Roman Culture/Military Strategy and Tactics

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Military Strategy and Tactics[edit]

The Roman military was a force built around a foundation of structure and organization. Every part of the legion had a purpose during the course of battle as well as a way to counterbalance weaknesses and support strengths. These structural formations though were not utilized in the beginning of Rome's campaign's as most military commanders would attack the enemy wildly relying on "numbers, skill, or luck" to seize victory on the field (Roman 1). The Roman Military was made up of commanders of all different levels of skill coming from the wealthy houses of Rome. As a result, most commanders would rely on a simple starting battle formation and a simple way of protecting the troops while traveling and forgo military strategy.

The standard formation of the military was formed to make the cavalry to protect the flanks of the infantry with the lighter troops trailing behind them. These troops would stand in rows according to their rank and class. This standard alignment was established on the battlefield when strategy was considered less important or the commander saw their army as a superior and more skilled army than the opposing army. Another formation worth noting due to its consistent use during the military campaigns of the Empire would be their system of transporting the army around the field. In this formation, the main part of the army would be in the front while the baggage and slaves would follow closely behind them. The rear would be protected by the best cavalry and foot soldiers the army had at their disposal. The reason that the best troops would be put at the end of the formation would be due to the back's vulnerability in the formation. These two formations would prove to be the models consistently used in wartime. However, in later campaigns attacking formations would develop and become utilized for their strategic advantages on the field.

The Romans were known for their understanding of structure and order in their military. This idea of order would influence them to name the next formations by number for simple reference and application. However, it would be misleading to say that these numbers divided them amongst any natural order so for organizational purposes they are divided here by strong and then less desired formations. The first formation (known as "The Marching formation") was chosen if the commander felt that his wings were stronger than his opponent (Roman 1). It was designed to use the reserves to supplement the wings if they fell and to be fought on level terrain as an elevated location would take away the advantage. The second formation was considered the best choice as it was designed for the right-wing to attack from the opposing left-wing's rear. The left side of an army was considered the weaker side of an army because it had to "support the weight of the shield (Roman 1)." As a result, the right would attack this presumed weakness and the reserves would support the left-wing or guard the center wing from being attacked and overrun. The final strong position the Romans would prefer to use in battle would be the sixth battle sequence. The sixth formation takes a similar form to the second formation as it uses the right-wing to attack the left flank. However, the different line adjustment has the reserves protecting the middle and the left-wing from a serious attack. The next formations the Roman military would suggest their ability to adjust toward their weaknesses and confuse their opponent.

The third formation was often used if the commander felt that his left-wing as actually the stronger side of his army. The left side would attack the opposition's right side with the help of the army's cavalry. This attack was considered a risky move as the army would be attacking the opponent's strong side. In formation number four, the main objective would be to throw the enemy off guard by bringing the army up close and have the wings charge forward. This formation would sometimes be quite effective and scare the enemy away. However, if this strategy did not work, the center would be vulnerable and "the wings were exposed to being attacked separately" by the opposing army (Roman 1). The fifth alignment of troops was ultimately designed to support the army's weaknesses depending upon the situation in the upcoming battle. The fifth formation would protect the center of the army with the help of light cavalry and archers. The final formation was also considered one used to make a last stand as the left-wing would be protected by the available "natural protection" that was in the area while the right was protected by light soldiers and cavalry (Roman 1). A mountain or a cliff would often be used to prevent the opposition from attacking the left-wing. This position was taken when the opponent was considered to have a bigger or more skilled army.

When the formations broke down or were less applicable in the midst of the fighting, the Roman legionaries and other soldiers would resort to different tactics to handle different situations. Amongst these tactics, the military had a couple of attacking maneuvers designed to give the Romans an upper hand in battle. The first maneuver they would use would be known as the wedge for its triangular shaped attack. This tactic was useful for cutting through the enemy lines and restricting the movement of the soldiers, hindering the ability for fist fighting. The triangular attacks were known to be a counter to the saw, which was a tactic designed to disguise weaknesses so that the opponent could not exploit them. The last maneuver the Roman forces looked upon as a flexible weapon would be their skirmishing tactic, which was designed to space out the troops, allowing for greater mobility. The Romans understood that while these tactics provided certain advantages, defensive movements would be necessary to protect them against large amounts of opponents on horseback or foot.

The first tactic the Romans utilized would be under the circumstances that the opposition were using cavalry as their primary force of attack. The soldiers would create a wall of shields in the first line while the second line of soldiers would use their spears to create a sharp wall of death. This barrier would stop or kill the horses and the soldiers with free spears would drive away the attackers who were forced to stop. Another formation used in the direst of circumstances would be known to Roman legionaries as the orb for its odd shape. This tactic was made to allow for effective defense, regardless of what elements of the army came together. The success of the defense was known to be only as effective as the group's self-control and communication skills. The final tactic worth noting would be modeled after a turtle, which the legionaries would use defensively against a barrage of arrows or other projectiles. The soldiers would keep their shields over their heads and place the shields in the front rows forward. This would provide a coat of protection in the front and above from attacks that they could face from their opponents. Roman ingenuity and resilience would prove to keep the empire safe for the course of a millennium. These formations and tactics would provide order to the Roman forces and allow them to conduct a strong and reasonably controlled attack.


Roman Army Tactics. Tactics: Roman Tactics. Web.09 Dec.2011.http://www.roman-empire.net/army/tactics.html

Formations of the Legion. Strategy and Tactics. Web.09 Dec.2011.http://romanmilitary.net/strategy/

EDITED: by Ariel Turpin on 12/14/2011 Checked for formatting, spelling, grammar, and plagiarism.