What makes hordes of yelling barbarians terrifying even to trained soldiers?

#1
I've read on the Battle of Allia and apparently a major cause of defeat was the fact that the Gauls were yelling out terrifying war screams that played a major role in breaking the Roman Phalanx.



However this was before the Marian reforms and was at a time when the Romans were farmer-soldiers so this did not surprise me.



However I also read years after the Marian reforms, when the Roman Legions were confronted with the Gauls and other "Barbarians" there are descriptions of Roman soldiers shaking in fear at the initial phases of the battle when the Barbarians were yelling out their fierce war cries.



In some cases Roman Legions were paralyzed according to various stuff on the internet that they cannot move or maintain ranks.



I am curious what makes hordes of screaming Barbarians so scary to even train soldiers like the Romans? Modern military standards would consider the thoughts of fearing an enemy force simply because it screams and yells so much as a mark of poor discipline!


Its not just Ancient Warfare. I have read of the "Rebel Yell" that the Confederate Infantry would use. Granted they were trained and organized as opposed to the Barbarian Hordes, but I'm really amused why Union soldiers would be terrified of this tactic well in fact more dangerous things were taking place like bullets were being fired.

So what make warscreams so scary that they could lower morale and even make entire units collapse?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,606
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#2
Base psychology, possible to be faced by suitable training.

In modern military training tremendous noises are common, we don't need to train against screaming magicians or something like that.

Add that until in 19th century superstitions about damnation and bad luck were well diffused [lack of education in general population of low social classes: and mass armies were made by that kind of persons].
 
Apr 2010
2,597
Loch na Seilg, Alba
#3
First off, the 'barbarian hordes' were organised and experienced, and the noble class which made up the bulk of their standing forces were indeed trained. Not often to as great an extent as the Romans, but still far more than people give them credit for.

Second, basic psychology: a painted guy yelling obscenities and babbling gibberish is scary. We can see this today. In any gang you'll get the hard kids who'll slag it out amongst each other for dominance, and watching from the corners the mental guy that no-one will touch because his brutality and wanton disregard for his own life put him a bit above the hardest of the hard in terms of danger.
 
Aug 2011
4,213
Gaillimh (Ireland)
#4
I think it's all about displaying aggressiveness:maybe an aggressive person is automatically perceived as a threat by our brain, regardless who he is, triggering "fear" as a defensive mechanism.
Mabye this is why I'm more scared by a fat, p###ed off hooligan armed with a metal bar than a soldier fully equipped with a bulletproof vest,grenades and automatic weapons.
 

funakison

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,381
Between a rock and a hard place
#5
First off, the 'barbarian hordes' were organised and experienced, and the noble class which made up the bulk of their standing forces were indeed trained. Not often to as great an extent as the Romans, but still far more than people give them credit for.

Second, basic psychology: a painted guy yelling obscenities and babbling gibberish is scary. We can see this today. In any gang you'll get the hard kids who'll slag it out amongst each other for dominance, and watching from the corners the mental guy that no-one will touch because his brutality and wanton disregard for his own life put him a bit above the hardest of the hard in terms of danger.


The Romans were somehat verticaly challenged with 5`2 being a good size, the last thing they needed was an army of long haired, painted 6` savages, screaming obseneties at them. Its enough to put the wind up any one.
 
Feb 2010
598
Alabama
#6
When I was still in the Marine Corp.,we did a MOUT exercise using actors as a civilian population. They began to turn into a mob. Even with us knowing that they were actors,the psychological response to the "mob" who were not actually attacking us but were getting in our way, being very loud and unruly, and appearing somewhat aggressive was intense. It was an interesting exercise. We laughed later as we talked about all the feelings we were having and that several guys got so caught up in the moment that they were knocking the actors down very **cough,cough**forcefully. ;)

We were scared from the raw emotion and intensity of the exercise. This would not have kept us from fighting if it came to that, but it could be a factor if moral was low already and some were uncertain about going into combat.

Even disciplined seasoned men can end up with low morale at times in a campaign. Add that to a large horde of men screaming and feinting charge and ready to fight and things can start to get really terrifying. You don't have to scare everyone in an army to get them to break down in discipline. Just a few.
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,655
Eastern PA
#8
Combat by itself is terrifying. I would guess that facing an opponent that does not appear to be terrified by screaming war cries increases that terror.
 
Jan 2014
296
Tasmania, Australia
#9
I've read on the Battle of Allia and apparently a major cause of defeat was the fact that the Gauls were yelling out terrifying war screams that played a major role in breaking the Roman Phalanx.
However this was before the Marian reforms and was at a time when the Romans were farmer-soldiers so this did not surprise me.
However I also read years after the Marian reforms, when the Roman Legions were confronted with the Gauls and other "Barbarians" there are descriptions of Roman soldiers shaking in fear at the initial phases of the battle when the Barbarians were yelling out their fierce war cries.
In some cases Roman Legions were paralyzed according to various stuff on the internet that they cannot move or maintain ranks.
I am curious what makes hordes of screaming Barbarians so scary to even train soldiers like the Romans? Modern military standards would consider the thoughts of fearing an enemy force simply because it screams and yells so much as a mark of poor discipline!
Its not just Ancient Warfare. I have read of the "Rebel Yell" that the Confederate Infantry would use. Granted they were trained and organized as opposed to the Barbarian Hordes, but I'm really amused why Union soldiers would be terrified of this tactic well in fact more dangerous things were taking place like bullets were being fired.

So what make warscreams so scary that they could lower morale and even make entire units collapse?
The Roman armies, for example, were well trained, highly disciplined units, accustomed to certain "rules of war". To be confronted by a screaming hoard of dishevelled maniacs with painted faces was un-nerving, something that they hadn't encountered before. Their generals expected the enemy to play by the same rules as the Romans, but the barbarians didn't. This sowed the seeds of confusion in the minds of the generals, and quickly spread down the chain of command until, despite all of their discipline, the troops turned and ran.
 
Aug 2013
623
Qu├ębec city
#10
The Roman armies, for example, were well trained, highly disciplined units, accustomed to certain "rules of war". To be confronted by a screaming hoard of dishevelled maniacs with painted faces was un-nerving, something that they hadn't encountered before. Their generals expected the enemy to play by the same rules as the Romans, but the barbarians didn't. This sowed the seeds of confusion in the minds of the generals, and quickly spread down the chain of command until, despite all of their discipline, the troops turned and ran.
A similar effect can be observed in colonial North America. European regulars were often unnerved enough by Native American attacks that they broke or acted ineffectually.
 

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