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Changes in the Roman Army
Quote:In 1989 (the Shire volume) we just have it as 'a major change'

Ah, the sad fate of all 'revolutions' is to be revised and reappraised out of existence. ;-)

Quote:the changes...begins effectively under Gallenius

Why would that be? And how much does the idea depend on the notion that Gallienus established a rapid-reaction cavalry force?
Nathan Ross
He began the establishment of a field army with the vexillations and cavalry vexillations grouped in Macedonia. Coello explains it better than I can.
Quote:the establishment of a field army with the vexillations and cavalry vexillations grouped in Macedonia..

Evidence for Gallienus's 'battle cavalry' is actually a lot shakier than it might seem. Duncan Campbell's article in AW II.6 suggests that the famous 'Dalmatian cavalry' was actually the Equites Singulares Augusti, not a new elite formation of specialist field cavalry detachments. A good example of the cloudiness of this whole era!

Nevertheless, Gallienus's unusually long reign by 3rd-century standards would provide the best opportunity for a revision of the army, if such a thing took place - it depends whether you believe that the army inherited by Diocletian was substantially different in structure to that of Severus, or not.
Nathan Ross
Mark Hygate post=352250 Wrote:Gentle evolutionary change, sometimes even retrograde when desirable, not revolutionary.

As with most large and complex organisations over long periods of time, the development of the Roman army from the 2nd to the 5th centuries shows signs of both evolution and revolution, besides continuity.......................


Thank you, but a note to stress that I think the titling of the thread has lead us away from what I was talking about.....

For almost all the things in your post are perfectly valid, but aren't anything to do with tactics!

Tactics - the art & science (indeed management) of deploying troops on the battlefield and subsequently moving them around to tactical effect; which can also include things (that we see Romans address) like formations on the march, etc.

But nearly all the things you are citing were part of change from the Imperial to the Later Roman periods are not linked to the effect that arms and armour have on tactics. They are, however, socio-economic, political and indeed strategic changes.

Whilst I may not entirely agree with your (and others as we have discussed before) view that the Romans were originally very aggressive pila throwing hard chargers and then later more defensive; that doesn't mean that deciding when to hold and when to charge aren't important elements in a battle, but they can be equally achieved with whatever the current weapon mix is. In addition, how to fight with the weapons a soldier has is down to training in a particular, arms and armour-related, style - but, because there was so little change relatively, the basic tactics don't change.

Ancient period soldiers - just like I argue up to the late 18th and early 19th century did - fight in contiguous formations of practicable width and varying depth (dependent on desired effect) with weapons that are essentially similar. On that basis whether the soldier effectively fights with a sword or a spear (or even a bayonet) of varying lengths, both still engage in basic hand-to-hand combat at the tactical level. They may have short-range weapons be they javelins, pila or thrown axes (or even early pistols); or longer range slings or bows (or early muskets and even artillery) and that then dictates how they move around and subsequently engage.

All throughout nearly 4000 years from the earliest armies all are constrained by the speed of foot-marching and the possibilities of horse-speed and thus cavalry - the weaponology available dictates the tactics and they really don't change much.

On the latter part of the thread I would suggest that the period of change being discussed that lead eventually to the delineation of border troops and the creation of the first central field army would be the stationing of II Parthica near to Rome with the Praetorian Guard at the very end of the 2nd Century.

In more detail I would almost suggest:

- up to the end of the 1st Century AD a period of almost continuous expansion, for many reasons, but definitely legion-based

- the 2nd Century AD sees firm consolidation (post Trajan/Hadrian) and the fixing of most borders and the troops to control them and the switch to leaving legions more-firmly based and the use of vexillations from those legions more and more.

- the 3rd Century AD sees the involvement of a central reserve to add weight to existing and ad-hoc armies

- The beginning of the 4th Century AD (post-Constantine) sees the change finalise with the old-style legions and auxiliaries firmly based on the borders and the creation of the field armies we then see attested in the ND. The limitanei still remain effective and are used, probably more locally, as temporary (pseudo-comitatenses) attachments to the field armies.

This discussion goes into a very academic if not philosophic direction. Was the tactics at Cannae or Charrae significantly different than Arrians battle against the Alans or Julians battle against the Alemanns? What is a significant change in tactics and what is not? "Significant" is relative! And thats what you guys are disputing about. I am afraid that leads to nothing.
Ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas
[quote][quote="Ross Cowan" post=352285]Any chance of appending "Imperial" to the title again? Could Mr. Seán Ó’Brógáin vary the equipment of the legionaries in plates with battle scenes? I like his attention to detail, but action scenes appear to be collisions between identically equipped individuals, such as plates G and H of Roman Guardsman.[/quote]

Add Imperial to the title? No.

As for more varied equipment in the battle scenes: no. My main concern with battle scenes is action and I specify relatively uniform gear in the artwork reference packages. I want the artist to focus on the drama, not the minutiae of arms and armour. That's what the other plates are for. Also, painting a battle scene is hard enough without me demanding all sorts of different helmets and belt-buckles. The artist doesn't get paid enough and the average reader is not going to notice. I think Seán's battle scenes in Roman Guardsman - fall of the Castra Praetoria in AD 69 (plate F) and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312 (plate G) - are excellent.

Plates in Roman Legionary, AD 284-337 will include episodes from the battles of Turin (AD 312) and Adrianople (AD 324).


Ross, I suppose there is no chance of having a plate showing the battle between the Goths and the forces of Constantine in 332?
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
Regarding the issue of tactics alone - since I do not hold myself knowledgeable enough to constructively participate in the discussion about the changes themselves in the Roman army in the said period (I am currently studying relevant sources in depth but there is still much to read before I can voice opinions) -, it is my belief that tactics in the ancient world did change, were very varied and adjusted to a multitude of situations BUT I also support, that the basic, underlying mechanisms that determined them remained more or less unchanged for thousands of years. The argument about the sword being a sword and a spear a spear is valid and, to my opinion, can be used as a basis for speculation and theories. However, it is only a brick in the wall of tactics. The way these basic elements were used according to circumstances were complex and should not be oversimplified as this argument seems to suggest.
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George C. K.
῾Ηρακλῆος γὰρ ἀνικήτου γένος ἐστέ
I agree that the basic tactics and formations did not change much right from the time of the Greek Hoplites to the 6th Century AD. Basically you had the infantry forming up the centre of the army and the cavalry divided either side of the infantry. The change came during the 6th Century when infantry were relegated to forming behind the cavalry in most cases, or behind archers.
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
Quote:almost all the things in your post are perfectly valid, but aren't anything to do with tactics!

Tactics are surely affected by strategy in one direction, and affect both arms and equipment and unit structure in the other, so these things are interrelated, I'd say!

Quote:What is a significant change in tactics and what is not?... I am afraid that leads to nothing.

I'm not so sure. Constructing great hypotheses on the basis of fragmentary evidence is probably not a good idea (not that that's stopped anybody! :-) ) - but I think that some insight can be gained by comparing what we do know.

Just for fun, therefore, here's my comparison of two literary accounts of well-known battles from the Roman era, concentrating on the battlefield tactics of the Roman infantry. I'm sure there's nothing here that hasn't been discussed before, but perhaps it might provoke some fresh debate.

Battle 1: Mons Graupius. AD83. From Tacitus, Agricola, 35-37

Agricola's force consists of a number of auxiliary cohorts, centred on the Batavi and Tungri, and several legion vexillations.

They are arrayed "in such a manner that the auxiliary infantry, 8,000 in number, strengthened his centre, while 3,000 cavalry were posted on his wings. The legions were drawn up in front of the intrenched camp; his victory would be vastly more glorious if won without the loss of Roman blood, and he would have a reserve in case of repulse." (Agricola, 35)

The Britons are drawn up on a hillside; as they approach the Roman position the battle commences with the usual exchanges of missiles. Very soon, apparently, "Agricola encouraged three Batavian and two Tungrian cohorts to bring matters to the decision of close fighting with swords." (36)

Tacitus stresses that these auxiliaries were fighting in the standard Roman manner - "tactics... familiar to these veteran soldiers". The use of the short sword, and the offensive use of the shield, seems to be what he means here.

"No sooner did the Batavians begin to close with the enemy, to strike them with their shields, to disfigure their faces, and overthrowing the force on the plain to advance their line up the hill, than the other auxiliary cohorts joined with eager rivalry in cutting down all the nearest of the foe…" (36)

Clearly, this is a highly aggressive counter-charge against the British attack, using particular Roman tactics and formations. It rapidly proves very effective: the British are unable to withstand the disciplined attack of the auxiliaries, and break and flee. The Roman cavalry, after seeing off an outflanking attempt, instead outflank the Britons.

"Then, indeed, the open plain presented an awful and hideous spectacle. Our men pursued, wounded, made prisoners of the fugitives only to slaughter them when others fell in their way…" (37)

In several ways Mons Graupius might be seen as unusual; the apparently rather primitive adversaries, for example, or the use of auxiliaries as a vanguard. But the tactic displayed here - the exchange of missiles, and then the rapid formation counter-charge with the sword - appears in several other literary accounts of the era. Tactius describes the battle against Boudica's Iceni as being near-identical, except that the legionaries themselves lead the attack.

At Carrhae the century before, Crassus's legions found themselves pinned down by a mobile enemy and forced into a defensive position. Unable to use their usual aggressive tactics, they were soundly defeated.

A few years later, Ventidius Bassus again met the Parthians and defeated them - once again using the counter-charge against an enemy forced to advance uphill towards the Roman position.


Battle 2: Argentorate, AD357. Ammianus Marcellinus, Book 16,12.

Julian and his force of 13,000 men are facing the Alamanni. Interestingly, Julian once again places 'auxiliaries' in his front line - although in this case they are the new-styled auxilia units. The legion mentioned in the account, the Primani, forms the reserve, "stationed in the centre in a strong feature called the praetorian camp". Possibly the Regii were also a legion, but they too appear to have stationed in the reserve line.

The Roman troops, arrayed "in close wedge-formation... halted and stood fast, making a solid line, like an impregnable wall" (16,12,18)

Ammianus stresses the solidity and stability of the Roman formation several times; in fact, he has Julian encouraging his men not to "mar the glory of our coming victory by following too eagerly the enemy whom you are about to put to flight; and let none yield ground before the extremity of need" - in other words, hold your positions, neither advance nor retreat.

Once again the battle commences with a missile duel, but this time the Romans wait for the enemy to come to them. Duly the Alamanni attack, "running forward with more haste than discretion", and against them "our soldiers resolutely protected their heads with the barriers of their shields" (16,12,36). No mention here of an Agricola-style counter-charge!

This situation seems to go on for some time, while "the infantry stoutly protected their flanks by making a front of their bucklers joined fast together… our men now stood fast and now gave ground, and some of the most skilful warriors among the savages by the pressure of their knees tried to force their enemy back; but with extreme determination they came to hand-to hand fighting, shield-boss pushed against shield…" (16,12,37)

However, the Romans are not entirely on the defensive; the detached left wing "marching in close formation had driven back by main force the onrushing hordes of Germans and was advancing with shouts into the midst of the savages", which shows that late Roman troops could still charge when they wanted to!

The main battle, though, is entirely characterised by Roman strength in defense. The Alamanni "hacked with repeated strokes of their swords at the close-jointed array of shields, which protected our men like a tortoise-formation". (16,12,44)

The most dramatic moment of the battle (as Ammianus relates it) in fact occurs when the Roman line is breached: "a fiery band of nobles… with the common soldiers following… burst in upon our lines before the rest; and opening up a path for themselves they got as far as the legion of the Primani, which was stationed in the centre... there our soldiers, closely packed and in fully-manned lines, stood their ground fast and firm, like towers, and renewed the battle with greater vigour; and being intent upon avoiding wounds, they protected themselves like murmillos…" (16,12,49)

Here again the dramatic emphasis is entirely on the immovable defensive qualities of the Roman troops - they are a like fortress, in fact.

Only when the force of the Alamannic attack is entirely spent do the Roman central troops push forward into a counter-attack, which by this time is largely a massacre: "our victorious troops pressed on with greater vigour, blunting the edges of their swords with stroke after stroke" and so on. (16,12,54)

One could argue that comparing two different battles - or literary accounts of battles - like this tells us little. Perhaps there are too many variables? But I do suspect that the almost entirely opposed tactics of Mons Graupius and Argentorate - quite similar battles, in terms of size and opponents - supported as they are by a number of other similar instances, might illustrate something of the ways that the Roman army had evolved in the intervening centuries.

But what do others think - can we see evidence here of the change from the tactics of the Principiate to those of the Dominate era, or not?
Nathan Ross
I'm with Nathan on this point.

There definately appears to be a stage where Late Roman infantry do not charge like they did previously against 'barbarian' infantry, and when on occasion they did so it generally went wrong for the Romans. However, when fighting cavalry armed with bows the Romans charged immediately the infantry came in the range of the cavalry's bows, so as to cut down on the casualties they faced. Constantius' army did this at Singara and Ammianus and Libanius tell us Julian did this as well when he invaded Sasanid Persia. There was a little known major battle fought between Valens and Sharpur II where the Romans gave the Sassanids a thrashing, it was called Vagabanda and I am sure the Romans would have rushed the Sassanids to get to grips with them as quickly as possible.
It's worth consulting Phillp Rance's paper on the Late Roman Shieldwall, the Fulcum-
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
VV, could you cite sources for that battle for me? Thanks.
Francis Hagan

The Barcarii
Quote:VV, could you cite sources for that battle for me? Thanks.

It was actually Vagabanta- Amm BkXXIX, 1, 1-3; Zos BkIV, 13
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
Ah, thanks - the battle at the 'Town of the Gods' in Armenia in 371 AD or Bagawan at the foot of Mount Npat.
Francis Hagan

The Barcarii
Mark Hygate post=352326 Wrote:almost all the things in your post are perfectly valid, but aren't anything to do with tactics!

Tactics are surely affected by strategy in one direction, and affect both arms and equipment and unit structure in the other, so these things are interrelated, I'd say!

Quote:What is a significant change in tactics and what is not?... I am afraid that leads to nothing.

I'm not so sure. Constructing great hypotheses on the basis of fragmentary evidence is probably not a good idea (not that that's stopped anybody! :-) ) - but I think that some insight can be gained by comparing what we do know....................................

Well, there's no need for us to undertake a great 'philosophical debate' - but clearing the tautology lines is sometimes necessary; certainly perhaps to explain where I was pitching from when I made the original assertion. Smile

The tactics you choose to use, from the stable of tactics (think of all those great tactical (sometimes above that level) we see in Vegatius, Frontinus, Sun Tzu, et al manuals) that you can use can indeed be affected by a choice of 'operational' strategy - a great example being 'Fabian Tactics'. Grand strategic elements, like a border defence (limitanei) backed by mobile field armies (comites) do not affect tactics.

My original point, and to also answer the second element, is still firmly that, at a basic level, the arms and armour of the entire period did not change that much and therefore neither did the basic set of tactical options available to use, nor that could, or needed to be, developed.

Now, to therefore address Frank's point succinctly....

The Later Roman drift (and then Byzantine), and indeed change, towards the tactics they chose to use were influenced by the enemies they faced - particularly more and more cavalry oriented. Hence they went back to predominantly spear use and, also with the enemies, required greater bow use.

None of those changes, however, necessarily required a basic change to the unit organisations (all of which were embedded in tried and tested logistic support functions - I will also suggest people never forget as even real-life Generals rather like to!). Things could have changed and there is some evidence of minor change; but I do intend to suggest that there might well not have been.

I'll repeat my example of what would affect fundamental changes in tactics - the rifle - and it took over 100 years for that change to happen, even during the industrial revolution and the rapid increase in technological change.

The Ancients (and beyond) we consider had nothing similar - for the arms and armour available didn't change that much.

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