soldiers and Ghosts, it might be argued that legionaries were considered more valuable for their non-combat contribution). My belief is that Agricola made the choice because (in your words) the auxiliaries "were trusted to pull off the required manoeuvre". The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is ... what manoeuvre? The parallel with Gaugamela seemed worth pursuing. (But the frustrating thing about ancient history is that we'll probably never know.)

Well, I suppose one day some chariot remains might be discovered somewhere! Metal blades might have survived...

What, then, was different about the abilities of the two units? If they were similarly equipped, it can't be that. Were the Batavians just more experienced, or do you think they might have trained in different tactics? They were good at traversing water, which obviously isn't relevant here, but could they have other specialist skills?

Or does something make the legionaries more suitable as a reserve? I wouldn't have thought so, but I'm just "throwing it out there", as they say.
Quote:My belief is that Agricola made the choice because (in your words) the auxiliaries "were trusted to pull off the required manoeuvre". The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is ... what manoeuvre? The parallel with Gaugamela seemed worth pursuing. (But the frustrating thing about ancient history is that we'll probably never know.)

I also meant to ask you about that Duncan. Drawing in multiple lines was nothing strange for the Romans, it was standard tactics. Actually, drawing up with an auxiliary line was the best advised thing to do when confronting an enemy who could outflank you because of the terrain or his superior numbers. Especially the Byzantine manuals (as comparative material, of course, based to a degree on Roman military tradition) claim that it should be the best/most experienced troops arrayed in the promachos (first) line. Attack with the troops you have most faith in for the job, cover them with the reserves if outflanked or form a safe haven for them if things should go wrong. So, the standard Roman plan for the occasion would not actually require any extraordinary maneuver, just what is described by Tacitus. In all, as I see it, it would be a surprise to see the Romans array in single line instead.