A Conversation for The Roman Tortoise - A Military Practice

How Militarily Brilliant Were The Romans?

Post 1


I used to think that the Romans were brilliant strategists, but as I have read more I have doubts about that. I am coming more to the conclusion that their adaptability, technology and discipline played far more of a role in expanding and holding their empire militarily.

As an American, I see some parallels between the Roman and US military. Going back to WWII, I do not think that the US had the best strategic minds in the war. They had good strategists and some very good tacticians, but I do not think that they had the best (I believe the Germans and probably the British had better strategists). What they did have was production capacity, technological, strategic and tactical adaptability. In post-war interviews and diary entries of the German commanders they repeatedly point to the adaptation of US strategies and tactics; the short learning curve following, and quick adjustment to, defeats and losses. I remember a quote from one of them that was something to the effect that the Russians were the worst to fight because they were extraordinarily tough. He hated the Australians because they just seemed to love war and fighting; but that the Americans worried him from the start because after a loss (and there were many early ones) they adapted tactics and allowed field commanders leeway in reacting to developments.

I'm not sure of the individual Roman commander's leeway in reacting to battlefield conditions, but they certainly adapted. Against Hannibal they were consistently out-strategized and tactically outmanuevered. They also consistently produced weapons and manpower to create a new army after the defeat of one. In the end, they adapted their tactics, strategies and weapons to defeat him. The key point is that most of their advances in warfare were evolutionary as opposed to instances of brilliance. This may be the hallmark of a truly great military. If you look at history, the brilliant strategists tend to spark up and then burn out. The lasting empires are generally much more systematic and do a good job of inculcating a sense of long term destiny into their population. Rome could have fallen apart anywhere along the way in the struggle with Hannibal and subsequent enemies; a belief in ultimate victory held them together long enough to adapt technologies and tactics/strategies to win.

How Militarily Brilliant Were The Romans?

Post 2


And modern history has its parellels too: when Roman legions were lured into, or caught in, terrain that was the very worst for them and which negated their strengths, they could be destroyed in detail. A seriously low-tech enemy, the Germans, managed this in 9 AD, reducing three legions to scrap in the dense German forest where manoevrability and shield walls were not possible. In the first Dacian Wars, the Dacians noted where roman shields and armour were weakest, and adapted a weapon to exploit this - the rhompaii, rather like a three-foot curved meat-cleaver, that could remove an unprotected sword-arm in one swing or chop a shield in two. The Dacians defeated Emperor Domititan's first invasion with ease.

Consider the American army with its strengths negated or neutralised against a detemined low-tech opponent in Vietnam: or the British, who very nearly lost the Boer War in similar circumstances.

Another parellel might be the Mongols, whose horse-mobility was ideal for conquering the flat steppes of Eurasia. Three kinds of terrain stopped them dead, at the extremes of their empire:

i) Desert. Flat enough to fight on, it had nothing on which to feed the horses. The Egyptian Turks, whose cavalry was primarily camels, conclusively defeated them.
ii) Jungle. This made the use of massed cavalry impossible. Mongol strength was disipated in a fierce guerila war in Indochina. (sounds familiar).
iii) Sea: amphibious attacks all failed - they attempted to invade Japan twice but could not land conclusive force or get off the beach.

The moral of the story, as the German King hermonius discovered, would be that however brill iand or all-conquering an army is, get it outside its "comfort zone" and defeat is possible.

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How Militarily Brilliant Were The Romans?

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