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Roman Army vs. Medieval Army

Discussion in 'World History' started by AceChilla, Oct 25, 2004.

  1. MattII

    MattII Prince

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    Harold's troops were not worn down, they charged down from the ridge and were slaughtered on the flat ground.
     
  2. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    Ditto.
    Apparently, so long as they were behind their wall, neither Norman arrows nor cavalry charges could break them so William made a feint retreat, causing some Saxons to leave the shield wall.
    I think Harold was struck by the arrow as he was trying to rally back his troops but not too sure..
     
  3. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    Sources are divided on the subject from what I remember, some claim he was surrounded by Norman knights and hacked to death.
     
  4. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    Yes.
    That's because there were two pictures under 'And Harold the King was killed'
    Dang the bleedin' weavers.. haha

    But either way, if he could be hacked down by cavalry, the shield wall must have been already broken.. ;)
     
  5. privatehudson

    privatehudson The Ultimate Badass

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    I think there also may have been some other sources supporting the hacked down theory, I can't remember specifics though since it's not my pet period.
     
  6. Khaghan

    Khaghan Chieftain

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    By the time that the feigned retreat was made, the casualties of the English was already staggering and it could indeed be considered worn down because had this not been so, the feigned retreat might be ignored.
     
  7. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    What are your sources?

    Mine is Robin Cross' The Encyclopaedia of Warfare and Adrian Gilbert's The Encyclopaedia of Warfare. Both mentioned that the wall could not be broken until the Breton's on the left Norman flank retreated. The indisciplined Saxon's pursued and got cut down. Even then, the fight lasted for more than a day (approx 9am) to evening when Harold got hit by the arrow.
    (@Hudson, my source says he was hit by the arrow first, then mowed down by cavalry later).
    Saxon resistance crumbled then but it still took all night before the battle was over. In fact, William was almost killed by a rearguard of Saxon huscarls.
     
  8. Khaghan

    Khaghan Chieftain

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    It was a long time ago, I don't remember the exact source, but one of them has the title Battle of Hasting, a whole book dedicated to the battle. And I assure you its a ripping yarn. The English suffered high casualty from the arrow assaults, their whole strategy was simple, just holding the position backed by the ridge and stop the Norman onslaught. There wasn't much of a tactical maneuver to begin with, as long as they can hold their position from the front, they will suceed. Lack of discipline is indeed one of the Saxon weakness. The final assualt by the Normans scattered the English line and ended the battle. Thats after much of the English troops were already decimated by the maneuvres.
    Also note that the Saxon troops are heavier armed then the legionaires. The house-carls guardsmen wear heavy hauberks which covered most of their body for protection. And their massive size could carry these heavily ringed armour and swing the big handled axe which was devastating to the charging Normans. In fact the house-carls are considered to be the toughest soldiers in Europe at the time, their physical fitness and warlike spirit is more than a match in a pure frontal pitched battle with the leginnaires.
     
  9. Khaghan

    Khaghan Chieftain

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    "Both mentioned that the wall could not be broken until the Breton's on the left Norman flank retreated."


    I never said it was broken, the point is they suffered high casualties and was worn down. At this point some of the troops defied the order of Harold and already charged.
     
  10. Drolyt

    Drolyt Chieftain

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    This is an old thread but it interests me somewhat. I think the Romans would most likely have decimated any medieval army bar the Mongols. A Roman legion from Caesar's time normally consisted of over five thousand elite heavy infantry, plus again that many auxiliary troops, including spears, cavalry, and skirmishers (the tactic of supporting the main infantry with several groups of more unique units was pioneered by the Macedonians after they conquered Greece and adopted by the Romans later on), as well as perhaps 50-60 personal siege weapons. Caesar commanded nearly thirty of these legions, vastly outnumbering any Medieval European army. The cavalry issue is really a non issue, the Romans were smart enough to adopt the stirrup (not that hard to make, those) and plate mail was not as invincible as most seem to think. Longbows would have been more of an issue I think, since Roman shields might not be able to stand a barrage of them. A workable strategy to beat the Europeans I think would be to use the typical flaming siege weapon to scatter the archers while picking off the knights with the ballistae and charging the archers with the infantry. If the Romans adopted the stirrup their cavalry could attempt to flank the opponent while avoiding the more heavily armored knights and the auxiliary troops with spears (perhaps adopting pike like tech) could guard the infantries flanks against knights. The fact is the Romans were good at adopting enemy techniques quickly, and although they wouldn't be able to adopt metallurgy technology quickly enough to make a difference I think they could make very basic changes to deal with opposing knights. Enough said.
     
  11. Ammar

    Ammar King

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    Another interesting point is that the romans tended to adapt quickly. When encountering an enemy that used a novel strategy they often lost a few battled, then devised some countermeasures, came back and kicked ass.

    So, I'd say a republic era roman legion confronted with heavy cavalry would probably break, they would learn from it and use some sort of pike/spear to hold the next time.
     
  12. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    So what's with this new trend of bumping years' old threads?

    Oh well, might as well contribute while I'm here.

    Everyone keeps mentioning the longbow; as far as I know, only the English and Welsh used the weapon, the French were far more fond of the crossbow. I don't know how fast a crossbow can reload, but would it be effective against, say, Equites Alares? Or the legion body proper?
     
  13. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    The Han Chinese fanboys would probably say yes. :p For my part, I seriously wonder about the ability of the Roman pila to penetrate some of the sick armor they had in the later Medieval period. I mean, sure they had had to fight kataphraktoi whenever they had a war against the Pahlava or Eranshahr, but that's a millennium away in terms of technological advancement (although I'm afraid I don't know enough about medieval armor to be able to say anything more than that). And then there's the problem of the Romans not having a particularly strong cavalry arm in most of their campaigns (save Zama and the Dominate, with Julius Caesar being a partial exception), so they could theoretically just get Cannae'd. And then it really depends on what "Roman" means and what "Medieval" means, because Rome had some four different basic armies over the course of a thousand years, not counting that "other" Roman Empire off in the east somewhere (;)) that lasted for another thousand years (and was, signally, the military superpower of Europe for most of that time), while "medieval" could theoretically go for another thousand years between Odovacar and Mehmed II.
     
  14. Drolyt

    Drolyt Chieftain

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    Although the internet thinks I joined in 2007, I'm new here, and this looked interesting:p It would be awesome if I revived a dead thread:) Anyway I guess the point of my post was more close to what Ammar said, I think they would quickly adapt to the Medieval cavalry and counter it with their superior battle tactics. I like my strategy, and if what Cheezy said about Crossbows is true I think the Romans might have a really easy time. Without a fast reload speed I don't think a Roman advance would be easily stopped. That short sword people seem to hate so much was actually a stabbing weapon, a column of soldiers would slam into their opponent defended with their shields and stab through the shield wall. Yes the Han Chinese crossbows would have been reloaded quickly, they had repeating crossbow technology in the middle ages, but Europeans had to reset the spring with every shot. And in response to Dachspmg I still say that medieval armor wasn't that great. It was good at stopping piercing weapons but I think that ballistae could penetrate it. Also it didn't work that well in melee; it couldn't stop blunt trauma. Even modern ballistic armor is weak in melee (probably weaker than the medieval armor in this respect, but that's beside the point). Just knock them off their horse and your fine. As a final point I'm imagining perhaps Julius Caesar against Richard the Lionheart.
     
  15. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Okay. So Western European weapons technology really was that little advanced over the period of a thousand years? (The only people I know about really well during most of the medieval era are the Romans...go figure.)
    Since Romans don't have lancer units (that I can recall anyway), and since a mounted knight weighs an awful lot, this isn't a particularly easy proposition. I still think that the Romani would have cavalry issues, unless this is after the reign of Gallienus, but they always had cavalry issues, and their infantry would do a bang-up job of mashing its way into virtually any medieval infantry anyway (except maybe the Swiss on the tail end of the era), so they could probably win in the end.
    Then good King Richard might as well hand himself his own tuchas, because Julius was a freakin' genius. :D It's too bad that most of the best medieval generals were Roman (from Belisarius and Herakleios to Basileios II and Ioannes Tzimiskes), otherwise this'd be a more even fight. What about a better-than-competent-but-still-not-a-Great Captain general, like Lucullus or Claudius Nero?
     
  16. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    About the Roman ability to adapt.

    One of the major points of the Roman army was actually that it was formulaic for long periods of time. It was a good formula most of the time, allowing mediocre and even down right incompetent general to win battles, depending of the opposition. Running into Hannibal, it took a Scipio to get it to do something new though. Julius Caesar obviously could get it to do marvelous things, and the Roman army of Hadrian's days might form a pinnacle of achievement, with the least cavalry liability, best set of combined arms etc.

    The thing about cavalry dependance beginning in the late Roman and extending into the Middle Ages is that it worked. Infantry didn't stop being the main arm of battle because people got stupid (i.e. I don't buy the notion of Roman "degeneration" into the Middle Ages) and incompetent at fighting on foot; it was relegated to secondary importance because cavalry worked so well.

    Which means an adapting Roman army would likely end up fighting like a Medieval heavy cav dominated one to counter it.

    Contrary to what is sometimes claimed the stirrup, and things like new saddles, do make a difference; they allowed you to pile on weight and direct it into the enemy through the tip of a lance without unhorsing you. The actual weapons technology isn't otherwise spectacularly different (lances and long cavalry swords for reach), but what really makes a difference is horse breeding. Medieval heavy cav will have a weight and armour advantage compared to any cav the Romans would have encountered or be able to field themselves.

    Apart from that, I agree with Dachspmg: What Roman army, from what period, commanded by who, facing a Medieval army of similar issues?

    With enough money to recruit professional mercenaries form Flanders and Gascony, and Welsh longbowmen, and ample access to the cream of the French noble heavy cav from the 13th c and onwards, it would have to be a very, very good Roman army to be able to weather that.

    That is to say, the Middle Ages certainly could muster enough martial competence to form a combined arms army that would probably have made mincemeat of just about anything the Romans could field. The problem would be that the circumstances to allow a Medieval monarch to have access to all of these things at any given moment are far fetched at best.

    The Roman army shines in quality control, but the Medieval both peaks at a higher level and dips to lows the Romans likely wouldn't tolerate.
     
  17. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    Except if the use of siege weapons in field battles had been a workable proposition to the Romans, they would have used them like that historically. Since they didn't, that part of your strat probably won't work in the first place. These things were siege weapons for a reason, not field artillery. Which of course also means that the Romans start out at a range disadvantage compared to both longbows and crossbows. Either they move away, out of range, or they have to close to bring their own missile troops to bear (Balearic stoneslingers might actually have the range, and maybe the Romans have these around though).

    If this is a typical Roman army, they will be badly outmatched in cav by one of the more cav heavy hosts of the Middle Ages already at the outset, which means unless the Romans have a considerable numerical advantage, they won't be outflanking anything, possibly the reverse though.

    Not that the Medieval general battle-plan would necessarily have involved great numbers of flanking manouvres. The main problem the Romans would have to deal with would be the typical three waves of massed heavy cavalry charges, which would provide problems for almost anything. Good use of pikes is the best proposition for handling them, which would require re-training of your classical Roman legion in the first place.

    If we stick with some kind of archetypical Roman legionnare manning the centre of the Roman line, with pilum and stabbing sword, the basic problem is that the pilum is too short ranged a missle weapon to deal with cavalry, and the sword will also provide a range problem once the horsemen are upon them. Dedicated missile troops are a better proposition, but even then the closing speed of cavalry gives even them quite a retricted window of fire. (Since I'm assuming the Medieval cav. get to fight under ideal conditions here, closing over flat, hard ground, which would under normal circumstances be the preferred Roman battlefield as well.) What the Romans have going for them is essentially their discipline. But even so, Roman legions did break from sufficiently powered onslaughts, even by infantry, from time to time. Stopping a dedicated cavalry charge without the appropriate tools is near impossible, even if the Romans should have the discipline to do it.

    As for the shortcomings of medieval armour, I think you're missing the role of padding. Medieval knights wore padding to the extent of almost countering all effects of missiles. They would look like pin-cushions, but arrows rarely penetrated. Prior to 15th c. platemail padding would also be what took care of most blunt trauma. This is not new; the Greeks made effective armour of tightly packed linen, i.e. fabric, which would stop arrows and cushion blows just fine most of the time. The chain-mail hauberk would deal with most slashing stuff, as you've observed, but it's just the most visible part of medieval armour. The padding is just as much part of the package, not wonderfully sophisticated, but very workable.
     
  18. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    I think that, if we're taking into account potential mercenaries for the medieval army, that we should include hires for the Romans, too. Sarmatians, Scutarii Falacata, other potential levies; you already mentioned the Balearics. The use of Sarmatians, long time allies of the Romans, would certainly lend a heavy cavalry arm to the legion, better than the small detatchment (300 Equites IIRC??) of cavalry assigned to each 4000 man legion.
     
  19. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Welllll...the Makedonian armies of Philippos and Alexandros were using ballistae and scorpions on the field, and you can find references to Roman use in Polybius' Histories. It was a pretty standard complement to a given field force from about the fourth to third century BC on down. And ballistae are fairly accurate, for one, and for another, there is an ongoing argument as to how fast a theoretical Roman "repeating" ballista (called the polybolos I think) could shoot - perhaps 10 projectiles a minute or so. There really isn't a medieval analogue to it.
    Too, one can figure in toxotai kretikoi, Rhodikoi sphendonetai, the various provincial equites units (German, Gallic, Hispanic), and maybe even some catafractarii/kataphraktoi from the Eastern provinces. As to the Saurometae, I thought that they and the Romani locked horns on most occasions - when did the Romani use Saurometae auxilia?
    Yeah, Roman "vanilla" cavalry usually sucked. That's why they had their allies supply troops for them too, to double the power of a given legion. Italian cavalry (equites extraordinarii) was much more powerful than the Roman citizen equivalent. And then, after they expanded more, they'd use Gallic, Germanic, and Hispanic cavalry instead. The cavalry arm really isn't augmented and standardized too well until the Dominate, or at the very earliest the reign of Traianvs (Gallienvs is probably a better starting point).
     
  20. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    Perhaps the Scythians locked horns with the Romans (and the Sarmatians, to be sure!), but until the very late empire, when the Sarmatians were really forced into the Empire proper by the Huns and the Roxolani, they more or less joined arms with the Romans, not horns.
     

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