Was guerilla warfare possible before the 20th century?

Sep 2014
942
Texas
Depends on how you want to define guerrilla warfare. If you mean avoiding decisive battle that is not in one's favour, use of difficult terrain against an attacker, and wearing down a stronger enemy or sapping their will to fight through small, concerted attacks, then Byzantium against the later Umayyads and the Abbasids would be a good example. This is the table of contents of a mid-10th c. military manual prepared for fighting the Muslims along the Tauros Mountains, and I'd say it qualifies as guerrilla warfare:


View attachment 15732
View attachment 15733
Scopias of Scythia used guerilla tactics against Darius.
 

Tulius

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May 2016
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Portugal
A relatively early instance of "guerrilla warfare" being used systematically rather than sporadically by Spanish tribes is the Sertorian War, where Sertorius, a rogue (in the context of the current Senate) Roman general who used guerrilla style tactics methodically on a number of Roman generals, including Pompey and Metellus Pius.
Sertorius just used the type of Warfare that the people under his command were used to. In the Iberian Peninsula the same kind of warfare had been used over and over again against the Romans, or even in some way quite probably previously against the Carthaginians (even if the sources fail us here). We saw that in the Lusitanian Wars, and Viriathus was their most famous leader, that felt victim of treason. The Romans had their own “COIN” techniques. The Romans called this kind of warfare “latrocinium”.
 

aggienation

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Jul 2016
9,749
USA
A relatively early instance of "guerrilla warfare" being used systematically rather than sporadically by Spanish tribes is the Sertorian War, where Sertorius, a rogue (in the context of the current Senate) Roman general who used guerrilla style tactics methodically on a number of Roman generals, including Pompey and Metellus Pius.
He wasn't really fighting guerrilla warfare much, he was mostly fighting unconventionally at the operational and especially tactical level. He was still fighting major field battles with a more or less conventionally organized army. His use of large tactical ambushes, deception, and Fabian tactics just made him a good general.
 

aggienation

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Jul 2016
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USA
Sertorius just used the type of Warfare that the people under his command were used to. In the Iberian Peninsula the same kind of warfare had been used over and over again against the Romans, or even in some way quite probably previously against the Carthaginians (even if the sources fail us here). We saw that in the Lusitanian Wars, and Viriathus was their most famous leader, that felt victim of treason. The Romans had their own “COIN” techniques. The Romans called this kind of warfare “latrocinium”.
Roman small wars in Illyrium and especially Spain in the 2nd Century BC were partially against tribal forces fighting either conventionally or using legit guerrilla tactics, which the Spanish were famous for. But Bandit Wars wasn't referring to just any counter guerrilla conflict but those that happened essentially nonstop in Spain because of the bandit nature of numerous tribal elements, where it was a right of passage for young men to leave their homes and spend years raiding other tribes or attacking merchants or trying to fight Carthaginian or Roman garrison forces in the area, to gain wealth through plunder and to make a reputation as a warrior.

They also applied it to slaves rebelling, as those usually, in small numbers, took to banditry in the countryside, kind of like Robin Hood, but forget jollyness and philanthropy, replace with rape and murder.
 

Kirialax

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Dec 2009
4,875
Blachernai
As a point of reference, it might be worth looking at how the three entries on guerrilla warfare discuss the topic in Le Bohec (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Roman Army (Oxford: John Wiley, 2015). Click to make them big enough to read.
encyc1.jpg
encyc2.jpg
encyc3.jpg
 
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Duke Valentino

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Jul 2017
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Australia
@aggienation @Tulius

I am aware that Sertorius wasn't checking all the aspects of "guerrilla warfare" as it's technically defined. I am merely pointing out an interesting employment of parts of guerrilla warfare. Sertorius fought major battles when he felt the need to, though most of the time we see him employing guerrilla tactics and operations in order to wear down his opponents, as he didn't have the resources to commit to more open warfare, as the Romans traditionally practiced during this time period. I'll just reiterate that I am aware that Sertorius' actions during this war don't check what we know as guerrilla warfare in a strict sense; only that they provide an interesting example of aspects of guerrilla warfare being utilised by a Roman general in command of mixed nationality troops.
 
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Tulius

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May 2016
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Roman small wars in Illyrium and especially Spain in the 2nd Century BC were partially against tribal forces fighting either conventionally or using legit guerrilla tactics, which the Spanish were famous for. But Bandit Wars wasn't referring to just any counter guerrilla conflict but those that happened essentially nonstop in Spain because of the bandit nature of numerous tribal elements, where it was a right of passage for young men to leave their homes and spend years raiding other tribes or attacking merchants or trying to fight Carthaginian or Roman garrison forces in the area, to gain wealth through plunder and to make a reputation as a warrior.
If you are making reference to the word “latrocinium”, it was the word used to describe the kind of war used by the Lusitanians, including but not exclusively during the Lusitanian Wars, but also to the rites of passage that you mentioned, as well as attacks that the Lusitanian tribes in the mountains made on the plains to collect spoils of war. And these attacks weren’t only necessarily against Carthaginians and Romans, but also against other tribes, even if the foreign invasions seemed to attach those tribes. That difference between the peoples of the mountains and the peoples of the plains/cities, more urbanized, is mirrored in Diodorus (33, 7) in the scene in the wedding of Viriathus. Anyway the term was used to describe the guerrilha warfare, but was not exclusive to the guerilha warfare.

I don’t know about the “Bandit Wars” that you are mentioning, maybe I know them under other designation.

@aggienation @Tulius

I am aware that Sertorius wasn't checking all the aspects of "guerrilla warfare" as it's technically defined. I am merely pointing out an interesting employment of parts of guerrilla warfare. Sertorius fought major battles when he felt the need to, though most of the time we see him employing guerrilla tactics and operations in order to wear down his opponents, as he didn't have the resources to commit to more open warfare, as the Romans traditionally practiced during this time period. I'll just reiterate that I am aware that Sertorius' actions during this war don't check what we know as guerrilla warfare in a strict sense; only that they provide an interesting example of aspects of guerrilla warfare being utilised by a Roman general in command of mixed nationality troops.
Maybe I wasn’t clear, but I wasn’t disagreeing with you. I was just pointing that Sertorius used the resources that he had, since the Peoples of the Iberian Peninsula were used to that kind of warfare that popularized the Lusitanians among the Romans.

Like in many other things, I think the acts precede the word that defines it. The word guerilha apparently was born in the 19th century, but it was just a word to define a type of war that already exited in the Iberian Peninsula, and in other places. For instance has far as I know, while in Portugal the term “guerrilha” was already being used by Beresford, in Spain they still used the term “cuadrilhas”, and only begun to use the term “guerrilla” later by the end of the war.
 

sparky

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Jan 2017
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Sydney
if one doesn't have the strenght to make a standing fight
running around the enemy , hitting him were he is weak and avoiding his strength is obvious to any half good commander
the classical counter measure is to wipe out all the population around thus denying the guerilla their supply
From the American Civil War
General Order No. 11 (1863) - Wikipedia
 

aggienation

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Jul 2016
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USA
@aggienation @Tulius

I am aware that Sertorius wasn't checking all the aspects of "guerrilla warfare" as it's technically defined. I am merely pointing out an interesting employment of parts of guerrilla warfare. Sertorius fought major battles when he felt the need to, though most of the time we see him employing guerrilla tactics and operations in order to wear down his opponents, as he didn't have the resources to commit to more open warfare, as the Romans traditionally practiced during this time period. I'll just reiterate that I am aware that Sertorius' actions during this war don't check what we know as guerrilla warfare in a strict sense; only that they provide an interesting example of aspects of guerrilla warfare being utilised by a Roman general in command of mixed nationality troops.
I think there can be a distinction made between Guerrilla Warfare (which is really a mode of carrying out war as a whole, a strategy), with Guerrilla Tactics, that can be used in phases of an otherwise conventional war. Certainly Sertorius used Guerrilla tactics, unconventional use of deception, ambush, small unit actions. I think he understood the Roman desire to force a decisive battle as soon as possible, and went to prevent it on anything besides his own terms. Because he was a master of maneuver and deception, he could often outfight his opponents even in situations where they thought they had the upper hand, by laying traps for them, stealing marches, etc. I think many of his Spanish forces definitely had a bigger guerrilla role, as their form of warfare was purely unorthodox, they did not want to fight, or plan to fight, in any way that a Roman would have found appealing, being fanatics for the war winning big battle.
 

aggienation

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Jul 2016
9,749
USA
If you are making reference to the word “latrocinium”, it was the word used to describe the kind of war used by the Lusitanians, including but not exclusively during the Lusitanian Wars, but also to the rites of passage that you mentioned, as well as attacks that the Lusitanian tribes in the mountains made on the plains to collect spoils of war. And these attacks weren’t only necessarily against Carthaginians and Romans, but also against other tribes, even if the foreign invasions seemed to attach those tribes. That difference between the peoples of the mountains and the peoples of the plains/cities, more urbanized, is mirrored in Diodorus (33, 7) in the scene in the wedding of Viriathus. Anyway the term was used to describe the guerrilha warfare, but was not exclusive to the guerilha warfare.

I don’t know about the “Bandit Wars” that you are mentioning, maybe I know them under other designation.
The Lusitanian War was called the Fiery War by the Romans, it was essentially their Vietnam. It lasted decades, there was often little to no progress made, it expended huge amounts of resources, armies fighting it were subject to horrible conditions and poor morale, and it helped break the Roman militia system as it created a problem of avoidance of conscription, and nobody wanted to serve in those legions. They'd win almost no plunder, they'd win no glory, they'd only march a lot, get ambushed a lot, and suffer until their enlistment was done and they could return home, broke, as the loans required to hold their family over while they were away in Spain couldn't be paid back.

Something similar happened in Macedonia Province and Illyrium, where there were near constant tribal raiding into Roman controlled territory by Scordisci, Dacians, and others that plagued the tale of the 2nd Century BC all the way to the Dacian Wars. They were a problem enough that even Caesar and Antonius both wished to invade Dacia to stop the raiding, but were sidelined for other reasons.