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Thread: What if: Roman legions vs medieval European army

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    What if: Roman legions vs medieval European army

    What if: a confrontation between the Roman imperial army of Trajan and a medieval European one, before the mass use of gun powder. (XV century, one or more armies of the hundred years war)

    How would the Romans fare against the better technology and the shock tactics of the mounted knight?
    On average, the roman soldier was better trained and lead than his medieval counterpart, but the later enjoyed the advantage of better armor, weapons, and a complete superiority in mounted warfare.

    This has been discussed a lot on other forums, with no clear result, but my money would be on the romans, due to they're better logistics, numerical advantage, overall better equipment and training.

    I look forward to any posts about this

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    This generalization:

    On average, the roman soldier was better trained and lead than his medieval counterpart, but the later enjoyed the advantage of better armor, weapons, and a complete superiority in mounted warfare.
    often proves unreliable since Knights (at least those raised in nobility) were trained often as early as mid-childhood. A more apt comparison could be made with peasant foot soldiers, of which the regimented discipline of the Romans would probably best.

    Medieval armies greatly differ in styles and doctrine especially when comparing the French with the British. French forces would generally be more geared towards cavalry charges followed by foot soldiers while British forces like to utilize archers to devastate the enemy before finishing them. In contrast, the Roman Legion are split in quality between its foreign conscripts and its more professional core units. The only advantage I could imagine them having over British or French forces would be numbers and maybe tactics. However on equal terms, the Romans would more than likely be obliterated by both the power of French Armored Cavalry and/or British Longbow archers.

    Although they may stand a slightly better chance against the British if the testudo formation (aka mobile shield wall) proves effective enough to protect against archer fire...but I have my doubts especially when considering the raw power of the longbow against the French cavalry in Agincourt.
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    Senior Contributor Stitch's Avatar
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    Agree with Red; either way, an English or a French army would best a Roman army of comparable size. The Romans didn't really have a lot of ranged weapons; they had the pila, but those were fairly short-ranged weapons (100' at most). They were more oriented toward infantry tactics (close-quarter combat). Even the French with their shorter-ranged (than longbows) crossbows would probably be able to take out most of a Roman quincunx before it got to hand-to-hand range.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stitch View Post
    Agree with Red; either way, an English or a French army would best a Roman army of comparable size. The Romans didn't really have a lot of ranged weapons; they had the pila, but those were fairly short-ranged weapons (100' at most). They were more oriented toward infantry tactics (close-quarter combat). Even the French with their shorter-ranged (than longbows) crossbows would probably be able to take out most of a Roman quincunx before it got to hand-to-hand range.
    Dissagree, The Roman legion with its normally attached Auxilla is the superior formation. The average length of service and training blows anything the English or French have out of the water infantry wise. Roman officers are professional soldiers as well. The Legion, not the medieval army is more likely to have the superior technology overall. The Roman scuta was superior to medieval shields, the Lorica Segmentata and coolus helmet offer greater missile protection at less weight than medieval chain. Roman bows though fewer in number equal the long bow in range and power and out perform cross bows. Roman field artillery has no equal in the medieval world. Steel swords don't really mean much.

    The French cavalry is superior to Roman or Auxilla cavalry in the shock role, but much less effective than the Romans at harrying, pursuit and scouting functions. Even the French heavy charge would likely run into problems with the caltrops, unbroken shield wall, anti-cavalry tactics and pilum of the Romans. It would also be in serious risk vs the Roman cavalry in any type of fluid engagement. Think about what the Mongols did to the Hungarian heavies when the Hungarians got strung out. The legions knew how to deal with shock cavalry. The English have the best chance to beat the Romans because they can put out so many arrows, but only if the Romans are in range. But as stated earlier the Roman possession of field artillery makes this iffy at best.

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    Is there a piece of weapon a European Medieval army would have that Romans can't replicate?
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    Senior Contributor Stitch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doktor View Post
    Is there a piece of weapon a European Medieval army would have that Romans can't replicate?
    Early mediaeval cannon are the only thing that comes to mind, but Dante specifically said "before the mass use of gun powder"; however, mediaeval armies were using small pot-de-fers from about 1327 on.

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    The way I see it, it will be all up to the commanders.
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    depends on the level of technology.

    by the 14th or 15th century the medieval army would be ahead in just about every way. swords are pretty much useless against plate, that's why weapons evolution went to blunt trauma weapons-- warhammers and the like, or halberds and pike. rome also had nothing like the crossbow, or the longbow. late republican armies/early imperial armies depended on slingers, mostly from the balearic islands-- they'd be horribly outranged, and would have been hit a lot harder.

    a roman legion would have had a chance against, say, the armies of 1066. would be interesting to see the roman shield wall vs the anglo-saxon shield wall.
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    I've often wondered - Roman siege weapons would seem to me to be useless in the field against any sort of enemy with mobility. They are certainly useful against fortifications, but against an army in the field... I'm just not seeing it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chogy View Post
    I've often wondered - Roman siege weapons would seem to me to be useless in the field against any sort of enemy with mobility. They are certainly useful against fortifications, but against an army in the field... I'm just not seeing it.
    The Romans had cart mounted and easily assembled field artillery capable of hurling darts, flaming pots and stones up to a kilometer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    depends on the level of technology.

    by the 14th or 15th century the medieval army would be ahead in just about every way. swords are pretty much useless against plate, that's why weapons evolution went to blunt trauma weapons-- warhammers and the like, or halberds and pike. rome also had nothing like the crossbow, or the longbow. late republican armies/early imperial armies depended on slingers, mostly from the balearic islands-- they'd be horribly outranged, and would have been hit a lot harder.

    a roman legion would have had a chance against, say, the armies of 1066. would be interesting to see the roman shield wall vs the anglo-saxon shield wall.
    Your info is incorrect. Though the skill of some late medieval armies was finally approaching that of Rome, most were still little more than hordes compared to the legions training. Also, the Romans had crossbows both flexion and torsion style. As for traditional archers about 1 in 12 auxilla units were of archers called Sagittarius using composite bows. While this is less than the numbers of English bowmen, it is superior to the French crossbow mercenaries in both numbers, range and rate of fire.

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    z,

    Though the skill of some late medieval armies was finally approaching that of Rome, most were still little more than hordes compared to the legions training.
    not by the late medieval period. the crusades plus the growing power of kings changed this.

    Also, the Romans had crossbows both flexion and torsion style. As for traditional archers about 1 in 12 auxilla units were of archers called Sagittarius using composite bows.
    nothing like the famed crossbowmen with pavise. the medieval crossbow (or longbow) and pike combination was such that by the late medieval period even knights in full plate were wary of charging them-- the development of early gunpowder weapons was an extension of this.

    part of the reason why the heavy infantry of the roman legions changed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries was because of the difficulty of the heavy infantry in dealing with the parthian horse archer/cataphract threat. rome could beat parthia (and later the sassanids), but they never could do so conclusively.

    to put it another way, given the training and discipline needed to create a pike/shot formation, the medieval europeans could have recreated to some extent the legion of the past. that they didn't go back to gladius and pila (despite romanticizing the Empire in other aspects, see the 'Holy Roman Empire') and instead evolved towards blunt-force trauma weapons and pike indicates that legionary-style warfare wasn't optimal given developments in technology.
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    z,

    not by the late medieval period. the crusades plus the growing power of kings changed this.
    To an extent, but reading on the French and Catholic wars in Italy leaves a distinct impression that the rank and file was still little better than peasant levies.

    nothing like the famed crossbowmen with pavise. the medieval crossbow (or longbow) and pike combination was such that by the late medieval period even knights in full plate were wary of charging them-- the development of early gunpowder weapons was an extension of this.
    Different times but not necessarily better. European pike developed to counter heavy cavalry, not heavy infantry. Swiss pike v Roman legion I'll bet on the legion as the Swiss would be little better than the Macedonians.

    part of the reason why the heavy infantry of the roman legions changed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries was because of the difficulty of the heavy infantry in dealing with the parthian horse archer/cataphract threat. rome could beat parthia (and later the sassanids), but they never could do so conclusively.
    Yes, but European armies did not have persian mobility.

    to put it another way, given the training and discipline needed to create a pike/shot formation, the medieval europeans could have recreated to some extent the legion of the past. that they didn't go back to gladius and pila (despite romanticizing the Empire in other aspects, see the 'Holy Roman Empire') and instead evolved towards blunt-force trauma weapons and pike indicates that legionary-style warfare wasn't optimal given developments in technology.
    They faced a cavalry foe not one of heavy infantry. By the time pike replaced knight gunpowder was on the scene to stay. Take gunpowder out of the equation and its possible legion like tactics would have returned to deal with pikes just as they did previously.

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    Ok, but this should not be centered around equal numbers, the sheer size of what the Romans could bring is a an advanatage.
    For example, what if Trajans army , the one that he commanded on the Parthian campaign was transported in time before Agincourt?


    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    z,

    to put it another way, given the training and discipline needed to create a pike/shot formation, the medieval europeans could have recreated to some extent the legion of the past. that they didn't go back to gladius and pila (despite romanticizing the Empire in other aspects, see the 'Holy Roman Empire') and instead evolved towards blunt-force trauma weapons and pike indicates that legionary-style warfare wasn't optimal given developments in technology.
    I think that has more to do with the the resources available, while they could recreate maybe one/two legions, that was probably as far as they could go. Also, the romans encountered heavy cavalry, albeit not on the knight scale, and did not fell the need to change they're tactics & equipment towards pike/spear formations , that and Trajan's victory suggests that they could cope with the cavalry threat just fine.

    Edit: Maybe the shaping factor was not the threat posed by heavy cavalry, but the resources available at you're disposal..
    Last edited by Dante; 27 Mar 13, at 17:11.

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