Was guerilla warfare possible before the 20th century?

Jul 2017
2,282
Australia
#51
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.
That's definitely correct, and Sertorius was handicapped by the fact that Metellus and Pompey were good enough to force Sertorius' lieutenants into pitched battles where they had the advantage, which didn't ultimately bode well for Sertorius, as you could guess. Honestly though, Pompey and Metellus did a really great job of eventually adapting and countering Sertorius' methods, and both of them are severely underrated as generals.
 
Jul 2016
9,083
USA
#52
That's definitely correct, and Sertorius was handicapped by the fact that Metellus and Pompey were good enough to force Sertorius' lieutenants into pitched battles where they had the advantage, which didn't ultimately bode well for Sertorius, as you could guess. Honestly though, Pompey and Metellus did a really great job of eventually adapting and countering Sertorius' methods, and both of them are severely underrated as generals.
I agree. I think the Late Republic saw the most enterprising use of Roman armies, where generals were willing (forced?) to fight differently than tradition.
 
Jul 2017
2,282
Australia
#53
I agree. I think the Late Republic saw the most enterprising use of Roman armies, where generals were willing (forced?) to fight differently than tradition.
Yeah, there's many examples, such as Sertorius in Spain, Pompey in the Caucasus, Caesar in Gaul and Africa, even to an extent Crassus' handling of the slave revolt and arguably Marius' handling of the northern front during the Social War, despite never being given a full command by the Senate.
 
#54
The following is an excerpt of a fragment from Dexippos' Scythika, a third-century account of Rome's wars with the Goths and Heruli. Dexippos relays the speech he gave to his fellow Athenians when he was serving as one of their generals. The tactics that he directs them to conduct against the Heruli are relevant to this thread:

'‘… and it is endurance, not numbers, that decides the outcome of wars. Also, our force is not negligible. For altogether we have mustered two thousand men, and hold a well fortified spot. From here we must sally forth, harass the enemy, attack him in scattered groups, ambushing his patrols. With these tactics we will get the upper hand and in this way our strength will grow, and we will instill no small degree of fear in the enemy. When they attack, we will resist, holding a fortified spot and this wooded region which serve like shield wall of no mean strength. And when the enemy advances on different sides they will become disoriented because they will be fighting a foe that cannot be seen at all, and who fights like no other foe they have ever faced. Their battle order will collapse, they will have idea where to fire their arrows or missiles, their shots will miss, and our attacks will hurt them even more. We, all the more secure thanks to the woods, will attack from superior positions. Thus we will be safer in any engagements, and hard to injure. When it comes to hand to hand fighting, should it come to this, one must reckon on this: that great dangers prompt great courage, and that resistance grows with desparation; that the unexpected has often transpired, when men are faced with the impossible and are fighting to defend or to avenge that which they dearly love. We could not conceivably have greater reason to be vexed, seeing that our people and our city are in the enemy’s hands. Also, those who have been forced to fight in the enemy’s ranks against their will, were they to get wind of our approach, would join the attack in hope of winning their own freedom. I am told that the emperor’s fleet is nearly here to bring us help. Once we have joined forces our attack will be invincible. Furthermore, I am confident that we shall inspire the rest of Greece to the same level of courage."
 
Last edited:
Sep 2014
877
Texas
#55
Spitamenes's insurgency against Alexander the Great is the first recorded widespread guerrilla campaign to my knowledge, but there may be some even earlier. Alexander fought for several years to pacify Sogdiana, the longest he had taken for any region.

Modern guerrillas have advantages that ancient ones did not (food preservation, soft aggressor societies, guns) but that doesn't mean it wasn't practical back then too. Though some may not be classified as guerrillas, since they fought more for tribute, there were many problems in ancient times with pacifying warlike tribes in rough terrain. For example, the Uxians in Mesopotamia forced the mighty Persian Empire to pay tolls for passage, despite being in the center of Persian power. Revolts were much easier in ancient times due to inferior communication and control, so certain regions could become very difficult to keep pacified. For example, the Romans spent two centuries quelling constant revolts in Iberia, and it seems hard to not conclude these were guerrilla campaigns as well.
Scopias' harrassement of Darius.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,383
Sydney
#56
The Saxons against Charlemagne , the Lithuanian against the Teutonic Knights , the Welsh against the Normand barons
harassment tactics are obvious if there is no other viable form of resistance
I suppose only the centrally organized Guerillas should be consider but in itself that would be limiting

The Talibans are not centrally controlled with various groups having different allegiances
there is little sign of a co-ordinated battleplan , by itself it make them even more difficult to fight against
 
Sep 2012
8,959
India
#57
As pointed above by a couple of posters, the Spanish irregulars fought against the well organised and well drilled French army units and harassed them to no end. And that was from 1808 onwards. But why talk of that? In my own country, there is the famous ' hit and run ' cavalry tactics employed by King Shivaji Maharaj in the southwestern part of India against both the armies of the Moghul Empire and the Adilshahi Empire. from 1650 onwards till his crowning ceremony in 1674. The cavalry of Shivaji Maharaj was a light cavalry with the cavalrymen equipped with nothing more than curved sabres and light lances. the cavalry always preferred night attacks on the huge encampments of the enemy who was either asleep or enjoying drinks and dances.
 
Sep 2012
8,959
India
#58
And one must include the resistance of the Russian partisans to the attack of Hitler's army against the Soviet Union as a prime example of a guerrila war in the 20th Century. And Tito's partisans against the German army in Yugoslavia.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,383
Sydney
#59
the Soviets quickly organised the Guerilla in a very structured organism with very clear line of authority
while it was far from as great a result as was sometimes reported ,
it was a substantial adjuct to the sovet army operation down to co-ordinating operations timetable
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,399
Portugal
#60
As pointed above by a couple of posters, the Spanish irregulars fought against the well organised and well drilled French army units and harassed them to no end. And that was from 1808 onwards. But why talk of that?
As we already saw here, the guerrilla warfare wasn’t invented in 1808 by the Spanish. Quite often the action precedes the word that designates it. Probably the guerrilla tactics, and hit and run tactics, are as old as human warfare.

We talk about 1808 because it was on that period that the word was spread, even if I already pointed previously, it is probable that it begun first to be used by Beresford in Portugal.
 

Similar History Discussions