AMAZING facts about the Roman Military - INTHEPROF

9.15.2019

AMAZING facts about the Roman Military

WRITTEN BY:  Rida Mohssine
LAST UPDATED:  See Topic History

Did you ever wonder how the Roman Military go so powerful? 



From keeping the fear within the ranks to having amazing weapons, here are 10 facts about the Roman Military. 

10. Decimation


The Roman military was built upon discipline, but for those who failed or stepped out of line, the consequences were dire! Decimation was the punishment of choice for large groups of soldiers who has disobeyed orders, such as mutiny or desertion. 

In time like these, the army couldn’t afford to lose entire cohorts, which had up to 480 soldiers in them, so instead they dished out punishments at random. Decimation means the removal of a tenth in Latin, and that’s exactly what the Romans did. 

Tenth of what, you ask? The soldiers were separated into groups of ten, and forced to draw lots. The loser, regardless of rank, would then be executed by the other nine- by either being clubbed or stoned to death. 

Those who survived would sometimes then be given meagre rations for a few days and forced to sleep outside the fortifications to really feel the pain, before being welcomed back into the fold. 

Decimation was not as infrequent as you might imagine, but it was still controversial and only enacted as an option of last resort. It was the punishment given to those who fled the uprising of Spartacus, and was threatened to the 9th Legion by Julius Caesar in the war against Pompey- although in the end, he never went through with it.


 9. Weapons 

The weapons the Romans had at their disposal were a large part of the reason the military was so effective. Each legionary would be equipped with a sword, a dagger, and two javelins. 
The Sword, or Gladius, was worn high on the right side of the body. Made with strong steel, it was light and short, which meant it could be easily used for stabbing. 
The strong steel was a huge advantage over armies or people they were conquering that had weaker weapons. It was worn in that position on the right side so it could be drawn underarm with the right hand without affecting the left hand, which was holding the shield. 
The throwing spear, or Pilum, was about 6.5 feet long and was designed to stick into an enemies shield so they couldn’t defend themselves. 
They were very difficult to pull out again, and were designed to bend on impact so they couldn’t be thrown back again. Plus they were pretty heavy. The Dagger, or Pugio, was worn on the left side to be drawn by the right hand, and was used as a sidearm during close combat. It was made from the same strong steel as the sword, so it was a trusted weapon.


 8. The “Immunes” 

One of the reasons the Roman military was so effective was that each legion was pretty much self-sufficient. 
The people who held it all together were the “immunes”, who were a group of highly trained specialists that were responsible for maintaining the logistical and medical needs of the soldiers
They were doctors, engineers, and architects, and weren’t required to take part in the hard labour that the soldiers would do, and also earned more than them. 
The dedicated medical units on the battlefield used cutting edge technologies like tourniquets and surgical clamps to help stem blood loss. 
They were also good at the idea of taking antiseptic measures and cleaning wounds in ways that wouldn’t become the norm anywhere else until the 19th century. Of course they didn’t know about germs or bacteria per se, but they knew that cleanliness and hygiene were important. 
The doctors were also responsible for ensuring camps remained sanitary to prevent the spread of diseases through the troops. These extra measures, as well as the high quality food the soldiers were fed, meant that a legions life expectancy, apart from those killed in battle, was actually longer than civilians back in Rome.


 7. The Corvus 

The Romans didn’t design their own ships, but stole the designs from their enemies. 
Much easier right?? At first they practised naval warfare on land to devise their own tactics, but the most effective device they came up with was the Corvus. 
It was a bridge that could be lowered from a ship to allow the boarding of another, and changed the entire face of naval battles. It allowed the Roman army to take its superior land based skills onto the seas, and their enemies had no way to counteract it because, by the time they realized what was happening, it was way too late. The Corvus did, however, have a disadvantage. 
It couldn’t be used in rough seas because it would jeopardise the structure and balance of the ship. 
Its use was eventually abandoned following the loss of almost two entire fleets during storms in 255 and 249 BC. Most of the losses were attributed to the instability that the Corvus had caused in bad weather. Remember, they wanted to take over the ships, not detroy them so the Corvus defeated the whole purpose.


6. The First Battle was a Defeat 

The Romans are legendary for their military prowess, but it could have all been very different. In fact, their first battle was a comprehensive defeat, but it would give them the motivation to learn quickly and become the immense force that they are still remembered for. 
It happened in the year 390 BC and, following the defeat of small numbers of Roman forces by the Gauls where the Tiber and Allia rivers meet, the Gallic troops marched towards Rome. 
When they got there, the city was undefended, and they soon surrounded the tiny defence force that was on the Capitol Hill. These troops soon surrendered after they were starved out. 
The Gauls did eventually leave, but only after forcing the Romans to pay a hefty ransom in Gold. Soon after, to prevent anything similar from happening again, the Romans built up their city wall, improved defences, and committed vast resources to building up their army so they wouldn’t be caught unaware again.


 5. The Fetials

 The Fetials were a group of 20 Roman priests who were involved in international relations. 
They were integral to the signing of treaties and declarations of war. 
They were selected from noble families and, even though they were incredibly influential and important, they could only advise politicians on the way to act, and couldn’t make decisions themselves. 
They were, however, responsible for one of the more important war rituals. If a nation had offended Rome, a Fetial would be sent to the border and perform a prayer. 
If, after 30 days, no satisfactory response was given, they would return to the senate to inform them. 
They would then go back, and throw a spear into the offending territory, which would signal the start of a war. 
This method, they believed, prevented Rome from engaging in an unjust war. 
If the land was too far away to return and throw a spear they would, instead, throw it onto a piece of land in front of the Temple of Bellona in Rome. 
This land was said to be occupied by the enemy, so it gave them a way around the tradition if they believed the war was to their advantage and should commence immediately. Regardless of the prayer or sign or whatever, if they thought war was a good idea, they made it happen! 


4. Tactics

 The Romans revolutionised military tactics. The main foundation was the idea that you could fight far more effectively if order was maintained between the troops. 
Most enemies they faced would simply have their forces rush forward in groups, so in the face of Roman techniques they would be slaughtered. 
The infantry would maintain a tight formation, and march forward together as one. 
They had the cavalry on either side of them to protect their flanks, and behind them were the light troops and reserves. 
The generals would have the battlefield scouted before engaging, and adapt their tactics based on the terrain, the opposition, and how many Roman troops were present. It was their organization that helped them to conquer so many people over such large territories. Troops would practice various different formations and battle strategies, so when they were in a fight for real, they were well trained, equipped, and a force to be reckoned with. 
Their superior tactics meant that, even with potentially less able soldiers, they could defeat enemies with much larger numbers. 


3. The Praetorian Guard 

The Praetorian Guard date back to the Roman Republic, and were the Secret Service of their day. 
They were the most prestigious unit of the Roman military, would fight in campaigns, help put down an uprising, and do anything else the emperor required of them. And the Emperor required them a lot! They were also known to have been firefighters, helping to douse the flames at the Temple of Vesta, and would also perform at the Games. 
At the games they would publicly execute enemies of the empire. They would spy for the emperor and take out his enemies- but they weren’t always so loyal. 
The Praetorian Guard was also responsible for the assassination of a few Emperors, and even auctioning off the throne. In 193 AD, after killing Emperor Pertinax, they auctioned off the rights to be Emperor in return for 25,000 Roman sesterces for each member. 
A sesterce was a bronze or silver coin used by the Roman empire. It’s extremely hard to say how much a sesterce would have been worth by today’s standards because the value always changed but I image 25,000 was a lot. 


2. Battle of Cannae

 The Battle of Cannae took place in 216 BC, and was fought between the Romans and the Carthaginians, who were led by Hannibal. 
It is thought to have been the bloodiest day of battle ever, with more than 40,000 Romans losing their lives, and causing a great embarrassment for the empire. 
It was one of their greatest losses. Their problems started with the choice of location. Led by Hannibal, the Carthaginians chose Cannae as a deliberate ploy to get the Romans to attack. 
The empire was heavily reliant on the grain grown in Italy, and Cannae was in the center of the region responsible for this. 
They went straight into battle without preparing themselves properly, and may have been feeling over confident. 
Despite outnumbering their opponents, they were massacred. 
The Romans had also recently changed their tried and tested tactics, and this contributed to their losses. 
Their cavalry were smaller in number and less effective than their opposition, and this battle was the first that stood up against the Roman tactics. 
Not every system is perfect, clearly. 


1. Wealthy Class System 

Originally to be a part of the Roman army you had to be a Roman citizen. 
While the roots of this system were based on tribal ranks, the ruler Tullius decided to, instead, divide the army based on the property that the soldiers owned. 
They were segregated into six different classes based on what they possessed by determining an equivalent value of copper coins. 
The first three classes were armed with spears and shields, although the poorer they were, the fewer spears they got. 
Those in the fourth class only had spears and javelins, and if you were in the fifth class you would have a tiny bit of armour and only slings as weapons. 
Those in the sixth class were exempt from military duty altogether. The idea behind this was that fighting in the military was not a profession, it was the duty of a citizen to help defend and improve their own wealth and land. 
This reinforced the sense of nationalist pride, and stopped people forcing others to take risks while they stayed behind in the safety of the cities. 
As the empire grew, though, this system was replaced by one more similar to what we see today. Still, those who were richer would have access to better weaponry and were the only ones who could afford to ride on horseback. 

Since Germany's military had to be reduced, Hitler could no longer remain a soldier after the war, but he kept working for the army as an informant.

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