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Function of auxiliary infantry
Salvete omnes,<br>
My question is to what extent should auxiliary infantrymen be seen primarily as an addition to the legionary forces in numbers and to what extent as primarily providing complementary fighting skills?<br>
Legionary - and auxiliary military equipment and weaponry differed to some extent reflecting distinct roles in battle. Legionary armament was distinctive enough to have a term like <i> arma legionaria</i> (legionary weapons) to enter the Latin language. Some items such as <i> pila</i> and curved body shields appear to have been used exclusively by legionary heavy infantrymen, their presence in the archaeological record of the small frontier forts probably being due to the fact that these forts were indeed garrisoned by detachments from the legions as well as auxiliary formations.<br>
The prevalent view in modern literature considers the auxiliaries as light infantrymen. Support for this can be found in various sources. Vegetius explicitly mentions that the auxilia were attached to the legions as <i> levis armatura</i>, light-armed troops. Also evidence from Tacitus can be cited in which the dense formation of the legionaries is contrasted with the loose order of the auxiliaries.<br>
To counter the view of the auxiliaries as light infantry it is possible to point to some other passages. The final battle at mons Graupius was waged by auxiliaries fighting as heavy infantry. In addition the term <i> hoplitai</i> is used in connection with auxiliaries in various Greek sources, including the <i> Bellum Judaicum</i> of Josephus and the <i> Acies contra Alanos</i> by Arrianus.<br>
Some works consider the auxiliaries as multi-role troops able to fight as skirmishers as well as heavy infantry. Troops doubling these roles are attested in other armies of Antiquity, as for instance the Macedonian heavy infantrymen, and the <i> hypaspistai</i> in particular, in the army of Alexander the Great. However it is possible to argue that explicit evidence for particular units of auxiliaries operating in both roles is hard to find. Arrianus mentions an auxiliary cohort providing both archers and heavy infantrymen in the <i> Acies contra Alanos</i>. However the text does not provide any clear clues that soldiers would alternately perform both of these roles or operated exclusively as either close-combat troops or long range missile troops with subunits of the same cohort specialising in a particular style of fighting.<br>
Contradicting evidence from the ancient sources is a regular problem when dealing with various aspects of the Roman army. This can partly be attributed to the time span separating the main sources available. The argument however that auxiliary foot soldiers performed different battlefield duties during distinct periods of Roman history can be countered by pointing to the fact that sources indicating different roles are contemporary (eg Josephus and Tacitus).<br>
Epigraphic sources for legionaries serving as weapons specialists (eg <i> lancearii</i>, <i> phalangarii</i> and <i> equites legionis</i>) indicate that men had to undergo a period of specialised training as <i> discentes</i>, trainees, before serving in their new capacities. Several inscriptions attest that this was done after basic training as a <i> tiro/teroon</i> and often after a number of years serving as a normal legionary. Evidence of this kind (published evidence at least) concerning the <i> auxilia</i> is lacking at this moment. This can be attributed in part to the fact that epigraphic sources in general are more commonly found for legionary troops than for auxiliaries, though it is not possible to be sure that this lack is totally insignificant.<br>
The numbers of legionaries attested as serving both as heavy - and light infantry, such as the <i> antesignani</i>, are rather limited, totaling perhaps only ten percent of the total legionary strength. The dual role <i> hypaspistai</i> also formed a minority of the troops available to Alexander. These were limited numbers of elite troops, far from the majority of the available troops. Keeping this in mind it seems that if dual role auxiliary infantry existed, such elite soldiers would surely have been a minority rather than the standard.<br>
Sander van Dorst<br>
For an explanation of Latin and Greek terms visit:<br>
<br> <p></p><i>Edited by: <A HREF=>Sander van Dorst</A> at: 2/9/01 1:56:41 pm<br></i>
I feel that the army of the 1st couple of centuries AD was rather more varied and flexible than we ususally depict.<br>
Afterall an army suited to fight a predominately unarmoured infantry army is not the same as one suited to fight a cavalry army with horse archers.<br>
Many units appeared to have become pretty static [except for vexillation transferred for specific campaigns or to deal with a crisis]- it is perhaps not unreasonable to assume some adaptation to local conditions.<br>
This rather broad comment would apply equally to legionary and auxiliary units. <p></p><i></i>
I think the auxiliary troops may be used to break enemy formations(no good against Gauls and Huns etc. since they have no formation), skirmish and harass the enemy's flnak. <p></p><i></i>

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