Why is the Roman Legion generally seen as superior to their opponents in every way?

#1
Livy said:
Victory in war does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will insure it. We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war. Without these, what chance would the inconsiderable numbers of the Roman armies have had against the multitudes of the Gauls? Or with what success would their small size have been opposed to the prodigious stature of the Germans? The Spaniards surpassed us not only in numbers, but in physical strength. We were always inferior to the Africans in wealth and unequal to them in deception and stratagem. And the Greeks, indisputably, were far superior to us in skill in arts and all kinds of knowledge.

But to all these advantages the Romans opposed unusual care in the choice of their levies and in their military training. They thoroughly understood the importance of hardening them by continual practice, and of training them to every maneuver that might happen in the line and in action. Nor were they less strict in punishing idleness and sloth. The courage of a soldier is heightened by his knowledge of his profession, and he only wants an opportunity to execute what he is convinced he has been perfectly taught. A handful of men, inured to war, proceed to certain victory, while on the contrary numerous armies of raw and undisciplined troops are but multitudes of men dragged to slaughter.

I notice the Romans are always seen as invincible and superior their opponents in every way. Like the quote by Livy above, the Romans weren't exactly the perfect army in military abilities, tactics, and strategies. In fact much of the time the Romans were outmatched in many essential areas!Roman Legions were often inferior to their opponents in many essential fields such as quality of weapons,physical conditioning of soldier,numbers, skill of individual warriors, thickness of armor, quality of weapons!For example take armor and weapons. Generally history books make it seem that Romans had the most advanced armor and weaponry in Europe and their opponents often fought with poor armor. But if one researches the enemies the Romans fought, often they had armor and weaponry as heavy as those the Romans had especially some of the more vicious Germanic tribes of the post Pax Romansa such as the Visigoths and the Franks!! And the Romans weren't master of tactics and strategies like history books make it out to be. Often when they fought in North Africa and in the Middle East particularly against the Sassinids, the Roman tactical and strategical abilities were significantly inferior to those of their enemies even down right foolish at times. And history books alway make the Romans seem like they were masters of Siege weaponry and engineering. If one reads , often the siege equipment the Romans used were no better than those of their enemies.

Aside from tactical training, logistics and tenacity in waging wars on strategic level they were average to at most good in many different fields and traits but not the best. Roman Soldiers were less zelous than Jews. They were less physically imposing than Germanic tribes. Roman officers and generals were less briliant than those of their Greeks. Even their famous resourcess were matched by their enemies particularly the Sasanids. Carthage, Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt, the Seleucid Empire and other mediterranean powers had comparable technology, social and economic development to the Roman Republic.

In fact whatever tactics,strategies, and equipment the Romans used that were incredibly effective were copied by their enemies!For example Carthage had adopted basic Roman formations and heavy infantry in their armies. When they fought the Romans their equipment was equal to those of the Romans and they used similar formations. The Sassinids were quick to create shock infantry that were heavily armored once they saw the Roman Legions hacked through their regular infantry thus the Sassinids became on par with the Romans in armory and weaponry. Heck Romans armies have time and again been easily defeated by villagers of nations they invaded. Plus their enemies training were as equally grueling as their own! Just research the training of the Sassinid Armies and the . Additionally the Roman Legions even admitted that the Sassinids as skilled as they were in war.

In fact, the Romans themselves admit there were serious deficiencies in their armed forces. Tacitus for instance gives the game away. W hen the the legions in Germania and Pannonia mutiny upon hearing the death of Augustus, he simply dismisses the causes as being essentially the same as usual.

Why are the Romans always made out to be the most superior army in every in the Classical Age including in weaponry,armor, and strategies and tactics?
 
Jul 2010
120
#2
Probably because they had an Empire that stretched from Britain in the north, the Atlantic in the west, Africa in the south and Syria in the East. You don't do that without a superior army. You would have to be extremely lucky to conquer and hold an empire that size with an, as you suggest, inferior army. The Roman Empire was reliant on the strength of its legions. You leave one important word out, innovation and engineering, yes they were sometimes matched in some aspects as you allude to but I do not think any people they fought and conquered could match their inventiveness.

They adapted their weapons and tactics accordingly. Their roads were better than any of their opponents allowing for the necessary logistics. Their bridge building and use of siege weapons was an advantage. They created a javelin, of which the head the would fall off on impact. Meaning the opposition a) could not reuse the weapon b) would have to discard their shield if the javelin was stuck their. This is just one example of innovation and a superior weapon.

They were not scared to adopt other cultures weaponry, for example the Carthaginian trireme or the Spanish sword.

You remark that Roman soldiers were less zealous than Jews and physically inferior to Germans. What has this got to do with a battle where the collective strength of an army is stronger than any individual warrior. The phrase, greater than the sum of its parts comes to mind. I think also the fact that the Roman soldier eventually was a professional soldier is an important point. Unlike other cultures who's soldiers were also farmers, etc.
 
Oct 2009
3,601
San Diego
#3
I dont know where you get the idea that Roman military had inferior weapons.

In its heyday, the Legions had engineers, armorers and more that brought industrial scale manufacturing into the equipping of massive numbers of professional soldiers. Fighting against barbarians who had no batteries of ballista, and whose warrior classes were all part time fighters and full time farmers.

The Romans had logistic organization comparable to modern armies, today, at a time when the only paved roads in existence were the road that Roman armies built.

They were unbeatable because the losses of one legion just resulted in more legions being sent. They fought like Grant fought... never accepting a local defeat as the end of the argument.

As far as tactics... Roman Tactics evolved as the tactics that were best given the forces they faced. Note that the Zulu took over their section of Africa using the exact same tactics... Body covering shields and short stabbing swords wielded by men massed shoulder to shoulder.
They consistently won because they were consistently better. Strategically better, better armed and equipped, logistically better.

Only when Rome could no longer afford the Professional army on which they rose, and started outsourcing their defense needs, did Rome really start to lose ground.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,815
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#5
It's common to hear comments about how was it possible that not that big warriors conquered almost all the known world in some centuries ... [Latin men weren't giants, sure they weren't as big as Celts, Gauls, Germanic warriors ...].

History sometime is there just to keep us connected with reality, leaving fantasy aside.

If Celts had the

numbers,
organization,
equipment,
order,
discipline,
training,
engineering ...

that Roman had, today we will talk about the Celtic Empire, not the Roman Empire, simple.
 
Feb 2013
6,724
#7
It's because people forget that these invincible soldiers were always badly bled by the Jews of Judaea, got three of their legions altogether destroyed at the Teutoberger Wald, got curbstomped at Carrhae, and that one of their worst defeats, Adrianople, actually brought home that the legions were becoming obsolete. Likewise people also forget that Rome was on the receiving end of Cannae, the defeat at the hands of the Cimbri and Teutoni, and was to receive one of its worst sacks early in its history at the hands of the Gauls. If an army is seen only in its victories and never in its defeats, it's easy to make anyone look good. This is also leaving the factor that the legions were what passed for political parties in the Empire out of the equation. If we bring that in, the legions become the destroyer of the empire even if we allow all of the other factors no place.
 
Dec 2011
293
California
#8
More than anything, I think it's Rome's ability to quickly adapt to new challenges and circumstances. For example, Rome created the Marian Legions in response to a military inferiority against the Gauls. Then, they defeated Gaul.

They already knew how to fight the phalanx, so they defeated Greece.

During the First Punic War, they had no idea how to sail, but captured a Carthaginian vessel and ruled the seas by the end of the war.

After several defeats, they learned how to fight Hannibal, and defeated him at Zama.

There are so many examples in which Rome was defeated, but came back stronger than ever before. Unlike some nations, Rome grew in the face of adversity rather than give up.

In Rome's case,
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
 
Feb 2013
6,724
#9
More than anything, I think it's Rome's ability to quickly adapt to new challenges and circumstances. For example, Rome created the Marian Legions in response to a military inferiority against the Gauls. Then, they defeated Gaul.

They already knew how to fight the phalanx, so they defeated Greece.

During the First Punic War, they had no idea how to sail, but captured a Carthaginian vessel and ruled the seas by the end of the war.

After several defeats, they learned how to fight Hannibal, and defeated him at Zama.

There are so many examples in which Rome was defeated, but came back stronger than ever before. Unlike some nations, Rome grew in the face of adversity rather than give up.

In Rome's case,
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
I thought Marius fought Jugurtha, not the Gauls. Too, shrugging off 60,000 casualties by marching to victory over a bridge of corpses is not traditionally what we praise modern states for.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,340
#10
Maybe that organisation and logistics are more important than all those other things?

If the OP is correct (and I dont think entirely or mostly so I'm just flogging my personal dead horse), that the Romans lacked superior in a large number of stuff that many would traditionally the important ones in warfare maybe they should re-evaluante the order of importance of stuff in determining military strength.

Like Logistics and Organisational stuff really really matters.
 

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