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Why did the Triarii use different weapons?
#1
I've been pondering something for a while;

Why did the army require their most experienced soldiers (who likely rose through the ranks from hastati to principe to triari) to change weapons?
Isn't that counter-intuitive? To get the men who are most experienced with sword and shield, having used them for years, to instead pick up the spear and completely change their fighting style from sword maniple to phalanx?
Am I missing something?


Thank you!
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#2
(08-24-2017, 09:07 AM)ILikeTheFallOfTheRepublic Wrote: I've been pondering something for a while;

Why did the army require their most experienced soldiers (who likely rose through the ranks from hastati to principe to triari) to change weapons?
Isn't that counter-intuitive? To get the men who are most experienced with sword and shield, having used them for years, to instead pick up the spear and completely change their fighting style from sword maniple to phalanx?
Am I missing something?


Thank you!

I wouldn't say it's counter-intuitive. The shield and the sword are still there, but the spear would help the already experienced warrior thrust with a weapon that has a much longer reach, than his gladius. Remember that the Triarii according to Polybius are the ones relied upon to bring victory from the jaws of defeat, or to repel the attack of the enemy so that the army is saved. For me this means a straight phalanx with shields almost locked together. 
What is more important, however, is that spears break. I forget who had called the clash of two hoplite armies "a storm of breaking spears and wooden splinters", but that's correct. When the spears break, the triarii would have their shields and their gladii - with which they would've become quite comfortable.

Wasn't it also Polybius who wrote that during the battle of Telamon the Triarii gave their spears to the Hastati, so that they would be able to counter the charging Celtic army more effectively?
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#3
I've been thinking a lot about this for a while and recently came up with some ideas.  

Romans evolved from early hoplite phalanx tactics so they knew the value of reach and organized ranks. But fighting Gauls and Samnites they also learned the value of a more aggressively orientated fighting style based on looser organization and more ferocity. To pull that off properly, to be able to fight in looser formations while maintained overall order requires great discipline, to fight up close aggressively requires great courage. And what were the two cornerstones of the Roman military system? Virtus et Disciplina 

To attack an enemy spearman (the usual enemy Roman infantry would face) with a 25-27" sword as the primary fighting weapon after the pila are thrown takes a lot of balls. The Romans called it Virtus, but it amounts to the same thing. Manliness, valor, courage, etc. It was a very Roman attribute and absolutely led to their rise in power. But without a check and balance, pure Virtus leads to something like a Gallic charge. But for different reasons the Romans also practiced a level of discipline within their military system that simply dwarfed any other city state. As the saying goes with Stalin and the Red Army in WWII, I believe it also applied to the Romans too: It took a brave man to be a coward in the Roman Army.

We know Romans went to swords at some point for most of their infantry as the dominant close range fighting weapon in addition to pila, turning them into dual role part javelineer, part swordsman soldier, probably because they found it was superior to a more defensively orientated spear armed phalanx because their system of virtus and discipline made for a more reliable means of achieving success with a sword. The Roman system, from birth and the raising of a Roman propertied male, to their military service, was generally able to provide a system where they could rely on a large sampling of soldiers who possessed virtus and discipline. 

So how did the swordsman close to sword distance against an enemy largely carrying longer ranged weapons, pikes, spears, long swords? By aggressively pushing past them. Easier said then done, but they had help. The pila volley would break up the enemy's momentum, it would shatter cohesion, it would break up their ranks (in theory). I tested what its like to be on the receiving end of 5 people throwing makeshift dummy javelins at me while hiding behind a shield. One at a time and I had no problem batting them away, but all at once and it simply overwhelms your senses and you do nothing but hide behind your shield. With live weapons designed to pierce shields, I think it would have been even more terrifying. With a pair of armor piercing javelins, a typical Roman soldier could basically do every duty an infantryman need to do better than a spearman. He could forage and have the means to offensively protect himself from disrupting cavalry. He would be more useful defending a wall in a siege. He could be used more effectively in pitched battles. And in a pitch, he could still use a pilum as a spear. 

Also helping them close to sword distance would be the curved scutum, a very unique design used solely by the Romans, Latins, and some Italians. But what was it about that shield design that made them seek it for as many centuries as they did? Its exponentially harder to make than a non curved shield, necessitating a custom designed press and a skilled craftsman, thus making it longer to make and more expensive to buy. Sure, it protects a bit better from the sides against missile weapons, but if that was it then why didn't anyone else copy it? I think its curved frontage was at least partially designed to help deflect the hedgerow of spear tips while the swordsmen tried to push forward to close with his enemy. Though the technique is fraught with danger, it can work as long as the soldier possesses virtus and discipline. Risk death to slay the enemy, while not breaking ranks for more than a few steps. The Roman way. 

But using swords is very dangerous against enemy armed primarily with spears or long sword, reach does have its advantages. So issuing swords and telling the men they must use them is a great way to test the metal of younger men who still owe Rome their 16 years of service as infantry. They must prove their worth to the state, must prove their virtus and discipline. But I think the Triari, being older men and veterans who'd proven themselves previously, whose role was theoretically to serve as a reserve to stem a general rout of the Hastati and Principes lines, who were basically just waiting out their 16 years of service and only supposed to be used for emergencies, they earned the right not to overly risk their lives. They had already proven their courage. Thus they fought with spears as a solid phalanx (per Livy), in a more defensively orientated protective role.

I think the abolishment of the traditional role and armament of the Triari, thought to have happened during Marius' command during the Cimbri War, was actually traced to the Jugurthine War, when the enemy fought predominantly as either infantry javelineers or cavalry javelineers, making spear armed infantry near worthless. In addition, the Consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus, who possessed two of the greatest military minds at the time as his legates, Marius and Rutilius Rufus (both of whom as consuls would end up conducting many of their own reforms), is said to have reestablished the African Army into a cohortal infantry organizational system before the Battle of Muthul in 109 BC, according to Sallust, because mid battle the Roman army deploys from traditional three lines to then using Roman cohorts for a counter attack, the first time the word is associated with Romans besides temporary measures used by Scipio Africanus and Scipio Aemilianus in Spain. This shift to cohortal infantry necessitated a standardized approach to organizing infantry. From that point forward, Pilani maniples would no longer only serve in their own line as the Third Line as a reserve, they might be in the first, the second, the third, the fourth line, wherever or however the general wanted to place them. Therefore they could no longer only be given spears, every line infantry class instead needed to be armed identically or else organizing battle lines and orders of march would be too complicated.
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