At what time period do you think the Roman Legions were at their apex?

Jul 2013
1,026
America
I think this has the potential to be a really interesting thread, when do you think the Roman legions were at their most lethal? Judging from what you've seen/read, what is the general consensus? Goldsworthy, IIRC, said that the Hannibalic veteran legions that fought at Pydna were some of the most fearsome ever meanwhile late Roman army units were not nearly as capable as their predecessors were.

What are your thoughts? Would you agree with Goldsworthy, what about Caesarian legionaries for an answer, or would the legions of the third century crisis be the most effective?

 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,652
Sydney
.
Augustus time , no doubt , the Teutoburg forest was due to miserable leadership
 
Jul 2017
19
Ur
Maybe there should be made a distinction between more well trained and more mature legions of veterans of war that fought various battles beside the same men from the military power of Rome itself, because yes, numbers do count. So it's difficult to believe that Rome was better off militarily before Marius made his reforms that allowed destitute men to also serve and receive proper armory and weaponry subsided by the State.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2012
812
Scipio's and Caesar's legions would be the first ones that come to mind. Trajan probably had an outstanding army under him, but we know much less about it. The armies of Marcus Aurelius would also be interesting to see in action.

Anyway, I wonder how late roman infantry would fare against the ones I mentioned.
 
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Sep 2013
645
Ontario, Canada
The legions under Caesar, battle hardened in Gaul, must've been the finest the Romans ever produced. They continued to serve the military tradition well under Augustus, too. I'd say the legions started to decline about the time when they switched from a conquering role to one of maintaining the borders, probably around Hadrian.
 
Jan 2016
393
Ohio
This is tough because some legions get a bad rep because they had bad commanders. So who knows what they could of been. Not to mention early legions had 3000 members compared to 5200 in later times. HOWEVER. Legions that fought under commanders of the like Augustus and Julius Caeser are usually topping the list. For example: Germanic Legion. Legio II Augusta. Legio VIII Gemina. Legio V Macedonica. Etc etc.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
The army that fought at Pydna was raised with the understanding that they were going to make bank through booty, so many high ranking centurions volunteered that primipilus like Spurius Lingustinus had to petition for centurion rank befitting their experience. The army did pretty good during the 3rd Mac War, they campaigned well, fought well. But even so that army actually had some nasty reports of discipline issues if i recall, Aemilius Paulus took over and supposedly had to reimpose discipline on them and they didnt overly like that. They even threatened to protest against Aemilius Paulus' Triumph, pressuring to fight against it unless he let them sack Epirius for their promised loot, which he did.

Marius' army during the Cimbri war was really highly trained and disciplined, levied in 105 BC before Arausio actually, they didnt fight for the first time till 102 BC and then went 3 for 3 against massive experienced Germanic/Gallic armies.

Sulla's army against Mithridates was highly experienced (mostly made up of Sulla's Social War veterans), disciplined, loyal, and fought well in all battles and sieges, no egregious discipline issues. Not much mention of that army historically probably because Sulla's memoirs disappeared, but the original legions fought longer than nearly any previous legions since the 2nd Punic War. Raised in 88 BC, discharged in 81-80 BC. Based on what I've learned it seems that army, and Caesar's, were those that started the tradition to keep armies under for longer and longer periods.

Lucullus had a top notch army considering how small it was yet what they were able to accomplish. Not very disciplined considering they mutinied when it was still rare for that to happen, i go only guess how bad the relationship between general and subordinates...

Pompeius Magnus' army during the war in the East was very good too, they did some pretty incredible things (besides winning pitched battles).

Caesar takes the cake for Republican Rome, specifically in Gaul before attrition/shipwrecks/mutinies of the civil war. The things they pulled off in Gaul, Germania, Britain, very impressive. The first of the true long standing 16 year legions, they were near professional

Goldsworthy doesn't hold the legions of the Liberator's War or the civil war between Octavianus and Antonius/Cleopatra very high, and i largely agree. So many legions getting raised so quickly, so many conscripted, can't have quality with that quantity.

Principate era I don't know enough about but maybe Titus' Army in Jerusalem, Josephus said some nice things about them.
 
Jul 2013
1,026
America
The army that fought at Pydna was raised with the understanding that they were going to make bank through booty, so many high ranking centurions volunteered that primipilus like Spurius Lingustinus had to petition for centurion rank befitting their experience. The army did pretty good during the 3rd Mac War, they campaigned well, fought well. But even so that army actually had some nasty reports of discipline issues if i recall, Aemilius Paulus took over and supposedly had to reimpose discipline on them and they didnt overly like that. They even threatened to protest against Aemilius Paulus' Triumph, pressuring to fight against it unless he let them sack Epirius for their promised loot, which he did.

Marius' army during the Cimbri war was really highly trained and disciplined, levied in 105 BC before Arausio actually, they didnt fight for the first time till 102 BC and then went 3 for 3 against massive experienced Germanic/Gallic armies.

Sulla's army against Mithridates was highly experienced (mostly made up of Sulla's Social War veterans), disciplined, loyal, and fought well in all battles and sieges, no egregious discipline issues. Not much mention of that army historically probably because Sulla's memoirs disappeared, but the original legions fought longer than nearly any previous legions since the 2nd Punic War. Raised in 88 BC, discharged in 81-80 BC. Based on what I've learned it seems that army, and Caesar's, were those that started the tradition to keep armies under for longer and longer periods.

Lucullus had a top notch army considering how small it was yet what they were able to accomplish. Not very disciplined considering they mutinied when it was still rare for that to happen, i go only guess how bad the relationship between general and subordinates...

Pompeius Magnus' army during the war in the East was very good too, they did some pretty incredible things (besides winning pitched battles).

Caesar takes the cake for Republican Rome, specifically in Gaul before attrition/shipwrecks/mutinies of the civil war. The things they pulled off in Gaul, Germania, Britain, very impressive. The first of the true long standing 16 year legions, they were near professional

Goldsworthy doesn't hold the legions of the Liberator's War or the civil war between Octavianus and Antonius/Cleopatra very high, and i largely agree. So many legions getting raised so quickly, so many conscripted, can't have quality with that quantity.

Principate era I don't know enough about but maybe Titus' Army in Jerusalem, Josephus said some nice things about them.
Dude, fantastic post.

So I'm sorry for asking, but in regards to the 3rd Mac war, you're saying that they were so veteran that traditional primi pilii had to volunteer for regular centurion positions? Awesome. Just asking, how many 'legionaries' among Paullus' legions were former centurions? I'm just trying to gauge how veteran the army was at large. And I wasn't mainly asking about how disciplined they were, rather how mean they were in combat. Like case in point, DEVGRU (as per the intercept and NY Times) aren't really all that disciplined but they are really ******* mean warfighters. Would the Pydna legions be the ancient equivalent to them?

Do you know of any good books where I can read up on Sulla and Lucullus? I know they're two of the greatest generals of all time, but for the life of me, I can't find anything good.

In regards to the civil wars, do you know of any particularly elite units fielded by either Augustus, Lepidus, or Antony? IIRC, Antony's Praetorians were all made up of veteran Centurions and when they had the chance they thrashed Augustus' praetorians.

As far as the later empire goes, how would you rate the soldiers of the field armies of the Caesars (Praetorian cohorts and Legio II Parthica Severiana) like Aurelian that fought throughout the third century crisis?