Could medieval soldiers be organized into a Roman style legion order of battle?

Could medieval soldiers be organized into a Roman style legion order of battle?

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Is there any reason why medieval soldiers could not have been organized into the order of battle of the Roman Empire by a ruler or empire that chose to do so? Integrating crossbowmen, longbowmen, spearmen, light cavalry, heavy cavalry (Knights), etc.

I know the Komnenian era had a relatively organized army in the Eastern Roman Empire, but they were not at the scale of the professional standing armies of the Roman Empire from my understanding nor were they organized into an order of battle as organized as that of the Roman legions. Perhaps an expert on the subject matter could explain if the Komenian era Eastern Roman Army was as organized as the Roman legions or not.

Is there a reason that the Legion order of battle model could not be applied to medieval warfare though adjusted for more cavalary? The tactics and strategy would of course change. The table of organization would also likely change from the structure of the Roman Legion as a medieval Legion would integrate more heavy cavalry, crossbowmen, longbowmen, etc.


The Roman army was made up of "professional" soldiers, who served 25 years (from their late teens to their early 40s, like modern ball players), before they were disbanded. No medieval armies had soldiers of this standing, although the Kommenians came closer than others.

This started after the Punic Wars, when cheap grain acquired from Sicily (and other points south of Rome) "dispossessed" the sturdy yeoman farmers. They had to find other pursuits, with the military being one of the more obvious ones, hence the Roman practice of "career" soldiers.

The feudal societies of medieval Europe had no "Sicilies" to produce surplus grain, meaning that essentially all of their men were needed for farming, and only a handful of nobles could afford to be "professional" soldiers. Imagine an army where only the officers were professional, and essentially all of the recruits (95% of the army) had less than a year of training and experience, and were basically recruited for a single battle. That was the difference between Roman and medieval armies.

Long time ago I wondered about the same. I always thought the Roman army (early imperial, of course) would beat the crap out of any opponent until the end of the middle ages. After learning a lot about history I had to change my opinion completely.

No. 1: The Roman army was entirely professional. From the lowest recruit up to generals in command. Medieval armies were definitely not. That was a professional cadre (nobles, knights and possibly sergeants) leading drafted poorly equipped and poorly trained peasants. And poorly led, certainly in the eyes of Roman professionals.

No. 2: Logistics. That concept went completely down the drain after the fall of Rome in the West. (Do mind that the Byzantine army was a continuation of the Roman army with excellent logistics and survived a millennium). For a professional army you need a lot more than pack a lunch.

It's there that medieval armies fell short. It was something they simply couldn't do, no matter what. You need supplies for the army in the field. Transportation to get it there. Folks back home producing food, arms, uniforms and equipment. I leave out medical services, medieval armies weren't very strong in that department. No medieval state except for Byzantium was capable of doing that.

It took about a year to train a Roman recruit to be a basic legionary. During that year they did nothing else but train. They had to eat now and then, meaning that someone else had to grow the food, harvest it and get it to the legion. Once trained and professional, they had to keep training to remain fighting fit. You can't be a farmer and a professional legionary. It's either - or. Medieval states had no capability for that. Rome and Byzantium did.

Another very important point here: if you hire soldiers full time, until they have to retire due to (relatively) old age at 40-50, you take their best and most profitable years. That means you have to provide them with some sort of pension. That was within medieval society completely impossible.

3- (Very) early medieval armies actually were (very) late Roman armies.

The Roman army varied over time. It adapted itself to the enemies it had to face. From a hoplite army suitable to fight local wars into a more cavalry based relatively mobile army at the end.

During the battle of Chalons against the Huns the Roman army was present but didn't do much. Even Aelius didn't think they were of much use other than be an obstacle. A rather inglorious end for the probably best army ever…


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Legion, a military organization, originally the largest permanent organization in the armies of ancient Rome. The term legion also denotes the military system by which imperial Rome conquered and ruled the ancient world.

The expanding early Roman Republic found the Greek phalanx formation too unwieldy for fragmented fighting in the hills and valleys of central Italy. Accordingly, the Romans evolved a new tactical system based on small and supple infantry units called maniples. Each maniple numbered 120 men in 12 files and 10 ranks. Maniples drew up for battle in three lines, each line made up of 10 maniples and the whole arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Separating each unit was an interval equivalent to a maniple’s front of 18 m (60 feet), so that the maniples of the first line could fall back in defense into the intervals of the second line. Conversely, the second line could merge with the first to form a solid front 10 ranks deep and 360 m (1,200 feet) wide. In the third line, 10 maniples of light infantry were supplemented by smaller units of reserves. The three lines were 75 m (250 feet) apart, and from front to rear one maniple of each line formed a cohort of 420 men this was the Roman equivalent of a battalion. Ten cohorts made up the heavy-infantry strength of a legion, but 20 cohorts were usually combined with a small cavalry force and other supporting units into a little self-supporting army of about 10,000 men.

Two infantry weapons gave the legion its famous flexibility and force the pilum, a 2-metre (7-foot) javelin used for both throwing and thrusting and the gladius, a 50-centimetre (20-inch) cut-and-thrust sword with a broad, heavy blade. For protecton each legionary had a metal helmet, cuirass, and convex shield. In battle, the first line of maniples attacked on the double, hurling javelins and then diving in with swords before the enemy had time to recover. Then came the maniples of the second line, and only a resolute foe could rally from the two successive shocks.

As Roman armies of the late Republic and Empire became larger and more professional, the cohort, with an average field strength of 360 men, replaced the maniple as the chief tactical unit within legions. In the military operations of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Julius Caesar, a legion was composed of 10 cohorts, with 4 cohorts in the first line and 3 each in the second and third lines. The 3,600 heavy infantry were supported by enough cavalry and light infantry to bring the legion’s strength up to 6,000 men. Seven legions in three lines, comprising about 25,000 heavy infantry, occupied a mile and a half of front.

As Rome evolved from a conquering to a defending power, the cohort was increased to a field strength of 500–600 men. These still depended on the shock tactics of pilum and gladius, but the 5,000–6,000 heavy infantry in a legion were now combined with an equal number of supporting cavalry troops and light infantry made up of archers, slingers, and javelin men. In order to deal with mounted barbarian raiders, the proportion of cavalry rose from one-seventh to one-fourth. By the 4th century ad , with the empire defending its many fortified border outposts, as many as 10 catapults and 60 ballistae were assigned to each legion.

In modern times the term legion has been applied to a corps of foreign volunteers or mercenaries, such as the French provincial legions of Francis I and the second-line formations of Napoleon. “Foreign legion” often signifies the irregular corps of foreign volunteers raised by states at war. The most famous of these is France’s Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère) composed of foreign volunteers and commanded by French officers, it has served in various parts of the French colonial empire since its founding in 1831.

The First Formation

This tactic, designed for level terrain, assumes that your wings are more powerful. Should the enemy make their way around your flanks, the reserves will be able to counter. Once their wings are vanquished, you may press the center.

"He who judges himself inferior should advance his right wing against his enemy's left. This is the second formation."

This formation, considered by some to be the best, took advantage of the fact that the left side of a soldier, and so the left side of the army was considered to be weaker, because it had to support the weight of the shield. The right wing moved around the opponent's left, and attacked from the rear. The left wing kept its distance, while the reserves supported the left wing or guarded against the enemy attacking the center.

"If your left wing is strongest, you must attack the enemy's right, according to the third formation."

The third formation was considered something of a desperation move, to be used only when your left wing, usually the weaker side, was stronger than your right. In this attack, the left wing, supplemented by the Roman's best cavalry, attacked the opponent's right wing, while their own right stayed back in relative safety.

"The general who can depend on the discipline of his men should begin the engagement by attacking both of the enemy's wings at once, the fourth formation."

The fourth formation's main advantage was its shock value. The entire army was brought close to the enemy, whereupon both wings charged at the enemy. This would often surprise the opponent, allowing for a quick resolution. However, the attack split the army into three parts, so if the enemy survived the attack, the center of the Roman's forces was vulnerable, and the wings could be fought separately.

"He whose light infantry is good should cover his center by forming them in its front and charge both the enemy's wings at once. This is the fifth formation."

This was a variation of the fourth formation. Light infantry and archers were placed in front of the center, making it far less vulnerable.

"He who cannot depend on either the number or courage of his troops, if obliged to engage, should begin the action with his right and endeavor to break the enemy's left, the rest of his army remaining formed in line perpendicular to the front and extended to the rear like a javelin. This is the sixth formation."

The sixth formation was similar to the second, with both having the right wing attacking the opponent's left from behind. In this attack, the enemy's left wing cannot be reinforced, for fear that it would leave an opening for the Romans to exploit.

"If your forces are few and weak in comparison to the enemy, you must make use of the seventh formation and cover one of your flanks either with an eminence, a city, the sea, a river, or some protection of that kind."

When the Romans were outnumbered or had inferior troops, this was often the only hope for victory. The left flank was kept guarded by whatever protection was available. The right was protected by the light troops and cavalry. With both sides well covered, the army had little to fear from an attack.

Amazing Skills of the Roman Soldiers

The Roman soldier was not only expected to be an excellent fighter but he was required to be a competent builder, engineer and worker.

Fighting in the Roman army was competitive and done for the sake of virtus. Virtus, from which we get our word “virtue,” was manly courage and excellence. Disciplina, the handmaiden of virtus, meant self-control, determination and an orderly way of doing things. The Roman soldier strove to be confident, manly, courageous and resourceful in battle. But they were expected, also, to build roads and bridges, to clear forests and to build walls.

The soldiers were required to cut off the heads of important enemy fighters when killed. The severed heads of enemies encouraged the soldiers to work harder to build the roads they needed to further penetrate enemy territory. And to conquer, win the war.

Roman soldiers building a road. Notice the two heads of enemies impaled on stakes. Roman soldiers showing Emperor Trajan the heads of important dead enemies during the Dacian War in c. 102 AD on Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Roman soldiers competed with each other for the honors and recognition conferred for virtus and disciplina. During the Battle for Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Roman General Titus, frustrated by the time it was taking to conquer Jerusalem, decided the Romans had to build a wall around the whole city of Jerusalem:

“Titus determined that they must build a wall round about the whole city….(and) if any should think such a work to be too great…he ought to consider that it is not fit for Romans to undertake any small work.” Josephus, Wars 5.12.1 In only three days the Roman army built a five-mile wall around Jerusalem. Josephus says: “…it is incredible that what would naturally have required some months was done in so short an interval.” Ibid. 5.12.2

Roman soldiers building a wall. Relief from Trajan’s Column in Rome. Trajan’s Column

The wall was built in such a short time because each section of the wall was assigned to a specific Legion and each Legion competed with the other Legions for the awards of disciplina. Each Legion was divided into ten Cohorts. Each Legion assigned a portion of the wall to each of its ten Cohorts. Not only were the Legions competing against each other for pay and for glory, but the individual Cohorts within a Legion competed with each other. So all Cohorts in each Legion and all the Legions in the army were competing against each other for the money, the rewards and, most importantly, for the approval of their superiors and of their General, their supreme commander.

A Roman historian who would write about Rome’s military has a treasure-trove of ancient information about Roman military life artistically embedded in the bas reliefs of the 2nd century Trajan’s Column (Trajan was Emperor from 98-117 AD). The 115 foot high Column still survives and stands in Trajan’s Forum in Rome.

[CLICK HERE for article on Trajan’s Forum]

The Column, depicting scenes from Trajan’s Dacian wars (101-102 and 105-106), has 155 separate scenes on it. Notice the intimate details of the soldier’s lives depicted on just this small portion of Trajan’s Column.

The 620 foot Carrara marble frieze on the Column starts at the bottom and circles up to the top of the Column. The capital block of the Column weighs almost 54 tons and had to be hoisted 112 feet up to the top of the Column—in the 2nd century AD!

Roman soldiers did every thing that had to be done to wage a successful war. During the Trajan’s Dacian Wars a bridge had to be built over the Danube River in order to be able to reach Dacian territory (today a large part of eastern Europe). Soldiers were expected to be workers, implement construction designs and do every thing. Here they are (left) in c. 101 constructing a bridge to span the Danube River.

And here (below) is the Danube river god, Danuvius, watching the soldiers march over the bridge they built.

Trajans’ Greek architect Apollodorus designed the 2,724 foot bridge and Roman soldiers built it in 105 AD. It was a segmental arch bridge that helped win the war over the Dacians. For more than 1,000 years it was the largest arch bridge ever built.

Below is a relief of the bridge on Trajan’s Column showing the unusually flat segmental arches on high-rising concrete piers. Emperor Trajan is in the foreground with his soldier-construction workers.

When the army was in a country for a long time, the soldiers had to build their own fort (below).

Clearing forests, fjording rivers and streams, building bridges, roads, walls, forts—the amazing Roman soldiers did it all. Plus they fought and won the battles that made them masters of 70 million of the people in the ancient world.

Roman Empire in Red under Emperor Trajan

The Roman Empire at its height extended 2.2 million miles. Roman soldiers had to walk those miles and fight those wars to make Rome one of the biggest empires in the history of the world.—Article by Sandra Sweeny Silver

Roman Military Tactics during the Gallic Wars

Roman infantry versus Gallic and the Germanic tribes

Barbarian hordes

Views of the Gallic enemies of Rome have varied widely. Some older histories consider them to be backward savages, ruthlessly destroying the civilization and "grandeur that was Rome." Some modernist views see them in a proto-nationalist light, ancient freedom fighters resisting the iron boot of empire. Often their bravery is celebrated as worthy adversaries of Rome. See the Dying Gaul for an example. The Gallic opposition was also composed of a large number of different peoples and tribes, geographically ranging from the mountains of Switzerland, to the lowlands of France, to the forests of the Rhineland, and thus are not easy to categorize. The term "Gaul" has also been used interchangeably to describe Celtic peoples farther afield in Britain and Scotland, adding even more to the diversity of peoples lumped together under this name. From a military standpoint however, they seem to have shared certain general characteristics: tribal polities with a relatively small and lesser elaborated state structure, light weaponry, fairly unsophisticated tactics and organization, a high degree of mobility, and inability to sustain combat power in their field forces over a lengthy period. [ 39 ] Roman sources reflect on the prejudices of their times, but nevertheless testify to the Gauls fierceness and bravery.

"Their chief weapons were long, two-edged swords of soft iron.. For defense they carried small wicker shields. Their armies were undisciplined mobs, greedy for plunder.. Brave to the point of recklessness, they were formidable warriors, and the ferocity of their first assault inspired terror even in the ranks of veteran armies."

Early Gallic victories

Though popular accounts celebrate the legions and an assortment of charismatic commanders quickly vanquishing massive hosts of "wild barbarians", Rome suffered a number of early defeats against such tribal armies. As early as the Republican period (circa 390-387 B.C.), they had sacked Rome under Brennus, and had won several other victories such as the Battle of Noreia and the Battle of Arausio. The foremost Gallic triumph in this early period was "The Day of Allia"- July 18- when Roman troops were routed and driven into the Allia River. Henceforth, July 18 was considered an unlucky date on the Roman Calendar.

Some writers suggest that as a result of such debacles, the expanding Roman power began to adjust to this vigorous, fast-moving new enemy. The Romans began to phase out the monolithic phalanx they formerly fought in, and adopted the more flexible manipular formation. The circular hoplite shield was also enlarged and eventually replaced with the rectangular scutum for better protection. The heavy phalanx spear was replaced by the pila, suitable for throwing. Only the veterans of the triarrii retained the long spear- vestige of the former phalanx. Such early reforms also aided the Romans in their conquest of the rest of Italy over such foes as the Samnites, Latins and Greeks. As time went on Roman arms saw increasing triumph over the Gallics, particularly in the campaigns of Caesar. In the early imperial period however, Germanic warbands inflicted one of Rome's greatest military defeats, (the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest) which saw the liquidation of three imperial legions, and was to spark a limit on Roman expansion in the West. And it was these Germanic tribes in part (most having some familiarity with Rome and its culture, and becoming more Romanized themselves) that were to eventually bring about the Roman military's final demise in the West. Ironically, in the final days, the bulk of the fighting was between forces composed mostly of barbarians on either side.

Tactical problems versus tribes

Tribal strengths

Whatever their particular culture, the Gallic and Germanic tribes generally proved themselves to be tough opponents, racking up several victories over their enemies. Some historians show that they sometimes used massed fighting in tightly packed phalanx-type formations with overlapping shields, and employed shield coverage during sieges. In open battle, they sometimes used a triangular "wedge" style formation in attack. Their greatest hope of success lay in 4 factors: (a) numerical superiority, (b) surprising the Romans (via an ambush for example) or in (c) advancing quickly to the fight, or (d) engaging the Romans over heavily covered or difficult terrain where units of the fighting horde could shelter within striking distance until the hour of decision, or if possible, withdraw and regroup between successive charges.

Most significant Gallic and Germanic victories show two or more of these characteristics. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest contains all four: surprise, a treacherous defection by Arminius and his contingent, numerical superiority, quick charges to close rapidly, and favorable terrain and environmental conditions (thick forest and pounding rainstorms) that hindered Roman movement and gave the warriors enough cover to conceal their movements and mount successive attacks against the Roman line.

Tribal weaknesses

Weaknesses in organization and equipment. Against the fighting men from the legion however, the Gauls faced a daunting task. Individually, in single combat, the fierce Gallic warrior could probably more than hold his own against a Roman. In massed fighting however, the Gauls' rudimentary organization and tactics fared poorly against the well oiled machinery that was the Legion. The fierceness of the Gallic charges is often commented upon by some writers, and in certain circumstances they could overwhelm Roman lines. Nevertheless the in-depth Roman formation allowed adjustments to be made, and the continual application of forward pressure made long-term combat a hazardous proposition for the Gauls.

Flank attacks were always possible, but the legion was flexible enough to pivot to meet this, either through sub-unit maneuver or through deployment of lines farther back. The cavalry screen on the flanks also added another layer of security, as did nightly regrouping in fortified camps. The Gauls and Germans also fought with little or no armor and with weaker shields, putting them at a disadvantage against the legion. Other items of Roman equipment from studded sandals, to body armor, to metal helmets added to Roman advantages. Generally speaking, the Gauls and Germans needed to get into good initial position against the Romans and to overwhelm them in the early phases of the battle. An extended set-piece slogging match between the lightly armed tribesmen and the well organized heavy legionaries usually spelled doom for the tribal fighters. Caesar's slaughter of the Helvetti near the Saône River is just one example of tribal disadvantage against the well-organized Romans, as is the victory of Germanicus at the Weser River and Agricola against the Celtic tribesmen of Caledonia (Scotland) circa 84 A.D.

Weaknesses in logistics. Roman logistics also provided a trump card against Germanic foes as it had against so many previous foes. Tacitus in his Annals reports that the Roman commander Germanicus recognized that continued operations in Gaul would require long trains of men and material to come overland, where they would be subject to attack as they traversed the forests and swamps. He therefore opened sea and river routes, moving large quantities of supplies and reinforcements relatively close to the zone of battle, bypassing the dangerous land routes. In addition, the Roman fortified camps provided secure staging areas for offensive, defensive and logistical operations, once their troops were deployed. Assault roads and causeways were constructed on marshy ground to facilitate maneuver, sometimes under direct Gallic attack. These Roman techniques repeatedly defeated their Germanic adversaries. While Germanic leaders and fighters influenced by Roman methods sometimes adapted them, most tribes did not have the strong organization of the Romans. As German scholar Hans Delbruck notes in his "History of the Art of War":

".. the superiority of the Roman art of warfare was based on the army organization.. a system that permitted very large masses of men to be concentrated at a given point, to move in an orderly fashion, to be fed, to be kept together. The Gauls could do none of these things."

Tribal chariots

The Gallics also demonstrated a high level of tactical prowess in some areas. Gallic chariot warfare for example, showed a high degree of integration and coordination with infantry, and Gallic horse and chariot assaults sometimes threatened Roman forces in the field with annihilation. At the Battle of Sentinum for example, c. 295 BC, the Roman and Campanian cavalry encountered Gallic war-chariots and were routed in confusion- driven back from the Roman infantry by the unexpected appearance of the fast-moving Gallic assault. The discipline of the Roman infantry restored the line however, and a counterattack eventually defeated the Gallic forces and their allies.

The accounts of Polybius leading up to the Battle of Telamon, c. 225 BC mention chariot warfare, but it was ultimately unsuccessful. The Gauls met comprehensive defeat by the Roman legions under Papus and Regulus. Chariot forces also attacked the legions as they were disembarking from ships during Caesar's invasion of Britain, but the Roman commander drove off the fast-moving assailants using covering fire (slings, arrows and engines of war) from his ships, and reinforcing his shore party of infantry to charge and drive off the attack. In the open field against Caesar, the Gallic/Celtics apparently deployed chariots with a driver and an infantry fighter armed with javelins. During the clash, the chariots would drop off their warriors to attack the enemy and retire a short distance away, massed in reserve. From this position they could retrieve the assault troops if the engagement was going badly, or apparently pick them up and deploy elsewhere. Caesar's troops were discomfited by one such attack, and he met it by withdrawing into his fortified redoubt. A later Gallic attack against the Roman camp was routed.

It should be noted also that superb as the Gallic fighters were, chariots were already declining as an effective weapon of war in the ancient world with the rise of mounted cavalry. At the battle of Mons Grapius in Caledonia (circa 84AD), Celtic chariots made an appearance. However they were no longer used in an offensive role but primarily for pre-battle show- riding back and forth and hurling insults. The main encounter was decided by infantry and mounted cavalry.

Tribal guerrillas
Superior tactical organization: victory of Caesar at the Sambre River

Superior Gallic mobility and numbers often troubled Roman arms, whether deployed in decades-long mobile or guerrilla warfare or in a decisive field engagement. The near defeat of Caesar in his Gallic campaign confirms this latter pattern, but also shows the strengths of Roman tactical organization and discipline. At the Battle of the Sabis river, (see more detailed article) contingents of the Nervii, Atrebates, Veromandui and Aduatuci tribes massed secretly in the surrounding forests as the main Roman force was busy making camp on the opposite side of the river. Some distance away behind them, slogged two slow moving legions with the baggage train. Engaged in foraging and camp construction the Roman forces were somewhat scattered. As camp building commenced, the barbarian forces launched a ferocious attack, streaming across the shallow water and quickly assaulting the distracted Romans. This incident is discussed in Caesar's Gallic War Commentaries.

So far the situation looked promising for the warrior host. The 4 conditions above were in their favor: (a) numerical superiority, (b) the element of surprise, (c) a quick advance/assault, and (d) favorable terrain that masked their movements until the last minute. Early progress was spectacular as the initial Roman dispositions were driven back. A rout looked possible. Caesar himself rallied sections of his endangered army, impressing resolve upon the troops. With their customary discipline and cohesion, the Romans then began to drive back the barbarian assault. A charge by the Nervi tribe through a gap between the legions however almost turned the tide again, as the onrushing warriors seized the Roman camp and tried to outflank the other army units engaged with the rest of the tribal host. The initial phase of the clash had passed however and a slogging match ensued. The arrival of the two rear legions that had been guarding the baggage reinforced the Roman lines. Led by the 10th Legion, a counterattack was mounted with these reinforcements that broke the back of the barbarian effort and sent the tribesmen reeling in retreat. It was a close run thing, illustrating both the fighting prowess of the tribal forces, and the steady, disciplined cohesion of the Romans. Ultimately, the latter was to prove decisive in Rome's long fought conquest of Gaul.

Persisting logistics strategy: Gallic–Germanic victory at Gergovia

As noted above, the fierce charge of the Germanics and their individual prowess is frequently acknowledged by several ancient Roman writers. The Battle of Gergovia however demonstrates that the Gallic/Germanics were capable of a level of strategic insight and operation beyond merely mustering warriors for an open field clash. Under their war leader Vercingetorix, the Gallics pursued what some modern historians have termed a "persisting" or "logistics strategy" - a mobile approach relying not on direct open field clashes, but avoidance of major battle, "scorched earth" denial of resources, and the isolation and piecemeal destruction of Roman detachments and smaller unit groupings. When implemented consistently, this strategy saw some success against Roman operations. According to Caesar himself, during the siege of the town of Bourges, the lurking warbands of Germans were:

"on the watch for our foraging and grain-gatherer parties, when necessarily scattered far afield he attacked them and inflicted serious losses. This imposed such scarcity opon the army that for several days they were without grain and staved off starvation only by driving cattle from remote villages."

Caesar countered with a strategy of enticing the Germanic forces out into open battle, or of blockading them into submission.

At the town of Gergovia, resource denial was combined with concentration of superior force, and multiple threats from more than one direction. This caused the opposing Roman forces to divide, and ultimately fail. Gergovia was situated on the high ground of a tall hill, and Vertcingeorix carefully drew up the bulk of his force on the slope, positioning allied tribes in designated places. He drilled his men and skirmished daily with the Romans, who had overrun a hilltop position, and had created a small camp some distance from Caesar's larger main camp. A rallying of about 10,000 disenchanted Aeudan tribesmen (engineered by Vertcingeroick's agents) created a threat in Caesar's rear, including a threat to a supply convoy promised by the allied Aeudans, and he diverted four legions to meet this danger. This however gave Verctinorix's forces the chance to concentrate in superior strength against the smaller two-legion force left behind at Gergovia, and desperate fighting ensued. Caesar dealt with the rear threat, turned around and by ruthless forced marching once again consolidated his forces at town. A feint using bogus cavalry by the Romans drew off part of the Gallic assault, and the Romans advanced to capture three more enemy outposts on the slope, and proceeded towards the walls of the stronghold. The diverted Gallic forces returned however and in frantic fighting outside the town walls, the Romans lost 700 men, including 46 centurions.

Caesar commenced a retreat from the town with the victorious Gallic warriors in pursuit. The Roman commander however mobilized his 10th Legion as a blocking force to cover his withdrawal and after some fighting, the tribesmen themselves withdrew back to Gergovia, taking several captured legion standards. The vicious fighting around Gergovia was the first time Caesar had suffered a military reverse, demonstrating the Germanic martial valor noted by the ancient chroniclers. The hrd battle is referenced by the Roman historian Plutarch, who writes of the Averni people showing visitors a sword in one of their temples, a weapon that reputedly belonged to Caesar himself. According to Plutarch, the Roman general was shown the sword in the temple at Gergovia some years after the battle, but he refused to reclaim it, saying that it was consecrated, and to leave it where it was.

The Germanics were unable to sustain their strategy however, and Vertcingeroix was to become trapped in Alesia, facing not divided sections or detachments of the Roman Army but Caesar's full force of approximately 70,000 men (50,000 legionnaires plus numerous additional auxiliary cavalry and infantry). This massive concentration of Romans was able to besiege the fortress in detail and repulse Gallic relief forces, and it fell in little more than a month. Vertcingeroick's overall persisting logistics policy however, demonstrates a significant level of strategic thinking. As historian A. Goldsworthy (2006) notes: "His [Vercingetorix's] strategy was considerably more sophisticated than that employed by Caesar's earlier opponents.." At Alesia this mobile approach became overly static. The Gauls gave battle at a place where they were inadequately provisioned for an extended siege, and where Caesar could bring his entire field force to bear on a single point without them being dissipated, and where his lines of supply were not effectively interdicted. At Gergovia by contrast, Caesar's strength was divided by the appearance of another Germanic force in his rear (the Aeudans)- threatening his sources and lines of supply. Together with a strong defensive anvil, (the town) supported by an offensive hammer (the open field forces), and coupled with previous resource denial pressure over time, the Romans were forced to retreat, and the Germanics secured a victory. As one historian notes about the persisting strategy:

"But before the defeat at Alesia, Vercingetoriox's strategy had driven Cesar from central Gaul.. In finding and overwhelming Roman foragers as Fabius had done to Hannibal's men, the Gauls concentrated against weakness to win many small victories. Their strength in cavalry helped them concentrate rapidly, facilitating the application of the combat element in their strategy, though attacking foragers and grain gatherers was also intrinsic to the logistic aspect of their campaign."

Victory through attrition

In their battles against a wide variety of opponents, Rome's ruthless persistence, greater resources and stronger organization wore down their opponents over time. In Spain, resources were thrown at the problem until it yielded over 150 years later- a slow, harsh grind of endless marching, constant sieges and fighting, broken treaties, burning villages and enslaved captives. As long as the Roman Senate and its successors were willing to replace and expend more men and material decade after decade, victory could be bought through a strategy of exhaustion.

The systematic wastage and destruction of enemy economic and human resources was called vastatio by the Romans. Crops and animals were destroyed or carried off, and local populaces were massacred or enslaved. Sometimes these tactics were also used to conduct punitive raids on barbarian tribes which had performed raids across the border. In the campaigns of Germanicus, Roman troops in the combat area carried out a "scorched earth" approach against their Germanic foes, devastating the land they depended on for supplies. "The country was wasted by fire and sword fifty miles round nor sex nor age found mercy places sacred and profane had the equal lot of destruction, all razed to the ground.." (Tacitus, Annals). The Roman "grind down" approach is also seen in the Bar Kokba Jewish revolt against the Romans. The Roman commander Severus, avoided meeting the hard-fighting Jewish rebels in the open field. Instead he relied on attacking their fortified strongpoints and devastating the zone of conflict in a methodical campaign. This "attritional" aspect of the Roman approach to combat contrasts with the notion of brilliant generalship or tactics sometimes seen in popular depictions of the Roman infantry.

Some historians note however that Rome often balanced brutal attrition with shrewd diplomacy, as demonstrated by Caesar's harsh treatment of Gallic tribes that opposed him, but his sometimes conciliatory handling of those that submitted. Rome also used a variety of incentives to encourage cooperation by the elites of conquered peoples, co-opting opposition and incorporating them into the structure of the empire. This carrot and stick approach forms an integral part of "the Roman way" of war.

Could medieval soldiers be organized into a Roman style legion order of battle? - History

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Legio IX Hispana had a long and active history, later founding York from where it guarded the northern frontiers in Britain. But the last evidence for its existence in Britain comes from AD 108. The mystery of their disappearance has inspired debate and imagination for decades. The most popular theory, immortalized in Rosemary Sutcliffe&rsquos novel The Eagle of the Ninth, is that the legion was sent to fight the Caledonians in Scotland and wiped out there.

But more recent archaeology (including evidence that London was burnt to the ground and dozens of decapitated heads) suggests a crisis, not on the border but in the heart of the province, previously thought to have been peaceful at this time. What if IX Hispana took part in a rebellion, leading to their punishment, disbandment and damnatio memoriae (official erasure from the records)? This proposed &lsquoHadrianic War&rsquo would then be the real context for Hadrian&rsquos &lsquovisit&rsquo in 122 with a whole legion, VI Victrix, which replaced the &lsquovanished&rsquo IX as the garrison at York. Other theories are that it was lost on the Rhine or Danube, or in the East. Simon Elliott considers the evidence for these four theories, and other possibilities.

Here we have an historical detective story pursued with academic rigour. The mystery trail is that of the legio IX Hispana from its raising by Octavian in 44/43 BC to its disappearance from the historical record between 104 and 108 AD. All the plausible explanations are dealt with. The four major possibilities/probabilities are each considered both in an evidential way and speculative way. The conclusions are as precise and strong as the evidence allows. This raising and discussion of the possibilities is the substance of the book and is fascinating to follow
There are some appropriate photographs and an excellent bibliography. .To give away the conclusion would be to spoil a real detective story.
We highly recommend this book.

Read the full review here

Clash of Steel

"Roman Britain's Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispana?" is a seminal and landmark study in which archeologist and historian Simon Elliott considers the evidence for these four theories, and other possibilities. A meticulous work of detailed and document scholarship, "Roman Britain's Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispana?" includes and informative Introduction, an eight page Bibliography, and a five page Index. Of immense value for historical scholarship and an inherently fascinating read for the non-specialists general reader with an interest in the subject, "Roman Britain's Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispana?" is recommended as a core addition to British History and Roman Military History collections.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

I thought that this was an excellent book.

It was packed with details and I felt it really gave you an insight in to the period too as well as following the author’s thought process and discoveries as he tried to uncover the mystery of Legio IX Hispana.

I really liked the approach taken, it was well researched, the theories were supported and it was a very readable book too. Plenty to keep me engaged and intrigued to see what might be uncovered. He did a great job setting the scene too.

It is 5 stars from me for this one, I really enjoyed it, it was well developed and I really enjoyed finding out more about Roman Britain’s Missing Legion – very highly recommended!!

Read the full review here

Donnas Book Blog

This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to learn what might have happened to the legion, based on the actual evidence we have. Simon’s method is to discuss each possible theory in turn, examine the evidence upon which it is based and reach a conclusion about how likely it is to be true. For me, this methodical approach, which dismissed no theory out of hand, worked very well.

Missing Legion is thus a balanced and comprehensive account which offers the reader a series of snapshots of moments when the Ninth Legion might have been annihilated. In doing so, it provides an insight into many aspects of Roman political, military and economic organisation during the first and second centuries AD.

Read the full review here

Dodging Arrows… a History Writer's Blog

An excellent book, well written and not at all dry reading.

Read the full review here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Incredibly well researched, Simon Elliott uses his extensive knowledge of this Roman military machine to offer all possible scenarios for the fate of the IXth legion and, with confidence, explain how likely or unlikely each scenario could ultimately be. I won’t tell you his conclusions, that would spoil it! However, the investigation process is just as entertaining as the conclusions that the author draws perhaps more so, in that the reader learns so much about the various theatres of war in which the IXth legion may – or may not – have been drawn into.

Whether or not you agree with Simon Elliott’s arguments and conclusions, Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania is well worth a read. It takes you on a fascinating detective journey through all the corners of the Roman Empire. And what is certain is that something extraordinary must have happened to the IXth legion to make them disappear so completely from contemporary records. Their fate remaining open to speculation for 2 millennia – so far.

Read the full review here


I truly found this book to be an easy read with an engaging and highly interesting narrative – I would highly recommend it to anyone with at least a passing interest in Roman history.

Read the full review here

The Borgia Bull

Elliott brings us close to the solution with a clear deductive method and a flawless analysis of historical sources!

Read the full Italian review here

Omne Ignotum Pro Magnifico

The highlight of the book is certainly the events of the mid 120s, from Dominic Perring’s 2017 report of his London excavations, with its proposal of a Hadrianic War there.

Classics for All

Article strip: 'Bald truth is Eagle might be wrong' as featured by

Kent Messenger, 11th March 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The author has a casual academic style of writing accessible and careful, but not overly convoluted or impenetrably difficult to read. He manages to convey a wealth of information without being pedantic or preachy. I imagine he would be a capable and talented teacher. I envy his students. He writes clearly and concisely with a logical progression and a clear threads to follow which interweave the real and imagined history, backed by a plethora of sources. Where actual contemporaneous sources shade into speculation, he says so clearly and unambiguously.

This would be a great choice for libraries, military historians, ancient historians, students of Roman/Empire history, early British history, and similar.

Five stars. This book is clearly the product of a prodigious amount of research by an author who is a bona fide expert in this field.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I've read Simon Elliott's work before, so I was sure "Roman Britain's Missing Legion" would be well-written, informative, and very, very interesting. It was! The evidence in this book is fascinating, and the way it is presented makes this a fast read. I guess we will never truly be certain what happened to "Legio IX Hispana", but this book offers some intriguing potential fates.

NetGalley, Dawn Lewis

This is an inspiring and gripping piece of detective work of one of the great Roman mysteries of the missing IXth Legion Hispana. This book is a must have for all people interested in Roman history!

Read the full review here

Roman History Blog

A really intriguing read. It is hard to imagine losing a whole Legion – but as we know it wasn’t the first time.

Read the full review here

Medieval Sword School

The book explores what happened to Legio IX Hispana which mysteriously disappeared in Roman Britain.
It is extremely well-researched and goes into so much detail about Roman military history, the structure of the legions, the events that happened in Britain. I especially enjoyed the first chapters. For me, as a layperson, they were extremely helpful to understand the later arguments.
The author describes all the available evidence and explores all sides of the argument, something I really enjoyed.

Overall, it's was a very informative, pleasant read and I can definitely recommend it to people who are interested in Roman military history.

NetGalley, Karin Seiz

I really thought this is a good read - I have always wondered how it must of been stationed at Romes last outpost and suddenly you hear that Rome has fallen and no one is being sent to help you and your fellow men fight the invading Saxons and Vikings. Do you fight at all or just give up military life and blend in with the locals?

A curious and incredible part of early medieval British history, a must for anyone who enjoys Roman or British history.

NetGalley, Kayla Thomas

". my must-read for this month" - Neil Smith

Wargames Illustrated, Issue 398, Feb 21

Was lost Roman Ninth legion wiped out in LONDON? New book hints 5,500 soldiers that vanished off face of earth were massacred after being sent south from York to suppress rebelling Britons

Daily Mail Online 20/01/21

As featured on

John Pienaar, Times Radio 28/01/21

A new book on the force made famous in The Eagle of the Ninth theorises that its men met their deaths on a journey into a Caledonian ‘heart of darkness’

The Times 29/01/21

Well researched and evidenced book for the well-informed layperson or even academics. Weight is given to both sides of the argument over various pieces of evidence. The various suppositions of what happened to the legion are discussed in full and I'd say the introduction and initial chapters are a great way to understand Roman military history in general.

This was a great read for me to unfurl my dormant historian mind! I'm not an academic but I do have a BA in Classical History so this was right in my wheelhouse!

NetGalley, Nicola Brooks

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is another superb history book from net galley.
This is proper history for grown ups, background is set out, evidence is examined, conclusions are reached. But it is not polemical, contrary views to the author's are also examined and given the weight they deserve.
It far more than a history of a mystery, it is a good solid introduction to the Roman military machine, the empire and their enemies.

NetGalley, Tony Stacey

About Dr Simon Elliott

Dr Simon Elliott is an award winning and best selling archaeologist, historian and broadcaster with a PhD in Classics and Archaeology from the University of Kent where he is now an Honorary Research Fellow. He has an MA in Archaeology from UCL and an MA in War Studies from KCL. Simon is widely published with numerous works in print on various themes relating to the ancient world, with a particular focus on the Roman military, and he makes frequent appearances on TV as a Roman expert. Simon lectures widely to universities, local history societies and archaeological groups, is co-Director of a Roman villa excavation, a Trustee of the Council for British Archaeology and an Ambassador for Museum of London Archaeology. He is also a Guide Lecturer for Andante Travels and President of the Society of Ancients.

The Misplaced Legion

Before Harry Turtledove became obsessed with writing - and rewriting- alternative versions of the Second World War, he was a notable scholar of Byzantine history, which led him to write the Videssos series, and entertaining saga that turns away from the usual Northern Europeans-folklore influences of Tolkien and company towards a world based very closely on the Byzantine Empire. In fact, aside from the presence of magic and a few cosmetic changes, it could very much stand in for a straight-forwa Before Harry Turtledove became obsessed with writing - and rewriting- alternative versions of the Second World War, he was a notable scholar of Byzantine history, which led him to write the Videssos series, and entertaining saga that turns away from the usual Northern Europeans-folklore influences of Tolkien and company towards a world based very closely on the Byzantine Empire. In fact, aside from the presence of magic and a few cosmetic changes, it could very much stand in for a straight-forward alternative history in which Constantinople never feel to the Turks. Which is in fact the subject of another book he wrote. but one thing at a time.

The premise behind the series goes like this: a Roman legion led by the tribune Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, fighting during Caesar's conquest of Gaul, gets transported to an alternative world due to a mishap with a pair of swords enchanted by a powerful druid (coming along for the ride is a Gallic chieftain who was fighting on the other side. ) Unable to return home, they hire on as mercenaries to the Byzantium-like Empire of Videssos. The idea of a Roman legion hiring on to serve a fantasy version of the Empire that would ultimately succeed their Empire might seem a bit ludicrous, but Turtledove makes it work with strong characters and a detailed and highly realistic setting.

Religion plays a strong role here, and in this Turtledoves historical background shows itself strongly. The primary religion is a thinly disguised version of medieval Orthodox Christianity, which like the real-world version is beset by various heresies and schisms. The primary villain is Avshar, a former Videssian priest who switches to the worship of Skotos, the Videssian version of the Devil. A generation before the Roman legions arrival, he facilitated the conquest of a neighboring Empire, leading a nomadic horde from the steppe to overthrow the previous rulers, mirroring in many respects the Mongol conquest of Persia. The series slowly builds up over the course of several books, depicting both the external battles and internal intrigues that best the real-world Byzantine Empire, leading to the expected confrontation between light and dark.

The premise is somewhat outlandish, but the series is solid, a real and pleasant alternative to the the usual elf-and-orc style of fantasy. A good read all around. . more

Harry Turtledove must generate a ton of interesting ideas for historical/alternate history books. But then he turns into a writing machine and takes that idea and generates three or four or eight books in a series following on.

Like many of his books, this one begins where it departs from real history. A Roman legion fights the Celts in Gaul, and is magically transported (with a token Scotsman) to another world. It isn&apost really alternate history, because their disappearance causes nary a ripple i Harry Turtledove must generate a ton of interesting ideas for historical/alternate history books. But then he turns into a writing machine and takes that idea and generates three or four or eight books in a series following on.

Like many of his books, this one begins where it departs from real history. A Roman legion fights the Celts in Gaul, and is magically transported (with a token Scotsman) to another world. It isn't really alternate history, because their disappearance causes nary a ripple in the world they left. This is the story of what happens when they get there.

The world in which they arrive is essentially magical Byzantium, I think. An empire defended by mercenaries, run by functionaries, with high turnover in emperors. The Romans tromp in with their discipline and heavy infantry tactics and secure a place for themselves, and I would guess that by the end of the series, they will probably have secured the throne for their leader, who wanted to be a politician back home. I'm definitely going to check out the rest of the series. . more

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The Misplaced Legion is an excellent book that starts off the Videssos Cycle series. Marcus Scaurus is a Roman tribune who bears a Gaulic sword taken from a slain druid. As he leads his troops through Gaul he encounters an ambush, led by the chieftain Viridovix. The Romans are superior in their tactics but the shear numbers and ferocity of the enemy causes them to slowly lose ground. Finally, it comes to the point where Viridovix challenges Marcus to a duel. Marcus, in a futile attempt to save h The Misplaced Legion is an excellent book that starts off the Videssos Cycle series. Marcus Scaurus is a Roman tribune who bears a Gaulic sword taken from a slain druid. As he leads his troops through Gaul he encounters an ambush, led by the chieftain Viridovix. The Romans are superior in their tactics but the shear numbers and ferocity of the enemy causes them to slowly lose ground. Finally, it comes to the point where Viridovix challenges Marcus to a duel. Marcus, in a futile attempt to save his mens' lives, accepts and Viridovix comes into the midst of the Roman ring to duel him. Unknown to either of them, they have a matching set of swords. Druidic swords, engraved with runes and filled with magic. As the two swords draw near they begin to glow and, as they crash together there is a flash. Marcus, Viridovix, and all the legionaries disappear from the face of the Earth. But they are not dead. They are transported to the lands of Videssos, a strange world containing magic.

Marcus soon finds that the world of Videssos is a strange one compared to the Rome he called home. Wizards and monks wield powerful magics and the land is ruled by an Emperor, unlike the Republican country Scaurus and his men hail from. Along with Viridovix, Marcus and his men soon become entangled with the very intricate politics of Videssos, forced to mercenary lives to survive. As the politics continue, the world continues on until war is called on the evil Yezda hordes, led by a dark wizard of extreme power. Led by the emperor of Videssos, the Roman legion along with the combined mercenary armies of Videssos and its allies march on Yezda. However, as the final battle comes, an inexperienced general causes a organized retreat into a rout and the Videssians are routed, the emperor killed. Only the strict discipline of the Romans saves them and some of their allies lives as they retreat from the Yezda. The battle has been lost but not the war, though to see how it continues you would have to read book 2.

Personally, I loved the book. A combination of fantasy and historical fiction that I had never before seen were used by Turtledove in its writing and I loved every second of the read. While I wouldn't call it the best book I have ever read or the best story, I still think it deserves recognition as a well written piece. Ranking high above many of the books I've read through my life the Misplaced Legion has a spot on my shelf that it will keep for many years. I'm sure I am not the only person to have read the book that feels this way.

As my opinion of the book probably shows, I would definitely recommend this book to others. However, not all others. Lovers of fantasy will enjoy this twist on the traditional form of the genre and fans of historical fiction will find this piece a enjoyable read. For those who love both genres such as I do, this book is sure to be an excellent read that you'll want to keep reading until you've gone cover to cover. . more

This is a novel about a group of Roman soldiers mystically transported to a fantasy world nitpicking its historical accuracy is, obviously, as pointless as it is irresistible. Here goes:

1. On p. 148: "The Roman knew how easy it was to judge a man by the company he kept. Caesar himself, in his younger days, had fallen into danger through his association with Marius&apos defeated faction." This makes it sound like Marius was the leader of a motorcycle gang, and poor naive Caesar fell in with the wron This is a novel about a group of Roman soldiers mystically transported to a fantasy world nitpicking its historical accuracy is, obviously, as pointless as it is irresistible. Here goes:

1. On p. 148: "The Roman knew how easy it was to judge a man by the company he kept. Caesar himself, in his younger days, had fallen into danger through his association with Marius' defeated faction." This makes it sound like Marius was the leader of a motorcycle gang, and poor naive Caesar fell in with the wrong crowd by accident. In fact, "Marius' faction" basically meant the populist cause in Roman politics, and Caesar played up his family connections to Marius as part of a deliberate political strategy.

2. On p. 173: "Coming from Rome, whose history was little more than legend even three centuries before his own time, Marcus had never quite gotten over the awe Videssos' long past raised in him." If he'd said "four centuries," I might have let this pass. But the mid-fourth century (Marcus was fighting under Caesar in Gaul) is the time of Rome's conflicts with the Latin League and the Samnites even for us, this is solidly historical (if somewhat blurry) material, and Marcus would have had access to all sorts of literary and documentary sources that have since been lost.

3. I understand that it's hard to come up with plausible-sounding words in a fictional language, and it's a perfectly acceptable choice to model that fictional language on a real one. But when most of your main characters come from ancient Rome, and one comes from Greece, the mysterious, incomprehensible language they encounter in a magical alternate universe should not, for God's sake, be obviously based on Greek. It is immensely distracting (at least to me) to have these characters acting utterly confused when they hear that the gods of light and darkness are named "Phos" and "Skotos," the chief official of a city is the "hypasteos," the emperor is called "Avtokrator," and so on.

4. The choice to represent the speech of the one Gaulish character as Irish-accented English is exactly as irritating as you would imagine. . more

Originally read this at the age of 13, but I&aposm not sure I completed it -- my memories beyond the halfway point are curiously blank. A fairly entertaining read some 25 years later, particularly as Turtledove employs a decent prose style -- superior, at least, to the bog-standard of late 80&aposs fantasy.

3 stars, due to various anachronisms that for some reason bothered me a cliched resolution to the main character&aposs sexual angst in regards to his female counterpoint his general Gary Stu persona (of Originally read this at the age of 13, but I'm not sure I completed it -- my memories beyond the halfway point are curiously blank. A fairly entertaining read some 25 years later, particularly as Turtledove employs a decent prose style -- superior, at least, to the bog-standard of late 80's fantasy.

3 stars, due to various anachronisms that for some reason bothered me a cliched resolution to the main character's sexual angst in regards to his female counterpoint his general Gary Stu persona (of course he's a Stoic) and the underlying demonization (literally) of a steppe/muslim culture, recalling Western Lens anxiety over the Seljuk Turks. Still, the fantasy-template depictions thinly slavered over mid-period Byzantium are interesting and, in several places (like the depiction of the Hagia Sophia as translated as a heliocentric shrine), inspired. . more

Normally this would sound like exactly the sort of book I&aposd love. A Roman legion transported to another world. Sounds great right? How does Harry Turtledove destroy that? By making it incredibly dull and boring. Even in the midst of an assassin attacking I struggle not to fall asleep.

The worst thing about the book was the setting. He could have transported the legion to anywhere, but instead it was too a location so very like the one they came from, albeit with a little bit of magic thrown in. Normally this would sound like exactly the sort of book I'd love. A Roman legion transported to another world. Sounds great right? How does Harry Turtledove destroy that? By making it incredibly dull and boring. Even in the midst of an assassin attacking I struggle not to fall asleep.

The worst thing about the book was the setting. He could have transported the legion to anywhere, but instead it was too a location so very like the one they came from, albeit with a little bit of magic thrown in. Maybe further down the line things might change but it was all just too easy.

I think I'm done with trying Turtledove's work. Each time I've tried I've been disappointed. . more

The manipular legion [ edit | edit source ]

The Maniple typically consisted of 120 soldiers arrayed in 3 ranks of 40 men when engaged in battle.

Roman soldiers in a maniple had a 6 ft by 6 ft "fighting square" around them, giving soldiers ample space to fight with their swords.

For the next two hundred years (until the Marian reforms of 107 BC) the Roman army was organized into three lines: the hastati, the principes, and the triarii. These were divided by experience, with the youngest soldiers in the hastati making the first engagement. Where resistance was strong this rank would dissolve back through the Roman line and allow the more experienced soldiers in the principes to fight. In turn, the principes could yield to the hardened triarii if necessary. The latter situation led to the Roman saying "ad triarios redisse", "to fall back on the triarii", meaning that things had come to a desperate pass. The maniples in each line generally formed with a one-maniple space between each maniple and its neighbours, and the maniples in each of the forward lines covering the gaps in the line behind, so that retreating troops of the forward lines could withdraw without disrupting those behind them. Sources disagree on the numbers involved and in all likelihood they varied considerably but a generally accepted number is 20 maniples of hastati and 20 of principes of approximately 120 men each and 20 half strength maniples of "triarii", for a total of 6,000 men.

Attached to a legion were also a number of very light skirmishers called velites armed with javelins drawn from the poorer sections of Roman society, a handful of Equestrian cavalry, auxiliaries (mostly cavalry) drawn from Rome's Italian allies (socii) and a large number of non-combatants.

Top 25 Best Medieval Movies With Great Combat and Adventure

Sword, shield, and often sorcery medieval films tend to garner a lot of interest, and with Game of Thrones recently bringing a Middle-Age type tale (albeit fantasy) to our screens in a monumental way, you may find yourself in search for your next medieval fix. Listed below are 25 films, all released since 1990, that are well worth your time if you enjoy the medieval narrative.

25) Black Death (2010)

Starring Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean, Black Death is set around the first outbreak of the Black Death (bubonic plague) in England. Redmayne plays a monk who is tasked with finding out why one particular town is not being affected by the Plague like all the others. The film is dark and has great battle scenes, and under the surface it tackles and challenges thoughts on religion and paganism. Redmayne leads Bean’s Christian Soldiers to the town where the are met by an eerie Carice Van Outen who plays Melisandre in Game of Thrones. Not a Box Office hit, this film is definitely worth a watch for fans of medieval movies.

24) Macbeth (2015)

This retelling of the famous William Shakespeare tragedy of the same name stars Michael Fassbender as the Thane of Glamis. Directed by Justin Kurzel, the film follows Macbeth after he receives a prophecy from three witches telling him that he will become the King of Scotland and is swallowed by ambition as he acts to fulfil it. The film is gritty, bloody, and Fassbender’s performance makes it well worth watching for your medieval fix.

23) Braveheart (1995)

Mel Gibson’s award-winning Braveheart is rarely left off ‘Best 90s Movies’ list, so its inclusion here is a no-brainer. It is fierce, emotional, and important all at the same time. Mel Gibson directed the film himself and starred as the Scottish Sir William Wallace, driven to revolt against England’s King Edward I after his (secret) wife is executed for attacking an English soldier who tried to rape her. Sir William Wallace lost many loved ones when he was young in Scotland’s struggle for freedom, and the loss of another sets him on the path to rebellion.

22) Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood depicts the birth of the legend of Robin Longstride (played by Russell Crowe) as he returns to England along with his companions after the death of King Richard in France. They happen upon Godfrey’s (Mark Strong) plot to King John and allow a takeover by France and the archer, Robin Hood, must use his wit and courage to take on all of the political intrigue and betrayal and put a stop to this malicious plot. ‘Rise and rise again, until lambs become lions.'

21) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Boasting a strong cast list (Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was a hit in 1991 for good reason. Also based on the tale, Robin of Locksley (Costner) and a Moor, Azeem (Freeman), escape to England after being captured by Turks during the crusades. Robin saves Azeem’s life, and he vows never to leave him until he returns the favour. Robin returns home to find his father murdered and Prince John on the throne. He vows to avenge him and return King Richard to the throne. The film is one of the most entertaining of medieval films, with good action and comic-relief throughout. Alan Rickman’s performance as Sheriff of Nottingham even won him a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Supporting Role!

20) Army of Darkness (1992)

Also known as Bruce Campbell vs. Army Darkness, this film is the third movie in the Evil Dead franchise. Ash Williams plays Bruce Campbell as he is accidentally trapped in Medieval times and has to battle an army of the undead and retrieve the ‘Necronomicon’, the book of the dead, in his quest to make it back to the present. The film is fast and furious and a lot of fun to watch… it is certainly one of the more whacky films on the list!

19) A Knight’s Tale (2001)

Inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, A Knight’s Tale stars Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, a peasant who, after his master dies, creates a new identity for himself as Ulrich Von Lichtenstein, a knight, in order to get food and glory. Meeting a young Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) on the road, Thatcher persuades him to forge documents for him that would ‘prove’ he was a knight and allow him to compete in jousting tournaments. The film incorporates elements of modern rock music and saying into its medieval setting, making for an interesting and fun watch!

18) Spartacus: War of the Damned

Spartacus: War of the Damned is loosely based on the story of the Thracian gladiator, Spartacus, who led a slave uprising and was subsequently condemned to death in the area. Spartacus proves himself to be a formidable gladiator, and his death sentence becomes a life of slavery as a gladiator. Gore, sex, betrayal, and drama abound in this awesome TV series that you should start binging now.

17) Season of the Witch (2010)

This historical fantasy film stars Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as Teutonic Knights in the 14th Century, as they return to Austria after fighting in the crusades and find it has been ravaged by the Black Death. They are discovered as deserters and become tasked with transporting a suspected witch to a group of monks that will be able to determine her identity and stop her powers, thus ending the Plague. Though cheesy in parts, the film is a good ride full of action, with destructive forces and magical powers mixed in.

16) King Arthur (2004)

Based on what is believed to be a more historically accurate version of the legend, King Arthur (played by Clive Owen) depicts Arthur as part of the Roman cavalry who, rather than waiting to rule, wants only to return home to Rome. One final mission sees him and his Knights realise that once Rome is gone, Britain will need a king – and led by former enemy, Merlin, Arthur will have to stand up and become the leader he is to be. The new angle is quite bizarre but entertaining, and there are some fantastic battle scenes throughout. The cast list includes Owen, Keira Knightley, Mads Mikkelson, and Stephen Dillane, and should be considered when looking for your next medieval film.

15) The 13th Warrior (1999)

Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), The 13th Warrior is a loose reimagining of the Beowulf story. Antonio Banderas stars as Ahmed ibn Fadlan in the 10th Century is sent away as an emissary after falling in love with the wrong woman. After mist-creatures (the Wendol) attack a Viking camp’s homeland, Fadlan must join forces with the Vikings and battle this supernatural enemy. The mix of Persian and Norse tradition makes for a thrilling watch, despite its Box Office lull.

14) Alexander

Based on the story of Alexander the Great, Alexander sees Colin Firth star as the the King of Macedonia and one of the greatest wartime leaders of all time. The film follows the young king as he leads his army against the Persian Empire and drives into Egypt and India, facilitating the spread of Greek culture. Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie also feature in this ferocious retelling, where fortune favours the bold.

13) The Lion in Winter (2003)

Based on the 1966 screenplay by James Goldman, and a remake of the 1968 screen version of the play, The Lion in Winter stars Patrick Stewart as King Henry II as he keeps his wife, Eleanor (Glenn Close) locked away due to her repeat attempted to overthrow him. Using her sons, Eleanor plots to overthrow her husband in favour of one of her sons, Richard, played by Andrew Howard. Pre-Game of Thrones political intrigue ensues in this fantastically intriguing film that won several awards for good reason.

12) Arn: The Knight Templar (2007)

Based on the Crusades trilogy by Jan Guillou, this film follows Arn Magnusson (Joakim Natterqvist) as he is sent from a monastery to the Holy Land to fight as one of the Knight Templar’s to gain penance for a forbidden love interest. The film was originally released in Sweden and this film and its sequel were cut into one film after for a DVD release. The most expensive Swedish film to date, it is a realistic and epic tale that is engaging from the start.

11) Beowulf (2007)

This 2007 film, written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary and based on the epic poem, follows the Geatish warrior, Beowulf, as he helps a King to slay a troll-like creature that he can’t stop from attacking his people. Beowulf does battle with the creature and sends him away injured, the thing’s mother then vowing to avenge her son. Ray Winstone stars as the title character in this motion-capture retelling of the legend, and the dark, fantastical qualities of it help it take its rightful place on this list.

10) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the fantastical, genre-defining books by JRR Tolkien and directed by Peter Jackson, were eight years in the making. The films came out in consecutive years, with The Fellowship of the Ring being released in 2001. They are set in Middle-Earth, a fantastical re-imagining of The Middle Ages, and the films boast a huge roster of fantastic actors that bring the tale to life. Following the hobbit, Frodo (Elijah Wood), on the beginning of his quest to destroy The One Ring, this film is full of medieval combat (and magic), conflict, suspense, and heartbreak. It is a love letter to the fantasy and medieval genres, and simply cannot be missed by fans of either!

9) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The second film of the trilogy, The Two Towers sees the fellowship broken and the odds seemingly stacked against the members who were forced their separate ways. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) carry on their journey to Mordor, aided by a deceitful Gollum (Andy Serkis). As the power of darkness grows, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) come across the kingdom of Rohan and its king, Theoden (Bernard Hill), who is under a dark spell. The action continues here at the fork in the road for the members of the fellowship, as they each must play their part in bringing about the end of Sauron’s restoration.

8) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The finale of the award-winning trilogy follows the members of the fellowship again, as Aragorn attempts to lead the World of Men against Sauron’s army to try in order to buy Frodo and Sam some time to destroy the One Ring. The final battle between good and evil is arguably the best film of the trilogy, in this stunning adaptation of the book that has inspired generations of fantasy stories. The final film has combat, betrayal, tears, and humour and you’ll be heartbroken when it is all over… but there is always the Extended Edition!

7) Hamlet (1990)

Mel Gibson stars again on this list as the title character in the movie based on another William Shakespeare play of the same name, directed by Franco Zaffirelli. More political intrigue as Hamlet finds himself involved in a conspiracy of the throne in Denmark. Hamlet must feign insanity in order to take revenge, and Gibson does an excellent job of portraying this. There is action as you’d expect in a Gibson movie, but maybe not in a Shakespeare adaptation, which makes this a great watch. Zaffirelli is also said to have cut the source material in order to enhance the roles of the women in the film, which is only ever a good thing.

6) Last Knights

Clive Owen appears again in our list, delivering a performance as a vengeful warrior here. The film sees Owen star alongside his mentor, Bartok (Morgan Freeman) in the story based on the 47 Ronin tale. This film is full of action and has an engaging story of betrayal, revenge, and suspense, with very strong lead performances. The only complaint is that I'd have liked to have seen more of Freeman!

5) Dragon Heart (1996)

Sean Connery appears again in our list, starring alongside Dennis Quaid as the dragon, Draco. This medieval fantasy-adventure, released in 1996 and directed by Rob Cohen, sees the two actors form an unlikely alliance (and con villages out of their money) in an effort to try and stop an immortal king. The film had fantastic effects for the time, and is an enthralling, fun, fantasy adventure set in medieval times.

4) Tristan & Isolde (2006)

Based on a medieval romantic legend, Tristan and Isolde stars James Franco and Sophia Myles in the title roles, and directed by Kevin Reynolds. A story of star-crossed lovers from England and Ireland, and set in the Dark Ages, the film sees the two fall in love after Isolde nurses Tristan back to health. With Tristan being in line to the throne and Isolde belonging to the battling Irish, the two know that their love has no hope. This romance deserves its place on any medieval movie list.

3) The Eagle (2011)

The Eagle follows Roman centurion, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) as he sets out to solve the mystery of his father and the five-thousand men he led’s disappearance, and find the Golden Eagle, this lost legion’s emblem. Taking only the young slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), they set out into unmapped land to restore Marcus’s father’s name but beyond Hadrian’s Wall lies secrets and savages for the pair to overcome before they find answers. A strong supply of combat and action make this film a must-watch.

2) Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix in the epic original film, Gladiator, released in 2000. The film follows Maximus, played by Crowe, as he is favoured by the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Robert Harris) to succeed him over his own son, Commodus (Phoenix). The power struggle that ensues leaves Maximus condemned to death by Commodus. After being saved by slavers and purchased to fight as a gladiator in the Colosseum, Maximus must rise up to the top for another chance at facing the man who left him to die. The film had a huge budget and delivers on every level. A great cast with strong performances, a Hans Zimmer score, and fierce battle scenes give this film its high place on this list.

1) Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Produced and directed by Ridley Scott, this epic film is a fictionalised retelling of the life of Balian of Ibelin, played by Orlando Bloom. It is set during the Crusades of the 12th Century and based around the Battle of Hattin, as Balian finds himself drawn into the East as a knight by his returning father. It is a film of historical fiction, religion, and virtue, and Ridley Scott is said to have received ‘thank you’ letters for the way the different religions in the film are evenly depicted. An easy inclusion on this medieval list.

A very short history of Rome

The year 753 BC marked the beginning of Rome, which would dominate the western world for centuries: politically until the fall of its western Empire in 476 AD, culturally and artistically, under many points of view, still influencing western culture today.

The Capitoline She-Wolf, symbol of Rome (wikimedia)

The traditional story states that Rome was founded by the brothers Romulus and Remus, who were the sons of Rhea Silvia and Mars, the god of war. The two children were sentenced to death, but were instead snuck away by a servant. After being nursed by a wolf (la lupa, the she-wolf, still symbol of Rome today) they were taken in by a shepherd.

Eventually they funded a village on the Palatine Hill, a hill which would eventually house the palaces of Roman Emperors such as Augustus and Tiberius. Scornful of the walls in the city, Remus met his death by Romulus who then proclaimed himself king of his new city of Rome. He invited peoples of all walks of life into his new city, ranging from ordinary folk to criminals running from the law.

The Kingdom of Rome saw the reign of seven kings which lasted from 753 BC until 510 BC, when Tarquin II was ousted from power, thus establishing the Roman Republic in its place. The Roman Republic was ruled by the senate, a body of elected officials empowered with the wishes of the people. The senate had many laws enacted to prevent anyone from acquiring too much power. Governing the senate were two elected officials called Consuls who acted as the perpetual leaders of the Roman world. The Republic of Rome enacted many checks and balances to keep power from swaying out of control and into the wrong hands. In times of crisis, a dictator could be appointed for a six month period, but would then have to give up their power.

The Republican Army, or legions, had three bodies of soldiers positioned in lines against the enemy. The new recruits were called the Hastati and they were placed on the front line. Principes, the second line, were comprised of soldiers in their prime physical condition whereas the last line, the Triarii, were veterans of battle that would fight as a reserve. All soldiers were forced to purchase their own armor and the quality of their armor would also determine where they would end up in the Legion.

During the timeframe of the Roman Republic, the dominance of Rome was to grow to heights not even the founders could have imagined. Rome received a real taste of battle in 280 BC when Pyrrhus of Epirus, King of Epirus which was a part of Greece, set out to invade the Italian Peninsula. Although Pyrrhus defeated the army Rome sent out, his army too suffered great casualties as well and for an invading army, this was detrimental to his campaign. Eventually he was defeated in 275 BC, thus demonstrating the power of Rome to all those along the Mediterranean.

Rome was then engaged in the Punic Wars against Carthage, another powerful nation in the Mediterranean. It was during the second Punic War, which lasted from 218 BC until 202 BC that the great Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian general, marched over the Alps to deliver three major defeats to the Romans one at the river Trebia, another at Lake Trasimeno and lastly his crushing victory against the Romans at Cannae. He was eventually defeated at the Battle of Zama by Scipio Africanus in 202 BC. Carthage was reduced to being a vassal state of Rome and it was finally completely assimilated as a part of Rome after the third Punic War which ended in 146 BC.

Trouble in Rome was brewing, however, as power created great corruption within the élite. The homeless rate in Rome was staggering, and two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, sought to put an end to it. Although they were killed as a result, they paved the way for Gaius Marius, the man who started to get the wheels really turning for forging an Empire. Marius is especially credited with creating the Imperial Legion, which turned the Roman Army into a professional army. These men were to be the ones that would pave the way for the famous Roman statesman and general, Gaius Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar was a man who knew how to use all that was around him to his advantage, and took many risks in doing so. He formed the first triumvirate with two other Roman statesmen at the time Marcus Crassus, the man who would put an end to the rebellion of Spartacus, and Gnaeus Pompey. Caesar was given command of legions, and proceeded to conquer all of Gaul before turning back to Rome. Fearing Caesar would declare himself king, the Senate attempted to force Caesar to give up his legions to which Caesar refused, also fearing his own fate if he went into Rome without the legions. Thus Caesar crossed the river Rubicon and sparked civil war. Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, but was later murdered on March 15, 44 BC by a conspiracy of senators lead by Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius who were fearful of his enormous power.

The state eventually fell into the hands of Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son, Octavius. After defeating Marcus Antonius at the Battle of Actium, the rule of Rome eventually fell into Octavius’ hands. The senate bestowed upon him the title of Augustus, a name meaning “majestic” and symbolizing his great authority. Under Augustus, peace was restored to a Rome that was wrought by civil strife and paved the way for the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire at the moment of its maximum extension (wikimedia)

The right of the emperors following Augustus was marked by corruption, with certain episodes of peace. The Empire was almost constantly at war with the Germanic tribes across the Rhine as well as the people of Parthia, located in the Middle East. The Empire saw great Emperors such as Vespasian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian yet it also saw Emperors who could be classified as insane, such as the mad emperor Caligula (more about Caligula by clicking on the link).

The Praetorian Guard, an élite band of soldiers charged with the task of protecting the emperor, established by Augustus, would eventually become a dominant force into Roman politics, effectively controlling the entire empire from behind the scenes until its dissolution by Constantine in the fourth century AD.

Upon the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD, the Empire fell into a void from which it would not recover. The emperors that followed would become increasingly corrupt by draining the treasury, while the quality of Roman life declined. The Empire eventually was split into the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire so as to more effectively administer the state. Eventually, Emperor Constantine ascended to power, uniting the Empire under his rule and proclaiming Christianity as the major religion. Upon his death, Rome continued to experience increased turmoil on the outside and on the inside. Facing invasions from almost all sides, the Empire’s days were numbered and with the swift invasion of Attila the Hun and the steady decline of the state, Rome would not last much longer. In 476 AD, the Emperor Romulus Augustus was ousted from power by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain who opted not to appoint an Emperor of Western Rome which effectively marks the end of Rome.