Roman Castra

Sep 2016
35
India
#1
At the end of each day's march, the Roman Army built a camp which would protect them through the night. Although temporary, this was a proper fort with walls, watchtowers, barracks etc. The Romans could build this in a matter of hours and even while they were under attack.
How were the Romans able to achieve such efficiency? How would they plan and organize such constructions? Were the Romans unique in this ability or could other Pre-modern civilizations do the same?

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Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,470
Dispargum
#3
Watchtowers might be a stretch for a camp that was only occupied one night. If the Romans stayed in one camp long enough the defenses became more sophisticated over time. Eventually they would get around to building watchtowers. Barracks should also be understood to mean tents. The wall was just a perimeter ditch with the dirt thrown up along the inside edge so that an attacking enemy would first have to cross the ditch then climb the earthen mound all while fighting Roman soldiers who were standing on top of or behind the mound. When John says discipline, what he means is that the Romans did this every afternoon at the end of that day's march. As with any task, the more you do it, the better you get at it (faster and more efficient).
 
Jul 2018
262
London
#4
they also carried with them a stock of pointy poles to be planted on top of the mound, to provide some extra protection from arrows and other missiles and give also some more psychological sense of security to the soldiers.
 
Jan 2015
2,812
MD, USA
#5
As Chlodio says, a nightly marching camp was little more than the perimeter ditch and rampart, mostly to delineate the camp and keep the animals from wandering off. In friendly territory, the ditch was only 3 feet deep. In *enemy* territory, it was supposed to be an 8-foot ditch with 6 feet of rampart above that. Watchtowers and other major features would only be needed for a longer stay. Barracks were only for permanent forts, otherwise tents were used.

Palisade stakes don't seem to have been a regular part of a soldier's load, but we have a couple accounts of up to 7 carried by each man, only on special occasions. Usually they were either carried with the baggage, or maybe made on the spot.

The Romans were not the only people to make marching camps, they were just far more organized and dedicated about it. Recruits spent a lot of time digging ditches, and would quickly learn how to put up and take down tents quickly and efficiently. Pyrrhus was quite shocked that the "barbaric" Romans were so obsessed with their camps! Part of the efficiency came from having a common pattern that was used for every camp, with some variation due to the size of the force or the shape of the space available. It meant that no time was needed for planning or figuring, everyone knew where everything was supposed to go before a shovel hit the ground, and any soldier could find his way to his tent in the dark. Planning and practice! LOTS of practice.

Reenactors have done 20-mile marches in full kit, and then spent a couple hours digging ditches to simulate the army entrenching for the night. They say that the digging is almost relaxing, since it uses a totally different set of muscles than you use for marching with a heavy load, and works out all the kinks in your back. Then you put up the tent, turn in for the night, and sleep like baby! (At least until you get roused out for sentry duty!)

Train like you fight, fight like you train.

Matthew
 
Sep 2017
608
United States
#6
As Chlodio says, a nightly marching camp was little more than the perimeter ditch and rampart, mostly to delineate the camp and keep the animals from wandering off. In friendly territory, the ditch was only 3 feet deep. In *enemy* territory, it was supposed to be an 8-foot ditch with 6 feet of rampart above that.
Are there any known instances when a hostile force tried to attack/besiege a Roman camp?
 
Jan 2015
2,812
MD, USA
#7
Are there any known instances when a hostile force tried to attack/besiege a Roman camp?
Definitely! At least one of Caesar's camps was attacked by Gauls, though that *might* have been a "winter camp", more substantial than a marching camp. Legio IX was attacked in their marching camp during Agricola's campaign into Caledonia, as I recall. And there was some savage fighting along the ramparts during one of the battles of Cremona in the Year of Four Emperors.

Matthew
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,940
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#8
Probably this thread should underline the great "secret" of the Romans [it was a very visible "secret"!]: they capability to realize functional and lasting streets.

That was pivotal about logistics and without a suitable and efficient supply chain [based on a network of functional and lasting streets] you can build all the castra you want, but you will lose them all, sooner or later.

Romans were incredibly pragmatic. And they invested a lot in educating engineers. In Italy we can make a statistical research about ancient structures which are still standing ... as surprising it can sound, ancient Roman structures win on Germanic medieval structures. It's still possible to drive your car on a Roman bridge in Italy and in other European countries.

Personally I think to castra as a natural extension of the street network that Roman created, not the other way round.
 
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macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,539
Slovenia
#9
Was not Hannibal praising Pyrrhus because he started building fortified camps? Before him Greek camps were open and vulnerable to night attacks.
 
Mar 2018
520
UK
#10
It's also important to remember that 5000 men marching in a column stretch out a *long* way. The head of the column would arrive hours before the tail so, in order that nobody marches at night, the van guard has to stop mid afternoon. Nothing better for them to do at that point than start digging. The rear guard, repays the favour by taking down the camp while the van starts marching off in the morning.

I remember reading somewhere that no Roman fortified nightly camp was ever successfully assaulted. Is this true?