When discussing the logistics of Roman armies, I usually see consumables and seigework discussed the most. However, I've been wondering about how the arms, armor, and tools were created and distributed.
Were they created centrally somewhere? On site at army camps? Or did they buy them from independent craftsmen?
I know that in the earlier parts of the Republic, soldiers were often required to procure their own arms, but I'm curious what the process was later on. Particularly in the more permanent legions of the Empire.
Gaius Gracchus and his reform law, Lex Militaris, made the state responsible for supplying the military with equipment and clothing. It also meant that merchants and craftsmen would be employed providing this equipment and thus receiving a more stable and reliable income from the sale of supplies to the government rather than individuals. Military supply contractors made money off the government even back then.
In some cases, the merchants followed along with the fort/road system and established facilities to smelt iron, work lumber and so forth. The logistical advantage of the Roman road system also made it possible to move supplies over longer distances and required fewer manufacturing areas.
Great Question! One of those things that you just don't think about when you think of the Roman Empire. The search I did brought me to this Wikipedia article about Roman Military Engineering, which should provide you with even more links to give you all the information.
Some funny things I learned:
- All Roman soldiers were equipped with a shovel!
- When idle they made them build all kinds of things, from canals and farms to mines, because an idle army is an army that is vulnerable to mutiny.
Looks like they not only made most things locally and on the spot, but also provided roads to quickly retreat and move their heavier equipment. So, it seems they were able to create weapons, forts, roads, etc… on the spot, but also moved equipment around. However, I doubt moving a siege engine from Rome to Germania proved to be very efficient.
The gladius, or Hispanic Sword as they called it, is the iconic short sword of the Roman army. It was adopted from the clans and tribes that lived in Spain. These tribes of Iberians, Celts and a large mixed group called Celtiberians, created hill forts and cities. Tribes of these three groups frequently warred with each other, developing an effective style of warfare but remaining politically divided. During the Second Punic Wars when Rome and Carthage fought to destroy each other and dominate Spain the great Roman General Scipio Africanus took a liking to this "Spanish Sword" and began equipping the legions under his command with the weapon. Scipio then defeated Hannibal, the greatest general of Carthage, at the battle of Zama ending the Second Punic War, this victory has often been credited to his use of the gladius as well as too the defection of a large amount of Numidian cavalry to the Roman cause.
In combat the gladius could be used for stabbing or slashing, although it was primarily used for stabbing. In the crush of battle that often occured when two forces pressed against each other the gladius shined. It was ideal for stabing in these conditions where longer weapons became useless due to the lack of room for long slashing swords and thrusting spears. Roman legionaries constantly practiced with their weapon of choice, learning to make thrusts into vulnerable areas of their enemies such as the groin or neck.
The gladius served the Romans as the main Roman weapon through the rest of the Roman Republic and partially through the Empire (4th century BC - 3rd century AD). The Legions that poured from Rome to conquer the Mediterranean world held this weapon in their hand. The famous Roman weapon delivered victory for to the Romans for 600 years, from the British Isles to Egypt, however, warfare was changing in the third century AD and the Roman's had to change their weapons too. In the late empire new threats appeared from the Asian steppes and darker Europe, mounted warriors like the Huns and Goths required a different army to repel. The Romans began to focus more of their military power to counter mounted warriors, archers and cavalry started taking on greater importance. The old role of the heavy infantry shifted as well, it became critical to defend the infantry from cavalry and so the Romans adopted longer weapons for their infantry. At first a longer sword, called the Spathea was employed, but over time the main weapon of the Roman infantry returned to where it had begun the spear.
The pilum is the heavy javelin used by the Roman legionnaires. Along with the sword, the pilum was one of the main weapons of the Roman military and provided each man with mobile, short ranged artillery ability. It is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Roman dominance of the ancient world, along with the full body shield and gladius. While Rome&rsquos star was just raising the Mediterranean world was dominated by the Macedonian style phalanx. These ponderous formations presented a wall of spikes to any would be attacker and since the time of Alexander the Great (almost two hundred years earlier) the Macedonian Phalanx impaled and skewered it's enemies in a relentless march forward. However, when the Roman Legions faced off against this force they able to exploit gaps in the phalanxes formation caused by uneven ground and the effects of the pilum.
In the Battle of Pydna (168 BC) between Rome and the Macedonian Antigonid dynasty, the Romans although a first awed by the power of the phalanx, were able to smash it. The balance of power was forever changed in Mediterranean and Rome was shortly to become its new master.
A pilum is essentially a heavy javelin featuring a long thin iron shank (neck) and heavy shaft. The relitvely thin iron shank, with its barbed tip, gave the pilum its extraordinary ability it was armor piercing. The weight of the shaft and a weight in the shape of pyramid or ball would then punch the shaft through enemy shields and armor. The 2 foot long (60 mm) shaft was designed to be long enough to punch through a shield and into the man behind it. Even if the shaft didn't connect with the man holding the shield then the pilum had the added benefit of rendering the shield useless due to the large javelin poking through and hanging from the front of it. Many of unarmored Germanic and Celtic barbarians were forced to discard their shields due to the pilum, a near death sentence for them on the battle field. An added benefit of this design was that the force of the impact would often bend the shank, causing it to be unusable and saving the Romans from having them thrown back at them.
Roman soldiers typically carried two pilum and they would throw them as they charged their enemies to cause death, discarded shields and confusion among the ranks of their enemies. Modern testing has revealed that a pila (singular for pilum) can be thrown 98 feet but it probably had an effective range of between 50-66 ft. A typical Roman strategy would have been to unleash their second pilum from a distance of only about 15-20ft and then to follow up with their swords, giving their enemy no time to recover. The barbarians that continually assaulted the Romans from the North preferred to open battles with a mass, furious charge of great power. To counter this Romans would throw their pilum into the charging hoard, the impact of would deliver a counter shock, blunting the enemies force before it collided with the Roman battle lines.
Additionally, the Romans found the pilum to be an effective anti-cavalry weapon. Julius Cesar used this tactic to great effect when he ordered a cohort of his legionnaires to use their pilum to stab at the faces of the cavalry of Pompeii during the first Roman civil war in the first century BC.
The origins of the pilum is most likely a result of the Samnite Wars (343-290 BC). These decades long conflicts proved to be a tough trial for the Roman Republic, and they suffered several humiliating and disastrous defeats at the hands of the hill tribes called Samnites. The Samnites fought in a loose order, peppering their enemies with javelins while the Romans fought in a hoplite style, utilizing shield wall (phalanx) tactics. However the rough ground of the hill tribes proved to be unfavorable to the use of phalanx tactics and the ever adaptive Romans changed both their strategy and weapons, adopting a looser "checker board" formation and employing heavy javelins. (To learn more about these tactical changes see Roman Military or Ancient Weapons).
Hasta, a Latin word meaning spear, was the first and last main Roman weapon. Hastae is the plural form of hasta. A hasta was about 6.5 feet (2 m) long with an iron head and a shaft typically made of ash. The earliest Rome forces fought in a phalanx style like Greek warriors using spears, however, during the Republic a switch was made to using three lines. The first two lines employed swords while the third, and final battle line, was made out of veterans using hastae. Eventually all legionaries where equipped with swords during the military reforms and standardizations of Gaius Marius (157-86 BC).
During the late empire, starting in the 3rd century AD, the Romans infantry began to switch back to using the Hasta. The reason for this is most likely the changing nature of warfare at the time, particularly the ascendancy of cavalry. The hasta proved to be the most effective weapon against the rampaging horsemen that devastated the late empire and it was eventually reinstated as the main weapon of the Romans.
Other Roman Weapons
The above weapons are the main weapons of the Roman heavy infantry man, however, the Romans employed a number of other weapons as well. For example the pugio was a dagger used as a sidearm by the roman legionnaires. It featured a wide leaf shaped blade and was about 9.5" - 11" long. During the first and second centuries AD, the spathea became a common weapon of choice. The spathea was a longer sword then the gladius, first used by the Roman cavalry but adopted by the infantry. During the late empire the legionaries began to carry the Plumbata, this was a weighted throwing dart. Six plubata could be secured to the back of a shield and they had a greater range then a javelin. Lead weights on the plumbata also gave it good penetration. These weapons proved extraordinarily effective for the Romans, allowing their heavy infantry to operate effectively as their own archers. It is also likely that legionaries would employ slings at times.
Besides heavy infantry the Roman armies fielded other specialized troops. Their light infantry, called velites, employed light throwing javelins. These javelins had greater range then the pila, but lacked their punch. Roman archers, called the sagittarius, their normal weapon was the composite bow, made of horn and wood, and held together with sinew and hide glue. Reinforcing laths for composite bows are found throughout the Roman territory. Roman auxiliaries used a wide range of weapons, whatever the weapons of their particular tribe were what they went into combat with. These weapons could be anything from Balearic slings to Frankish throwing axes however, I wouldn't consider these to truly be Roman weapons .
History of Roman swords
History of Roman swords. Roman gladius sword, Roman spatha sword and gladiator swords. Roman pugio dagger. Sword history.
The Roman Sword or Gladius is one of the most widely recognized swords of any culture. These swords were in use between 4th century BC and 3rd Century AD. The Romans where highly skilled and disciplined and great weapons such as the sword were a must especially for cavalrymen and infantrymen. The skills of these men and the advances in sword making techniques made this sword a deadly weapon and was one the major factors behind a long and successful military reign. To identify a person’s sword the name was often etched into the blade.
The Romans used all the knowledge they gained from other cultures such as the Greeks and Celts in order to forge these great swords it also allowed them to create a sword for any military situation, examples of this are mountainous regions would require a shorter sword that allowed greater slashing and stabbing, one such sword was the Pompeii Gladius. Another such sword known as the spatha had an extra long reach and was ideally suited for horseback combat.
The Roman sword that really conquered all was the short sword. The short sword had a 20″ double edged blade with a diamond tip and became known as “the sword that conquered the world”. This shorter length allowed a soldier to step inside an enemies guard and thrust the sword in any direction at a deadly pace, this would not be possible with a longer sword and that is where it held the upper hand.
Roman gladius was the primary sword of Ancient Roman foot soldiers. The gladius was shorter than cavalry spatha. Gladius was a stabbing sword.
Gladius was adopted by Romans in 4-3 century BC. Gladius origin can be located in a Hispanic swords.
Common gladius meassurements:
Weight: 1.2–1.6 kg (2.6–3.5 lb)
Length: 64–81 cm (25–32 in)
Blade length: 60–68 cm (2.0–2.23 ft)
Width: 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in)
Gladius sword subtypes:
Hispaniensis gladius – the orgiginal gladius imported from today Spain.
Mainz gladius-gladius made for northern wars. The long point was a typical attribute of this gladius type.
Fulham gladius-triangular tip. Fulham gladius was version found in Britain.
Pompeii gladius-the most popular type of gladius sword. This was the shortest gladius with parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip.
Roman spatha sword
Roman spatha sword was a little longer sword than common gladius was. Spatha was a primary sword of Roman cavalry. Spatha was a straight and long sword, measuring between 0.75 and 1 m (30 and 39 in). Spatha was used in Roman wars but of course also in gladiator games. Spatha was adopted by barbarian tribes later and it evolved into early medieval swords – viking swords have origin in this sword type.
The Success of the Roman Republic and Empire
Organization of Legion
The early Roman Manipular Legion, used from the fourth century B.C. until the Marian Reforms of 107 B.C., was the largest and most basic unit of the army’s composition. The Roman Army consisted of four Legions, each with the strength of roughly 4200 infantrymen.
The Legion, when formed up for battle, had three lines of infantry: first were the hastati, then the principes, and finally the veteran triarii. Each of these three lines contained five manipuli of 120 hastati, 120 principes, and sixty triarii. A maniple was further subdivided into two centuriae of sixty each hastati and principes, and thirty triarii. Each century had six squads a squad, aptly named contubernium (“tenting-together”) in Latin, shared a tent when the Legion went on campaigns.
Manipular Legions were supported by ten thirty-man squadrons (turmae) of equites, light cavalry, and the more loosely organized velites, skirmishing troops.
The manipular formation would be initially deployed in four lines. The first was a solid line made up of the skirmishing velites, who would hurl missiles at the approaching enemy to inflict casualties and disrupt their formations. The final three lines known as the triplex acies were made up of the infantry, a line each for the hastati, principes and triarii. These three lines would be segmented and deployed in a checkerboard pattern known as a quincunx. When the marching enemy would get close the velites would retreat through the gaps in the maniples to the rear of the formation. The front line of hastati then would most likely have formed a solid line to engage the enemy in close-quarters combat. If the front line could not hold, they would fall back on the principes. If that line could not hold they would then fall back on the triarii.
Organization of Leadership
Typically, each of Rome’s two consuls would have two Legions at his disposal. A Legion was commanded by six tribunals a pair of tribunals would command the Legion for two months at a time, switching off command with each other every day and rotating to the next pair at the end of two months.
Centurions commanded each century of infantry a maniple would have two centurions, giving the Legion ten centurions per line of infantry, or thirty centurions in total. Decurions commanded each cavalry turma.
Organization of Legion
Following the Marian Reforms in 107 B.C., Roman Legions were heavily restructured. The three lines of distinct infantry present in the Manipular Legion were abandoned in favor of the new legionnaires.
Legions contained ten cohorts. Each cohort, roughly 480 legionnaires, was subdivided into six centuries of eighty men each. Centuries were then divided into ten eight-man contubernia.
The first cohort of each Legion held that Legion’s silver eagle standard and accordingly became a position of great honor. First cohorts contained five centuries, rather than the typical six, but each century was double strength this led to a cohort of 800 legionnaires, rather than the standard 480.
All non-legionary troops in the period following the Marian Reforms were referred to as auxilia. The auxilia equivalents of the cohorts were alae. Cavalry, now organized as auxilia units, grew to sixteen turmae.
Organization of Leadership
Command of the Cohortal Legion is less certain than that of the Manipular Legion. No commander with power equivalent to that of the tribune is known to exist in the Cohortal Legion.
The centurion who commanded the first century of each cohort also commanded that cohort this senior centurion was given the title pilus prior. Of the ten cohorts in each Legion, the tenth cohort was most junior. Legionnaires advanced in experience and centurions advanced in seniority in each cohort, with the first cohort consisting of the Legion’s most experienced and prestigious soldiers. The five centurions of the first cohort were senior to all other centurions these officers where the primi ordines. The most senior among the primi ordines, the commander of the first cohort and thus all other centurions, cohorts, and centuries, was the primus pilus, most prestigious position held by a Legionary soldier.
Each centurion had under his command three principales (the signifier, optio, and tesserarius), and many immunes, a separate class of soldier that was exempt from certain soldierly duties due to the possession of a special skill, such as blacksmithing or carpentry. The signifier was the century’s standard-bearer, an optio was a centurion-in-training and second-in-command of the century, and the tesserarius maintained the daily obligations of the century, especially the daily password and operation of the night watch when the Legion campaigned.
The Success of the Roman Republic and Empire © 2021. All Rights Reserved.
The Ancient Military of Rome
Birth and Organization of the Roman MIlitary
Roman society was geared towards supporting their military before anything else. Women were encouraged to have many children to support the man power needs of the state. Their leaders were men with military experience and expected to command the legions in times of war. Both the populace and military seemed to have a relentless drive, never yielding to defeat, even after suffering catastrophic losses. The citizens and army soldiered on through dark times that would have caused their contemporary states to sue for peace. Nobody in Rome ever spoke about ending a war in any other way then victory and their will was reflected in an almost mechanically efficient army. The attack of a Roman legion certainly seems like an emotionless killing machine to many historians, but the reality is they were as emotionally charged as the barbarian warriors that battled, just more disciplined. Besides discipline, the Romans were also ahead of their enemies in organization. Roman generals paid close attention to camp layouts, soldier&rsquos equipment and most crucially, logistics. Often it was a the details that gave the Romans the edge, the depth of a ditch dug around a camp or having a warm breakfast before a battle were all considerations made by Roman commanders.
The Roman military was reorganized periodically throughout it&rsquos existents in an effort to stay one step ahead of its opponents, but just as often for getting caught up a step. Regardless, they adapted to new threats quickly, becoming proficient enough in areas were they lacked to wear down their enemies.
The Romans were originally a tribal group of three tribes. Little is know about this early period, all records were destroyed by a Celtic invasion in 483 BC. These early Romans would have probably fought as skirmishing light infantry armed with javelins, slings and possibly some bows. During the 7th century BC they came to be dominated by the Etruscans, their more advanced northern neighbors. Etruscan kings would rule Rome for 200 years as military dictators. Around 510 BC the Romans expelled the kings and set up a new republic government. They copied the Etruscans hoplite tactics, who had learned them from the Greeks and organized annual armies of citizen soldiers. Men were required to equip themselves and were organized by how much equipment they could afford. Rome&rsquos nobles became cavalry and their poorest became skirmishers. The majority of Romans were formed into spear, shield and possibly helmet equipped infantry units, depending on what they could afford. This was the birth of the legions, farmer soldiers fighting for their families and territory. Duty was mandatory, something the honor driven early Romans didn&rsquot need to be told though.
In 483 BC, a Gaelic warlord and chieftain named Brennus invaded the newly formed republic. The entire Roman army was wiped out and the city sacked. The Etruscans had left Rome with poor defenses and the surviving citizens barricaded themselves on the Capitoline Hill. Tradition says the decimated and humiliated Romans were forced to pay Brennus and his Celtic warriors 1,000 pounds of gold to leave the city. However, the counterweights Brennus used on the scales were heavier then 1,000 pounds causing the Romans to complain. To this Brennus replied, "vae victis" meaning "woe to the vanquished", and threw his sword on top of the weights increasing the injustice. The insulted Romans had no recourse, and were forced to provide even more gold.
The humiliated Romans had been taught a lesson they would never forget. The memory of this event fueled their militarism as they vowed to never let it happen again at any cost. Rome would become a hardened society, brutality and violence would become a hallmark of their uncompromising military. They also learned practical military information from their run in with the celtic Gauls. The Gauls used more advanced iron-working techniques and specialized in close-quarter combat. The Gauls employed heavy long sword and full body shields. These shields could be used to form what the Romans called a &ldquotortoise&rdquo when employed in close formation and provided an excellent defense. The differences were noted and the roman military was revamped.
Another lesson learned was that Rome&rsquos defenses where highly insufficient. The Roman&rsquos constructed a formidable defensive wall and would be known throughout their history for their fortifications and engineering. Another bitter lesson surrounded their loss of their leaders and aristocratic sons at the hands of the Gauls. The top of Roman society were the best equipped warriors and formed the first rank of their hoplite (shield wall and spear) formations. They moved to a three lined strategy with their fist class soldiers forming the last battle line, the Triarii.
The early Romans were served well using citizens, mostly farmers, as hoplite soldiers and they gained supremacy over the neighboring farming regions, the Latins, who also used hoplite tactics. However, when they came into conflict with the hill tribes on their Southwest border they quickly learned the limitations of shield wall formations. In a grueling fifty year long conflict, fought over three wars the Romans sought to bring the herdsmen to heal. The herdsmen warriors that dominated the central hills and mountains of Italy were the formidable Samnites who had spilled out of the mountain valleys and defeated the coastal Greek settlements along the shin of Italy. The Samnite Wars (340 BC -290 BC) pitted two different styles of warfare against each other. The confederation of hill tribes where more lightly armored, having perhaps only a small shield. Their main weapons were javelins, each soldier launching them from a loose formation. The Romans were using a phalanx tactic, where forces of spearmen lock shields to form a wall. The left of each shield protecting the soldier on the left, and the spears of the first two to three rows stick out. A phalanx presented a formidable wall of spear tips towards the front but was vulnerable from the sides and rear. Further more, if the units cohesion broke down and gaps formed in the line the vulnerable flanks of soldiers would be exposed. The Samnites exploited both of these weaknesses in the rugged hill country of Samnium dealing the Romans some stinging defeats. However the Romans tenacity showed through, they dumped the phalanx formation that had made them a regional power and switched to the formation of the Samnites.
The new system, called the maniple system arrayed the legionnaires in a checker board fashion. Squares of about 120 men formed the basic unit, a maniple. Skirmishers could then fall back through the gaps in the checker board formation. The first two rows of maniples would form a single line when confronting enemy heavy infantry. The Roman army was organized so that three of these battle lines could be formed to face the enemy. The front two maniple rows, the first battle line, were made of raw recruits called hastati, who would absorb charges and battle the enemy until exhausted. They then could retire through the gaps in the maniples behind them. The next two rows of maniples, the principes, would then face the enemy fresh for the battle, these were the experienced warriors and they were expected to finish off their tired and battered opponents. However, if this line fails the final two rows of maniples, the Triarii, would then form the final line of defense. These would be the battle hardened veterans, and their deployment meant the situation had become desperate.
Another advantage the maniple system offered was its flexibility. A single maniple could be pealed off an army to cover a flank or take a ridge. It also was much easier to maintain on rough ground.
The Roman weapons also changed, arming the first Hastati and Principes with short thrusting swords and only the Triarii with spears. Legionaries were also given two javelins, called pila, another adaptation from the Samnites.
Faced with the larger population of Rome and no military advantage, the lands of Samnium where colonized and their military ground down. The Samnites lost their freedom, forced under direct roman rule. After securing victory the Romans consolidated their hold over Italy bringing them into conflict with Pyrrhus of Epirus and Macedonia, a leading general in the Hellenistic (Greek) world.
The Pyrrhic War (280&ndash275 BC) was a complex struggle for control of Italy and Sicily involving the western Greek cities, Pyrrhus, Italian peoples (Etruscans and Samnites), Carthaginians and the Romans. The phalanx formation used by Phyrus was developed by Phillip of Macedonia and used by Alexander the Great to conquer the known world. Spear lengths had been doubled presenting an almost impenetrable wall of spear heads. Although their shields had to be reduced to allow hoplites to use two hands to hold the longer spears this formation had become dominate in the Hellenistic world. Pyrrhus also brought war elephants to Italy, something the Romans had never faced. In several bloody battles Pyrrhus scored narrow victories against the roman legions but the heavy losses caused him to with draw from Italy. After one such bloody battle Pyrrhus is said to have stated, "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."
The Romans learned to defeat the elephants by using their pila. Once the elephants had been hit by the projectiles they would become enraged and uncontrollable. This made them just as likely to trample their own troops as the enemies in their rampage. More importantly though, the Romans had faced the Macedonian phalanx and fought it to a draw, showing they could go toe to toe with the worlds best heavy infantry. Although their casualties were high the Romans were able to consolidate their control over Italy.
Roman Military Dominance
Quickly on the heals of the Romans victory they found themselves contending with the other power in the Western Mediterranean, the Carthaginians, in The First Punic War (264 to 241 BC). The Roman navy was traditionally considered less important, although ships were vital for the transportation of supplies and troops they had not developed an offensive naval capability. When Rome and Carthage contested Sicily they were forced too. The Romans copied a beached Carthaginian bireme warship and constructed large fleets. Eventually, after a few hard lessons and typical Roman perseverance they were able to compete with the powerful Carthaginian Navy and win the war.
After the war First Punic War a massive Gallic invasion poured into Italy (c. 225 BC). The Gauls were a Celtic people who used tactics the Romans called barbaric. They charged at the enemy in mass hoping the ferocity of their assault would break their opponents. Their warrior culture stressed individual bravery, making them tough but disorganized opponents. However, after they defeated two Roman armies they headed straight for Rome itself. Rome led the Italians under them in their mutual defense of Italy, crucially cementing their allegiance to Rome after the common threat was defeated.
The Latin cities of Rome provided their own heavy infantry legions to the Roman armies, although slightly inferior to the Roman legionaries. Also, the Romans used auxiliary troops, non-Romans who filled roles that the heavy infantry focused Roman military could not fill effectively, such as archers, light skirmishers and cavalry.
In the Second Punic War (218 BC to 201 BC) the strength of the Italians union became critical. Rome and Carthage grappled again, this time for all of the Western Mediterranean. Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general had crossed into Italy over the Alps. After crushing the Romans in multiple battles and inflicting devastating amounts of casualties he began a strategy of attempting to coax the Italian allies to turn on Rome. For 17 years he ravaged Italy before being recalled to the defense of the city of Carthage.
Hannibal&rsquos success was in that he used the Romans strength against them. He continual out thought the Romans who always confidently marched into battles. The Romans, certain of their superiority in head to head battles were easily led into his carefully planned traps. It took the annihilation of three Roman armies, over 100 thousand of Rome&rsquos sons and much of the Roman leadership before the new strategies were tried. First Fabious earned his moniker of Fabious the Delayer by avoiding pitched battles with Hannibal until it was in a spot of his choosing. Later Scipio Africanus was able to beat Hannibal at his own game, turning some Carthaginian allies against them.
Scipio defeated Hannibal and rome learned a valuable lesson about strategy, improving their Generals cunning. Scipio also introduced a deadly new short sword that he had come across in the Spanish theatre of the war, the gladius. Crafted by Celtic, Iberian and Celtiberian tribes these swords were the best in the world and would become the main weapon of the legions. Rome also took away the much greater prize, control of the Western Mediterranean. The Roman military that came out of the war would take over the entire Mediterranean world over the next two hundred years. First they proved they could defeat the Macedonian Phalanx by conquering Macedonia itself. Then the remaining Hellenistic kingdoms fell one after another. The only real threat to Rome emerged in the old nightmare of massive barbarian invasions.
Around 113 BC, two tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutons who were of either Celtic or Germanic origins, invaded Rome and destroyed two Roman armies. Marius, Rome&rsquos leading general, was granted authority to reorganize the army to face this dire threat. He dropped the land requirements for army recruits. This meant that the state would provide the arms and equipment, since the landless classes couldn&rsquot afford the expense. The early legions originated from the citizen army of the Republic and consisted of farmer soldiers who were expected to own land. These land requirements had been dropping since the Punic Wars as fewer citizens owned land. The Romans own success was to blame, slaves taken in their victorious war against Carthage, Celtic tribes and in other conflicts were pouring into Rome by the hundreds of thousands and being used as agricultural workers. Large landowners used them on their lands and the new lands conquered by the Romans, which happened to go to the large landowners as well. The unemployed Roman farm laborers and sons of sold out farmers were recruited as the aristocracy decided to let the newly formed unemployed masses shoulder the military grunt work. Marius turned the army into a professionally structured organization. Although the legions were still largely filled by citizens, the citizens now would serve continuously for twenty years before being discharged and awarded a plot of land.
Once Marius had standardized the Roman Legions arms and equipment he then standardized the battle lines, doing away with the old structure of the newest recruits attacking first only to be rescued by the drama of the veterans coming in to save the day. After Marius all maniples would be standardized. Veterans and new recruits would be mixed together as well as Romans and other Italians.
Roman armies had always been followed by supply trains, wagons that trailed for miles behind the army. Lately however the army followers had swelled to ridiculous proportions, slowing the army down. Marius had his soldiers carry most of their own supplies, around 70 pounds worth of arms, equipment and supplies. The legionaries were derisively referred to as Marius&rsquo Mules. Marius also marched his new army around Italy, building their endurance and strength for their coming showdown with the vast barbarian invaders.
When the Cimbri and the Teutons invaded again, Marius and his legions were ready. The endurance of the Roman soldiers in battle was unmatched anywhere in the world. Marius also rotated the battle lines more frequently, putting fresh troops into the battle, not waiting for a battle line to be beaten before sending another in. Like a hockey couch, Marius rotated his lines, putting continual pressure on the enemies. After the barbarians initial wild, powerful charge was absorbed the legions could get down to the business of wearing them down. The Cimbri and Teutons were defeated and slaughtered.
This was the form of the Roman armies of Caesar, Augustus and Emperor Titus. They conquered their old enemy, the Gauls in France and the Celts of Britain. In the East they took over the old Hellenistic Kingdoms, Syria, Egypt and Judea. When the ambitions of Rome&rsquos great generals turned the Legions against each other in the civil wars that ended the republic and started the empire, it was in this form the legions battled. They where the supreme fighting force for 300 years after the reforms of Marius. Eventually barbarian nations, such as the Goths, learned new mounted tactics from the nomadic steppe tribes. The many barbarian tribes that surrounded the Empire had been in close contact with Rome on every level of society for centuries, and had also learned much of Rome and its military. The legions, after losing several battles at the hands of cavalry heavy barbarian armies reformed itself one last time.
Late Imperial Roman Armies
The late imperial army, with so much territory to cover, began to focus on speed and cavalry. Mounted troops and archers took on greater importance. The heavy infantry obsessed Romans of the Republic and early empire would have shuddered, but times had changed. Roman infantry was once again armed with spears, a good defense against cavalry. They were also less armored and infantry began carrying an oval shield. Speed was now more highly valued then the brute force of the Marian legions. Physical fitness, aggressiveness and professionalism also declined as the legions were posted on garrison duties, protecting the multitude of fortifications strung across the imperial frontiers. Military expenditures had soared, up 40% in the later Empire, even though the heavy infantry was scaled back. The new cavalry units, forerunners to the medieval nights, where expensive, budget busters.
Since the early Republic the Romans used auxiliary troops, non-Romans who served with the legions in roles that the heavy infantry centric Roman military could not fill effectively. Light skirmish troops and heavy cavalry are two good examples. During the Empire these auxiliary troops steadily increased in numbers. By the late Empire they, along with foreign mercenaries, had became the core of Roman armies. Tribes such as the Goths became relied upon heavily and often needed to be bribed. After several bloody disputes with their mercenaries over pay Roman territory was invaded by the Huns, hordes of nomadic horse archers. This was followed by attacks by other barbarian groups such as the Lombards, Franks and Vandals. Even their old allies the Goths got in on the action. In the 5th century the last Roman Emperor of the Western Empire was deposed and Western Europe entered into the Dark Ages (although it wasn&rsquot that dark of a time for the emerging barbarian nations). The empire created by the sword, perished by the sword.
In the East the Roman Empire continued on for another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine armies continued to develop the late roman military model. They made excellent use of cavalry, particularly mounted archers and were at times able to recover portions of the old Western Empire. The Byzantines remained a power until the fall of Constantinople, their great capitol city in 1453.
What had been an unremarkable small town of cattle rustlers and farmers had used its stubborn and brutal military to create the greatest empire in western history. Many of their institutions, laws and customs continue as a foundation for modern society
4. The Corvus
The corvus was a Roman naval boarding device used during sea battles against Carthage during the First Punic War (264–241 BC). The Carthaginians were known for their superiority in maritime warfare, probably due to the battles they had been fighting in order to conquer settlements overseas for many hundreds of years.
It was the sheer inventiveness of the Roman armed forces that enabled Rome to triumph over Carthage, although the corvus was not without its disadvantages. It could not be used during rough weather, and its presence on the prow of the ship may have hampered the navigation of the vessel. The Romans soon learnt new maritime fighting techniques and were able to dispense with the corvus altogether.
6. Roads and Highways
At its height, the Roman empire encompassed nearly 1.7 million square miles and included most of southern Europe. To ensure effective administration of this sprawling domain, the Romans built the most sophisticated system of roads the ancient world had ever seen. These Roman roads—many of which are still in use today—were constructed with a combination of dirt, gravel and bricks made from granite or hardened volcanic lava. Roman engineers adhered to strict standards when designing their highways, creating arrow-straight roads that curved to allow for water drainage. The Romans built over 50,000 miles of road by 200 A.D., primarily in the service of military conquest. Highways allowed the Roman legion to travel as far as 25 miles per day, and a complex network of post houses meant that messages and other intelligence could be relayed with astonishing speed. These roads were often managed in the same way as modern highways. Stone mile markers and signs informed travelers of the distance to their destination, while special complements of soldiers acted as a kind of highway patrol.
The Honing of a Deadly Sword: The Legion Takes Shape
But all this was still in an evolving state. Legions were formed but for a short time only. There were the four original legions during the mid-Republic era: Legion I to IV, with two assigned to each of the two consuls. But when a new military campaign or a threat required a greater number of men, further legions were raised as needed. This conscription method can be considered an efficient and affordable way of structuring an army without having to pay extra soldiers in times of peace.
The types of units in a legion varied in each period of Rome’s history as the methods of warfare evolved over the centuries. Early on, the biggest focus was on the cavalry. Known in Rome as the Equites, the cavalry was considered the most prestigious and deadly of all units. Cavalry positions were often reserved for the notable and upper-class young men of Rome as a way to rise to prominence in both political and military circles.
The position of the light infantry, or the velites, was left to the poor classes of Rome and formed the big part of the early legion. Since Roman soldiers were largely responsible for equipping themselves, the velites could not afford proper equipment. Rome’s light infantry was great at skirmishing and ranged warfare, relying on light javelins. They were offset by the largest part of a legion, the heavy infantry. Heavy infantry soldiers would gradually evolve to be a crucial part of the legion, the picture of the Roman soldier that we all know today. The heavy infantry was mostly comprised of citizens who were neither high born nor poor, essentially the “middle class.”
Roman foot soldiers, carrying javelins, on the march. (Manfred Richter/ Adobe Stock )
Being the largest group in a legion, the heavy infantry was classed by experience. The triarii were the veterans and the most reliable and tested troops, reserved for extreme situations. The principes were the second line in the battle and had moderate experience. Lastly, the hastati, made up of raw and inexperienced recruits with next to no combat experience, formed the front line.
Rome’s legions were famously reorganized during the well-known Marian Reforms . These reforms, which occurred in the late Republic period, resulted in the tactical and more evolved organization of army units. After the reforms, a legion proper numbered around 4,500 men in total and was separated as follows. At the legion’s core were the 10 cohorts, a primary Prima Cohorta and 9 ordinary ones, with an additional 500 cavalry soldiers. The Prima Cohorta was twice as strong, the core of other legions only had six centuries. A single century was comprised of 80 men, or 10 contubernia (singular contubernium). The contubernia was the lowest unit formation and consisted of 8 soldiers, 1 mule, and all the equipment they required. Each of the centuries carried its own standard or “banner”. This new legion formation was highly effective and easy to maneuver in the field. And it was these strategic advantages that made the Roman legions superior to other fighting forces. It also resulted in many victories for Rome.
How Was Roman Military Equipment Created and Distributed - History
The legionary's personal weapons were two javelins, a sword and a dagger.
The sword was very important. It was light and short (no more than 50 cm) so soldiers can use it for stabbing quickly.
The legionary wore his sword high on the right side of his body. This enabled it to be drawn underarm with his right hand without interfering with the shield which he carried in his left.
A soldier carried two spears to throw at the enemy. The spears were just over two metres* long and they were designed to bend and stick in the enemy's shield so he cannot use it to protect himself. They were difficult to pull out and will bend on impact, so they couldn't be thrown back at the attacking Roman soldiers.
* US spelling of all metre words is meter.
The pugio was a small dagger used by Roman soldiers as a sidearm. It was worn on left side.
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All the materials on these pages are free for homework and classroom use only. You may not redistribute, sell or place the content of this page on any other website or blog without written permission from the author Mandy Barrow.
©Copyright Mandy Barrow 2013
I teach computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.
The First Formation
This tactic, designed for level terrain, assumes that your wings are more powerful. Should the enemy make their way around your flanks, the reserves will be able to counter. Once their wings are vanquished, you may press the center.
"He who judges himself inferior should advance his right wing against his enemy's left. This is the second formation."
This formation, considered by some to be the best, took advantage of the fact that the left side of a soldier, and so the left side of the army was considered to be weaker, because it had to support the weight of the shield. The right wing moved around the opponent's left, and attacked from the rear. The left wing kept its distance, while the reserves supported the left wing or guarded against the enemy attacking the center.
"If your left wing is strongest, you must attack the enemy's right, according to the third formation."
The third formation was considered something of a desperation move, to be used only when your left wing, usually the weaker side, was stronger than your right. In this attack, the left wing, supplemented by the Roman's best cavalry, attacked the opponent's right wing, while their own right stayed back in relative safety.
"The general who can depend on the discipline of his men should begin the engagement by attacking both of the enemy's wings at once, the fourth formation."
The fourth formation's main advantage was its shock value. The entire army was brought close to the enemy, whereupon both wings charged at the enemy. This would often surprise the opponent, allowing for a quick resolution. However, the attack split the army into three parts, so if the enemy survived the attack, the center of the Roman's forces was vulnerable, and the wings could be fought separately.
"He whose light infantry is good should cover his center by forming them in its front and charge both the enemy's wings at once. This is the fifth formation."
This was a variation of the fourth formation. Light infantry and archers were placed in front of the center, making it far less vulnerable.
"He who cannot depend on either the number or courage of his troops, if obliged to engage, should begin the action with his right and endeavor to break the enemy's left, the rest of his army remaining formed in line perpendicular to the front and extended to the rear like a javelin. This is the sixth formation."
The sixth formation was similar to the second, with both having the right wing attacking the opponent's left from behind. In this attack, the enemy's left wing cannot be reinforced, for fear that it would leave an opening for the Romans to exploit.
"If your forces are few and weak in comparison to the enemy, you must make use of the seventh formation and cover one of your flanks either with an eminence, a city, the sea, a river, or some protection of that kind."
When the Romans were outnumbered or had inferior troops, this was often the only hope for victory. The left flank was kept guarded by whatever protection was available. The right was protected by the light troops and cavalry. With both sides well covered, the army had little to fear from an attack.