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Thread: What if: Roman legions vs medieval European army

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Loose that type of an army in Europe before 1500 A.D. and you recreate the Roman empire.
    The Hussite Wars in Bohemia in the 1420s to 1430s saw those kind of numbers actually, with the German and Hungarian crusaders and their auxiliary troops fielding armies of between 50,000 and 150,000 men several times according to lore (most of the battles in the convoluted crusade were fought by cavalry regiments running assaults on separated infantry battalions though, or regiment- to division-sized combined-arms groups clashing). These huge armies for the time usually failed in achieving their targets btw, often because of mishaps like all the supply tents burning down suddenly.
    Last edited by kato; 28 Mar 13, at 13:56.

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by kato View Post
    The Hussite Wars in Bohemia in the 1420s to 1430s saw those kind of numbers actually, with the German and Hungarian crusaders and their auxiliary troops fielding armies of between 50,000 and 150,000 men several times according to lore (most of the battles in the convoluted crusade were fought by cavalry regiments running assaults on separated infantry battalions though, or regiment- to division-sized combined-arms groups clashing). These huge armies for the time usually failed in achieving their targets btw, often because of mishaps like all the supply tents burning down suddenly.
    Yeah, that will totally screw up your campaign. "OK, who put that campfire right next to all the supply tents?"


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  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by kato View Post
    The Hussite Wars in Bohemia in the 1420s to 1430s saw those kind of numbers actually, with the German and Hungarian crusaders and their auxiliary troops fielding armies of between 50,000 and 150,000 men several times according to lore (most of the battles in the convoluted crusade were fought by cavalry regiments running assaults on separated infantry battalions though, or regiment- to division-sized combined-arms groups clashing). These huge armies for the time usually failed in achieving their targets btw, often because of mishaps like all the supply tents burning down suddenly.

    I was talking unified feild armies of trained personnel. The Hungarians might have been able to do it. They had a huge force of knights and men at arms, maybe Poland but I dont know anyone else that was large enough or unified enough. Certainly in Germany there were enough knights, just not enough unification.

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    here's an interesting little piece from SM Stirling on the differences between the Greek/Alexander phalanx and the Swiss one.

    ---
    >On paper a Swiss hollow square with its three columns isn't all that
    different from a taxis of Philip's and Alexander's time.


    -- they seem to have conceptualized it rather differently. I suspect it's
    because the Macedonian formation was derived from classical phalanx
    tactics, which were purely straight-ahead, and had evolved in an environment in
    which only heavy infantry fought heavy infantry.

    Macedonian combined-armies made heavy use of other specialist troops to
    make up for the linear deployment of the phalanx, and its relative lack of
    flexibility.

    The Swiss -started out- fighting cavalry-heavy armies, and did so in very
    rough terrain. They had to be extremely good at moving fast and switching
    front, because they had to be their own flank guards and take care of
    cavalry attacks from any point of the compass.

    Alexander used his pike formations as a base of maneuver, and for a
    straight-up punch at the enemy line, to fix them. The real punch, the heavy
    maneuver element, was his cavalry; that's why he lead it himself.

    The Swiss were more all-round, and they were used for -fast- charges, in
    which they attacked at an all-out run, and were able to switch the axis of
    attack very quickly.

    I don't think even Alexander's phalanx had the Swiss ability to attack
    rapidly over broken ground and to guard its own flanks and rear.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

  5. #35
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    to continue.

    -- Incidentally, the great weakness of Classical armies was missile fire.
    The archers they faced just weren't as good as, say, Turko-Mongol types, or
    the medieval English.

    Swiss pikemen never met English longbowmen on any scale; my feeling is that
    they'd have been slaughtered. Even plate-armored men-at-arms had problems
    getting across the last 300 yards. Swiss would have moved much faster,
    but they would have been critically vulnerable because every hit would have
    wounded or killed, rather than say one in five against men armed cap-a-pie.

    Scottish spear formations, also lightly armored masses carrying long
    spears, reacted rather like sand hit by a high-pressure hose when they came
    under the arrow-storm at Dupplin Moor or Hallidon Hill. A dense formation
    moving through fire like that meant every single man was going to take multiple
    hits, and nothing but good, smoothly curved steel plate would stand a
    chance of keeping a shaft out. At Dupplin, the Scottish dead were piled
    "spear-high", with a huge ridge of killed and wounded marking the place where
    they came into the killing ground.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    >On paper a Swiss hollow square with its three columns
    ... uh, what?

    The Swiss Gevierthaufen wasn't hollow. It didn't consist of solely pikemen. And it didn't consist of three columns.

    The standard Swiss battle formation consisted of three separate Gevierthaufen operating to protect each other while mobile - vanguard, Gewalthaufen and rearguard. These three units provided limited flank protection and escape route clearance to each other. Each Gevierthaufen consisted of a densely packed formation of typically 1000-2500 men placed in roughly 30-50 rows with 30-50 columns (actually, it effectively became more of a wildly mixed rounded oval in practice) and a fluid outer edge switching between pikemen and close-combat arms depending on what the enemy attacked with.

    The hollowing occured in the 16th century in German and Spanish formations derived from it. The hollow was used to place the commanders and flags. The hollow-squaring with pikemen only is a distinct feature of the 16th century Spanish tercio in fact. Close-in protection was provided by small arquebusier formations on the flanks in that case.
    Last edited by kato; 18 Apr 13, at 00:23.

  7. #37
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    Medieval armies depending on the age lost mobility and tactics when they were engaged. Something the Romans usually did not even Macedonians under Alexander did not loose cohesion and mobility both horse and infantry when engaging.

    Medieval armies could charge and then the horse wouldn't be controllable.

    Lots depends on the commander and terrain use and general tactics. I am sure if you put up a professional army under Charles Martel against any Roman commander the chances are pretty even. Doubt there would be clear head to heads and most commanders would try to ambush or use their knowledge to their benefit. Just imagine Romans going into Russia not knowing there is a rasputitsa, or attacking head on a retreating army that seemingly collapses until they reach the ambush area.
    Originally from Sochi, Russia.

  8. #38
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    Right, my 10c worth. firstly the amount of information available from WAB members is amazing and I learn a lot. For my part the following comments rely in large part from my own reading on the subject - especially Sir Charles Oman's "History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages" and its companion volume on the Art of War in the 16th century.

    In large measure the question at hand is two vague to answer in detail. Are we dealing with an army from the early, High or Late Medieval periods? Is an Western Army build along Western European lines or with Eastern say Polish or Hungarian influences? Are we dealing with a Roman Army operating in isolation or does it have logistical support of the Empire to sustain it in the field with all that entails in terms of communications, fortification and supply etc.

    Making some general assumptions - a well ordered, commanded and supported Imperial Roman army should on balance be able to defeat most early Medieval armies. Saxon shield walls, and limited numbers of Norman or Lombard heavy cavalry aside the Romans would have superior training and discipline and at least comparable levels of armour protection. Assuming they are accompanied by a force of Romanised cataphracts which along with the rest of the Roman cavalry has access to the stirrups then the battle should turn in the Romans favor terrain, weather etc being more or less neutral issues.

    The story changes however if you set that same Roman Army against a reasonably well lead middle/late medieval army. This is when improvements in steel production had started to give even common soldiers (or at least middle class land owners and city "citizen soldiers" access to superior plate or brigantine and even commoners had access to highly effective padded "jacks" as armour. Roman archers and pillum would be matched or countered by large volumes of cross bow or long bow fire and on contact the main battle lines would be dealing with large numbers of pole arm weapons specifically designed to punch through armour - from beyond sword range. Assuming the battle lines contained the large numbers of pike the Romans might do better, especially if they adopted the techniques the famous Spanish "sword & buckler" men used against the Swiss in later ages when these well armoured soldiers rolled under the front pike to get in amongst the front ranks of Swiss and butchered them (That is if they adopted this tactic).

    So it might well be the case that the main battle lines would lock in place and depending on who was facing who their might well be at least a temporary stalemate. The problem for the Romans would be the flanks - specifically the cavalry. No Roman Army in history ever mustered the preponderance of heavy cavalry that even a small late period medieval army could. And no Roman army every faced the superior heavy armour used by both the knight and his mount. Even allowing for the presence of a body of cataphracts on the field the numbers of heavy horse would clearly and almost always favor the medieval army (excepting possibly some the eastern Armies mentioned previously and even they counted knights in their number.)

    So assuming the two sides had closed and there was space for cavalry charges on both flanks I think a "Zama" type situation would arise. Even assuming the Romans had enough 'heavies" to hold on one flank they would never hold on both. All the medieval commander had to do then was ensure his victorious horse did not follow the defeated Roman flank off the field. Assuming he can manage that the Romans I think would be stuffed, facing the prospect of a charge by massed heavy cavalry into their rear - and that's assuming they weren't defeated on both flanks which frankly I think would be the case say 2 times out of 3.
    Last edited by Monash; 22 Apr 13, at 14:23.

  9. #39
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    kato,

    ... uh, what?

    The Swiss Gevierthaufen wasn't hollow. It didn't consist of solely pikemen. And it didn't consist of three columns.

    The standard Swiss battle formation consisted of three separate Gevierthaufen operating to protect each other while mobile - vanguard, Gewalthaufen and rearguard. These three units provided limited flank protection and escape route clearance to each other. Each Gevierthaufen consisted of a densely packed formation of typically 1000-2500 men placed in roughly 30-50 rows with 30-50 columns (actually, it effectively became more of a wildly mixed rounded oval in practice) and a fluid outer edge switching between pikemen and close-combat arms depending on what the enemy attacked with.

    The hollowing occured in the 16th century in German and Spanish formations derived from it. The hollow was used to place the commanders and flags. The hollow-squaring with pikemen only is a distinct feature of the 16th century Spanish tercio in fact. Close-in protection was provided by small arquebusier formations on the flanks in that case.
    SM Stirling's response is actually a correction of the original poster's assertion.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    To an earlier inquiry about Roman tactics re-evolving. Not directly related but I forgot to mention the Zulu formations.

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    The medieval army would win without doubt. The roman army requires the entire army to fight as one unit, it lacks mobility and flexibility. Medieval cavalry could easily defeat roman cavalry as well as roman infantry unless they are armed with long spears. Medieval bow is useless against roman infantry with their shield wall up, however, the introduction of machines such as ballista and catapult already proves deadly to the tight formation of the roman legions, and in this case, the legions' formation would be destroyed and the roman soldiers has to face less skilled but more heavily armed medieval peasant soldiers as well as super heavily armed knights and hails of arrows fired by more advanced bows

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    The question referenced that this would have been the Trajan period. One of the threads made mention the Romans being at a disadvantage in terms of long range artillery- NOT TRUE. The ballisata had actually evolved to the point where it became a rapid fire weapon capable of around 100 rounds or armor piercing spears a minute and the romans had developed this technology to be deadly accurate with a 1/4 mile range. Archers firing into Roman ranks would not have been the great challenge to the Romans I saw mentioned and they would have either used the testudo or a modified version if they saw the need. The idea that the passing of hundreds of years would have automatically given a French or British army a large technological advantage could probably be used against other armies of antiquity but not the Romans. The chaos of the fall of Rome caused a loss of Roman military technology and this technology did not grow in a linear way because of this. Mounted shock cavalry could have been devastated by the deployment of the ballista against the horses alone. Also the average Roman soldier was much better trained as Roman training and discipline man for man had no equal. Once the Romans had survived the archers volleys and nullified the cavalry attacks at the end of the day it would have been as the Romans always preferred it " mano mano" and the Romans had better personnel and as in sports terms, outside of the smaller numbers of heavy horse a much deeper and better trained lineup then these Medievel average soldiers.

  13. #43
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    The Romans were pretty adaptable in changing their tactics and technology. Their empire fell due to societal and economic factors, not flaws in their military intellect. Comparing the Roman system anachronistically to systems of much later periods does not make useful analysis. Hypothetically, had Rome's economic edge lasted into the middle ages we probably would have seen a drastically different system to support novel technologies. Even in decline the Roman system of imperial defense was rather well-conceived compared to empires in similar situations.

    Another problem is that it is very difficult to place a historical finger on where Rome ended and Dark Ages began. The Merovingian and Carolingian armies were essentially contemporary reconstructions of the Late Roman war machine and in fact relied on the same basic tactics, organization, and infrastructure. Charles Martel's army that surprised and routed the stirrup-mounted Arabs in Poitiers was essentially a Frankish imitation of the Roman legions. Would Roman generals and legionaries at their peak done worse? I don't think so.

    Bottom line is most medieval armies couldn't hold a candle to the Romans in discipline and organization. The legion's speed on the march was as fast as it gets for muscle-powered armies and the global standard well into the twentieth century. Medieval European armies' chaotic logistics and poor hygiene were are severe constraints on their field effectiveness, resulting in abortive campaign lacking any strategic purpose and huge battle wastage. I am simply not convinced that medieval armies were in any true sense of the word better than the Romans.
    Last edited by Triple C; 24 Oct 14, at 15:24.
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  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    Scottish spear formations, also lightly armored masses carrying long
    spears, reacted rather like sand hit by a high-pressure hose when they came
    under the arrow-storm at Dupplin Moor or Hallidon Hill. A dense formation
    moving through fire like that meant every single man was going to take multiple
    hits, and nothing but good, smoothly curved steel plate would stand a
    chance of keeping a shaft out. At Dupplin, the Scottish dead were piled
    "spear-high", with a huge ridge of killed and wounded marking the place where
    they came into the killing ground.
    The Spanish tercios really weren't designed for the same tactics, though. The Spaniards relied heavily on muskets and arquebus since they marched into Italy, and firearms were considered more effective projectile weapons to longbows when Spanish and English units did clash in the Eighty Years' War, at least by the Spaniards. According to a Spanish general, the English longbowmen were formidable in defending a walled city, but not very effective in open-order field battles. In any rate, by the time of the Spanish Empire, fortifications, combat engineering and the artillery arm were probably the more important components of military power.
    All those who are merciful with the cruel will come to be cruel to the merciful.
    -Talmud Kohelet Rabbah, 7:16.

  15. #45
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    Since the thread has started up again .... I think the issue is complicated in a part by what you mean when you say 'roman army vs medieval army'. If you are assuming for instance that a Roman Legion from say the mid imperial period just happened to march through a wormhole onto a Medieval field of battle then you are conceding critical technological advantages to the medievalists, e.g. the stirrup, advances in steel making and hence arms and armor, fortifications - i.e. high period castles and depending on the period early gun powder weapons. In this case you would be putting the Romans at a significant disadvantage.

    On the other hand if you are arguing for a medieval army based on the roman pattern. e.g. say from a hypothetical 'rump' empire or even a slightly altered Byzantium then you have another story entirely. In this case the Romans would have access to all the relevant technology and the 'medieval' army would be facing an army trained, organized and lead along roman lines but eqiped just as well as they were. This makes a BIG difference. No they would be facing an army with arguably superior cohesion, organization and training.

    In this instance I suspect the roman commander for instance would be sorely tempted to abandon the pilum and javelin as his primary missile weapon and adopt the crossbow (assuming a continental frame of reference) or arquebus instead - depending on the period. The gladius stays as the back-up weapon (made of 'modern' steel of course) taking a look a various falchions and 'hanger' type swords etc from the period and there's not much to choose between them.

    I suspect however that the Roman commander might be strongly reequip most of his auxiliary cohorts as crossbowmen say (3 men in 4) with the rest retaining the traditional scutum/pilum combo as more flexible substitutes for the medieval pavise. As for the legionary cohorts I also think he would be tempted to drop the scutum/pilum in exchange for polearms such as bills or poleaxes because when it came to 'push and shove' a pole weapon was going to have superior reach - maybe each cohort's command group would retain the old weapons for flexibility, who knows.

    As for the cavalry continent the Romans would 'up-armor' to match their contemporaries as far as they could.

    I say all of the above remembering that the Romans had no qualms about adopting other cultures military technologies when it was to their advantage. S0 under this scenario then it would be Roman organization and discipline that would give them the day, all other factors being equal of course.

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