File Rotations in Roman Century

Jan 2019
4
Burbank, CA, U.S.A.
#1
Having watched HBO's series Rome, I've wondered if the tactic used in this video has any historical founding.

I am well are that the Romans switched whole units in their triplex acies formation. I have never read any sources that state they switched files of legionaries, in a century, in this way. Do any sources corroborate this?
 
Feb 2011
6,119
#2
They did rotate troops but it doesn't sound like anything Rome HBO displayed. It sounds like the Romans rotated troops in bulk each time, not just the individuals at the front of the line:

The forces of the foe were increasing and cohorts were continually being sent up to them from the camp through the town so that the unexhausted were always taking the place of the exhausted. Caesar was obliged to adopt the same course of withdrawing the exhausted and sending up supporting cohorts to the same place. -Caesar, Civil Wars

And it's not just the Romans who practiced this:
The unfavourable downward slope of the ground told heavily against the Romans. Some of the Gauls flung javelins while others advanced to the attack with shields locked together above their heads, fresh troops continually relieving them when they were tired. All of them threw earth on the fortifications, which enabled them to climb the rampart and covered the obstacles hidden in the ground. - Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul

And in another place from the same source:
But what told against them [Caesar's troops] was that the enemy, when exhausted by prolonged fighting, could retire from the battle and be relieved by fresh troops, which our men could not do on account of their small numbers; not only had tired men to stay in the fighting line, but even the wounded had to remain at their posts without any chance of respite.
 
Sep 2017
565
United States
#3
It's a cool visual, and one that communicates the efficiency and discipline of the Roman armies, but I do not think it was a tactic used as I know of no actual evidence of it. Neither for the centurion's whistle IIRC.

But I don't knock Rome for it, its main goal after all was authenticity over accuracy. And that beginning battle sequence was better than most of the following action scenes.
 
Jul 2016
7,781
USA
#4
The shows producers used a reenactment group to try to gain that extra bit of realism. That method of rotation, use of whistles every minute, holding the baldric strap of man in front, drag step advance, was proposed by that specific group, but no others. Looks cool for the unwashed masses, but completely impractical and implausible, with zero evidence to support it.

No one has a clue how rotation was done, but likely it was entire maniples and centuries that were replaced as one by the lines in the rear.
 
Jan 2015
2,787
MD, USA
#5
Yeah, the whistles and replacement of the whole rank "by the numbers" is not only fantasy but farcical. Probably based on modern SWAT team tactics or military breaching drills.

It does seem that men farther back could replace those in front as needed, but not while anyone was actively fighting. The accounts cited by HackneyedScribe sound like whole groups or units being swapped out, though it's easy enough for fresh troops to pass forward between the files of the men they're replacing. And it wasn't necessarily done in what we might think of as an organized or tidy way--the line of tired troops could simply peel back as fresh troops jogged in and poured into place. But again, you'd want a bit of a lull to do that, though such lulls were probably quite common in a battle.

Matthew
 
Jul 2016
7,781
USA
#6
Thing that bugged me most about Rome was the lack of pila. There is one scene, where Vorenus finds a random pilum and throws it through the slave who had captured Octavius and the horse. You also see them being carried by various legionnaires, but never used in battle. Shame.
 
Jan 2015
2,787
MD, USA
#7
Thing that bugged me most about Rome was the lack of pila. There is one scene, where Vorenus finds a random pilum and throws it through the slave who had captured Octavius and the horse. You also see them being carried by various legionnaires, but never used in battle. Shame.
I don't remember that, but I only managed to watch a few episodes before gnawing my leg off to escape... I do remember the battle in "Gladiator", where the legionaries had their pila tightly clamped under their arms! Shields and swords got thrown more often...

Sigh...

Matthew
 
Jul 2016
7,781
USA
#8
I don't remember that, but I only managed to watch a few episodes before gnawing my leg off to escape... I do remember the battle in "Gladiator", where the legionaries had their pila tightly clamped under their arms! Shields and swords got thrown more often...

Sigh...

Matthew
I'd love to watch a good representation of a ferocious Roman charge done at the run, full lines of centuries of screaming legionnaires in the front battle line running forward to throw pila in unison at their enemy then drawing swords and advancing directly into the carnage and chaos of an enemy force who just received the pila volley. Likewise, I'd love to see the Romans get it too, as many of their enemy used javelins and light spears against them in the same manner as the Romans used the pila. Then with just a little bit of close quarters combat, one side retreats and gives ground, while the other side remains and cheers.

Rome's close quarters fighting was boring. Drag step, no pila, whistle and baldric nonsense, front rank soldiers just standing there, motionless, waiting to block some enemy idiot's sword, ax attack with their shield (for some reason the Gauls don't have shields...), then lethally stab them without contemplation, and stack up enemy bodies to the point the enemy suffers more attrition than a daylight attack in the Huertgen Forest.

I doubt I'll ever see anything accurate, so my imagination will have to suffice. Historical accuracy has never been the priority for drama club geeks who are the ones making movies.
 
Sep 2017
565
United States
#9
Rome's close quarters fighting was boring. Drag step, no pila, whistle and baldric nonsense, front rank soldiers just standing there, motionless, waiting to block some enemy idiot's sword, ax attack with their shield (for some reason the Gauls don't have shields...), then lethally stab them without contemplation, and stack up enemy bodies to the point the enemy suffers more attrition than a daylight attack in the Huertgen Forest.
It never quite got the action down. Even the fights between individuals later on were never very good. And it has the classic problem of swords cutting through armor. But, I do think a couple of the battle scenes did good visual storytelling at least, which I guess is more important than accuracy.

Then again, a realistic battle might not be as exciting as one might expect, as it wasn't really a constant stream of action and even the legions are recorded as waiting for quite some time slinging stones at their opponents rather than charging in. Add in the fact that most casualties didn't come from the actual fighting, and the lulls between bouts of fighting, and it would probably not be engaging to an audience unless the videography focused on the very visceral emotions of the soldiers.
 
Jul 2016
7,781
USA
#10
It never quite got the action down. Even the fights between individuals later on were never very good. And it has the classic problem of swords cutting through armor. But, I do think a couple of the battle scenes did good visual storytelling at least, which I guess is more important than accuracy.

Then again, a realistic battle might not be as exciting as one might expect, as it wasn't really a constant stream of action and even the legions are recorded as waiting for quite some time slinging stones at their opponents rather than charging in. Add in the fact that most casualties didn't come from the actual fighting, and the lulls between bouts of fighting, and it would probably not be engaging to an audience unless the videography focused on the very visceral emotions of the soldiers.
One part I hated the most was during the battle of Philippi. Octavian, Antony, Agrippa, are just sitting on horseback, hundreds of meters to the rear of the fighting, having absolutely no clue what's happening. Utterly ridiculous that somebody was stupid enough to think that's how Roman generals placed themselves in battle.
 

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