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Full Version: Triplex Acies and the Standard
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Back during the Republic, the Primus Pilus was the first centurion of the Pilani, also known as the Triari, as they fight in the 3rd line, as reserves. But the Primus Pilus also was responsible for guarding the senior standard of the legion.

My question, if the furthest right centurion of the last of the battle lines was guarding the standards, did that mean both he and the standard wouldn't participate in the battle unless the reserve was committed?

There isn't much in the way of answers from the sources from what I've seen, I wonder what opinions can be shared.

Personally I find it odd that the most prestigious centurion would sit out the battle with the legion's standard unless the reserve was committed. Maybe his maniple remained stationary but he and the standard bearer could move forward.
It's one of the mystery of the republican army. A modern reader would expect not only the Primus Pilanus (or Triarus ?), but also the rest of the triari, to be where the situation is the most critical. Instead the romans seemed to have kept the most experienced men in reserve. A few things come to mind:

- The society/army/commandeer probably didn't want to use the Triari during the whole battle because they had had their share of being in the first ranks when they were younger. It would have been unfair, and since we're talking about conscripted citizen soldiers, that's definitely an important thing to keep in mind. Possibly, the same reasoning can be applied to the senior centurions of the Triari. Maybe he just wasn't expected to fight in the front ranks anymore unless things went bad.

- Society wise in the mid-republic, the 600 or so triari were probably fairly important men, property owner and all that, their centurions even more so. Possibly, the Romans organised themselves this way in order to prevent 5 or 10% of one of the key age class of the society from being wounded/killed in battle. Their death would have disorganised the society more than they felt comfortable with. We have to remember that societies, especially those ancient republics in Italy or Greece had to be very careful at the way they handled their demographics. Losing too many of a certain class of citizens could upset the balance of power in the society and result in its extinction.

- From a more tactical standpoint. The answer might lie in observing what the Greeks did. Typically and early on through the hellenistic era, they would form a rank of older and more experienced file closers, the ouragoi (spelling ?). And in the hellenistic manuals, not only would they have 1 ouragos per file of 16, they would also have one extra ouragos per sperai. That at least tells us that the romans were not the only one to keep some of the most experienced fighting men out of the fight. It seems that managing the back of the battle line was as much critical as fighting in the front ranks. It must have required experienced and steady men.

- To come back to the romans, since they seem to have had a more "fluid" style of warfare, having tried and steady men anchoring the Legion was even more important. If indeed the maniple of hastati and principes were expected to move back and forth during the course of the battle, then it was very important to make sure that a weaker unit would not move back more than necessary and linger out of the fight more than necessary.

- Now as far as their most senior centurion is concerned, if anchoring the back of the line was important, then anchoring its most exposed flank had to have been even more critical. Especially in the face of an enemy threatening the flanks of a legion.

In the end, I'd say it was a necessary arrangement to keep the most experienced men in the back and on the right side of the line. The society/army/commander would therefor maximise their military value (experienced men but maybe no longer fit enough to go through a whole full scale battle) and minimize the risk of them dying in too great numbers (to limit the disturbances that losing those men would cause to the society.) If my reasoning make sense, then having those older more experienced men sitting in the 3rd line and among them the most senior maniple sitting on the extreme right under the command of the most experienced man the legion is simply the most optimal arrangement. Some sort of equilibrium as we in the economics field would say.

One last note. It would make sense to me (but maybe not to the romans !) that the senior centurion would move around, help manage things and all that, but I think the standard bearer would stay put. Having the standard that was supposed to be in the "South East" corner of the legion moving around the battlefield would have caused a fair amount of confusion I suppose. After all, the 30 standards of a legion could have provided some sort of grid system for an officer. No idea if the romans saw it that way, but if they did, then they wouldn't want their reference points wandering around the battlefield ! ; )

Hope those half random thoughts help !
Interesting response, I agree.

Pliny the Elder wrote that the Romans had five different types of standards, eagles, horses, boars, wolves, and minotaurs. Marius adopted the most senior standard, the eagle, left the rest back in camp during battle.

I've read an account of a Roman centurion, Lucius Siccius Dentatus, who while in battle as a young miles gregarius, probably hastati, he saved the legions standard from being captured by the enemy, also saving the reputation of the primus pilus. What is notable about that account is that Livy makes it clear that it was the primipilus' duty to protect the standard in battle. So he would have to be close by. Add to that is another source, can't remember which, but it said in camp it was the primipilus' job to look out for the eagle standard.

So it makes me wonder if the primipilus was wandering the battlefield before the triari were committed he would have probably been obligated to bring the standard with him, to look out for it.

There are many accounts of battle where the triari either weren't used or they served as camp guards. If that were the case I don't think the most experienced and prestigious centurion out of 60 would hang back, with virtus on the line i think he would find a way to hang out at or near the front line during the battle.