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Why are hordes of screaming barbarians terrifying even to veteran Roman legions?
#1
I've read on the Battle of Allia and apparently a major cause of defeat was the fact that the Gauls were yelling out terrifying war screams that played a major role in breaking the Roman Phalanx.

However this was before the Marian reforms and was at a time when the Romans were farmer-soldiers so this did not surprise me.

However I also read years after the Marian reforms, when the Roman Legions were confronted with the Gauls and other "Barbarians" there are descriptions of Roman soldiers shaking in fear at the initial phases of the battle when the Barbarians were yelling out their fierce war cries.

In some cases Roman Legions were paralyzed according to various stuff on the internet that they cannot move or maintain ranks.

I am curious what makes hordes of screaming Barbarians so scary to even train soldiers like the Romans? Modern military standards would consider the thoughts of fearing an enemy force simply because it screams and yells so much as a mark of poor discipline!

Its not just Ancient Warfare. I have read of the "Rebel Yell" that the Confederate Infantry would use. Granted they were trained and organized as opposed to the Barbarian Hordes, but I'm really amused why Union soldiers would be terrified of this tactic well in fact more dangerous things were taking place like bullets were being fired.

So what make warscreams so scary that they could lower morale and even make entire units collapse?
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#2
Imagine you are in a parking lot alone and there is a man a short distance away.  Suddenly he charges you, yelling like crazy.  How would you feel?  Something like that triggers your fight or flight response, and that doesn't go away just because you are a soldier.

What military and law enforcement do to counteract that natural response is to develop other reactions through training to overcome that fear. They also use indoctrination of military culture to make you "ashamed" of running, or "letting down your buddies or country," as you have mentioned it being looked down upon.

I would think it wasn't any different in ancient times.  Yes, Roman soldiers were (presumably) trained to stand their ground, but that was likely despite their better instincts. It takes guts to face a screaming mad man, who is likely bigger than you, with a spear or sword charging at you. It is in a way easier for soldiers today, because they have ranged weapons.  A Roman would have had to sit their and wait for that clash.  Having 30000 Gauls screaming and chanting for a long time before the fight would be mentally draining.  All that time a Roman would have to think, "I am going to have to fight that!"  It gets under your skin.
Daniel DeVargas
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#3
In all histories of warfare, usually written by the victors, magnifying the ferocity and success of your enemy - magnifies your eventual victory over them.

I've always considered yelling, banging and clanging, ferocious appearances...etc had much more to do with steeling the nerves of the attackers than frightening the defenders.

Panic is indeed a real dynamic that can change the course of a battle, as is poor morale, lack of discipline, fatigue...etc but from experience I'm skeptical that large numbers of rested and trained infantry standing with their comrades and veteran centurions/NCOs can be intimidated easily by the appearance or sounds of their opponents no matter how fierce or loud.
Joe Balmos
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#4
Your comment about the farmer-soldiers is interesting considering the farmer-soldiers of the Republic conquered the Mediterranean, overcoming major nation-state powers and winning many of Rome's greatest victories.
Neil Ritchie
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#5
(01-07-2019, 06:27 PM)Creon01 Wrote: .......................... but from experience.....................

And that would be?

I would posit that it has long been accepted that whether it's 'shouting and screaming, chanting and waving of nasty sharp intruments of death, or even organised singing' or 'the silent discipline of massed ranks of identical shields, along with the banging of nasty sharp intruments of death on said shields to a disturbing rythm'; both are done with the equal intent to fire up your own enthusiasm and morale, whilst hoping to intimidate and scare the enemy.

In this particular case, we are variously told that Gauls/Celts are considered both taller and bulkier than the average Roman (moreso indeed in this era when 'Marius' had thrown open recruitment to the under nourished and impoverished) and thus automatically more imposing.

It's also true that we are equally told that the Romans considered the charge of the Celts to be their most dangerous moment.  Much effort being devoted to breaking it up with volleys of javelins followed by classic shield discipline to resist it.  Provided it could be stopped and contained, then the Romans won subsequently - often with massive disparities in casualties.  But if the line were penetrated - all bets were off.

All that preceeds that clash/moment, on either side, is intended to try and affect it - including any screams and warrior-like posturing and otherwise maintaining rigorous discipline.
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#6
(01-05-2019, 05:10 PM)Shield And Spear Art Wrote: Imagine you are in a parking lot alone and there is a man a short distance away.  Suddenly he charges you, yelling like crazy.  How would you feel?  Something like that triggers your fight or flight response, and that doesn't go away just because you are a soldier.

I think it's as simple as this. Sometimes pro basketball players who are throwing down a big dunk will scream as they arrive, and sometimes the defender flinches as a result, or is hesitant to challenge a similar play in the future. You see this with offensive linemen in football too.
Pro athletes, like Roman soldiers, aren't easily intimidated because they're accustomed to dealing with physically imposing men, but having one scream directly into your face would be unnerving for anyone.

(01-07-2019, 06:27 PM)Creon01 Wrote: I've always considered yelling, banging and clanging, ferocious appearances...etc had much more to do with steeling the nerves of the attackers than frightening the defenders.

This is a good point too. A war cry could get your heart rate up and adrenaline flowing.
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