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Old August 9th, 2015, 03:09 AM   #31

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Am I correct in saying that each line, once at the front, would split to form a full line?
No. Troops would instinctively herd together because individuals left isolated, far easier with only a single line, were pretty much doomed on the battlefield. Roman tactics revolved around blocks of men rather than lines. A line of blocks (maniples or cohorts, whatever) is another matter. Once the men deformed into a single line all command would have been lost and the enemy would have easily penetrated them. Cavalry facing a single line of men were almost guaranteed a good result.
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Old August 9th, 2015, 08:31 AM   #32

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No. Troops would instinctively herd together because individuals left isolated, far easier with only a single line, were pretty much doomed on the battlefield. Roman tactics revolved around blocks of men rather than lines. A line of blocks (maniples or cohorts, whatever) is another matter. Once the men deformed into a single line all command would have been lost and the enemy would have easily penetrated them. Cavalry facing a single line of men were almost guaranteed a good result.
Huh, that's almost the opposite of everything I've learned about ancient linear warfare!

Organized armies did move and deploy troops in blocks, for ease of control and to keep them organized. Then they lined them up for battle in lines, several ranks deep. I'm not sure I can see how having blocks separated by a unit-sized space helps communication more than having those blocks deployed in a continuous line. Certainly the soldiers and warriors knew that the integrity of the line was essential for victory! A solid line of infantry could hold off most any normal attack. Leaving big gaps into which the enemy could swarm to outflank every separated unit just doesn't sound right, to me.

Could we be having terminology problems with "line" and "rank"? A "single line" of troops could be anywhere up to 16 ranks deep (or more!), depending on the time, place, nationality, troop type, and situation. I don't know if anyone seriously deployed men in a single *rank*.

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Old August 9th, 2015, 08:35 AM   #33

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King Henry's polearm wielding heavy infantry at Agincourt were formed in two long formations only four lines deep.

Seems like it worked out pretty well for him.
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Old August 10th, 2015, 04:17 AM   #34

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I'm not sure I can see how having blocks separated by a unit-sized space helps communication more than having those blocks deployed in a continuous line.
It prevents confusion over who is giving orders. The Roman sources do hint that legionaries sometimes refused orders from centurions they did not know, even though disobedience was a death penalty on the field.
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Old August 10th, 2015, 06:45 AM   #35

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I'm not sure I can see how having blocks separated by a unit-sized space helps communication more than having those blocks deployed in a continuous line.
It prevents confusion over who is giving orders. The Roman sources do hint that legionaries sometimes refused orders from centurions they did not know, even though disobedience was a death penalty on the field.
Hmm... But really, how many orders would there be? Line up, go forwards, charge. Anything more complicated, such as a flanking maneuver, was typically done by a separate body of troops who were not otherwise engaged. A lot was done by hand signals and waving standards, as well as by voice and horn. You aren't going to do anything fancy with a single century or even cohort that is already engaged in combat, in the middle of your line. Wait until they've fallen back for a breather, perhaps, and you can get a coherent order to them. But you aren't going to sound the retreat or advance to just individual units (for example), since that will break up your formation however it's done. (Unless it's something like a cavalry troop that is pursuing their opponents, or a swarm of light infantry off to one side, etc.)

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Old August 10th, 2015, 06:59 AM   #36

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The first line were experienced men.

The second line were new men.

The third line were veterans.
The first two lines are the wrong way around. The Hastati were at the front and made up of young men, the Principes occupied the second line, being made up of men in their prime and the Triarii were the veterans, who would nominally act as a decisive reserve.

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I understand the "chequer-board" tactic used by the Romans was to make use of their Superior training combined with a desire to allow their troops a chance to recover from the sheer exaustion of battle.
The "Chequer-board" formation was adapted to allow the Romans a frontage that would allow them to march over broken or uneven terrain without breaking ranks. That was the fundamental idea behind it, but scholars are still talking its purpose even today afaik.

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To assist their soldiers in recovery they could withdraw from battle for a short rest, but line-of-battle maintained.
Again, the ability to withdraw a line from the front and replace it with a fresh line was a fundamental tactic of Roman legions, that allowed them to demoralise and grind down an opposing army through attrition, allowing them to keep momentum.

I think the method of how they fed new lines into the fray is still being debated, though.
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Old August 11th, 2015, 12:21 AM   #37
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As I understand it the rookies were in the second line to get blooded. The veterans kept them focused.
You don't understand it right. Hastati were the frontliners and the rookies. Principes were having more experience and were in second line, triarii were the third line. In most of battles triarii were not engaged or used.

Percentage was around 40% hastati, 40% principes and 20% triarii.
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Old August 11th, 2015, 12:23 AM   #38
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I understand the "chequer-board" tactic used by the Romans was to make use of their Superior training combined with a desire to allow their troops a chance to recover from the sheer exaustion of battle.

Armed combat of the sort of the Romans and their foes is wearing, even to physically fit soldiers. Warriors new to battle would be burning adrenalin in mass quantities, which further drains strength. To assist their soldiers in recovery they could withdraw from battle for a short rest, but line-of-battle maintained.
Checkerboard was invention of later republic, probably Caesar's. It was formation of cohorts. Three lines were basic formation from before punic wars, they learned it from Samnites.
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Old August 12th, 2015, 04:51 AM   #39

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Hmm... But really, how many orders would there be? Line up, go forwards, charge. Anything more complicated, such as a flanking maneuver, was typically done by a separate body of troops who were not otherwise engaged. A lot was done by hand signals and waving standards, as well as by voice and horn. You aren't going to do anything fancy with a single century or even cohort that is already engaged in combat, in the middle of your line. Wait until they've fallen back for a breather, perhaps, and you can get a coherent order to them. But you aren't going to sound the retreat or advance to just individual units (for example), since that will break up your formation however it's done. (Unless it's something like a cavalry troop that is pursuing their opponents, or a swarm of light infantry off to one side, etc.)

Matthew
It was pretty well accepted that cavalry were used for outflanking moves. Also I think you see the ancient army as being rather better managed than it actually was. Even the Romans did not develop any dedicated messaging system and they were among the most organised of people. Instead, they preferred simplicity, relying on ad hoc contact if absolutely necessary and allowing their junior commanders, the centurionate, considerable tactical freedom and responsibility. Only when the arrival of gunpowder made frontline leadership too dangerous was better battlefield management both required and preferred, especially since increasing numbers of troops needed to do exactly the same complex things at the same time to be effective.

How does the commander co-ordinate such large groups of men? The roman army functioned by co-operation. When the legate is too far away or out of sight, the centurions must act together. Signals are essential. There's some difficulty involved in shouting long distances given the background of men marching, cussing, yelling, and hacking each other to bits. Flags are easily misinterpreted or simply not seen in the heat of action. For the roman legion, trumpet calls are the best method. A man can hear something like that above the din of combat when he's otherwise occupied. There are instances of commanders riding from one place to another to direct efforts. This carries a time penalty and renders the commander vulnerable to counterattack.

In some cases, an order to change formation must take place. During his battle against the Helvetii, the rear line of Caesars cohorts wheeled and faced a new threat at right angles. What is interesting is that Caesar says -

We changed front and advanced in two divisions - The first and second lines to oppose the Helvetii whom we had already defeated and driven back, the third to withstand the newly arrived troops.

For a man so keen to bolster his own image it seems odd that he did not say I changed the front and advanced in two divisions. To me, this indicates that Caesar was not necessarily giving the orders, that his officers may have taken the initiative.

Eventually two units meet and combat begins. In his Civil Wars, Appian decribes melee combat.

They met together in close order, and since neither could dislodge the other, they locked together with their swords as if in a wrestling contest. If a man fell, he was immediately carried away and another took his place. The legionaries had no need of encouragement or cheering on, for each mans experience made him his own general. When they tired, they seperated for a few moments to recover as if they were engaged in training exercises, and then grappled with each other again.

This is an important description. As they approach, there's a hint of attempted intimidation, and certainly they tried to push the enemy back on contact - an important psychological goal, so on initial contact pushing and shoving with shields seems likely. The men involved are obviously well-trained and react accordingly. They do not wait for orders, but act as a team. It also emphasises the physical aspect of melee combat, how tiring it can be when you slog it out sword on sword. The men are not giving ground, indicating good morale and motivation, none too suprising since legionaries were taught to be aggressive and relentless. At no time does the centurion egg his men on or threaten them against failure. He's busy leading the fight, an example to his men, and we know that centurions were often fatalities in combat.

So what do we learn from all of this? A roman army in the field cannot communicate anywhere near as easily as today. For that reason, a legate might prefer not to complicate matters. Simple and elegant plans are the best way forward, easily understood by junior commanders, and not so easily undone by enemy action. Yet the Romans retain a flexible approach, and its noticeable that their worst disasters often occur when that flexibility is ignored. They rely on the junior commanders to support each other, particularly since a general might not be aware of what is going on. Caesar for instance sometimes fought alongside his men in the front rank, a position from which battlefield command is all but impossible. Since the modern pyramid structure cannot function under these conditions, the roman army instead employs co-operative and well-trained groups whose officers act on initiative in accordance with a previously agreed deployment, depending on terrain and circumstance.
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Old August 12th, 2015, 06:55 AM   #40

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It was pretty well accepted that cavalry were used for outflanking moves.
Sure, that was typical. Easy enough for the army commander to give his cavalry commander orders in advance, either to wait for a particular opportunity, or perhaps a particular signal. If his men were just sitting and watching at that point, there's not much chance of missing their cue.

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Also I think you see the ancient army as being rather better managed than it actually was.
Well, they were certainly the best-managed army in Europe! But by today's standards, I'd say they were more like the least chaotic street gang.

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Even the Romans did not develop any dedicated messaging system and they were among the most organised of people.
Certainly they did--they had voice commands, visual signals, and trumpets or horns. The signum was used to pass at least some orders to its century, and the men knew that their centurion would be near their signum so they only had to keep half an eye on it to be aware of signals from him.

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Instead, they preferred simplicity, relying on ad hoc contact if absolutely necessary and allowing their junior commanders, the centurionate, considerable tactical freedom and responsibility...
Well, that's pretty much what I said before. Simplicity means putting your units in a continuous line. No unit can do anything without its neighbors knowing, signals or not. Any unit that you want to do something special with is typically set apart from the line in the initial deployment, or set into the line with the understanding that someone else is there to cover for it, and that the surrounding units expect that it will be doing its own thing. And yes, individual centurions certainly knew how to react to various situations, including another century suddenly maneuvering out of place. But as we both agree, simplicity was the rule: *most* of the time, a century was limited to moving forwards or backwards.

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How does the commander co-ordinate such large groups of men? The roman army functioned by co-operation. When the legate is too far away or out of sight, the centurions must act together.
There were sub-commanders all through the army, including individual legion commanders, generals assigned to command an entire wing or division, cavalry commanders, plus tribunes and senior centurions below that. All would have general orders, specific instructions for this battle, and an understanding of how to act on their own if necessary.

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Signals are essential. There's some difficulty involved in shouting long distances given the background of men marching, cussing, yelling, and hacking each other to bits. Flags are easily misinterpreted or simply not seen in the heat of action. For the roman legion, trumpet calls are the best method. A man can hear something like that above the din of combat when he's otherwise occupied. There are instances of commanders riding from one place to another to direct efforts. This carries a time penalty and renders the commander vulnerable to counterattack.
Agreed more or less. I don't think flags or other visual signals would be "easily misinterpreted" any more than voice commands or trumpet calls. It was something practiced on a daily basis. There might not have been a large number of commands given by flags or signum motions, but again I don't think many would be needed. And of course when your men are toe-to-toe with the enemy, there's no way to put a flag or signum where most of them can see it! But the only signal you might give to men in that situation is "Retreat", in any case, which we know was done by trumpet. ("Sound the Recall!")

Quote:
In some cases, an order to change formation must take place. During his battle against the Helvetii, the rear line of Caesars cohorts wheeled and faced a new threat at right angles. What is interesting is that Caesar says -

We changed front and advanced in two divisions - The first and second lines to oppose the Helvetii whom we had already defeated and driven back, the third to withstand the newly arrived troops.
Sure, he's either wheeling a whole cohort, or more likely having centuries face, march, and wheel into a new alignment. I've done stuff like that in Revolutionary War reenactments (as a grunt!). You learn to pay attention to your unit officers! But you can't do that with units that are locked in hand-to-hand combat--these cohorts were not closely engaged at the time.

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For a man so keen to bolster his own image it seems odd that he did not say I changed the front and advanced in two divisions. To me, this indicates that Caesar was not necessarily giving the orders, that his officers may have taken the initiative.
If they had to react to a new attack, sure! It was part of their job. I don't think the centurions themselves would *decide* to do these things, under normal circumstances, but they were the ones who knew the mechanics involved when their division commander told them something had to be done.

So a legatus says, "Oh, crap, look at all those barbs on our left! Tribune! Turn the darn cohort to the left!"

Tribune says, "Trumpeter, sound 'Cohort display to left by centuries'!"

Left front centurion hears the trumpet and says, "Left about wheel, you lot!" He knows how far to march to make space for the whole cohort. And the other centuries follow him into a new alignment. Anyone from the *next* cohort who hears the trumpets or orders *should* know they are not for him. But it didn't always happen that way...


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So what do we learn from all of this? A roman army in the field cannot communicate anywhere near as easily as today. For that reason, a legate might prefer not to complicate matters. Simple and elegant plans are the best way forward, easily understood by junior commanders, and not so easily undone by enemy action. Yet the Romans retain a flexible approach, and its noticeable that their worst disasters often occur when that flexibility is ignored. They rely on the junior commanders to support each other, particularly since a general might not be aware of what is going on. Caesar for instance sometimes fought alongside his men in the front rank, a position from which battlefield command is all but impossible. Since the modern pyramid structure cannot function under these conditions, the roman army instead employs co-operative and well-trained groups whose officers act on initiative in accordance with a previously agreed deployment, depending on terrain and circumstance.
Agreed all around! But the line is a LINE, not a broken row of blocks.

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